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A Truly Democratic Election

After this week’s unfortunate incident, by which I mean the election of He Whose Hands Must Not Be Mentioned, I’ve had enough of American politics. The war in Eastern Ukraine hasn’t been in the news much in the past couple years. It’s turned into a frozen conflict—a stalemate between two rebel enclaves and a Ukraine that can’t take them back without starting an all-out war with Russia.
Since I’ve done a couple metaphysical interviews with the rebels before, I thought I’d pop over and see how things are going. As you may remember from previous posts, a metaphysical interview is where instead of talking to someone, you speculate about what they might say. This is a legitimate journalistic technique now. Half of what you find in the media was made up too.

I met my old friend Pavel in a café in Donetsk, the capital and largest city of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. The café was in what seemed to be the trendiest district of town, by which I mean only half the block was bombed out or boarded up.

Scenic Donetsk

“So how are things?” I asked Pavel.

“Excellent!” he said. “Granted, our people eke out a grim existence in the face of unceasing war. But the Donetsk People’s Republic is no longer a miserable enclave run by thugs and populated mostly by people too old to flee. We are now a truly democratic country. We just had our first truly democratic election.”

“Pavel,” I said, “I was here the last time you held a vote, and someone could only call that ‘democratic’ if they were lying through their teeth.”

“Not this time.” He grinned. “This time we used truly democratic procedures. We took them from the birthplace of democracy, the United States.”
“Usually people say the birthplace of democracy was Athens. It was, you know, a democracy two thousand years before the US came along.”

Pavel snorted. “Getting people together, debating the issues, and having them vote—that is not true democracy. Let me show you how true democracy works.” He took out an iPad and brought up a map of the enclave overlaid by a grid. “First step was, we divided the Donetsk People’s Republic into squares.”

 “Why would you do that?”

“The United States is divided into states,” said Pavel, “and most of them are square, or pretty close. So we just used squares. It was easiest. Now the first step in the election is the primary race.” He tapped his tablet and an overlay appeared on the map, showing a road that wound through the grid. “The race starts here, at my cousin Iovan’s farm.”

“It starts at one farm.”

“It starts in that square. But there are only a few villages, and everybody but Iovan either fled the war or refused to go to the caucuses—something about the vote being a mockery. So the first step in the primary race ended up being when the candidates try to convince Cousin Iovan to support them. The ones he supports get momentum.”

“This is good because…”

“Momentum propels things forward. That means the candidate can skip some of the later votes. But if they lose momentum, they have to go back and do the previous votes again.”

“Um, Pavel,” I said, “that’s not an election. That’s Snakes and Ladders.”
Pavel frowned. “I thought it seemed familiar. Doesn’t matter. The primaries are only the first stage. The candidates who win them go on to the campaign.”

“Dare I ask what the campaign is like?”

“It is very democratic. The candidates hold rallies and debate each other. Newspapers make endorsements. Vladimir Putin makes an endorsement too, only he doesn’t tell you what it is. He just has hackers steal information about the other candidates and release anything that might be embarrassing. Then after the campaign is election night. We hold a vote in each square, and the candidate who gets the most votes, gets all the votes from that square.”

“That’s kind of weird,” I said.

“It was fun!” said Pavel. “Counting votes is so boring. One candidate gradually gets ahead—yawn. This way, you get to watch squares flip over on election night. There is very complicated strategy too, because there are safe squares and swing squares. The candidates cannot just try to appeal to the voters, but must devise a Path to Victory. Who will win the crucial swing square of Five Villages Near the Don River Plus the Southeastern Corner of Komsomolske? That one was a real nail-biter.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said. “So what was the outcome?”

Pavel looked down at the table. “The outcome was less fun. The winner was Bobov the Angry Clown.”
I coughed.

“Bobov has a popular TV show. He tells racist jokes while scantily-clad women dance around. Many voters thought he was a real man, very virile. Probably because his wig is shaped like a giant pair of testicles.”

“You’re telling me that people voted for a clown.”

“Actually, most of them voted for someone else. But Bobov won the most squares. His voters were more efficiently distributed. See, his opponent won most of her votes in this one square here.”

“That square says ‘City of Donetsk’.”

“That is where the city is, yes,” said Pavel.

“And that’s where most of the people live, right?”


“I think I can guess why she won most of her votes there.”

“But it is only one square,” said Pavel. “Bobov won lots of squares by very narrow margins. So he won the election.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “How much did he lose the popular vote by? Was it close?”

Pavel shrugged. “We don’t know. We didn’t finish counting. Once it was clear Bobov won, why bother counting the rest of the votes?” I stared at him in shock. He fidgeted with his napkin. “I mean, we’ll get it done eventually. Maybe sometime in December.”

“So you had a truly democratic election where a bunch of votes haven’t even been counted because they don’t matter. That’s what you’re telling me?”

Pavel crossed his arms. “I am deeply offended by your skeptical tone. This was a truly democratic election where every citizen of the People’s Republic could vote. Unless they had been convicted of a crime. Or had unpaid parking tickets. And they registered at least six weeks in advance, and brought two pieces of photo ID, plus a valid credit card. The credit card is for age verification purposes only.”

“If that’s how you ran your election,” I said, “it doesn’t surprise me you ended up electing a clown. Did he even have a platform, or was he running as a joke?”

“His core policy is to build a wall on the border with Moldova. He wants to stop Moldovans from coming in and taking our jobs.”

“Yeah. Pavel, your enclave doesn’t border on Moldova. Moldova’s like five hundred miles west of here.”

“Our voters know that!” said Pavel. “Of course they do. I mean, they know now. Right after the election results were announced, everybody got out their phones and googled ‘Where is Moldova again?’”

I shook my head.

“So the last step in our truly democratic election was,” Pavel said, “we called up Putin and asked him to annul the whole thing. But it turns out he is a big fan of the Bobov Show.” Pavel forced himself to smile. “We are determined to work constructively with our new leader.”

“Good luck with that,” I said. 

Breaking News: Britain Chooses Picture as Leader

British voters yesterday chose a print of a late-nineteenth-century oil painting to lead their country for the foreseeable future.

The picture shows a white family at a table drinking tea. A portrait of Queen Victoria hangs on the wall. Golden-tinged sunlight streams in from a window, through which a carefully-tended garden is visible.

The picture has been criticized for romanticizing the past. Its detractors claim its appeal is based mostly on nostalgia and selective forgetting. The picture’s leadership ability has also been questioned, on the grounds that it is an inanimate object that cannot act or make decisions.

“This is a glorious opportunity,” said Boris Johnson, one of the picture’s most prominent supporters. “But let’s not rush into any drastic changes. It’s not like any of us has a plan. Let’s just gaze at the picture and feel wistful for a while, and I’m sure someone will think of something.”

52% of British voters chose the picture, while 48% voted to retain the current system of electing leaders who try to find out what the consequences of their actions will be before doing them.

The wisdom of Cato the Elder

The Roman senator Cato the Elder was not a very nice man. When he was young he fought in the Second Punic War against Carthage. The war devastated Italy, and Rome was nearly defeated. But it finally prevailed and imposed a peace treaty on the Carthaginians that basically came down to “All your empire are belong to us.”

Cato the Elder was opposed to the peace, because signing a treaty with Carthage had the logical implication that Carthage still existed. He was convinced that Rome could never be safe until their old enemy was completely obliterated and the land sown with salt so that nothing would ever grow there again. The rest of the Roman Senate did think that national security sometimes requires a pre-emptive strike, but they were a bit reluctant to go along with a pre-emptive massacre.

So Cato developed what was either an obsession or the weirdest form of Tourette’s in history. To hound the Senate into agreeing with him, he ended every speech he gave – regardless of what subject he was speaking on – with “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”: “Also, I think that Carthage must be destroyed.”

For instance, here is Cato taking part in a debate over Rome’s sumptuary laws:

My fellow senators, while there is some merit to Appius’s points, the text of this bill as it stands is sufficient to address the matter. The provision allowing travel in a carriage drawn by two horses within a one-mile radius of a city, when attending religious proceedings, will certainly accommodate Appius’s concerns. Moreover, the bill does not prohibit anyone from traveling within one mile of a city in a carriage drawn by a single horse, and surely one horse is enough to pull even our dear friend Appius. [Chuckles.] So all told there is no reason for the proposed amendment, and I would recommend that we pass the bill in an unaltered form. Also, I think that Carthage must be destroyed.

Then there is this Valentine’s Day poem:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
You are my wife,
And I love you.

When I am down, you order my slaves
To make me my favourite meal;
You always seem to be able to tell
Just how it is I feel.

You’re so pretty and kind,
So charming and coy,
And also I think that Carthage must be destroyed.

There’s also this inscription, from a t-shirt found in the ruins of Cato’s villa:




Nonetheless. I’m starting to think that Cato’s strategy wasn’t as crazy as it sounds. Because if I were a U.S. senator, I would end every speech at every public appearance with: And also I think we should not sell assault weapons to every random person who wanders in off the street.

A metaphysical interview with Thomas Mulcair

Last on my list of interviews was Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democrats. It took a while to get hold of him, because when I called his campaign office a recording said the line had been disconnected. Eventually I tracked down his campaign manager, who turned out to be crashing on a buddy’s couch for just a week or two until he got some things straightened out.

I was supposed to meet Mulcair in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart on the south side. I stood there wondering why he would choose this place, until I was distracted by the sound of an engine sputtering. An ancient Winnebago came down the road, painted bright orange, with Air Mulcair emblazoned on the side. The motor stalled every time the camper turned left, but it managed to coast almost all the way to me.

Thomas Mulcair got out, his face plastered with a smile that looked like a cross between a game-show host and rigor mortis. He sauntered over and shook my hand energetically, rather like the Cat in the Hat might.

“Mr. Mulcair,” I said. “It seems that your proposed budget, which makes only small changes to the tax structure and social spending, has failed to impress leftists. Was this a strategic calculation to win over centrist voters in Ontario, or are you taking a principled stance against sacrificing fiscal responsibility for redistribution?”

With his teeth bared and his cheeks scrunched up in a massive grin, his reply went like this, “pollscannotbetrustedanywaybreakthroughin905upcomingtookmoralhighroadasalwayscanadasnextgovernment.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “It kind of looks like you smiled so much your face got stuck that way.”

photoopneedbaby,” said Mulcair. “zhuli!getmebaby!” He waved his fist at the Winnebago. “BAAAABY!

A staffer ran out of the camper, carrying a nonplussed-looking baby. She handed it to Mulcair, who cooed at it and kissed it as well as he could without breaking his rictus grin.

“Sorry,” the staffer whispered. “If it’s time for a photo op and he doesn’t have a baby to kiss, he sometimes loses his temper.” She surreptitiously wiped some spittle from Mulcair’s beard. “It’s been a long campaign.”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

A metaphysical interview with Justin Trudeau

After my unsatisfying interview with the Prime Minister, I met with Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party. That didn’t go much better.

To start with, he wanted to meet me on a beach in Cuba. When I got there he was lying on his side in the sand, wearing nothing but a red Speedo, long curls hanging over his face. His jaw didn’t so much look chiseled as like it had been carved out of granite to be a Pharaoh’s tomb.

“Mr. Trudeau,” I began.

“Call me” – he brushed some sand off his abs – “Justin.”

“Okay, Justin. The Liberals have proposed a loosely Keynesian budget, trying to soften the oncoming downturn with deficit-funded spending on infrastructure. Do you think this country is really that desperately in need of infrastructure? One might argue that we’re in pretty good shape already, and that increasing spending might lead to a lot of unnecessary and wasteful projects. Like that train line to Pearson Airport that no one ever uses.”

“That’s an interesting question,” he said, “and I love answering interesting questions because of my intelligence and experience.” He pointed to the book on the sand next to him, which was titled Advanced Vector Calculus. “Just some light reading, to rest my brain. Given that it’s an election, I would read something on economics or political science, but, you know, I read them all already. All the books.” He stretched languidly. “Yep, I’m that smart.”

“Sure, okay,” I said. “I wasn’t questioning that, since the perception you’re inexperienced is basically just the product of Conservative attack ads.”

“Oh, I’m” – he gave me a sort of come-hither look – “experienced.”

“But you didn’t actually answer my question.”

“Didn’t I?” He winked. “I don’t know how I forgot, because I love talking about my erection.” There was a really dumbfoundingly long pause before he finally added, “of infrastructure.”

A metaphysical interview with Stephen Harper

So it’s been a long time since I posted anything here, despite the obvious fact that there is a national election going on and everyone is in a tizzy. I’ve been busy, mostly working on a new book, which is turning out to be six billion times more complicated than I’d thought. Writing is, like, hard and stuff.

Anyway, I did manage to find some time for metaphysical interviews with the major candidates. I’ve been trying to interview the incumbent, Stephen Harper, for weeks. But his staffers refused. I explained to them that a metaphysical interview is not a real interview, because instead of talking to the person you speculate about what they might say. They still wouldn’t do it. “The Prime Minister doesn’t do imaginary interviews,” they said. “You’re not even allowed to pretend you talked to him.”
Then I got a call out of blue. “The Prime Minister is willing to speak to you, to help get his message out to Canadians.” And I was asked to meet Harper at his home in Calgary.
Harper’s home was a black tower looming over what was otherwise a pleasant suburban neighbourhood. Thunder rumbled in the clouds overhead and a chill wind shook the dead branches of the trees. The yard was decorated with severed heads on spikes – Nigel Wright, Michael Sona, a bunch more I didn’t recognize.

Pierre Poilevre was waiting at the door, casually leaning an AK-47 against the shoulder of his blue suit. “The boss is expecting you,” he said by way of greeting.

In the living room, the television was playing the opening sequence of a Fox News show called When Niqabs Attack. “If their faces are covered,” said the voiceover, “how do you know they’re not hiding explosives in their cheeks?” The screen showed a picture of a chipmunk with Osama bin Laden’s beard photoshopped onto it.

The Prime Minister sat in a huge armchair stroking a cat, barking orders at a group of technicians as they worked on what I assumed was not a death ray, though it did kind of look like a death ray, and it did kind of say “DEATH RAY” on the side. Jenni Byrne was there on a laptop. I assume she was not looking up the GPS coordinates for Papineau. I also assume I misheard her say “Die, Liberals, die!” while cackling madly.

Behind Harper’s chair, half a dozen terrified people huddled against the wall, bound and gagged with duct tape. They were either hostages or Environment Canada scientists, it wasn’t clear.

When Harper saw me, he pulled off the eyepatch he was wearing and hid it behind his back. “You may speak,” he grunted.

“Mr. Prime Minister,” I said, “your campaign so far has been pretty short on accounts of what you’ll do if elected. You seem to be running primarily on your record and not promising anything besides more of the status quo.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “But I was wondering about your plans. What do you see yourself doing in the next four years, if re-elected?”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes,” he said.

“I, um, actually, I was asking about your plans, not the Liberals.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

I sighed. “Let’s change the subject. You recently instituted a tip line where people can report ‘barbaric cultural practices’. Don’t you worry this might be a Charter violation?”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“That’s really not relevant here at all.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“Uh, is this some kind of trick? Instead of the Prime Minister I get to interview a broken android lookalike?”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“Or maybe you have some previously-undiscovered form of Tourette’s?”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“This is like trying to have a conversation with the worst techno song ever.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“Oh, I get it. You weren’t really willing to give me an interview. You just wanted me to write out your latest slogan on my blog eight hundred times.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes.”

“So I heard,” I sighed. “By the way, were you going to explain that claim, or give some evidence for it? I seem to remember the Liberal platform was to raise taxes only on the very rich, and that the bulk of voters would get a cut, if anything.”

“Justin Trudeau will raise your taxes!” Harper leapt from his chair and started dancing in a circle, pulling money out of his pockets and throwing it on the floor. “This is your brain on Justin Trudeau! This is your brain on Justin Trudeau!”

When he started pouring lighter fluid on the money I decided it was time to leave. 

It’s election time in Alberta

It’s election time in Alberta – the premier heard the call on this blog, or maybe one of the four million other blogs in Alberta that are more widely read, and deigned to ask voters for a mandate. Much to his surprise, the voters counteroffered with a trip to the glue factory. Yes, it looks like we’re going to have a change of government. I know that for people in most democratic countries this is a regular occurrence, but around here it literally happens once every ten blue moons.

People in the fast-paced modern world are too busy to pay attention to boring things like elections, and so here is an objective and completely nonpartisan summary of the Albertan political landscape.

The Progressive Conservatives

OK, I admit it, the fish was only this big.
Leader: Jim Prentice
Motto: “Guys, C’mon – We Only Held This Vote So We Could Be Re-Elected”
The PCs have been the reigning champions for 44 years, and they’ve gotten as fat and ill-tempered as Robert DeNiro at the end of Raging Bull. They’re in third place in the polls, since at this point re-electing them would be like peasants re-electing their feudal lord. But the PCs don’t give up easy, and they’ve got the money to flood the province with attack ads in the hopes of luring us back to the devil we know. Their desperation is palpable: if things don’t turn around fast, they might have to go and get jobs.

The Wildrose

We’re not lost! We just have to keep making right turns until we find civilization.
Leader: Brian Jean
Motto: “The World Was Better Before Gay Was Invented”
The Wildrose are the party of grumpy old white guys, angry about the decline of traditional social values, angry about taxes, angry about the kids spending all their time on the Face Book, angry about the tornader that done ripped up the fields when the taters was fixin to come in. They’re led by Grumpy-White-Guy-in-Chief Brian Jean, who became leader after Danielle Smith’s defection – which she must really regret now. The Wildrose are a close second in the latest polls and stand a good chance of winning. They have an advantage, because in Alberta electoral districts are based not just on population but on geographic area, meaning that rural areas with more canola fields than people have a hell of a lot of seats.

Their campaign centres on a promise to eliminate the deficit without raising taxes or cutting services, purely by reducing the size of the government that provides those services. They’re like a fitness instructor who says that when you lift weights, you have to lift your own muscle mass too, so clearly the way to lift more weight is to have smaller muscles, right?
The Wildrose are working hard to shed their image as bigoted and old-fashioned. They rejected the candidate who railed about “gay activists”, and fired the one who wanted “brown people” in the front of the crowd where the cameras could see them, and reprimanded the one who asked supporters to “bring your wife’s pie” to a fundraiser. Their problem, of course, is that they even had to.

The Liberals

Think of all the poor children who don’t even have pens!

Interim Leader: Dr. David Swann
Motto: “TBA”
The Liberals were apparently in the shower when the election was called. They hadn’t gotten around to choosing a new leader after the obnoxious Raj Sherman resigned, so they went into the campaign with interim head David Swann. Then they could only wrangle up enough candidates for about half the ridings. Swann insisted that this was because they emphasized quality of candidates over quantity, which I think makes the Alberta Liberals the world’s first boutique political party.

I have an urge to vote for them because I feel they stand for people like me – serial procrastinators who never get anything done.

The Alberta Party

You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.
Leader: Greg Clark
Motto: “Not at all like the Liberals. For Instance, Our Signs Are a Different Colour”
A few years back, the Alberta Party had the idea that the reason the centre-left was doing so badly in this province was because the Liberals have a tarnished brand. So the route to government, they thought, was a party exactly like the Liberals, but with a different name. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work. Though the tarnished brand couldn’t even get ten percent of the vote in 2012, that was still eight times as much as the party no one had heard of before.

The Alberta Party represents the radical centre. They believe in pragmatism and good sense on every issue except supporting someone who might win more than one seat.

The Greens

We’re doing the picture here because my backyard is party headquarters.
Leader: Janet Keeping
Motto: “Power Corrupts, So We’d Rather Not Have Any”
With their candour, clear moral stance, and button-down appearance, the Greens have a lock on several key constituencies in this election: organic grocery store owners, ethics professors, and university students who will get stoned Tuesday afternoon and forget to vote. But, you know, it’s not about winning, it’s about doing right by your conscience and bringing attention to your cause. Even if when the media report the results, they list you as “Other”.

The New Democrats

Who’s the third party now, Jim?
Leader: Rachel Notley
Motto: “If Elected, We Will Probably Go on Strike”
With its roots in organized labour, the NDP has developed into the most effective of Alberta’s many left-wing parties. They have a centrist platform focused on reducing government dependence on unpredictable resource revenues and shoring up public services, which they plan to pay for with some newfangled socialist thing called a progressive income tax. According to the latest polls they are in the lead, due to a stellar debate performance by the intelligent and capable Rachel Notley.

I’m not pulling off the nonpartisan act anymore, am I? Fine. You should all go out and vote NDP. I am too impressed with Notley and the party’s policies to make fun of them.

Besides, imagine the look on Stephen Harper’s face if they win.

Perspectives on genocide

Today is the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide, when as many as 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman government. Using the word “genocide” here is a bit controversial, and by “controversial” I mean that it pisses offTurkish nationalists.

The Hürriyet Daily News ran a columnarguing that the Turkish nationalist perspective on the “Armenian issue” should not be ignored, and so I’m only going to talk about that. The Council of Turkish Canadians ran a chilling ad in this morning’s Globe and Mail. Here is an excerpt of a news release from their website that has almost the same text:

Reconciliation – Not Hatred, Fairness – Not Insult

This year, once again we remember and respect the memory of victims of the Ottoman-Armenian conflict during the First World War. The conflict started with  well-documented armed revolt of Armenian nationalist groups (Dashnaks and Hunchaks) against the empire. They committed high treason by collaborating and joining the invading Russian forces. This resulted in their relocation from the war zone. The relocation was a military measure in self-defense, and also to protect all civilians of eastern Anatolia from commencing inter-communal retaliations. Most of the deaths during the relocation resulted from famine of war era, spread of diseases, attacks by bandits, and breakdown of authority in poor war conditions. Both sides committed massacres, both sides suffered tremendously, Armenians and non-Armenians alike. It was a tragic war that has engulfed every corner of the world, including Anatolia!

Now, even if this version of events were true – it ain’t – a monstrous crime would have been committed. The claim here is that because certain Armenian nationalist groups revolted, the civilian population was forced from their homes. This is the mass deportation of civilians as collective punishment – a war crime. And it’s acknowledged that the result was huge numbers of deaths – even the Turkish government says half a million – from famine, disease, banditry, and whatever “breakdown of authority” is supposed to mean.

If this was really all that happened, it would be unconscionable.

I guess what’s supposed to make this a defense of the Ottomans, not a condemnation, is the claim that this atrocity was committed out of “self-defense” and to “protect all citizens”. But you cannot claim that driving civilians out of their homes to die is self-defense. If someone tried to mug me at gunpoint and I shot him, I could claim it was self-defense. If someone mugged me, then ran off and I couldn’t catch him because no one in the neighbourhood would tell me where he was hiding so I drove the entire neighbourhood out of their homes – not self-defense.

As for forcibly relocating civilians to protect them – well, in hindsight, the strategy didn’t work too well, what with the bandit attacks and the starvation. And in foresight, it’d have been obvious the strategy would not work too well. The kind of obvious that makes someone legally and morally culpable for going through with it anyway.

And finally, there is the claim that both sides suffered terribly. I think this is supposed to be the centrepiece of the argument – mistakes were made, nobody’s perfect, lots of horrible things happened in World War I. It’s also specious. Even if Armenian groups had revolted and were committing massacres, massacring different members of the same ethnic group could not be justified.

So if the genocide deniers are right, the Ottoman Empire was guilty of horrible atrocities against the Armenian population. And that’s the best story the deniers can come up with. The truth, as we know, was worse.