Sunday, 27 December 2009

Thanking Outside the Box

And so, after crawling blindly back into the light of consciousness through the dark, dank alleyways of Kahlua-induced hangovers, we scan the news to see what of interest happened during the Commonwealth's only indigenous holiday.

Naturally, preachy socialists and Jesus-loving wimps expect headlines such as, "Christmas Day madness: Affluent Canadians descend on soup kitchens looking for homeless to feed". We get this instead, the "Christian" West at its evangelical, philanthropic best--showing those backward Muslims what an advanced culture looks like. God bless Canada, as our prime minister used to say (before deciding that kissing ass in agnostic but riding-rich Central Canada as a path to power was far preferable to sticking to religious principle and being a failure or martyr, like those silly primitive Papist losers).

The good news: Christmas--that ironic observance which manages to defile the only time of year when we're expected to be nominally civilised to each other by stressing, demoralising and disgusting us into being even more dreadful to each other than usual--has expired. Now we may begin the arduous task of recovering our humanity and re-discovering the capacity to treat our fellow children of Cain respectfully without the Pavlovian stimuli broadcast by the sickly-sweet emotional extortion and forced bonhomie designed by the marketing mercenaries who service Coke, Smirnoff and Apple.

For a start, we'll need to detox. We've all of us some kind of seasonally metabolised poison to purge. Perhaps it's the cyanide of having spent Christmas Eve with the redneck in-laws in Thunder Bay; perhaps it's the strychnine of having had to listen to two hours of Uncle Harry drunkenly reciting his best “Paki” jokes; perhaps it's the arsenic of realising that the just-hired executive assistant to whom you clumsily proposed a quickie in the photocopy room at the office Christmas party was, in fact, the boss's fiancée; perhaps it's the botulism of having been pulled over by the OPP whilst driving home from the aforementioned party and being forced to score Stephen Hawking's IQ on the breathalyser. Whatever your poison is, the sooner it's gone, the better.

My poison is the unassimilable psychic residue left over from toxic over-exposure to what today passes for Christmas carols. Whether it be Justin Timberlake drowning "Silent Night" in the giant cistern of a sewage treatment plant, Beyoncé Knowles running over "Jingle Bells" with the nose gear of a fully-fuelled Airbus A330, or Madonna bloodily dismembering "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" with a 24-bar chainsaw, there's hardly a once-bearable festive ditty that hasn't been mutilated beyond human tolerance for the sole purpose of providing to retailers a species of canned ambient music that bores within the shopping public an existential void so massive that we must anesthetise ourselves with reams of useless purchases before succumbing to the visceral urge to commit immediate suicide using whatever marginally feasible instrument of fatality we may find to hand. Not more than a few seconds of labouring under the devastating influence of Joan Jett's unlawful carnal knowledge of "O Come All Ye Faithful" need elapse before one is tempted to look upon the leather band of one's wrist-watch as a perfectly serviceable garrotte. Simultaneously, that $300 Gap t-shirt begins to look, like, totally irresistible.

My post-holiday purgative consists of listening to real music. Thus, to continue in the spirit of the subversively sacrosanct paganism I invoked a few days ago, I offer you what I think is a quite beautiful artefact from a musical passion of mine. My favourite, early-70's incarnation of the legendary Fairport Convention sings "Now Be Thankful" at a 1970 concert in Maidstone, Kent.

The song is a graceful hymn-like piece that one feels must be a Wesleyan devotional standard. In fact, it was written by a long-haired gaggle of ale-drenched North London twenty-year-olds. This soulful song by those agnostic, grass-smoking English kids always reminds me of the firm organic hold that faith has on the peoples of Europe and how easy it is to be an unconscious Christian there no matter how patently atheist one may otherwise be. Therein we see a profound mystery at work, and it explains, I think, much of the difference between the North American and the British/European world views. At any rate, it certainly explains why Voltaire and Bertrand Russell, apostates both, were closer to Christ than Pat Robertson and William J. Bennett will ever be.

For those who might prefer the production gloss of the song's official studio version, I append it beneath the live performance. Enjoy!

 



Thursday, 24 December 2009

Let It Come Down

Among the many responsibilities attendant upon being a member in good standing of the Fraternal Order of the World's Worst Catholics is the duty to mock those Christian dullards who insist on cackling about the "secularisation" and “commercialisation” of Christmas.

This annual dyspepsia is wrong-headed on every conceivable level. Remember, first, that it is we Christians who twisted the original meaning of Christmas, hijacking a congeries of pagan holidays for our own ends and commemorating Christ's birth on a day which is almost certainly far removed from the day of the historical Jesus' nativity. If one remembers, too, that public holidays are essentially celebrations of collective values and ideals, one will agree that no more appropriate celebration of North American values can be conceived than the brutish, neo-pagan pursuit of appetitive and commercial satiety that disfigures our Yuletide season. No ostensibly Christian civilisation that accepts as a legitimate expression of New Testament values a creed as grubbily cynical as the Prosperity Gospel has a right to complain about the commercialised or secularised decadence of Christmas: as your faith degrades, so shall your ceremonies. We don't celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day; we celebrate it on Boxing Day.

When I see the sham and chintz that emanate from post-Modern Christmases, I see a pitiably embarrassed Christianity--weakened by centuries of instrumental materialism--futilely holding paganism back from reclaiming what it owns. Ironically, the Roman Saturnalia was far more Christian than our Christmas, conventionally observed as it was by the overturning of social hierarchies and the requirement that masters serve their slaves, that husbands serve their wives, and that all the powerful bend to their inferiors. The Saturnalia, for which the Magnificat could have served as anthem, was a perfect embodiment of the Good News--as perfect as our current celebration of affluence and wretched excess is grotesquely sacrilegious.

It appears to me that Catholics (especially bad ones) must wish--even pray--that our commitment to Western re-paganisation, now tentative, becomes resolute, for it is certainly the only cultural force with enough power to re-connect us with the true meaning of the Nativity. Let us resolve, then, to sharpen our piety upon the whetstone of our heathenism and, in redemption of our unstoppable recrudescence, to so utterly strip from the features of this season the vicious accretions of centuries-long Mammonistic idolatry that we discover anew the truly sacred (that is, sacrificial) expenditure--the existential potlatch--which is the glorious bounty of the Word, now in the cradle, soon on the Cross.

As this blog does not allow me to distribute the gold-plated iPods and 60GB PlayStation 3's that might otherwise be expected of me, my contribution to Christmas neo-paganism will need to be filmic. Partially to correct an unforgivable oversight in an earlier post, I present to you the final scene of Bernardo Bertolucci's beautiful cinematic rendering of Paul Bowles' novel The Sheltering Sky. In it, the aged author (who actually hated the movie) has the last words.

The excerpt he reads occurs near the middle of his book, but placing it at the end allows Bowles to close the film with an epitaph that wrings the wistful stoicism out of the novel, splashing it onto our faces and waking us up from the two-hour Arabian dream the director has just woven. The excerpt's paganism is in its brooding disquiet before the certainty of human finitude, but that's also where its beauty lies.

"How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless". Not a bad Christmas thought, actually.



Sunday, 20 December 2009

Copping Out In Copenhagen

Oh, how the symmetry of the thing is admirable. The cloying sugar-water substancelessness of the Copenhagen summit fits Harper's "Conservatives" perfectly: it was a pseudo-event that produced a pseudo-pact that can now be marketed as something meaningful by a pseudo-government.

And the game's afoot.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Stephen Harper: Doing Fuck-All, on Your Dime

Until the first years of the last century, all peoples of all times named their epochs according to the names and deeds of the great among them. We moderns are the first people for whom this is impossible. We are not "Elizabethans", even though we are. Nor are Americans "Obamans" any more than they could ever have been "Bushians".

For our "great" are small--far too small to impose their natures upon their times. They are, rather, the mere toys of their times. They are but anxious dandruff and dust motes held languidly aloft, eternally suspended in our stale political air, by the gusting flatulence of polls, focus groups, and bar graphs. They are the denatured and desaturated ex nihilo epiphenomena of cynically deployed public-management mechanisms.

The charismatic among our leaders can, of course, lend their names to techniques; thus, we have seen the Nixonian, the Reaganite, and the Clintonesque, but each of those words defines a disposition, not an era. Like dogs panting at the heels of their masters, we will be trained by our heroes; we cannot be magnified by them. Ezra Pound's angry verses continue to sing to me:

We have the press for wafer;
Franchise for circumcision.
All men, in law, are equals.
Free of Pisistratus,
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.

We moderns have had to allow our eras to name themselves, according to whatever nature or identity each era appears to have gleaned from the inchoate forces working in and through it--thus the "Baby Boom" and "Me" generations.

I am already wondering what name shall be attached to what would be called the "Harper Era" if the word "Harper" denoted something meaningful enough to borrow or significant enough to be meaningful. As always, we shall simply need to christen our times with a word or phrase descriptive of the basic nature of our lives. If named strictly according to our current political complexion, the Harper era will almost certainly be dubbed the "Fuck-All" era. Lend the most cursory glance to recent domestic political news, and dare to gainsay the inevitability of what I prophesy. To wit:


1) The birthplace of our first prime minister and founder of the party Stephen Harper is holding hostage is threatened with demolition. A vital artefact of Canada’s historical patrimony--presumably of especially profound value to someone who at least poses as a conservative--is at risk of total annihilation. Stephen Harper and his government do fuck-all.

2) A feisty, hard-working P.C. Party Senator fights to give Canadians accurate information about how our stimulus dollars are being spent. A conservative Albertan, friend to Ralph Klein and Don Getty, she is committed to giving Canadians the kind of transparency promised in Harper’s chimerical 2006 election platform. Stephen Harper and his party—paladins of all the virtues and knights errant of sweetness and light—assist the valiant Senator by doing sweet fuck-all.

3) Liberal Senators offer to fast-track crime legislation about which the CPC has been cock-of-the-walk caterwauling for months. Conservative Senators decide to play idiotic procedural games that delay the bill. Thanks, Mr. Harper, for once again ensuring that you and your party do absolutely fuck-all.

4) After inheriting a Liberal-produced surplus of $13 billion and shortly after running on an electoral platform of fiscal probity, Harper announces a projected 2009 deficit of $55.9 billion, Canada’s first operating deficit since 1996. Those GST cuts were great for affording some of us a few extra packs of smokes per month. Sadly, their net effects on our fiscal integrity appear to have been worse than fuck-all.

5) A House of Commons committee urges that the Privacy Act be modernised and made more relevant, in order to render government processes more transparent and government data more accessible to Canadians. Stephen Harper and his party, always eager to deepen and widen the shark-infested moat surrounding their executive castle, predictably do fuck-all.

6) Richard Colvin writes reports detailing Afghan detainee abuse that are widely distributed among DFAIT and DND staff and high-level officials in the Afghan theatre of operations. In response to the possibility that war crimes might be occurring in areas under Canadian operational jurisdiction, Stephen Harper and his party hear, see, speak and do fuck-all.

7) Under Stephen Harper’s watch, the Canadian murder rate rises for the first time in decades. Stephen Harper and his party have been the unrivalled and peerlessly self-righteous exemplars of tough-on-crime posturing. Sadly, their “reforms” look more like huge drooling, banjo-eyed bucketfuls of demagogic fuck-all.

8) Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, Stephen Harper’s own appointment, lets his boss know how much money he needs to do his job. Stephen Harper and his party refuse to give Page what he needs—chiefly because he needs more than fuck-all.

9) A Canadian citizen faces a risible kangaroo court after being kidnapped as a child and held in illegal detention in an American/Cuban dungeon. Stephen Harper and his party—fulfilling their campaign promise to get tough on kids indoctrinated by their extremist parents—go to court to fight for their right to do fuck-all.

10) Stephen Harper’s government could have given the contract for the construction of our 2010 Olympic pavilion to a Canadian company. Unwilling to trust a bunch of sloppily communitarian Northern European-style welfare brats, Stephen Harper and his party thought it better to give us fuck-all—as we no doubt deserve.

11) Don’t be surprised when you hear that Stephen Harper’s fiscal commitment to things like hospitals, research grants, arts funding, and regional development adds up to a grand total of fuck-all. Harper has other, more important, funding priorities. He needs to put our hard-earned cash into his gallant struggle to meet the huge domestic demand for photos, videos, paintings, statutes and operas depicting his glorious self. He needs to send a woefully uncredentialed amateur “expert” to an environmental summit he has so far totally ignored. He needs to subsidise the God-given right of his seal-like senators (especially those who proudly do fuck-all) to jet their fat asses around the world swaddled snugly in Business Class splendour. As you for, dear plebeians, get your precious MRI and CT scans someplace else.

12) A “Conservative” Member of Parliament calls a special meeting of the committee investigating Afghan detainee abuse. Afterwards, he remembers that his job, as a CPC M.P, is to do fuck-all. So, he and his fellow CPC colleagues decide not to go to a meeting their own party convened. Because they lack quorum, the committee is forced to close. The Opposition wants to do their jobs. The CPC prefers, as always, to do sweet fuck-all. On your dime.



Epilogue:

We are nearing four years of Stephen Harper—four years inaugurated by the callow marketing tag, “Canada’s Back!”. Four years later, and Canada is a leader in nothing, is best in the world at nothing, has most in the world of nothing, is greatest in nothing, beats the world at nothing, aspires to nothing, wishes for nothing, strives for nothing, dreams of nothing, sacrifices for nothing, belongs to nothing, is grounded in nothing, builds towards nothing, learns nothing, and remembers nothing. That shall be Stephen Harper’s epitaph, even should he and his cloddish cabinet rule for two decades—an epitaph written in spit, upon Styrofoam.



Bonus Fuck-Allness--"Canada's Back!" Edition :

Kevin Rudd of Australia gets an invitation to meet with President Obama, newly arrived in Copenhagen—as does Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy. China’s Ha Yafei is asked to join the group. Even da Silva of Brazil is invited to this emergency meeting of key international players.

What invitation does our very own Stephen Harper of Canada get? Fuck all—which makes sense, really: the American president never invites himself to dinner. Why would he invite himself to a summit meeting?

Stephen Harper: Not A Leader

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Ave Senatus Populusque Americanus

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was honoured by a shockingly muted sixty-eighth anniversary by our southern cousins (insufficiently removed) on Monday. America's deepest, most painfully infected pre-9/11 psychic wound went almost totally unremembered, but for a few cursory nods from relatively marginal sources.

Americans strolled past the day as glibly as they stroll past tragedies that happen to (or that they inflict on) others--the way they insouciantly jitterbugged past the Luftwaffe's methodical annihilation of British industrial cities during the Blitz, an outrage barely noticed by America (despite the best efforts of Edward R. Murrrow), perhaps because stalwart Britons refused (as they still refuse) to wallow in exhibitionistic self-pity or, demanding that the whole world stop and stare, commemorate the disaster every few months with lachrymose spasms of bellicose schmaltz and jingoist chest beating. Perhaps too many Americans enjoyed watching their old imperialist nemesis get what to sermonising republicans seemed a divinely ordained comeuppance. Whatever the case, America smugly sat, unmoved and uncaring, before the twisted and shredded corpses of forty thousand British dead, still unconvinced that this Hitler chap was quite as bad as Churchill made him out to be, utterly refusing to lose sleep over a few tens of thousands of dead Limey women and children. Only when the fight against Nazi barbarism could be entered as a personal grudge match, as an act of face-saving vengeance, did America discover its selfless commitment to freedom.

The "day of infamy" had to lose its sting for Americans, now that they've adopted and rendered respectable the tactic that once seemed an outrageous instance of cowardly "Jap" perfidy--exactly the kind of thing to expect from a racial inferior. Perhaps they've grown so comfortably into their own virulent imperialism that they can afford retroactive disbursements towards the past costs of empire. It's about time. Many of us have been waiting for America to grow sufficiently beyond its national pubescence to find the philosophical integrity to meet counter-imperialist violence with less of the spoilt-brat whining that seems to accompany its every unpleasant encounter with lesser breeds without the law and more of the stoic, uncomplaining (and often ruthless) professionalism with which Europeans dealt with their own restive colonised tribes.

Oliver Cromwell never sobbed, "Why do they hate us?". He knew why the Irish hated him; he knew that nobody loves an overlord. Nor did Cromwell ever ask the rest of Europe to feel sorry for him. He merely wiped Wexford off the map, without expecting Irish Catholic gratitude for the deed. It is in their hybridisation of Cromwellian methodology with an unctuous, Oprahfied self-satisfaction that American élites are most contemptible. If they finally manage to adopt a European capacity to accept the consequences of their actions, Americans might just gain the wherewithal to start living the reign of justice and righteousness they ostensibly left Europe to found in the New World.

In truth, I'm not optimistic--for many reasons. I am exasperated, for instance, by the American denial that they are an empire. If they haven’t been convinced by their more than 700 military bases sited across the world, they never will be. More ominously, it is still depressingly impossible for an American politician to be even mildly anti-imperialist and retain a shred of popular respectability. The faintest, feeblest suggestion that America would be wise to scale back the magnitude of its foreign entanglements is met with scarifying derision and exile to the lonely, despised fringes--Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan territory. The only vaguely acceptable American anti-imperialist position is pro-imperialist; thus Obama's wish to expand and deepen America's occupation of Afghanistan whilst drawing down that of Iraq, though loudly deprecated as defeatist peacenik treason by the Right, contained enough vestigial aggression to placate swing voters in key states whilst sounding palpably irenic to those Americans, weary of interminable war, who desperately needed to believe that their nation was great, magnanimous, and wise enough to provide its people with an authentically peace-bringing option.

America's inability to nurture or tolerate a domestic anti-imperialist leadership is tragically ironic--not only in its mockery of the philosophical tenets that founded the republic, but in its falling tenebrously below a standard of civic integrity managed even by its old imperialist nemesis, Great Britain. British members of Parliament did not allow themselves to be silenced by cries of "treason" whilst George III waged unwinnable war in America. Opposition to that war actually enhanced the prestige of several of its famous parliamentary antagonists, including Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke. How many American political careers were polished into brilliance by a principled stance against the evil, unwinnable war in Vietnam? Eugene McCarthy was scorned. George McGovern was crushed. Bobby Kennedy was shot. In Britain, principled dissent heroises; in America, it immolates.

Even at the height of its globe-bestriding grandeur, when opposition to the United Kingdom's expansionist mission seemed most absurdly irrelevant, a career like William Gladstone's was possible. This magnificent old man staked his entire political capital on anti-imperialism while taking the Liberal Party, and a significant mass of the British people, along with him all the way. Gladstone's historic Midlothian campaign, perhaps the first truly modern electoral campaign, was waged against Disraeli’s colonial adventurism. After that contest, Gladstone relentlessly pursued an anti-imperialist agenda, railing against Britain's Afghan fiasco, its war against the Zulus, its conflict with the Boers, and its war with the Mahdi. His last great prime-ministerial initiative was the ultimately doomed set of Irish Home Rule bills, designed to extend self-government to some of the earliest objects of English colonialism.

Thus, Gladstone's mature career was one of unyielding opposition to a fundamental feature of British life, something held in semi-religious reverence by millions of Britons of all classes. One may disagree with this or that facet of Gladstone's agenda (Queen Victoria, for one, could not abide Gladstone), but one must acknowledge and stand in awe of the equanimity with which the people of Great Britain received his often vituperative attacks upon everything most of them held dear about their beloved empire. One shouldn't need to stand in such awe, of course: this fair-mindedness is to be expected of any people who lay claim to the possession of civic decency, political rationality and other key items on the menu of Enlightenment values. One stands in awe only, perhaps, because of how completely American intolerance and ideological narrowness have become North American norms--virtually prescriptively so--and how utterly Canadians have lost touch with the brilliant possibilities embodied by the rich deposit of our cultural past, a past populated by the Gladstones as well as the Disraelis and ennobled equally by both. You'll need to find me an American president of Gladstone's dissenting resilience and power--I'll settle for an influential U.S. senator, actually--before I'll grant to America any capacity whatever to fuel Gladstone’s kind of principled war against arbitrary and arrogant power--her own, especially—a kind that would enrapture American souls in their tens of millions if their nation were truly committed to the principles of its founders.

I should like to know, too, where are the American cognates to another classic British type--the champions of new nationhood, the builders who use imperial privileges and prerogatives for the sake of weaker, often hostile, peoples. Where are the American Parnells? Where are the American Lawrences? Where are the American Wingates? And to what services on behalf of freedom have American education and training inclined their beneficiaries? Who deserves higher praise--colonial graduates of the School of the Americas or those of English universities?

Our global nightmare is this--that America denies the reality of the imperialism she fecklessly and incompetently pursues while marginalising all domestic attempts to bring her to reason. She is a sleepwalker stepping off a cliff whilst dreaming of flying. Pity the sleepwalker, but pity more keenly those of us (which is all of us) she's dragging over the cliff with her. Pity most keenly those of us who think it rude to waken the sleepwalking goliath, and promise never to vote for the suicidal madmen ever again.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Umbralogy

The yearly crawl into the shadows of the winter solstice should be a sort of annual homecoming for me, for I am a winter child. I've always believed that those of us thrust into the world in the month ruled by Janus breathe into our very souls the season's privations, its thin air, its pale sunlight and its haunted silences. Perhaps this is what gives Capricorn the arid, passionless stolidity for which it is notorious. Perhaps this is also why Capricorn is said, in esoteric astrology, to be the most worldly and resilient of creatures, for the world at its coldest and most unforgiving was his first cradle, and he was nursed on long nights. Sacrifice is his godmother.

I have never strayed very far from the psychic precincts of my Janus birth; my mind is solstitial year-long, and I've been cursed with New Year's ambivalence all my life. My utopia has always been the immeasurable edge where endings and beginnings meet, where is hosted the mysterious, transcendent flowering of the new--a new made beautiful by the heavy scent of the decay it conquers. The scandal of life and death coexisting in a single moment is seductive, because it should not be--it cannot be. It is miraculous. J.R.R Tolkien called this a "eucatastrophe".

As I child, I loved to read of fallen empires and civilisations, little knowing that I would live to see my own civilisation self-administer the rites of winter. In those woeful stories, I saw a beauty that the victims of the disasters I was living vicariously could not have seen--that the Dark Ages would lighten, that the hieroglyphs would one day give up their secrets, that thousand-year tyrannies would be overthrown, that the darkness is always inside a chrysalis.

It is probably the disposition due to my love of endings and my certainty that they are seeds and not finalities that allows me to remain in profound inner communion with my own apparently vanishing culture. That communion I take so unquestionably for granted that it passes unnoticed throughout the year until it begins to knock slowly and gently at the heart as the shadows lengthen, turn, and stretch towards the Incarnation and the Passion that is its terrifyingly gorgeous after-carol.

In honour of fatally beautiful endings as we enter the season of endings, I present to you two beautifully sad filmic endings. I'm one of those odd, very odd, people who will sit through a movie, no matter how long, just to experience a breath-taking ending. There's something about such a consummation that makes me want to dwell in it, and it is precisely its refusal to be domesticated, its power to overrun me at every viewing, that perpetually renews my devotion to it.

The first is from the film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Tomas and Tereza are driving away from a Czechoslovakian inn the morning after a party, finally happy with each other after years of marital discord. An emigrée friend of theirs living in California learns of their fate from a letter sent afterwards.

I saw this movie when it came out--a very strange choice for a nineteen-year-old boy (but I was a very strange nineteen-year-old boy). There weren't more than a dozen people in the theatre with me. When the house lights came up, we were all still in our seats, stunned, as if we'd been drained of blood. That was a superb feeling.

The second clip is from Terrence Malick's The New World, basically a re-telling of the Pocahontas story (for grown-ups). Malick turns her death into a magnificently elegiac summons to re-birth, one driven by Malick's brilliant use of Wagner's dizzying "Vorspiel" from Das Rheingold, creating a cathedral of sound. The truly captivating part, though, is the final silence--which really isn't one.

Enjoy.







Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Mélange Adultère: Part Five

File It Under "Disingenuous":

While we wait for Fidel Castro to preside over the opening ceremonies of San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade, let us enjoy the ironic splendour of Stephen Harper's recent laudations in honour of press freedom. No, really--this actually happened.

Harper's eerily dissociative comments at the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada were recorded thusly:

In prepared remarks to be delivered to the event in Markham, [Harper] said freedom for Canadians goes hand-in-hand with journalistic freedom.

He said the liberty of Canadians is strengthened when journalists are free to pursue the truth, "shine light into dark corners" and help hold governments accountable.

Naturally, Harper would not take questions--from journalists--during or after the event (Canada's not that free). This was fortunate, as Harper's fatuous ad populum, boiler-plate drivel was allowed to stand undisturbed by awkward queries concerning, among other things, precisely what aspect of press freedom a prime minister is defending when he uses the power of his office to launch a vicious and unprecedented smear campaign against a journalist (using charges later totally discredited by his own expert) in the course of waging a desperate paranoia-fuelled partisan war to suppress the adverse effects of well-founded bribery
charges.

Less fortunately, Harper denied himself the opportunity to thank the media for never having been too interested in the question of just what he meant by "financial considerations". Oh, well--perhaps next year.


Stephen Harper: Still Widely Loathed After All These Years

Now we hear that the CPC is sitting at 36.6% support nationwide. Adjust this percentage for the size of the sample and the typical number of eligible electors who routinely bother to vote, and you'll end up with a core base of Harperoid support roughly equal to the number of Canadians who think Elvis is still alive.

It must be depressing to have methodically violated each one of your principles, shredded every last vestige of your dignity, executed every conceivable act of political defalcation, pandered--on bended, rug-burned knees--to every key ethnic, regional, and ideological special interest, and still be forced to rise dejectedly from your sweat-drenched carpet with 36.6 measly per fucking cent. It must be enraging. It might even be enough to make Harper suspect that Canadians hate him as much as he hates them (as if that's even possible). Really--what will Harper have to do to push himself into majority territory? He's already degenerated into a cheap song-and-dance man--literally.

I fear that his advisors may soon press him to adopt extreme measures. I'm not at all prepared to discount the possibility that we shall see Harper strip down to his boxers, slather his Falstaffian gut in canola oil and perform a pole dance to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" on The O'Reilly Factor if he doesn't see his numbers go up, way up, by Christmas.

So for God's sake--if you ever get a phone call from a polling company, please express total, undiluted support for the CPC. We need to give the party a false sense of security (the higher their numbers, the quicker they'll dissolve the House), and, more importantly, we need to keep Harper's clothes on. Think of the children, people.



Unhappy Anniversary!

In a few months, we shall have had four years of minority CPC ministries. I wonder if those legions of committed Harperoids who expatiate endlessly on the chess-masterly brilliance of their leader and the unprecedented productivity of his reign are really prepared to set his "accomplishments" against those of other minority governments. I think they're not, actually--so I shall do it for them.

Let us list what Mike Pearson managed to accomplish during four years of his five-year premiership:

* the establishment of universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and the federal student loan program;

* the adoption of the Maple Leaf as our official flag;

* the institution of the 40-hour work week and a minimum wage;

* the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces;

* the negotiation and ratification of the Auto Pact;

* the total overhaul of our immigration system, including the elimination of racial criteria and the adoption of the points system we use today;

* the supervision of Canada's massive Centennial celebrations;

* the re-establishment of cordial relations with America whilst taking a public stand against the Vietnam War.

That's what four years looked like to Canadians during the Pearson era. Look at that list: there's hardly an item that does not describe a colossal event--each one brought about by a minority government that faced in John Diefenbaker's Tories arguably the bitterest, most implacably obstructionist Opposition a Canadian government has ever encountered. Amazing. And Pearson pulled it off without once feeling the need to perform amateur cabarets whilst shrine-hopping on Club-Med-like Indian "trade missions".

Now, here is Harper's four-year legacy:

* a fixed-date election "law" he's already broken;

* a so-called Accountability Act whose main provisions remain unfulfilled;

* free trade with Columbia.

That's the lot. That's what Stephen Harper has to show for four years of facing the most pathetically invertebrate Opposition and the most thoroughly demoralised Liberal Party in our post-BNA history. That's the evidence, we are told, of the man's consummate political acumen.

There's no need to await the official conclusion of Stephen Harper's tenure. The trophy for the most negligible prime ministership since Sir John Abbott's has been awarded. There was no serious competition.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

When Hacks Attack, Part Two: Sheer Hack Attack!

As a public service, I hereby append below an internal memorandum allegedly sent by "Conservative" Party brass to "Conservative" riding presidents.

I prefer not to divulge how it came into my possession, and I can’t reliably vouch for its authenticity. I’m rather dubious, frankly: Harperoids have come to be (wisely) leery of leaving paper trails. In any case, it certainly seems genuine. It is most likely the first draft of a memo that was ultimately edited into respectability by one of the party's half-dozen grown-ups, in case it got leaked. Enjoy!

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Dear Riding Association Presidents:


In order to keep ourselves and our camp-following sycophants dunked in the vast plankton-rich trough of federal emoluments, our party has striven to fine-tune its electoral mechanism to the kind of exacting standard that you--the faceless, toadying party functionary--demand and deserve.

We have ruthlessly cut costs. We have performed efficiencies in key process elements. For instance, we’ve realised how unnecessary it is to run homo sapiens candidates in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Accordingly, after careful feedback and focus-group analyses, our party has hypothesised that the carcasses of dead squirrels stuffed with sawdust and impaled on wooden kebabs painted in party colours can hold CPC ridings with pluralities at par with or even greater than current levels. Running low-maintenance road-kill in safe SaskAlberta ridings will allow us to move resources to more challenging ridings.

The short questionnaire you see before you is part of our new, dynamic election-readiness tool-kit. It is designed to help you identify God-fearing CPC-friendly voters among the molten, unsentient mass of fundamentally lazy and bolshevist quasi-Talibs with which Canada is ridden.

We suggest you urge as many of your heathen riding mates as possible to complete the brief survey; then, carefully analyse their responses. Waste no further time and effort on those who score high: they’re ours. Naturally, most will score low. After adding their names to our official “Enemies of Stephen Harper and Therefore Possibly Al-Qaeda Sleeper Agents” master-list, spend some time with them in respectful, constructive dialogue (a cattle-prod is included in your package for this purpose). At the bottom of the survey, you’ll find a legend detailing what the results mean and offering tips on how to proceed with your evangelism.

Good luck, and good hunting!


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1. The word "liberal" makes me think of:

a) Someone who espouses what has arguably been the most potent political tradition in the post-Enlightenment West [1 point];

b) A naive, tax-grabbing statist [3 points];

c) A bilingual ballet enthusiast who thinks he's better than me [5 points].



2. The word "feminist" means:

a) Someone committed to the legal and social equality of women [1 point];

b) A radical who seeks to overthrow Western patriarchy [3 points];

c) A fat ugly dyke on the rag [5 points].



3. The word “France” refers to:

a) A great European nation that has been crucial to the development of Western civilisation and that established the foundations of Canada’s European heritage [1 point];

b) One of the senior members of the European Union [3 points];

d) A nation of over-scented queers in perpetual search of someone to surrender to [5 points].



4. "A Mare Usque Ad Mare" means:

a) "From Sea to Sea" [1 point];

b) Something I need to Google [3 points];

c) Some faggy Latin shit [5 points].



5. The Fathers of Confederation are:

a) The men who knitted together the main elements of Canada's geo-political fabric [1 point];

b) A group of colonial pragmatists desperate to escape the Act of Union's legislative straightjacket [3 points];

c) A bunch of hacks too stupid to sue for admission to the U.S.A [5 points].



6. My favourite political philosopher is:

a) George Grant [1 point];

b) Thomas Paine [3 points];

c) Larry the Cable Guy [5 points].



7. The "War on Terror" is:

a) A misguided and potentially catastrophic U.S.-led militarisation of what is really a development issue [1 point];

b) A noble but poorly executed effort at nation-building [3 points];

c) The inspiration for some of my favourite fridge magnets [5 points].



8. G.W. Bush's words, "You're either for us or against us" were:

a) An unstatesmanlike burst of arrogance unhelpful to the building of an effective post-9/11 Western alliance [1 point];

b) An unfortunate but understandable lapse in judgment [3 points];

c) Redundant. Of course I was going to be for him: he was my President [5 points].



9. Stephen Harper's assertion that Canada is a second-tier socialist backwater was:

a) Boorish and unpatriotic [1 point];

b) Wrong, but fair comment [3 points];

c) So cool that I made my girlfriend scrawl Harper's words onto her left thigh, right next to her tattoo of Merle Haggard [5 points].



10. Canada's consistent record of maintaining a higher standard of living than America's is:

a) Proof of the preferability of Canadian society [1 point];

b) Interesting but irrelevant [3 points];

c) Typical Canadian America-bashing [5 points].




Results:


35-50: Yeehah! This subject is a member of our natural constituency. In fact, he's probably Kathy Shaidle. Only a lobotomy could make him more devoutly committed to our cause. He needs no further proselytising. Move on.

20-35: This subject is in the ballpark, but he’s still far too much of a typical defeatist, can’t-do Canadian. Administer a copy of Atlas Shrugged immediately. Have him re-take the survey within two weeks. Who knows? By that time, he may have suffered an IQ-suppressing head injury and become more open to persuasion.

10-20: Any further effort on this far-left terrorist would be wasted. Make sure to send his name to party headquarters so that we may issue a security certificate and arrange for his indefinite detention.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

"When Hacks Attack!": Part One

I think it is now safe to say that the CPC's "Just Visiting" anti-Ignatieff ad campaign has become the most obsessively scrutinised shitzkrieg* ever mounted by a Dominion party in our history. Launched over a month ago, it haunts us still. It has certainly surpassed the P.C. Party's "Is This a Prime Minister" anti-Chrétien sally in '93 as an object of pundit-driven fascination as to its motivation, generation, and effect on voter intention.

The consensus seems to be that it is vile and unprecedented. That it is vile is arguable. That it is unprecedented is even more arguable. If it is unprecedented, it is only so in its timing and in its authorship.

For one may be surprised (and disappointed) to see such a thing occur outside of an election, and one cannot help but be surprised to see the battle-axe of populist class war taken out of the hands of the NDP, its traditional wielder, by the political helots of our affluent continentalist élite, but one cannot be surprised by the campaign's abject meanness, for, as I've been strangely delighted to discover (or re-discover, really), corrosive vitriol on the Canadian hustings is a venerable part of our electoral heritage that an aberrant three generations of relative civility have served to wipe from Canada's collective memory. We Canadians have nothing as famous and widely quoted as the Lincoln-Douglas debates to remind us that we were political beings before the invention of the refrigerator. If we did, we would realise that the rank partisan vindictiveness of the last four years has been not a cultural departure for Canadians as much as a recrudescence.

As part of my summer reading program, I've been delving into S.F. Wise's God's Peculiar People, a collection of essays concerning the political culture of pre-rebellion Upper Canada, specifically its surprising degree of chauvinistic messianism (something we naturally tend to think of as being inherently anti-Canadian). I suppose we should all be grateful that Canada's early 19th-century historical record is dominated by the contest between reformers and Tories, for the accounts of their murderously bitter reciprocal rhetorical eviscerations can be a joy to read and serve as some of the most genuinely compelling sparks of real life amid a record that is often (ignorantly) accused of being soporifically dry.

In one essay, Wise describes an 1834 by-election in Kingston, in which Tory community pillar Christopher Hagerman, expecting to walk into the seat unopposed, ended up being challenged by a quickly drafted Reform candidate from Toronto, one William O'Grady, suspended priest and editor of radical newspaper the Canadian Correspondent. The phrase, "Send in the clowns," doesn't even begin to approximate an adequate invocation for the circus that ensued.

The reform-minded defrocked preacher was apparently no media darling in the heart of Loyalist country. The Tory Coburg Star warned its readers:

"O'Grady, of the Correspondent, has been skulking about here for the last two or three days, by way, we suppose, of trying his sophistry among the Catholics; but it's a no go. The 'Gentleman in Black' can neither hide his tail nor his hoof".
And CPC acolytes whine about "media bias". Talk to me when the Globe and Mail equates Harper with Satan, guys.

O'Grady retaliated against this press persecution with a suitable though perhaps not focus-group-refined performance. He addressed a meeting, and, "holding a copy of the [Tory] Kingston Chronicle in his hand, [excoriated] 'this mean, low, pitiful and grovelling rag,' run by a Yankee editor who is 'an infamous liar and a despicable miscreant'". Goodness me. I think we've just found the patron saint of the blogosphere.

Anyways, once the campaign began in earnest, things really got ugly. At a public debate, O'Grady expounded upon his anti-Tory agenda in defiant and apocalyptic terms:

"It is a glorious thing to commence in this hot-bed of toryism the battle of reform...and though the Reformers may not, for the present, be able to slay the Goliath, is it not a glorious thing, that on examining the materials of the pedestal on which [Hagerman] stands and discovering their rottenness...we may anticipate the not far distant day...when public opinion will dash the proud Colossus in the dust?"
Note to Ignatieff: that, my loving patriot, is how to tell a guy you're going to mess with him until you're done.

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* Shitzkrieg: a neologistic portmanteau Dred Toryism, composed of a truncated form of "bullshit" (i.e. "nonsense", "gibberish") and "krieg" (i.e. "assault"); it denotes any political "communications" campaign designed to flood the media with trivia as a way of distracting the public’s attention from issues that matter.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

"Out of the Depths, Have I Sought Even Deeper Depths, O Lord!": Stephen Harper's De Profundis, Part Two

No "Conservative" activist has provided higher multi-fuck-up value for dollar than Ottawa mayor and former temp-agency CEO Larry O'Brien. This man's plunge from the twin Everests of his massive ego and colossal managerial incapability has been painful to witness, especially as so much goodwill is owed someone who has advanced so far in life despite the handicap of looking like he's been indifferently cross-assembled from the physiognomic fragments of Lex Luthor, Daddy Warbucks, and Stalin's most brutish-looking Byelorussian NKVD Commissar.

Now, most of the major national media outlets that have been watching his bribery trial have assumed that O'Brien fully intended to prove himself not guilty of the Crown's charges. That is, after all, conventional. Sadly, things have not gone well for the mayor.

For weeks, the court has been treated to testimony placing O'Brien at the heart of the "Conservative" machine in Ottawa. In fact, he was recruited and groomed personally by John Reynolds, ex-CPC M.P., influential party bag-man and rain-maker, and trusted Stephen Harper confidante. Reynolds wanted O'Brien to run federally, but O'Brien decided to carry the CPC flag in the 2006 mayoralty race instead--selflessly--just to bring a little of the Harper magic to us socialist, Northern European Ottawan barbarians. According to testimony, the O'Brien network is a Who's Who of the CPC's Ottawa nomenklatura: Baird operatives, Poilievre aides--they're all there, brokering (allegedly) some sort of deal between O'Brien and Terry Kilrea, the potentially vote-splitting right-wing candidate whom O'Brien is accused of buying off with an appointment to the Parole Board.

On Monday, after watching witness after witness effectively corroborate Kilrea's damning version of events, O'Brien's defence team performed a stunning volte face; it asked the presiding judge to render a directed verdict, something normally brought down in order to dismiss a Crown case for lack of evidence but which would, in this case, dismiss the charges for not fitting into the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code. In effect, the defence is arguing that O'Brien's alleged offence is not covered by the law and is thus perfectly legal.

Specifically, the defence contends that the law is meant to criminalise only the act of promising a monetary reward for doing someone a political favour; the promise of a political reward, they argue, is lawful. Thus, it would have been corrupt of O'Brien to have tempted Kilrea with an envelope full of cash, but, since he sought to have Kilrea whore himself for a seat on the Parole Board, O'Brien's in the clear. Lost in this mincing quibbling, apparently, is the obvious fact that a lucrative Parole Board position is, collaterally, a monetary reward.

Ottawa scribe Randall Denley puts the situation in perspective quite lucidly, I think:

According to the defence, offering someone a federal job as an inducement to drop out of a mayoral race is legally acceptable behaviour. The Crown contends that it's not, despite politicians' history of using Senate and cabinet appointments to politically benefit the party in power...If [the judge] determines that there is nothing illegal about what O'Brien is alleged to have done, he is putting a judicial stamp of approval on conduct that stinks...The political culture of senior levels of government has played a dominant role in what is actually a municipal issue...The defence is relying on Canadians' deep cynicism about the honesty of politicians...In the world described in court, unethical behaviour and even stuff that is technically illegal is the everyday fare of what is rather grandly referred to as "political discourse"...Our standards of political behaviour are certainly low. If his defence is successful, O'Brien will have done his bit to help move the bar even lower.

Stephen Harper's "Conservative" party has finally effected a profound reform of Canada's culture of governance, one entirely consistent with its tradition of grotesque political perversity. This party, that strode and swaggered across this country in strident presumed possession of a total monopoly of political integrity, that vowed to extinguish corruption and maintain the highest ethical standards of conduct, that made the "Accountability Act" the key element of its legislative agenda and the heart of the party's moral bona fides, has now outdone the mere passive betrayal of its ideals.

This party has requested, through its loyal Ottawa agent, that political bribery--the most egregious of all the forms of corruption that appal Canadians--be enshrined in Canadian case law as an acceptable, lawful practice. This precedent having been set, the "Conservative" Party will have succeeded in legally institutionalising the worst, most ignoble manifestation of the very corruption the eradication of which is ostensibly their raison d'etre.

The CPC has become the most avidly concupiscent carrier of the venereal disease that has been chancering our body politic for decades. The "Conservative" pretence to be anything else but the defalcating exploiters and enablers of what is worst about our society is the most offensive and least convincing piece of political quackery to be inflicted upon this country in living memory. This earnest appeal on behalf of the élite's right to scoff at the natural law, by the way, comes right on the heels of the CPC's attempt to force judges to impose harsh prison time on people caught growing a quantity of marijuana carrying an intoxicating effect roughly equal to that of a bottle of wine. Bribe an ideological co-militant to slime into City Hall, and walk away with the prize; grow some grass, and go to jail. That's "justice" in Stephen Harper's Canada.

In order to rinse out the bitter taste this case leaves in my mouth, I read this piece about Alex Munter, the young, bright and capable man whose mayoral aspirations were crushed by the demagogic smears of the smiling CPC simian who now begs us to shrug away his flippant debasement of normative civic standards. I read that Munter is not bitter; he seeks no vengeance; he is happy doing productive, necessary work with at-risk youth.

I reflect that, in Stephen Harper's Canada, it seems to be the doom of the good, the honest, and the virtuous to lose, and the fate of the scum to rise to the top. If legally codifying that civic dysfunction is not a crime against humanity, I don't know what is.

Friday, 5 June 2009

"Out of the Depths, Have I Sought Even Deeper Depths, O Lord!": Stephen Harper's De Profundis, Part One

One of the drollest of neo-conservative follies is the belief that government can and should be run "like a business". This formula--often taken seriously even by those alive to the futility of trying to run a train like a yacht--presupposes the notion that the ethos of selling as dearly as possible what one has made as cheaply as possible is both the key to sound national stewardship and the very essence of ministerial integrity.

This notion totally inverts the facts, of course, as does every article of neo-con faith: the optimal way for a government to pursue its rational self-interest (defined by maximising its return and minimising its costs) is to do precisely nothing on behalf of the electors it ostensibly serves: according to pure market values, it is illogical for a federal government to waste its four-year span of electoral impunity working on behalf of a people whose assent it no longer requires and who haven't the power to penalise the incumbents no matter how wasteful, arrogant, or inefficient they are; instead, the logic of pure self-interest requires government caucus members to use their four-year executive monopoly to enjoy and invest whatever personal equity they can extract from their position, particularly by cultivating the kinds of corporate contacts that will enrich them after their legislative mandate elapses or is withdrawn.

If this sounds uncomfortably close to the way Canadian governments actually operate, it is only because governments from across the ideological spectrum all do tend to behave like businesses, as will any human system that confers instant privilege, power and wealth upon ambitious social climbers with weak or expired commitments to any notion of civic responsibility.

"Running a government like a business" means producing as much wealth as possible for the party's shareholders (i.e. M.P.'s , party members and camp followers) whilst doing as little on behalf of tax-payers as possible--in other words, doing precisely what causes Canadians to throw out governments in disgust every eight years or so. This is not a formula for "efficiency" or "accountability"; it is a formula for the sad, dreadful status quo, and its dreary consequences are not the result of political "failure" in the strict sense but of an intentionally elaborated programme.

We need to keep all of this in mind when assessing the performance of Stephen Harper's regime: what appear to be its failures and scandals are actually the perfectly normal and predictable output of the CPC's business model of governance. In fact, it is on this most fundamental level that the CPC has arguably performed at its best, at its most creative, and at its most inspired.

Honest analyses of "Conservative" crises will reveal all the symptoms of an aggressive, disciplined approach to the "government-as-business" model: not content with safe, narrow, low-yield disasters, Harper's government has always sought functional depth in its flagrancies and has been content only when its wretched incompetence and venalities have achieved synergistic cross-platform interoperability.

The Lisa Raitt fiasco serves as a recent example. A Liberal version of this scandal would have seen the offending minister misplace a binder full of classified documents, resign in disgrace, and then quietly reappear in cabinet later when the smoke cleared; the typical Liberal inability to innovate, improvise and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances would have allowed this event to pass by without having its full potential exploited.

In sharp contrast, the CPC recognised the polyvalence of the Raitt affair and acted decisively to make sure that Canadians were exposed to the full wattage of its surreal brilliance. First, we heard that the binder was lost; then we heard that its information was classified not because it was dangerous to the state, but because it was dangerous to the party--revealing as it does that the cost of funding Atomic Energy of Canada will likely cost tens of millions more dollars than the government said it would in its January budget. Then we heard that the government fired Raitt's 26-year-old assistant for the misdeed without even bothering to establish that it was she, not her boss, who actually committed the misdeed.

Now, that is how incompetence is done when you really mean it: never be satisfied with the force of just the most obvious dimension of your stupidity; always strive to add value and layered functionality to it. In this case, we have a party caught withholding information the public deserves to have while misusing a classification protocol designed to protect the state while being caught in an act of colossal budgetary ineptitude while betraying ignominious cowardice in its invertebrate refusal to respect the tradition of ministerial responsibility, by which heads of departments have always held themselves accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

Astonishing. That's a four-part invention of uselessness; a tetra-fuck-up. That's the kind of pioneering drive CPC shareholders expect from their party, and, in our increasingly competitive global market environment, it's the kind of drive they deserve.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Valiants Memorial: Tribute to Cultural Amnesia

Even I failed to notice for far too long.

In late 2007, whilst sauntering across Confederation Square, I was shocked to encounter a series of bronze statues and busts that seemed to have sprung out of the earth overnight. They comprised the new "Valiants Memorial", and they had apparently been there for over a year. Officially unveiled in November 2006, the fourteen larger-than-life-size monuments were commissioned three years earlier by the so-called Valiants Foundation (a motley crew of scholarly and civic potentates) and cast by two Canadian sculptors. The fourteen selected historical personages were meant to embody something very specific. The National Capital Commission puts it this way:

[The statues] become a kind of pageant of our past, showing how certain key turning points in our military history contributed to the building of our country. The memorial is therefore intended to acknowledge and honour the role that military participation, and the men and women who contributed to that participation, have had on nation building.
The memorial's own website (for, nowadays, everything has a website for at least fifteen minutes) says that the statues are there to honour "fourteen valiant men and women, representing many others, who gave outstanding wartime service to Canada during the last four centuries". Now, I do try to keep up with local current affairs, but this project eluded my attention completely during its three-year gestation. There they stood--as if alive--in their grand, massive impassivity. They're quite beautiful, really, though a tad on the socialist realist side. Sue me; I'm a classicist: I expect some stylisation. I don't see the edifying power in the uncannily life-like rendering of Arthur Currie's gaiters.

In a way, this was a wish come true: finally, the nation's capital found the visionary wherewithal to grace itself with monuments to some of the people who have given us our stellar military history--stellar in its humane restraint no less than in its tradition of victory--a history far more praise-worthy than the lamentable chronicle of petty expansionist territorial thievery and banana-republic busting that the southern republic takes as meta-Napoleonic feats of martial achievement.

It was undeniably thrilling to see relative unknowns like the Loyalist John Butler and French-Canadian 1812 hero de Salaberry get their due beside old favourites like Laura Secord (here disappointingly represented as a comely young woman, as cheesy myth would have it, when she was actually well into her thirties during the war).

As the glow of novelty faded, though, I began to find legitimate cause for quibbling. I read the memorial's inscription, "No day will ever erase you from the memory of time," and thought its aspiration absurdly over-optimistic given that so many of the statues were of people who were already erased from Canada's memory--people such as Paul Triquet and Andy Mynarski, both eminently worthy of memorialisation, certainly, but who now live only in the memories of their families and military historians. We are given Sir Arthur Currie, a very able technocrat and the spiritual father of the Canadian Corps, but a man who never experienced one minute of actual fighting and whose achievements couldn't be more perfectly irrelevant to 98% of the Canadian public.

Then I started to notice the bizarre omissions: no Billy Bishop, perhaps the greatest Allied flying ace of the First World War; no Richard Rohmer, the fighter pilot who put Erwin Rommel out of action and thus contributed immeasurably to the success of D-Day; no Guy Simonds, Field-Marshal Montgomery's favourite general-staff officer, the man widely regarded as the most innovative and effective commander during the Normandy campaign.

I thought these lapses odd, coming as they did from a committee boasting scholarly luminaries such as Jack Granatstein and David Bercuson. Then I remembered that Granatstein and Bercuson are among the most strident of Canada's self-hating élite, and I harboured dark suspicions that they had conspired to commit an act of historical sabotage by producing a memorial designed to be irrelevant to the very laypeople to whom it is allegedly intended to appeal.

I tried hard to banish these thoughts; their implications were too odious to contemplate. I gave the Valiants Foundation the benefit of the doubt; I supposed that the memorial was intended not just to commemorate but to educate, to drag from the shadows a series of worthy historical figures who deserve our attention. I immediately wondered, though, why obscure characters even more fascinating, even more reflective of fundamentally Canadian values and aspirations were not chosen.

Where is Richard Pierpoint, a man whose existence has been virtually expunged from our mainstream historical records? A former Senegalese slave, Pierpoint joined Butler's Loyalist Rangers during the Revolution, campaigned against the Americans with distinction, and eventually settled near St. Catherines. At the outbreak of war in 1812, he raised a company of black soldiers (though he was now over sixty years old!) which soon afterwards contributed to the crucial victory at Queenstown Heights.

This qualifies Pierpoint not only as a key figure in Canadian military history but as the first black military leader of consequence in the history of the Americas (as for the Western Hemisphere, Toussaint L'Ouverture beats him by a decade). It would do us no harm to be reminded that 1812 was not just a white man's war: for Canada, it was a multicultural, multiracial mission--Natives, English, Irish, Scots, Hessian Germans, former African slaves, Metis, and French-Canadians banded together in the common cause.

We're told too often that the war's issues were vague, that Canadians were uncommitted and passive, that the stakes were low, and that Canada's militia didn't really know what they were fighting for. Pierpoint and his people knew precisely what they were fighting for: they were free men of colour, repelling a horde of ruthless slave-driving tyrants who sought to extinguish their dearly won liberty. I think that's worth commemorating--that multiracial struggle on behalf of freedom and human dignity, one hundred and forty years before such a thing would be conceivable in the great republic their feats of arms eventually humbled. It's certainly worth more reverent attention than the done-to-death kitsch of Laura Secord's exploit, which merely resulted in the strategically insignificant victory at Beaver Dams.

Anyways, those were my initial thoughts upon seeing the collection for the first time. It was only a month or so later, after passing by the memorial and casting it the briefest of glances on a handful of occasions, that it came to me. I actually stopped to let it sink in. I think we have all at least once in our lives felt the shock of re-emerging into consciousness after blurting an expletive to no one in particular whilst in a momentary trance.

I could not recall which expletive I chose to hurl as I awakened, but I was still reeling at the fact that had inspired it: this Valiants Memorial, erected to "represent critical moments in our military history" and to show how "certain key turning points in our military history contributed to the building of our country" is missing two military footnotes, two of our historical bit-players. You history nerds out there may have heard of them: Generals Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and James Wolfe. Those punks ring a bell?

Christ Almighty. We really are that pathetic. Everywhere else in the world, the Plains of Abraham really happened. In Canada's capital, though--in the very place set aside to celebrate its nation-building military heroes--the event that led to the establishment of the Anglo-Canadian fact, the event that arguably made the American Revolution inevitable and thus represents one of the most significant battles in Western history, did not occur.

Neither Montcalm nor Wolfe died, like the men and women of our Afghan battle-group are dying, in a foreign, unloved land on behalf of spoiled, avaricious élites for whom war is a deliciously diverting board game. No. They never even existed at all. Would any another Western nation stoop to a Stalinist revisionism this incandescently puerile? Would an American foundation dare to erect an equivalent national memorial that excluded George Washington? Could the Valiants Foundation not at least have paired this non-sequitur of omission with one of commission--perhaps a huge statute of Donald Duck in full khaki WWII battle-dress with Cameron Highlanders shoulder flashes?

What will it take for the stewards of Canada's cultural memory to realise that we Canadians can handle our history, that we are prepared to encounter it in all its beautiful, awkward, perpetually newly discovered incommensurability, and that sanitisation is nothing more than squalid historical vandalism?

Jack Granatstein, who has spent a decade whining about the "killing" of Canadian history, has just kicked the history he claims to love into suffering a monumental spontaneous abortion in the middle of the nation's capital. Meanwhile, in his spare time, he's been kicking the nation he claims to love into cringing Manifest Destiny subservience. Let's hope this fiasco finally drives a stake through the black tar-coated heart of Granatstein's waning scholarly reputation. If he is made to shut up at last, perhaps this disgrace will have been worth it.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Mélange Adultère: Part Four

Sloth Makes Waste:

The extravagantly titled Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird recently yapped excitedly about his expectation that federal infrastructure funds will flow "ten times faster than anything in the modern era". That's a relief, because the Building Canada Fund his government created in 2007 to dole out infrastructure money to municipalities has, so far, transferred precisely nothing: breaking its funds-disbursement speed record might just be something this government can do.

I was amused to hear Baird explain why he sees no need to conduct strict oversight of the way infrastructure funds are spent: he's not worried, he says, because provinces and municipalities must provide matching funds for their federal money--an obligation which apparently provides "the biggest form of accountability" conceivable. Thus, a senior member of Canada's ostensibly "fiscally conservative" party maintains that the optimal agent of governmental accountability is another level of government and that governments become reliably self-policing whenever they are forced to spend money in order to get more money.

I wonder--is the term "fiscally conservative" really something that this party believes it can claim unironically, or are they aware that it's become merely the punch-line of a sick joke?



The West Wants In (To The Trough):

Just because you allow a barely-staffed "commission" to sit idle whilst funnelling a million tax-payer dollars into its inertia does not mean you can't violate the principles on which it was established in order to toss out partisan pork to under-qualified courtiers.

Only a few years after elevating himself to Canada's pontificate of political moral supremacy and waging an electoral campaign full of ad urbis et orbi fulminations against government waste and arrogance, Stephen Harper invited a lorry-load of his ideological confederates to dip their biscuit faces into rich, thick tax-funded gravy. None declined the honour, though I am sure they all retain their commitment to their libertarian, anti-government ideals.

I love the statement from the PMO on the matter:

"...a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office says the posts went to qualified candidates, and that their partisan activities and friendships with Harper should not exclude them from the jobs".
One is struck by how radically different this exculpatory whine is from the rote statements issued by Liberal PMO's down through the decades; for instance, it contains the word "Harper" rather than "Trudeau", "Turner", "Chrétien" or "Martin". If you don't think that's a huge difference, you're clearly with the terrorists. And you're probably gay. You no doubt also speak passable French.



“Just Because I'm The Minister Doesn't Mean I Have To Do Stuff”:

Minister of Defence Peter Mackay assures us that "the federal government is constantly looking at[sic] ways to improve search and rescue response", except where the need for improvement is obvious and pressing.

Should a transit point for hundreds of heliborne offshore oil-rig workers--a place that witnessed the deaths of seventeen men in a tragic crash a few months ago--be given a dedicated search-and-rescue helicopter? Maybe. Minister Mackay doesn't know. Moreover, he says, it's not his problem: it's the Armed Forces' decision to make. "I guess that's a judgment call that the military make based on the information that they have," he bleated.

Astonishing. Harper's tin soldiers are proudly political about sending young men and women to Afghanistan to die defending a corrupt Islamist narco-state; it's personal to them--a crusade, a vendetta. When it comes to their sedulous patronage of warlords and Talib fellow travelers, offered with a smile from the ivied ignorance of the Centre Block, they show fearless leadership indeed.

When it comes to providing security to their own citizens, to hard-working tax-payers doing some of the world's most dangerous jobs on Hibernia's oil rigs, Harperoids will let faceless, irresponsible, non-executive bureaucrats make the key decisions. After all, the Canadian military cannot be expected to do everything: it can't prop up Hamid Karzai's rule over Kabul's suburbs and prevent needless catastrophes by providing a minimum standard of search-and-rescue capability to its own people. Let's keep our priorities straight: warlords first; Canadians second.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Mélange Adultère: Part Three

Following journalistic convention, I shall now make brief reference to a number of scandals, both real and manufactured, using a flogged-to-death suffix borrowed from America's most notorious--though hardly most serious--political débacle.



Appointmentgate [though I also like "Appointmentscam"]:

Stephen Harper's undertaking to have all candidates for federal office vetted by a non-partisan appointments commission was not just a good suggestion; it formed part of the Accountability Act, arguably the centrepiece of the government's legislative agenda so far.

Of course, the commission's establishment hit an immediate snag when (and please read this slowly) Harper's choice of commission chairman turned out to be a purely partisan selection--namely Gwyn Morgan, a CPC-friendly Alberta oilman.

Naturally, the Opposition declined Harper's generous offer to allow a CPC hack to superintend a non-partisan process, and the commission went into limbo. More pressing matters, such as begging FOX News for interviews, have prevented Harper from proposing another candidate for the chairmanship, and he seems unconcerned that a crucial component of his own law remains unfulfilled.

In Harperland, though, an idle commission can still be mightily expensive. The appointments non-commission, which has yet to deliberate a single case, has already cost taxpayers more than one million dollars. Sure, that money could have gone to hospitals, our Afghan battle-group, or our lamentably outgunned navy and air-force, but health-care and military bureaucrats are notorious wastrels. Much better to keep the cash on Parliament Hill, so that a "skeleton staff" (made up almost certainly of the cousins, nieces, nephews and psychic hairdressers of CPC M.P.'s) can sit on their powdered asses tooling around on their Blackberries or, when the mood strikes them, watching from the House gallery whilst Harper's drones drivel endlessly on about their fiscal rectitude.

It's not quite Adscam, but it'll do. If you prefer, though, just keep watching that bright shiny thing.



Brazeaugate:

As you'll recall, Harper made a slew of preposterously partisan Senate appointments early this year, every one of which so hysterically unfit for legislative office that it seemed part of a plot to push Canadians' loathing for the Senate even lower than it is, down to the level where Harper's appointment of a paraplegic groundhog suffering from tertiary syphillis would arouse nothing more than mild bemusement.

Among this clownish crew was one Patrick Brazeau, former head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, a federally funded organisation. Pursuant to Harper's passionate commitment to diversity, Brazeau's appointment brought into the Senate a member of a criminally neglected and heavily oppressed community--those who like to party, chase skirt, and drive Porsches on the public dime while damning the ethics of their peers and, bien sûr, loudly endorsing the CPC. He brings with him the wealth of thirty-four years of life experience--thirty-four glorious years: he's all of ten years away from chugging ice-cold Molsons with his frat buddies on ten-cent-wings night down at the local Hooters.

Brazeau's provincial sexual harassment case has been kicked up to the federal level, and the senator will soon be explaining to a federal panel why he thinks the complainant is upset over what he describes as "inappropriate text messages and phone calls". I just hope he doesn't overdress for the occasion:





Really, I just love the "Atlantic City mafia" look he's rockin' here, but I doubt if the commissioners will. Note to Patrick: lose the pink stuff, and buy a tie. You're a senator now, not a goodfella, and you'll still be a sex-machine with the chicks.














O'Briengate:

Too few Canadians realise that Ottawa toils under the most catastrophically inept poltroon ever to lope across the pages of North American mayoralty history. His name is Larry O'Brien. He is a well-connected CPC hack, who, despite running for mayor in 2006 on a drearily familiar no-tax-hike, tough-on-crime platform, has overseen chronic tax hikes and rising crime. He serves as living proof of the old adage: elect a neocon; watch your city/province/country turn to shit.

He is currently being tried on charges of having bribed an opponent to drop out of the mayoralty race with the collusion of several senior members of Harper's "New Government". John Baird is among those under subpoena. The Harper follies have been a morbidly fascinating spectacle, but this trial should be the spectacle to crown all spectacles--the prestige, if you will.

Transcending the squalor of the trial, though, is the sick-making outrage of O'Brien's mere incumbency. If old Ottawa--core, downtown Ottawa--had had its way, O'Brien would still be running his cute little temp agency. It was the suburbs who wafted this ill wind into City Hall. It was the politically illiterate Hummer jockeys of Nepean and Barrhaven who foisted this jesting harlequin onto those of us who know better. As this chart shows, we voted for Alex Munter (while praying that he would overcome the oft-fatal political handicaps of being smart, serious, and well-informed); they voted for the guy who spewed endless gibberish about Munter being a typical tax-and-spend "lefty" (yeah--he ran Kanata for years; a classic Stalinist move). What we got was a civic leader who thinks being arrested is "rock-star" cool.

O'Brien's election brilliantly exemplifies the need for Ottawa's de-amalgamation. I am no longer willing to allow suburbanites, hypo-urbanites, and infra-urbanites to inflict their masochistic, anti-civic irrationality on a people for whom the urban core is home, not just something seen from behind an office window a few hours a day. If you can hear the Peace Tower chimes from your home, you're an Ottawan. If not, you may have your own urgent neighbourhood matters to attend to--where to put the next Future Shop, whether to let the golf course expand its parking lot, whether to allow the developers to tear down the church and make way for a new Costco--but you've got nothing of significance to say about what my city should look like. If you gave a shit about it, you would live in it.


Burgergate:

Because Barack Obama did something vaguely "French", we now know exactly how morally and intellectually bankrupt American conservatism has become.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the leaders of the free world, a nation more trivial than which has never been and, pray God, will never be.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Ignatieff Ignited!

"In Canada, ideas are not needed to make parties, for those can live by heredity and...by memories of past combats". (James Bryce, Modern Democracies)



Last weekend, a not remarkable number of Canadians witnessed the conclusion of the desperate struggle for leadership of the Liberal Party between Michael Ignatieff and his only opponent, his Olympian ego.

The latter, though clearly the more organised, sophisticated and motivated of the two, acceded to a draw. Both creatures have agreed to co-rule their party, the Apollonian ego providing the spirit and the body providing its newly "folksy" corporeal form--liberalism with a human face, as it were (or Stephen Harper's "conservatism" with a pulse). They will likely form the next government, unless Stephen Harper has "Je me souviens" tattooed on both cheeks of his ass and performs a nude pole dance at Place-d'Armes to a dance mix of "Vive la Canadienne" sung by Pauline Marois.

The Liberals have thus re-connected with an important tradition, but not the one Ignatieff wishes to claim. He can invoke Trudeau all he likes; that Liberal icon would never have stooped to writing a loving paean to America's "Empire Lite", nor was he capable of committing the logical solecism of describing democracy and human rights as mere "grace notes" to something more significant, more beautiful, more awesome.

No. Ignatieff's paragon is that politically ingenious founder of modern Liberalism--William Lyon Mackenzie King. Their kinship is deep and abiding--unsurprisingly, given Ignatieff's rootedness in the soil of the mid-century technocratic Liberal élite King virtually invented.

King was Liberal royalty--the grandson of the Reform/Clear Grit rebel William Lyon Mackenzie. After the calamity of the 1911 election, King retreated to the States, where he made his fortune strike-breaking for J.D. Rockefeller, forging an admiring relationship with the magnate (and with America's capitalist leadership) that lasted a lifetime. Later, he published Industry and Humanity, a turgid tome of earnest Gladstonian bromides whose claims upon his conscience evaporated the minute he won his first ministry. This "serious" volume polished an already-shining intellectual reputation, secured through King's receipt of a Harvard PhD in 1909.

Upon his return to Canada and his 1919 leadership triumph, King began his sustained assault upon Canada's traditional moral, cultural and political anchors--relentlessly (and tediously) preaching the virtues of free-trade and continental integration. He found himself in substantial disagreement with American élite values only once--when, despite witnessing the evident dynamism of FDR's New Deal, he rabidly opposed even the slightest interventionist use of the state to remediate the Great Depression's disastrous effects, even going so far as to rejoice when the provisions of R.B. Bennett's modest New Deal-ish program were struck down by the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as ultra vires. King remained publicly undisturbed by the sight of a Canadian government hobbled by the irresponsible fiat of a British Star Chamber (yes, this knight errant of "anti-imperialist" Canadian nationalism was a confused man indeed).

All the while, King fatuously transvested himself as the "populist" champion of Parliament and of the people against the "arrogance" of the Crown. King pursued this sacred mission by running away from the House after trying to have it arbitrarily dissolved (by the "arrogant" Crown, of course) and, more notoriously, by calling a plebiscite in order to be released from an iron-clad pact he had made with Canadians during the last election, just two years before.

Thus, in his exalted Liberal lineage, in his return from a protracted sojourn through the American academic/corporate star system, in his establishment of a scholarly reputation that would precede his candidacy, and in his meek acceptance of America's claim to be the world's only significant force for good, Ignatieff has managed to resurrect and inhabit the body of the Liberals' most successful leader. For them, this can only be a good omen. For us, the situation is, of course, more complex.

In any event, we now have a real contest. Not a contest of fundamental political philosophies, necessarily (which, in any case, has been a rare thing in Canada since the mid-'60's). Rather, the contest between Ignatieff and Harper is a contest between Kings, for Harper--superficially scholarly, rabidly pro-American and pro-corporate--is, too, but a new incarnation of King.

Harper enters this contest holding an unfair advantage: he has had the privilege of being an executive King rather than just a rhetorical one: in his fraudulent populism, in his abdication of responsibility by devolving contentious decisions onto others, in his sabotage of Parliament and rape of the constitution for partisan advantage, and in his basically regionalist vision, Harper has channelled King so uncannily that he could have served as one of King's own mediums.

Whatever choice we make in the next election, then, we shall get a King. Some may rejoice at this prospect. As for me, I am reminded of Eugene Forsey's quip about the Liberals' 1935 campaign slogan: "It said, 'King or Chaos'. We got both".