Sunday, 4 July 2010

Relax, People--Everything Is Under Control: Part Two (Independence Day Edition)

This may come as a surprise, but it truly pains me that a few of my casual readers appear to perceive a faint tinge of anti-Americanism in my writings. I find that odd, since the nation I love was largely founded by Americans—the good ones, that is.

Really, how can I dislike a country of intrepid pioneers who, by dint of technological explorations as relentless as they are selfless, continue to push the frontiers of human possibility closer to that glorious though yet unespied realm where we shall finally be emancipated from the dreary law of brute necessity that the non-American West—having offered nothing to the civilisation of the last millennium but the barren trivialities of its Dantes, Michelangelos, Da Vincis, Galileos, Voltaires, Shakespeares, Newtons, Mozarts, McLuhans and Einsteins—never managed to transcend?

What diabolical perversity could prevent me from heeding the natural urge to bow my head in reverent salutation to the inventors of so much of the life-enhancing infrastructure that undergirds our lofty standard of living? Take, for instance, the fast-food drive-thru, a classically American institution. I think Mr. Colin, a Californian unhappy with his town's decision to halt the construction of new drive-thrus, puts the case eloquently:

[N]ot everyone is happy with the ordinance.

"They ought to put in more drive-throughs, not stop them," said Isaac Colin immediately after ordering burgers and fries for himself and his wife, Christine, at the Baldwin Park In-N-Out. "It's a waste of time getting out of your car, finding a parking spot, going in, ordering your food."

Indeed. The process of sitting down to a meal in a restaurant—with its need for preparation, speaking to servers, conversing with one's table-mates, and countless other nuisances that have nothing whatever to do with the act of fork-lifting meat into one's gullet—is an utter waste of precious time and resources. The invention of (and national passion for) the drive-thru is a remarkable embodiment of the American belief that the environmental and unproductive contexts within which the satisfaction of human needs takes place, which benighted Europeans and Canadians tend to think of as "living", are really just needless excrescences that delay and frustrate the things that matter. Why complicate the act of chewing and swallowing with adventitious distractions that pull the actor out of the experience of eating and push him into the alleged "reality" of the space-time continuum and the existence of other human beings?

No. I'm really quite fond of America, especially of its desperate need to have others be fond of it—arguably its most adorable trait—and, to prove it, I hereby offer a list (not entirely exhaustive) of Americans I like. Here we go:

Americans I Like:

Benedict Arnold:

The Case:

Described accurately by one of America's first serious military historians as the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, Arnold has been vilified as a "traitor" by American chauvinists ever since he surrendered West Point to Crown forces in 1780, despite the fact that there was not, at the time, a constitutionally embodied American nation to be a traitor to (and would not be until the formal adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787). Ironically, it was Arnold who found himself victimised by treachery after masterminding and executing some of the colonists' most glorious victories, being made the target of innumerable fraudulent allegations by jealous co-colonists (and consequently repeatedly passed over by Congress for well-earned promotions). So far from being a traitor, Arnold has always seemed to me to be the one colonial general (who just happened to be also the best) who came, too late, to his senses.

Of Interest:

Shortly before finding sanctuary in British North America, Arnold led a disastrous assault upon it during the first American invasion of Canada, a generation before the War of 1812. He was defeated by Sir Guy Carleton, later to become British North America's first governor.

Daniel Webster:

The Case:

Webster is one of a handful of truly great American statesmen. Known widely as the co-author of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that fixed our eastern border, he is rather less widely known as the inspiration for Abraham Lincoln's famous aspirational definition of the U.S. executive as a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

His doomed effort to prevent Southern secession late in his career has unfortunately overshadowed his far nobler struggle against James Madison's ruinous war against British North America. So passionate was his opposition to the war and so determined was his view that it violated justice, common sense, and the constitutional rights of the New England states whose economies were brought to the verge of collapse as a consequence of it, he risked reputation and career by joining the Rockingham Convention and drafting a report to the president on its behalf that warned of Northern secession from the union if the war continued.

Webster is one of the few American statesmen (perhaps the only one) who managed to gain national reknown and prestige through a principled opposition to an unjust war, a feat unthinkable in America today, where grovelling assent to the unconstitutional outrage of presidential wars of choice has become a normative ethos.

Of Interest:

Webster's Rockingham Convention and the related Hartford Convention represented the first serious secessionist movement in American history. The Federalist Party, the de facto political sponsor of the conventions, was destroyed at the conclusion of the war because of its "treasonous" anti-war initiatives. The destruction of the party occurred under mainly Southern pressure, as Jeffersonian principles were strongest there. Ironically, those same Jeffersonian principles would lead Southerners to initiate their own secessionist movement forty-five years later.

John Brown:

The Case:

You'll never see Spielberg or Michael Bay direct a movie about John Brown. Americans love freedom fighters and noble martyrs, as long as they're killing Europeans, Commies or Arabs. I guess the story of an American being hanged by his government for trying to liberate fellow human beings from bondage and thus help drag the U.S. into a state of civilisation that had been reached by the rest of the West for generations just isn't going to sell much popcorn in Midwestern Cineplexes.

That's a shame, because Brown is one of the most fascinating men America has ever produced. He was an abolitionist, but attacking an American armoury would have been enough to assure Brown a spot on this list, quite regardless of his cause. Given the virulence of America's belligerent attitude towards Canada during the mid-1800's, Brown's act of reducing America's capacity to wage war (however slightly) should make him a Canadian hero.

Of Interest:

Brown often visited Canada while recruiting and fundraising. The fateful raid on Harpers Ferry was planned and financed in Canada, and a Canadian convention organised by Brown shortly before the mission capped its deliberations by composing an alternative American constitution.

Grover Cleveland:

The Case:

Of all the American presidents who've presided over an increasingly messianic populace, an inveterately imperialist military establishment, and an avaricious financial elite, only one has had enough integrity and intestinal fortitude to refuse the gift of a new colony delivered on a silver platter by U.S. expansionists.

In 1893, a clutch of American adventurers and businessmen overthrew Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliʻuokalani, and demanded that her realm be immediately annexed to the United States. Cleveland refused to ratify this sham and reminded an astonished nation that there was not a shred of evidence that the native Hawaiians actually wanted to become Americans, in a remarkable, unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated gesture of presidential respect for the opinions and interests of those tragically bereft of American citizenship. His decision would later be reversed, as history records, by a president more thoroughly versed in the American understanding of "freedom".

Robinson Jeffers:

The Case:

Fated to relative obscurity for his refusal to espouse the Modernist aesthetic of the Eliot-Pound school (thus, fated to remain obscure for his refusal to be obscure), Jeffers is nevertheless the quintessential American writer, no less for his commitment to the ethos of the wilderness than for his hauntingly beautiful meditations on the desolation wrought by the pressure of colossal impersonal forces upon the 20th-century soul.

Just as his reputation began to blossom in the 1920's, at which time he was California's unofficial poet laureate, Jeffers made the fatal mistake of sounding like he took his nation's founding values seriously and publicly denounced the causes and consequences of American expansionism. At first considered merely crankish, these views cost him dearly during America's involvement in the Second War World, which Jeffers believed to be ethically indistinguishable from U.S. imperialist adventures throughout the preceding century. His reputation never recovered.

Of Interest:

The nature of American reaction to Jeffers may be understood through a glance at some of his work, very little of which, I can assure you, has found a comfy niche in American high-school anthologies. You don't find your way onto Hummer-borne bumper stickers by opining that "America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire," though his assertion that "corruption never has been compulsory" seems like a keeper to me.

Noam Chomsky:

The Case:

Widely regarded as the world's most important living intellectual (a perhaps deceptively modest achievement when your competition includes meretricious charlatans like Christopher Hitchens), Chomsky is undoubtedly the closest the Anglo-American world as come to producing someone of Bertrand Russell's stature since, well...the death of Bertrand Russell.

For close to five decades, Chomsky has been an unyielding expounder of the blindingly obvious—that America, while in many ways the freest nation in the world, is also among the most violent and corrupt, with a foreign policy that traduces America's announced principles in virtually every detail. For this, Chomsky and his exhaustively researched perspectives have been unofficially banned from mainstream American media, while the imbecile Ann Coulter gleefully carries the lip marks of America's network elite on her buttocks whenever she wishes to spew her delusional rantings over the airwaves.

Of Interest:

Manufacturing Consent, the movie that threatened to make Chomsky a household name among the literate bourgeoisie in the early '90s, was a Canadian production. It's still the most successful Canadian documentary ever made. Chomsky, ever the uncompromising critic, naturally considers the film a failure, largely because it threatened to make Chomsky a household name among the literate bourgeoisie.

David Lee Roth:

The Case:

Arguably the most decadent of the L.A. party-metal bands that came of age in the Eighties, Van Halen spent its Roth-led years cutting a swath of deflowered virgins, annihilated hotel rooms, and nouveau riche cocaine dealers that ripped through every major city in North America.

The Roth of the mid-80's was perhaps the most completely realized icon of the American dream, insofar as he managed to embody the features (even the contradictory ones) that serve to make America a unique civilisation. Jewish (thus an outsider) yet blond (thus an insider), self-destructive (thus lawless) yet beautiful and athletic (thus resilient and powerful), Roth captured the nihilism of America's love of the misfit rebel with a hedonistic clarity unmatched by any rock star before or since. True, we had already seen Jim Morrisson and Iggy Pop, but there had always been something rather too European about them, a slight bookishness, an undisguised appeal to the highbrow: one actually had to have some scope of literary allusion to know where Morrisson got the name of his band or where Pop stole the title of an album.

With Roth, one never got anything more than the sharp outline of a tumescent cock snaking in bas relief across a painfully tight pair of spandex leotards. Roth's appeal was purely bestial, without the pretension to hippie chic that, in the likes of Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and David Bowie, risked introducing just a soupçon of the intellectual into the sex.

Van Halen eschewed the ornamental tangents, such as Mötley Crüe's toy Satanism, that conferred extra dimensions to their contemporaries' personae, keeping the focus on the hard dick, a key American totem. David Lee Roth wasn't about serving Lucifer or rebelling against authority or feeding starving Africans. He was all about chugging a case of Bud before banging Betty in the backseat of the Mustang, which Americans wisely suspect is far ahead of the Bill of Rights and reliable access to Walmart on the list of things the typical young Third-World male covets when he dreams about America.

Of Interest:

In contrast to his bubble-headed image, Roth is actually whip-smart and has authored what is considered one of the best autobiographies in its sub-genre, Crazy from the Heat. I've read it and can attest to its page-turningness.

Just for fun, here are the boys in their prime, playing an excellent version of "Unchained" whilst touring their criminally underrated Fair Warning album in 1981. C'mon. Everybody up!

Stephen Harper:

The Case:

Harper makes this case far more persuasively than I ever could.

Of Interest:

Nothing whatsoever.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Relax, People--Everything Is Under Control: Part One (Canada Day Edition)

Well, here we are, celebrating Canada Day, the fifth of the Harper era, a day that has miraculously avoided federal "Conservative" Party proscription for being anti-American; I can only surmise that the bashful sobriety with which we tend to imbue the annual feast of our nationhood has so far failed to ignite the always-latent "Conservative" fear that Canadians think too highly of themselves.

Stephen Harper must have suffered a few worrying moments, though, as he sat beside Queen Elizabeth and listened to her flattering words of praise:

At 84, the Queen said she has witnessed more than half of Canada's national history and praised what Canada stands for.
"This nation has dedicated itself to being a caring home for its own, a sanctuary for others and an example to the world," she said...The Queen also praised the commitment of the Canadian Forces, and said Canada has reason for optimism, even in trying times.
That was dangerous. Nothing turns a "conservative" stomach quite as sourly as the absurd notion that Canada is culturally worthwhile and serves as a global example of social development and civility. To wit, Stephen Harper has made absolutely clear what he thinks of Canada and what he thinks serves as the planetary paragon of everything that is good and true and pure:

Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth[sic], a standard of living substantially lower than yours[sic], a massive brain drain of young professionals to your country[sic], and double the unemployment rate of the United States[sic]...Your country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world.
Harper must have been rendered speechless by the Queen's ingratiating intemperance, as reports of the event lack any evidence that he responded with words of his own, suggesting that he violated the tradition according to which prime ministers are expected to mumble a few platitudinous words on Canada Day. Of course, reporters may have simply guessed (accurately) that nobody would care to hear what Harper had to say and thus left his limping vacuities unrecorded. More likely, Harper has been drained, over the past four holidays, of the shallow pool of vestigial Canadianism he brought with him into office and cannot now utter a pro-Canadian sentiment, however tepid, without self-inducing a grand mal seizure.

That's a shame. Fortunately, Harper has many friends who can speak on his behalf and utter the fascinating perspectives that he, languishing under the discipline of power, is no longer free to claim as his own. Take for example Ann Coulter, darling of Canada's self-loathing right. Ms. Coulter recently slimed her vile way across our fair land as the special guest of Ezra Levant, rabid Harper supporter, former Reform/Alliance Party operative, and the generous soul who stepped aside so that Harper, newly-minted as party leader, could gain a seat in the House of Commons.

What is it about Coulter's world-view that would lead one of Harper's intimate ideological allies to drag that skeletal shrew across our (unfortunately) undefended border and inflict her Canada-hating diatribes on the country? Is it her view that "only the worst people move to Canada"? Is it her assertion that Canadians "should feel lucky that Americans don't just roll over and crush them"?

Is it her wish to see Calgary become the 51st American state (as if it isn't already), which drew a huge cheer from 900 folks in Harper's hometown? Whatever the reason, Coulter's degrading blitherings, and the "Conservative" Party's sponsorship of them, are depressingly revealing of the "conservative" attitude to the nation of which Harper and his Harperoids claim to be passionate defenders.

For Canada-hating slightly more articulate than Coulter's, we may turn to Mr. Leon Craig, a laughable Alberta separatist whose anti-Canadian rantings were accorded a standing ovation at the 2006 Calgary Conference by the likes of CPC Member of Parliament Jason Kenney and two of Stephen Harper's key mentors, Preston Manning and Dr. Barry Cooper. Here is Jason Kenney bringing the assembly greetings from "Canada's New Government":

The content of Craig's presentation may be gauged by his website, a deliriously gauche monument to paranoid ressentiment that features an on-line store wherefrom one may purchase a T-shirt depicting former Prime Minister Paul Martin as a rat. Here is Mr. Craig receiving a token of gratitude from a beaming Link Byfield, Albertan "senator-elect" and one of the country's most strident Harper apologists:

Yes, indeed: Harper-friendly "conservatives" are the go-to folks for true patriot love. And if you believe otherwise, you're a Taliban-sympathising traitor who clearly doesn't understand how lucky you are that America hasn't yet felt it necessary to crush you.

Now, wipe that smug, self-satisfied smile off your face and go have yourself a wonderful Northern European, second-rate socialistic Canada Day!