Monday, July 26, 2010

King Louis = Steve

The above title is for the CPC supporters who have been having the darndest of times trying to understand even the most basic facts involved in the census discussion.

For the rest of you, I present a quote from Reynold's exercise in stupidity from today's Globe:

"Le stat, to paraphrase Louis XIV, c’est moi."

First off, the horrible pun doesn't even make sense. Stats, er stat, is Louis XIV? I'm sure this had Reynolds chuckling to himself at his typewriter, but it's gibberish.

Nonetheless, there is some value in the quote. The irony is fantastic. Tell me, what reminds you more of Louis XIV: Collecting information about the population for the purposes of developing and running public programs and municipal planning, or the Prime Minister making a decision of national importance without consulting anyone, with no debate, on an issue outside his political mandate? L'etat, c'est lui.


  1. Harper analogies to historical tyrants make Baby Jesus cry.

  2. Sorry Peter, but when a large chunk of the current criticism about the census makes reference to the Soviet Union and fascist statisticians, I'm not above poking back.

  3. "First they forced me to divulge how many bathrooms I have...and I said nothing."

    C'mon Shiner, lighten up. Somehow I think the social safety net will survive the repeal of the mandatory long form census. But don't you think it is quintessentially Canadian to go to the barricades over an issue like this and haul out all these absurd analogies? Granted StatsCan bears faint resemblance to the KGB, but then this ain't exactly the repeal of the Edict of Nantes either.

  4. Consider me lightened Peter. The post was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I know I wrote the simplified title for Conservatives, but I didn't actually expect you to stop reading there. Relevant bit bolded:

    Tell me, what reminds you more of Louis XIV

    If Reynolds was going to make the link, I think he should have been a bit less careless about it.

    You're right, the federal government will not collapse, and it isn't the end of social science as we know it. But it does matter, and I'm heartened to see that it doesn't take complete disaster for groups to care (I say groups because I think it's pretty clear that the general public doesn't care). Accurate data is important for not only sound policy, but sound implementation of policy.

    I know at SL's you said that's a poor argument given the amount of government waste, but to me that's a bit like punishing a kid for failing a maths test by taking away his text book.

  5. "but to me that's a bit like punishing a kid for failing a maths test by taking away his text book."

    Uh oh. Baby Jesus is having a full-blown tantrum.

    Actually I didn't say that, what I said is that there is little general confidence in the government's competence and benevolence compared to yesteryear, and I don't think that is because everyone is under the sway of the evil Harper. It seems many feel that objection is answered by screeching "Yankee Tea Partyest! Any idiot knows the results of voluntary surveys are skewered!"

  6. Which would be fair if I had heard anyone other than you make that objection, which I, in all honesty, have not. Would be even fairer if the screech bore any resemblance at all to the actual discussion taking place in the mainstream media. You seem to be taking posts on Liberal blogs and comments at Macleans as indicative of the whole debate taking place.

    The general tone from myself and other opponents to the change is one of exasperation because the backers are arguing in bad faith. I'm sure you can recognize why my tone might be different when I'm talking to a friend who doesn't understand what the issue is and when I'm talking with wilson, CDNSense, or the blinkin' Fraser Institute, because they're lying and ignoring basic facts.

  7. Hey Shiner, I just had a Eureka moment. Why not make the long form optional but offer a fifty dollar tax credit to everyone who fills it out? I'm opposed to compulsion on principle, but for fifty bucks I'd tell everyone about my bathrooms. Hell, I'd tell them all about my sex life. Surely the Fraser Insitute would be ecstatic?

    But then, Dr Dawg would no doubt roar in to object that the results wouldn't accurately reflect the number of people with ten bathrooms.

  8. Heh. I could get behind that! Why stop there, how about a complete tax exemption?

  9. " Prime Minister making a decision of national importance without consulting anyone, with no debate, on an issue outside his political mandate? "

    I believe you will find that it is indeed well within the govt's mandate to do this.

    I have to ask in all honesty..before this issue became another stick to bash the govt with, how many cared a whit about the census good or bad?

  10. I said political mandate, and I'm quite sure you're the only one that doesn't know what I was suggesting.

    What kind of stupid question is that? I don't spend my days worrying about road repairs, so am I not allowed to suggest it's stupid to replace all the pavement in Ottawa with dirt? And obviously quite a few people (NGOs, economists, social scientists, municipal planning boards, provincial governments, small and medium businesses, and the freaking Bank of Canada) do care. Some people, naive we may be, expect that the government won't go out of its way screw the little things up.

  11. Shiner, I'm trying very hard not to be dogmatic about this, but you are making it tough. Surely it is hardly a big suprise that major consumers of statistics are opposed to this? These aren't selfless sages designing the model state, they are organizations with self-interests. As a matter of fact, among your biggest allies are commercial interests like home builders and fast food franchisors who use the data to plan operations. Should we care about them? Frankly, I don't know.

    We've talked before about how libertarianism is all the rage among youth today, which I find perplexing because in my day libertarians were rare geeky types who couldn't get dates and liked to rail against the tyranny of public libraries. So where did they come from? Please don't say the evil Harper. I'm guessing they see themselves as living in a regimented and structured world of increasing surveillance and data-grabs by credit card companies and credit bureaus, schools, insurance companies, potential and actual employers, identity thieves, medical records, gun registries, security services, bureaucracy, Internet scams and other wonders made more efficient by high-tech, and they are reacting against it for reasons I find hard to dismiss as born of ignorance. Plus what great socio-economic justice successes have the feds had in their lifetimes you can point to as inspiration? You can't just wax poetically about how our granddaddies built this wonderful organic society of cooperation and compassion as if you were in an NDP convention in the 50's contemplating a New Jerusalem. The fears may be misplaced and overblown, but they are not inexplicable and they should be answered concretely, not dismissed as if they come from creationist grade school dropouts from Appalachia. I noticed in that Bank of Canada article that they didn't bother to say what they need the data for.

  12. Why would you cherry pick businesses Peter? Are municipal planners not selfless? Provincial governments? The CMA? Do you think charities have some motive aside from providing their services in the most efficient way possible? But I'll bite, yes I care about helping Canadian businesses to be successful. If the long form census means that Chapters, or Loblaws, recognizes a business opportunity in my neighbourhood, I think that's a good thing for everyone. I'm a bit tired of this insistence that organizations with a vested interest in the census shouldn't be listened to. When the city of Calgary says we need this data for planning purposes, I would think it wise to listen to them instead of dismissing them because... they need the data for planning purposes. You seem to be alternating between demanding instances where this information is used, and then waving away examples because the organizations have skin in the game.

    Like most of the organizations in question, the Bank of Canada uses it to weight their data and they use data from statscan that are also weighted by long form numbers. Off the top of my head the Survey of Household Spending is used in the calculation of the CPI because (wait for it) the SHS, as a voluntary survey, doesn't have a high enough response rate. I'm sure you understand why the BOC needs to know the CPI, or information about Canadian spending in general.

    When I said they were the new communists, I meant that they were the most politically active. I'd suggest the CPC has the most lively youth organization in Canadian politics. They're still geeky and incredibly dull, but they wear their politics on their sleeves, while other students shut politics out. It's hard to tell whether there are more of them, or if they're just louder. All just my opinion. As for the reasons why, no surprise that I think you give them far too much credit when you suggest it's a failure on the part of government. I'm not sure I really want to go into why I think Conservatives are Conservatives because I have no idea where to start.

  13. No, I wasn't cherry-picking, merely pointing out that it is to be expected that institutional consumers of stats have an interest in getting the stats. I'm wary of them all in equal measure but they do have their uses.

  14. Hey Shiner, I must be living too much in my laboratory, but did you know this was going on? . Funny, I get the news from Cohen, but I had no idea Wellington street is being considered to be renamed.

  15. JKG:

    This has been an issue for at least half a year. It's the usual kind of Ottawa politics—a clique of loud-mouthed busybodies passionately pursuing a non-issue. My fervent hope is that the re-naming motion will be roundly ignored.

  16. Yeah, I'd heard. To be honest I'm pretty indifferent about it. I'm not so indifferent about Dewar's proposal to rename Pretoria Bridge after Nelson Mandela.

  17. It does strike me as busybody work done by council of a benign issue. Though, I would think this sort of thing is symptomatic of the overall willingness to do away or modify certain aspects of history. This certainly relates to your grievance about Wolfe and Montcalm in the statue set that was erected, Sir Francis.

    In the article, I was also interested in the fact that John Ralston Saul was releasing another book. Maybe I am too much of a "snobby elitist," but I read On Equilibrium many times over because I really found it insightful. I don't think there is enough study into the Pre-Confederation history of Canada done by the public school system. If Canadians were more historically literate without having Fraser Institute flunkies rewrite it to suit their agenda, I think it would breather a lot more substance into current discourse.

    Which reminds me, I have been thoroughly enjoying your participation in the Macleans comments, SF. Normally, not too many people engage Gauni.

  18. Thanks, JKG. It's been a bit of a guilty pleasure, though: for one thing, I could have written ten blog posts with the time and energy I've been putting into Macleans lately; for another, I've started to tire of the declining quality of the discourse over there, as I mentioned in a cri-de-coeur post yesterday. I remember the conversation being more substantive two years ago, when I started commenting. Perhaps I'm just being nostalgic.

    I still miss Jack Mitchell, a whip-smart commenter who left last year after a contretemps with Paul Wells. We e-mail back and forth, and we're thinking about starting up a co-blogging partnership. I'm quite eager for that to happen, actually, as it'll allow me to maintain a better update schedule than I've managed to keep over the last year. We'll see what happens.

    At least Olaf has returned!

  19. JKG, did you read Gardner's column yesterday? Ironically followed a few pages later by Dewar's proposal.

    Keep us posted on the blog SF. It's way too much work sifting through the crap at Macleans. You should try to bring Red out of retirement too!

  20. SF, after I read your comment I went and looked up Jack's Macleans contributions, including his final comment. Glad I did. Can't wait for your joint venture if it ever comes to be. His most recent blog post on the state of Canadian politics is a good one.

  21. It's way too much work sifting through the crap at Macleans.

    I hear ya. Its only saving grace is that it's exponentially better than the comment forums attached to our major dailies. Ever read Globe and Mail or Toronto Star comments? They're usually worse than YouTube threads.

    You should try to bring Red out of retirement too!

    I have. We email back and forth. He's had some major personal upheavals lately and is concentrating on professional stuff—making a decent living, and all that. I wouldn't be surprised if he started up again within the year though.

    Keep us posted on the blog...

    Will do.

  22. , I've started to tire of the declining quality of the discourse over there, as I mentioned in a cri-de-coeur post yesterday

    Well, it doesn't help that a lot of what has been establishment is this chasm like divide thanks to the excessive partisanship. The thumbs rating system tends to reinforce the appeal or reversion to the mean. And on the whole, there is a lot of self-indulgent swiping in the discussions. Heck, I remember a time when Gauni was a little more paced and reserved, but good lord, any time you rub up against his libertarian uber anti-statist sensibilities, he just can't help himself being patronizing (which is why I enjoy your exchanges with him as you give him a taste of his own medicine).

    And really, the victim card played by the Neocons is just getting tiresome. How many times do I hear about how bias Macleans is? Macleans, out of all the publications for pete's sake.

  23. I still miss Jack Mitchell,

    Indeed, I do as well. I don't know what it is, but Jack, with his flourish of poetic style, would inject some substance into the topic at hand. I always found that he would be informed by a larger knowledgeable background than the partisans who will just repeat the distill ideological bullet points of their party of choice. People hated, of course, that this may involve falling on the other side against neocons, and rather than discussing the substance of his points, the typical partisan dismissive hand waving would ensue (as would be the case when he waded into those Steyn pieces). I always thought Wells, though respectable, was a little bit of a truculent chap when you scratched the surface. It is a shame that Mitchell had to experience a Wellsian catharsis that would catalyze his exodus.

    On the whole, I have stopped commenting there as well because it just seems that Macleans gets too much into the Tabloid style. Last summer, the hot button issue were single people who chose not to have children and were happier or prouder for it. This of course brought loads of people wagging their finger at everything left of Atiila the Hun and bashing feminists etc.. This time around? The discussions of twenty somethings living with their parents. Again, the typical "my personal anecdote is proof positive that this particular group are as horrible as I make them to be in this demonizing caricature!" One commenter actually floated the notion that maybe these attitudes and dynamics may have had a long cultural origins mixed with varying economic hardships, but hey, why talk about those more important externalities when it is easier to over-romanticize the past and condemn the future?

  24. JKG, did you read Gardner's column yesterday? Ironically followed a few pages later by Dewar's proposal

    It is columns like those give me the reason to like Gardner. As much as people like paint him as a soulless liberal, I found that he is far more centrist than what is usually afforded to him. I always detected that Gardner was progressive, but understood the importance of cultural, institutional, and historical continuity and memory. There is no doubt he is a descendant of the Enlightenment, but I think his desire to adhere to reason forces him to recognize that such practices cannot occur in a vacuum such that the history of civilization should be consistently upheld. I am not saying he is part Tory, far from it. However, I appreciate his willingness to appeal to some form of historical tradition.

    He's had some major personal upheavals

    I too, have been tracking this twitter feeds. It is absolutely astonishing his resilience really, but I cannot even speculate what it must be like to have to go out on your own again. Winding up in Winnipeg must have been a change to which he would get used. That poor city is slowly deteriorating (unless you live in the safe suburbs, of course). By the way, SF, is his e-mail somewhere on his blog? I wanted to e-mail him as well to send him one to wish him my best. I think he is considering of documenting his transition on his blog sometime soon.

    (sorry for the long post, shiner, now back to petri plates)

  25. Type away, might get some good out of this place ;).

  26. JKG:

    Yes, Winnipeg doesn't seem to be a great place to live right now. It's a sad thing for a city that used to be thought of as the "Paris of the Prairies".

    Red's email is on his Twitter site. It's a bit hard to find, but it's there.