Saturday, July 29, 2006

"On the Clash of Civilizations"

Father passed away long before Samuel Huntington coined the phrase, but he had been aware of the concept. "In theory, all evil is the same," he would say. "In practice, choosing intelligently between evils can make the difference between life and death.

"Assume, for instance," he continued, "that you are a European Jew in the year 1944. As such, you must support everyone in the world against the Nazis, including the Communists. Once the Nazis are defeated, you can support everyone in the world against the Communists, including the Fascists. Once the Communists are vanquished, you may turn against the Fascists, and so on."

"Does it ever end?" I asked.

"Are you serious?" asked Father. "How could it possibly end? Evil is inexhaustible."

-George Jonas Beethoven's Mask

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Sheehan/Dowd Precedent

Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener is under the impression that, because she is the wife of missing-and-presumed-dead UN Military Observer Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, she has the authority to tell us what the IDF's intentions were when they bombed his UNIFIL outpost in south Lebanon on Tuesday. She said in a news conference yesterday, at CFB Kingston:
"Why did they bomb the UN site? In my opinion [if] those are precision-guided missiles, then that is intentional ... My information from [Major Hess-von Kruedener] is weeks upon weeks they've been firing on there. They're UN soldiers, that should have been the safest place to be — they should not have bombed that site, period ... [Israel is] fighting a whole different war, and it's changing all the time. And now they're choosing to, bomb, you know, UN sites. That's unheard of."
The obvious rebuttals to Ms. H-v K's 'opinions' have already been made ad nauseum. 1) Yes, the bombs were precision-guided. But the point is moot when one considers that a precision-guided bomb is only as precise as the coordinates it's been given--a terribly undependable quantity in the heat of battle, where (presumably) the loss of precious seconds might mean the difference between 4 innocent lives and 40. 2) The information Ms. H-v K received from her husband was apparently only half of what he knew--the 'they' from which his outpost was receiving fire was as much Hezbollah as it was the IDF (for the original UNIFIL press releases see here). Indeed, in an email to CTV, the Major himself admitted of the IDF bombing strikes that "this has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity." 3) Most importantly: Hezbollah's primary defense tactic has always been to use non-combatants (in this particular case, UNIFIL's Khiam outpost) as shields for their positions. This, as Andrew Coyne pointed out last Saturday in the National Post, in violation of the First Protocol to the Geneva Convention.

Suggesting (particularly the last point) that it is not so much Israel that is "fighting a whole different war," but Hezbollah. (I am at odds trying to figure out how we continue to be so reluctant to believe that terrorists actually behave as terrorists.)

But what irks me most about Ms. H-v K's statements is, simply, that they were made in the first place--or at least: that they were given a public forum in which to be made (which, I guess, really is the crux of the issue). What, after all, are her qualifications in this matter? She is not herself a soldier, she's an employee of the Royal Bank. She doesn't even seem to be that familiar with her husband's mission: his own description of the activity around the Khiam base prior to its fatal bombing. And yet here she is telling us that the IDF--in a fit of what could only have been complete insanity-- killed her husband and 3 other UN Observers intentionally.

One hears the distant and troubled brayings of Cindy Sheehan here, egging on--not Ms. Hess-von Kruedener herself, who is under extreme emotional strain at the prospect of losing her husband--but a national media desperate for the kind of sensation that once caused Maureen Dowd to say--in defiance of every rule governing good judgement and common sense: "the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute." I talked about this little piece of infamy at some length here--and the risks, as ever, remain the same. Christopher Hitchens called it "ventriloquizing the dead," though I think in this case it might better be called trivializing the dead by vilifying, with disinformation and unchecked emotion, a (all reasonable indicators would suggest) possibly innocent IDF. Far be it from me to say that Ms. Hess-von Kruedener is not entitled to feel what she is presently feeling, but it is just too ridiculous to invest with any authority her accusations of cold-blooded killing when, apart from anything else, it hasn't even been determined yet whether Major Hess-von Kruedener is, in fact, dead.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oh, the Disproportionateness!

From today's Star:
Politicians and pundits should recognize that there is no military solution to the war with Hezbollah.

The disarming of the party has to be done in a peaceful way by the Lebanese. This latest attack, however, has disrupted the process.
Honestly ...

What is it about these guys that's got Israel's diaper in such a bunch? Hmm?

Monday, July 17, 2006

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

I am often asked these days how I manage with such grace, and with such insufferably good-looking dignity, the tyrannies imposed by the anti-smoking lobby. (No. Really. This is exactly how the question's put to me. Every single time.) Well, I say wryly to the given fellow, I'll tell you, Brummell, you rum pumpkin of a specimen of a man, you! And here I produce from my pocket a little-box-sized wooden box, embossed with a brass plaque of St. Dunstan at his Anvil; I pop its lid open expertly--producing a fine mist of fragrant dust as I do--and hold the whole business to Brummell's face.

I ask him, winking.

Snuff?! Is his reply.

Yes, old man. Snuff. Say I.

A full pinch in each nostril every quarter of an hour. I fancy a Spanish, but a coarse Brazilian will do almost as well. Occasionally some Irish--superior to the others, but it makes me cough.

Snuff! I say with gusto. In considerable quantity and with knobs on! Take some, you hellion--you're well on your way now!

A Regency affectation! Who ever liked snuff?!

Lad, you see this stern resolve? This head bloodied but unbowed? I owe it all to snuff.

Stuff your snuff. I'd sooner eat it.

That can be arranged, you wee bastard ... Stop wriggling!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Won't Somebody Please Think of the Murderers!

In his book A Brief History of Crime, Peter Hitchens examines the failures of England's current Unit Beat system of policing--the progressive successor to the pre-1965 "Bobby on the Beat" community-based system (that we're all so tiresomely familiar with if we've spent any time watching PBS)--and laments the ongoing ideological conflict between "two different and mutually exclusive systems, based on different views of human nature, law and crime." He is, I should say, strongly on the side of a return to the old system, which he characterizes as "preventive" law-enforcement, condemning the UBP system as "Fire Brigade" policing: usually only able to respond to crimes after they've been committed.

Bearing in mind, then, this term "preventive," take a gander at this article in today's Toronto Star. The argument runs as follows: citizens have good reason to doubt the advisability of the Conservative government's move to "impose stiffer sentences for gun crimes" because studies have shown that stiffer sentences do little to deter criminal activity involving guns. Oookaaay. We are also told that Justice Minister Vic Toews has received a memo from the Justice Department confirming as much. Indeed, Criminology professor Anthony Doob (could he be the same, infamous, "Doob the Boob" of my youth? If so: 'Sup Booby!) goes so far as to suggest that stiffer sentencing will have "no effect"!

Now, while I--like the redoubtable Mr. Hitchens--am a firm believer in the efficacy of preventative policing, all this talk about deterrence (in the particular sense it is here being used) is, I can't help noticing, quite beside the point. Any discussion of preventative measures after a crime has been committed begs the question. The proposed legislation is, instead, rather clearly meant to deal with the reality of gun crime that is ongoing in spite of deterrents ... An eminently reasonable and realistic piece of thinking, that takes into account the (no doubt, unfashionable) idea that some people will continue to commit crime even in face of the threat of severe consequences to themselves.

But here, of course, we run-up against that ideological divide Hitchens' mentions. David Warren, in his ongoing mission to have himself irredeemably pigeonholed as the worst kind of conservative reactionary, puts the matter, rather starkly, thus:
... [T]he most obvious contemporary way to distinguish between a “liberal” and a “conservative” is in their views on any passing spectacle of crime and punishment. The “liberal” instinctively identifies with the criminal, the “conservative” instinctively identifies with the victim. The liberal instinctively accuses the conservative of lacking compassion, or of wanting vengeance against the criminal, with whom the liberal has identified. The conservative instinctively remembers that the criminal showed no compassion to the victim with whom he identified.
The sort of prevention that comes as a consequence of putting violent criminals of the gun-toting type in jail for no less than 5 years doesn't, it would appear, even occur to these "liberal" detractors of the proposed legislation. They can't shake the (unquestionably valid--but, it goes without saying, hardly determining) feeling that they have failed Canada's violent criminals, and that said criminals should not then be made to pay the price for failures not their own ... A sophisticated piece of reasoning and everything, but hardly practical. The threat of 5 years in jail for using a gun during a crime may not deter your average criminal from doing so, but it certainly will stop him (for a minimum of 5 years anyway) from doing it again. The idea that there's no qualitative difference between this and the current minimum of 1 year for the same crime is just plain ridiculous. When we're talking about lives being cut short by bullets, quantity and quality tend to blur together: the difference is 4 years.

The sorts of philosophical abstraction (with regard to prevention) that Mr. Warren's "liberal" is here indulging, suffers the same illogic that the "Liberals" employed when advocating the banning of handguns (i.e. the second you take a pistol out of a man's hands you also somehow remove the concurrent psychological reality of a willingness to commit grave bodily harm or murder). I mean, it's not as if we don't already have quite severe laws to deal with criminals of this bent. The problem is: such is the given criminal's state of mind that even the threat of long-term imprisonment is not enough to stop him. In dealing with this particular type, then, we are well-beyond the prevention phase ... And I guess it is for this rather obvious reason that the word itself (i.e. prevention, or any permutation thereof), never actually appears in the proposal for the bill.

Where prevention fails (and, darlings, it always will to some extent): detention! Happy Bastille Day!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From: Vitzlipützli (The Elder) at Home

The Mrs. and I were taking one of our thrice weekly walks yesterday, and no sooner had we rounded the corner of our street onto the main thoroughfare and crossed the front of St. Alphonsus, than I was turned upon by a wild-eyed man and accused of being Satan. I should say, he wore Bermuda shorts and a loose-fitting blue tank-top that advertised Mt. Pearl little-league softball across its front … Obviously, my delight at having found so unlikely a specimen (that is: a real hellfire and brimstone street corner evangelist—recruiting here, one assumes, because he had staked-out a rather too robust Papist congregation) was instantly spoiled.

I’m embarrassed to confess that it never occurred to me to say to him, coolly, something like: “What
precisely gives you that impression? Because I’ve always had my doubts about this little imperial I’ve been cultivating around my mouth.” Or: “At your service, Lancelot. I trust you haven’t forgotten our little appointment … Once you’re done with all this rabble, of course.” Alas, no. I freely admit that my wit isn’t even that quick. Whether by dint of all the Scots blood coursing through my constrictedly English veins, or because I harbour some deep-rooted and, apparently, comprehensive complex of guilt, I am compelled in situations such as this to become just blindly, incoherently, idiotically insulted ... Indeed, the charge struck me to my very core: Sinner, yes! thought I. That very morning, after all, I’d given the cat a disproportionately severe kick for only drinking out of the toilet. But Satan himself?

Add to my incapacity to rise to the occasion the untimely changing of the traffic light as this fellow chased us to the curb, and my mortification was complete. All I could do was stand there and stare at the blighter as he rained down hot gas and sulphur upon me—in, I hasten to add, just such a way as to suggest that I knew exactly what he was talking about, and could likely do a better job describing it myself.

Before long, Lenore had the good sense to take me by the hand and guide me to the adjacent corner, to wait for our light there—safe, at least, from the sprayings of spit that accompanied the man’s molestations. But the molestations themselves continued: Oh, you can cross the road, all right! But all roads lead to the same place for you! Get thee behind me, etc ...

Now here’s the rum part: after the light changed and we had made our way up the street a safe distance, I couldn’t help noticing (for he intoned loud enough to be heard entire blocks from where he stood) that he called no one else Satan as they passed him by. He hurled the most Old Testament bits of damnation at them, but no more direct accusations of being the actual Prince of Darkness.

So what is it about me exactly?

Well, let’s see. What my decrepitude has left me of my height makes me still, I guess, imposing at just over six feet. But I’m hunched now—I make a kind of long, flattened S—and I’m ludicrously thin. My hair was once dense, wiry stuff—besotted with cowlicks that could, in a pinch, have been mistaken for horns—and tinged an uncannily infernal red. But it’s just grey now—or white—and largely gone. And any colour remaining in my beard, I fancy, is more stain of nicotine than actual, natural pigment.

When I suggested to Lenore that, perhaps, it was the devilish glint in my eye, she just laughed and said that I had the doleful, drooping eyes of an ancient bloodhound that’d just been beaten with a newspaper for pooping on the rug. She elaborated: a faded Persian rug, she said.

Strange analogy.

“Why does it have to be faded?”

“Because that makes you all the more pathetic,” she said. “A threadbare old rug is prized more highly than you are, you see. You are tolerated, but only on the condition that, even in your sad, belly-dragging dotage, you don’t disgrace yourself on some tattered old bit of rag. If you do, then it’s smack! [and here she actually biffed me on the nose], and: What’re you any good for anyway, Fudge?! And: Next time, it’s off to see Dr. Baylis for the needle, and your remains to the four winds! …Heavens, the pong!

I shook my head.

… It occurs to me, though, that this is not the first time I’ve been, at least, compared to the Devil. But as I recall, there was some cause for this then. Long, long ago, when the hair in my armpits was a bizarrely entitling novelty, and I had legs like long pallid lengths of rope with a single huge knot in their middles, I got myself into a bit of trouble with the sports master of my old school. (Teachers were called masters then, if you went, as I did, to a Canadian private school—where you were guaranteed either the very best, or the very worst of educations, depending (as a rule) on whether your school chaplain was an east or west facing priest. Ours was east—so you understand.*) Our class was taken to a private club nearby that had squash courts. We, obviously, were expected to play squash there. But rather than do so, me and a threesome of fellows (one of whom, I might add, is now a crown attorney of no small reputation) thought it would be more fun to tie shut with our sweatshirts the various doors of the other courts in use, stand inconspicuously in the observation balconies overlooking them, and poor glasses of water over our classmates’ heads when they tried, in vain, to leave.

I seem to remember being flinged out the doors of the place; informed that I was single-handedly responsible for destroying the school’s relationship with the club**. The master in question—Mr. Sparks, reputedly of the old Ottawa Sparkses—then leveled a long glare at me, and told me that there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that I had broken from Lucifer’s own loins.

Harsh stuff. And, I hasten to add, richly deserved. I can’t say that I’ve entirely mended my ways, but I’m always impeccably behaved on squash courts now—often deferring a win to some wet oaf who could no sooner hit his own head with his racket than the ball.

My Pentecostal friend had quitted his post by the time we returned from our walk … I imagine a motley crew of Carmelite sisters bullying him with rosaries like bicycle chains until he made good his escape.

*A totally apocryphal piece of pretentiousness, I’ve since discovered. I’ve met only one one-time east-facing priest, and I’ve a strong suspicion that he did so because he was drunk at the time; and keen to disguise a black eye he’d got that afternoon in a fistfight.

**Snooteigh's, we called it.For excrement living on increment.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Italy beats France in a shoot-out and takes the 2006 World Cup ... Suffice it to say that, in spite of my total indifference to the competition, I am extremely disappointed by the outcome. Anyone who lives within a stone's throw of the Corso Italia, as I do, will understand this. Where, I hasten to add, fate has conspired to host, this very weekend, its annual Fiesta (an Italian-Canadian hommage to all things Italian-Spanish, one assumes). As you can imagine, the blare of celebrazione is such that you can't resist to take a break from whatever it is you're doing, throw together a snappy ensemble of green, white and red to wear, get the nipper into his stroller, the wife into a comfortable pair of sneakers, and goosestep down St. Clair West bearing a huge sign saying: Il Duce is proud of you! You remember Il Duce!?

The non-stop cacophony of horns and full-throated hollering has not dropped by so much as a decibel since they won some two hours ago--and will not do so, I would suggest, until the wee hours of the morning. But I refuse to be impressed by the apparent degree of effort being put into all this frenzy. It's not just one horn or one person screaming ebulliently, you know. There's a huge rotation of them, and I doubt if anyone breaks so much as a sweat tonight before they're plied with espresso, gelato, Moretti; invigorating games of Bocci ball, or Super Mario Bros; huge uncut salamis and Wonderbreads, and plates of macaroni. It's kinda pathetic, actually.

UPDATE (1:00am)

As predicted, the revelry continues unabated. I shall go to bed, though I feel certain I shall do no sleeping.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Nasty, Brutish, and Short ... and Modern

identity n. The condition or fact of a person or thing being that specified unique person or thing, esp. as a continuous unchanging property throughout existence.
More unashamed meaninglessness from the Toronto Star ... A particularly unruly sampling:
Canada, because of its short modern history and the accepting nature of aboriginals, has escaped the shackles of identity and has allowed its identity to be fluid. As the make-up of Canadians changes, so will our collective "Canadian identity" and that is the very thing we must treasure and protect from all its enemies.
Where to begin? I guess: what great mind produced this Canada's "short modern history" thesis? Is this as distinct from its long pre-modern history? (NOTE: there are echoes here of the simpering credulity that accepts Canada's Centennial as the year the country magically materialized on planet Earth, but I don't think that is what Rayan Rafay is getting at. Indeed, the rather evident problem to me in all Mr. Rafay's pious musings, is that I don't think even he is entirely certain what he is getting at, but that it all just kinda sounded good at the time.) And I wonder if anyone can explain either the relevance or, more challengingly perhaps, just the meaning of this reference to "the accepting nature of aboriginals." I confess, the usage is so strange that I begin to doubt my own understanding of the term. Does he mean Native Indians? Far be it from me to suggest that Canada's aboriginals aren't as a rule accepting, but I think Mr. Rafay might be under a slight misconception as to the degree of influence they have had on Canada's "short modern" psyche.

It is perhaps important to note that I take none of Mr. Rafay's (well-meaning, no doubt) flatulence as a personal affront to my Canadian identity. I am not a patriot; any identity I have comes in spite of short modern Canada. Rather, it's the glaring insult to my intelligence that I cannot abide. The man dares to disguise his inability to argue in terms of anything but hollow and unintelligent sentimentality, with a thin veneer of pseudo-academic newspeak. I mean, the idea that identity comes with a set of shackles is so ludicrously nonsensical it doesn't bear two seconds' thinking. That it (identity) might then be considered in terms of its being "fluid"--and that this apparent fluidity must, in defiance of reason (and physics), be "treasured" and "protected"--takes the giddy biscuit! It all sounds a little too uncannily like General Jack D. Ripper.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

At what point does a falling Star stop falling?

The Toronto Star excels itself. This has got to be the stupidest piece of junk it's printed in--well, not that long actually. Would that I could actually take issue with what's being said here. Alas, I have no idea what's being said here; Vezi Tayyeb has all the wit, sophistication, and stylistic merit of an irritatingly self-confident 14 year old with attention deficit disorder. For which, I should say, he has all my sympathy. But what on earth compelled the Star to print his little screed? It contains no insight, no coherent argument, no entertainment value, no evidence that Vezi has ever undertaken a serious peice of writing beyond the composition of a grocery list.

What kindergarten teacher couldn't be embarrassed reading this?
I wasn't born here, but I thank my father every day for raising me to be, first and foremost, a proud and patriotic Canadian. And even though I confess to playing ice hockey, shovelling snow, downing Tim Horton doughnuts and hoarding Canadian Tire coupons, I would like to state, for the record, that I have still not managed to lose my heritage.
Like most Canadians these days, Vezi is also, apparently, a Sucker and a Simpleton. I mean: hockey, shoveling snow, Tim Horton's, Canadian Tire? How much time does this guy spend watching television? Indeed, it seems to me that there's a very serious risk that the few Canadians existent that aren't either suckers or simpletons might actually be insulted by this unfortunate attempt at a folksy joke. (For my part, I can say quite honestly that I'd sooner watch someone pee on the Cenotaph.)

Next blistering line:
I don't believe this is even possible; my birthplace has left an indelible stamp on my personality and my perspective. My roots are in the blood. [What?! -ed.]

As an example, some years ago, the Pakistani international cricket team played a "friendly" match against Canada. Even though my uncle was involved as a coach with the Pakistan side, it never occurred to me to root for any other team other than Canada.
(A trifling point, but: am I wrong in thinking that the second paragraph doesn't actually follow from the first? How is your loyalty to the Canadian cricket team an example that your, ahem, roots are in your blood?)

Poor Vezi! It's not your fault that the Star has very good reason to believe that the bulk of its readers will actually enjoy your piece; will imbue it with a substance (any substance) that it can never, on its own merits, ever have. Canadian idiots, you see, are legion. They too spout the nostrum of Trudeaumania; come up with elaborately brainless chains of cause and effect to explain the degradation of a phenomenon that was, they fail to notice, premised on mutability itself.

KMG lamented to me by long-distance yesterday that, in spite of its literature, Canada really has no literature. I agree. But he hopes (I think, beyond hope) that there remains to be the potential for a Canadian identity. Canada did, after all, exist prior to The Year of the Revisionist: 1967 ... Until hell freezes over, then, the most cogent expression of the Canadian cultural synthesis appears thus in 'Canada's largest daily newspaper' (to the distant slashing of urine upon granite): "the colourful and festive display of flags from so many different nationalities is a charming and a vivid demonstration of how wonderful multiculturalism can be in its best moments."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


You have read Spengler? No: it is not so fashionable as it once was. But Spengler talks a great deal about what he calls the Magian World View, which he says we have lost, but which was part of the Weltanschauung--you know, the world outlook--of the Middle Ages. It was a sense of the unfathomable wonder of the invisible world that existed side by side with a hard recognition of the roughness and cruelty and day-to-day demands of the tangible world. It was a readiness to see demons where nowadays we see neuroses, and to see the hand of a guardian angel in what we are apt to shrug off ungratefully as a stroke of luck ... We have paid a terrible price for our education, such as it is. The Magian World View, in so far as it exists, has taken flight into science, and only the great scientists have it or understand where it leads; the lesser ones are merely clockmakers of a larger growth, just as so many of our humanist scholars are just cud-chewers or system- grinders. We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and the fear and dread of splendour and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshipped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless.

-Robertson Davies World of Wonders