Friday, 30 May 2008

Folie a Duh: Final Thoughts on the Bernier/Couillard Fiasco

I'm sure you've all noticed that l'affaire Bernier has already begun its descent into the dark, dank oubliette of media indifference, where it will add to the already compelling testimony of forgotten outrages such as NAFTAgate, Cadscam, and the detainee imbroglio that our media--still hung over from its Sponsorship binge--is jaded far beyond the capacity for scandal and that no outrage, no matter how egregious, has the power to command its attention for longer than two full news cycles.

Thus, Liberal and NDP partisans hoping to gloat over weakened CPC public support will need to get used to the fact that, in a nation so thoroughly demoralised that it expects political corruption and is consequently satisfied with mere ineptitude, and with Westerners apparently willing to vote for the embryo of a rhesus monkey floating in a jar of formaldehyde as long as it's leading the "Conservative" Party, very little can be expected to threaten government support until and unless our major networks broadcast footage of Stephen Harper, totally wrecked on a quart of screech, staggering down Bank Street in a torn cocktail dress and a pair of stiletto heels whilst slurring a sloppy rendition of "Drop-Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life", after which, I grant you, one could expect a slight, temporary dip in CPC support.

I know that many of you will not be terribly sad to see this mess fall below the horizon of public awareness. You probably expect your scandals to have a moral centre--someone to root for, a protagonist, as it were. You are what might be called "Spielberg" people (or "Von Trier" people, if you are art-house inclined). Frankly, the Bernier cock-up is very much a "Tarantino" production (or a "Solondz"): all the players are ghastly, and the world they inhabit is squalid. Sure, the fiasco may provide us with the scandal's classic consolatory benefit--allowing us to feel better about ourselves than we deserve--but contemplating the affair forces us to breathe a stench from which we've already become sick, and the more we learn, the sicker we're liable to become.

A relevant piece in the Globe and Mail provides morbidly fascinating insight into the nature of the Stephen Harper Party. One "Conservative" operative and Bernier intimate admiringly describes Bernier's working methods:

Maxime Bernier was notorious for misplacing cabinet documents and leaving them where he shouldn't. He would rip pages from the ring binders containing cabinet documents to show them to other ministers.

"He'd just rip it out of the book, which is really refreshing, in a way, that he's not, you know, burdened by these kinds of things," a Conservative insider said. "He'd just rip crap out and walk around the office and say, 'Do you agree with this?' "

Usually, his staff would find the papers, keeping him out of
We note that it is apparently deemed, by certain elements of the "Conservative" party, to be "refreshing"--just wonderfully and arousingly zany--for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to tear Cabinet documents out of binders, thrust them into the face of anyone who's handy and finally forget where he left them. One can only wonder what Bernier would have achieved had he been given time to explore this monumental breakthrough in thinking-outside-the-box, can-do innovation. Why, he could have flung folders full of sensitive documents from the Peace Tower, or "refreshingly" faxed top-secret files to Al-Qaeda's head of Intelligence/Counter-Intelligence. I don't doubt that the CPC is crawling with ministers and staff who are similarly "unburdened" by prudence or common sense, and I'm confident that one of them will pry the torch of fecklessness from Bernier's cold, stiff fingers.

The article continues:

The friend said that Mr. Bernier should never have been shuffled to Foreign Affairs from Industry - an economic post that he enjoyed and was arguably doing well at. The friend said he didn't have much interest in the top diplomatic post. It began to show.
Here again, we see the CPC's commitment to innovatory dynamism at work. A Luddite blindly following tired, discredited governance paradigms would have appointed to Foreign Affairs someone passionately engaged with geo-strategic questions and keen to promote Canada's international influence and prestige. Harper brilliantly chose a man who transparently cared little (and likely knew less) about global affairs, thus, for perhaps the first time in our history, making barren, sullen indifference the effective executor of our foreign policy. Thank God for that frontier spirit native to Prairie folk; otherwise, these wild, brazen forays into newly discovered management wildernesses might not have been taken.

We learn in another article that Julie Couillard's notorious dress was actually Bernier's idea:

Couillard, a former model and aspiring actress [what else?], first got Canadians' attention when she attended Bernier's swearing-in ceremony in August 2007 wearing a low-cut dress for the occasion that reportedly drew an admonishment for Bernier from Harper later.
She said Monday that was her first experience with protocol and she had asked Bernier for advice on what to wear. He suggested the now infamous dress.

"Literally the next day I knew I should've listened to my gut feeling and not worn that dress," she said. "(I felt) used. Because then I saw the reaction of Maxime and all the press it brought him. He didn't even hide the fact that was exactly what he wanted to do."

I think it was so thoughtful of Harper to gift Canada--notoriously a nation of staid, dour, old fuddy-duddies--with a minister whose behaviour at foreign ceremonial occasions was guaranteed to be motivated by the "refreshing" view that wearing a dress made for club-hopping with Lindsay, Paris and Britney satisfies the kind of protocol expected at Government House.

I find the tale of their initial meeting quite amusing:

Couillard met Bernier at a supper hosted by a friend in 2007. She said she had been recently approached by the Conservatives who had sounded her out about becoming a candidate. She said she and Bernier had a nightcap and became involved about a month later.
You know, the "old-style" parties waste far too much time pursuing shiftless nobodies as candidates--lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. It's nice to see that at least one party is summoning into its ranks the kinds of people whose integrity, wisdom, expertise and commitment we can simply no longer do without. I especially commend the CPC for soliciting the candidacy of someone who could give voice to that long-suffering, disenfranchised community--the unemployed "actress-and-model", sugar-daddy-leeching parasites.

Couillard, the article notes, maintains that she was not a "biker's chick", although she admits this much:

She said she told [Bernier] she dated Gilles Giguere, a reputed Montreal crime figure, but that he only knew a man named Bob Savard, who knew Maurice (Mom)Boucher, a Hells Angels kingpin who was one of the generals in Quebec's biker war. Savard has been identified as a Boucher lieutenant but Couillard said neither Giguere nor Savard were bikers.

She acknowledged husband Stephane Sirois was a member of the Rockers, a Hells puppet club, when she met him. "When I met Stephane, yes he was a biker and I told him that I was not interested in seeing him because of that fact," she said. "Stephane made a choice of leaving the biker gang that he was with, the Rockers, and while I was with him he was not a biker anymore."

She said categorically: "I was not a biker's chick" and denied having any other contact with that world.

Giguere, who met Couillard in 1993, was found dead in a ditch in 1996 after he became a police informant. They had arrested him with a cache of submachine-guns and drugs.

Couillard may have a point. Perhaps one shouldn't jump to hasty conclusions simply because she found herself sleeping with two bikers in quick succession; this may not suggest that she frequented their criminal circles and sought them out. Surely all of us--while going about our daily business of attending classes, slaving away at the office, and nipping out for a few pints with the boys or the girls--routinely bump into so many members of the criminal underworld and of our nation's violent fringes that any given blind date can find us sitting next to someone from the Hells Angels, a posse, a Triad, the Cosa Nostra or the Church of the Creator. If you hang out with the right crowd, you've got as good a chance of bagging two bikers in a row as two Geminis.

Or so says a woman Stephen Harper's party thought was qualified to be a Member of Parliament. Sadly, according to current standards, they were right.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Can't Stop the Nitwits

The Harper government's campy, sequinned, lip-synching impersonation of a real administration has just had yet more toll taken of its already negligible reserves of dignity. People who once aspired to be the Village People of Canadian politics appear to be rehearsing to become the Village People Tribute Band of Canadian politics. At this rate, the CPC's tacky Tahoe glamour will soon start to fade into a men's-room-of-an-unlicensed-poolhall shabbiness.

Maxime Bernier has resigned his Foreign Affairs portfolio (with Stephen Harper no doubt providing a triggering to-the-curb ass-kicking) a scant few hours ahead of the broadcast of an interview in which Julie Couillard, Bernier's former "lover" (as the media cringingly put it), reportedly reveals that the ex-minister had a habit of leaving classified documents lying around at her place. Clearly, the spectacle of a Minister of Foreign Affairs virtually feeding classified information to a girlfriend with past romantic ties to two high-ranking members of Canada's criminal underworld promised a hailstorm of Opposition ridicule that Harper was loath to endure.

Nothing became Bernier in his tenure less than the manner of his leaving it. Mere hours after yet again dismissing concerns about Bernier with a contemptuous shrug, Harper announced his resignation at a hastily convened press conference, thus performing the most rapidly executed flip-flip in our political history.

I wonder if Harper has yet fully assimilated the pathetic fact that his gutless inertia gave Couillard--the biker's moll--the initiative in this decision, that, after weeks of ignoring the patent reality that the nature of a minister's personal decisions do indeed reflect on his professional aptitude, Harper finally made the right choice, not because he brought himself to his senses, but because Couillard forced his hand. And thank God she did: without her sordid revelations, we would be yet unaware that Bernier is thoroughly unworthy of the public trust.

Thus, astonishingly, it is the biker's moll, not Harper, whose actions have served the public interest. I cannot think of a Canadian precedent for such an abject delegation of prime-ministerial prerogative being made unto such a lowly recipient; whatever their faults, the Founding Fathers certainly did not intend biker babes to be part of the Executive, but even they seem to be better qualified for leadership than our prime minister shows himself to be.

Finally, I see that Industry Minister David Emerson will assume the Foreign Affairs portfolio pro tem while Harper decides which obscure Rotarian to toss into it, in one of the clearest recent indications that Harper's talent pool is precisely one Liberal floor-crosser deep.

Monday, 26 May 2008

"Tapetes Chez Nous"!

In more charming news from Québec--the NATO headquarters of Designer Oppression--we learn that popular author Victor-Levy Beaulieu has called Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean a "nigger queen" ("une reine nègre"). Beaulieu hurled this rather constitutionally confused abuse as a way of scolding the Governor-General for being a traitor to her province (and, of course, to her "nation" as well, thanks to that infamously stupid Parliamentary motion) in her capacity as vice-regal representative of the Queen, the most perfidious symbol of les maudits anglais.

Of course, absent the crude racist invective, this spasm of petulance would hardly be news, as dogmatic Québec provincialists have been denouncing pro-Canada Québecers as race traitors ever since Benedict Arnold's failed invasion of the province in 1775. It is just one of the many depressing facets of life in a province which, despite its past glories and latent greatness, has spent the last three decades demoting itself to an angry, bitter, self-cannibalising backwater.

In a bizarre attempt to take the edge off the nastiness of his outburst, Beaulieu provides some awkward comic relief by declaring that Ottawa is "using Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to "forcefully integrate" the province into the Canadian ensemble" (the joke here being that, of course, Québec voluntarily integrated itself into the Canadian ensemble in 1867).

Strangely, Beaulieu asserts that the office of Governor-General is offensive because "it forever reminds us of the presence of British colonization from the time they were the colonizers", but he voices not the slightest disapproval of that entity which reminds us all of French colonization from the time when the French were the colonizers--the province of Québec.

Gosh...I suppose some colonial vestiges are better than others. Between the two just mentioned, I wonder which one is more offensive to Québec's Native peoples (who comprise the province's only real nation)...

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Some Improving Reading: George Grant on the Nihilism of "Values"

I came across the passage found below in David Cayley's George Grant In Conversation a few days ago. In it, Grant asserts that it was Nietzsche who inaugurated the use of "value" as an ethical concept, in a peculiarly modern evisceration of what had been the core of the Western ethos--the "Good".

Later, Grant goes on to explain how amusing it is that so many who believe themselves conservative (i.e. the defenders of "values") are utterly unaware that they are using an ethical grammar invented by an ideological arch-enemy--the man who stands most firmly (even more firmly than Marx) for everything they hate. As you know, I consider "conservatives" opposed, not just linguistically but philosophically, to most of what's been best in the Western tradition. I coined a term, "Steynian", to describe this phenomenon.

I confess that I simply fail to see how the ethical premises of anything that spews out of Ann Coulter's mouth can be extracted from the Sermon on the Mount, The Republic, or the Reflections of the Revolution in France. I will say, though, that, in the art of ingeniously employing shameless casuistry to contort arrant solecisms until they attain a marginal plausibility in the eyes of precocious undergraduates (and inattentive adults), free-market fundamentalists and utopian libertarians have no peer.

Anyways, I think Grant's explication of the concept of "values" is apposite to a society that builds its communities around Home Depots rather than churches. I am particularly interested in Grant's last sentence. It has never seemed coincidental to me that the post-war, U.S.-dominated world over which the grammar of "values" has triumphed has endured the most anti-intellectual era since the beginning of the Dark Ages (actually, that's not entirely fair: druids, scops and bards likely enjoyed the esteem of Celts, Angles, and Saxons on a scale far grander than our own thinkers have had cause to expect over the last few generations). Here goes:

It seems to me that Nietzsche is clearly saying there are no inherent purposes in the world. What people previously meant by "good" was what anything was fitted for: a horse as good if it could run fast or pull. "Good" was what we were fitted for, or what we are fitted for. That implies purpose...Nietzsche no longer believes that there are these purposes; the purposes have been destroyed. He wants a new language to express how we decide what we should do, and therefore he substitutes for the language of good (what we are fitted for), the language of "value".

Nobody has ever been able to tell me what a "value" is...It seems to me an obscuring language for morality once the idea of purpose has been destroyed, and that's why it is so widespread in North America--everybody talks about "our values"...Clergymen talk of values. Everybody talks about values, night and day, when they're trying to make pious, secular sermons; and yet it comes from the greatest enemy of all this, Nietzsche. The language of value is above all the language of Nietzsche. It is what is left once you have eliminated the idea that there are purposes that intrinsically belong to Being...The ancients called thinking a good because it belongs to human beings to think--that is their nature.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The Circus That Jack Built

Like you, I've been appalled by the dismal tone of current American political discourse. Egged on by an infotainment-driven media determined to push itself to the outer edges of squalid vacuity, U.S. aspirants to federal office have apparently been forced to embrace semantic inanition as an absolute pre-condition for their every rhetorical gesture. ABC's notorious Democratic "debate", which asked the candidates to dilate upon the patriotic necessity of wearing a flag pin on one's lapel (among many other crucial questions of public policy), provides but one instance of a society's hell-bent-for-election bungee-jump into a precocious civic senescence.

Wretched enough in itself, the decrepit present is doubly damned by the precious treasury of golden political moments from the past which the Internet (God bless its cyber heart) offers up to the bitter-sweet delectation of the nostalgic soul. To wit, the Youtube clip of John F. Kennedy which you'll find below.

Hearken to the oratorical splendour of a pre-sound-bite era. Listen as JFK provides a substantive, dignified engagement with key issues and an insightful, elegant deconstruction of his opposition. Enjoy.


Monday, 19 May 2008

Avé Europa: Bloggor Canadensis Te Salutamus!

During his self-loathing "Good-Little-Canuck" minstrel act in front of an assembly of right-wing Americans in 1997, Stephen Harper put his powers of Canada-hating mendacity on flamboyant display. He began in smarmy ingratiation of his neo-con overlords:
...[Y]our country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world.
The delivery here is so unforced, so unaffected, that one is tempted to conclude that Harper actually believed what he was saying--that he had actually seen Canadians lovingly hang upon their living-room walls watercolour portraits of Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell. This is odd, as the Canadians I knew tended to greet any mention of those names with either a derisive chuckle or the ejection of their breakfasts.

Harper continued his rhetorical guoualante:

Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours...
Here, Harper managed to boil into a bilious stew all that has served as the main ingredients of Calgary School, libertarian-continentalist rage for fifteen years: two transparent facts--that Canada is very "European" and that it is a social-democratic "welfare state", and two egregious falsehoods--that Canada suffers from low economic growth and that her living standard falls below that of the United States.

The resilience of the latter two myths among our lib-con elite and their acolytes can be explained only as an obdurate insistence upon taking Canada's "inferiority" as an a priori assumption in total disregard of the available evidence, as both myths are effortlessly debunked. Canada has been outperforming the U.S. and her other OECD partners in economic growth throughout the last decade, and Canada's overall quality of life has been besting America's for years .

Incidentally, the U.N. Human Development Index (HDI) calculates quality of life according to a data set that actually matters (e.g. life expectancy, access to health care, crime rates, etc.) rather than a lone, crude GDP-per-capita criterion, a dishonest technique much beloved of right-wing "think-tanks" like the Fraser Institute. Naturally, the fact that Canada's GDP-per-capita ratio is lower than America's has practically no quality-of-life implications, as OECD economist Peter J. Nicholson explains:

Of course, very few people apart from economists would think to equate their standard of living with their country’s GDP per capita. It is a pure abstraction. And while per capita output does correlate with most social and economic indicators of well-being and development, the relationship is not strictly one-to-one within the group of advanced countries...In fact, the United States lags both Canada and the OECD average on many social indicators, probably reflecting the more unequal distribution of income in the United States than in Western Europe and Canada.
In any event, using such a criterion as a quality-of-life standard provides some odd results indeed, with nations such as Qatar, Brunei, Singapore and Cyprus apparently enjoying a standard of living far higher than Canada's. This is the kind of gibberish to which libertarian-continentalist cultists are willing to lend credence. Embarrassing.

Now, having disposed of the most predictable and dismissible features of Harper's anti-Canadian diatribe, we may now move onto the more curious and less often voiced lib-con a priori delusion--which Harper no doubt felt safe expressing to a reliably Europhobic group of nativist, exceptionalist Republicans--that Europe is a stagnant shambles of inefficiency, sloth and cultural decline. Like so much of the lib-con hallucinatory repertoire, this belief requires a scrupulous refusal to apply elementary logic to the key data.

I was reminded of this when I read about the "World Happiness Rankings" compiled by researchers at Holland's Erasmus University. The study ranks nations according to how happy their inhabitants are with their lives and how hopeful they are for their futures. The top tier is dominated by the social democracies of Northern Europe and correlates almost exactly to the top fifteen of the U.N.'s HDI. On both lists, Canada is in the top ten, while America is not. Additionally, on the latest Foreign Policy Failed States Index, the same group of European nations monopolise the top positions (are thus the most successful states), with Canada in the top ten and the U.S. quite far behind.

Canada's proximity to the nations of Northern Europe on these kinds of socio-economic indices may suggest, indeed, the kind of cultural propinquity that so deeply disturbs Calgary School jihadis like Harper, yet I doubt if such affinity as exists between us and Northern Europe has been deliberately cultivated. Those of our post-war initiatives that had European prototypes--socialised health-care, military unification, free trade--were pursued virtually without reference to their Europeanness, even, in many cases, without significant public awareness that they were, in fact, European ideas (free trade, for instance, is seen as a basically "American" idea, in apparent ignorance of Adam Smith, not to mention the Hanseatic League, whose practices anticipated his theories by about three hundred years).

Ultimately, our European instincts are the product of Anglo-French cultural foundations and a social superstructure that has been enriched by massive immigration and has been keener to pursue progressive (i.e. European) initiatives than regressive ones. These instincts flow from our cultural DNA. Harper can rage against them, but he might as well rage against the sun for rising.

But what if we were bereft of an indigenous cultural orientation--as lib-con ideologues insist we are--and had to choose one? What would be the wisest choice? Does the United States not offer a preferable model? Has the current state of Europe not demonstrated the barrenness of the European cultural project?

Frankly, I find it difficult to see how one could resist conceding to Europe a vast superiority over the United States in every quality-of-life category of real significance, as the above indices indicate (here, I am speaking of the "Old", Western Europe that Donald Rumsfeld petulantly deplored , not the "New" Europe--that dilapidated, corrupt, Third-World wasteland and "GWOT" warrior--to which Rumsfeld is so grateful). The states of Northern Europe especially, after more than five centuries of modern development, have retained identities unchanged in their essentials--have, most of them, even retained unbroken royal dynasties (as have we)--and have managed to graft onto this sustained ancientness an economic dynamism fully as potent, if not proportionately more so, than that of the United States.

In general, Western Europe's most comprehensive modern cultural transformations (democratisation and secularisation) have not altered its fundamental nature. It remains a region where savoir vivre reigns. Its overall cultural disposition--valuing literature, the arts, philosophy, and good wine over the corporate ethic of obsessive acquisition, porcine consumption and febrile over-production--would be easily intelligible to Charlemagne. America has about eight hundred more years to go before it evinces a comparable longevity.

A few words must be said about that part of Europe which most thoroughly commands the respect of a Canadian Tory (and especially a Popish one!), as it most brilliantly displays the one European talent which is so necessary to us--that of weaving a living indigenous tradition together with an advanced, modern economy.

As Northern Europe crawled out of the Dark Ages, the Irish braved the ruthless depredations of marauding Vikings and turned their island into the cultural headquarters of the Western World. Their monasteries bred the missionaries that converted the pagan masses of England and the continent and, as centres of scholastic research, attracted men of learning from around the known world. The sheer energy and commitment with which the Irish pursued their evangelising mission preserved the Latin tradition at a time when it was under serious threat of irrecoverable extinction.

A thousand years later, Catholicism is still Ireland's pre-eminent cultural engine, despite decades of creeping secularism. Many will regret that abortion is still outlawed there, that divorce has only recently been legalised, and that the school system is still run entirely by the Church. Nevertheless, this represents a stunning cultural continuity and must render nugatory the preposterous proposition--constantly iterated by our Europhobes--that Europe has not a vestige left of its heritage.

While cherishing their heritage, the Irish have pursued a sophisticated programme of cultural exportation, arguably coming second only to Americans in the intensity of their aggressive cultural exploitation. Their mixed economy has allowed them to achieve social-democratic objectives, with state interventionism much deeper than ours, while experiencing incredible rates of economic growth--between 6% and 11% throughout much of the last decade. Ireland, still ancient in so many ways, has nevertheless placed within the top ten in the U.N.'s HDI rankings over the last few years.

Ireland offers a gladdening threading together of savoir vivre, respect for tradition, progressive social policy, and economic power--something very much like the path we have taken, though the Irish have been free to make their journey unfreighted by the mortmain of an elite full of self-hating cranks perpetually bleating their certainty that the fruits of their national development are just not good enough and never will be until they acknowledge their irremediable unfitness for nationhood (actually, Ireland was plagued by such people, until Michael Collins liquidated them all).

Thus, the choice, were we forced to make it, would be clear. Fortunately, we needn't worry: we are, perforce, as European (in the best sense) as we could possibly be, quite by happy accident. As George Grant reminds us, it is precisely our anti-revolutionary maintenance of the Western European tradition that inscribes our uniqueness upon the North American soil. So far as we have moved away from that tradition--and we have moved farther away than I would like--we have been dragged by the gravitational pull of the United States, for most about Canada that is inimical to the European ethos is of American manufacture. To those of you who will object that America is a worthy component of the Western tradition, not some freak lying outside of it, I reply that, if you really believe that the culture that produced the Louvre, St. Paul's Cathedral and Le Nozze di Figaro is the same culture that produced Las Vagas, Wal-Mart and "Fuck Tha Police", you understand little about either of them.


The annual Global Peace Index has just been released, ranking Canada as eleventh on a list of "most peaceful nations"--a list whose top echelon is dominated, unsurprisingly, by Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Last year, Canada was eighth; we slipped because of our involvement in Afghanistan and because nineteen more nations were added into the calculations. Our current ranking places us beside Switzerland and Sweden.

The U.S. comes in at ninety-seven, behind Kuwait, Nicaragua and Libya. Then again, ranking nations according to their commitment to peace is inherently anti-American...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

"Canada Is Back"; Way, Way Back...

"Canada is back" has been the back-slapping boast at the core of Stephen Harper's foreign-policy "messaging". Seconded with seal-like sedulousness by uncritical Harper-boosters like Jack Granatstein, this risible propaganda seeks to convince us that the CPC has overturned a decade of hidebound Liberal timorousness by striding confidently around the globe gifting the benighted masses with the gold bullion of "Canadian values" (the very values Harper routinely vituperated before the Prime Ministership made a dishonest man of him).

Sadly, the global community is not impressed. Now we hear
that Canada will probably withdraw its bid for a seat on the Security Council before suffering the ignominy of a defeat. Germany, apparently, has a lock on the vote, and many Canadian officials would prefer to run away with their tails between their legs rather than undergo the humiliation of a public loss.

I cherish the irony that, while we were told by pro-American, pro-GWOT jihadists that gluing ourselves to the American foreign-policy hip was an absolute pre-condition for assuring Canadian global "relevance", a nation that has taken an utterly neutralist position on Iraq, Afghanistan and the GWOT in general will almost certainly waltz right by us and into the Security Council. I guess the UN sees no reason to vote a rotating seat to a branch-plant of a nation with a permanent seat. Who can blame them? Would we expect them to hand over a seat to Texas or California? It just doesn't pay to be a geo-political redundancy.

We lost our self-respect a long time ago, but we somehow managed to retain the respect of others. Clearly, that is changing, and not before time.

"Pass the Fries and Praise the Ammunition": A Short Primer on Chauvinism

A commenter on a friend's blog recently expressed his incredulity at the notion, beloved of our Canada-bashing elites, that "Canadian anti-Americanism is always petty and smug and parochial and morally superior"--that it victimises a blameless people who have earned a higher esteem. Another commenter chimed in to defend this elite view, arguing that Canadian "anti-Americans" always experience their consumption of American stereotypes as "fact rather than... [as] prejudice".

As is usual whenever this topic is broached, the terms of the discussion were hopelessly opaque. Canadian chauvinism is rarely defined properly, as, being so rare, very few samples of it have been available for detailed analysis. Nevertheless, a few assertions may be made with a fair deal of certainty.

First, very few Canadian chauvinists, anti-American or otherwise, exist. They are not allowed to exist. Our civic soil has been salted against the growth of something as elementary as civic consciousness and is utterly incapable of nurturing anything as grand as civic pride or as passionate as its extremity, chauvinism.

Our schools teach that Canada was accidentally confected as a bland stew of disparate regionally and ethnically differentiated ciphers whose greatest achievement has been to agree to disagree. Two of our loudest and most influential provinces (as well as the nation's richest, craftiest, and most ideologically-driven political party) long ago adopted an official "Canada-Sucks" approach to federalism that has had an enormously deflationary impact on our national morale. Virtually every post-war Canadian nationalist who has attempted a public career has been destroyed. Diefenbaker, Gordon, and Orchard are the triumvirs of a tradition that has faced nothing but relentless ridicule, sneering odium and total, ignominious, unmitigated defeat. What is de rigueur for all political hopefuls in the Great American Republic--stentorian, chest-beating, monomaniacal, triumphalist xenophobia--is poison here. An avowed Canadian nationalist who premises his campaign on any kind of xenophobia would have a better chance of winning public office if he produced glossy posters of himself performing a lewd and lascivious act upon the decaying corpse of an infant Emperor penguin and hand-delivered them to the editors-in-chief of each of our major dailies.

Now, many Canadians are indifferent to America; many others see the U.S. as rather odd, funny, or exotic, but such dispositions can hardly be considered actively malign except by those of our continentalist compatriots who share America's glass-jaw ego. I've certainly never met a Swede who is tempted to interpret broad Canadian indifference to Sweden as "anti-Swedishness", and I've yet to see a Nigerian grumble about our crude "anti-Nigerianism". To Americans and their useful idiots in our Vichy milice (who volunteer to help keep us uppity Canucks in our place), all that is not rabid pro-American fealty is seen as sullen belligerence.

True anti-American chauvinism would require a philosophical grounding or a point of analytical departure from which to critique the United States as such, in respect of its foundational rationale, its mission, and the execution of that mission. My own chauvinism (for it is a chauvinism, admittedly) is such a creature. I think America is otiose per se--a noisome latrine filled to overflowing by the worst case of cultural dysentery ever to afflict Western civilisation. It would be idle to accuse me of being anti-American; one might as well "accuse" me of being right-handed. I accept the term as a fairly non-controversial description. Any normal Canadian would flinch at the epithet and attempt to escape it. I do not and will not. In fact, I proudly insist on the appellation: I've earned it in ways that most others who've been saddled with the tag have not and would not try to (actually, I prefer "un-American", but "anti-American", which is always readier to hand to the obstreperous Canada-bashing hecklers who are prone to fling it, will do).

No. Most Canadians who seem anti-American are merely reacting to specific American acts of cupidity, arrogance and fecklessness. It is not "petty and smug and parochial and morally superior" to complain of another nation's stupidity or venality. Otherwise, it would be "petty and smug and parochial and morally superior" of Americans to express concern over Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions. Are Americans uncomfortable because they smugly believe that, while safe in the hands of God-fearing Anglo-Saxons like themselves, nuclear technology is sure to bring the planet to grief if it lands in the hands of a tribe of swarthy, savage, idol-worshipping rag-heads? Well, yes, actually, they are, but that is precisely the point: I do not think Americans hate Iranians per se (though some do, I'm sure); they hate what they are doing. Likewise, most Canadians do not hate Americans per se; but many Canadians hate many things that Americans do.

Thus, the distinction is key: chauvinism is unconditional hatred of other nations on principle, even when they are at their best, while circumstantial critiques of another nation's collective gestures are not only legitimate in all cases but are inevitable and probably necessary when the offending nation is at its worst. Two cases may help to illustrate how to apply the rule governing this distinction.

In the first, we will rend the veil of charity that has been drawn around this fiasco, and recall that, in retaliation for France's refusal to become part of the "Coalition of the Willing" (aka "The Rag-Tag Gaggle of Ex-Warsaw Pact Kleptocracies"), French fries were re-named "Freedom Fries" by Congressional fiat in an act hitherto unequalled for sheer, pettifogging parochialism.

Let us assimilate, slowly, the full meaning of this event. On the day this childish tantrum occurred, the most powerful nation on Earth felt so aggrieved and threatened by France's supremely commendable act, that its House of Representatives pushed aside trivial national concerns such as poverty, crime and health care in order to wash the stain of "France" from the nation's psychic undergarments through a Stalinist re-christening of some of its junk food. This is how the legislative body of the world's sole superpower spent part of its day. Rest assured that this folly was not limited to the nation's elites; in a stirring example of the can-do spirit of enterprise that distinguishes America's grass-roots, restaurants throughout the nation had already begun to use the Francophobic phrase for the fries. Many have kept the name to this day.

Now, think of what triggered this self-abasing idiocy: the French government had merely respected the will of the overwhelming majority of the people at whose pleasure it serves; France's polite and legitimate refusal to wage a fraudulent war of choice was the fruit of its adherence to democratic principles. France is not averse to military interventions (witness its recent operations in Cote D'Ivoire and elsewhere), but this was a restrained, cautious France--France at its best, and, as such, it was demonised by American chauvinists (who, naturally, would still have reflexively vituperated the French as effete surrender-monkeys even if they had joined the pro-war mob). Ultimately, this vulgar comedy needs to be seen as a nation at its worst heaping scorn upon a nation at its best; this is chauvinism, and it forms part of the circumstantial unease that many Canadians felt towards post-9/11 America.

The second example hits closer to home. We will recall that, within hours of the WTC disaster, American media began to report a Canadian connection to the hijackers. To my knowledge, the origin of this urban legend has never been identified (I doubt if anyone has even looked for it--strangely, as I find the question fascinating), but its consequence was that, within a week, millions of Americans were convinced that the hijackers had infiltrated the U.S. from Canada. Despite John Ashcroft's later assurances to the contrary, this myth proved enormously resilient, propagated as it was by squalid right-wing talk-radio hacks and Canada-hating Republicans. As late as 2005, Newt Gingrich was still keeping it alive.

As not a shred of evidence was ever produced in support of the myth, it is hard not to assume that its noxious spores were spread by a visceral American fear and hatred of the "Other", and of a particular "Other"--that "commie-loving", secular, collectivist Siberia where all colours and creeds are allowed to mix promiscuously in an ungodly, insalubrious mélange adultère de tout ungraced by the discipline of the American Way of Life. The myth was a Scarlet Letter threaded upon an eccentric misfit by ignorant and frightened townsfolk.

The rationalisations came later, after Washington was forced to admit the obvious. The hijacking might not be our can to carry, but Canada had a "porous border", we were told. Our immigration policies were too lax; we let too many people in, many of them probably undesirable, some of them probably even "anti-American". We were told to clean up our act and tighten the tap on our newcomers (this from a nation that admits to having around twelve million illegal aliens).

Thus we were resented, not for doing anything actually dangerous, but for having a liberal immigration policy, the kind of policy Americans think they have--the one expressed by the kitsch mawkishness of the Statue of Liberty ("give us your non-Muslims, your huddled Caucasians yearning to breathe free") and gauzy, nostalgic visions of Ellis Island. Americans, at their vindictive, parochial worst, resented Canada for a liberality fully within the tradition that America was once a part of (and affected to lead), and some of us (Carolyn Parrish, for one) reacted with a vehemence born of understandable exasperation, not at America as such, but at its pettiness. This, too, illustrates the difference between rank chauvinism and contextual critique.

Chauvinism is an art. It's the one art Americans take seriously, and, thus, they excel at it. Someday, we may be competitive, but I doubt it. We're far too others, that is; we hate each other.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Of Pols and Molls

I’ve been quite clear about where I think Maxime Bernier fits amid the pied pageant of grinding mediocrity that is Stephen Harper’s cabinet, but I couldn’t help but smile at the pearl-clutching shock that greeted the discovery that Julie Couillard, Bernier’s former girlfriend, was once a biker’s moll.

Media and Opposition reaction seemed driven by the “security implications" of Bernier’s appalling taste in women (though, in my view, there really are none to speak of). Remarkably, nobody bothered to point out the obvious—that, far from being inappropriate, the now-defunct relationship represented a perfectly appropriate and perhaps even ideal match.

As you may know, Bernier is part of the “Conservative” Party’s libertarian wing and made his provincial reputation by flogging the usual neo-liberal horses as Vice-President of the Montreal Economic Institute, Quebec’s version of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation. As a man who believes that the state is an inherently oppressive institution which deserves to be starved into impotence and that taxes need to be lowered to the point of virtual non-existence, Bernier is a natural ally of the Hells Angels (and of all criminal enterprises), who, despising the state, proudly and tirelessly work to destroy the law and order which are its fairest fruits and who do everything they can to keep their ill-gotten profits from official scrutiny and government imposts.

In effect, the Hells Angels are simply orthodox libertarians—radically asocial entities ruthlessly pursuing a self-interest premised upon the assumed ethical illegitimacy of all governments and of the “nanny-state collectivism” they administer. Naturally, Bernier’s girlfriend found it easy to flit between a biker guttersnipe and his own respectable self. Beyond the superficial, they are the same man. Add a gang patch or a pair of cufflinks, and the one becomes the other.

Bernier’s embarrassing dalliance is hardly a security concern per se, but, if we consider it within its proper dimensions, it should remind us of the unsettling fact that the fundamental weltanschauung espoused by senior members of our current government (which the ignorant are pleased to call "conservative") is also the ethical framework which shapes the operations of the criminal underworld. That is not just a "concern"; it is insanity.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Land of the Frauds

The recent passing of Mildred Loving reminds us that, as late as 1967, it was illegal for Americans to marry across racial lines in seventeen states of the Union. This disgraceful stain on America might not have been removed until well into the 'Seventies had that brave woman not taken her fight to have her marriage declared legal in her home state of Virginia to the Supreme Court.

I find it a sobering thought that the circumstances of my own conception were literally outlawed across a third of the United States just a year and a half before my birth. It is almost impossible to believe that, just a generation ago, a juridical offence against human dignity of the kind we naturally associate with Nazi Germany and Apartheid-era South Africa was allowed to spread its stench among so many Americans at the behest of racist state authorities and with the complaisant acquiescence of everyone else.

Morbid reminders such as these should leave little doubt as to which North American nation is best qualified to be considered the "land of the free".

Monday, 5 May 2008

Why Wont Stephen Harper Support Our Troops?

We now have graphic confirmation that our forces on the ground in Afghanistan have been pursuing negotiations with "moderate" elements of the Taliban (which sounds rather like "pacifist elements of Al Qaeda"). We can even put names to the operation:

A Toronto newspaper quoted Lt.-Col. Gordon Corbould, the new battle group commander, and Sgt. Tim Seeley, a civilian-military co-operation officer for Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team, on Thursday as saying that channels were being opened to moderate Taliban. Other officials in Kandahar, who spoke privately, backed up the military's assessment, calling it creative thinking.

We must assume that this gesture is seen by those who are best able to make such determinations as the only route to stability. It is also a gesture that was spitefully and unanimously derided by Harperoid troglodytes as a reprehensible act of cowardice. Awkwardly, the "Conservatives" must now inflict upon Lt.-Col. Gordon Corbould the odium they heaped upon "Taliban" Jack Layton. According to Stephen Harper's standards, our Afghan battle group commander is a terrorist sympathiser and a disgraceful Chamberlainesque appeaser.

The grotesque surreality of our situation is unprecedented in our history: the ranking commander of Canadian Forces in the most crucial (indeed the only) theatre of Canadian combat operations is pursuing a policy not only utterly at odds with and repugnant to the government's own oft-declared principles but, more seriously, premised upon objectives totally contrary to those our government has been broadcasting as the moral rationale for the conflict. As Harper bangs his little fist into his clammy palm whilst yammering sententious platitudes about "defeating" the Taliban, our soldiers join Hamid Karzai in his two-year-old bid to enter into negotiations with people once described by outgoing Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier as "scum". It is as if Montgomery had decided to scrap Alamein and send Rommel an invitation to tea instead ...without informing Churchill. This is the lunacy we're living.

We may, I suppose, assume that the government has been fully aware of our attempts to negotiate and that Harper has simply been burying the truth under the kind of perfervid rhetoric he obviously feels Canadians require to stay motivated--as if we're incapable of being inspired by anything more nuanced than the prospect of "killing us a whole bunch of Islams".

We may believe that. Appearances suggest, though, that Peter Mackay was truly taken aback by these latest reports--that what was news to us was news to him also. We are faced, therefore, with the troubling probability that our government has not the foggiest notion of what's actually transpiring in Afghanistan. Apparently, the falcon cannot hear the falconer: our Afghan contingent is clearly acting on its own initiative, independently of government direction--wisely, I believe, since, as the army has doubtless learned (and as most Canadians have known for years), Stephen Harper is intellectually, emotionally and morally unequipped to direct himself across a foot-bridge at a mini putt. Thus, our Forces are politically leaderless; Harper's incompetence has turned them into unwilling rogue agents.

I should like to know what effect Mackay's response to Corbould's initiative will have on our troops' morale. After all, Mackay said, "We are not talking to the Taliban. We are not having direct discussions with terrorists" immediately after learning that, in fact, our soldiers are talking to the Taliban. Thus, either MacKay has ethically devolved so catastrophically that lying is no longer merely an option but an instinct with him, or his definition of "we" is meant to exclude the military.

If the latter is the case, Mackay seems to be severing the government from the Forces--putting a firewall between them, as it were. I am sure the men and women who are daily putting themselves in danger's way at the irresponsible behest of these candy-assed, pinstriped poltroons will be fascinated to learn that the Harper ministry considers itself unconnected to and unaccountable for the actions of the Canadian Afghan contingent. They stand in awe too, surely, at Mackay's power to beget ineptitude upon ineptitude: after revealing his total ignorance of field realities, Mackay responds, not by countermanding the ranking officer and re-taking control of events, but by simply distancing himself from the operation and feebly announcing his opposition to it.

So this is the best Mackay can offer our soldiers in Afghanistan: negation without leadership. He stabs our soldiers in the back and hasn't even the decency to catch them as they fall. Right now, the most fearsome enemy our soldiers face is not those who fight them, but those who "lead" them.

Friday, 2 May 2008

GWOT* Update: If You Can't Beat 'Em...

* "GWOT" is the Pentagon's silly new acronym for the "Global War On Terror" (see post below for details). Presumably--in a rare spasm of sanity--the Pentagon wished to trim the phrase down to the fewest possible number of syllables in order to reflect the amount of competence being expended on fighting the reality it expresses. It is so gratifying to see the inventors of the word "megadeath" trivialise something deliberately.

Two years ago, Jack Layton asserted that the Afghan government would need to begin a dialogue with the Taliban before it could hope to secure a lasting peace. For his trouble, Layton was relentlessly vilified by Stephen Harper and his party of canting hoydens and was roasted on a slow spit by the CPC blogosphere. A flurry of repugnant, slanderous virtual spit-balls were pitched, as "Taliban Jack" was denounced as a terrorist appeaser at best, and a Taliban-loving traitor at worst.

Now we hear that the Hamid Karzai regime--the folks for whose sake our soldiers are dying and whom our pro-war hawks extol as the bright, shining beacons of democracy and progress--are using Canadian soldiers as go-betweens in negotiations with (take a breath...) the Taliban. We read the following:

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of Afghanistan's president, said something needs to be done to stop "the madness" of the deadly insurgency. Canadian troops in Afghanistan are reportedly reaching out to low-and mid-level insurgents, encouraging them through local villagers to sit down with Afghan authorities and perhaps even NATO forces. "I absolutely support the Canadian decision," Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council, told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday. "It's a very wise and proper decision. There are people (with whom) we can talk and reason."

Naturally, our government makes it clear that Stephen Harper will not personally take any calls from Mullah Omar, but the government does support Karzai's outreach to the Islamist maniacs:

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda were also asked about it. Both said Ottawa supports the Afghan government's position, which is that Kabul is willing to talk to people who respect the Afghan constitution and renounce violence.

I guess neither Bernier nor Oda got the memo: in the field, where decisions are being driven by hard realities and practical necessity rather than the spin requirements of CPC hacks, Kabul is talking to anybody who is willing to talk, quite regardless of whether they renounce violence or respect Afghanistan's already-theocratic constitution.

This development will not come as news to anybody whose knowledge of the Afghan situation has been gleaned through impartial, unbiased sources, but it must be shocking to all those CPC Layton-haters who thought our mission was to destroy the Taliban, not chat with them. I wonder what they say to this:

President Hamid Karzai has since called for peace talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, but militants have insisted foreign forces must leave first and that the country adhere more strictly to Islamic law.

Thus, the man on behalf of whose government we're fighting has already sued for peace and been turned down. Karzai has already gotten on his knees before the Mullah, who simply chuckled and waltzed away.

"Conservative" myrmidons and their lap dogs in the yellow press shout themselves hoarse insisting that we are prevailing in Afghanistan and that the Taliban are paleolithic monstrosities totally unworthy of the legitimacy negotiation would confer upon them; meanwhile, Karzai--the West's Afghan tribune--is literally begging the Taliban to talk to him. You'll note that neither Churchill nor Roosevelt nor Stalin ever invited Hitler to peace talks. In war, winners don't talk peace; losers do. Call it the "Pétain Principle".

If Stephen Harper truly believes that negotiating with the Taliban is as fully reprehensible, unconscionable and unthinkable as he and his acolytes said it was when they heaped their odium on Jack Layton, he needs to do two things: first, he must order a halt to the program of negotiation that Canadians in the field have reportedly already begun (and he must make that order public, so that his supporters may have their faith in the mission's fundamentally anti-Taliban integrity restored); secondly, he must either retro-fit Karzai's administration with a backbone, or insist upon the installation of a new one--otherwise, Harper will be faced with the humiliating necessity of admitting that his precious little Afghan mission consists of Canadian soldiers getting blown up on behalf of a regime that negotiates with terrorists.

In the short term, I think Chairman Harper and his comrades in the Great Patriotic Culture War owe Jack Layton an apology. Since our fallen soldiers have died in the service of Jack Layton's Afghan strategy, I can think of no better way to honour their sacrifice than to honour the man who embodies its premise.