Thursday, July 28, 2005

Liberté Toujours: Sins of Choice and Sins of Chance

It takes a certain type of person to hate smoking with the kind of intense passion that some people hate it with. What kind of person, you ask? I’ll tell you. A hypocrite. And not just any old hypocrite either, but a very serious sort of hypocrite. That is, to be clear: not a serious-minded hypocrite, but a serious hypocrite. A purveyor of only the highest-grade, uncut hypocrisy available. A zealot and, I might go so far as to say, a demon.

I’ll give you two examples.

Recently I was out with my wife and a baker’s dozen of strangers to celebrate the birthday of a friend we all had in common. We sat on the patio of a Portuguese restaurant on College Street making exceptionally awkward conversation and nursing drinks that were only being refreshed, it seemed, every two or three days. We sat, I would like to emphasize, on a patio. Which is to say, we were outside … Eventually, as I felt my nerves beginning to unravel a bit, I got out my packet of cigarettes and, very courteously I thought, asked if it would offend anyone too much if I smoked. My precise words, as a matter of fact.

Foolishly, no doubt, even I took my question to be rhetorical and popped a butt in my mouth and began fiddling with the lighter. But before I was able to actually light the thing issue was taken and, not being much for hypocrisy myself, I stopped myself mid-light. The protester—a woman of South African extraction, heavily made-up and rather clearly unhappy that she was pushing (at a rough guess) 35—told me, lips instantaneously aquiver with righteous indignation, that, yes, it really would offend her if I smoked, and that yes she was being serious.

I think I might have laughed; might even have said something like “Really?” But I wasn’t about to have it out with a complete stranger at a friend’s birthday dinner. Nor, indeed, could I have, given that I (so foolishly) asked in the first place. I sheepishly replaced the cigarette in its packet.

But I had, apparently, caused some fairly serious offence by the mere suggestion of smoking, and so she continued. Apologizing repeatedly—but in that oblique way people predisposed to self-righteousness have of apologizing (by making it abundantly clear that the only person who really should be apologizing is the person, oh perversity itself!, on the receiving end of the apology)—she reminded me that I had asked and, if I actually cared, that was her answer. She put an end to the matter (magnanimously, I can’t help thinking she thought) by telling me that I could smoke, just not anywhere near her or the table. Which, of course, I was grateful for as I didn’t think I could handle giving up smoking altogether on such short notice.

Did I mention that we were sitting on a patio? I did. Okay. Just making sure.

There’s a punch line to this story, but I’ll save it for a bit. First I’ll give you the second example.

A couple of years ago, (again) my wife and I were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of dear friends along with (again again) a handful of complete strangers. Come the end of the meal, in spite of the fact that theirs was normally a non-smoking house, our hosts produced ashtrays for those of us who do, that we could enjoy our post-prandial coffees in company and not suffer (what I fancy they considered) the vulgarity of sending the bunch of us outdoors to smoke as though we were children doing something our mothers had told us we shouldn’t.

No sooner had the few of us lit our cigarettes than one of the gathering, a psychiatrist and (if it doesn’t strike you as redundant) a profoundly silly man—who had got himself nicely pissed on a rapid succession of cocktails at the beginning of the evening, and who had been holding forth on every possible subject for the duration of the meal (which he took with wine)—began to lecture us on the dangers of smoking. Or, indeed, that isn’t quite true, as the emphasis was on the dangers of smoking to him, sitting there at that precise moment. He glibly suggested that he could sue our hosts, if he so chose, for recklessly endangering his health. (This as he was filling his face with the food they’d paid for and spent hours preparing; as he was sucking away their limited supplies of vermouth like it was Gatorade.) He actually pointed his finger at my wife and told her, without a trace of irony or glimmer of the good-humour that comes from a certain amount of realistic remove, that if she ever decided to have children she’d rank lower than the lowest possible bottom-feeding bacteria if she so much as considered smoking while pregnant ... The tension was eventually broken by our host, who made it as clear as tact would allow, that our psychiatrist friend obviously needed rather badly to relax, and wondered if maybe he should smoke a cigarette.

(It should be noted, though, that the ashtrays came out at no other time during the evening, before or after. Their appearance, then, was not so much an incitement to indulge bad habits, as it was (one of those rare and noble and wonderful things) a gesture.)

There’s a punch line to this story too, but I wonder if you’ll allow me to digress for a moment. Yes? You’re too kind.

Whenever I find myself in circumstances such as these, an amusing little voice creeps into my train of thought and says the most fantastical things. A clipped, castrated kind of voice that anyone who makes a habit of reading the Toronto Star—or who has attended U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education—is familiar with. It tells me that there is a lesson to be learned here; a flower of value-relative wisdom that may be plucked and pressed and admired for all time. It tells me that, in the case of (a) it would have been more politically astute[1] of me, given the great weight of “studies” and “statistics”[2] available to the average person, to simply have avoided the possibility of such an unpleasant confrontation by taking my nasty habit somewhere where it risked offending the beliefs (even if they were as thin as smoke itself) of no one. That is, I hasten to add, irrespective of whether or not it happened to be my legal right in a tolerant society to do so in the one place left me by law. (Did I mention that we were outdoors at the time? Oh, yes. So I did.)

The voice then tells me that in the case of (b) I should have refused the exceptional consideration given me by my hosts—under the jurisdiction of their private residence—on the grounds that it might not only offend another guest, as it did, but that it might illicit in such a person a too telling display of crudeness, depriving him of his right to toe the progressive and popular line without fear of appearing intolerant himself. Or, indeed, of having to take any responsibility himself—as the only person present who objected to our smoking—by, say, leaving the room until we were done.

It tells me, in effect—and this is the really fantastical bit—that the concerns people such as these have about health actually do outweigh those of taste and, I daresay, civilization; given that these latter are essentially a matter of personal opinion, while health is a matter of science. Of fact. It tells me, furthermore—and here the voice seems to strain a bit, perhaps conscious of the frozen limit of even its own credulity—that while the law may to an extent provide for smoking now, the direction that it (the law) is moving in, is enough to make it my responsibility to behave as though smoking were already illegal.

It is, of course, an odd and perplexing and, ultimately, very suspicious fact that this voice speaks with the kind of self-assurance that no reason can penetrate. It speaks, that is, not so much with conviction, as it does with certainty. Absolute certainty. (In spite of the fact—and, hence, my misgivings—that the voice rarely, if ever, actually passes the scrutiny of reason.) It is, however, and like I say, only a little voice in my mind, and it only ever serves to entertain me. But that’s because, for better or worse, I’m unusually pig-headed. To others—to the, as it were, mean of society—it is the very Voice of Conscience that rings loud and proud in their ears, and from their mouths, inciting them to casually dismiss anything, as nonsense, anything that might suggest it is in error.

Such—as St. Gilbert says—is “the moral condition of American Culture in the decay of Puritanism”; where society associates with right and wrong the absence or presence of mere damages. (As in: something that can only be treated by litigation.) And thus: “of what the great theologians and moral philosophers have meant by a sin, these people have no more idea than a child drinking milk has of a great toxicologist analysing poisons.”

… But I mentioned punch lines, and I really should get to them.

In the case of the South African: I was under the impression for a large part of the evening that she was a woman of means. She was, you see, decorated all over her person (in the conventional areas—the others I could not say) with diamonds. Lots of ‘em. Which, in and of itself, is nothing that can be sneered at. And I didn’t, and don’t. But it did eventually come out that the means that provided for all this gratuity were (as a matter of interest, her husband’s and not her own—but I don’t sneer at that either) actually, relatively speaking, quite modest. So how, then, does such a person come into possession of a large collection of diamond jewellery? … She gets an “in” with someone in the diamond business, of course! In this case, her husband was a middle-rung executive at DeBeers (and thus, of course, the South African connection).

The DeBeers, that is, that controls two thirds of the world’s diamond interests. The DeBeers most recently featured in the news because of its apparent involvement in the displacement of Botswanan Bushmen to build a diamond mine. The DeBeers that has long-suffered now the intense scrutiny of the UN, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. The DeBeers that always seems to be re-offending for its involvement in the black market trade of diamonds, directly linked to any number of large-scale atrocities that have plagued the African continent, in their most extreme manifestations, over the course of the last nearly fifteen years ...

And there they were: so-called “blood diamonds.” Glittering (even, did I imagine it, tittering?) back at me as I sat there semi-conscious from lack of nicotine.

Now, I didn’t perform the experiment, so this might ring a little hollow, but: do you think if I had asked her to, that she would’ve removed those baubles from sight because of the offence they gave me? That because I’d read too many stories of hands being hacked off for them, that I couldn’t bring myself to sit at table with such grim and obvious reminders. Indeed, the very evidence itself! Do you think that I would have got from her anything other than an onslaught of even more and righteouser indignation if I had? Alas, no. And while she wasn’t drinking Chesterton’s glass of milk, you got the distinct impression that it was only the absence from our table of a set of severed hands that justified, absolutely, her position. (And to give her a little credit for being, at least, consistent: it was, I guess, in this way that she could countenance my continuing to smoke, but on the condition that it was out of her sight, and therefore out of her mind. That is, off her conscience.)

As for the psychiatrist … Well, come the end of the evening, he got in his black, rag-top BMW and drove home. After—in case you’ve forgotten—consuming enough booze to make an elephant unsteady upon its pins. Indeed, I have it on good authority that the man makes such a habit of drinking and driving that, when he was on another occasion pulled over by a RIDE program, his reflexive (though inarticulately slurred) command that he be allowed to speak with his lawyer ended-up being his one and only saving grace. (Apparently the arrest was for some reason being filmed, and while the police at the time were unable to understand the—as I say—heavily slurred request for a lawyer, it was deciphered later in playback. All charges (and they were serious) were consequently dropped.)

Chesterton suggests that the greatest moral deficiency in people such as these is that “they go by associations and not by abstractions.” And, indeed, this—what I think was relatively embryonic in his day—is now the ideological 6 lane highway being blazed (or paved, I guess) across the face of the West. For I can’t help thinking—indeed, I know for a fact—that smoking is a greater sin in the eyes of society than either driving under the influence, or financing warlords in third world countries. That is: so long as the drunk behind the wheel never actually kills anyone in so doing, and the diamond-clad lass never actually severs a set of hands using her own. For—the rationale asserts—we shall always know the appalling effect tobacco smoke has on the smoker and the (ahem) passive smoker, but we cannot be empirically certain that one jaunt in a car after a dozen or so drinks will result in a death, or serious hurt, or any hurt at all (if you exclude the next day’s hangover). And, of course, statistically the latter is far safer than the former. What good then is an abstract morality if it limits freedom based on principle rather than actuality; that is, what good is it if it is restrictive where no harm is necessarily being done?

But, you see, in this way chance—not choice—becomes the underlying condition of our freedom.

It would, of course, be ridiculous of me to suggest that smoking isn’t unhealthy—and I might even acknowledge the possibility that it is, as it were, passively aggressive to non-smokers (but I’m afraid only marginally so, and there are all sorts of goddamn statistics to back up this claim too). But it is the very height of error to suggest that smoking is any more or less harmful than a host of other behaviours[3] tolerated (in some cases, even, encouraged) by the societal norm. Indeed smoking, I can’t help thinking, is one of the few truly liberally democratic symbols left to us! One, after all, has the choice to smoke or not to; and one can choose to be in the company of smokers, or not to be. But what we emphasize as statistically lesser evils make no such provision. Whatever percentage it is of the 16, 654 alcohol related fatalities recorded in the USA in 2004 that were not themselves the offending parties (that is: were innocent bystanders), were given no choice whatsoever in the manner of their death. Likewise this is so of the thousands that have died or been brutally mutilated for the sake of the supply-controlled diamond industry.

And yet between the person known to drink and drive (but without accident), the person who wears jewellery bought at the cost of innocent lives (but who has taken none herself), and the smoker, it is the last that is singled out for society’s most severe censure. And I’ll tell you why.

When the progressively minded progeny of the late 60s' ideological revolution began to take control of the mechanisms of power, they—in keeping with the extreme significance they invested in statistical analysis—decided that certain types of sin were preferable to certain other types of sin. The cardinal virtue of their brave new secular faith being victimhood, precluded sins of choice because they would undermine virtually every person’s inalienable right to be a victim (a kind of post-hippy equivalent to Bunyan’s “To Be a Pilgrim”). This because sins of choice carry a weight of conscious responsibility on the part of the sinner. Thus, sins of chance—determined always by a posteriori fact finding, and prioritised accordingly—ceased to be the reproof of right-thinking men to improve their quality by evermore rigorous examination and application of abstract morality, and became, quite contrarily, the desired state of grace in a society reconciled (indeed, committed) to its own self-interest.

And thus my two friends, hypocrites to their very cores, will not only go to their graves under the incredibly banal impression that whatever their sins might have been, smokers’ were greater; but as much, I expect, will be their absolution in the minds of their (surviving) contemporaries.

Hilaire Belloc—good friend to G.K. Chesterton, a fellow writer (now, like GK, absurdly unpopular), smoker, and Catholic—wrote the following little epigram in dedication to people such as these. A fitting note upon which to end, I think. It is called “On a Puritan”:

He served his God so faithfully and well
that now he sees him face to face, in hell.

[1] Political Astuteness being the transcendental state of the secular religion, given us by the likes of the Toronto Star and OISE (and, of course, the current government).
[2] That is, “the rationalist’s substitute for demonology.”
[3] By which I mean both habits of the material variety as well as habits of mind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Crypto-Christians II

Today, Father Raymond de Souza defends, and very well I thought, the Roman Catholic adherence to the male-only rule for its priesthood. Reading him, I can't help thinking how utterly absurd the spectacle of yesterday's little naval ordination was. Indeed, the event bespeaks--what many of the faith's detractors would normally point out to be--two of Catholicism's greatest miscarriages: the presence in it of 1) a rational double-standard, and 2) a certain amount of superstition. For the ceremony, in one fell swoop, managed both to deny papal authority by contravening it, while still somehow confirming it by making a point of acting outside of its "jurisdiction"; but it also seemed to be running on the bizarre assumption that the Church possesses a kind of magical power that could materially prevent the ceremony from happening if it was performed within the geographical confines of a given diocese. Very strange stuff.

And leave it to the traditional Catholics to come off as the most level-headed. With regard to yesterday's ordinations, Monsignor Serge Poitras said, "people can do what they want. We don't have an army. We won't chase after them. All we can do is deplore such challenges to Church doctrine and set the record straight." Father Raymond in turn acknowledges, "Perhaps [the Church] is wrong; [but] Catholics believe she is not." (By which--before you leap out of your seat and scream "A-Ha!"--he means Catholics that accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Like it or lump it, you can no more call a person who denies Catholic doctrine a Catholic, than you can call Belinda Stronach a Conservative after she's accepted a ministerial position in a Liberal government. You can, of course, question doctrine, but you can't actually defy it ... A subtle distinction, I know.)

What I can't understand is why these people don't just become Anglicans ... "Catholics without the guilt" is how we're described, I gather. Although that seems a little less applicable these days. Anglicanism's more like "guilt without the Anglicanism" really. In the West, anyway.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around how people such as these are able to reconcile the personal "fulfillment" they've spared no cost in achieving (short of any sacrifice on their own part, that is) with the rather obvious and central meaning of something like, say, the Crucifixion. Reverend Denise Donato, a 47 year old mother of 3--not divorced, surprisingly enough--says of her apparently Roman Catholic ministry (which includes marriage prep for homosexual couples) that she's "never felt so fulfilled in [her] life." Which, I guess, then, is what it's all about. I mean, I'm sure if you'd asked JC--as he was sweating it (in his case, blood) out at Gethsemane--whether he ever felt so fulfilled in all his life, he would've shook his head so wildly you'd be covered in the stuff.

Still, I take issue with a couple of things here. Janice Kennedy reports that "in Catholic terms, [Donato] is a radical." Alas, no. She's a heretic. A pretty serious one at that. I mean, yeah, I guess you can go on calling yourself a Catholic ... Hell, I know a guy who claims that he's pure Irish in spite of his last name (Huang). But he, and Ms. Donato, can get as drunk as they want, and tearfully sing House of Pain's "Jump Around" as many times they want, but it still isn't going to do much to change facts.

And an interesting choice of words on the reporter's part: "[former parish priest] Rev. Callan was sent away from Rochester because the Vatican didn't approve of the parish inviting non-Catholics into its communion, the fact that it blessed same-sex unions and the prominence it gave to women on its altar." Touché, mon amis! (You just had to say on the altar, didn't you?) And, indeed, that's rather the point, isn't it? That's what's happened here. Replacing the dude miraculously transubstantiated in the bread and the wine, I mean. Call it Denisianity, by all means (and it comes with its own crusade!), but Christianity it ain't! Not even by Protestant standards.

So the Parish once known as Corpus Christi, in the Diocese of Rochester, is now Spiritus Christi. In all honesty, this, I feel, was a masterstroke. For that's exactly what they've done: disposed of the rather inconvenient substance of the Catholic faith. I might have suggested something more like Innuo Christi myself--that is: Hint of Christ--but still. Pretty damn clever.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

An old friend of mine, John Parry, was recently shrunken to the size of a mouse and, as he’s to be spending the next while in the capacity of guest chez Snook (one, after all, must resign oneself to giving up the excuse of a lack of space when one is dealing with persons no larger than one’s thumb[1]), I find myself faced with a genuine moral dilemma. You see, the cat, Thomas, wants to eat him all the time. Which, by itself, is a fascinating turn of events. John always got along famously with her when he was still, as it were, nibbling the nether end of six foot five. But she seems to have forgotten all about this now that he’s the same size as one of her favourite slashing toys.

And, of course, it’s made me realize that if I also happened to find myself reduced to the size of vermin I should expect no more loyalty from her to me for all those free suppers, brushings, and a singular act of heroism (wherein I rescued her, at great personal risk, from a burning brown tenement building on St. Clair West (that I happened to be napping in at the time)), than Julius Caesar might from Marcus Brutus!

John refuses to be kept in a mouse cage—with one of those jolly big wheels that I, if I ever had the opportunity, would be really very keen on giving a try … So the question is: who stays and who goes? I absolutely love that cat and, really, the best thing that can be said about John is that he still owes me thirty bucks.

I have much to think about.

[1] After all, three cotton balls and a piece of kleenex will suffice him for a bed. If he’s bored I wrap him in toilet paper and flick him across the floorboards, which he seems to enjoy almost as much as I do.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Face that Launched a Thousand "Shit!"s

Dear, oh dear. Link, old boy, I think you might be missing the point--in spite of its sitting there atop Steven Harper's head [entry for July 14th]. The problem isn't that he's wearing a Stetson; it's not that he's dressed like a cowboy ... It's that the poor man looks ridiculous! Far from having a jaunty curve, the brim of the hat can only be described as flaccid. The shirt's too tight, the bolo tie seems to be working more in the capacity of a noose (yes, in both senses), and the black leather vest? His gut's hanging out the bottom of it and it's a black leather vest! I don't expect that Mr. Byfield has been to too many gay pride parades lately, so perhaps he would be surprised to find that the Stampede isn't the only place you're likely to see one of these things. Worn, moreover, by slightly overweight middle-aged men with the exact same expression on their face.

Could it be that the greatest difference between Westerners and the rest of Canada is that they are, apparently, born without eyeballs?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Age of Re-Innocence

I just love this! Love it! And I love that it’s not just a specified group of “ethnic” claimants asking for redress of past wrongs, but that we’ve bothered to draw-up a list of “expected” claimants too. A projection of potential victims.

I love the image this conjures: a group of profusely sweating and suited backroom Liberal toadies sitting around going: “What can we expect next? How much can we pay them? How do we keep these hands clean? Out, damned spot! Out!”

I love the prospect of “dark chapters in Canada’s past”; or the choice of words to describe the enterprise’s motivating force “to bring closure to the redress issue.” I love the list of requirements of the government above and beyond financial compensation: that it offer a ‘“fully [sic] and unqualified apology,”’ that it express ‘“profound regret”’ and ‘“deep sorrow.”’ Check, check, check. You wanna print that up and send it off to, uh, let’s see here, to claimant D file number 317 dash 6. Thanks, Marla. Next!

I love that—of the list of groups that “may file claims”—both Jews and Germans are covered. We’re going to compensate the Jews that we refused admittance to the country, many of whom returned to a death camp (we’ll work out the logistics later, Marla); and we’re going to compensate the German-Canadians that were incarcerated during both wars—both of which, incidentally, were fought against the Germans. The second one more specifically against the Nazis. You know: the guys that slaughtered 6 million Jews.

Signed, sealed, delivered.

I love it. I love it. I love it! I love that we are able to reduce apparently irreducible injustices from “dark chapters in Canada’s past” to a matter of litigation. We are, indeed, the measure of all nations. And here is our formula: throw a blanket of cash at a problem; spare no manner of (written) apology or appearance of self-flagellation; then, obviously, revise historical objectives to suit same. Yes, you too can be retroactively guilt-free!

Now, what are those bastard Americans up to? Shall we tell them?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Liberals Win Ugly but Are Ugly All the Same

As much as the Star desperately wants to appear to be critical of a government as transparently corrupt as the federal Liberals, it simply cannot resist getting in the odd taste of Paul Martin’s boots.

James Travers today fancies himself the objective, the impartial pundit that gets both to wag his finger and wink knowingly at the government who, as he so grittily puts it, “win[s] ugly but win[s] all the same.” And you can really see how hard he works at appearing to balance a clinical admiration of the Liberal’s underhanded tactics, with a pronounced, almost a toffee-nosed disapproval of the abuse of ethics that was required of them to do so … And for the most part he gets away with this, in spite of the slight naughtiness of his basic premise, that “in politics, as in pro sport, winning is everything and no points are added or subtracted for how elegantly or crudely victory is claimed.”

(Naughty because this isn’t necessarily true; and because it strikes me as a rather obvious attempt to get one of those sweet-sweet self-fulfilling prophecies out there ... I mean, is it really that unlikely that the extremely dodgy dealings behind the Belinda Stronach business, the gift of $4.5 billion to the NDP (which, it would appear, the Liberals might spin to the exclusion of their fair-weather allies), and the passing of Bill C-38 at political gunpoint won’t work against the Liberals in some measure? Probably not fatally, of course—the reasons for which I’ll come to in a second. But the depths to which this government has sunk over the course of the last couple of months knows no analogue in Canadian political history, and many, many Canadians actually seem to be quite aware of this. It couldn't seem so far-fetched, then, to at least make room for the possibility that all of these things (and a couple of others I can think of) just might come to bear on the minds of voters come election time. Hope springs eternal, anyway.)

But, like I say, the nudge-nudge-wink-winkery that Mr. Travers indulges here seems mostly legitimate, however nauseating. Right through, that is, to the penultimate sentence … But that last one! … He says “For a Prime Minister who captivated voters with his vision and now leads a government that survives deal-to-deal, that passes as progress.”

Can the man be serious?!

No, Travers, you ass! It doesn’t! It doesn’t because your causality is completely and utterly false! The Prime Minister most assuredly did not captivate voters with his vision! I know a fairly representative cross-section of these voters and not a single one of them has any real idea of what Liberal policy is. And, indeed, the suggestion that the PM could captivate anyone with anything other than the sheer comic value of his facial expressions is patent drivel and hackery.

I mean, I’ll let you have the description of the outcome of the last couple of months as “progress”—but it is only so insofar as any progress is characterized by a linear movement forward in time—evocative, I can’t help thinking, of the steady progress men inevitably make towards grim death. But, I’m sorry, this particular “progress” had remarkably little to do with the content of Liberal policy, and none whatsoever to do with the Liberal leadership.

The Prime Minister, I say, captivated no one with his vision. What bloody vision?! Indeed, I would suggest that very few Canadians voted for the Liberals at all; they did, however, vote against the Conservatives. Which should hardly be surprising or much of a revelation in a country whose very identity is based on negative values. I am Canadian, after all, not American; I believe in peacekeeping not policing; I voted Liberal not Conservative … Joe Canadian can tell you everything he isn’t! (He might even tell you that he's barely Canadian!) And Joe Canadian will tell you that because he doesn’t believe in the suppression of ‘a woman’s right to choose,’ and because he doesn’t believe in the continued withholding of the inalienable rights of homosexuals to marry—the essence of the Conservative platform, he might also salt-of-the-earthily insist—he doesn’t, then, believe in the Conservative party. Negatio ergo sum.

Yes, Mr. Travers, the Liberal party did play dirty and did win. Fine. But this was not the Liberals just playing the political game! Rather, this was (…alas! would that I could be using the past tense…) a government doing something quite unique in its history: allowing cynicism and lust for power to steer the ship. And while it would seem to be quite possible that this exceptionally obvious fact won’t occur to the bulk of Canadian voters, I refuse to be told by some partisan hack that this was as it should be, or even that it is the lesser of however many evils. The Liberals won ugly, yes, but they need, desperately, to lose! Uglily!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Bradley "Filler" Miller

What better way to undermine one’s ideological opponents than to have them simply show themselves to be the idiots they are? No embellishment required. The National Post, I think, has made good use of this tactic by taking on Bradley Miller as an occasional columnist.

I first noticed Bradley’s idiotic ramblings in a piece he wrote called “Don’t count on abstinence” (National Post, April 13, 2005)—an astonishingly sophomoric piece of nonsense, so confused in its grasp of the central issue (i.e. abstinence), that, I feel certain, the thing couldn’t have earned him a C in a grade 10 Civics class.

More recently, in a piece called “Lessons from Pym Fortuyn” (National Post, June 9, 2005), Bradley—incredibly—warned that any minority groups in Canada collectively positioning themselves against Bill C-38 were “encouraging an anti-immigrant backlash among those who already fear that immigrants are a threat to tolerant Canadian values.” Swear to God! He posited the existence of a tolerant Canadian who lives in fear of immigrants. (Which, of course, would’ve been quite astute of young Bradley if he had meant it as an ironic underscoring of the limitations (that is, the contradictions) of so-called Canadian tolerance. Alas, that most assuredly was not his intention.)

In this weekend’s Post, Bradley takes on a slightly less contentious subject matter, but still manages to bungle it magnificently and—I have a sneaking suspicion—to the great satisfaction of the paper’s editors. He starts, in his best attempt at a hook (in spite of its having absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the (ahem!) substance of his argument), with a whimsical view of the First World War as it is treated by military historians retracing significant actions in situ. Then, the bulk of the piece is taken up with a mind-bogglingly original argument to the effect that the war was pointless, and that it was fought exceptionally badly … He devotes only the final four paragraphs, of a total of 15, to his actual point: that “language was badly abused by the war.” (The “evidence” he gives to back up this bizarelly obtuse claim is so flimsy it doesn’t even bear mentioning. You could fill whole volumes with these quotes and have trouble maintaining such a thesis, given that it amounts to the claim “men say one thing, but do (or mean) another.” Hardly an abuse unique to any one war, or even to war at all, Bradley. Grow up, for God's sake.)

Now, unless the column in its entirety was meant to be a rather elaborate metaphor for the consequences of young Bradley’s claim; that is, unless it was meant to be, itself, the evidence that the language has become a total bloody mystery to those who use it in the aftermath of WWI, one can’t help thinking that the only reason the Post printed it is because they can’t resist the sight of a person like Bradley hoist with his own petard.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more strongly I feel that this might be the case. And far from continuing to marvel at this ridiculous person—so incapable of recognizing that his balls are exponentially bigger than his brains—I begin to wonder just how trustworthy the Post really is. Could it be that, in the ostensible interests of fairness, it hired an activist Liberal to give the appearance of counterpoint, but made very sure in so doing that it was the most inarticulate one they could find? Can we even be certain that Bradley Miller exists?! Or is he, perhaps, the malignant concoction of a fiercely partisan propaganda machine?

I think I might be on to something.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Soma on Terror

While it’s nice to see the Toronto Star is one of the few papers concerned enough to still be bunging away at the issue of the bombings in London—now, as it were, septuagenarian and fading fast into memory—they don’t seem to be making much headway. Quite the opposite, as far as I can tell. Between the maternally inspired admonitions of Raheel Raza, the casual evasions quoted from an interview with Aga Khan, and the oddly rhetorical proclamations of Gwynne Dyer, one gets the impression that, far from being able to contribute anything further to an understanding of the attack, they’re all a little bit niggled that it should ever have had the ego to happen in the first place.

Ms. Raza’s column (existentially styled; living, quite literally, from sentence to sentence) begins tellingly. It is perhaps a mere semantic quibble, but: for a tone-setter, she makes a fascinating distinction between the quality of secular and religious mindsets as she knows them to be. Boasting of her sons’ ability to balance their faith within a multicultural (so: multi-faith) context, she says “my sons are secular in public and knowledgeable and religious in private.” Knowledgeable, you notice, as though it fell exclusively under the purview of religion.[1] Which, I hasten to add by the shades of Anselm and Aquinas, I personally would be only too reluctant to take issue with, as it’s a reasonably (qua Reason) sound, though debatable, argument. But it does seem rather odd to me that the Toronto Star should be providing a forum for this sort of patently theistic—that is to say: a patently conservative religious—outlook.

But I guess it’s that she had already paid her homage to the Star’s own gods of Multiculturalism and (by inference) Tolerance, and its ascetic discipline of middle-class self-loathing. And, indeed, the fact that Ms. Raza's homage is clearly little more than lip-service—derived from a half-baked notion of what either of those terms actually means—probably didn’t trouble the paper’s editorial staff too much given that she goes on to contradict almost every point she makes only to end at exactly the contention with which she begins.

(Amongst other things, she suggests that “the cause-and-effect theories trotted out extensively by commentators” are mistaken, or at least misguided, and that the problem “can be solved only within the community that allowed it to grow.” Okay, fine. Unfortunately she continues: “that community is not necessarily a religious one, but a multicultural community like the one we have here in Canada.” Now, this is at once beside the point—for it is, after all, only the one culture and its particular religion amongst the horde that would seem rather clearly to be the problem here—and an appalling dodge when one considers the rather obvious fact that a multicultural community does not, as Ms. Raza seems to be implying, exist in a void; but variously depends on the cultures from which it comes to maintain its multiple integrities. The second we stop looking to the sources is the second we stop looking at ourselves (which is precisely the sort of nauseatingly clichéd sentiment one expects the Toronto Star would be much more likely to put its heft behind).)

The Star also prints an excerpt from an interview with Aga Khan (“the hereditary imam of Shiite Ismaili Muslims”) which, to be fair, is mostly sound if a little gassy stuff.[2] But they headline it “Politics, not religion, drives terrorism.” Well, yes—in most cases that is quite true. But not satisfactory as a distillation of mainstream Islam’s position by contrast with radical Islam’s. The Muslim faith remains to be the single world religion that incorporates, at a fundamental level, a political element in its religious practice—indeed, it is its temporal endgame. So, while “politics, not religion, drives terrorism,” politics, being integral to the religion of Islam, does drive Islam! … Why does the Star feel it has to dumb this stuff down to obscurity? The number of people who spout—unthinkingly even—this ‘we’re all alright’ line outnumber, by dungloads, the number who don’t. So why do we have to take this apologetic so far that it, itself, becomes riddled with errors of omission? The majority of Canadians are fully capable of appreciating the difference between a radical and a moderate. And the knowledge of the specific character of a given radical (as Islamic say, as opposed to the various other types of radical (yes, Mr. Star … including Christians)—each presenting their own unique set of problems) is, at the very least, useful …

Then Gwynne Dyer weighs in with a fire and brimstone rant to the effect that those countries in the West that are participating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have only themselves to blame … But there is one of those (once again:) telling concatenations of words in his piece that gives one pause. He says, “Many Arabs, however, did share the grievances that had radicalized the terrorists, and even felt a fleeting, guilty satisfaction at seeing Americans suffer as so many Arabs have suffered.”

Do you think that if Mr. Dyer were asked to continue on in this vein of “the grievances that radicalized the terrorists” he might find himself at a bit of a loss? I do. Because it is an absurd, an illogical, a ridiculous statement! How does one radicalize a terrorist, for God’s sake?! … But this is hardly the point. In spite of myself, I am willing to make room for the notion that there are one or two people who see the forced end of Saddam Hussein’s terrifying reign as a bid for control of oil interests in Iraq by the Americans. But to dismiss altogether the evidence that radical (or I guess I should say radicalized) Islam wishes to destroy the infidel West simply because it is the infidel West is not so much “to drown in lies,” as Mr. Dyer puts it, as to drown in willing ignorance.

And so all of this amounts to rather a lot of fluff, I think. Raheel Raza--to get back to her--ends her column, by taking it upon herself to speak on behalf of Islam, saying, “our loss is greater. We mourn not only the dead and wounded, we also mourn the living who have lost their souls.” A more than tactless thing to be saying when so many of the murdered remain unaccounted for and, as of yet, unmoved since their deaths. But there’s something more benignly sinister about this statement, that captures rather well the tone of the other two pieces as well. Something to the effect that: whoever has it worse has more of a right to leniency of judgement and of popular opinion.

[1] At least, anyway, this would seem to suggest that knowledge exists to the complete exclusion of the secular behaviour her sons reserve for the public.

[2] With the notable exception of his final pronouncement (as it is quoted). He says—suggestively, I think, but I might be wrong—“the situation in the Middle East was not created by Islamic belief. The situation in Kashmir was not created by Islamic belief. The situation in Afghanistan was not created by Islamic beliefs … when we know the real causes of what drives people to desperation, then we can get a grasp on it.”

Thursday, July 14, 2005

From: Conversations with Snook (The Cousin)


Don’t get me wrong: horrible, horrible guy and everything, but you don’t get much better tasting than Adolph H. Hitler! Say, his thighs glazed in a simple butter and white wine sauce? Incredible!

What was that? I’m sorry wh—? Hey, relax there, buddy! All I was saying was that— What’s that? Yeah, sure I know what he did, but— Hey now, listen! It’s not like that at all!

All’s I’m saying is the greatest sadist of the last century is pretty good eats. I’m not agreeing with anything he did—God no!—I’m just saying he tastes good boiled, flaked, mixed with mayonnaise, and spread over toast. You know? Don’t get all holier-than-thou on me just ‘cause I like a good feed, same as everybody else.

I mean; do you eat bacon? No, no, no—don’t avoid the question! Do you eat bacon?! Of course I’m being serious! Yeah? Well pigs eat their own feces, did you know that?! Well, they don’t eat their own feces, but they role around in it a hell of a lot. Some of it’s got to get into their mouths … Like, y’ever clean out a chicken coop with chapped lips? And you’re licking your lips a lot, right? ‘Cause they’re chapped. Yeah. Well you were eating shit there, dude. Yeah you were! And the same goes for pigs. They spend all day rolling around in the stuff, some of it’s gotta go down at some point. It stands to reason. And then we eat them for breakfast! It’s disgusting! You may as well be eating the stuff straight out of their asses! Personally, you couldn’t get me to eat bacon at gunpoint, but you don’t see me passing judgement on you; saying things like that you like to eat shit or something. You don’t see me going after the guy scarfing down that hot dog he bought at the stand on the corner, do you? Calling him a dirty shit-eater? The guy who owns that stand has some pretty impressive secrets too, you know. Like: where he washes his hands? Do you see a sink anywhere nearby? Or where he goes to the bathroom? Dj’ever think about that, Mr. High-and-Mighty?

Listen. Adolph Hitler was one bad dude! No doubt. He did some questionable, questionable things! (And when I say “questionable,” I mean that there's no question about it: the things that he did were unquestionably bad!) All I’m saying is: pig’s eat their own shit, man! So what?! …Well, that’s confusing. What I’m trying to say is: bears eat people, right? But you wouldn’t ask a person who’s just been mauled by a bear to then eat the bear! Right?! So why’re you getting on my case about Adolph fuckin’ Hitler?!

What’s that? What I’m talkin’ about is just relaxing over some suds and a couple of juicy Hitler burgers! What’re you talkin’ about?!

You know, call me old fashioned, but I think we’re getting to a point these days where political correctness is doing a lot more harm than good. Where a guy can’t even be certain that the human being he’s about to tenderise, flame-broil and eat isn’t going to offend some liberal intellectual busybody. I mean: hello! Food police?! Doesn’t this worry anybody? First it’s food police, then what?! … I think we all have a pretty good idea where that road leads, right? I mean, I understand where you’re coming from and everything, but talk about throwing-up the baby with the bathwater!

It’s an expression, dude … Yes it is!

And be honest: is it the fact that I’m eating Hitler that’s getting your diaper in a bunch, or is it that I’m saying he tastes good? Why do I get the feeling that if I’d said he tasted bad, none of this would’ve been such a big deal? I mean, fine! I’m sorry, alright! I guess next time I’ll just have to make sure to eat Oprah or the Pope or Dick Van Dyke or somebody a little more acceptable to your morally superior tastes. It’s just that, last time I checked, it was a free country.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rock Against Rerrorism!

Thank God! Another rock concert! Betcha this was the last thing the terrorists expected!

Of course, one does wonder a bit at London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s way of putting the need for it. He said today: “The bombings that took place last week indiscriminately attacked Londoners irrespective of race, culture, religion or age... This free gig will show that London stands firm and celebrates its status as a city of all races, faiths and cultures, the very thing the bombers hate.” The first sentence there is a little bit confusing, I find. Makes the terrorists sound rather good, actually. As though the Mayor were bragging: we might have terrorists but, by God!, they’re broadminded terrorists! That, or maybe he sees some kind of (annoyingly unexploitable) injustice in the fact that the terrorists didn’t discriminate. ( ... Wow! And did you hear him use the word ‘gig’ in a plausible context?! Cool guy! You get the impression he’s been to a ‘gig’ or two in his time! Right on! Are his ears pierced too, do you think?)

And some might find the second assertion a little troublesome, given that it seems to suggest that rock music (or a rock concert, anyway) is that to which all the faiths, races and cultures can be reduced ... I know the idea's making my skin crawl.

In any case, Ken, let’s try to get a couple of things straight. ‘The very things the bombers hate’ is London! That’s why they bombed it! (Before—it would seem to go without saying—your little idea for a concert.) There’s nothing more you can do to make them hate you; all those bases are firmly covered. London still stands, and they still hate it! And, indeed, far from doing ‘the very thing the bombers hate’—which, like I say, you’ve already done simply by being London, and by continuing to be London—you’ll be doing the thing that Londoners and Westerners will themselves hate (or should anyway) by throwing the thinnest, most insubstantial veil possible (of pop music and all the attendant superficialities of a rock concert--interspersed with the clichéd and air-headed musings of, of all people, rock stars) over a very, very serious business indeed!

I mean, by all means do something! But why not use the occasion to remind the terrorists (hell, and us!) of what are the greater and, more likely, indestructible treasures of the West—as opposed to its flimsiest, and (ah! most dubious virtue of all) most fashionable?

I should tell you that I had a vision yesterday: of a little cave hidden away in a mountain range somewhere. In the cave there sat a man with a long-beard and kind eyes and a smart white turban atop his head. Beside him, standing against the wall, a large and imposing Kalashnikov rifle. He was surrounded by a group of men—each clearly his admirer and devoted follower—and they were all laughing. Finally one of the group asked him:

“And how do you think they shall mourn? How shall they commemorate their dead? Will they hold one of their cross-worshipping masses?"

“Perhaps,” another offered, “they shall all quietly embrace one another, during what they call “a moment of silence”? Then, exchange platitudes from their heathen literature?”

“Or will they riot against infidel Islam and save us the trouble?”

The man smiled broadly.

“Much, much better than all of these. They shall have a rock concert. Without fail.”

And they all burst out laughing again, nodding their heads wildly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Anne McLemon

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan’s English has seen such a marked improvement in the last six months that experts are now calling her “fluent.” Indeed, such is the extent of her mastery of the language in its demotic form that grammarians are attributing to her the development of a new idiom, tentatively named: Vacillatish, characterized by its pronounced indecisives, prevaricatives, and subjectives.

Ms. McLellan gave demonstration of the newly invented patois at, oddly, an international disaster management conference yesterday. She said: “I do not believe that Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as I think probably we all should be. I think we have, for too long, thought that these are things that happened somewhere else.” And: “You don’t want to scare Canadians, because fear can paralyze; fear can lead you to freeze.” And (to applause, and repeated calls of “Bravo!”): “We need to start talking about the fact that we all need to be prepared for all possibilities.”

When asked to provide a translation Ms. McLellan faltered, suggesting that were standard English able to supply the deficiencies endemic to windy nonsense there would have been no need for the extent of man power and tax dollars employed in the development of the new idiom in the first place. When asked if this answer was meant to be another demonstration of Vacillatish, the Minister winked and asked the gathering what they thought of the new Fantastic Four film.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Decline and Fall

The unsettling spectacle of what London is; what it wasn't 65 years ago. Like I say: full to the brim with potential hysteria.

On a related historical note, the following from The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (July 1945):

Hullabaloo today about the results of the British General Election, which is interpreted in some circles as a mighty triumph for the Common Man. I suppose it is, for it has turned out of office Winston Churchill, who certainly ranked high among the Uncommon Men of our times. I confess that I find the modern enthusiasm for the Common Man rather hard to follow. I know a lot of Common Men myself, and as works of God they are admittedly wonderful; their hearts beat, their digestions turn pie and beef into blood and bone, and they defy gravity by walking upright instead of going on all fours: these are marvels in themselves, but I have not found that they imply any genius for government or any wisdom which is not given to Uncommon Men.... In fact, I suspect that the talk about the Common Man is popular cant; in order to get anywhere or be anything a man must still possess some qualities above the ordinary. But talk about the Common Man gives the yahoo element in the population a mighty conceit of itself, which may or may not be a good thing for democracy which, by the way, was the result of some uncommon thinking by some very uncommon men.

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

[With my compliments to the very excellent Mr. Grace.]

To protect a noble pastime from the scourge of excited, and remarkably intolerant protests from the sorts of people who prefer to drink their tap-water out of branded plastic bottles—and who, presumably, are still breast-fed three times daily by a wet-nurse—I’m often at pains to make it clear to the next generation of smokers that the habit is just as much the act of not smoking as it is, as it were, smoking. Moderation is the watchword, I say to them; you’ll enjoy it that much more if you exercise a little restraint.

Every smoker should bear this in mind in their pursuit of whatever it is that smokers pursue by smoking.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Sideshow Must Go On!

The Globe and Mail outdid itself yesterday.

It rang the bell, beat the drum, sounded the trumpet—but apparently wasn’t entirely certain what the tune was supposed to be. The show, in any case, went on.

Strangely enough (as in: it was a shock, but not a surprise), the likeness of Winston Churchill made it into both national newspapers yesterday. The impression, that one assumes one is supposed to be getting from this, is that the “resolve” that Churchill embodied and inspired in the Londoner of the Blitz is the clear and obvious inheritance of terrorist-wracked London today. A seamless bequest in spite of the decades … In spite, I say, of the decades that may as well be eons if you’re talking about anything else London might have in common with itself 65 years ago. I mean, it is of course extremely impressive that the city’s inhabitants were so remarkably calm and collected during their ordeal. You might just as easily put it down to shock, but it is still impressive. But I have an awful feeling that, in spite of our invocations of the diehard Londoner of 1940, the calm wouldn’t last were the crisis to continue.

And, really, that “resolve,” that “calm, determination and solidarity”—starting to sound a bit like a Labour union rally but—that (trying not to throw-up here) “sang-froid” that is “an example to the world” is, I’m so very sorry, all we can say about Londoners one day after the fact! It’s remarkable, of course, but it’s no Blitz! Not yet, anyway. And let’s be honest, the “sang-froid” and “resolve” that we so patronizingly cast back to these poor people as though it were food to hungry dogs, are the very English qualities cud-chewing North Americans have looked down on with self-righteous disapprobation since the 1950s. Sang-froid, before it was the feather in the resilient cockney’s cap, was much more pompous, emotionally repressed, snooty at a stretch, than it was virtuous. Resolve was arrogance, superiority; the sort of attitude, we could say (and do), that spawned Kipling’s much-maligned “The White Man’s Burden.”

And, indeed, we have so long made these things the object of our rather crude and simplistic amusement that, my God!, the message actually got through! The London of today bears so little resemblance to the London of the Blitz that it may as well be a different city altogether! That is: it can be as obnoxious, as cretinously superficial, and as unintelligent as any stereotype of Hicksville USA has ever been. It is, in short, full to the brim with potential hysteria.

As much as we fancy that the invocation of the great war-time leader grants a kind of good-luck benediction to a given predicament, it can only, in this case anyway, be ironic. For, were Churchill in London today, surveying the wastes on foot as was his wont, he would be totally and utterly useless! Not, I hasten to add, because he would be incapable of handling the situation. But because none of us could bear to let him.

But, of course, the Globe knows this. And while he is everywhere implicit in yesterday’s editorial—his likeness, as I say, looming large in the cartoon next it—the name Winston Churchill is nowhere actually mentioned … And while it is possible that he too, for the sake of simplicity, might have said something to the effect that “the battle between terrorism and democracy is in essence a test of wills,” he would never, but never!, have accepted the totally nebulous criteria implicit everywhere in this piece in its use of the word ‘democracy’: as though it were an end in itself.

Indeed this editorial, it seems to me, positively jigs with tense, tottering credulity, reaching near spastic proportions with the paragraph beginning “overcoming such an enemy requires more than tenacity; it requires moral clarity.” Indeed, yes! But, for the love of God, that’s exactly what we don’t have!—But it continues, without pause, identifying the apparent obstacle: “there is a school of thought that the democracies have only themselves to blame for terrorism, having neglected the world’s poor and disenfranchised.” Too true: miserable, misguided school of thought! But ask your average Canadian—and one or two Londoners even—as he passes you on the street and he will tell you that this is precisely his school of thought. (And, sorry, but whose Prime Minister was it again that went on record with the national broadcaster shortly after 9/11 to say that the West itself was, in part, to blame?)

Apoplexy is reached in the second to last paragraph with the twice bizarre assertion that, “democracies have overcome evil ideologies before, first fascism and then world communism.” What?! I mean, yeah, I guess the world’s great democracies—the British, the Americans and (oh wait!) the Soviets—did defeat the Nazis in 1945. And the USSR did eventually fall—some might argue of itself; others that it was with the help of a little known Supreme Pontiff of a certain Roman Catholic Church (not a democratic institution that I know of)—to make way for various gangster states more veiled with democracy than governed by it; the plunder, moreover, of terrorists the world over. But how did we double back from all this moral clarity business to a sort of dogmatic assertion that democracy is itself the moral clarity and not just its vehicle?

I mean, yeah, democracy definitely weighed-in there. But can we be quite clear and realistic that it was a certain type of democracy. After all, in and of itself, democracy served Adolph Hitler quite well for a time and that, presumably, is not the same sort of democracy that brought about his end, right? Moral clarity, one hopes anyway, wasn’t the watchword there, was it?

Jeffrey Simpson, of the same paper of the same day, echoes this bald-faced simpering-in-lieu-of-being-able-to-provide- anything-like-authentic-moral-support by saying “there isn’t a chance of Britain’s resolution waning in the face of such attacks. Such is the nature of its history, people and values.” But Mr. Simpson and the Globe and Mail would do well to remember (and, yes, worry) that Britain’s history, people and values have become Britain’s intense shame over the course of the last 40 years. This, because, its critics have felt very strongly that there was rather too much moral clarity for a free society to be able to go on calling itself free. So-called moral clarity is a form of circumscription, thank you very much. Indeed, is a form of indoctrination; hell, of enslavement!

It’s all very telling stuff, in spite of its inherent confusion. But what is it, again, that they say about atheists and sinking ships? There are none on one? How about moral relativists in a city under siege?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Island of Canada

It was suggested this morning during CTV’s not completely abysmal coverage of the terrorist bombings in London that Canada doesn’t have much cause to worry about attacks on its own soil in the near future. This by the University of Ottawa’s Mark Salter, a professor at the institution’s School of Political Studies. Mr. Salter cited, amongst other things, Canada’s “hospitality” and “openness” towards immigrants and refugees as possible reasons.


Soooo… it’s because of Great Britain’s inhospitable and close-minded treatment of its immigrants and refugees that 40 of its civilians (at most recent count) have been murdered? It was a group calling themselves “The Secret Organization of Al Qaeda in Europe” claiming responsibility for the attacks last time I checked. Is Mr. Salter suggesting then that the rather obvious terrorist agenda that one is more likely to associate with such an outfit is merely a front for an (apparently very Western-inspired) activist group pushing a radical agenda of pluralist reform?


Could this all, then, be a misunderstanding? The World Trade Centre, I mean; the Madrid train bombing? Afghanistan? Iraq? If the UK and the USA had just taken a couple of pages from the Canadian foreign policy and immigration handbooks everything would be fine? It’s that these people just want a place to hang out? Soooo... we are the infidels—our entire mode of existence is the most loathsome thing possible to them—but really, your average Islamic extremist terrorist just wants to be able to sip coffee somewhere in downtown Toronto and not have to worry about being pestered? He just wants a place to call his own: a China town, a Little Italy, a Gay Village?

One sees the source of tremendous confusion, and the potential for serious, serious harm in this sort of idiotic, though clearly unthinking, comment. (And I wonder: exactly how much blood has to be spilled before Canadians are able to resist being impressed with themselves for more than a half second?) Mr. Salter would’ve been well-advised to take his cue from David Harris, the former Chief of Strategic Planning for CSIS, also one of Canada AM’s panel of experts this morning. Mr. Harris suggested that it is precisely “the West, and liberal democratic pluralism” which Islamic extremism has set itself against by carrying out acts of terrorism of the sort we saw today. Which, given Mr. Salter’s rendering of the Canadian character as open and (ugh!) hospitable, makes us a rather extremely likely target, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, he would’ve been quite right in saying that we aren’t likely near-future targets for terrorism if he had acknowledged that it’s because we aren’t a strategic target. But I think it might be for that very reason that we should be worried: we are apparently that ineffectual. (And, indeed, Mr. Salter: that caught up in our own, confused little world.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

After my shower this morning, looking at myself nude in the bathroom mirror, I realized that my genitals are strung unusually low upon me. Now, I don’t mean that they are particularly large, and hang low in the sense of low down the length of my leg. Too many people put too much stock in big bits, and I’ll be the first to admit that I could care less. Indeed, the smaller the better, say I. Speaking as someone with the rank of Master (2nd Spatula) in many of the Kitchen Arts, I can tell you that it is of the first importance that every (what we call) “Sprout” be instilled from the very outset of his training with the certain knowledge that that which makes man “man” is often also that which makes man “dead man.” To wit: I can’t tell you how difficult it is to perform great acts of heroism, or to better mankind’s lot, when one’s rolling pin is being held for a ransom by a meat cleaver.

But I digress.

No, rather, mine are low in the sense of being attached at a lower point on my midsection than is ordinary. They’re almost right there between my legs—and lucky for me I wasn’t endowed with overgenerous thighs! Of course, my metabolism hasn’t yet slowed from its adolescent rabbit’s pace (as I’ve noticed it to do in so many of my fattening—some younger—friends). Perhaps when it does—when my skin has tautened up and out from under my ribcage—then the offending members’ll be pulled more centrewise of my underpants area. Where they’re supposed to be.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Of Rights and Irresponsibilities

What a strange language we’ve come to speak. And (to carry-on the theme of a previous post) see how marvellously it has damaged thought! See how the forward movement of rights-preoccupation has reduced us to a quivering mass of double standards and nonsense! See how the plumbing of our freedoms has brought forth only the shadow lurking in men’s hearts: not freedom, but freedom from consequences! Determinism! Paul Martin’s Canadian “destiny.”

The Language We Speak
The Post today reports that one spectator (one!) at a Canada Day parade in Windsor took serious issue with the inclusion in the procession of a float bearing “Caucasian people [dressed] as antiquated, mythological ‘Indians’ complete with tacky beads and fake feathers, shouting pretend war whoops.” The spectator—one Linda Day, herself aboriginal—denounced the float, saying that “this action is totally unacceptable.”

Now, never mind for the moment that it’s possible that the beads and feathers of the historical Indian might also, in some cases, have been tacky—that such a call, presumably, is a matter of personal taste. Never mind the odd and dubious reference to the Indian of Antiquity, the Indian of Mythology. Let’s just stick to Ms. Day’s fascinating (and given the circumstances, rather unlikely) use of the word “action” to describe the passage of a bewheeled platform bearing a couple of well-meaning members of the Loyal Order of Moose, albeit, apparently, a little overzealous in their attempts to enliven the festivities. I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that what one normally associates with the word ‘action’, in the sense that it is being used by Ms. Day, is something on the scale of a military manoeuvre or a rather dramatic legal proceeding. That is, ‘action’ generally connotes something big. Something of fairly serious consequence. That being the case the Loyal Order of Moose’s float ambling down Windsor’s main drag is decidedly not an ‘action’ unless, of course, it was disguising an array of ballistic missiles—which I guess, to be fair to Ms. Day, has not yet been disproven.

But let us presume for the moment that the conjectured array doesn’t exist. What can we learn from Ms. Day’s singular use of a word, so loaded with timely significance, to describe something that was perhaps a little silly, but only ultimately remarkable of a lack of sophistication on the part of a group calling themselves, for God’s sake!, the Loyal Order of Moose?

Everyone wants a piece of the pie.

Double Standards and Nonsense
The Post reports today that Shane Cameron, a brave (and, in spite of the circumstances, remarkably astute) lad of 12, attending one of the Toronto District School Board’s elementary schools, has decided that, because of his poor academic showing this year, he wants to repeat grade 6. His parents support him in this, and think it well advised given that an assessment by the Sylvan Learning Centre revealed his math and literacy skills were 2 and 1 levels respectively behind the average of his age group.

Let’s be clear on this: not only do the boy’s parents think it advisable that their son stay back for an additional year, but Shane himself does too. The TDSB, however, refuses to allow this. “Holding children back, also called grade retention, rarely happens any more, [this] at the urging of school psychologists who warn the practice is detrimental to children’s self-esteem.” The suggested alternative? “Ritalin and a learning disability assessment in Grade 7.”

Now, again, never mind for a moment the extremely debatable assumption that an enforced Ritalin dependency does more for a child’s self-esteem than slogging it out against the odds, on one’s own steam and initiative—the proverbial head bloodied but unbowed—towards the commendable achievement of a complete and comprehensive education. And never mind the oft-changing nature of what psychologists advocate one moment as good practice in education, condemn the next as bad, and the effect this has had on the state of education over the years. What is really important, is that Shane has made a difficult and very grown-up decision (as evinced by his parents’—his legal guardian’s!—endorsement) regarding his future. Moreover, it seems to me that the boy must have self-esteem by the bucketloads to be able to see beyond the superficial returns it offers a 12 year old boy. Nonetheless, the board’s decision begs the questions: 1) What might the effect on a child’s self-esteem be when, daily, he is reminded that what his peers find fairly easy to do, he finds agonizingly difficult? and 2) What exactly is the content of this education if it so easily dismisses the informed analysis and eminently reasonable course of action suggested by the effected parties themselves?[1]

Let them eat cake.

Freedom—of the Freedom from Consequences Variety of Freedom
The Post reports today that the 19-year old responsible for the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, synagogue and school, pleaded guilty to charges of mischief and apologized. Well, sort of apologized. He said, “I want the community to know that my actions, while callous and unthinking, were spontaneous and out of character,” and, “I now realize why my actions were wrong and take full responsibilities [sic] for them.” Oh, I see. Now you realize. Well I understand then. I often have memory lapses myself. That time I murdered Jeff, for one. Totally forgot I wasn’t supposed to do that. Come to think of it, spontaneity and that “out of character” thing sound like mood disorders to me. So, really, I think it’s us that owes you the apology. It’s a rotten old life, what?

And, how many people will wonder where Karla Homolka gets off not only being given an audience on national television immediately following her release from prison, but then using the opportunity to tell the nation that “I don’t want people to think I’m someone dangerous, who will do something to their children”?

I noted here on June 26th that Svend Robinson’s recent fit of contrition—in re. his little thiefing episode last year—rang the unmistakably hollow note of a man who accepts responsibility, but only on the condition that it be understood that he is, still, the greater victim. As ever, Mr. Robinson is on the cutting-edge of great sociological change.

Man shall live by bread alone.

Mixing all these oddments together I see a hideous purpose. Canada is now the “Who’s the Greater Victim?” Society:

We no longer do things; rather, we carry-out “actions”, however small.

These actions are only ever not “actions” (that is, they are only ever the exercise of “free will”) when they are informed by, approved by, and carried-out with the Society’s sanction.

And at the point when our “free will” reaps the inevitable harvest of error, the Society is swift to provide the means for an equal redistribution of guilt—a cultivation of innocence for the guilty.

Oui, oui, Monsieur le Premier Ministre, c’est ici le meilleur des mondes possibles!

[1] That being said, personally, I think that Shane is too old to be redoing entire school years and too young to be worried about getting Cs. But for his education—and the remarkable seriousness with which he is able to consider it—to be reduced to the recommendation of a course of Ritalin based on various windy prognostications about self-esteem …! One wonders to what extent the likes of Shane—that is: an individual—is actually meant to fit into the education he’s being given. (Indeed, one wonders just how vital the content of his education can be if it’s so easily trumped by a pedagogy hopelessly steeped in what is psychologically trendy.)

Monday, July 04, 2005

This is Radio Raspberry...

I was running errands a couple of days ago—in my car, listening to the radio—and it dawned on me that the fits of blindness, the nausea, the uncontrollable groaning, were all as a consequence of some of the lamest advertising I think I’ve ever heard on the dial in my life. And it wasn’t, I hasten to add, that the stuff was just unfunny or that it was particularly rude; I’m not a snob, not a prude. Rather, it was that it was all so nakedly characterless and unimaginative that, one feels, you’d be hard-pressed to find an eight year old—armed only with his booger collection and forty euphemisms for ‘fart’—that couldn’t have done as good a job himself.

First it was an ad for Jack Astor’s “Let the BS begin!” event … That’s Big Summer, chum! What did you think it meant?! Bullshit?! Heh, heh, heh!

Then it was one for the radio station itself: listening to Jack FM, ran the palaver, is “easier than Ebay” and “safer than porn.” Whoa-ho! Easy there, tiger! My wife’s in the car! That was supposed to be our little secret, remember?! Heh, heh, heh!

A thrice of others ran, less remarkable, but irresistibly evocative in their banality of that prize cowflop in the apparent field of prize cowflops that make up radio advertising; the ad I’d worked so hard to forget these last couple of months but which now came racing back to my mind with the irrevocability and the inevitability of death; that paltry, lousy, loutish flapdoodle; that “if the announcer sounds like John Cleese it’ll be as funny as Monty Python” kind-of-(quote-unquote-)genius-informed rubbish … I’m talking about the Firkin Pub commercial!

One trepidatiously imagines the marketing meeting that yielded such a relentlessly poisonous fruit … “You wanna explain that again, Bobby? ... Yeah sure, Dick. What I was saying was that—and please excuse the bawdy talk, ladies, heh, heh, heh—Firkin kinda sounds like Fuckin’. Yes: as in the swear word, Dick. The boys here’ll back me up on this, but your average pub-goer today is a racy, no-nonsense type. Young, shuns the status-quo. Probably back from an afternoon of extreme sports where the word, no doubt, was employed on a per-sentence basis. If he—or she, ladies, or she—hears one of our commercials using Firkin in such a way as to be evocative of the word Fuckin’, on the airwaves no less—where any child, senior citizen, or establishment type can hear it too, and be incensed at the audacity of today’s young person—I think we could expect a sizeable increase in our customer base. Which, I think you’ll agree, is good for the Firkin bank account. Heh, heh, heh!” It’s enough to make you want to blow your own head off.

(And those are heh, heh, hehs you notice—not ha, ha, has. Short, sharp bursts through the nose. Petulant, smart-ass laughter. Heh, heh, heh.)

These ads are not funny! And they’re definitely not intelligent! The difference between the hopeless crudeness of something like a Firkin commercial and, say, one of the more recent Viagra commercials (am I right in thinking they’ve been taken off the air?) is that, while they’re both vulgar, only one works for comedy--because its writers understood that it is necessary for a joke to rise above this basic premise with an explicit, even disdainful recognition of its own baseness. Vulgarity cannot be funny in a void; it has to contrast with something. Thus, in the (Viagra) ad that takes place in the office lunchroom, the humour is not in what we imagine the guy is saying behind the censor of both his lips (with a superimposed Viagra pill) and the words he’s saying, but in the sardonic “Bravo” of his colleague.

Without contrast there is no joke, there are only things. Bottoms, breasts, bowel movements, broken wind. A fart, in and of itself, is not funny at all. But coming from your average person who doesn’t for the most part make sounds like that from behind ... Well that’s funny. (Not really funny, mind you, but you know what I mean.) It’s the incongruity. It’s the contrast.

The Firkin ad men, Jack FM, Jack Astor’s; these people are mistaking frat boy, in-joke snickering at something that is unique to their very controlled experience, for a broad bawdiness of the George Carlin variety. What they don’t seem to understand is that frat boy in-jokes are only ever funny to frat boys, and only ever to a limited number of them—generally 9 of an average group of 10. This way Brad the pledge ends the evening getting his stomach pumped at the nearest hospital; the attendant nurse wondering if that is indeed human excrement hanging off the end of his nose.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Star! A Hope!

The Toronto Star found, yesterday, an excellent reason to get behind “race-based” statistics … “To monitor police bias” of course! That is: while race-based statistics can in no way reflect on patterns of behaviour within a given community, they certainly can give us an insight into the deep and terrifying prejudices that characterize the disturbed collective psyche of the Toronto Police Service. But!—the editorial wonders (in, one assumes, tremulous baritone and with glittering eye)—do we have “the will to collect statistics, and the courage to face what the numbers exhume”? Well, we shall simply have to try our Will To Collect Statistics in the terrible fire of Statistics Collecting, and hope that it will be sufficiently steeled against the ensuing ordeal of Exhumation By Numbers, I guess. Keep your fingers crossed.

I hear (one-time) science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem intoning in the distance: “To him who seeks a reason but cannot abide any hypothesis of a design, whether in the form of providence or of the diabolical, there remains the rationalist’s substitute for demonology—statistics.”

Friday, July 01, 2005

Here's to the Red Ensign and God Save the Queen

Would that there were no Canada Day! Would that there were no flag, no Constitution (or Constitution Act, anyway), no national anthem. Would that we were that quiet can-do colony again, the Dominion of Canada. You look at me like that but, you know, we’d be much more the Canada we claim to be were it so.

Listening to Paul Martin today—as he goofily held-forth on Parliament Hill—I'm reminded of the power of words[1] to stand in direct contrast to reality. And of how utterly, unashamedly trite they can be while still being spoken with the certainty that the masses will gobble them up like so much chicken-feed. “We are second to no other country in the world,” he said—begging the question: by which measure was that, again?—and that’s why we “sew [the flag] on our backpacks.”[2] This from the man who said a couple of days ago that same-sex marriage “is an issue that Canadians want to put behind them” when it is rather obviously an issue that at least half of Canadians don’t want to put behind them at all. You start to wonder just how far from the mark all this pie-in-the-sky can actually get. Time, I guess, will tell—and judging by a steadily more sceptical international opinion, it isn’t too far off that we’re going to be held to some serious account.

And that tired reference to the little brand Canadians mindlessly sew onto their backpacks reminds me of the year I spent abroad, at a Canadian ‘finishing school’ in Switzerland; the incongruity of my fellow students’ staunch and verbose anti-Americanism pasted onto an attitude that was, otherwise, the very (hackneyed) stereotype of an American. It was quite an experience. I can remember being told, or rather hectored, by classmates on the finer points of American arrogance, abrasiveness, and ignorance while, at the same time, articles of complaint were being printed in the local newspaper about the boorish behaviour of the Canadian students. “Raus Canada” had been spray-painted on the wall facing a bar that our class was locally infamous for patronizing, christened-round the surrounding network of streets with our urine and puke. The locals were invariably referred to as “Eurotrash.” We all had Canadian flags sewn on our backpacks.

By contrast, it was always fascinating to run into an American. They were, without exception, the very model of an enlightened, culture-craving traveller. Without exception, I say. Which, odds are, makes it a not completely representative cross-section of American types that I happened to be bumping into. But the fact remains that I never met an American in Canada-loving Europe that outdid the Canadians for being “American.” (The Aussies could, though.)

Canada, where it deems it convenient, sits on old laurels no longer its due. The good reputation it has internationally was earned, I would argue, by the generations that fought in the two World Wars. That is: Canada became Canada as we now know it, just before the demise of the old Dominion. It has changed very, very much since then, in spite of the fact that we continue rather naively to think of it in the terms it acquired for us. And I must say that I’m looking forward to the day when that pious, lettuce-fed jerk—the insolently proud Canadian—gets a ripe kick up the ass by the international community whose opinion and flattery it depends on so much for its sense of self-worth.

[1] Or is it the passive power of a vapid audience?
[2] And has anybody else noticed how much he’s been using the word ‘destiny’ lately? “Why?” you ask. At a guess, I’d say: failing the remotest possibility of originality, or even a passing resemblance to great leaders past, he’s taken to free-loading the Churchillian device—itself, even by the day’s standard, a mind-bogglingly unoriginal move.

From: Conversations with Snook (The Younger)


No! No masses! ... What’s that? No, no evensong either! What’s wrong with you, Smitty?! I said secular fun. Se-cu-lar! Get it?

Yeah, sure we can play with your beads. That’s not such a bad i—No, no, no! Not those beads! I’m talking about secular fun here, chumpo! Where the hell were you educated? Wolves?! Don’t you know what— What? What do you mean? Yeah, it makes sense, what’re you interrupting me for? I said what? Yeah, no, that’s not right. How does it go again ... ? I know you don’t know, Smits, I was thinking out loud. Shut-up for a second, for the love of Comte. I’m trying to think ... Where were you educa ... Or ... No! I know! It’s: where were you educated? A rutabaga patch?! Yeah. Makes a little more sense that way. I don’t know what I was thinking. What? It’s a vegetable. No, yeah, that’s right—I was getting it confused with: who were you raised by? ... Yeah, exactly: wolves?! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yeah: don’t you know what secular means?

Anything that isn’t religious. Sure, I guess: sex isn’t very religious. But we’re not gonna do that. But which would be even less religious, so you’re on the right track anyway. What else can you think of? No, memorizing passages from the Imitation of Christ is definitely religious; I’ve lost you again. What? But why would you bother memorizing that particular text if it was just for the sake of the exercise? Why not a poem by Apollinaire? Or a Hitchens column? No, the other one. Well they’re just examples. Anything non-religious oriented or affiliated. There’s any amount of good and wholesome secular culture out there, my friend. Yeah, like Marshall McLuhan! Finally, you’re getting it. Okay so, obviously: the medium is the message. Your turn. What? So what if he’s a Catholic? Well, yeah, but he didn’t say Catholic things. What? How the hell is that Catholic? A Catholic medium makes the message Catholic?! What the fuck are you talking about, Smits?! You’re on drugs, right? Yes, I’m being serious! Exactly how much crack have you smoked today? Well then what’s your excuse?

Okay, I’ve got it. How about we play a little B-ball with Fingers? Eh? Yeah, and then maybe we can head down to Fionn McCool’s after: sink a few—maybe get some grub. Talk about chicks and other secular subjects. Yeah! Now we’re cookin’ with gas! I’ll call him now. What’s his number again? What do you mean? Yeah, I know he wears that, but it’s just, like, a decoration. It could be anything: a Star of David or a marijuana leaf. It’s bling, man. No, there’s no St. Christopher! Where? No there isn’t! No, Smits, there isn’t! There’s only the fucking cross and, I told you, it doesn’t mean anything! What? Why would he kiss it, even if he was religious? Well, then it’s a superstition. Yeah, to be honest, it is better. Because, he would know it’s a superstition: he would have to know that it’s irrational. Fine, I’ll ask him myself, so shut-up. No, it’s ringing, shut-up!

Fingahz! ‘Sup?! How ya doin’ asswipe? Snooky. Yeah! Listen, you know that stupid cross you wear around your neck? Yeah. What’s the deal with that? He did, eh? Thought as much. For your what? First communion? But you don’t go to church or anything? What?! Does it actually mean something to you? What do you mean you don’t know?! Well, either it does or it doesn’t; what’s the dilio? I’m relaxed, just answer the question! Good, well fine, that’s all I was asking. Oh! And Fingers! Fingers! Yeah: do you really kiss it before you play one on one? The cross there. Why? Okay. Yeah, that’s all. Lates.

What’re you gloating for? It just proves the guy’s an idiot. What’re you glad he’s an idiot now? Well, yeah, fine: you were right. Thing is, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to look him in the face ever again.

Yes, I can sit in this chair. It’s secular. I know it’s got an interlocking cross motif in the wicker, but that’s the pattern of the weave. They aren’t meant to be crosses. Yes, I can be sure—every wicker chair has this pattern. What?! Yeah, dude, that’s it: it’s a big Christian conspiracy to get everyone to convert by wicker cross osmosis! Brilliant!

Hey! Take your hands off me, you crazy religious nut!