Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Complacency's Frankenstein

Yesterday, the Guardian printed a fantastically scattershot piece of comment entitled I'm a believer by one-time (and maybe a couple more times, depending on her mood) Muslim, Zaiba Malik. So scattershot, in fact, that it runs dangerously thin on point ... Who am I kidding: either I’m very stupid, or it has no point at all. (Except the one that all pointless stuff inevitably defaults to: despair.)

She begins by saying that she hasn’t practiced her religion for more than twenty years—indicating that there is some kind of an, albeit as yet, rather fuzzy reason for this. (But it doesn’t get any less fuzzy, let me assure you.) Then she describes her first time (on the day following the London bombings it should be mentioned), since she was 12, attending mosque—in, as she says, the capacity of journalist rather than as faithful—where she was surprised to find herself, mid-prayer, weeping for her “faith.”

Sorry … You haven’t been into a mosque in over twenty years, and yet you feel comfortable enough with the religion to be capable of some kind of genuine emotion for it? Are you sure this mightn’t be the intrusion of some sort of sentiment here? Say, nostalgia? (As opposed to the intrusion of actual faith, I mean.) Are you sure this mightn’t be the sort of superficial inner turmoil many, many, many people felt immediately following the grisliness of 7/7?

She then proceeds to describe the very unremarkable (and if I may say so, quite banal) sequence of events that led to her original separation from Islam—interspersing her account with a set of fairly indifferent reminiscences about her nominal Muslim upbringing (e.g. she confides, more than once, that the very language of her faith, Arabic, was and continues to be a complete mystery to her)—culminating in a chunkily sweet kind of eulogy for her father.

Now, while I can sympathize with the feelings of confusion sprung from conflicting ideological loyalties, and the excessive, reason-confounding emotion that Ms. Malik is clearly suffering from right now, I do have real trouble going so far as to allow these afflictions to excuse the pervasive and tepid any-point-but-an-actual-point character of this piece.

For instance, what are we supposed to make of this: “I know I haven’t lost my religion. I may not always display outwardly signs of it by, for example, going to the mosque and fasting but I still have a deep connection with the faith of my parents”? Okay, so: you’re saying that by not practicing the Muslim faith you can still be a Muslim? That is, you can continue to be “connected” with the “faith of your parents” without actually bothering to actively and directly connect with the faith itself? Um … No, actually. This happens to be the only surefire indicator of a person’s religiosity: whether or not they actually practice a religion. I mean, by all means say you’re “spiritual,” or whatever other cant term is trendy these days to describe this commitmentless vapidity, but, for God’s sake, don’t say you’re religious. You’re not.

But, of course, Ms. Malik’s (unconscious, unquestionably) real motives for sewing together this Frankenstein of a complacent apostate’s credo show through only too tellingly in this (and it’s not the only instance) reference to the Islamic faith, not in terms of its being Islamic, but in terms of its being the bequest of her parents. Something of theirs that she will keep safely in storage against, not so much its decay, as theirs. And so “I’m a believer” is not, ironically, a defense of the faith—which, as I say, she is at considerable pains never to call her own (which, theologically speaking, actually destroys faith ... but whatever)—but a defense of the considerable time and energy her father spent practicing it. It is at once an apology for what she clearly considers to be the slightly barbaric practices of Islam (by an obviously Western standard—see paragraphs 9, 11 and 12) as well as a tearfully self-indulgent trip down memory lane ... It is, of course, also a statement of her radical—that is to say, dogmatic—West-inspired empowerment. (The sort of solipsism that (conveniently, for her career as a journalist) precludes the need to communicate with an audience, rather than just with herself.)

There is such a thing as defending religion for the wrong reasons, and this is unquestionably a prime example. With faithful such as Ms. Malik, Islam need no infidel. For, Ms. Malik’s statement of belief presupposes precisely that element of deference to current secular mores that all religions have most to fear: the reduction of faith to psychology; the reduction of faith to worship of self.

The image I have in my mind’s eye, of Ms. Malik weeping away as she recites the words of the da’wah, that she admittedly does not even understand, is only too fitting ... Moved to tears by lip-service. Crocodile tears, I think that makes them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Irwin Coddler

Leave it to Irwin "Democratic Exercise" Cotler to aid our man David Miller in his ongoing mission to side-track the problem of gun violence in Toronto to such a point of obscurity that it no longer need be his responsibility ... I don’t think the Mayor could be any more chuffed with himself than he must be now; now that we've effectively buried the grim reality of actual and consistent murder under an avalanche of beside-the-point nitpicking and self-righteousness about gun laws and the so-called "culture of prevention."

With regard to his decision not to strengthen existing gun laws in aid of the crisis, Cotler says, "Toronto has really taken important steps, not only to have more police but to develop community relationships ... I think you will begin to see measurable success." Is that the success that saw a 23 year old, that was arrested for gun possession, out on bail in May, only to be arrested again last Sunday on 14 weapons and drug related charges, Mr. Cotler? Well, that's the problem of the courts, he says, not of the law. Bail reform is what you're really on about and that’s not my problem ... Okay, then why the hell are we talking to you?!

Honestly! Why the high-profile sideshow? Bail reform, bail reform, bail reform! Get on it, media! Get on it, citizens! Get on it, Miller! Need it be said that people are dying while you dicker about with Irwin Cotler for no conceivable reason? Did we really need the Attorney General to point out to us that it is not justice but the administration of justice that is the real problem here?

Well, yes. We did, as a matter of fact. Because he served another, far more important purpose: to cheerlead this—if not hopelessly nebulous—than just hopelessly hopeless idea of a “culture of prevention.” Which, thus far, consists of “youth training initiatives” by “the federal and provincial governments, the business community and labour.” Right. Because we all know that the disenfranchisement and violent predisposition of today’s youth comes of their not being focused enough on making money—to spend on fast cars, good drugs, and illegal guns. The Goodwill and IBM will surely fill that gap.

Nevermind the fact that the generation concerned has had every ideal its parents found worthy of their dedication (at the expense of self-interest) cast-aside as value-relative humbuggery; nevermind the systematic emasculation and vilification of the city’s police force; nevermind the fact that the Mayor himself is so deprived of a sense of even middling leadership that he can find absolutely no reason whatsoever to set foot in any of the affected communities … Let’s just give these otherwise harmless young people some good, solid, minimum-wage work to teach them what it is to be responsible. What it is to be worthy of respect.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Out of the Mouths of Babes and Suckers

Not even poor old Anne McLellan can get behind David Miller's absurd southward deflection of blame for the gun problem in Toronto. She says (and almost completely coherently!), "Sometimes people easily blame the United States for a [sic] smuggling of guns. That too is a simplistic response." Ouch! Beware, Miller! She'll split her infinitives with a relish unmatched by many in the public forum (…and that’s saying something)! She'll insert indefinite articles where they have absolutely no business being! But you, sir, remain to be the simplisticker!

Paul Martin (though, I think, by accident) delivers the proverbial coup de grâce on the matter. He says, "The government is doing everything within its power to both halt smuggling and deal with the issue." Notice how 'smuggling' and 'the issue' are mutually exclusive categories.

Of course, naive-hope springs eternal that people will stop talking about the gun problem and start talking about the violence problem. For the love of God—before Warren Kinsella starts blubbering again!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Judith Thompson's American Psyche

So a Canadian play about Private Lynndie England is all the rage at the Edinburgh Fringe, is it? How very surprising. (That it was written by a Canadian and that it happens to be all the rage, I mean.) It's got me all revved-up for next year's festival, for which I shall undertake to write a 43 minute, one-woman speculation—in the character of a suitably sack-clothed and manacled Condoleezza Rice—on the auto-erotic proclivities of George W. Bush ... Failing, that is, my submission of a piece called "Friendly Fired" subtitled "How a Bunch of Eskimos Ruined My Sex Life"—a 48 minuter, examining the phenomenon of male-inadequacy in the characters of John Wayne and Major Harry Schmidt (both played nude, but with very small cowboy hats where the fig leaves should be).

Canadians, of course, are much better qualified to comment on the content of the American psyche because—in spite of their not actually being American, or (as they themselves would say) of being anything like Americans—they have not been indoctrinated into the befouled and degraded American ambition ... Or, anyway, they don't carry American passports—the only thing that distinguishes them from Americans anywhere else in the world.

Monday, August 22, 2005

From: Conversations with Snook (The Younger)


This is a Tiburon, genius! The steering wheel is worth more than that piece of shit you’re driving! What’s the matter with you?! Those coke-bottle lenses you’ve got strapped to your head with a belt aren’t thick enough?! Jesus H.! … Man! Look at this! … Buddy, if you so much as put a smudge on this car I’m gonna run you over with it!

Well, what are you doing standing there like an idiot?! Move it, four eyes, before I bowel-move all over your pointy little head!

What’s that? What’s that?! Don’t you tell me to fuckin’ relax! Yeah, you fuckin’ did, I heard you! And unless you want the imprint of this ring in your forehead, I suggest you just keep your yapper shut and move this banana-coloured heap! Now!

Eh? Queen’s Engineering. You get it when you graduate. So you’re not dealing with some goddam meat-headed ‘roid-rager, alright. What do you mean the Super Bowl? You think if I was in the Super Bowl I’d be standing around here talking to you? Oh, you’re being funny! Listen, smartass, all I gotta do is clock you the once and you’ll be reading goddam Queen’s Engineering every time you look in the mirror for the next two months, so clam up and take off! And you better pray you didn’t scrape my paint!

What? Yeah, Einstein: it’s a real ruby. I mean, it only cost the ten Gs so I was like: what the hell! Man! You’re even dumber than you look! Who could afford a goddam ruby this big?! You think if I could afford rocks this size I’d be buying goddam graduation rings from Jostens?! Well, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be from some welfare outfit like fuckin’ Jostens!

What’s it to you if I am? Well, let’s put it this way: do you think I could afford this car at my age if I wasn’t an engineer now? ... Yeah, that’s funny, Eugene. No, no, no: that’s real fuckin’ funny. And, listen—no seriously!—you’re right: I work for the Chatanooga Line, actually. Y’ever hear of that? Yeah, they call it the Chatanooga Choo-Choo-CHEW YOUR FUCKIN’ HEAD OFF AND SHIT DOWN YOUR PENCIL NECK IF YOU DON’T MOVE THIS FUCKIN’ LEMON OFF MY GODDAM SPORTS CAR! Yeah, well, if you don’t want me to yell then do as you’re told! That’s right: get out those keys! Make sure the plastic doesn’t snap off in the keyhole!

I meant that the key was made out of plastic—just never mind and move! I still gotta do my goddam laundry for fuck’s sakes.

Yeah, that’s what I said. Oh, it isn’t, is it? And what does Alfalfa here, who’s driving the piss-coloured equivalent to Herbie the Lovebug, know about sports cars? Herbie was a sportscar?! He drove like one?! You drove Herbie?! Well then how do you know how he fuckin’ drove? Oh for fuck’s sakes! What’re you, thirty? And you’re still acting like Herbie was real? Do you believe in the goddam Easter bunny too?

And yes, Hershey Squirt, it is a sports car ... So what if Hyundai made the Pony? No, really: was it?! What does it look like to you, I’ve been living under a rock? And what does it matter anyway if, like, the first car they ever made was a dud? A lot of reputable companies had modest beginnings. Think of Porsche. Exactly. You gotta start somewhere. Volvo was the same way. Well, yeah, I know they don’t make a sports car, but it’s all quality … Yeah, okay, buddy. You can ride your little Pony all you want, but Hyundai’s come a long way since then. Besides, next to this piece of shit, a Pony’d look pretty good.

No, your car, obviously.

It’s not your car? Well then who the hell are you?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Spinning in the Fast Lane

Edward Greenspon's Letter from the Editor this weekend—defending the Globe's recent coverage of the Michaëlle Jean thing—bugs me. Mostly for this tidy little bit of fatuity: "The only question to ask ourselves about the allegations swirling around Mr. Lafond and Ms. Jean was whether they were of relevance, significance and interest to our readers."

Now, I'm willing to brave accusations that I’m being naive, that I'm taking Mr. Greenspon a little too literally, and that I’m arguing far beside the point; but I do so that I might, in my own turn, be allowed to ask with a certain amount of incredulity (feeling certain of the degree of smarminess that gave rise to his prize platitude): what do a paper's readers have to do with the "relevance” and “significance" of a given story? Now, don't laugh! You can’t deny that the man's not even trying to disguise the fact that he's putting the cart well before the horse here! Honestly. If ever there was an admission that the editorial priorities of the Globe and Mail actually begin with a covetous concern for the number of copies they are able to flog—rather, say, than with their ability to report the news competently (which, good sense insists, should be enough to ensure a considerable (and admirable) readership)—this is it!

If a story is relevant and significant it will be of interest to its readers. The first condition insists on the latter outcome. It's why people read newspapers. It's why newspapers exist. If it happens that readers don’t find significant and relevant stories significant and relevant, then there is something wrong with the readers. (Which is, for the most part, and indeed always has been, the case.) But to suggest that, first and foremost, this vacuous notion that what the average reader wants to read dictates the contents of the Globe’s hand-blackening pages, is at once impossible—the reader, after all, reads the news so that he knows what it is, not to confirm that the given paper got its facts (or its spin) straight—as well as a rather naked and shameless piece of flattery, inserted to make the gullible reader feel as though he’s important beyond his role as a consumer. (Which, of course, he isn’t.) It is also a highly unethical suggestion, as very often the average reader is not at all concerned with many of the things that he should be. (Of course, if it's an amalgam of all readers that Mr Greenspon's talking about, which he is, then they need not be mentioned at all, as they are, then, an abstraction. A given ... Precisely the sorts of things the Globe hates, and thus it schemes to have its cake and eat it too.)

It’s so unsettling when even the news media can’t be bothered to disguise the fact that all they’re trying to do is sell something. (Greenspon goes so far as to use a kind of cuisinese to entice the reader to gobble up the journalistic entrée served by Tu Thanh Ha, Doug Saunders and Ingrid Peritz on the new GG, describing it as “sprinkled with new insights” … For real. As though anything sprinkled with insight could ever, in a million years, be insightful.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m under no illusions as to what Greenspon is doing here, i.e. trying to make amends for what was, unquestionably, competent and ethical journalistic practice. But, of course, that’s the problem. Where’s the journalistic integrity in an apology for competent and ethical journalistic practice? ... He’s got his nose wedged so far up the new GG’s bum I wonder that he can’t tell us what sort of sprinkles she had on her ice cream at lunch!

If the medium is the message, then between the Globe and Mail and its apparently editorial readership (which, incidentally, nearly doubles that of the only other national newspaper), the message—contrary to the popular cant endlessly spouted off about "moving forward"—is simply spinning in place.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wrong Choice or Right Chance: Whichever's Buying Breakfast

Yesterday the Post printed Christopher Hitchens' most recent Slate column, in which he takes a stab at the sad and hopelessly backward thinking that compels Cindy Sheehan to do all the strange things she's been doing in her son's name.

The article begins by shooting down Maureen Dowd for her thoughts on the matter. In particular, this utterly absurd slab of rhetoric: "The moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute." Honestly: how do you figure, Maureen? I mean, let us, for just a half second, extract the lugubrious weight of emotion you've invested in this statement, and just look at it on its own merits ... Nope. Sorry. Not so. I mean: moral authority? Absolute moral authority?! Absolutely not, I’m afraid. As a rule—unless they are quite exceptional individuals (and Ms. Sheehan, with all due respect, rather clearly isn’t one)—parents who are forced to bury their own children tend to be the last people capable of any kind of moral authority on the matter. Let alone the absolute kind. (If, even, such a thing can be said to exist … And, I can’t help feeling, that in a different story Ms. Dowd would never grant any one person, under any circumstances, this kind of clout. Consider, say: the sort of person who lost their son or daughter in Iraq but continues to support the war and their son's/daughter's decision to participate in it.) The reason why persons like Ms. Sheehan can have no such power is fairly simple: those under extreme emotional strain tend to do rash, unreasonable and, very often, immoral things as a consequence. Understandably, yes. Justifiably? Absolutely justifiably?! No, no, no! And Cindy Sheehan is the proof.

But there are two points, to my mind, that Hitchens doesn’t give enough attention in his column. First: this conflation of the word ‘moral’ with what Ms. Dowd is really getting at: emotional. It bothers me no end—and, indeed, should bother all thinking persons—that morality, in the so-called post-religious society, has taken on this kind of vague, soft and cuddly and, in effect, meaningless character. Morality, to the average person, is politeness, or a kind of remote consideration of one's neighbour. It is (to use a very ugly, trendy, and indeed, highly suspect word) empathy. But this fact that the profound and transcendental meaning attributed to the word by philosophers and theologians for millennia past doesn't so much as twitch the needle of recognition in the contemporary mind is not an indicator of a radical change in its content or quality. Rather, it signifies only that, either: (a) we have forgotten what the word means, or (b) we are incapable of understanding what it means (that is: we are stupid), or (c) we have chosen to be immoral. The fact, in any case, remains: morality has nearly nothing to do with one's conscience, one's gut, or one’s feelings. It certainly has nothing to do with the (albeit, again, understandable) visceral and unchecked emotion of a woman who has seen her son's life cut short long before its time. Moral behaviour requires a very real discipline, humility, and a rigorous control of the emotions. It also requires intelligence. Dowd, to use Davies' phrase again, corrupts not only language but thought by reducing morality to this half-baked expression of raw hurt, and does much to make an already complicated situation something near intractable. It is, alas, precisely the absence of real moral consideration in all this that makes Cindy Sheehan’s position so hopelessly untenable.

Which brings me to the second point. In his last paragraph, Mr. Hitchens only just touches on what is—to me, anyway—the crucial problem in re. Cindy Sheehan’s little Crawford Ranch camp-out. He suggests the shadow of some risk in her, as he puts it, “ventriloquiz[ing] the dead,” but doesn’t go so far as to say what the risk actually is. To me anyway, it is quite clear, and is nothing short of a challenge to the basic condition of a free society: the necessity of individual free will, be it in service of a wrong choice or a right one.

The facts, as I understand them, are these: Casey Sheehan was not compelled against his will to join the US Army. Quite the contrary—given the rather obvious absence of compulsory national service—he chose to join up, and chose, in so doing, to give his life (if necessary) in the service of his country. And he did.

His mother then says: "He was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the army to protect America, not Israel. Am I stupid? No, I know full well that my son, my family, this nation and this world were betrayed by George Bush who was influenced by the neo-con PNAC agendas after 9/11. We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy … not for the real reason, because the Arab Muslims who attacked us hate our middle-eastern foreign policy."

To be sure: Ms. Sheehan is saying nothing new here. (In spite of her assumed I-learned-all-this-after-the-fact tone.) Hell, these arguments existed before the dust of the Twin Towers even had time to settle on the corpses. And they were in full force and on the lips of a large portion of the American population when the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq. And so Casey Sheehan went to Iraq, and died in Iraq, knowing full-well the arguments why he shouldn’t.

The very real problem, then, of Cindy Sheehan’s ventriloquizing the dead is that it would appear, rather incontrovertibly, that her son actively rejected the conjecture (which, in spite of her so-called moral authority, is all it reasonably can be said to be) that his government was lying to him. Which, of course, means that Cindy Sheehan might now be betraying her son in much the same way that she accuses the American government of doing …

She asks “Am I stupid?” to which, along with her own rather obtuse answering of the question, we are also expected to reply resoundingly: no! But, given that her son apparently didn’t share her convictions, one wonders what her answer could possibly be if she was asked if he was stupid.

There’s so much irony at work here I’m at a loss as to how to give it any sort of useful synthesis. For it seems to me that Ms. Sheehan’s greatest problem (that is, her greatest regret) is that her son was given the right, and took advantage of it, to choose. For his choice—if we are to employ the prevailing cynical and short-sighted rule of cause and effect—resulted in his death. Never mind the quite acceptable view that it is possible that young Mr. Sheehan died for something noble and good, and that many to whom we owe our current state of freedom had to make the same sacrifice; his choice has come between a loving mother and her son. And so it must be to blame. Choice itself, I mean. It must be wrong. (Alas, would that young Casey was provided with one of Liberal Fundamentalism’s great immunity idols; would that he had something like ‘a woman’s right to choose.’)

Casey Sheehan chose, and the end result did not satisfy the contemporary understanding of what constitutes a moral choice, i.e. the least amount of discomfort for the largest number of (relevant) people. So his mother—in defiance of that choice—has apparently chosen anew.

Liberal Democracy’s new ambition? Actions without consequences. Choosing, that is, without the agony of choice.

Monday, August 15, 2005

We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men.

And women.

I was at the most fascinating sort of wedding the weekend before last. It was a civil service, but filled with all sorts of inexplicable sacramental cameos: the couple exchanged their vows under a trinity of fluted, glazed white windows; they both symbolically sipped from something the Justice called the "Cup of Love,” containing, I think we can be certain, red wine; their hands were ceremoniously wrapped in his lay stole before their official presentation as man and wife to the (tattooed, it seemed—all of them) congregation. The semi-spell only broke when they signed the registry to strains of Broken Social Scene’s “Lover’s Spit” trebling through the hall; and as they processed out: Coldplay’s most recent single.

Very strange stuff.

But not the strangest. Time came for the evening’s speeches and the best man—nervous and fine as a best man should be—made his way to the stand and proceeded to list all the groom’s great virtues. (Such was his fealty that he could say nothing to the negative; no stories of drunken misdeeds shared, of embarrassing moments past; no roast.) He said that the groom was a mentor to him. He said that he was adaptive. He said he was driven and focussed. He said that he was established ...

Somebody’s playing a joke on the poor ass, I thought. They’ve switched his speech with the groom’s CV.

The banter droned on. Indeed, repeated itself a couple of times: mentor, adaptive, driven ... No light bulb lit over the fellow’s painfully sincere head. This was his speech.

It ended, finally. Mother of the bride then stood, said many of the usual things. The word cherish seemed to be her safe ground and she never strayed too far from it. Love, I think, came up once or twice. But then, strangely, she told us that the bride and groom had “the courage and the skills” it took to do … something. I forget what. To make it, one assumes, or do it right, or take the world by storm even. Didn’t seem too important, at the time—I just couldn’t get past all this obtuse skill’s set listing.

At what point--and how, and why--did management speak become the new formal? The new serious and meaningful?

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Friday, August 12, 2005

It's Not Easy Being Preen

To be absolutely clear about what it is that makes David Miller’s bird-brained treatment of the current gun violence crisis in Toronto quite so contemptible:

The man spares no pains or shamelessness in letting the world (that is: anyone who cares (that is, to be realistic: only other Torontonians)) know how remarkable Toronto is. Not, moreover, just for its being diverse, nor only for its being tolerant of diversity—but for its being something called “a culture of cultures.” (An extravagant lie, to be sure, but, potentially, a noble one. It has that admirable (and rather Western, come to think of it) ring of a great and sweeping induction about it: if a unifying principle doesn’t actually exist, the claim that it does will force it into existence through demand!)

But rather than take the opportunity presented by this particular problem to leap in and provide the leadership (i.e. that very unifying principle) that the culture of cultures must have if it is to be this and not merely cultures; rather than take this opportunity to demonstrate that the concerns of any one of Toronto’s components are the concerns and the responsibility of Toronto as a whole, and Toronto alone; rather than do the one thing that only a real community could do, David Miller has (ironically enough) done with this problem what he has done with the city's very identity: shifted it to the periphery. A different periphery, to be sure, but still the periphery.

And thus the great fallacy of the multicultural enterprise in this city, and by extension, in this country. In the absence of any one identity, we smarty-pantsily suggest that it is precisely the absence that is itself the presence. We are no one culture; we are all of them. In the absence of simple and painless answers to even relatively straightforward problems, we ever-so conveniently claim that it is precisely this absence that is the simple and painless answer: it’s not gun-toting citizens of this city that are to blame, it’s the guns themselves and the United States.

Leave it to the ever-maligned Americans to be the ones to tell us what the real problem is.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

I had the following exchange with the diminutive Mr. Parry today. In re. the cat.

“Look here,” he said, “Get rid of that damned cat! It’s terrifying!”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Look what it’s done to my shirt!”

“Well, we’ll just make you another one. There’s no shortage of Werther’s Original candy wrappers around here, as you’ll notice. Just let me find the scissors and the scotch tape.”

“That’s not the point. It was trying to eat me.”

“Well why don’t you just scurry under the fridge or stove the way the other mice do? It’s what I’d do if I was a mouse."

“I am not a mouse! For the millionth time. I’m a man who’s been shrunken to the size of a mouse!”

“But I think it’s the size that makes you one. If mice weren’t so small they’d be rats or cats or badgers. Or bears. And consider this syllogism: All mice are small; John Parry is small; John Parry, therefore, is a mouse. Pretty damning stuff, you must admit. No: you’re definitely a mouse!”

“Very amusing,” he said stonily. “Damning also to the contents of your underpants. And what you keep between your ears.”

“Touché.” I said, and frowned. “Surely, though, it’s more of a badger. The former thing you mention, I mean ... A small one, no doubt. The runt of the litter. But a badger nonetheless.”

He said nothing.


“Listen,” he said, and I got the distinct impression he meant it. “Either you get rid of the cat, or it eats me, you bastard! Is that what you want?”

I pondered.

“I was the best man at your wedding, for God’s sake!”

“There is that.”

“We were at school together!”

“Hmm,” I said. “Yeeees ...”

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Prig on Prig Violence

Any amount of dung-flinging that’s to be done in the direction of Toronto Mayor David Miller is fine by me. The runnier the better, say I, and you’re welcome to borrow my wagon.

Except, that is, if you’re Warren Kinsella [August 5th].

Prig on prig violence, I call it, and its contemplation carries an almost narcotic risk. Entertaining, yes. But wholly intractable. The spectacle, that is, of one idiot calling another idiot an idiot. It’s doubly frustrating because it would appear that Mr. Kinsella is, against all odds, somehow the worse specimen of the two. Given that Old Man Miller seemed the very archetype of idiocy with his plan to charge guns themselves with crimes rather than criminals, this seemed damned near impossible, and Mr. Kinsella should be spanked roundly for his distracting so much from the issue.

I mean, the guy actually quotes himself in his own blog! And not from stuff he’s written or anything either, but from apparently informal conversation. With quotation marks and everything. And you get the impression it was really difficult for him not to preface the recalled insight with “I believe it was me that said, and I quote...”

And the treacle-y sweet‘n’thick sentiment here! The sort of thing you assumed even the rudest intelligence couldn’t help but gag on. He begins “If you live in Toronto, as we do, you found the morning papers were filled with a lot of the same headlines - headlines about children being shot. Little children. Five-year-olds being shot, hit by bullets in gang gunfights, sometimes in broad daylight.” And in the following paragraph, simply: “It is insane.” It’s like he’s had a stroke—with all these punchy little non-sentences. Who actually buys this sort of contrivance? Other than thirteen year-olds, I mean. (Or David Miller, obviously.) Who doesn’t see in their mind’s eye—even if he didn’t actually do so—the cynical, self-satisfied smirk on the man’s face as he wrote the words? Or hear the murmured conceit that this will get the punters; hook, line and sinker?

The posting goes on and on in this way—absolutely relentlessly—and ends with one of the most hysterically impassioned uses of the word “fuck” I’ve ever cringed at. (You get the impression he makes a point of using his swear words sparingly so that they’ll have that much more impact when he does—and, of course, to remind everyone that he’s still Rock and Roll through and through.) What Mr. Kinsella doesn’t seem to be getting is the great and practical—and utterly self-evident—truth that sentiment is a failure of feeling. A failure, Warren.

In spite of himself he puts the newthink into David Miller’s newspeak.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

It's Pronounced "Michelle" Right? And She Was a Model?

Oh, a television presenter. For CityTV? Sorry, the CBC.

As ever, the Liberal government—in its hideously vain attempts at being a kind of collective of Abraham Lincolns for the 21st century—sets a brave new standard for cynicism and, indeed, racism in the great white north.

Some time ago, I remember Andrew Coyne using the phrase “shrugging complicity” to describe the average Canadian attitude with regard to the doubtful behaviour of its government, and it was, I am once again reminded, a truly inspired bit of observation. For how else could a country’s public—that is endlessly going on about itself in terms of its being the very apotheosis of human rights and freedoms—be so utterly unmoved to righteous indignation by Paul Martin’s stated reasons for the appointment of the new Governor General? “Hers is a story,” the man driveled, “that reminds us what is best about ourselves and about Canada—a nation where equality of opportunity is our most defining characteristic, giving testament to our longest-held values.” Which is to say (and, really, it requires no gloss from me): Michaëlle Jean’s story tells us how great we are. She reminds us how magnanimous we are to people like her.

And let’s be clear on exactly what her “story” is (…or, to be accurate, was). Her professional achievements are, of course, nothing that can be sneered at. But, really, they couldn’t possibly be as impressive as those of the persons actually suited to the position of Governor General. And so one realizes that her “story”—what qualified her for the job above and beyond everybody else—consists entirely in the fact that she was born in Haiti. That is: she spent the first eleven years of her life under the tyrannical rule of Papa Doc Duvalier. Then—we add as a footnote—she moved to Canada to receive the overwrought education we all seem to be getting these days, to go on to great achievements by Canada’s current standard of greatness: a career in television.

The PM couldn’t have been more mercenary if he had said that she got the job because she was a black woman and not a white man. Honestly, he may as well have said just that! (Hark! Strains of “To Be A Victim.”)

To be fair, though, it was this sort of latent racism that saw Adrienne Clarkson into the job. And she didn’t do too badly. Indeed, whatever the effect might have been of her little circumpolar escapade, the woman gave more dignity and vitality to the position than it’s had since General Vanier. Hope springs eternal for the mysterious Mme. Jean—who can only do the office justice by rising well-above the mentality that, in defiance of reason, good taste, and any other of mankind’s few redeeming virtues, bought it for her.

(And was it fancy, or did I really hear the sound of John Buchan turning in his grave when Paul Martin invoked the great Liberal quasi-truth: Canada’s “longest-held values”? The few that remain, sir, yes. Many of the dropped, though, were of greater value still.)

From: Conversations with Snook (The Younger)


What do I look like to you? Anne of Green Gables?! Throw the goddam thing! That’s more like it ... HUNDRED UP!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Doctor of what, exactly, Dr. Elmasry?

The Canadian Islamic Congress--in a letter to Minister of Defense Bill Graham--has compiled the most unsettlingly disparate collection of challenges to the Canadian presence in Afghanistan you could ever hope to see on the same page. And not a single one of them addresses their unique concerns as Muslims!

Honestly, the thing's just plain nuts-o! I mean, is it just me, or is there something weird about the CIC's apparently official position on this incorporating a fairly left condemnation of Canadian and American foreign policy as imperialist, with a patently conservative attack on the inadequacy to the task of an underfunded Canadian military? I'll give them points 1 through 3--which, moreover, I'm sure old Bill will have a ready answer for--but everything thereafter (spelling mistakes and poor idiom aside) is nothing short of brainless. The temptation is to call it opportunistic, but the total lack of cohesion between the points suggests more just a disorganized and half-baked goofiness. Indeed, points 4, 5 and 7 are so hopelessly histrionic one wonders if this maybe was a contribution of the CIC's Teen Council--that is, if it has such a thing.

If the Congress already has a motto it should be changed forthwith to "CIC Forever: By Whatever Arguments Exist ... Yes, Even That One!"

Monday, August 01, 2005

Gwynne Dyer's Fundamentalism Nouveau

Gwynne Dyer is at it again. The Gwynne Dyer, that is, responsible for such marvels of absurdity as the notion that, at one point in time, there existed a bunch of honest, workaday (and, apparently, peaceful) terrorists that only became, as he put it, “radicalized” as a consequence of various “grievances” they had against the West.

I refuse to be fooled by the ostensible appearance of a reasonable (qua Reason) argument here; or, as he puts it, (and meters his column regularly with its refrain) a “discussion of cause and effect.” I won’t dispute the suggestion that the terrorists responsible for 9/11, Madrid, Bali, 7/7, etc. carried out these actions explicitly as a response to Western military and political intervention in Middle-Eastern (that is, Muslim) countries. But where his argument uses this rather basic, if incomplete and largely indifferent analysis as proof positive (and proof, as it were, exclusive) that the attacks are only significant insofar as they reflect the West’s responsibility for terrorist activities, one can’t help but bark a little.

Bear with me while, for a second, I imagine myself getting brutally shot trying, say, to stop a thief from stealing a car. And, as I lie there, bleeding out my last, having Gwynne Dyer casually stroll up and tell me that I have only myself to blame for ever having interfered in the first place; that my actions—those, arguably, of a good and conscientious citizen—were the direct cause of the thief’s effect: the introduction of a hollow-tipped bullet into my solar plexus. Which analysis, of course, is quite literally true. But in a society that (I am constantly being told, anyway) is able to distinguish between the inevitable complexity of apparent causes that result in a given effect, the suggestion that my actions, as such, were The Cause of my being shot, would rank pretty low down amongst the wine and spirits. Compared, that is, with that redemptive vintage that, all at once, recognizes the essentially correct motivations behind such actions as (albeit, abstractly so) a form of defensive reaction; and the rather obvious fact that, in the first place, I did not try to steal a car, nor did I pull the trigger of a gun.

(I can’t help thinking too that, were Toronto Mayor David Miller present, he would in his own turn reassure me that the offending gun, and of course the United States, would, with all due expediency, be tried for their central role in this crime.)

The basic problem with the line of reasoning Mr. Dyer takes in his column is his inexplicable misunderstanding of the word “obscenity” as it was used by the English PM in a speech he gave last Tuesday. The “obscenity” that Mr. Blair was getting at was not, as Mr. Dyer suggests, a denial of the causal relationship between British foreign policy and terrorism. To be sure, Mr. Blair said, “let us expose the obscenity of these people saying it is concern for Iraq that drives them to terrorism.” To say, as Mr. Dyer does, that this is “nonsense” is (not so much to misunderstand as) to misrepresent the intrinsically judgmental sense of the word, given that it was used quite concertedly in lieu of others (like error, fallacy, or lie). Mr. Blair was (really quite obviously too) making a moral judgment condemning the particular spirit of violence of the terrorists. That is: how utterly incommensurable it is with its stated reasoning. (Which, incidentally, is sound—if a trifle subtle (God forbid!)—reasoning. After all, we do reason towards judgment.)

To take my analogy a step further—to make it, that is, a little more applicable to the subject at hand—let us say, in the hypothetical case of my trying to stop a gun-wielding thief from stealing a car, that: rather than shooting me, he shoots an innocent third party who happens to be nearby. The rule, I’m sure Mr. Dyer would acknowledge, of cause and effect works here too. But the act is a manner of perversion of the rule. And so it is, then, obscene. There can be no question of this. Indeed, let us be clear on the point, it is obscene enough as to be quite evil (—and, of course, deeply unsettling to anyone who takes it for granted that he won’t be shot for something he hasn’t done.)

And herein, I begin to see, lies the problem. Mr. Dyer still hasn’t reconciled in his own mind the perversity of the initial crime! In the case of my imagined heroism: I deserved to be shot, not the mother of three who happened to be walking by, not the tow-headed teenager innocently hacking a forbidden butt, not the nun. And he just can't get over this! And so, ironically, he holds me a grudge for the very existence of a perversion of facts, and not for my inability to face them at all. That is to say, he holds me a grudge not for my perverting them—which, of course, I didn’t (I am very virtuous hypothetically, in case you hadn’t noticed)—but for their inherent perversion. For, in effect, their being facts! How could these, his friends (facts), so invested with natural justice, go trampling all over his beloved rule of cause and effect (also their friend; and close relative, moreover)?! It must be a mistake!

Likewise, the fact that 50 odd innocent commuters died for decisions made by men who don’t even likely use public transportation! (Which victims, moreover, probably didn’t even vote for such men!) It’s not fair! They died for your crimes, you bastards!

With all due respect to Mr. Dyer: the terrorists and the gob-smackingly high number of terrorist sympathizers (not justifiers, Mr. Dyer—I get your little distinction, and I’ll see it) that exist the world over, are not as dumb as you don't bother giving them credit for. And they know only too well that Liberal fundamentalism will be as quick to point its crippling finger at Messrs. Blair and Bush as Muslim fundamentalism is. Indeed, they count on it. Not, that is, because of the Liberal fundamentalist’s ability to face facts (which, apparently, he doesn't even do that well), but because of his inability to render judgment in anything but a black and white situation; that, alas, exists only in the fantasy world he's devised for himself on the opinion pages of the Star, and in the minds of the gullible.