Jun 172018
 

Here is a sobering statistic based on some Gallup data. The only president ever who was more popular among same party followers than Trump was… George W. Bush.

Yes. More popular than JFK, Ike, Obama or Reagan, 500 days into the presidency.

Then again, this chart may reflect a disease that goes deeper than Trump: the continuing ideological polarization of America. Here are the same figures, this time in chronological order:

The trend seems unmistakable. After WW2, voters were, it appears, more skeptical. Presidents were approved based on their deeds more than their party affiliation. This appears to have changed in the past 70 years. Now, party affiliation matters more.

Then again… What if Truman, Ford, Carter, G. W. Bush are all outliers? After all, in all their cases the circumstances were unusual, exceptional even. Take them out and what we are left with is a pretty steady approval rating in the vicinity of 80%, give or take.

I don’t know. With a data set of only 13 data points, throwing four away as outliers is a bit excessive.

 Posted by at 9:52 am
Jun 172018
 

I decided to watch Fox News a little this morning.

The topic was the separation of children from their parents at the US border.

Here is what I learned: The problem is not new. And it is all about optics they tell me. That is to say, Barack Obama faced the same problem, his team even discussed the “zero tolerance” policy, but rejected it because it would have looked bad. In contrast, Donald J. Trump does not care about optics. He is willing to take the heat to do the right thing and enforce the law. He is a person who is seeking solutions instead of hiding from problems.

In short, when he institutes a policy to separate children from their parents, he is a hero who protects America’s core values better than his meek predecessor.

Mind you, I think Fox is wrong about optics. The optics were pretty bad during the Obama years, too. Here is a delightful picture of unaccompanied children sleeping on the floor of a border protection facility back in 2014.

Incidentally, the term I used as the title of this blog entry is wholly appropriate. The camps where these children are housed represent a textbook definition of concentration camps for children.

 Posted by at 8:27 am
Jun 112018
 

I admit I never expected to see this:

I admit I despise both gentlemen in this picture, albeit for different reasons.

However… if this meeting has a positive outcome, I will cheer when they are both awarded the Nobel peace prize.

 Posted by at 9:39 pm
Jun 102018
 

When Doug Ford won the provincial election a few days ago, I expressed my concern that this election (together with the elevation of the NDP to official opposition status and the collapse of the Liberals) was a victory of populism over the moderate center.

My concern, though far from gone, is somewhat alleviated today, not just by the premier-designate’s apparently competent transition team, but also by his reaction to Trump’s Twitter tirade against Justin Trudeau:

Thank you, Mr. Ford. It would have been easy to score populist brownie points with a disparaging tweet. I noticed that more than a few of your followers scolded you for not doing so. Instead, you opted for the high road. That gives me reason for cautious optimism.

 Posted by at 11:58 pm
Jun 102018
 

I have now concluded that Donald J. Trump, the lawfully elected President of the United States of America, is a traitor to his country and a traitor to the West. Quite possibly, a true Manchurian Candidate.

It is not about left or right, not about liberals vs. conservatives. He is a traitor, pure and simple. He is doing immense damage to the Western alliance, and his actions will likely result in immense damage to America’s economy and political standing as well.


The dilettantism that characterizes his government (his State Department just mentioned D-day as an example of the long-running US-German relationship) is also reminiscent of the incompetence and dilettantism that plunged the world into more than half a century of chaos in 1914.

But openly snubbing the G-7, refusing to agree to the joint statement, and trash tweeting our Prime Minister goes beyond mere incompetence. This is treason. Forget Canada, forget the Western alliance, this is treason because of what it does to the United States of America and its standing in the world.

Some folks suggested that if Trump is impeached, Mike Pence would be worse. I beg to disagree. Mike Pence may be a hardline conservative, but he is no traitor. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is a clear and present danger to everything the West stands for. I hope American lawmakers finally find the moral courage to remove this treasonous jackass from office. Before it is too late.

 Posted by at 1:25 am
Jun 072018
 

I am watching the CBC’s coverage of the Ontario elections, and I am reminded of the immortal Yeats poem from a century ago:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Well, Doug Ford, Donald Trump’s Ontario mini-me: it looks like the province is yours. May you wield your powers a little more wisely than the orange person south of the border.

 Posted by at 9:18 pm
May 292018
 

And now I am rooting for Andrea Horwath.

No, I won’t be voting NDP in the upcoming Ontario election. I live in a strongly Liberal riding (it is said that if the Liberals win one seat in this election, it will be this one), and I am actually quite pleased with our MPP, Nathalie Des Rosiers. The NDP in this riding is a distant third in the polls.

But throughout the province, support for the Liberal Party collapsed, and populist Doug Ford, heading the Progressive Conservatives, seems poised to become the province’s next Premier.

The CBC’s Ontario Poll Tracker

Unless Andrea Horwath and the NDP can stop him.

To be sure, I don’t really like the NDP. I like some of their ideas, but on many things, they are too far to the left for me to feel comfortable. I fear that their policies will have a negative impact on the province: higher taxes, a more business hostile climate. I lived in Ontario a generation ago when Bob Rae led the last NDP government, and while it was no disaster, it was not too good either.

But we survived. And policy mistakes are one thing… ignorant alpha-male populism is in another league altogether.

So do I look at Horwath as the lesser of two evils? Not really. I don’t consider Horwath evil. At worst, the NDP are misguided. But they seem like reasonable folks, willing to listen to the facts. Which means that, more than likely, once they are in power, they will actually disappoint some of their most ardent followers as they moderate their views and adjust to the realities of everyday governing.

Ford, on the other hand, is likely to do far more damage. Reckless tax cuts combined with a march toward balanced budgets will lead to catastrophic cuts in public services, with damage likely lasting generations. OHIP, public transport, potholes, the energy infrastructure… all of that and much more are on the line. Then there are those campaign promises (such as new hospital beds) that have not been budgeted for, and in my opinion, will never be, as these are empty promises with no real intent to follow through, once elected.

In short, in Horwath I see a responsible leader committed to some leftist ideas that I am not unduly fond of. In Ford, I see a naked hunger for power, reckless populism, ignorance, irresponsibility.

So for the first time in my life, I am actually rooting for the NDP.

 Posted by at 10:13 am
May 052018
 

In the late 1960s, early 1970s, Hollywood responded to social upheavals and perceived lawlessness by creating a series of renegade, vigilante cops, played by the likes of Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood.

Today, perceived changes, threats to “us”, fear from “them”, seem to be bringing about another result: the rise of political strongmen around the world. This is the topic of a new article in TIME, also featured on the cover of their upcoming issue.

Pictured are Putin, Duterte of the Philippines, Orban of Hungary and Erdogan of Turkey. Not shown but extensively covered in the article are Xi Jinping, Egypt’s al-Sisi, and, of course, Donald Trump. Other strongmen are also mentioned.

What is this world coming to? Why are people who benefited the most from liberal democracy so keen to reject its values?

And in particular, why do we let the free Internet, one of the greatest inventions of liberal democracy, become a tool of state propaganda, a conduit for fake news? Why do we let the powers-that-be censor it or, worse yet, use it as a tool of oppression, as a means to build a totalitarian surveillance state?

Nor do I believe that Canada is immune. We are about to elect our very own strongman here in the province of Ontario. Doug Ford, brother to the scandal-plagued former mayor of Toronto, the late Rob Ford, is destined to become the next premier of this province. And who knows what will happen next… I am sure Doug Ford’s ambitions do not end with Queen’s Park.

In the end, it becomes a test of the strength of democratic institutions. In the US, Trump cannot ignore the courts, and may soon face a hostile legislature. In Canada, the Prime Minister may control Parliament, but the court system is strong and the press, too, remains independent. Even so, I’d rather not stress-test our democracy.

 Posted by at 3:10 pm
Apr 172018
 

This stunning young lady is none other than future First Lady of the United States, Barbara Bush, back in 1943.

Alas, Barbara Bush is no more. She passed away today after a prolonged illness.

She was genuine, she was funny, and she was noble. Her husband for more than 70 years, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush were clearly a loving couple until the very end.

And she even appeared on The Simpsons.

May she rest in peace.

 Posted by at 8:10 pm
Apr 112018
 

A couple of statements from the past 24 hours:

If there is a strike by the Americans, then…the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired.” – Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, on Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” – United States president Donald J. Trump, on Twitter.

Suddenly, I have this almost irresistible urge to grab a shovel and start digging a fallout shelter.

While I still can.

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Apr 042018
 

A headline on Euronews caught my attention earlier today: Syria: A bigger role for the EU?

Good, thought I. The Russians might not like it though, thought I. But that’s okay, as a matter of fact, it might help bring rogue EU countries like Hungary in line, thought I. It might help presenting a united front against an increasingly ill-behaved Russia.

And then I caught myself, as I realized that I just rediscovered a truth that is as old as civilization itself: how conflict, the threat of war, or war itself can unite a people.

You know what? Much as I like the great European experiment, much as I cherish the fact that my once worthless Hungarian passport grants me European citizenship, if the price of keeping it together is more involvement in conflicts like Syria, it might not be worth it.

 Posted by at 12:18 pm
Mar 242018
 

I just read that Elon Musk nixed Tesla’s and SpaceX’s Facebook pages.

Much as I admire Musk, I will not follow his example. I am not planning to delete my Facebook account.

Facebook is not the problem. It is a symptom.

The actual problem is much broader. The Internet that brought us together is also responsible for creating fragmented communities, echo chambers if you wish. When our primary source of news is like-minded people, memes and links we exchange with each other, often uncritically, without checking their veracity, there is a problem. It makes no difference if the content delivery vehicle is Facebook, Twitter, plain old e-mail or anything else.

I am not going to give up the opportunity offered by Facebook to stay in touch with old friends, with classmates I have not seen in years if not decades, with other people I would not even know were it not for the Internet. This is priceless.

But when I want to get informed about the world, I do not turn to Facebook. I do not forward memes. I might give a perfunctory “Like” to something that appears in my feed, but I do not believe it without checking first. And most importantly, I use other sources to keep myself informed.

Yet I fear the problem is even greater than this, and once again, ditching Facebook may be precisely the wrong answer. I recall what it was like when I was growing up in Hungary in the 1960s, 1970s. We had one national television channel. (OK, make that one-and-a-half, because there was a Channel 2, but with only a very short broadcast day in the evenings, initially, only a few days a week. And on Mondays, both channels were off the air.) This means that we all watched the same things. No matter which part of the country, which walk of life you came from, you knew the same television personalities I knew, you heard the same jokes, you watched the same drama.

It was probably never quite like this in North America, where there were always a multitude of channels since the dawn of television. Still, back in the old days, “multitude” meant maybe a half dozen choices if you were in a major metro area. So the shared cultural experience was still there. Not anymore. And never mind television, with hundreds of cable and satellite channels and numerous online alternatives. On top of that comes social media, with its propensity to create microcommunities.

Again, the problem is not that you stay in touch with your circle of friends. That’s great! The problem is that your circle of friends becomes your primary source of news and views about the world. You reinforce each other’s beliefs, making it harder and harder to contemplate alternative viewpoints.

So keep Facebook. Do stay in touch with old friends or distant family members. But for heaven’s sake, don’t use Facebook to inform yourself. Ditch the memes. Stop sharing anything other than cute cat pictures. And be the most suspicious when you see something that you are inclined to believe. It’s not the lies and deceptions you hate that are the most dangerous; it is the lies and deceptions that you are most likely to believe that will fool you. This is something state-sponsored Russian trolls know all too well.

 Posted by at 8:54 am
Mar 202018
 

Every once in a while, my hopes, or perhaps delusions, that we live in a less dark world, are crushed.

This was the case moments ago, when I watched this undercover report by Channel 4 about Cambridge Analytica.

The company’s excuses, shown at the end of the report, are especially pathetic. “No, Mr. Policeman,” says the petty thief, “I wasn’t trying to steal that item when you caught me red-handed, I was just testing the security of the merchant.”

Yeah, right.

 Posted by at 5:38 pm
Mar 202018
 

Breaking news on CNN: Another school shooting in America.

My only problem with CNN’s reporting is… why do they call this “Breaking News”?

That label should be reserved for news that is, well, unexpected and breaking. School shootings happen with such regularity, they should be part of CNN’s regularly scheduled programming.

 Posted by at 10:09 am
Mar 052018
 

Saturday evening, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump talked to some Republicans behind closed doors. But a recording has been leaked.

Here is what Mr. Trump said, among other things, in response to Xi Jinping turning China back to strongman rule by removing term limits from China’s constitution: “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.

Having read, and then heard, these words, I was filled with a combination of dread, disgust, despair and revulsion.

Fuck you, Trump. Fuck you, Republican cheerleaders who sacrifice everything sacred for party loyalty and for power.

Forgive my vulgar outburst but this crossed a line. This REALLY crossed a line. I grew up in a communist state, not on a freaking golf course courtesy of rich daddy, like this megalomaniac asshole who has no idea what he is idiotically blabbering about, cheering on a commie dictator because apparently he, too, would love to be president for life.

I think that with this statement, Trump abdicated the informal position of “leader of the free world”. A true leader of the free world would never cheer on a commie dictator, not even as a tasteless joke. He may be America’s President, but with these words, he has declared himself an enemy of the world that I call free.

 Posted by at 12:47 am
Mar 022018
 

To my American friends who believe Trump is doing a good job protecting the US economy: I think it is telling that US stock markets are hurting more today than their Canadian counterparts, despite the fact that Canada is the primary target of Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs:

What can I say. Be careful what you wish for. And we have not even discussed how Canada (or Europe) might retaliate. But in the end, we will all be losers, no matter what the narcissistic idiot in the White House thinks about the wonderful job that he is doing.

 Posted by at 12:05 pm
Mar 012018
 

I am playing with JavaScript and HTML5. Three-dimensional transformations.

33
CNN
Cable News Network

It's more fun than I thought. And gives a whole new meaning to the word, "spin", as I am listening to CNN.

 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Feb 202018
 

In an opinion piece, Globe and Mail contributor, lawyer Charles Lugosi argues that calls to reform Canada’s jury system in light of the not guilty verdict in the case of the death of Colten Boushie, who was shot by Gerald Stanley, are unwarranted and deeply harmful.

Mr. Lugosi speaks from personal experience. In 1994, he defended a young indigenous man who, fearing for the safety of his wife and child, struck and killed a white man with a tire iron and then turned himself in to police. Judged by an all-white jury, the defendant was acquitted. Despite the outrage of the victim’s family, no one suggested racism after the verdict.

So why the calls for reforming the jury system now? Lugosi argues that it is simply political intimidation. Having looked at news reports providing details of the case, I am compelled to agree. Lawyers back before the verdict warned that the Crown’s case was tenuous and that a not guilty verdict was very much a possibility. Portrayals of the victim and his friends as harmless teenagers looking for help with a flat tire just do not agree with the facts. In reality, this was a drunk, disorderly, armed (!) lot who already ransacked another farm and were attempting to steal a vehicle from Stanley.

So let me be clear. Mr. Colten Boushie, the victim, was “seen as a menace” not on account of his race but on account of his actions. I have no reason to doubt that the jury reached their conclusions on this basis. For populist politicians to then criticize this decision, even as the jury are legally barred from discussing the case or defending themselves against charges of racism, is unconscionable.

I am sure there are plenty of genuine cases of bona fide racism against indigenous people in Canada. In fact, the behavior of the RCMP that night appears to have been far from impeccable. It may very well be that, as some accuse, the justice system is stacked against indigenous people.

And yes, Mr. Boushie is a victim. A victim of his own and his friend’s actions. A victim of circumstances. I’d go so far as to concede that yes, very probably a victim of a system stacked against him, a victim of still existing systematic racism in Canadian society.

But this jury verdict is not outrageous. It is consistent the facts: very simply, the guilt of the defendant was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. That’s all. It does not mean Mr. Stanley is a nice guy. It does not mean Mr. Boushie deserved death. Calls for a reform of the jury system just because a verdict is politically unpalatable undermines the justice system for all. And fueling tensions with unwarranted, politically motivated charges of racism does a disservice to indigenous and white Canadians alike.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Feb 192018
 

The more I learn about ancient China, the more my respect grows for the Middle Kingdom and its amazing history.

Here is something written by a 9th century Muslim traveler, Abu Zayd al-Sirafi, who visited China during the Tang Dynasty, in 850 A.D. or thereabouts. I found a modern translation that I first came across so incredible, I searched for corroboration. I then came across this 1733 English translation (if I interpret the cover page correctly, by an unnamed English translator using a French translation from the Arabic by Eusebius Renaudot).

Here is how this 1733 text describes China’s social safety net. (And if you are left wondering if perhaps the traveler mistakenly traveled into the future, visiting a late 20th, early 21st century welfare state, you are not alone):

“The Chinese have a Stone ten Cubits high, erected in the public Squares, and on this Stone are graved the Names of all sorts of Medicines, with the exact rates of each; and when the poor stand in need of any Relief from Physic, they go to the Treasury, where they receive the Price each Medicine is rated at.

“There is no Land Tax in China; they only levy so much per Head, according to the Wealth and Possessions of the Subject. When a Male Child is born, his Name is immediately entered into the King’s Books, and when this Child has attained his eighteenth Year, he begins to pay for his Head; but they demand it not of the Man who has seen his eightieth Year; on the contrary he receives a Gratification, by way of Pension, from the public Treasury; and in doing this, the Chinese say, That they give him this Gratification in his old days, in acknowledgment for what they receiv’d of him when he was young.

“There are Schools in every Town for teaching the Poor and their Children to write and read, and the Masters are paid at the public Charge.”

This text was written nearly 1,200 years ago. It took another millennium before public education become the norm in more developed European nations, and at least another century before various forms of social security and public health institutions took root.

I am beginning to appreciate more and more why the Middle Kingdom viewed the period loosely demarcated by the Opium Wars of the 1850s and the Japanese occupation of the 1930s and 1940s as the Century of Humiliation; and why it might appear to many that the recent rise of China as an economic superpower only means a return to the way things were always supposed to be, the way things have been for several millennia preceding the rapid rise of Europe a few centuries ago.

 Posted by at 8:21 pm