Archive for the 'Culture' Category

Another NDP Government? Reflections on 35 years in British Columbia

Monday, May 13th, 2013

I arrived in British Columbia in the fall of 1978 and was quickly made aware of the politics of the province. There was something close to caricature in the divide between left and right. – the NDP, led by social worker and democratic socialist Dave Barrett, and the Social Credit government, with its focus on public sector restraint, led by Kelowna businessman Bill Bennett.

The election of 1979 was close, but the result was not unexpected. The Social Credit government maintained its majority, and Dave Barrett continued as leader in opposition. But the election of 1983 was different. On the morning of the election I had happily proclaimed to anyone who would listen that this was the last day of Social Credit government in the province.  The 1982 recession and investigations of both insider trading and securities fraud were taking a toll.

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The Rule of Law: Reflections on Ukraine, the Brothers Ford, and Regulating Cannabis

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

“I don’t believe in much”, my friend Bob said not long ago, “but I do believe in the rule of law”. And so it is with me as well. Forget the remote possibility of various rulers in the sky and elsewhere. I’m more interested in working out the fairness and legitimacy of the rules that speak to reconciling the inevitable tensions that exist amongst individuals, nation states, and the global community.

Not long after flying into Kiev, Ukraine in late November, I began to understand that this was a nation state without any fundamental adherence to the rule of law.  The former Prime Minister and oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko is in jail, imprisoned for seven years over a natural gas contract signed with Russia in 2009.  The United States, Russia, the UK, the European Union and NATO have all condemned the charges and her imprisonment as the “selective prosecution” of political opponents. Human rights organizations have, not surprisingly, been similarly critical.

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The Future of Cannabis: How Are We to Move Forward?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Cannabis has been taking centre stage in recent weeks. Former attorneys-general  and Vancouver mayors in British Columbia have called for regulation and taxation of the industry, in an attempt to stop the violence of the illegal trade.  At the same time the Harper government continues to move to passage of legislation that will mandate a six month minimum term of imprisonment for anyone growing six plants or more.

Undeterred, activists and pundits are now squabbling over the future of cannabis. How is it to be regulated? Placed in the pharmacy and made available on prescription? Regulated like fine red wine, with a focus on the quality of the product, the metaphorical grapes, the vineyards, and the country of origin?

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The Triumph of Secular Science (Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The response to Steven Pinker’s new book has been remarkable. While there are a few mixed reviews (James Q. Wilson in the Wall Street Journal comes to mind),  virtually everyone else either raves about the book or expresses something close to ad hominem contempt and loathing.

At the heart of the disagreement are competing conceptions of research and scholarship. How are we to study violence and to assess whether it has been increasing or decreasing? What analytic tools do we bring to the table?

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Young Men in Groups: Reflections on the Vancouver Riot

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Some years ago one of our local police officers made the telling observation that if it wasn’t for alcohol, he’d probably only have a part-time job. One could add to his insight the observation that if it wasn’t for young men between the ages of 15 and 25, we would probably have much less need for law enforcement in our communities.

A lot has been written about the riot in Vancouver in the aftermath of the Canucks loss, and almost all of this writing has something to offer. It has been noted that a small group of young men were at the epicentre of the riot, and that many other young people stood by and watched as glass was smashed, stores were looted, and cars were set on fire. Many have observed that even those committing criminal offences, wearing Canucks jerseys, were likely hockey fans – just not the kinds of hockey fans that we want to claim as our own.

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Mandatory Minimum Terms for Cannabis Cultivation: How Crazy Will the Harper Conservatives Be With Their “Majority”?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

One of the most foolish and costly planks of the Conservatives’ so-called get tough on crime agenda is their plan to impose mandatory minimum terms of six months imprisonment on those who grow at least six marijuana plants.

It is instructive to consider the likely impacts of such a proposal. A 2005 study  of seven years of  marijuana cultivation arrests in British Columbia revealed that more than 80 per cent of growers did not have guns or traps at their sites, were not involved in organized crime, and were not involved in  any theft of electricity. In other words, most marijuana cultivation takes place without imposing significant threats upon the surrounding community. Further, and this apparently needs to be said repeatedly – the consumption of cannabis is much less likely to lead to significant harm and premature death than the consumption of the perfectly legal and socially acceptable drugs — alcohol and tobacco — even when rates of use are taken into account.

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Trying to Understand the Tougher Sentences of the Harper Conservatives: You Don’t Need Evidence — You’ve Got To Have Faith

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

The Harper Conservatives are under fire for their extraordinarily expensive legislative initiative, Bill S-10. Among other things, it seeks to spend at least hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers dollars on prison building, in order to impose a mandatory minimum term of six months in jail for anyone who grows more than six marijuana plants. Most Canadians, experts and non-experts alike, have criticized the proposal as costly and counter-productive, noting that it will imprison individuals who are mostly non-violent and who sell to willing adult consumers.

It’s not that marijuana is benign. For some people and in some circumstances it can be a problematic drug, as can most other psychoactive substances that are widely circulated in our culture – tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, maybe even chocolate. What’s initially much more puzzling is the extent to which the Harper Conservatives are ignoring all relevant evidence regarding the utility of mandatory minimum terms for drug offences. We know that mandatory minimums are the leading cause of the massive explosion in U.S. prison populations, imposing extraordinary costs without any demonstrable benefits – the percentages of Americans who use cannabis and other illegal drugs has not been impacted by this massive project of imprisonment, and today most American legislators of both the political left (Barack Obama) and the right (Newt Gingrich) are now trying to figure out how to make the criminal justice system less reliant on imprisonment, and more effective. Perhaps even more oddly, the percentage of both Canadians and Americans who used cannabis in the last year sits at 10 per cent,  about 50 per cent higher per capita than the percentage of Dutch citizens who used cannabis –  a country in which the drug can be bought without prosecution, at any number of so-called coffee shops.

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Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free: Another Loss for Context and Subtlety

Friday, January 14th, 2011

A poll in this morning’s Globe and Mail asked its readers, “Do you think the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council was right to censor the gay slur in Dire Strait’s Money for Nothing”. The most popular response from more than 10,000 voters? A simple (and simplistic) yes. Forty per cent of those responding say “profanity and slurs should be banned from the airwaves”. The next most popular response? A simple (and simplistic) no. Thirty per cent say “radio stations should be free to play whatever they want”. The least popular response? “No, the word was used in context”.

It’s an interesting example, in what is arguably the most literate newspaper in the country, of our collective preference for black and white answers and our corresponding reluctance to embrace context and subtlety.

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A Coalition of Losers? Not At All – A Government with the Support of the Majority

Monday, May 10th, 2010

There is probably no better statement of the need for electoral reform than the now familiar slogan that a Labour-Liberal Democrat Coalition in the United Kingdom would have been a “coalition of losers”. The Vancouver Sun splashed the headline from the Daily Telegraph across its electronic edition.

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Lions in the Coliseum? The Price of Entertainment

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

The market value of a commodity always says something interesting about our culture. You can, for example, buy a Spanish Cava for about $15, but a bottle of French Champagne will set you back more than $50. Is the difference in taste and experience substantial enough to justify the greater expense? Let the debate begin.

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