I appeared at 4 AM on a CBC radio show this week debating whether we should impose term limits on the prime minister. I said yes. You can listen here.
I also did my now-standard weekly appearance on Roundhouse Radio’s Indie News Hour in which we chatted about Donald Trump, Facebook vs. conservatives, and Chinese influences in Vancouver. Listen to that here.
Here is my weekly Loonie Politics column, Canadian democracy could be unrecognizable once Trudeau gets through with it. You can also join the Reddit discussion on it here. The Loonie Politics people now have a columnist RSS feed. It’s not just for my stuff, but since they don’t have very many other columnists it’s not hard to find my writing when it comes up.
And lastly, here is a YouTube video I made about Canadian spelling:1 Comment - Discuss on Facebook
By now the world is well aware that Prime Minister Trudeau’s impromptu “genius moment” — in which he gave a brilliant, off-the-cuff slapdown to a condescending reporter who underestimated his intelligence — was actually nothing of the sort. It was a carefully pre-planned bit of theater designed to repair a deficit in the Prime Minister’s public image — namely, a perceived lack of brains.
Conservatives in Canada have relentlessly bashed the Liberal leader for his legacy of gaffes — from calling Baltic states “not a thing” to talking about “reciting pi to the 19th decibel” to darker nonsense like claiming to envy China’s “basic dictatorship” when asked to name a country he admired. No politician benefits from dopiness of this sort, but Trudeau’s verbal flubs and flashes of ignorance have proved particular liabilities given this telegenic son of a former PM has long struggled to deflect accusations his rapid rise from high school drama teacher to world leader was fueled by anything other than celebrity.
Doubts about Trudeau’s intelligence did not prove substantial enough to deny him the prime ministership. But as he plunges ever-deeper into the business of the nation, pulling Canadian troops from the war on ISIS, racking up enormous budget deficits, and drafting laws about literal matters of life and death, the dangers of perceived stupidity only heighten.
Trudeau’s handlers clearly saw the advantage of staging a photo-op in which the Prime Minister could demonstrate to the world that he was actually a man of intellectual heft. Perhaps at one of the country’s top science labs, where he could stand on a dais surrounded by scientists, in front of a blackboard covered with dense equations. Maybe he could even wear one of those graduation caps with the little dangly thing. If he could say a bunch of smart things in that setting surely there’d be no more joking about the man who once suggested the Russians might invade Ukraine because Canada beat them at hockey.
And so that’s what we got. As I described in a much-shared blog post, Justin Trudeau spent his Friday boning up on quantum computing at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics then demanded reporters ask him about what he learned. When they failed to comply, he launched into a mini-lecture on the matter anyway.
The coverage that ensued was surely better than anyone in his inner circle could have possibly expected. The vast majority of reporters either deliberately or lazily omitted the part of the story where Trudeau asked to be quizzed about the subject he had just studied, so we got stuff like this:
During a visit to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to a reporter’s sarcastic comment about his knowledge of quantum computing by giving the reporter a quick lesson on it.
PM shows off knowledge of quantum computing… The man who has been called Canada’s new heartthrob, yoga hotshot, feminist PM — apparently eager to show he’s more than a now globally recognized pretty face — promptly showed he has computer-geek talents previously little known.
The Internet was abuzz with praise for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday after clips showing him schooling an reporter on quantum computing went viral… While political opponents learned a lesson about underestimating the photogenic Trudeau, 44, during last year’s surprise electoral upset, the unnamed reporter fell into the same trap during an event at a Canadian university on Friday when he jokingly tested the former teacher’s knowledge.
Forget the incredible yoga strength, the charming feminist talk, or that glorious hair. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is more than a pretty face…When a reporter sarcastically suggested that the prime minister explain quantum computing, Trudeau took up the challenge without missing a beat.
Handsome Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Gives Passable Off-the-Cuff Lecture on Quantum Computing… Tired of being treated like a himbo meme queen, Trudeau proceeds to deliver a succinct explanation of quantum mechanics vis-à-vis computing. And it was all captured in a video that by any reasonable definition qualifies as softcore porn.
Near as I can tell, the sole contrary voice amid all this was the reporter who actually asked Trudeau the question in the first place, the Canadian Press’ Colin Perkel, who was obviously in a good position to note Trudeau had “seized an opportunity with both hands,” though even his coverage was still more credulous than warranted. To the degree any reporting was even marginally critical it was entirely on Trudeau’s terms — as when Vice assembled a team of scientists to scrutinize the Prime Minister’s summary.
All this favorable press was not gained legitimately. It was the product of a media who chose — again, either through laziness or deliberate effort — to spin Friday’s events in a fashion that would prove most useful to the Prime Minister and help alleviate one of his greatest liabilities. Their coverage was not neutral or skeptical, it was aggressively supportive and free of cynicism. This has been a defining theme of Trudeau’s media reception. When the Prime Minister stages a photo op it is often reported as a relevant news event unto itself, as when Justin Trudeau cuddled the new baby pandas at the Toronto zoo or dressed his family as Star Wars characters for Halloween or did that weird yoga thing.
Stephen Harper was certainly not above using cheesy PR gimmicks to shore up perceived weaknesses with his public image. Yet time and time again, it was cynicism of Harper’s media strategies that became the story. His sweater vests and kittens and cowboy hats and hockey book were tropes of incessant, sarcastic mockery as journalists recoiled at the notion they could be so easily played. A reader drew my attention to this 2010 CBC story on Prime Minister Harper’s famous piano-playing: “Some commenters accused the prime minister of using the concert as a publicity stunt to improve his image and criticized news organizations for giving it so much attention,” they note sternly.
Why is Trudeau different? Partially it’s a product of the corrupting influence of foreign journalists, who have no obligation or interest to offer responsible coverage of Canadian politics and are thus free to treat Justin Trudeau as a pure celebrity. In the eyes of progressive American journalists in particular, Justin Trudeau has become a reliable clickbait meme, a slightly comical, mostly endearing mascot of the utopian dreamland their liberal readers expect Canada to be. Canadian outlets are presumably not ignorant of the views that can be gained by pandering to this base, which one must assume is larger than the typical audience for stories about Canadian prime ministers.
But partially too is it the result of a Canadian journalistic establishment that simply doesn’t regard Justin Trudeau as a politician deserving of hassle. If Canada’s journalists are operating from a mindset in which Trudeau has been one of the great victims of our time, a man chronically “underestimated” and unfairly maligned by right-wing “trolls” then they will be naturally predisposed towards stories that confirm the Prime Minister as a man of great complexity and substance.
That is the act in which I believe far too many of this country’s journalists have been caught. It reflects poorly on all involved.31 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has won the world’s heart and broken the internet by proving he’s “not just a pretty face” (in the words of Britain’s Daily Mail) and “the man of your dreams” (in the words of Vanity Fair). Foreign reporters are drawing these conclusions based on Canadian reports that the PM launched into an impromptu soliloquy on quantum computing during a press conference yesterday, in which he dressed down a condescending reporter who apparently considered him too stupid to understand the technology.
This is how the Toronto Star reported the episode, for example (headline: “PM shows off knowledge of quantum computing”):
On the chalkboard behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., on Friday, were equations sufficient to give anyone who struggled in high school math horrors for a lifetime.
Then an inquiring reporter, covering Trudeau’s reannouncement of the recent federal budget’s $50-million allocation for Perimeter, inadvertently led with his chin.
“I was going to ask you to explain quantum computing, but . . . ,” the reporter said before asking a question about Canada’s role in defeating Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The man who has been called Canada’s new heartthrob, yoga hotshot, feminist PM — apparently eager to show he’s more than a now globally recognized pretty face — promptly showed he has computer-geek talents previously little known.
“OK, quite simply, normal computers work by . . . ,” Trudeau said to laughter and applause.
“No, no, don’t interrupt me, when you walk out of here you will know more — well no, some of you will know far less — about quantum computing,” he continued.
“A regular computer bit is either a one or a zero, either on or off. A quantum state can be much more complex than that, because as we know, things can be both particle and wave at the same time and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer.”
“So that’s what’s exciting about quantum computing,” he said as the crowd erupted into sustained applause.
You can read some version of this story just about anywhere at the moment. It is extraordinarily good press for the Prime Minister, given the man has long struggled with accusations he is an intellectual lightweight. It has also helped overshadow various unpleasantries he would rather not be talking about at the moment, including his government’s assisted-suicide legislation and, as the Star story notes, Canada’s ambiguous role in the war on ISIS.
So anyway, here is what actually happened.
On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau visited the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario. After a tour, he staged a brief photo op with some scientists and gave a short speech about how his government believes in funding science yada yada. Then, at one point he said this:
“You don’t have to be a geek like me to appreciate how important this work is. Although I have to tell you, when we get to the media questions later I’m really hoping people ask me how quantum computing works because I was excited to deepen my knowledge of that this morning.”
Click here to see a link to the relevant snippet of the speech on the Perimeter Institute’s YouTube channel.
Eventually we did get to the media questions. The first one went like this:
REPORTER: Morning sir, I was going to ask you to explain quantum computing but.. [trails off as audience laughs] When do you expect Canada’s ISIL mission to begin again and are we not doing anything in the interim while we prepare?
PM TRUDEAU: ‘Kay, very simply, normal computers work by….
And that was that.
So, to summarize, the PM went to a place and learned about a thing. During the speech that followed, he excitedly suggested he wanted to talk about the thing he just learned. A reporter was disinterested in playing along, and tried to ask a more relevant question, but Trudeau ignored him and launched into what was clearly a pre-prepared treatise on the thing.
In the reporting that followed, the Canadian media deliberately and pointedly did not place Trudeau’s verbal essay on quantum computing in the context in which it occurred. They instead chose to present the story in a fashion that would ensure maximum PR benefit to the prime minister — namely, this idea that Trudeau confidently called the bluff of a patronizing reporter.
To put it another way, the Canadian media has actually reversed the realities of the story 180 degrees. What is being falsely presented as a story of a scrappy prime minister resisting a hostile press is actually a story of a slavishly subservient press who are actively shaping their reporting to suit the government’s needs.
It is a disgrace.
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People seem to like learning about Canada. So here’s a video about Canadian newspapers.
Also, if you are not already aware, I do another YouTube series with my friend Adam, called Gay by Gay. Check out this latest episode in which we ask each other a series of rapid-fire questions.2 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
I’ve started doing a weekly segment known as “Indie News” on a new Vancouver radio station called Roundhouse Radio 98.3. Me and the other panelists had a good chat yesterday, talking about the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial, the US election, vaccines, and a whole host of other topics in a free-wheeling, hour-long chat.12 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
A couple weeks ago, I broke down and did something millennials aren’t supposed to do — I got cable.
The internet is great and all, but a thing I’d come to miss since leaving my parents’ house — the last place where I enjoyed reliable access to television — was the pleasure of a non-curated watching experience. Sometimes it’s fun to discover a new show not because a friend told you about it or because you’ve been hearing great things on social media, but just because it happened to be on one night as you were channel-flipping.
Cartoon Network is great. I honestly didn’t realize we had access to it in Canada. The quality of children’s animation is incredibly high these days — both in terms of art and stories — another thing I hadn’t anticipated, having snobbishly assumed everything went downhill the second I turned away.
Here are four short reviews of my four favorite cartoons I’ve discovered, ranked in order of preference.
A show about an endearingly awkward — maybe even borderline autistic — eight-year-old and the various white-trash weirdos who inhabit his life. Its kid’s-eye-view of the world reminds me a lot of thematically similar shows I liked in gradeschool, including Doug, Recess and an obscure Canadian cartoon called Stickin’ Around — but also has elements of King of the Hill in how bluntly it portrays the culture of the lower-middle class. It is not a mean-spirited or bitter show, and the characters are endearing in their earnestness to make the most of their circumstances.
2. We Bare Bears
An aggressively modern show centering around three bear brothers — eager Grizz, nervous Panda, and phlegmatic Ice Bear — who live like 21st century hipsters in a cave at the outskirts of the big city. The premise is odd, but the characters are charming and the writing is consistently funny and insightful with plots centering around the neurotic brothers struggling with the familiar stresses of contemporary life including social media, smartphones, online dating, food trucks, and vlogs. Though the show is gentle and inoffensive, its subject matter often feels “mature” — in the literal sense of the world — making it compellingly unique.
3. Steven Universe
Broadly familiar with the series thanks to its Tumblr fans, it was nevertheless quite different than I anticipated. The show’s universe is complicated, and revealed only gradually, but essentially centers around a magical boy named Steven who lives in a resort town with three even more magical women — cold and authoritarian Garnet, bossy and dorky Pearl, and free spirit Amethyst. It’s a surprisingly slow-paced series — episodes often contain little action — but its laid-back, dreamlike atmosphere makes for a relaxing watch. Steven is an impossibly adorable character with huge, expressive eyes and a naive eagerness to learn and do right.
4. The Amazing World of Gumball
The most artistically compelling but also the least deep, this one centers around two young, frantic brothers, Gumball and Darwin, who inhabit an insane neighborhood in which almost every imaginable fantasy character — dinosaurs, robots, video game sprites, talking flowers, etc. — cohabit uncomfortably. Every character is rendered in a completely different style, from claymation to hand-drawn to CGI to South Park-style cutouts, which only increases the madness. Plots are generally simple and tend to utilize slapstick and chaos at the expense of serious characterization or genuine emotion. But it’s hard not to be captivated by the endless creativity of it all.7 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
Only a few criticisms seem to genuinely get under Donald Trump skin, and they’re easy to identify since they’re the ones he tends to bring up unprovoked in debates and speeches.
One is his allegedly small fingers, an insult about which he has an inexplicable psychological hang-up; another is the more factually-grounded observation that he has yet to win 50% in any Republican primary contest to date.
Democracy may be a better system for picking leaders than all the others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rife with philosophical contradiction and paradox, the most persistently unsolvable being who should win in a circumstance in which there are more than three choices, and none of them can secure a majority of votes. This is the dilemma the modern “electoral reform” movement attempts to resolve, and at the moment it is the struggle consuming the Republican primary election, and the Trump campaign in particular.
That Trump is doing much better than anyone ever anticipated conceals the fact that he is doing considerably worse than most other Republican front-runners at comparable times. By March of 2012 Mitt Romney had won majority victories in several states and surpassed his closest opponent more than 2-to-1 in the delegate count. By March of 2008 things were even more one-sided, with John McCain winning states with 60% and up, having already intimidated all serious competitors out of the race.
By contrast, Trump’s strongest rival, Ted Cruz, does not appear to be slowing down, and no matter what happened on Super Tuesday Part II this was unlikely to change. If Trump had won both Ohio and Florida he would’ve knocked out both John Kasich and Marco Rubio causing the anti-Trump majority to firmly coalesce around Cruz. Any other outcome, such as the one that actually happened, ensured the continuance of a three-man race, which isn’t great for Cruz but makes 50%+ victories for Trump no easier either.
The conservative prediction, in both senses of the word, is that Trump is on course to send only a plurality of delegates to the Republican convention this summer. Though the rules are byzantine (and yet to be even firmly established) in all likelihood this would mean a Trump loss on the first ballot, in which the combined majority of his opponents’ delegates vote his nomination down. If they continue to vote in sync they could theoretically deny him the nomination forever, eventually using their majority to install some outside guy as a compromise candidate — perhaps Paul Ryan, who recently won the endorsement of John Boehner.
Is this just?
The question, as usual, reminds me of a similar dilemma in Canadian politics — namely the question regarding the justness of a so-called “coalition government” in which the second and third-place parties in Parliament deny the prime ministership to the boss of the party which has secured a plurality of seats, but not an outright majority. John Kasich had a clever line about this in the last debate — “in school, if you got an 86 you got a B; just because everyone else got an 84, doesn’t mean you got an A” — but I would counter that two Bs added together don’t make an A either. My problem with coalition governments has always been that they draw a mandate from voter behavior that the voters themselves did not explicitly give — that is, because most Canadians voted against Harper, a coalition of his opponents has greater moral right to govern. Or, in this case, because most Republicans voted against Trump, the nomination of any person who is not Trump fulfills the wishes of the majority.
It is a fallacy to conclude that because voters reject one option, they are endorsing every possible alternative. In a single-ballot electoral system, voters only get to express one preference, and for the system to have predictability — and thus public legitimacy — the stated preference of most voters must be honored, even when that entails awarding an office on the basis of a plurality victory. Kaisch voters did not vote for Cruz or Ryan, they voted for Kasich in the context of an election in which he was an option. What choice they would make in even a slightly different context, say Cruz v. Kasich, let alone Trump v. Ryan, is unknowable, and it would be undemocratic for his delegates to offer a hard answer.
It can be argued that America is a republic, not a democracy. In Canada, people who are fond of the coalition idea argue Canadians elect a parliament, not a prime minister. If we believe our elected delegates have broad, personal discretion to make decisions as fundamental as who should be president or prime minister without explicit voter instruction then that’s fine, but it obligates candidates to conduct their campaigns in a far different manner than has been done to date.4 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
A new video to set my US pals straight.
And also, in my biggest writing gig to date, I wrote a long piece for the prestigious American magazine Foreign Policy about the history of Canadian prime ministers and US presidents.2 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook