Sunday, 12 October 2014

"Accurate without being true"

As a language scientist, I'd say that my approach to the craft is more in the tradition of 'natural philosophy' (ie, as in Newton defined himself as a 'natural philosopher') than in our modern day notions of what a scientist is. That is to say that I'm less interested in accumulating data-sets, though I appreciate them and am an ironically good analyst, than I am interested in stretching and expanding and reverse-engineering the structures of my craft.

I'm as interested in the science of linguistics as I am in the applied language arts (rhetoric; oratory; poetics; philosophy; politics; etc.). I'm actually an able poet (when inspiration hits me) as I am an analyst; the rhyme and meter fascinate me as much as metaphor and a clever turn of phrase. My belief in the equality of all human languages is a tested and consciously aware conclusion. I've experimented in translation of Western classics, have written poetry in the sonnet form and have created an Inuktitut limerick.

Why am I saying all this?

I have a certain passion for politics.

Harper flummoxes me, irritates me, annoys me, challenges me, fascinates me. His disingenuous, though amateurishly clumsy, treatment of facts in his rhetoric works precisely because his whole milieu is a constructed bubble of demagogic mise-en-scene. He is a blunt little tool and rarely engages in situations where his sole talent would be utterly useless. His fawning audience, his hand-selected cadre of journalists (what we would generously call "publicists"), his immature and unquestioning, spoon-fed cushion of advisers and courtiers give a certain impression of daunting impassiveness.

Any rap star, boy band or Milli Vanelli what-have-yous know these tricks inside out. But we talking about a democracy: our democracy.

One cannot decimate legislation, implement public policy on personal feelings, mix good and sound ideas with bad ones in an omnibus bill for the sole purpose of cheap gotcha politics, and expect sustainability of vision and long-lasting legacy pieces that would attest to your time in the highest office of the land.

When people like Calandra, Del Mastro, Poilieve, etc. stand up in the House and make spectacularly outrageous offenses against our notions of good governance, when costly pieces of legislation are thrown out because they do not meet constitutional standards, when one is seen to favour one region over another, when public announcements do not pan out, when trusted and respected public figure are viciously attacked for speaking out, etc. etc. all of these things add up to not a "master strategist" at work but incompetent indifference the best of which is illustrated by a fictitious character like Joffery from the Game of Thrones and at worse a diva-like third world dictator.

The title of this entry comes from a quote by David McLaughlin (former head of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy) who was commenting on Harper's performance and public statements contrasted against Commissioner Julie Gelfand's recently released report on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions:

He says Harper's statements to the House of Commons are factually accurate in that Canada's overall emissions are currently lower than they were when the Conservatives came to office in 2006 and the economy has grown since then.

A multitude of factors are involved in those lower emissions, notably the global financial crisis that began to bite in 2008 and created a major recession in 2009.

"The economy went off a cliff," said McLaughlin, a former chief of staff to Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney. "The emissions upward path dropped in conjunction with the drop in economic growth. Same thing happened in the U.S."

Harper's response in the Commons, said McLaughlin, "is a classic example of accuracy versus veracity."

"It's accurate without being true — in the sense that it's accurate the numbers show that, but it's not true in showing we're on a path to reducing overall emissions and to meet targets."

Harper is on shakier ground, however, when he claims emissions decreased "thanks to our plan."

Industries are more energy efficient, they've moved away from energy-intensive manufacturing to service industry work, and provincial measures — notably Ontario's move away from coal-fired electricity generation — have also played a major role.

"It's not true that it's on the basis of a series of distinct government actions, at the federal level anyway," McLaughlin said. (

Actually, everything that Harper does and says has always been on "shaky ground"—in an amateurish kind of way. The above quote illustrates this perfectly: he tends to take credit for a certain aspect of a given situation he's had nothing to do with while placing blame upon others for the less flattering aspects of the self-same thing.

What makes it amateurish is that his claims to credit and attribution are provable 'objective' facts rather than attributable to anything he has done or chosen to have not done based on his oft-claimed but rarely demonstrated "set of principles". He is rather like a kid who says he fixed the car because his father let him hold the flashlight while changing the oil.

What really irks me about the demagoguery of Harper is that he's made no effort to actually learn the craft of sophistry, to let us be seduced with his wares if only for a moment. It irks me because it's a glaring statement about the failure of our education system on him and his generation. He has no personality, is not a character, and what is left is a love letter from a creepy Peter Griffin who only nibbled your ear and now your ear feels filthy.


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