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The purpose of the state

You know summer is indeed over when Parliament goes back to work. For some, this signals little more than the return of bickering background noise. For others, this signals a passionate call for a return to arms. Regardless of the extent to which we pay attention to what goes on, and regardless of the extent to which we engage, as it begins to unfold, we would do well, I believe, to reflect on what the role of the state is and what it should be. What is its task and in what areas should it intervene? There are many disagreements over this most important question. Answers vary from “as much intervention as possible” to “as little intervention as possible.” I suspect, however, that a great many parliamentarians go about their business on an issue to issue basis. They do so mostly out of good will no doubt, but also without being able to provide a principled and robust explanation as to why the intervention which they support, be it an action, policy, or program, should even find itself within the jurisdiction of the state in the first place. Interventionists generally believe society’s ills are the result of design-flaws within its power structure. Such flaws allow the wrong people to wield power, hence the contempt with which the term one-percenter is uttered. In their view, this deficiency inevitably leads to exploitation and it prevents society from progressing and reaching its full potential. With a deep concern for progress, therefore, interventionists see the state as the only instrument powerful enough to remedy such flaws. Consequently, in an effort to give the best and brightest the necessary tools to lead and carry us forward, they believe state power should grow and its reach should expand. Non-interventionists generally believe society’s ills are the result… Read More

H. G. Wells and His Enduring Weapons of Mass Instruction

Actor Rod Taylor starring in George Pal's 1960 version of The Time Machine   No writer of the 20th century has had, and still has, more influence on the public imagination  than Herbert George (always 'H.. G.') Wells (1866 –1946). But while becoming a world-renowned travelling public figure as well, no enthusiast for science as a new religion, and for a utopian and socialist reconstruction of all human society, had such an absence of practical effect, including on political leaders who often gave him public praise. He lived long enough to see the Second World War conclude with the two atomic bombings on Japan, and when he died a few months later, was an embittered man. His last and little-remembered small work was called Mind at the End of its Tether, in which he declared his disillusionment with the human race. This bleak conclusion followed his last two decades of voluminous but hastily-written and instantly-forgotten books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles. The exception was his widely-read 1934 Experiment in Autobiography, delighting readers almost as much as his early and brilliant science fiction tales, and bringing him a gushing letter of praise from Franklin Roosevelt, which exulted '...our [sic] biggest success is in making people think.' FDR was then creating his New Deal 'brains trust', which did somewhat resemble one of Wells's many calls for the establishment of such expert cabals. But the need for 'scientific planners' was a popular commonplace in the 1930s anyway: American New Dealers and Soviet Communists could alike look back to such proposals from the French Enlightenment's Henri de Saint-Simon, and even to Plato. It has not been unusual for writers to long outlive their times of triumph, combining broadening superficial fame with declining real impact, but Wells experienced this irony in its most acute form. His at… Read More

Legalize weed, but not like this

Anyone who knows me know that I am a strong advocate for the legalization of not just marijuana, but all drugs. I campaigned for Justin Trudeau just a few months ago and briefly worked for the Liberal MP I helped elect in my city. Despite this, I am appalled at how legalization is being handled by the Trudeau government. This issue is obviously not the only thing that disappoints me with my government, but it takes the cake. It’s hard to blame people for not knowing much about a controlled substance, but it’s quite terrifying when even our lawmakers don’t see fit to do some basic reading before legislating. For example, the proposed Cannabis Act would allow every citizen “to grow 4 marijuana plants, no higher than a meter each”. At first, this seems reasonable, if people are allowed to make wine at home, why not cannabis? Home-growing is already allowed for medical patients, thus it would be hard to suddenly outlaw it. But the strange part is the size requirement. A meter for an indica strain is reasonable, but sativa strains can go as high as six meters high if left to grow naturally. Both are marijuana plants, and while their effects on people are very different, neither is more dangerous than the other. This is not obscure information -- a simple Google search will tell you that. Putting this into law would be like telling people they’re allowed to make Cabernet Sauvignon in their basement, but not Beaujolais. Even more puzzling, edibles will not be legal when the law first comes into action because designing "an appropriate regulatory system for cannabis edibles is a complex undertaking and there are unique potential health risks and harms that need to be carefully understood before the development and coming into force of… Read More

All homemade booze should be legal

During VICE’s town hall on weed with Justin Trudeau last month, the prime minster was asked what his plan B was if Canadians continued buying cannabis from the black market. Trudeau naturally migrated towards the familiar example of booze: “currently, there is no black market for alcohol.” While it’s true that most people won’t get solicited in the street by bootleggers in stained trench coats, an underground market does exist. There are plenty of ways to buy liquor outside the purview of our provincial monopolies if you know where to look. As just one example, there’s an active Facebook page for ordering illegal alcohol outside of the SAQ’s hours of operation at a hefty markup; it has over 61,000 members. The Quebec government estimates that it loses $90 million per year in revenue from people buying their liquor outside of its control, either illegally or otherwise. But the next thought that came out of Trudeau’s mouth is more interesting: “you can make [alcohol] at home if you want”, Trudeau said, but added that most choose to buy it from established sources. Hipsters can and do indeed brew beer and make wine from the comfort of their own homes, but provincial legislation across Canada prohibits the unlicensed distillation of alcohol, as does the federal Excise Act. You can ferment whatever the hell you want, as long as you don’t try to heat the inebriating substance and turn the vapours into something more potent. Moonshining typically draws up images of blind hillbillies concocting bathtub hooch in the woods, yet the anachronism isn’t appropriate for the twenty-first century. Contemporary technology removes much of the worry over homemade liquor – you can easily test for the presence of methanol and other non-potable compounds and operate an alembic safely. And far from a rickety concoction… Read More

Pop culture dilemma: ‘Sex sells’ creates generic music artists

In 2014, it was revealed that Britney Spears was lip syncing her Las Vegas shows.  Then, in 2016, Victoria Beckham admitted that she turned off her mic during concerts with the Spice Girls.  And if anyone happened to watch Mariah Carey botch her New Year's Eve performance in Times Square—which included embarrassing mechanical failures, awkward choreography, and out-of-sync lip syncing—it was another indication that something was amiss with the music business today.    Instead of being art-led, the music industry has become market-led, and “sex sells” is its first principle.  Consequently, popular music is now saturated with generic female artists who require sensationalism to promote their product.   Pop music became more commercialized around the “sex sells” motto when the Spice Girls gained notoriety in the 1990s.  The group was not created to sell music per se; rather, the Spice Girls brand was key to marketing an image known as “girl power.”  Although the concept suggests autonomy and assertiveness, the result was a further commodification of feminism.   Artistry and musicianship were jettisoned in exchange for skimpy outfits and high heels.  Management was less interested in the group’s musical talent and more intrigued by its marketability.  Hence, the stripper chic phenomenon, which is now a staple of Music Television Video (MTV), was a Spice Girls’ trademark.  To sell more, one must dress less, and this “less is more” attitude is thoroughly embedded in the performances of contemporary female artists.   The release of the video “Lady Marmalade” in 2001 is a perfect case in point.  Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink are dressed to resemble scantily clad hookers in a Moulin Rouge-like brothel.  Aguilera touches her pubic area, all the while perching doggie-style on a bed.  In 2002, Aguilera followed up with “Dirrty,” a classic example of the stripper… Read More

New Haven pit bull attack

Barbara Kay is a founding governor of the Prince Arthur Herald. She has been a columnist for the National Post newspaper since 2003, and is a frequent commentator on television and radio, as well as a public speaker. Her novel A Three Day Event was published in 2015. She lives in Montreal. Author's Note: Since publication, the pit bull victim in my story has died after a week in a medically induced coma. It was announced this month that both Montreal  and Quebec City intend to pass dangerous-dog legislation bills that have enraged pit bull advocates but will, in a victory for public-safety proponents, ban new pit bulls from the general dog population in these jurisdictions. As with bans in other jurisdictions like Denver, which has not seen a dogbite-related fatality since its ban was enacted in 1989, the initiative will eliminate dogbite-related fatalities like a recent incident in Montreal, and will starkly reduce the most serious kinds of dogbite-related injuries. Praise is due to these Canadian municipalities for acting on evidence rather than succumbing to the well-oiled machinations of the pit bull advocacy movement. (Special kudos to Quebec’s largest French-language newspaper, La Presse, for doing real homework on the issue and for its subsequently influential editorial campaign on this front.) By painful coincidence, the announcement coincided with an especially horrific pit bull incident in New Haven, Connecticut, where two pit bulls belonging to Hamilton Hicks, a 36-yr old Harvard-trained psychiatric resident at Yale University attacked a 53-year old woman friend, Jocelyn Winfrey, as she entered his property with him. The dogs also attacked Hicks when he attempted to pull the dogs off Winfrey. His injuries were reported as serious, but not life-threatening, while Winfrey’s are shockingly extensive. In media interviews, a neighbour, Alderman Brian Wingate described what he witnessed:… Read More
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