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.