Saturday, July 15, 2017

A summer doldrums rant

I used to think of myself as a guy plugged into the news. (Celebrities and sports are not news, they are the circus part of the Roman bread and circuses.) It was fun to try to predict what was going to happen next and why. I loved trying to figure out what the news wasn't telling us. If you like that game, by the way, assuming that politicians and corporate leaders are not telling the truth enormously increases your odds of accuracy.

There used to be a fine line on this. One expected a certain spin on the facts, but there were facts that were agreed on. The better speakers could put enough polish on the spin that it seemed to flow naturally from the facts, and it took a certain amount of work to separate out the spin.

Some speakers were (and much more rarely now, are) a pleasure to listen to, even if you disagree with them. I remember Stephen Lewis speaking at our high school once, and enjoyed watching our very right wing history teacher reduced to frothing incoherence. The next several days were filled with "refutations" of what Lewis had said, mainly because he didn't want us to get hooked by "communist propaganda."

Hearing Naheed Nenshi speak not just in complete sentences, but actual paragraphs was refreshing. Obama gets high marks here as well. Brian Mulroney had some good days, and some bad days (roll the dice) on the speaking front, but was completely fluently slippery in both official languages. On the other hand, Jean Chretien was said to be unable to speak either of Canada's official languages, and yet was Prime Minister for 10 years, and is practically the definition of a successful Canadian career politician.

It isn't spin anymore. Particularly in America these days, they are bald faced lies, and they are stupid, easily refuted lies, and nobody seems to care. I don't get it. Why anybody believes anything from Trump or the Republican Party is beyond me. That last election proved there are tens of millions of people that were stupid enough to believe any or all of the following. That a vain and greedy New York billionaire (he says) would take care of the little guy. That he would drain the swamp. Build the wall, and lock her up! (I could go on.)

It's taken all the fun out of following the news, and I don't do it as much any more. Plus the news websites annoy me no end with the auto-start video, but that's a different rant. Particularly since I re-retired, I've been trying not to follow the news. I want to spend my time enjoying myself, not driving up my blood pressure.

A brief digression. A few of my readers will remember my time in a historical re-creation group. Along the way I rose to a position of administrative prominence, and those particular readers will know the two reasons I was chosen. I was often put in the place of arbitrating disagreements or explaining/enforcing the rules. Sometimes that just mean reading the words to them slowly, and explaining what they meant, and how they related to other sections. Some of the people arguing with me on this front didn't understand I had helped write the then current version of the rules, and knew them inside out.

What surprised a lot of people was how I went about arbitrating disagreements. One of the first things was to sit down with each group and talk it over  with them. The end goal was to be able to state their concerns and their wants back to them, to their satisfaction. When they grumbled I was doing that with the people opposed to them, I pointed out that the other group often had exactly the same complaint.

Then I pushed them to be able to do the same thing, state the other group's concerns and positions. This got a lot of people riled up, and it took a while to explain to them that there was a difference between stating and understanding a position, and actually holding or agreeing with that position. Things went ever so much more smoothly after that.

Another thing that had people wondering is why I was on good terms with people who held positions I disagreed with, sometimes vehemently. The difference was competence. Those people had reasons for their opinion, and were behaving rationally with respect to achieving their goals, if perhaps skating along the edges of the intent of the rules. It didn't matter that they held the opinion strongly. As I told one of them, privately, it was a pleasure doing business with them.

What I see in so many politicians now is rank incompetence, disguised by blatant appeals to their base. They rile people up by saying stupid things like "Kahr got a $10.5 million reward for being a terrorist." It's so stupid, and easily refuted you just want to slap them, and anyone nodding along, but it doesn't do any good. That one bit of stupidity hides a lot of the other stupidity they are spouting. Like a 15 year old should be held responsible for war crimes, but a 15 year old kid has to be prevented from joining a gay straight alliance or outed to the parents for doing it, because they aren't old enough to know what they are doing. In what world does that make sense?

It's frustrating that many people can't connect the dots between 1 and 2 in the case of 15 years, let alone 1 to 5 in a complicated discussion of funding medical care. It seems that people don't want to go to the trouble of understanding it, and yet argue with the people that actually do understand it.

Various writers have published volumes about how we should govern ourselves. I agree with Churchill, saying "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." That leads us to the question of how do we make democracy better?

Sit down, pour a beverage. Here's some bullet points:

  • Make people pass a test to be able to vote. In the USA recently, voters were unable to recognize the words of one of their basic governing documents, one that is almost certainly one of the 10 best known documents in world history. The details of the test are unformed at this time, but perhaps it relates to the point further down about teaching.
  • Politicians have to have some skin in the game. They should not be allowed to give themselves raises or insulate themselves from the laws they pass. 
  • I vacillate on term limits. I firmly believe that almost all politicians are like diapers, and should be changed for the same reason. And yet, there are the occasional exceptions. Maybe it just takes longer for them, and we should encourage them to use their talents elsewhere.
  • I'd dearly love to see a bullshit commission that ranks what politicians say, and calls them to account. A more polite way of saying is fact checking, but with teeth. A prospective politician that lies too much or too blatantly should be removed from the election process, or maybe given a time out from the electoral campaign. Sort of like Twitter jail, only more life-like and with less internet access.
  • Teaching people how government actually works. It should be taught in grade school, and a pass should be a nearly perfect mark. In Canada, teachers should get a bonus if they can lead a class into, and out of a discussion about "the elephant, a Federal or Provincial responsibility?" (Google it.) More seriously, students should learn what in fact the Federal, Provincial, and Civic levels of government are responsible for and why, and what is involved in changing it. Sample final exam question, "Discuss native governance in Canada, with regard to the level of governance involved, and support your position.
  • The government reporting rather more transparently where our taxes go.
  • The Westminster first past the post system has got to go! There are several plausible varieties of proportional voting; none are perfect (it is mathematically impossible for a voting system to be perfect), and all are better than the current one. Pick one, teach people how it works, and move forward. Yes, I know it probably means more minority governments. That's a good thing. I'm quite prepared to discuss why.
  • I vacillate about fixed election terms. Fixed terms mean politicians start electioneering well before the fact. Yes, I know, most politicians start electioneering the moment they are declared the winner of the current election. A term whenever the Prime Minister chooses gives too much power to the governing party, enabling them to call a snap election anytime that is politically propitious, though the strategy is not without risks. 
  • The duration of the election should be fixed, however. Six weeks seems like a reasonable period to give the people hustling for a vote time to state why we should vote for them, and yet not so long as to make us sick of the whole process.

And now that you've got through that, enjoy a glass of this.

1 comment:

  1. Great rant! I agree with everything - except requiring people to pass a test before they vote since I think you'd just end of up empowering elites even more which wouldn't be good for anyone in the long run. The answer is maybe requiring politicians to answer more questions, attend more open houses, spend more time debating issues on TV before the election. I dunno. Love to chat about it over a glass of wine one day though.


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