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.


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.