Wednesday, 10 December 2008

All Hail Stevie, Our Chief of Mice!*: Part One

* With apologies to Lady Antonia and John Milton.

Well, chaps, we’ve learned so much about our beloved country over the past week. This sublimely teachable moment--brought to you by a government driven solely by the pusillanimous and imbecilic venality of a rodentine leader suffering from a Cromwell complex and an Opposition whose level of tactical ineptitude would shame the debating team of a Bronx reformatory—may be particularly valuable for those of us still desperately clinging to the illusion that our civic institutions are not disintegrating into dust through the cultural vandalism of our swinish élites and the widespread apathy of our bread-and-circuses besotted populace.

Here are just a few items of note, which I present to you the way our politicians have lately been managing the nation’s affairs--in no particular order:

1) Whatever stimulus package “Prime Minister For Life” Harper eventually presents for the House’s approval had better include enough cash for Stevie to fetch his testicles out of hock from whatever pawnshop he sold them to. The man idolised (delusionally) by his carbuncular acolytes as a fearless and savvy political “chess player” last week committed the most risibly craven act of parliamentary cowardice in Commonwealth history, and he did so under the pressure of a man once dismissed by CPC slackjaws as an ineffectual milquetoast “professor” , unworthy of even the attention required to ridicule him.

2) The question, burning for years, of whether Stephen Harper in fact does have more integrity than can be scraped off the sperm-spattered walls of a gay-bar john has been answered, in the most utterly predictable way imaginable.

What else should we have expected from the man who became our first explicitly anti-Canadian prime minister? Why would such a man apply himself to the task of uniting the nation in solidarity against the gravest economic threat we’ve faced since the Great Depression when there yet remain Opposition politicians whose parties need to be crushed, when there’s an entire civil service that must be humiliated, scapegoated and shorn of fundamental bargaining rights, when there are regions and provinces to be pitted against one another so as to make lording over the broken pieces so much the easier, when there’s a Prairie version of the Southern Strategy to be enacted as a way of demoralising the country into a meaner, smaller place--when there are, in short, so many odious Nixonian games to be played with people’s lives, so many modes of civic discourse to be degraded?

I think most of us finally get it: what we’re seeing is the inevitable result of electing a man to state office who has spent his entire adult life explaining, at length and in detail, why he hates the state. Frankly, we can’t blame the man: is it not natural to destroy what one hates?

3) The Reform/Alliance “populist” tradition which Stephen Harper represents has just lost its political virginity—not on the soft, silk-sheeted, canopied bed of a lavish bridal suite, but in the Wild-Turkey soaked backseat of a ’78 Oldsmobile idling in the parking lot of an abandoned factory.

By murdering the last Parliament in its cradle in order to evade the just chastisement of the people’s representatives, Stephen Harper has had gutless recourse to methods unknown and unattempted in the English-speaking world since the Seventeenth Century. Oliver Cromwell and Charles I, two of history’s most notorious tyrants, are Harper’s new inspirations (along with some lesser scum).

And the “jus' folks” in Alberta are just loving it, darlings! We hear no supercilious lecturing from the schoolmarms of the Manning Centre for Democracy about this outrageous abuse of power, no blithering redneck rantings from Ted and Link Byfield’s torch-and-pickfork gong show about unaccountable élites shutting down democracy whenever it becomes inconvenient to them. We hear none of that once-stentorian yelping against the “Stalinism” of the federal executive, delivered with the swaggering, cocksure arrogance of a messianic clique fully convinced of their monopoly of political virtue. Gee. I guess the brutal serial rape of democracy is just fine as long as, at the end of the day, the nation is made to eat its breakfast out of your own narrow, partisan, ideological ass crack.

If there’s one good thing to come out of this fiasco, it’s that we no longer need accord the Calgary School and the purveyors of its demagogic bromides the slightest shred of respect (I, of course, never did). They’ve shown themselves as concupiscently avid for power as the Liberals have ever been at their most hack-ridden and unprincipled. We’ve let ourselves be schooled and browbeaten by the Flanagans, the Coopers, the Mannings and all that tribe for far too long. We’re done. It’s over. Finished. Prairie populism and its primary partisan vehicle have been exposed as contemptible frauds boasting all the inherent moral authenticity of a buck-a-blow crackwhore servicing drunken longshoreman for packs of black-market smokes.

Stevie, you saved your tatty political skin, and committed ethical suicide in the process. I hope it was worth it, cowpoke.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Astrea Redux

The great ones, the Titans, earned their ageless laurels by transcending and mastering the tribulations of their times. They were among us, but, somehow, not of us, and their words were like magic spells.

I offer below--briefly and chronologically--a few of the glittering jewels from the West's treasury of magisterial oratory:

Pericles: "If your country has the greatest name in all the world, it is because she never bent before disaster; because she has expended more life and effort in war than any other city...the memory of which will descend to the latest posterity".

Elizabeth I: "And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes me that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people".

Danton: "The tocsin you hear today is not an alarm but an alert: it sounds the charge against our enemies".

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Churchill: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'".

Pierre Trudeau: "Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die".

Stephen Harper: "[My mother] is the person closest to me who is most worried about the stock market these days... But, what is the government to do about that? What does a prime minister do about that?".

So now that the yawning abyss of the sheer marrow mashing mediocrity that is the 2008 Canadian election has gaped so wide as to devour my will to remain silent until its conclusion, my readership may rejoice and take this latest post as firm evidence that I am alive and well and that I've not yet been arrested by Stephen Harper's private police force.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Election Eclectica, The Conclusion: Nausea Moratoria

I believe I have finally formulated a conceit that adequately embodies the disgust with which this election fills me.

Actually, the image communicates not merely how I'm experiencing the election but, more generally, what it feels like to watch my nation become ever more masterfully commandeered by Stephen Harper and his geeky stable of insolent, rat-eyed Utilitarian geldings.

It is this: I am perpetually in the middle of a fourteen-hour flight to Jakarta on a turbulence-tossed twin-prop Piper, seated between two fat, flatulent, un-deodorised Amway salesmen suffering from Tourette's Syndrome, overactive sweat glands, aggressive halitosis, and severe air sickness.

I have thus decided to place a moratorium on election-driven posts (I see it as a corporal work of mercy, for which I hope some time may be cut from my stay in Purgatory, if I make it even that far).

I have come to believe that Canadian elections are very much like ejected plates of undigested spaghetti and meatballs: their essence, their Gestalt, cannot be grasped or even adequately contemplated while the vomited stream is arcing its repulsive path through the air; rather, one must wait for gravity to cancel its lofty pretensions and smash it down into a gaudy red splatter pattern of spoiled dreams, violated dignities and curdled destinies, whereupon one can (one must) collect the mess into an analytical bucket before the unpleasantness is expunged from our collective memory and until the national gut is once again moved to expel yet another electoral jet-stream of pandering cant and servile hucksterism of a kind that disgraces the great men and woman who made Canada possible and that negates everything we say and think we are.

Nevertheless, I still reserve the right to comment on the American election: U.S. elections have reached a terminus of degeneracy that ours are still far away from and are thus void of the traces of earnestness that prevent our own elections from being satisfying as sheer entertainment.

In fact, I cannot consider U.S. elections to be "elections" at all: most Americans don't vote; the electoral aspect of the spectacle is the one which Americans find least engaging, and who can blame them? When you've got guilty pleasures like the cheap vaudeville so divertingly provided by a Palin or a McCain, who wants to interrupt the show with spoil-sport banalities like "issues", "visions", "dialogues", "programs" or anything that smacks of the uncool?

No, our distant republican cousins have not come terribly far from their delight in showboat minstrelsy, the only serious innovation being their abandonment of blackface (which is, however, still considered useful for racially-ambiguous candidates who need to appear sufficiently "from tha 'hood" to key constituencies).

I shall post a retrospective post-mortem of this stillborn election on or after October 14th. Until then, this (slightly edited) comment I left at Matt Bondy's sums up my feelings about the legitimacy of the election call and thus of the legitimacy of the election per se. Unsurprisingly, my prediction about the process being "degrading" came mere days before Puffingate and the Ryan Sparrow fiasco:

[This election proves the] decay of correct constitutional practice in Canada–a process fueled by passive-aggressive hostility, ignorance, and benign neglect in roughly equal parts.

If the office of Governor-General were more than a ribbon-cutting farce, Michaëlle Jean would really have had to deny Harper’s request [for dissolution], as there’s no way to conjure an objectively valid reason for it. Harper didn’t even allow Parliament to sit before he declared it “unworkable”, and no other party leader was given a chance to seek the House’s confidence. The Governor-General, theoretically the only check on the Dominion executive, has become a laughable rubber-stamp enabler of it. Most Canadians fail to realise that we no longer really have an effective head of state.

As for Harper’s fixed-date “law”, there never was a law: nothing can limit the Governor-General-in-Council’s power to dissolve Parliament except a constitutional amendment. Harper’s “law” was merely an aspirational goal that was sold as an iron-clad guarantee by CPC hacks and credulous media lemmings.

It was merely part of a package of preposterous, pseudo-populist gestures Supreme Court
candidacy review, a threat to “democratise” the Senate , etc.) meant to sell the CPC’s “egalitarianism” to the Wal-Mart crowd. It’s been degrading for everyone concerned, as I expect the election will be.
At times like this, I am tempted to quote that great, sad, brilliant conservative, Ezra Pound. He wrote Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, in a fit of rage, in 1920, but it sounds tragically contemporary. Replace Lloyd George and the plutocrats who had "done very well from the war" with Harper, Bush and Washington's sordid, sclerotic lobbyists; then replace World War One with the Bush/Harper anti-jihad jihad, and you'll hear Pound excoriating the organ-grinding liars in the White House and their monkeys at Fox News. The Jessica Lynch myth, the Pat Tillman cover-up, the Omar Khadr fiasco, Bill O'Reilly, Halliburton...Pound saw them all--and hated them all, with a holy rage--over eighty years ago:

We see _το καλόν_
Decreed in the market place.

Faun's flesh is not to us,
Nor the saint's vision.
We have the press for wafer;
Franchise for circumcision.

All men, in law, are equals.
Free of
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.

O bright Apollo,
_τίν' άνδρα, τίν' ήρωα, τίνα θεον_,
What god, man, or hero
Shall I place a tin wreath upon!


[The soldiers] walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.


There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization...
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Election Eclectica, Part III

"Hey! Let Me Tell You the One About the National Health Catastrophe and the Idiot Cabinet Minister":

Has anybody else noticed that, whenever hard-Right, state-hating libertarian ideologues get their paws on power, people die?

But it sure is nice to know that, in the midst of a "stressful" conference call, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz can still find enough sang froid to turn tragic deaths into cheap jokes and glibly wish death upon his Opposition critic. What poise! What sprezzatura!

I find the way this story has been reported to be remarkable. The facts that have not been subject to comment are, to me, the most outré. Everyone is howling over Ritz's oafish quips about "cold cuts" and Wayne Easter while missing the more egregious features of this débacle.

This meeting was not comprised of off-duty stevedores hoisting pints at some pool room or dive bar. The conference call was hosted by the Privy Council Office, chaired by the PCO's deputy secretary to cabinet, and included a wide range of senior CPC political staff, none of whom, it would seem, took exception to Ritz's callow frat-boyisms or his total lack of interest in anything but the "political fallout" from the disaster (I guess, for CPC ministers, the sight of Canadians dropping like flies isn't nearly as ghastly as the fear of dropping poll numbers). My guess is that it was an official from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who went to the press, as that agency has long been at odds with Harper's ministry (with good cause). The rest of the participants, we must infer, were unmoved--at least, not sufficiently moved to speak up on behalf of decorum.

Thus, a group of state executives--people in whom we have entrusted managerial stewardship of the nation--sat acquiescently, perhaps silently smiling, throughout Ritz's degrading performance, apparently void of whatever modicum of decency is required to detect the utter unacceptability of the man's blitherings and offer admonishment.

Forget Ritz: he's an expendable hack apparatchik who'll soon fade away with nary a footnote to memorialise his trivial political existence. Think of the civil servants and PCO staffers who were on that call: they will still be there when Ritz is long gone; they'll still be making crucial, sometimes life-and-death decisions on our behalf; and they'll presumably still have the moral complexion of slugs. I am not entirely comfortable with that prospect.

Happily, "Conservatives", being resourceful buggers, don't stop at corpses in their quest for vulgar flippancy; they also like to spout off about drunken Indians too, not terribly long after Stephen Harper "apologised" to the Aboriginal community with great self-serving fanfare.

"How Harper Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb":

Stephen Harper seems to think allowing foreigners to mine our uranium is just nifty. He may be on to something there.

Far too many narrow nationalists would smugly assert that Canada has earned to right to monopolise its own uranium mining industry for the most spurious reasons (they might blather on about Canada's proud and inflexible non-nuclear status and support for non-proliferation, and so on), but it's that kind of parochialism that keeps us perpetually short of fulfilling our sacred obligation to remain in resource serfdom to the planet's lords. Our Boy-Scout morality doesn't help uranium get to the people who really need it (like China, India, and Pakistan), and opening up our uranium mines to wholly foreign-owned firms is an excellent way of making our world a more dangerous place, apparently a key item in the CPC agenda (and that of their American Republican doppelgänger, John McCain).

"Well, They All Sound Alike to Me":

Stephen Harper has developed a quirky new way of bribing electoral special interests: rather than tossing the money to them in a straight line, he bounces the cash off a wall so that it lands near their feet.

In a recent case, Harper decided that the best way to "invest" in Canadian Francophone TV programming is to sink fifteen million dollars into TV5MONDE. That the network is based in France and features but a tiny smidgeon of Canadian content seems immaterial to the CPC brains trust, many of whom are, perhaps, so eager to fellate a massive corporation that they're willing to restrain their anti-Gallic instincts long enough for them to stuff wads of cash into a French one.

Shall we speculate as to how many millions will be going to the BBC Worldwide? Surely, as the most accessible vehicle of the Queen's English on a continent whose tongue is held hostage by varieties of the American patois, the BBC deserves equal consideration, and, as it is non-Canadian, it meets the stringent new criteria which the CPC is now applying to its cultural funding decisions.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

GWOT FUBAR* Update: Things Fall Apart

* An homage to Yanks and their charming acronyms.

Pakistan's tribal hinterland on the Afghan border is getting very ugly, very quickly. Looks like the United States is getting hit with some small-arms blowback after indulging in its regrettable habit of bombing allies.

Local authorities and civilian witnesses report that Pakistani infantry and allied tribal militia fired on a U.S. chopper patrol flying just inside the border, forcing the helicopters to flee back towards Afghanistan. Naturally, U.S. officials proffered the usual pro forma denials, but I'll believe civilians on the ground before I believe the authors of the "Jessica Lynch Story" and the best-selling "'Saddam Has Nukes!' Story".

This deterioration needs to worry us. Post-Musharraf Pakistan is as unstable as the country has been in decades, with an officer class and an intelligence service (ISI) comprised largely of Islamists of varying degrees of virulence, who become ever more deeply anti-American each time NATO defies the nation's sovereignty (and kills scores of civilians) in its hunt for Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership elements.

Pakistan isn't just some demoralised, sleepy bedouin backwater. It isn't Saudi Arabia or Iraq. We're not going to be able to toy with or intimidate these people. This is a fiercely proud nation with a siege mentality, a history of nationalist belligerence (just ask India) and a fully deliverable nuclear capability.

If America keeps on invading Pakistan and deepening anti-Western hate among its military and tribal leadership, expect shit to hit a fan, and the splatter pattern will look very much like a coup bringing an Islamist strongman to power and thus putting the significant strategic, military and nuclear resources of that country into hostile hands.

Canadians need to demand that their government find the balls to either restrain American idiocy on this file or pull their troops out of a theatre that is spiraling out of control.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Election Eclectica, Part II: "Conservatives" Denounce U.S. Recklessness and Hope Nobody Notices

Soon after the election began, I received an e-mail solicitation from Irving R. Gerstein, Chair of the Conservative Fund Canada (i.e. chief panhandler for the CPC), as I'm still on the CPC's e-mail list. The tedium of reading this pathetic appeal for more money with which to wage their intellectually vacant campaign in this farcical election was redeemed somewhat by the precious glance I was given into the way "conservatives" talk to each other when they think nobody is watching. Incredibly, they sound even more stupid than they do in their conversations with sane Canadians.

The ignoble contents of this piffle provide a case in point. Mr. Gerstein whines:

Stéphane Dion is a risk to our reputation around the world with his reckless suggestions of bringing the Taliban to Canada and NATO invading Pakistan. We can't go back.
The "back" that Gerstein wants us to dread so deeply is, we assume, the pre-Harper foreign policy era--before Canada endorsed child torture, before we turned POW's over to a corrupt Afghan regime for more torture, before we ran away from our every significant environmental obligation, and before the world began to have to get our attention by tapping us on the shoulder while we kneel before the open zipper of the White House. Yes indeed, Mr. Gerstein: thank God that sad chapter is closed.

Gerstein's glib jab about "bringing the Taliban to Canada" would appear to be a swipe at Stephane Dion's suggestion that Taliban detainees could be brought to Canada for internment, an utterly outrageous idea that was, oddly, considered good enough by Canadians during the Second World War, during which approximately 40 000 Axis POW's were imprisoned on Canadian soil, including members of the notorious Hitlerjugend SS Panzer Division, arguably the most fanatical and savage warriors Hitler's war machine produced.

Gerstein's stupidity reaches heroic levels, though, in his denunciation of Dion's "reckless" suggestion that NATO should invade Pakistan. Gerstein is referring to Dion's stated view that NATO might have to intervene in Pakistan, given that the country seems unable or unwilling to police its Afghan border. Dion insisted he meant a "diplomatic" intervention (whatever that is), so Gerstein's allegation is hysterical, at best, though it was repeated and exploited by a number of Blogging Tory lemmings. CPC MP Jason Kenney called Dion's views a "descent into amateur hour".

Someone needs to remind CPC apparatchiks that they really ought to read the news, if only to keep in touch with the reality that they seek to distort. The day after Harper dropped the writ, a U.S. attack on Pakistani soil claimed at least twenty-three lives, most of them women and children. This attack was later confirmed to have been authorised by the President himself. As the story tells us, the most recent attack was part of a new American strategy of operating within Pakistan's borders without the nation's consent:

U.S.-led forces have stepped up cross-border attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal areas. Helicopter-borne commandos carried out a ground assault in South Waziristan last week, the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, killing 20 people, including women and children...The U.S. commando raid and repeated territorial violations aroused anger in Pakistan, prompting the government to partially block supply lines to Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan.
This is astonishing. A CPC operative announces that allowing NATO to operate within Pakistan would amount to an "invasion", an act of fatal recklessness, and that Canadians must do everything in their power to defeat a leader who advocates such a thing. Concurrently, we learn that the White House, the effective executive authority of the Afghan mission in which Canadian soldiers are engaged and the very embodiment of all that is right and noble for the CPC and their acolytes, has been doing precisely what the CPC tells us is unthinkably stupid.

Have I missed something? Have you read that Stephen Harper has announced his dismay at this worrying development and demanded that NATO pull back from Pakistan and respect its territorial integrity? I have not, and I'm at a loss as to how to explain this glaring incoherence.

Is it that the CPC really believed that invading Pakistan would eventually become necessary, but (with typical cynicism) merely wanted to nail Dion for uttering an unpopular notion that it also happened to believe to be true? Is it that an idea, no matter how preposterous and dangerous, becomes perfectly acceptable as soon as it is espoused by Americans? Perhaps the CPC feels that, while it is fine for Americans to protect their own troops by rooting out the Taliban bases in Pakistan, Canadian troops should not be allowed that privilege but are, instead, best employed as the good little dumb-Canuck sitting ducks that Americans think we are.

I hope one of my CPC-friendly readers is able to give me some insight into how the party could manage to extricate its feet from this self-shat pile. I should also like to hear opinions about which path their party should take from here: should it apologise to Dion for ripping him apart over a tactic that the CPC's own heroes and the de facto commanders of the Canadian Afghan contingent are already using, or should it pressure its leader to advise George W. Bush of the "recklessness" of his Pakistani incursions and to demand an immediate halt to them?

Frankly, I think both gestures are in order.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Election Eclectica, Part I: The Poppies Blow, Row on Rotten Row

You'll excuse the late post. As is my daily habit, I arranged the items of my after-work agenda in descending order of importance. Thus, as I've shined my shoes, ironed my briefs, re-sewn a button onto a blazer and spent a few minutes watching dust motes twirling in the air of my basement office, I can now turn my attention to our "election" (which, only five days old, seems to have been going on for ages).

I was amused to see Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal suffer a salvo of outrage for writing to an American judge in support of a fellow Canadian who was sentenced to jail for drug trafficking by a U.S. court. Ranjit Singh Cheema, who faces five years in jail, was apparently involved in a world-wide heroin ring. Dhaliwal argues that the letter was written at the behest of the man's parents, who wanted an influential voice to communicate their son's commitment to rehabilitation.

Frankly, this banal gesture of support is perfectly innocuous; in fact, it does not go nearly far enough. Dhaliwal merely did the minimum that could be expected from an MP, whose job it is, after all, to work and advocate on behalf of his constituents.

No. Dhaliwal's effort was sloppy, dilatory, and stunningly archaic. He is clearly working on the old assumption that drug trafficking is an odious crime, something that needs to be apologised for and rehabilitated from. What painfully quaint, inside-the-box thinking.

Can he be so ill-informed as to be utterly unaware that Stephen Harper has rehabilitated the crime--that drug trafficking is now a perfectly legitimate pursuit, one that commands prestige and confers the right to legislate for the people, one that forms the very fiscal bedrock of infrastructure development?

Mr. Dhaliwal should have brushed aside with contempt any request to bow and scrape in front of a U.S. judge. He should have, instead, penned a demand to the Prime Minister's Office that Ranjit Singh Cheema be placed under the protection of the Canadian Forces (with, ideally, a mechanised battalion put at his personal disposal), be given a seat in Parliament and be gifted with millions of no-strings-attached "development funds" from the Canadian treasury to do with as he and his family pleases.

That's the Afghan way, and, if it is good enough for Afghan drug lords, it should be good enough for our own.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Adventures in Harperland, Part II: The Inevitable Post on Puffingate

Western civilisation has been blessed with many golden, sun-dappled eras of magnificent leadership.

We have been urged to love our enemies and to do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

We have been told to fight on the beaches, to fight on the landing grounds, to fight in the fields and in the streets, to fight in the hills, and to never surrender.

We have been told of a dream that, one day, we shall all be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.

But all of that was a mere rehearsal for the glorious advent of Stephen Harper, for, this week, his New Government delivered to Canadians, as an element of serious electoral discourse, the sight of a puffin taking a shit on the shoulder of the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

This, my friends, is the state of Canadian civic leadership in the Year of Our Lord 2008. It just exhausts all resources of invective.

The most depressing thing? Many people still plan to vote for these vermin. Unfathomable.

Adventures in Harperland, Part I: The Longest Invisible Border

"Canada's Back!" has been the loudest and crassest of the vapid slogans the CPC has been dragging around the country like a jaded horse over the past year. According to even the most well-informed of our closest neighbours, though, Canada has never been less relevant.

A case in point was on full display yesterday at the Toronto International Film Festival. Viggo Mortensen--poet, painter, musician and world-travelled polyglot (with a command of Spanish, Danish, French, Swedish and Norwegian)--a man widely considered to be one of Hollywood's most thoughtful performers, forgot that Canada exists.

While introducing a documentary being screened at the festival, Mortensen denounced the injustices "that have been happening in the last eight years in this country." When reminded that he was not in the nation that invented the Patriot Act and the Guantanamo gulag, he meekly apologised. This is a man who, just last year, worked with celebrated Canadian director David Cronenberg.

When the border has become so indistinct that even America's most socially-aware cosmopolitans can cross it without realising it, we need not wonder at the sad fact that America's bowling alleys, bars and Wal-Marts teem with people whose attitude to us ranges from proprietary arrogance to hostile indifference.

"Canada's Back" all right--to a pusillanimous kind of colonial marginality that makes our days under the Québec Act look like an era of imperial grandeur. If Harper brings us "back" any farther, we shall have to share our neighbourhoods with woolly mammoths.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Stephen Harper Blues

Apparently aimed at the key Aryan Nations demographic ("Gee, our prime minister has, like, the blondest family ever, dude!"), this photo from the CPC's official website offers a classic semiotic event.

Now, we fully understand why a domestic scene such as this, thoroughly politically irrelevant though it is, would appeal to CPC Web designers. Sure, they could have opted for a more pertinent photo of Stephen Harper in action, actually doing something he gets paid--far too handsomely--to do on behalf of Canadian taxpayers, but they would have to find one first.

A photo taken during the course of a typical day wouldn't help. A shot of Stevie cleaning up some paté de foie gras in the dining room of the Château Laurier surrounded by his many CEO cronies or gleefully watching Guy Giorno photocopy his ass on one of the PMO's Xerox machines just wouldn't set the appropriate tone. No, better to go with the real estate brochure for Stepford County.

For this photo is not as ideologically useless as it seems. Granted, it says nothing (nothing, at least, except, "Hi! I'm Stephen Harper. I'm heterosexual, and I can procreate"), but it suggests much. You'll notice that Harper is wearing a blue, rather than a white, shirt. In fact, Harper wears a blue shirt in virtually all of the print and TV ads his party has just unleashed upon a vastly bored nation.

This colour coding is an elementary semiotic tactic in the "populist" politics of class war: by wearing a blue shirt, Harper magically becomes "blue collar". He is working class, you see, very much unlike people who wear white shirts--like those effete office jockeys in the civil service, élitists with fancy degrees and European surnames who know how to choose a wine. Harper hates those people, and he expects you to hate them too.

Now, this picture is not worth a thousand words. It communicates a few dozen at most, and I think I know what they are. This is how the photo speaks to me:

"Gosh, folks. Here I was, having a totally candid, unposed moment with my family when a passer-by entered our home and pulled out a camera.

Actually, I'm rather glad he came along, as I've been far too busy turning civil servants into serfs and smearing the Opposition as Taliban stooges to show you how beautiful my children are. At least, Laureen says they're mine. I didn't ask too many questions. Whatever.

Anyway, if you're like me (and, if you're normal, you certainly are), you understand the value of being smugly "blue collar". In an egalitarian society like ours, where everyone has an equal chance to succeed--whether you be filthy rich or wealthy, beautiful or attractive, well-connected or an expert ass-kisser, Anglo-Saxon or Celtic--it is so very important to find somebody to feel morally superior to.

Of course, it's all too easy to feel superior to North America's irresponsible, over-privileged corporate élite, for most of whom a hard day's work consists of an hour on the squash court. Sadly, those are the people I work for.

So, I prefer to split my cheeks and break wind on teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers--you know, the do-gooder, bleeding-heart types who think that keeping their fingers in the holes of the dike that stands against the rising tide of North America's barbarous materialism and nihilist re-paganisation is some kind of useful labour.

Thus, as an act of solidarity with all you working-class stiffs who hate those kinds of people for knowing too much stuff and reading too many faggy books, I have donned this blue shirt, and, damn it, I'm not taking it off until I've brought us back to widespread illiteracy, divination by mystical runes, and hunting wild boar with sharp sticks.

Sure, I could have worked to earn this blue shirt honestly, but if you seriously think I was going to trade two decades of lounging in Alberta's groves of academe and sashaying around its corporate cocktail circuit for the tedious chore of actually performing a useful, wealth-creating function, you're a fucking idiot.

As you probably know, I'm on the brink of calling an election. I feel it's time. So does my psychic hairdresser, who informs me that Neptune is entering Virgo's ecliptic and will soon form a perfect trine with Venus.

Now, at this critical juncture of our nation's history, I ask you: have you ever seen Stéphane Dion wearing a blue shirt?

You know, I don't think Stéphane Dion even likes blue shirts. And I know for a fact that the Taliban just hates blue shirts.

Is this a coincidence? Maybe. But can we take that chance?

On election day, vote Harper. Do it for the blue shirts. And the men who wear them.



I feel so special. The Yanks have actually taken notice of us "Eskimos" despite being preoccupied with their own electoral circus.

CNN's headline is "Canadian PM Employs Loophole in Potential Power Grab!"--the "loophole" in this case being our constitution, by which the Governor-General-In-Council may dissolve Parliament at any time regardless of any preposterous "law" any presumptuous prime minister may wish to enact to the contrary and regardless of the infantile credulity of those (all too many) who actually think such a law is worth the breath it takes to proclaim it.

Friday, 5 September 2008

"No Guns Please: We're British"*

* With apologies...

It looks like Britain is finally losing patience with America's degenerate need to wallow in its own routine (and, by now, unconscious) glorification of casual violence. The U.K's Advertising Standards Authority has just proscribed a poster campaign for Wanted (starring inner-tube-lipped flake Angelina Jolie), which features the actress lounging on a car holding a gun. Here's what the Authority had to say about what is, frankly, a perfectly typical and even banal American paen to what my church's baptismal liturgy calls the "glamour of evil":

[W]e considered that because the ads featured a glamorous actress, action poses, several images of or related to guns and aspirational text, they could be seen to glamorise the use of guns and violence. We concluded (they) could be seen to condone violence by glorifying or glamorising the use of guns.
No shit! The promotional campaign for an American movie is actually using an eroticised firearm as a key component of its artwork, for only the seventy millionth time?

Do you mean to tell me that this campaign dares to suggest that the ne plus ultra of cool, the apex of class and the summit of all our aspirations is to find an excuse to pump the full contents of a SIG Sauer 9mm magazine into the head of some suitably expendable, unattractive, non-American, non-blond, non-English-speaking loser? I am shocked...shocked, I say! What an odd departure from the kinds of things Hollywood is noted for--stories about poets, philosophers, doctors, theologians, teachers, farmers...Gee, I hope this American obsession with thrill-killing scumbag misfits is just a fad.

In all earnestness, though, I'm delighted to see that a public agency in the U.K. is actually being responsive to the sensibilities of citizens. The Authority says:

We have seen a proliferation of complaints from the public about advertising which is seen to condone gun or knife crime. We are responding to the level of consumer concern.
If this sounds impossibly exotic to North American ears, it's because we've become inured to the grotesque notion that all space is corporate, that private agendas take precedence over public ones, and that the marketing industry has a divine right to turn every aspect of our environment into leaven for already-bloated transnational investment portfolios.

It is so refreshing to see government help people assert their right to a social space that is livable rather than sellable, yet it galls me to have to acknowledge that, if such a gesture were ever attempted here, the bleats of civil libertarians would be drowned out by the howls of Harperoid "conservative" market fundamentalists, who would smugly remind us all that the "nanny state" has no right to interfere in the brilliant job that market forces appear to be doing in setting North America's cultural tone. Why, every healthy, red-blooded North American teenager wants to be the next Steve-O, Britney or Jenna Jameson. Let Europa have her Rembrandts, her Monets, her Einsteins, and her Schweitzers. As long as Wall Street and Madison Avenue keep on sanctifying porn stars, bimbos and morons, we'll continue to have plenty of talent to place alongside those stuffy old krauts, frogs, wops and dagoes.

I love the way Universal Pictures (the dreck factory that produced Wanted) defended the ad. Their ineptitude clearly reflects their shock at actually being made to defend the poster, an anti-capitalist outrage that would never have happened Stateside:

Universal Pictures, the studio behind the movie, insisted the posters had not appeared near schools or other areas frequented by children.
Really. This is the planet Americans live on: as long as you keep posters away from schools, British kids will never view them. You see, England's downtown city streets, the London Underground, and all the other common venues for movies posters are strictly off limits to minors.


Monday, 1 September 2008

Ain't That a Kick in the Ass...

Today, I sing of "kicking ass" and the man. I'm not entirely sure I want to, but I do think it is time (indeed far past time) finally to discharge an obligation imposed upon me two weeks ago by that esteemed fellow blogger (and fellow Ottawan), Dr. Dawg. You see, two Tuesdays ago, he conferred upon me (and a select few others) the entirely undeserved honour of "Kick-Ass Blogger" in his contribution to a meme begun by Mammadawg.

The meme goes like this: once nominated, you must continue the chain by nominating five other "Kick-Ass Bloggers" (the main criterion apparently being the attainment of a high standard of truculent rhetorical power), each of whom must nominate five more, and so the chain goes, until all the ass-kickers have been accounted for. I'm in pretty rarefied company: so far, only about 450 ass-kickers have been thought worthy of nomination! Gentlemen and lady officers of the Order of the Garter, eat your hearts out.

I've been vaguely aware of such blogging memes and have often watched them operate from afar. They've always seemed uncomfortably similar to the old-fashioned chain letter to me, and I've been rather unenthusiastic about them, but this one allows me to talk about people I actually respect (something a Canadian political blogger rarely gets to do) and provides a divertingly frivolous way to start a month that, with an election call only days away, will soon be providing us all with ample supplies of ugliness and angst. So, here goes.

This is how the meme's originator outlines the award criteria:

Maybe they've got incredible, original content. Or they're overflowing with creativity. Is it someone that helps you become a better blogger? Or a bloggy friend you know you can count on? Or maybe it's someone who simply inspires you to be a better person... or someone else who sends you to the floor, laughing your ass off.
As I said, I cannot fathom how a blog as desultory and contemptuous of reader expectations as mine could be seen to qualify, but my nominees' certainly do; in fact they arguably over-qualify.

Of my five nominees, two are Canadian and obvious. The other three are, in an atypical gesture of cross-border friendship, American and perhaps more obscure. All of them share that rare thing, a distinctive and arresting style and a capacity to lift the blogging medium to a level higher than it would appear to deserve. Somewhat like meeting a Thomist scholar at a strip joint, an encounter with them almost has the power to make the expenditure of hours on the Internet seem less a guilty pleasure and a little more of that Horatian creature--an improving pleasure.

My two Canadians are Red Tory and Dr. Dawg himself. For detailed, insightful and closely researched presentations of progressive positions on key issues and for devastating excoriations of right-wing persiflage, these two prolific authors have no peer. Of the two, I've known Red Tory longer, having first stumbled upon his site in mid to late 2006, when he was still working with the first iteration of his blog (he's up to Version 3 now).

The current Red Tory V.3 is somewhat more sedate than his former incarnations, and the new Wordpress environment gives his site a certain genteel austerity that Blogger sites like mine lack, but his acumen remains unblunted. In his Blogger prime, hourly (rather than daily) posts and comment threads extending into the hundreds were the rule. He had a way of inspiring extremes: a smitten female commenter offering a proposal of marriage (or something rather more casual and less committed) would be followed by an enraged "conservative" promising to run his body through a wood-chipper.

There was something fascinating about the deep love and incandescent loathing Red aroused in his readership, and watching them collide on comment threads became addictive for me. Like whales to a beach, foredoomed neo-con paladins would rush onto Red's threads hoping to shout him down, only to flop about feebly and pathetically while being slowly overcome by the inertia of their own dullness.

Nothing, not even the driest of dry martinis served by a bikini-clad Key Largo-era Lauren Bacall on a sterling salver, could have offered a more satisfying way to end a day than the confirmation Red Tory's blog consistently provided that people to whom I am unbendingly ideologically opposed are also, unquestionably, utter imbeciles.

Dr. Dawg is less prone to rhetorical fireworks and demands much more decorum from himself and his readers than Red (and I) have ever seen fit to require, but, in the glee and virtuosity with which he punctures right-wing pretensions and in the bile he inspires in neo-con knuckle-walkers, he is easily Red's equal. They both achieve that fundamental requisite of great writing--a personality, so rare in literature and rarer still on the Internet. One can seriously speak of a Red Toryesque style, or of a Dawgian[!] one. No greater compliment can be delivered by someone who believes with Buffon, as I do, that a man is his style.

As for my American selections, the first two came as total surprises to me when I found them. Satire is a dying art. Superficially, that seems a paradox, as irony has become the Western rhetorical norm: everything in North America is stated "as if"; we are encouraged (are often forced) to take nothing seriously. Satire and irony, though, are fundamentally different. Irony facilely negates immediate expectations; satire holds expectations in suspension while performing a protracted critique of them. Saying, "That was elegant" to someone who trips on his shoe laces is ironic, as it depends for its meaning only on the circumstances of the moment. Swift's "A Modest Proposal"depends on much more: satire requires attention, craft and care, and, like so much else that requires attention, craft and care, it seems to our generation to be hardly worth the trouble.

Nevertheless, satire--lacerating, pungent and deftly delivered--is what you will find on The William K Wolfrum Chronicles and Jon Swift. Of the two, I'm more fascinated by the Swift blog. Some of his satire is so finely etched and delicately rendered that it leaves deep and ragged puncture wounds in its victims without seeming to have bitten them at all. Swift could best be described as an Hamiltonian conservative; he certainly reserves the bulk of his contempt for Bush and the neo-conservative movement that sustained him. Swift appears to be that allegedly extinct being, an American Tory, and I was delighted to find him. Alas, he updates infrequently (even less frequently than I do), but he has a rich archive. Those intending to visit his site should also be aware that it is fairly banner- and graphic-heavy and will play havoc with dial-up modems and old computers.

My last American choice is more classically American: The Rude Pundit. The word "rude" is something you need to take very seriously indeed, here: his is not a "family" blog. I doubt it could even make the cut for an "R" rating; it's pretty far into NC-17 territory. The author is a college professor, and I think his obnoxious persona may very well be the de-sublimated volcanic effect of too many years spent in what can be a stiflingly politically-correct atmosphere; as a commiserant, I can empathise. I empathise, too, with his scalding hatred of the entire American political class. All too often, I forget that many Americans know just how mephitic and criminal their leadership has become and have as little tolerance for it as I have, perhaps even less.

People like the Rude Pundit are almost enough to restore my hope in America, profane though he may be--profane though he must be.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A New Low, and Not the Last: Part II

Time, now, to examine the flip side of Stephen Harper's latest partisan junk-mail campaign, sent, on the tax-payers' dime, in the guise of a local constituency update. Yes, there are two sides to this pamphlet. Of course there are: you can always trust "Prime minister" Harper to get the most out of other people's money.

As the sides aren't marked, who knows which side is "Side One"? It hardly matters: I'm discussing them in order of hilarity--in descending order. That's why I began with the side that showed our proud national hero, Atlas-like, supporting the full weight of our brash new war-cry, "Canada's Back", on his smirkingly confident head while surrounded by a batch of kitsch Canadian signifiers ("Canada" on the name plate, the desk-sized Maple Leaf on the table, and Harper's barely visible Maple Leaf lapel pin).

The photo's sheer desperation is as glaring as its sick irony: Harper's environment needs to represent Canada, because the man cannot. Inanimate objects are asked to provide the patriotism and nationalist conviction that Harper cannot honestly communicate (cannot communicate at all, actually, as he's a terrible liar). Canadians have seen their share of preposterous political slogans (Pierre Trudeau's Maoist "The Land is Strong" counting among the most risible), but Harper's is the first to be delivered by pieces of plastic, rather than by a man (if there is, in this case, a meaningful distinction to be made between the two).

Here is the other side:

It's a slice of good old-fashioned reactionary "law-and-order" tripe, aimed at the sweaty, bug-eyed paranoiacs who sleep with loaded .45's under their pillows and who've watched the country go to hell in a handbasket ever since we started letting the "coloureds" in (that would be since about 1780). Such people represent a hefty proportion of Stephen Harper's core support, and this mail-out is meant to cement their allegiance, to show them that, even though Harper's "Conservatives" haven't yet torched the House of Commons(like they ought to), they are still worth voting for.

The pamphlet succeeds beautifully. My favourite part of it is the main graphic, of a trio of kids in hooded sweaters running away (presumably after having committed some horrible crime).

To be sure, the pamphlet could have shown them running towards the viewer (which would have made the photo so much the more menacing, in fact), but the CPC would certainly have faced a storm of criticism if the kids' faces had been black. Why not hide the faces, and let the viewers use their imaginations? For all we know, the kids may all be white (yeah...sure they are). This is surreptitious, guilt-free race-baiting, not done this expertly since the American Right of the 1960s--realising they could no longer respectably rail against "niggers" and "nigger-lovers", gentrified their hate by championing "states' rights" and "small government".

The photo in question was obviously used for a reason, and it wasn't because it matches the nature of the legislation it is meant to advertise. Most of Harper's "Tough on Crime Omnibus Bill" (Bill C-2) dealt with non-violent issues like impaired driving, bail laws and the age of consent. What are the kids supposed to be running away from? Jail bait?

Given the manipulative mastery we see in that graphic, we find it hard to discern whether what seems idiotic elsewhere in the ad is actually an act of devious genius, or at least of a calculated strategy. For example, when the ad screams "Age is no excuse", are we to take it literally that, for the "Conservatives", age is never an excuse, and that a nine-year-old deserves to have applied to him the legal sanctions we apply to adults? Are the "Conservatives" here implying the mirror-image of their own abnormal psychology? Since they insist upon habitually acting like children, are they convinced that children must be treated like adults? We cannot really know.

Nor can we discern what is terribly new about a fact Harper seems to find quite frightfully urgent: "Young thugs are committing crimes without fear of the consequences", we're informed, leading most of us to recall the evident fact that all crime is committed without any appreciable fear of the consequences (since most criminals do not intend to be caught) and that crimes do not lose their sting even when criminals do fear the consequences. For just those reasons, crime rates are spectacularly higher than are Canada's in places where fear of many kinds--fear of execution, fear of government, of the law, of one's neighbours--reigns supreme. Yet, where there is little fear--Norway, Iceland, Denmark--crime rates are lower even than ours. What's their secret? Note to "Conservatives": it's called "civility"; look it up, and actually earn your ministerial wages for the first time in two long years.

Now, think of the language: "young thugs". That choice of words is key.

Some people want their federal leaders to inspire them--to help them engage with causes higher than themselves, but they are not Stephen Harper's people.

Some people expect their leaders to touch and arouse what is best in them, to make manifest their latent greatness, to magnify their souls, but they are not Stephen Harper's people.

Some people pace their dark, dank basement apartments in tatty t-shirts and punch holes in the walls while swearing oaths against "young thugs", immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews and everybody else who has caused the pain, the mediocrity and the insignificance of their sad little lives. They are Stephen Harper's people, but, sadly, deep down inside, they know perfectly well that the châtelains who have the gall to tell them that "Nobody is above the law" are just laughing at them.

Those poignant facts spoil the many elements of real, unaffected, almost child-like bits of comedy that abound in the ad--like the ungrammatical nonsense of the phrase, "Keeping dangerous youth criminals off the streets while awaiting trial" (in which it is the government that is awaiting trial, in a nice Freudian slip), and the absurd question, "Who do you think is on the right track on crime?", which equates nicely and tautologically with the question, "Who is the only leader who, as prime minister, has had the opportunity to propose and enact a track on crime?".

Then, the comedy ends, and we get to the meat of the appeal. Those of us who weren't sold by anything in the ad so far are hit with this devastating hortatory salvo: "Real Action; Real Results", the ad brags, its writers having wisely relied on the proven method of using the adjective "real" to conjure an actual reality (call it the "Abracadabra Effect"), a reality whose "results" so far include some of the most horrific murders in Canada's history and our first serious urban riot in over fifteen years.

I feel rather sorry for the CPC Members of Parliament who have had to suffer seeing their names and faces pasted onto this rubbish in order to have it passed off as legitimate riding news. Sure, it allowed them to rob the public purse and keep the CPC party's coffers that much richer for the widely expected fall election, but I cannot believe that it was worth what it cost their souls. And, yes, I persist in the belief that "Conservatives" have souls. Call me an optimist.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A New Low, and Not the Last: Part I

In the old days, Canadians had to either read the great works of Western literature's most trenchant critics of totalitarianism (Kafka, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell) or pay close attention to American elections if they wished to see partisan propaganda deployed in a form so pure that it approached sublime self-parody. Fortunately, ever since a paltry but sufficient slice of our countrymen saw fit to hand care of the Dominion over to an ideologically autistic clutch of vandalic berserkers with the collective moral acumen of a loan-shark and the visionary power of an apprentice Avis Rent-A-Car clerk, propaganda laughably absurd enough to stand proudly beside Kraft durch Freude posters, COMINTERN announcements proclaiming the imminent victory of the international proletariat and Ku Klux Klan anti-miscegenation pamphlets has been freely available to us for the last twenty-seven months. Truly, there seems to be not a single principle of decency, taste or integrity that "Prime Minister" Stephen Harper will not garrotte, disembowel or dismember.

The species below, in which you see one side of a recent CPC pamphlet, will serve as a case in point. I gather from what I've been reading on a newsgroup I belong to that this mail-out consists of a generic template upon which the photos and names of CPC MP's have been grafted. It seems that thousands of these have been mailed out to people in CPC-held ridings across the country.

All Members of Parliament have the right to send a limited number of tax-funded mail-outs to households in their constituencies. Originally, the pamphlets were used only when people had to be informed of changes to their riding boundaries. Now, the enabling parameters have widened, but, still, these pamphlets are supposed to be strictly informational and local--that is, they are meant to allow the MP to inform people in his or her riding of what he or she has accomplished or advocated on the Hill.

Lately, the "Conservatives" have begun to use this tax-funded service as a cost-free method of deploying U.S.-style direct-mailing campaigns. Notice that the pamphlet below conveys no information whatever about the Member of Parliament on whose behalf it was sent but serves only to promote the CPC and Stephen Harper. Notice also that the return address is a House of Commons address. Thus, this pamphlet is a party device, used for partisan purposes at Parliament's (i.e. tax-payers') expense. That's right: you are paying Stephen Harper to whore himself to you. Even Hugo Chavez wouldn't have the balls.

The best (and by that I mean the "worst") propaganda always provides satisfying comedy, and we're not disappointed by the CPC's latest offering. Consider this:

"Canada's Back", it yells, as if the nation were a cheap sitcom going into summer re-runs. Clearly, somebody thought that the dynamism and vigour of this alleged national renaissance would be conveyed most convincingly by the sight of our prime minister sitting on his ass, smiling like the half-drunk facilitator of an Amway seminar.

It continues:

After more than a decade of Liberal government rule, Canada's reputation abroad floundered and even our capacity to patrol our own borders was significantly diminished.

Amen to that. During the Liberal Dark Ages, we had no more than a hundred main battle tanks. Now, thank God, we've got about a hundred and forty, most of which are in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, with our Nigerian-sized air force and navy, Lord, but we would provide a right bloody nose to anyone foolish enough to invade Fortress Canada. It continues:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government are protecting our sovereignty here at home and speaking with a confident voice on the world stage.
Damn right. Stephen Harper has made it crystal clear that he will not allow anyone, not even Canadians, to bully him into doing anything the White House doesn't want him to do. Far from being an ideologue, Harper is, in fact, the ultimate neutralist: he refuses to interfere even in his own internal affairs. The Pentagon is running things quite swimmingly, thank you very much. Any input on Harper's part would be...well...redundant--an unacceptable inefficiency in our increasingly competitive global market.

Then we read this illiterately punctuated sentence:

We have an important role to play; representing to the world the Canadian values of security and human rights...
Naturally, I was astonished to discover that Canada apparently has a new "value". I only wish I knew what precise banality the word "security" is meant to communicate. Is it supposed to mean the kind of "security" we feel when we're snuggled up tight under our duvets on a cold January night? Who knows?

I've always thought of security as a collateral benefit of having the right values rather than as a value as such. The NKVD, the Securitate and the Gestapo thought differently, as does Iran's Council of Guardians, and as does Stephen Harper, it would seem.

At least Harper got one thing right: respect for human rights is a Canadian value, or at least it was until our government decided to stand idly by and watch an "ally" abduct a Canadian child, torture him, and hold him indefinitely without trial and without regard for even the merest niceties of international law. In the context of that ongoing disgrace, Harper's claim to be a champion of human rights is not just ludicrous; it is sacrilegious.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Curse of Dred Tory: Part II

The Great Demiurge of continental politics has, yet again, fashioned a reality out of my satirically intended fancies.

It all began when I ended an exasperated jeremiad against the self-abasing vapidity of the official components of our last Canada Day celebration by wondering if American authorities risked being infected with the current Canadian need to spend our national holiday wallowing in the mud of historical embarrassments. I said:

Perhaps this mania will be contagious. Perhaps we shall, later this week, hear G. W. Bush declare how proud Americans should be that some of them feel rather awkward about their forbears having whipped, raped and worked to death so many black folk.

A few days later, to my horror, I had to announce that the contagion had already spread:

[L]ook at the helpful suggestion the United States Senate is passing on to the President. I really must stop thinking aloud; I'm clearly more influential than I want to be...

Still, the U.S. Congress had materialised my sardonic musings only imperfectly; the infection was weak. Now, it has achieved a full-blown splendour, as it appears that American federal politicians have decided to declare their official sorrow at the undisputed fact that their nation was a brutal racist gulag for millions of their citizens--on a scale that makes Apartheid South Africa look like Disney's conception of a NAACP theme-park--from the post-Reconstruction era until the late Eisenhower years, with the eager collaboration of shamefully and callously inert federal and judicial authorities.

To put that despicable inertia into context, we need to remember that, incredibly and despite several determined attempts, no Congressman was ever able to convince Congress to place a federal ban on lynching. In America, racist mob violence was not only tolerated but was enabled by the land's highest governmental authority. No Western nation has ever come closer to a Thousand-Year Reich.

Now, as American blacks tread daily over the red-hot coals fanned by centuries of violence and systemic contempt, I wonder how many will be prepared to take comfort in the fact that a few Capitol Hill hacks are "sorry" that their wretchedness is the tragic product of a protracted, officially-sanctioned catastrophe of colossal proportions. Some may be tempted to call this inane apology an "empty symbol"; that would be clumsily inapt. A hollow statue of the Buddha is an empty symbol, but it is also a beautiful embodiment of the divine for millions of people. Let us not demean empty symbols: Congress's act is merely empty.

Will the Curse of Dred Tory continue? May I expect to read on Monday that Congress has espoused my next suggestion? If so, let the suggestion be this--that Congress sweeten its apology for slavery by extending to Canada the honour of an official acknowledgment of the heroism with which, as the terminus of the Underground Railroad, we welcomed tens of thousands of their fugitive slaves as political refugees and bestowed upon them the civil liberties unavailable anywhere in their own nation. Such an acknowledgment becomes urgent, as American willingness to watch their historic Underground Railroad sites crumble into dilapidation may soon wipe out the whole era from what small space it occupies in their collective memory.

Alas, I do not suppose that the Canadian contagion will spread quite that far. Nevertheless, it is really quite touching to see that, when it comes to cynical, opportunistic political correctness, the Americans are, for once, willing to learn from their betters.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Depressing Thoughts Upon the Eternal Return of the Repressed

Frequently, an array of radically disassociated but nearly simultaneous events will fall upon one as a cluster and suggest a significance beyond itself. In my case, I returned from a trip to Brussels just in time to witness Canadian political and media officialdom clear its collective throat on Canada Day and demonstrate an excruciating inability to proclaim anything approaching the faintest affection for the nation of which they should be deliriously grateful to be the parasitic and frivolous elite, with Stephen Harper arguably outdoing them all by suggesting, vacuously, that Canadians are a worthy people only insofar as we live among a lot of deep lakes and big trees.

Then, less than a month later, I learned that the nation I had returned from and whose culture seemed so admirable had suffered the collapse of its government and appears to be in serious danger of dissolution thanks to the kind of petty linguistic, ideological and ethnic squabbles that have beset my own nation for over a century. "Here," I thought sadly as I read the news, "is yet another beautiful community--with so many latent reserves of sanity--being driven into the abyss by the suicidal poltroonery of a clique of highly motivated political misfits".

One of the things that has always helped blunt my outrage over the glee with which our partisan charlatans prick our national wounds is the assurance that ours is a unique agony, an aberration (fed perhaps by our uncomfortable proximity to a society that espouses hysteria as a national ethos) fated for ultimate and perhaps imminent resolution through Time's own inertial momentum. After all, is there not a "return to normal" after every national and international crisis--a fall back into status quo ante bellum? Europe went back to sleep after Waterloo; America went back to sleep after Appomattox; the world went back to sleep (though sinking into nightmare) after Nuremburg.

Accordingly, I saw no reason why Canadians should be denied the slumber so many others less worthy have enjoyed or why we should not be allowed to luxuriate, if only for awhile, in the inviolability of our Confederation. Events in Belgium suggest to me now that what seemed aberrant might be the rule--that there is something about prosperous, materially blessed, highly developed, bi-lingual and multi-ethnic societies that makes their elites want to destroy them.

Eerily, just as my thoughts were crawling through that darkness, I decided to rent Oberst Redl, István Szabó's brilliant film about the notorious Austro-Hungarian traitor; I had always wanted to see it and was finally inspired to do so after re-watching his (in my view inferior but better-known) Mephisto. While watching the movie, I recalled that A.J.P. Taylor's The Habsburg Monarchy lay buried beneath a pile of books on my bedside table, begun more than a year ago and tossed aside after a few chapters in favour of something else (which was, in turn, no doubt abandoned in favour of yet something else: I've more books than dust motes around me, and I'm a fickle and faithless reader). After watching the film and reading more of the book in my dark mood, I couldn't help but see Austria-Hungary's national doom and Redl's personal catastrophe as prototypes of the destiny we're inviting and that Belgium seems to have already embraced.

Talylor argues that Austria-Hungary was a rag-tag of mutually indifferent ethnicities among whom the aristocratic, military and managerial elite never bothered to nurture a sense of national belonging because the manipulation of ethnic hostility was, in itself, a crucial component of their ascendancy and because the empire was useful to its ascendant class mainly as an instrument of foreign policy and personal enrichment.

The hair shirt that the Austro-Hungarian Empire made for itself seems to me to fit Canada all too well: do ethnic, regional and linguistic enclaves not serve as the key pieces of our political chess game, used always for the basest, most destructive purposes? How much national authenticity does our governing class possess? Do they even claim to possess any such thing? Do the John Manleys, Tom D'Aquinos and Stephen Harpers bother to hide their view that Canada matters, if at all, only as an element in the properly diversified investment portfolios of North American millionaires, as a fiscal entity within an integrated continental market and as a small if not wholly negligible piece of the American military leviathan? I hear Canada described as many things by the vaudeville hacks who pass for leaders today; we're frequently called a "market", a "tax-base", a "partner" in the "Global War on Terror"; we are rarely called a "nation". The word is sometimes whispered; the brave among us say it aloud, but the word has otherwise fallen into near extinction. The question is not whether our elite wallows today in Austro-Hungarian cynicism: the facts of that case are clear. Now we merely need calculate how long it will take them to sink to full-blown Anschluss decadence.

Meanwhile, Szabó's Redl lives the consequences of Austria-Hungary's decrepitude. An "ethnic" (he's a Galician Jew), Redl longs for an identity that would keep him loyal to the empire and to the monarchy, but nothing about his community has the power to confer such a thing upon him. He finds himself becoming progressively detached from the artificial construct that he is preposterously asked to serve before being decisively turned against it when Russian counter-intelligence agents exploit his homosexuality through blackmail. Redl, become a double-agent through duress, convinces himself that he is not a traitor, that he owes the empire nothing because it is itself nothing, a fiction, an absurd mongrel miscellany without foundational purpose or mission. Redl is discovered and must die, but, for, him, his treason was worth it--it was a liberation: Redl had to repress both his ethnicity and his sexuality in order to thrive in the ranks of the imperial technocracy; by using (and thus acknowledging) both of those repressed loci, the Russians made the doomed man feel alive as he had never felt before.

I cannot help but see Redl in so many Canadians, especially in our military. What else was Rick Hillier but a redneck Redl? Hillier and, I fear, many of his soldiers were desperate for an identity, for a mission, for action that would give meaning to their vocations and shape to their lives. Canada's elite were, alone, either powerless or unwilling to do this. There was, though, another, much larger power that was only too delighted to activate those repressed urges, to exploit the sense of drift and anonymity that has been haunting our military and our society for years. Now, we are moving; we have objectives; we have a reason to exist. In being ignominiously co-opted by and subtended to the domestic priorities and geo-political projects of the United States, we at least have a virtual nationhood, a pretend nationhood, which undoubtedly seems immeasurably more vibrant than the pale sunset our own elites have been offering up as a national destiny for more than two decades.

It feels so damn good that, to most, it must barely seem like treason at all.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The Baffled Hymn of the Republic

Obviously, I could not let Independence Day (or "Yank Wank", as I like to call it) pass by without some deflationary commentary, as I am particularly keen to retain the respect of my American readers, many of whom, I am sure, absolutely depend on Tory exotics like myself to provide a cheap (and feasible) alternative to time travel. I shall never let it be said that, in my duty to serve as the Internet's official voice of America in the 1760's and Canada in the 1960's, I was ever guilty of delinquency. Note well that I allowed the holiday to expire before posting (it is now July 6th): I allowed you to have your fun before being rude, which I think is terribly polite and Canadian of me.

By the way, I do have American readers. I am deeply incredulous, but Sitemeter's ISP data, like the leader of America's founding junta, cannot tell a lie. Now, their number is admittedly small--probably close to the number of Americans who like the French--and I am terribly suspicious that they are in fact NSA analysts selecting targets for "executive action" in advance of the inevitable U.S. invasion to "liberate" Alberta and take Canadian resources out of the hands of us godless, non-basketball-playing socialists.

Nevertheless, my earnest prayer is that the innocent members of my U.S. readership will be careful to keep their subversive enthusiasm a secret as deeply hidden as their back issues of the Utne Reader. Sadly, I haven't the slightest clue as to how they can spare themselves the ghastly ordeal of having the ghost of Jesse Helms burn a cross on their lawns.

Frankly, I've always wondered why America needs to set aside a day to celebrate its nationhood, since self-celebration appears to be an hourly-triggered instinct for them--an hourly requirement, in fact. America needs an Independence Day the way Canada needs a "The Grass is Green and the Sky is Blue Day", the way China needs a "Making Cheap Stuff For Foreigners Day" and the way Iran needs an "Anti-Semitism Day".

That said, I suppose there is some value in devoting twenty-four hours out of the year to a particularly deep meditation on the peerless nobility of refusing to pay taxes to the empire that had expended so much of its blood and treasure in crushing the French and Indians for you and then begging to pay taxes to a slave-owning oligarchy that seeks to create an empire by stealing land from Spaniards and Mexicans (while enslaving their formerly free blacks, of course) and invading its peace-loving northern neighbours. Nor can we deny the appeal of dragging out that old "Ayatollah Assahollah" T-shit and wearing it proudly while polishing off a case of Schlitz as you ride the "America Rules" float down some beautiful vista named after one of America's many freedom-loving heroes.

My ex post facto contribution to the festivities' weekend hangover has a Canadian connection. In the early 1980's, Canadian scholar and journalist Gwynne Dyer produced a brilliant documentary series called "War", which investigated the social, geo-political and psychological features of modern warfare. Scandalously, it has yet to see a DVD release (as have many fascinating NFB and CBC productions, such as Donald Brittain's masterful series on the Trudeau/Lévesque rivalry, "The Champions"), but much of it has been uploaded onto YouTube.

Of particular interest is the Oscar-nominated episode "Anybody's Son Will Do", which follows a group of young aspirant Marines through their basic training. Watch this clip of it, paying particular attention to the young Marine instructor at 3:42, who bellows, "There are far too many Iranians in the world today...We should go over there and flatten that country". Gosh, I wonder whose talking points he's been writing?

Finally, look at the helpful suggestion the United States Senate is passing on to the President. I really must stop thinking aloud; I'm clearly more influential than I want to be (see the last paragraph of last week's post for what was once merely macabre satire).

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Happy Canadas* Day!

* No, that's not a typographical error.

Sir Francis would like to take this moment to offer belated congratulations to his Québecois friends, whose national holiday has recently passed, and anticipatory congratulations to his Albertan friends, whose national holiday is shortly to come.

He must admit, though, to being puzzled by all this talk of "Canada", as if the year 2006 did not occur. He recalls that Parliament, under the leadership of Stephen Harper (and working from a script co-authored by Gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff), decreed that Québec was a nation (languishing inside some allegedly "united" state called "Canada").

Having dragged us back to pre-Act-of-Union balkanisation at the behest of classically cracker-barrel provincialist panderers, the House really should have followed up with a motion decreeing that what had been called "Canada" since 1841 should now again be called "the Canadas", pursuant to ancient practice.

Despite that official oversight, I shall conform myself to the new reality and wish a happy Canadas Day to all of my Liberal/"Conservative"/NDP/BQ/Green/Marxist-Leninist/Marijuana Party/Family Coalition/Christian Heritage/Rhino Party friends, and a happy Canada Day (and an even happier "Dominion Day") to all those who, like me, know bloody well that the Fathers conceived of us as one nation and that the entity they conceived has been worthy of its real estate only when it has behaved as a nation.

Just for laughs, please read this account of Stephen Harper's remarks, delivered today on Parliament Hill. As usual, when required to deliver reasons for Canadian pride, Harper comes up preposterously, hilariously dry. We read this about his drivelling banalities:

Harper reminded the assembled that Canada is blessed with resources, a vast northern frontier and a diverse population that includes aboriginal people and immigrants from around the world. He said Canadians should be proud of their work to protect the environment and to help Afghanistan.
Thus, we should be proud of our landscape and demography--much as the people of Uzbekistan should presumably give themselves a collective Nobel Prize for their steppes and tribal diversity--and we should exult in having retreated from every multilateral environmental commitment we could run from and in having played a role in helping push Afghanistan to a point of failure even more catastrophic than its agonies during the Taliban era.

This is the best our head of government could do to celebrate a nation that has, through the toil of many generations, been made into one of the wonders of the world. I doubt if one can find in the chronicles of Canada Day speeches (if any such thing is kept) a feeble bleat of more sublimely pedestrian inanity.

Both Harper and Governor-General Michaëlle Jean appear to have made the recent apology over residential schools a key part of their speeches, giving Canadian pride a bold, new dimension: not only can we be proud of our lakes and trees, but we can also be proud that we feel sorry about our ancestors having done bad stuff.

Perhaps this mania will be contagious. Perhaps we shall, later this week, hear G. W. Bush declare how proud Americans should be that some of them feel rather awkward about their forbears having whipped, raped and worked to death so many black folk.

Ah, but "only in Canada", you say? Thank God.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Friendly Fire

I can only imagine how thrilled were our thick clutch of autophobes to watch Canadian soil puddled by John McCain's spew of platitudinous drivel at the pretentiously named Economic Club of Canada.

Canada-hating quasimodos never feel more alive than when some U.S. celebrity or politician, gliding northwards upon a prestige conferred by the infallible sagacity and impeccable taste of American trailer-parks, bowling-alleys and dumb-blonde soccer moms, is kind enough to provide Canada with a reason to exist, if only for a day, by stopping by to tell us what to think before revelling in the deafening applause of the millions of Canadians who seem convinced that members of the inveterately corrupt leadership class of a nation fully engaged in the process of failing on every significant quality-of-life level and taking a chainsaw to its own economy have anything of even purely rhetorical value to offer anyone.

To be fair, McCain, though speaking (as always) as if he'd just awakened from an eighteen-year coma, did try to break up his deadly dull oration with some quaint comic relief: he opined that "[Canada and the U.S.] are...both Arctic nations" without adding that the Arctic portion of America could fit comfortably into Saskatchewan.

Naturally, he felt compelled to mumble the usual American nonsense about the sanctity of open trade. He is reported to have said that Canada and the United States have a "shared destiny" in expanding free trade. I wonder if that "expansion" would include bringing down the massive walls of protection behind which U.S. agri-business cowers against the devastating competition which developing nations would otherwise deliver. I wonder, moreover, if McCain expects to be a Congressional champion of the kind of expansion that would give our lumber exports unrestricted access to the U.S. market, thus imposing upon American lumber producers the kind of "discipline" of which Americans are so fond when it can be used to justify the U.S.-driven disembowelment of other nations' economies. In short, I wonder if McCain really thinks he can do anything to counter the global perception that America's actual commitment to free trade suffers from perpetually undescended testicles.

McCain continued with the laughable observation that "the best American statesmen have always understood that Canada is not some adjunct to America". God knows which "statesmen" need be included in the category McCain invokes (most historians would include Bill Clinton), but, surely, each of its members most definitely has considered Canada to be "some adjunct to America", as such is the orthodox American view, codified by the mass American espousal of Manifest Destiny and coddled by our own craven indigenous corporate class and the Vichyite yeomen warders of Fortress America who pollute our politics and our media.

McCain's words are the bored, reflexive "Yeah, yeah, I know you people think you're "sovereign" and all" that American oligarchs and plutocrats always deliver with that uniquely American mix of bumptious self-satisfaction and unctuous condescension. It's as if a Canadian were to feel duty-bound to assure an American audience that the U.S. is more than just an amateurish outgrowth of the British imperial enterprise or more than just a dilapidated lazar house avoiding foreclosure only through the largesse of Chinese banks.

McCain can blow our dearly-won and fragile independence a creepy, thin-lipped kiss if he wants, but it reminds me uncomfortably of an abusive husband pathetically trying to woo back his wife as she lunges for the door by whining, "but haven't we had our good days, too?".

In an act that will do nothing to counter allegations of creeping senility, McCain oozed that "we in America have not forgotten your kindness" in the days following 9/11, forgetting that America immediately forgot our kindness (or, more accurately, never noticed it) and traded in slanderous and hysterically improbable accusations of a "Canadian connection" to the 9/11 plot and later greeted our decision to recuse ourselves from the disastrous Iraq invasion with veiled threats to shut down the border (for "security" reasons, of course) and cripple our economy.

Let's be clear: America's model of cross-border friendship is now what it always has been: simply imagine a friend called "Big Tony" who generously gives you ten thousand dollars and comes by your house a week later demanding the principal plus 80% interest, greeting your incredulity with the sweetly delivered observation that you have a nice family and that it would be a shame if anything unpleasant happened to it.

McCain seems to believe that part of our two nations' "shared destiny" is "maintaining security". This makes sense only if one forgets that America is Canada's prime national-security liability, for there is no other way to describe a nation that has provided the inspiration and organisational infrastructure for the most violent sectors of our own organised crime, that sends thousands of illegal firearms across the border, and that harbours millions of entirely undocumented illegal aliens whose movements are impossible to monitor.

Those who need to be reminded of America's menace to Canadian peace and order are directed to this news item announcing that the Toronto chapter of MS-13, a violent South American gang, has recently been smashed. Predictably, its leadership elements are American migrants who've been using the States as a base of operations. Just as predictably, we have yet to see this incident inspire imprecations against America's corrosive influence upon our nation from those who would not have hesitated to hurl invective at "Islamism" if the gang had been a bunch of jihadist second-generation Arabs led by illegally immigrated Saudis.

The Right's silence in this case and so many others reminds us of how eager they are to denounce the allegedly "evil" (and actually marginal) effects of "alien" cultures when it affords them occasions to spit on people with dark skin, strange headresses and funny accents and how delighted they are to watch our society riven by degenerating, corrosive Americanisms. The relish with which they chase phantom dangers and enable (and often celebrate) real ones is merely one of the many symptoms of the intellectual and moral worthlessness of Canada's Right.

Today, Canadian "Conservatism" is masochism delivered by sadists--the political equivalent of being abducted and forcibly confined by watersport enthusiasts. As people who want to see their nation wiped off the map, the Canadian Right could be compared to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, except that they perfect that clown's insanity by desiring the annihilation of not another nation but their own, thus illustrating a crucial axiom: America's friends are rarely morally different from her enemies.