Megapundit: Apology, catastrophe

Must-reads: Rosie DiManno on the end of Old Beijing; Dan Gardner on “nudging”; Don Martin on openness and accountability.

Sneaky, sneaky
The new, transparent Ottawa continues to disappoint.

The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin sifts through the government’s Friday evening press release dump and concludes, if any doubt still lingered, that promises of renewed openness and accountability in Ottawa remain unfulfilled. It’s true that the report on the Maxime Bernier leave-behind affair exposed embarrassing security lapses at Foreign Affairs, that the National Round Table on the Environment report criticized the government for exaggerating greenhouse gas reduction outcomes, and that the plan to allow donations over $10,000 “to support the election of Canadian Wheat Board directors” is a “sneaky” manoeuvre designed to stack the board with pro-competition types. But none of those things constitute disasters, Martin argues, and nothing except “paranoia” justifies deliberately releasing it all when the news media are at their sleepiest.

In the Montreal Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald suggests the fracas surrounding Stephen Harper’s apology to Indo-Canadians over the Komagata Maru incident—which was delivered in a park, not in the House of Commons, to much displeasure—could seriously “devalue” the “currency of apologies” in Canada. Moreover, he believes it could put “multicultural funding in jeopardy, especially when an angry prime minister demands to know who screwed up an event he probably didn’t want to do in the first place.” (Interestingly, if one was to take the word of The Globe and Mail over that of Harper’s court supplicant, one would conclude the apology was very much his decision.)

The Obama threat
The Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom suggests an Obama presidency could be “as damaging as that of George W. Bush” if he followed through on his tough talk on Afghanistan and refused to let compromises, such as negotiating with the Taliban, tarnish his “inspirational” image. Most fundamentally, Walkom alleges, Obama’s plans for Afghanistan are predicated on the commonplace idea “that NATO’s failure to defeat the Taliban stems from lack of manpower”—which clearly isn’t true, he argues, because the Soviets had lots of manpower and still lost out to the mujahideen insurgency. Could there be some relevant differences between 1979 and 2001, we wonder? NATO coalition casualties are currently at about six per cent of what the Soviets lost in their decade-long misadventure, for example, but perhaps that’s just a coincidence.

The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson notes John McCain’s surprising resilience in the polls and lays out five scenarios wherein either he or Barack Obama might break the deadlock and win the Oval Office. They range from Obama winning “because it’s 1980″—i.e., like Ronald Reagan, voters will be skeptical of his fitness for office until he wows them during the debates—to McCain winning because Obama’s plans for Iraq threaten the stability the troop surge has brought about, to Obama winning because he has scads more cash to fling around.

Duly noted
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno goes walkabout in the “post-apocalyptic landscape” of Old Beijing, where a few hearty souls hold out against the bulldozers that have razed dozens of traditional neighbourhoods and displaced an estimated 100,000 residents. Where potential eyesores remain, officials have erected kilometres of “Olympic-theme decorated” walls, and even those have been deemed insufficient at the last minute. “On one block, … a three-metre-high brick wall suddenly went up on July 17, with no more warning that a piece of paper affixed to some front doors,” she reports, leaving local businesses marooned.

The world’s media have been all atwitter about Baffin Island’s uncommonly hot summer but utterly silent about Anchorage’s uncommonly cold one, Lorne Gunter complains in the National Post, because the one helps bolster the climate change consensus and the other doesn’t. Other items in Gunter’s latest skeptical compendium: a Swiss study suggesting cleaner air is responsible for warming in Europe (“in other words, environmentalism is causing global warming,” Gunter declares); a report from a University of Guelph biologist suggesting there are serious problems with the UN’s climate modelling computers; and a NASA report suggesting “70% of global warming to date is due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.”

The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington takes up the cause of Joe and Pat Bergeron, owners of an exotic animal sanctuary in Picton, Ont. that has recently been the target of inspectors from the SPCA. “Most of [the inspectors’] 58 complaints are repetitive and verge on the frivolous,” he opines, and the Bergerons argue their body of experience with animals dwarfs that of the inspectors, who seem to have ordered nail clippings for an animal that doesn’t have any. The president of the Toronto Humane Society suggests to Worthington that this is “part of an overall campaign to prevent anyone not affiliated with the OSPCA from helping animals.”

With AIDS awareness campaigns “gone the way of padded shoulders and big hair,” the Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall suspects few Canadians, particularly homosexual men, are aware that the disease is still a significant killer in this country. In less developed nations, meanwhile, she notes that the stigma of AIDS and the criminalization of homosexuality, as well as an insistence on abstinence programs by the Bush administration, are significantly hampering efforts to fight the disease.

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner notes Barack Obama’s and David Cameron’s interest in what Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, authors of Nudge, call “libertarian paternalism”—the use of subtle psychological hints, instead of boldly declared incentives, to “nudge” people towards government-approved behaviour. The most basic, famous and scatological example is the fake fly you sometimes see etched in urinals, which has been proven to improve users’ aim and reduce “spillage.” More important ways to conquer human beings’ inherent “status quo bias” include forcing them to opt out of “defined contribution plans in which employers make matching contributions” instead of asking them to opt in, a strategy that has been shown to vastly improve enrollment rates. (As Gardner says, they’re going to have to drop that “libertarian paternalism” thing. It sounds almost Orwellian.)

The Post‘s Jonathan Kay cites Mattathias Schwartz’s article on Internet trolls in this week’s New York Times Magazine as an example of a story that only “deep-pocketed traditional media organizations employing professional journalists” could ever hope to tell. “There isn’t a blogger in the world who could throw all of these resources behind a single investigation,” he argues, and only the most vacuous web properties—Perez Hilton, TMZ, etc.—are able to subsist on advertising alone. Thus, he urges the “noisy army of pundits … predicting the imminent extinction of print newspapers and magazines” to reconsider their gleeful stance.

The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson files his appreciation for Alexander Solzhenitsyn, noting his enigmatic refusal to accept Western pluralism even after experiencing firsthand the worst that totalitarian regimes can inflict on their citizens. “He was a Slavophile and a Great Russian chauvinist,” Simpson writes, “an Orthodox worshipper, a skeptic of the bourgeois and decadent West, a siren voice against the false temptations it offered Mother Russia, Holy Russia—a place destined to be different, possessed of a history the West could not fully comprehend.”