Saturday, April 19, 2014

What Are The MH370 Searchers Looking For?

Nearly a month and a half has passed since Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing drifted off radar and flew into a well-maintained place in the global consciousness.  While civil war continues in Syria, and Vladimir Putin escalates the tensions in Ukraine, the disappearance of the flight still captures its share of (still, nothing) headlines and burrows further into our imagination.

Despite the massive international efforts and a search mission that has run to a cost of US$100 million (and counting), there still is no solution, discovery or theory that has brought clarity to what happened or that most evanescent and uncertain of things, closure, to the mystery.

As the prospects for a successful search grow more bleak, it stands to reason that the time will come to call off the search, but there seems to be little public discussion of this.  Instead, other technologies have been suggested as resources to be mobilized for the effort.  It is hard to tell whether the sustained effort is motivated by the certainty that technology, if applied in massive enough quantities, can answer every question or challenge that is laid before us or if there is some other purpose that is driving the effort.  Is that age old, "we put a man on the moon" mantra compelling people to explore, by many accounts, a part of the Indian Ocean that may be more remote and less understood than the moon?

While I acknowledge that closure would be valuable to the families of those lost in the crash, it seems that the search at this point may be sustained by a failure to recognize that the investments in the search thus far have turned up no returns.  For those families, simply saying, "We don't know," cannot be expected to be enough.  It seems like a gambler's mentality has taken over the approach to the search. It seems there is a hope that the conclusive discovery is but a moment away.  It is beginning to look like it will forever be so.

If this search were as successful as past searches of its kind, the evidence would be used for litigation (and perhaps in this instance ruling out some plot that would normally be attributed to a Bondian master villain.)  The evidence from the flight recorders would be used to direct blame at either the manufacturer, the airliner or someone else and that will somehow satisfy the appetite for resolution, blame or answers that we settle for all too often.

There may be some value in determining what happened in an effort to prevent it from happening again, but it seems that an unfortunate combination of circumstances converged to create a scenario that is unlikely to ever happen again in aviation.  I think there is already a sense that this is the case.  If there are theories about what has happened and ideas on how each of these theoretical scenarios can be made less probable, then perhaps solutions ought to be adopted to address a number of these rather than wait until the search and the subsequent investigations identifies one course of action to prevent a repeat of a similar disaster.

Ultimately the search may be sustained by a desire to answer the questions or remain optimistic about our collective abilities to solve or appear to solve difficult problems or puzzles.  It is not possible, nor is it necessary to resolve every last mystery, especially if the knowledge we would gain from it would be so specific and esoteric that we may not know what to do with what we would learn.  With each passing day that seems more likely to be the case.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Did You Hear The One About Libertarians and Grassroots?

As the Conservative Party of Canada proves itself to be increasingly erratic in its management of the country as well as the scandals that have plagued Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office and staff the party has introduced what they have called the Fair Elections Act, a transparent and lambasted effort to suppress voter turnout.  All in all, with Stephen Harper's future subject to increased speculation and his moves drawing more and more criticism.  The arch for the Conservative Party is in descent because the libertarian tendencies that sparked the Reform movement and brought figures such as Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Rob Anders et al to the national stage are running their course.

The evidence of the government's libertarian tendencies have manifested themselves in the support that they have provided to the oil industry despite the need to cobble together some sort of environmental policy - whether it is motivated by appeasing other world powers, generating some support among environmentally-concerned voters or ultimately making the oilsands and Keystone XL easier for Barack Obama to sell to Americans.

The problem with the libertarian stance is two-fold: 1) the Conservative government is neglecting its role as a player interested in maintain the balance of power between political, economic, religious and other interests and 2) the self-interest that libertarianism fosters is no longer sustainable for the Conservatives at a grassroots level.  

With the unwillingness to use government as a means to maintain a balance of power in Canadian society, the Conservative Party has fostered the belief and the reality that they are favouring corporate elites Italian philosopher Gaetano Mosca articulated a theory of elites that posited that an ideal political system was one that kept the power of the various elites in society from being dominated by any one group.  Given the Conservatives' treatment of the business sector, their disdain for institutions such as the CBC and Canada Post and their own struggles to keep church and state separate, they have done more to further empower the business and religious elites rather than use the resources at their disposal to maintain a balance among the various elites.  

The Conservatives, of course, have made it clear that they wish to make government smaller. However, as the cabinet has mushroomed to sizes of historic proportions and the Senate has been exploited by Harper rather than reformed it is clear that the government no longer is able to indicate a coherent mission.  The advertising campaign for the Job Grants programs seemed more intent - as often seems to be the case with the government - to present the appearance of governance and leadership than the actual thing.  The efforts to build interest and awareness of the War of 1812 and pride in Canadian military history and later cutting veterans' programs and support is one of the more glaring instances of inconsistency hidden behind a veneer of glory or competence.

The second issue with the Conservatives is that with the application of libertarian ideology by this government is the failure to foster community development.  There is less and less pulling Canadians together at this time.  What community development there has been in the country over the last few years has occurred at the municipal level of government and is starting to bring people together in ways that are particular to projects that are of interest to those groups.  Whether it is environmental programming, efforts to support newcomers to Canada, bike paths, car shares or other initiatives people are finding ways to come together in ways despite the regard among libertarians that these things represent too much interference in individual freedom.  While choice is an ideal that people need and have a right to, the Conservatives have exercised that right to an extent that may have disengaged their base.  

With nothing more than self-interest and according to the ideology a desire to do what one pleases holding together the uneasy alliance of the various factions of the Conservative Party, it is easy to see the fissures in the party starting to emerge as people either struggle for the purported heart of the party or opt out entirely.  As more and more Conservatives come away disenchanted with the party's failures to deliver on their promises.  Given the history of the Tories in their various iterations to divide and fall it is likely that they will divide once again under a more moderate leader or marginalize themselves if they believe a further tilt to a Tea Party right.

The Conservatives desire to contain and control their messaging and the people it chooses to involve itself with at the grassroots level may continue to present the appearance of a vibrant committed party but the control of these things have likely kept them from maintaining the grassroots support that contributed to the party's emergence.  In Alberta provincial politics, the mismatch between the grassroots support for Alison Redford and the more right-wing caucus was one of the things cited for her struggles and her resignation.  Despite the endorsements of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Rob Anders met with a lengthy and futile battle to remain a federal Conservative candidate for the 2015 election.  Will the consequences be similar for Ron Liepert if the party prefers to take the word of Conservatives in Calgary Signal Hill at face value?  

The challenge for libertarians is to create a resilient, sustainable network among the disparate vested interests that have gathered in its small tent.  The more libertarian Conservatives were likely never that capable of or interested in generating an authentic community within the party and they were likely fine with it, but there is a need to recognize the desires of the grassroots members of the party and integrate those into the decisions that the party makes going forward if not for the sake of electoral success, then at least for the reputation of those who support the party.