Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When You Peel Back the Layers of Junk, They Show You What They're All About

Ah, Tobold Rollo. Always on the run.

Oh, he puts on a brave face for his followers. But as it turns out, a recent blogpost I wrote dissecting a blogpost that he wrote -- and using the language of his chosen field, no less -- stung him far more than he would like to let on. He did try to make it seem as if this wasn't so. He actually dismissed the post as "researched on Wikipedia..." a patently false claim, as the sources for the post were linked with in it. For the record, it was the Standford University Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Which is hardly Wikipedia. (Nice try, Blinky.)

But it turns out that he was rather disturbed by the meticulous dismantling of his bad faith arguments that he actually went so far as to update his blogpost. It seems he may have had some additional points that he thought may have made up for the errors in his blogpost, errors that not even the greenest poli sci 100 student would ever make. (It's nearly day one stuff, after all.)

How much more did he have to say? Well, let me put it to you this way: not much more than he had to say in the first place. Which, as you may recall, wasn't very much at all. But I'd like to draw your attention, in particular, to his new concluding line::

"(My apologies if you were hoping for an academic critique, but the Calgary School’s errors aren’t a matter of scholarship – they are ideological.)"

 So there you have it. There, in one sentence, everything that Tobold Rollo's "scholarship" seems to be about: ideology. And ideology alone.

Apparently Rollo admits that he takes no issue whatsoever in the facts that Tom Flanagan and Barry Cooper cite. He has no problem with their analytical rigour. Rollo's single and sole objection is that Flanagan and Cooper do not share his ideology.

Suddenly, it all makes sense: the conceptual shakiness of his online offerings. The scant references to anything even remotely resembling a source or even a fact. And the spectacularly wanton resorting to logical fallacies of every sort imaginable to sweep any criticism -- that blasted criticism! -- away.

Because to Tobold Rollo it seems that this isn't about conceptual soundness. It isn't about facts or sources. It certainly isn't about good-faith debating tactics. It's all about ideology, and ideology alone. There's nothing else. Rollo has drawn a line in the sand of academia: on one side, he and those who share his ideology, or at least ideologies that he is willing to give some sort of approval, however, begrudging. On the other side is everyone else.

From a scholastic standpoint, that's a serious problem. For one thing, it actually precludes defending a position with facts or logic. Ideas promoted by those adhering to one particular ideology are automatically granted merit, regardless of whether or not they withstand academic muster. Ideas promoted by those adhering to another particular ideology are immediately discarded, regardless of whether or not they withstand scrutiny. That makes for an extremely toxic scholarly environment, but as it turns out that isn't even the most striking thing about this stance.

There are various theories about what ideologies are, how they are formed, and whether or not those who hold such ideologies are aware that they hold them. I won't go into them at length here because quite frankly it can get quite boring. But I will mention this important concept: many theorists have held that virtually everything about the way people are socialized within any particular society is ideological. The argument holds that one way or another, everyone adheres to some sort of ideology regardless of whether they recognize it or not. In one way or another, that ideology guides virtually every decision that a person makes.

Now clearly, awareness of his personal ideology is not an issue for Rollo. He's fully aware of it, and it seems he allows it to guide how he judges and responds to work by other scholars. Considering this, it's not hard to draw the conclusion that, for Tobold Rollo, the conclusion is always foregone. The result of a study or research project always decided in advance. And that no conflicting piece of evidence will be allowed to change his mind so long as it leads him in the "wrong" ideological direction.

Suddenly it all makes sense. How Rollo could entirely skim over the most obvious shortcomings in Barry Cooper's original column -- and make no mistake about it, I feel there are logical and conceptual shortcomings in Professor Cooper's article -- and instead resort to the bad-faith tactics of which he appears to be so fond.

I peeled back the layers, revealed his offerings to be utterly hollow, and in response Tobold Rollo simply came out and revealed what he's all about. And in Tobold Rollo's case, there's nothing there but ideology.

I won't pretend to be more Catholic than the Pope here. I'm no less ideological than most people. But I do take the time to challenge my ideological assumptions on a regular basis, and in doing so I at least strive to give you more than mere ideology. Troll-bold doesn't, and he makes that perfectly clear.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Indigenous Nationhood and Political pseudo-Science

Tobold Rollo is a man with a problem.

He aspires to be an "ally" to the Idle No More movement. Unfortunately for him according to the standards of "alliance" he himself espouses this reduces him to little more than one of the movement's white mascots. He longs to be taken seriously, but when he finally lands himself an appearance on TVO's The Agenda (with the excellent Steve Paikin), they're only barely interested in what he has to say.

But neither of these problems are the problem Rollo chooses to address. Instead, he decides he has a problem with a recent op-ed written by University of Calgary Political Science professor Barry Cooper, and attempts to solve that problem with a blogpost rebuttal that seems to aspire to pithiness but never really advances beyond baleful whining.

In Rollo's favour, I will say that I consider Cooper's column to be flawed in a number of respects. More on that very shortly. But Rollo's erstwhile rebuttal is nothing short of a trainwreck. This particular disaster begins by Rollo very much being himself. To whit, Rollo's whining:

"To evidence this grand deception for the lay public, Cooper cites an immense body of scholarly literature that has withstood the most demanding levels of interdisciplinary academic scrutiny. Just kidding, he cites 'a classic study [sic] published in 2000 by my longtime colleague and even longer-time friend, Tom Flanagan, called First Nations? Second Thoughts.'"

With an objection like that you'd almost expect that Rollo would himself cite an "immense body of scholarly literature that has withstood the most demanding levels of interdisciplinary scrutiny." His own standard, after all. But predictably, he doesn't. His counter-argument never rises above the level of the genetic fallacy, which is and should be unsurprising from someone who once responded to Andrew Coyne by calling him "a confused white guy."

Now to be entirely forthcoming, there are many things within Cooper's column that I disagree with. For example, the idea that First Nations, not having emerged from the European diplomatic regime that produced the idea of Westphalian sovereignty -- which remains the gold standard of sovereignty, even if it doesn't itself encompass the entirety of the concept -- cannot expect to benefit from consideration under that concept.

Ideas such as sovereignty are not, and never have been, the exclusive preserve of their progenitors. Absolutely nothing prevents First Nations from invoking the notion of sovereignty. To treat the legal concept of sovereignty as a "legal advantage" enjoyed by European civilizations is, in my opinion, a severe mischaracterization of the concept. Understanding of this concept can be a tremendous advantage, particularly where there is such a marked imbalance of power as between First Nations and the Europeans who first arrived to settle North America, but not the concept itself.

To be entirely charitable to Professor Cooper, sovereignty was certainly conceptualized around existing European states.But even with that being said, this does not strictly reserve sovereign rights for states. It just so happens that the traditional state is the entity best equipped to have its sovereignty recognized, and -- more importantly -- to exercise sovereignty.

Had Rollo followed this very simple and very fundamental track, few individuals with any training in political science would have any grounds on which to disagree with him. But as it turns out, Rollo seems unprepared to be forthcoming about precisely how he strives to define sovereignty. He notes that "when Indigenous peoples speak about nations and sovereignty they are not referring to First Nations bands or their reserve lands under the Indian Act. Nor are also not talking about Westphalian state sovereignty."

For the moment let us say that this is fair enough and take him at his word. First Nations are not laying claim to Westphalian state sovereignty. Very well. You may then ask: what other kinds are there?

Well, I'm glad you asked. There are essentially four separate measures of sovereignty. I'll take this opportunity to explain them, as Rollo himself declines to.

The first we'll examine is "domestic sovereignty." This amounts to control over a geographic area -- usually referred to as a state, but my contention remains that sovereignty is not necessarily reserved for states -- by an internal authority. One of the most basic manifestations of this control is a presumed monopoly over the use of force.

The second we'll examine is "interdependence sovereignty." This presumes that known borders exist, and that the sovereign entity can protect those borders and control movement across them.

The third we'll examine is "international legal sovereignty." It's embodied the answer to a very simple question: do other sovereign entities recognize the authority of the alleged sovereign entity?

The fourth we'll examine is the measure of sovereignty that Professor Cooper remains preoccupied with: "Westphalian sovereignty." Established by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that effectively ended religious warfare within Europe, Westphalian sovereignty refuted any authority over a particular geographic area other than the recognized sovereign authority.

So given these four measures of sovereignty, can First Nations in Canada really lay claim to sovereignty? The answer seems to be maybe, maybe, no, and no.

Can they lay claim to domestic sovereignty? Certainly, First Nations do have governments of their own: band councils on individual reserves and various national assemblies. They're recognized as having control over reserve lands, and effectively self-governing over those lands. Sadly, even in Rollo's analysis it isn't nearly so simple as this. It's bad enough that we're already classifying this as a solid "maybe."

Can they lay claim to interdependence sovereignty? Well, the boundaries of reservations certainly could be treated as borders of a sort. They don't appear on your standard roadmap but nonetheless they do exist. (Israel doesn't appear on many roadmaps produced in Arab countries, so this is by no stretch of the imagination a measure of sovereignty.) They don't actively defend or patrol those borders, but on-reservation legal authorities do have the power to remove non-aboriginals and non-residents from them. We'll call this another solid maybe.

Can they lay claim to international legal sovereignty? The short answer is no. A slightly longer answer is no, but there is a United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights... to which Canada is not a signatory. Which doesn't amount to a full recognition of international legal sovereignty.

Can they lay claim to Westphalian sovereignty? Unfortunately, no. Under the Indian Act the federal government of Canada has been granted specific areas of authority. Band Councils have to receive approval from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for specific expenditures. This leads us to one of two conclusions: first, either the band council is not the recognized sovereign authority -- which would slide the question of domestic sovereignty from the "maybe" into the "no" column -- or, there is another authority over the territory in question other than the alleged domestic sovereign entity. Both of these answers preclude Westphalian sovereignty.

As we ponder these issues, we must remember all the while that Rollo contends that aboriginal sovereignty is not embodied in their band councils or reservations. So what precisely are they embodied in? Well, he declines to say. This is a classic bad-faith argument, and Rollo's analysis may well be the first time I've ever seen someone who purports himself to be a self-respecting academic attempt to raise bad faith argumentation to the level of serious academics.

Overriding our questions regarding the four measures of sovereignty is one great, big commanding "no." The treaties signed by Canada's first nations -- at least those that actually signed such treaties -- specifically surrender any claims to sovereignty. While there do remain some First Nations that have yet to sign any such treaty -- Alberta's Lubicon Cree come to mind -- none of those who have retain any claim to sovereignty. As such, it is precisely as Cooper says it is -- the treaties extinguish, not affirm, claims to aboriginal sovereignty. RCAP's vivid imagination notwithstanding, the only way to imagine that the treaties affirm aboriginal sovereignty is to strip the concept of virtually any meaning whatsoever.

"Sovereignty" would not be the first time Rollo has done something of the like. During his ill-fated appearance on The Agenda, Rollo droned on about "paternalism," only to note that the single most paternalistic element of the Indian Act -- the federal government's fiduciary duty to First Nations, which leaves it holding enormous power over the fiscal affairs of First Nations -- must remain entrenched in any future legislation. Accordingly, "paternalism" is a word that, in Rollo's mouth, begins to lose any and all meaning. In the wake of his "critique" of Cooper we can now say the same thing for the concept of "sovereignty."

Tobold Rollo will, of course, try to write all of this off as the ramblings of an "unqualified" individual. He, after all, is a PhD candidate. I'm an individual who, for reasons largely out of my own power, was forced to suspend his studies, however temporarily.

Of course, therein lies the rub. Tobold Rollo may be a PhD candidate but Tom Flanagan already has one. Accordingly, by his own logic, Rollo is unqualified to dismiss the conclusions of First Nations, Second Thoughts.

That, of course, is presuming that Rollo's logic is actually logic. To consider it so risks stripping that word of all meaning.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Steve" Could Be Anybody

You may have seen this: as Idle No More protesters illegally blockaded the Queen Elizabeth II highway south of Edmonton, the RCMP folded their cards. In the face of a mere 23 protesters, they instead began to divert traffic around the blockade -- through Nisku and probably through Beaumont. I've taken that detour myself before, and it's not a pleasant experience.

And while the RCMP simply allowed self-righteous criminality to paralyze one of Canada's busiest highways, one man stood up to them, largely alone. His name was Steve:

Now there are a lot of things that could be said about "Steve." (Just "Steve.") You could say that he's not necessarily an eloquent man. You could say that he's angry. You could say that, when pushed to his limit, he just wasn't going to take it any more.

You could say he's like a lot of us.

Why anybody could be "Steve." He could be any old "Steve." It reminded me of this scene from The Dark Knight Rises:

"The idea was to be a symbol," Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) tells Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). "Batman could be anybody."

That, naturally, is the genius of "Steve." And even as a lot of people must certainly be hoping that he comes forward again to identify himself, it's my personal hope that he doesn't. And my belief that he won't. Because "Steve" isn't the fake hunger striker Theresa Spence or vapid human bobble head Brigette DePape. He isn't doing this to get attention for himself. He didn't do what he did to become famous. He did it to make a point.

And if "Steve" could be anybody, then anybody could be "Steve." Everybody could be "Steve."

I don't want to indulge my inner John Ackers here and suggest that absolutely everybody should emulate "Steve." Merely that those of us concerned about the rise of such self-righteous and entitled lawlessness as the Idle No More blockades should look within ourselves and decide if we have it in us to take a stand like "Steve" did, do it as peacefully as "Steve," and muster the humility to do it as anonymously as "Steve."

Because Canada needs fewer Brigette DePapes and far fewer Theresa Spences. But Canada needs far more "Steves." And "Steve" could be anybody. Anybody at all.

Monday, January 14, 2013

When You've Lost The Star's Readers, It's Over

Heather Mallick got a little nutty regarding #IdleNoMore -- and took it upon herself to write a column that suggests that even the most well-meaning comments about the plight of Aboriginal Canadians are racist.

Once upon a time, I would have torn into Mallick's column full bore, and perhaps some day I will do so again. But right now it just so happens that I don't need to, as The Star's readers apparently took it upon themselves to do it for me.

Behold some of the comments regarding Mallick's rhetorically self-indulgent malarkey:
Note the agree-to-disagree ratios here. If Mallick simply expected to be backed up by her regular readers, they very clearly haven't been doing a very good job of it.

Now consider some of the comments affirming Mallick's aforementioned malarkey, replete with banal droning about "white privilege." Again, pay close attention to the agree-to-disagree ratios:
Accusing their critics of racism has been a favourite rhetorical shortcut for the #IdleNoMore movement and its supporters. But when even Toronto Star readers aren't buying it, it's very clearly time to pack it in.

It's over. It's just over.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Attawapiskat: It's Like Our Own Little North Korea Nestled Within Canada's Borders

I'm certain that when Chief Theresa Spence ordered any media arriving in Attawapiskat to ask questions about the explosive audit recently leaked to the media -- which Spence herself wishes people would dismiss as a distraction -- to leave or risk arrest, many of the aboriginal activists involved in Idle No More didn't so much as bat an eye. I imagine many of them are quite used to things like this. As Ezra Levant recently noted about the shoddy accounting in Attawapiskat's financials -- and I will now expand to the tyrannical bent of many First Nations leaders -- this is a way of life.

But it had me thinking about something that I had personally read and dismissed as malarkey -- which meant that many left-wing activists instantly fell in love with it. What I refer to is a recent blogpost written by one Tolbold Rollo -- I personally refer to him as Troll-bold -- and promptly re-posted in various sources. It was entitled "I Am Canadian (Because of Treaties With Indigenous Nations)."

It was laden with equal parts error, fantasy and logical fallacy. But what I'd actually like to draw attention specifically -- as this is very relevant to the current topic of discussion -- is a link within the blogpost. To a pamphlet Rollo wrote with Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred.

It's unlikely that this pamphlet would stand up to scrutiny not only by anyone not affiliated with Idle No More, but with many of those affiliated with it, provided that they even bothered to stop and think about it.

Particularly the idea that the Parliament of Canada should pass legislation that would allow First Nations to govern themselves according to their own traditions. The problem for many Idle No More activists is that they have expressed a belief that the government of Canada cannot legislate any such rights for First Nations without being paternalist. But the problem for absolutely anyone else is that it could quite easily lead to what is happening in Attawapiskat to proliferate on reserves across Canada. Presumably at the tax-payers expense.

 Think about everything you've seen about Attawapiskat. The grinding poverty of most individuals. Compare that to the comparatively lavish salary of Chief Spence and her common-law husband Clayton Kennedy. Between the two of them their yearly household income tops $200,000. They are truly among the 1% of Canada's aboriginal community. Now, the expulsion of any outside media. Not all that different from North Korea.

Spence's actions have revealed for all to see what a great many Canadians must have suspected all along: that Chief Theresa Spence effectively runs Attawapiskat as her own personal fiefdom. From their actions of the past 48 hours, the band council looks an awful lot like a dictatorship, flexing its muscle to prevent residents from talking to outsiders and showing them how the band's money was really spent.

Now suppose that a great number of First Nations chiefs across Canada -- looking to Spence as their "inspiration" -- decide to follow suit. Suddenly, we have a handful of little North Korea-esque territories scattered throughout Canada, but hundreds of them. All it would really take is for any number of Chiefs to decide to themselves that this is consistent with aboriginal custom and tradition. Sadly, it may not take as much distortion of those customs and traditions for the power-hungry to draw this particular conclusion.

And that's what Attawapiskat has truly become. Call it Attawapiscam, call it Attawapisham, call it Attawapistan. Call it whatever you want. But don't mistake if for anything but what it is: the creeping encroachment of not just tyranny, but tyranny that imagines itself sovereign, into Canada.

Monday, January 7, 2013

And Henceforth, It Was Known as #Attawapiscam

Paul Martin is inspired by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.

Really. He even says so.

“I just told her that … she’d become really an inspiration for all Canadians and that we were obviously concerned about her health and that she’s got to take care of herself,” Martin announced.

But if you didn't know better -- or see the results of the audit released today -- you'd almost think that perhaps Spence hadn't been inspired by the government in which he served as Finance Minister, and eventually took over as Prime Minister. After all, it seems that Spence's Band Council and the government of which Martin was a part have so much in common.

After all, remember the Sponsorship Scandal? Adscam? Questionable spending of federal taxpayer dollars? No indication the work was actually done?

Yeah. Theresa Spence and Paul Martin are looking an awful lot alike right about now. Now, this shouldn't be confused with suggesting that Martin himself was directly responsible for Adscam. The results of the Gomery Inquiry pretty clearly indicated that Martin himself wasn't. Keep in mind that the results of the Deliotte audit don't yet point a direct finger of blame at anyone in particular.

But there's absolutely no question that when the shit went down, both Martin and Spence were either holding the keys of power, or (in Martin's case) at least holding the purse strings.

Keep in mind that the Attawapiskat audit doesn't reveal malfeasance per se. No one will know for certain until the forensic audit that Attawapiskat co-manager Clayton Kennedy ("coincidentally" Spence's honey bunny) called for. (Of course, it's remarkably easy for Kennedy.to say the funds can be tracked via the vendors and contractors when there are so few contracts, receipts, and documents of any kind. But I digress.)

Better yet, the government could just go ahead and call an inquiry into Attawapiskat. Which, if you ask me, is something that pretty much has to happen no matter what. After all, there are answers to be found and, one way or the other, Canada desperately needs them.

Now to say that there may be no malfeasance is not to say that there may be no scandal. There's no question there is a scandal of one sort or another. Which is why Canadians should go ahead and take their "inspiration" from none other than Paul Martin himself, and brand this scandal Attawapiscam. Even though it's a little bit on the longside, it actually makes a pretty decent hashtag.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Somewhere Outside Ottawa, Theresa Spence Has Gotten Very Nervous...

As Idle No More has grown, fed by left-wing activists desperate for attention and a consensus media desperate for a story, one would forgive First Nations' Chiefs if they began to convince themselves that it was all about them.

After all, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's "hunger strike" (which isn't really a hunger strike at all, as she's managed to maintain a... let's say "healthy"... weight by eating fish broth) has garnered a significant deal of attention. At first demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston, she received visits from celebrity guests like Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Joe Clark while refusing to meet with the Minister of Indian Affairs, or even Senator Patrick Brazeau (who himself is formerly Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples). Now apparently Spence will settle for a meeting between Harper and other First Nations chiefs.

But as it turns out, maybe Idle No More wasn't that into Spence after all. After all, they recently began scrambling to distance themselves from Spence and other First Nations Chiefs.

It's not hard to see why. As it turns out, the Chiefs are the weak link of Idle No More, and everyone within that burgeoning "movement" -- in which First Nations activists have taken to being idle no longer by hanging out at shopping malls -- knows it. To examine the history of aboriginal self-governance on many reserves across Canada is to explore a seedy history of corruption, where Chiefs were able to rule with an iron fist and ruthlessly punish anyone who dared speak out against them.

If one is to take Idle No More on the word at some of their objections to Bill C-45, one would almost suspect that they want things to remain pretty much this way. But I digress.

“The Chiefs have called for action and anyone who chooses can join with them, however this is not part of the Idle No More movement as the vision of this grassroots movement does not coincide with the visions of the Leadership,”declared a statement on the Idle No More website.

In other words, Idle No More isn't going to take its directions from the Chiefs -- which is especially curious considering that Idle No More has stood up in defense of the Chiefs' interests far more than they're standing up for the interests of anyone else, or even themselves.

It seems Theresa Spence doesn't like that. The non-hunger-striking Chief urged "solidarity."

"We need to continue to encourage and stand in solidarity as Indigenous Nations," Spence announced. "We are at a historical moment in time, and I ask that grassroots, chiefs and all community members come together in one voice."

Certainly she'd prefer that this "one voice" be in fact her voice. But this is almost enough to make someone think that one of the reporters at the attention-hungry (not hungry-hungry) Chief's teepee turned to her and asked: "just why do we care about you at this point, again?"

Certainly, Spence must be hoping that Concordia University professor Daniel Salee is wrong when he says that Idle No More is now rejecting their traditional leadership, who have accepted so much money on behalf of First Nations and spent so much of it, accruing so much benefit for themselves, while managing to accomplish so very little for their own people. After all, if Salee is right, Spence will be among the first Chiefs that will be promptly disposed of (politically speaking, of course).