Sunday, August 27, 2006

Separated at Birth?

I don't know. 'Spretty uncanny to me ...

One worries a bit about overstepping the bounds of friendship by not only ripping-off a fellow's staple "Separated at Birth" thing, but by involving the man himself in a comparison he would, I think, sooner bury and leave buried. Still. Rather hard to ignore, wouldn't you say?

Kevin protests that he is fat, while Colin Mochrie is thin (which strikes me as desperate grasping at straws masquerading as self-effacement); that he has all of his hair while Mr. Mochrie does not (*cough*); and adds, rather vainly I can't help thinking, the non-sequitur that the picture (taken by one Kevin Steel and originally posted here) makes him look very old. Not good enough, Kevin. If you are fat then Colin Mochrie is also fat. While you may retain most of your hair, the similarity is not in quantity so much as it is in quality: you both have white hair, you see. Prematurely white, I hasten to add, to allay the sensitivities contained within your last item.

This I will say: The Ambler does have a superior sense of humour to his doppelganger.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Century

My 100th post, I believe, so I'll just indulge a bit of navel-gazing I've been doing if you don't mind.

I've been reading rather a lot of Tom Sharpe lately, on the recommendation of a fellow Evelyn Waugh lover, and while I don't know that he (Sharpe, I mean) is quite in a league with the black prince of English letters, he is still really quite excellent.

In his novel Blott on the Landscape, Sharpe observes of the character Dundridge--a middling, middle-rung bureaucrat of the sort that has catalyzed the oozing metamorphosis of once Great Britain into this fiddly banality we now call the UK--that he "lived if not for the present at least the immediate future." Which seems to me to be one of the more succinct appraisals of man as he now is, i.e. comfortably (or, perhaps, indifferently) industrialized. For it is the characteristic feature of our age that we refuse, on principle, the need for selflessness or (Dog forbid its mere mention!) self-denial, but neither are we effectively self-serving. That is to say, we haven't either the benefit of our children or of ourselves at heart.

I wonder if so much of the human race at a time has ever before been so futile, bereft both of tragedy and comedy. Strangely enough, the only productive or creative force left to us in this condition is satire. Rather depressing, what what?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hitch your wagon to his star, Mr. Star!

Kudos, with big sparkling knobs on, to Vinay Menon for one of the very few classy bits of writing I've seen in the Toronto Star--bar the odd Richard Gwyn column--for nigh on two years. His fodder? The concept for this season's run of Survivor: apparently something along the lines of a race riot. Highlights from the piece include:

Describing an interview between Harry Smith and Jeff Probst on CBS's The Early Show:
"I have to tell you when I woke up early this morning and I started reading through this stuff I was stunned and, quite frankly, I was dismayed," said Smith, still visibly stunned and dismayed.
Following the observation that the obvious reason why Survivor suffers a lack of diversity is because 80% of the applicants are white, Menon writes:
So if you want more diversity on Survivor, get the minorities on side. What's that, Pedro, your family fled a wartorn country to build a new life in America? Perfect. We'd like you to spend 30 days on this remote, bug-infested island where your starvation and daily humiliations will tickle millions of viewers.
And, regarding the possibility of politically inexpedient missteps on the show:
Sure, the more egregious stuff will be easy to avoid. I mean, don't expect to see a reward challenge that has White Tribe playing basketball against Black Tribe for a bucket of fried chicken. And don't expect to see Asian Tribe vie for immunity in a calculus contest.
Something tells me a sense of humour like this will see Mr. Menon into a bit of soup, given the Star's largely irony-deficient readership. Still, I'm rather hopeful that he'll be made Editor-in- Chief.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sharpe On the Progressive Spirit

The master flushed. 'You find the topic amusing, Dean?' he inquired.

'Not the topic, Master, so much as the contortions of the liberal conscience,' said the Dean, settling back in his chair with relish. 'On the one hand we have an overwhelming urge to promote the equality of the sexes. We admit women to a previously all-male college on the grounds that their exclusion is clearly discriminatory. Having done so much we find it necessary to provide a contraceptive dispenser in the Junior lavatory and an abortion centre doubtless in the Matron's room. Such a splendid prospect for parents to know that the welfare of their daughters is so well provided for. No doubt in time there will be a College crèche and a clinic.'

'Sex is not a crime, Dean.'

'In my view pre-marital intercourse comes into the category of breaking and entering,' said the Dean. He pushed back his chair and they stood while he said grace.

Tom Sharpe Porterhouse Blue

Friday, August 18, 2006

Brown Spots on the Wall

My wife, with her infallible eye for the grotesquely absurd, came across this piece in today's Star. It would appear that a TDSB principal "allegedly toss[ed] excrement at children" and has been suspended from her position for doing so.

Apart from its almost sublime comic value, I find the story fascinating for two reasons.

(A) It seems to me that odds are overwhelmingly against the possibility of its panning out. The story, I mean. Indeed, I promise to eat my hat if we don't discover that the poor woman, Maria Pantalone, probably just got a little irritated at the sight of two young people allowing their dog to make a poop on her front lawn; was struck then with inspiration--provided, apparently, with a keen sense of poetic justice--ran to the garden shed, got herself a shovel, ran back out to the front lawn, did the necessary bit of scooping, and lofted the stuff after the little brats in their retreat. If this is so, as I stongly suspect it is--what on earth else could it possibly be?!--one is forced to wonder how the story made the papers.

(B) If it is the case that (A), the story's highly questionable newsworthiness is, I think, explained by the apparent scatological fixation of the reporter, the pricelessly named Robyn Doolittle. She says--in the sixth sentence of the piece, giving us a too acute sense of her priorities--"but investigators were mum on details refusing to say whether the excrement was animal or human." ... Yes indeed. Inquiring minds need to know.

I must admit to a certain amount of disgust at the level of stooping here, on the part of the media. The Star should be ashamed of itself for smearing--er, besmirching--Ms. Pantalone's reputation before all the relevant facts are in.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

I was smoking an eight quarter stinker on a patio the other day and a fellow sitting nearby--nursing a pint of coffee that looked uncannily like milk that'd been strained through a dusty cheesecloth--called across the isthmus of tables that separated us to inform me that: "It's a filthy habit!"

I ignored him.

He repeated--in a strained, jocose, avuncular kind of way--adding: "Enjoy them while you still can, I guess!"

I was writing something at the time, but here dropped my pen and shot the man a look (whereupon, you should be impressed to note, he withered noticeably). I spoke:

"The large, barn-shaped object I noticed you pull up in is also a filthy, and entirely unnecessary, habit. It is, in addition to this, an offense to every conceivable notion of good taste."

(I nearly wished him a terse "Good afternoon, sir!" but thought better of it--such subtle turns of phrase are long past date.)

Concerned, now, that he might have somehow made an enemy, the fellow proceeded to offer various apologies of sorts, telling me finally that it was just that smoking was such an easy target. The question I did not then ask him, but which I wish I had, was: why the desperate need for targets? Why, indeed, the desperate need for target practice on sunny afternoons in summer outside Starbucks?

... My father was a National Serviceman in the British Army, and often repeated to me in my youth that men couldn't grow up without a certain, actual experience of soldiering. Else they continue to play at being soldiers ... He was, of course, quite right.

Sgur Urain!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Predictable, Warren

Well I guess that, strictly speaking, I was wrong in my predictions of the likely substance of Warren Kinsella's column in today's National Post. Though there was a certain amount of opportunistic toadying there to those who would be his sworn enemies under any other phase of the moon. And I really was a fool not to expect the inevitable slab of obtuse magnanimity that has become something of a trademark of Warren's; bestowed in this case upon that poor hapless sap Michael Ignatieff, about whom he (Kinsella) is quick to point out to us, he has "written critically" on other occasions. (Another ripe example of this safe self-effacement can be found on his website, under today's date, in re. accusations he once made in The Hill Times about the NDP being, as he puts it, "a repository of anti-Israel hatred.") Yes, okay, Warren. We get it. You are the very encapsulation of Voltaire's maxim.

That being the case, I feel honour-bound to point out that the article still doesn't really work. I was under the impression, in light of the touting the piece was given yesterday in the Post (i.e. "Are blogs the vanity press for the demented or a new way of reporting the news? Warren Kinsella presents two case studies"), and the very first line of the piece itself ("Blogs are a vanity press for the demented, some say"), that this might have been something in the nature of a dramatic study in contrasts. Instead, the cases presented consist of two rather fiddly, middle-of-the-road examples of defensible partisanship ... If Warren's 'some' had said that blogs are a vanity press for the informed mundane the exemplars would've been fine but, as it stands, I fail to see what, apart from the obvious, has been achieved here.

In any case, as I say, strictly speaking I fell somewhat short of the mark in my expectations. Strictly speaking, mind. The email I received from Warren this morning, though, proved my point rather well I thought. He had this to say:
Cool. I get whacked before you even read it! Let's move the markers, shall we? Whack me before I even think of something!
Which is, in and of itself, a totally fair comment. One, I freely admit, that I might've made myself had I come across something similar written about me. But the difference is: I would've said it. Under my breath, probably, but I might've shouted it at my computer screen too. What I definitely would not have done--particularly if I was a person of no small reputation; a lawyer, media critic for the National Post, and former assistant to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien--is bother to write the offending soul in order to say it to him directly. That's just weird. Demented, if you will. And so you see: quod erat demonstrandum.

My reply:
Yes, well ... But you have kind of proved my point, you know (in spite of the fact that your column didn't quite go as predicted--which, in fairness, I intend to address in a posting today).

As for your challenge: in the next minute you will be thinking "I wonder what people think about me now." ... At some point today you will lament the non-existence of Google Thought.

... The man, as I mentioned yesterday, has done this before. And, it is important to note, he has done it to many, many others before too. It's the strangest thing. Indeed, his need to exact some form of verbal retribution (at his mildest) on anyone who dares take his apparently sacred name in vain has earned him something of an infamous reputation. At least, in the so-called blogosphere it has. It doesn't seem to want to stick anywhere else. Not explicitly anyway. But there (in the blogosphere, I mean), the name Warren Kinsella has become a byword for ... well, for lunatic. (To give an example: Kevin Libin, of the Western Standard, quips that "I don't want to get all Warren Kinsella on anyone here, but...")

Between his multitudinous filings of libel suits against various bloggers (one in particular ringing a rather sinister note given the insane amount of money involved), and the goopiness of sentimentality that characterizes so much of what he writes, one gets the distinct impression that the man is unwell. Clinically unwell. A megalomaniac perhaps? A sociopath? He is not, in any case, the "Prince of Darkness" of Canadian politics, as he wants so pitiably for us to think of him.

That being said, while Mark Bourrie--the defendant in the sinister libel aforementioned--insists that "We are not afraid of Warren Kinsella" ... I am.

(Although I must admit to feeling a certain affinity for the man. He complained recently of cyber-stalking (Aug. 6th) and, this morning, in spite of my embarrassingly minute readership, I too was made to suffer the digital gropings of some whacko. He touched my site enough to make a hooker blush. If only on this common ground, then: I hear you, brother.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Predicting Warren

The top bar of page two of my dead-tree (loathsome expression) copy of today's National Post informs me that, tomorrow, that paragon of virtue, Warren Kinsella, will tackle the question: "Are blogs the vanity press for the demented or a new way of reporting the news?"

How original ... But, hang on. Didn't Adam Radwanski already write this column about a week ago?

Whatever the case, I'm going to take a wild guess at its content:

Anyone who has ever undertaken to point out that Warren himself fits the first category (I've done so myself, here, for which I received a reprimand from him in a staggeringly spang-on rendition of Orwell's O'Brien), will, I'm thinking, be relegated to the first category. Innocuities--that is: post-Sex Pistols punk rockers, other sentimentalists, correctly aligned partisans, question beggers, and anybody who is pro-Israel (no matter how unlikely)--will be hanging out in the happening, though decidedly late-middle-aged, mosh pit of the second category.

I look forward to being utterly depressed by it, anyway.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Plum - On Being Wet

It seems rummy that water should be so much wetter when you go into it with your clothes on than when you're just bathing, but take it from me that it is. I was only under about three seconds, I suppose, but I came up feeling like the bodies you read of in the paper which 'had evidently been in the water several days.'

... And emotional register in potatoes:

The blow fell precisely at one forty-five (summer time). Spenser, Aunt Agatha's butler, was offering me the fried potatoes at the moment, and such was my emotion that I lofted six of them on to the sideboard with the spoon. Shaken to the core, if you know what I mean.

P.G. Wodehouse The Inimitable Jeeves

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Public Opinion Polls (Moral Equivalency's Ace) and Other Fallacies

Haroon Siddiqui toes the Toronto Star's editorial line exquisitely today in his piece entitled "Canadians reject government's 'principled' stand," wherein he blusters much and says nothing at all.

1) He begins--drawing heavily on the analysis of historian Desmond Morton--by framing Stephen Harper's support of Israel in terms of his (Harper's) "absolute dependency on U.S. trade." Quoting Morton, he says: "Mr. Harper has said, `Ready, aye, Ready,' in following the U.S. policy and offering full and complete support to Israel without any attempt at a moderate position to press for what Kofi Annan is talking about — that is, getting a ceasefire."

Now, Kofi Annan has been talking about a whole bunch of things, and it's a powerfully cynical statement about Canada's apparent tradition of neutrality to suggest that his is the moderate position we should be aligning ourselves with. But this is beside the point ... The unavoidable logic underlying Siddiqui's claim, via Professor Morton, is that the only possible reason for a consensus of opinion between the governments of the United States and Canada, ever, is economic self-interest. Which is, of course, a) a fallacy, given that we share a basic ethical groundwork as expressed in the common principle of our liberal democracies--so, anything short of a bulk of consensus in ethical matters (and Canada can offer little more of support in the world than the moral variety) would seem to be near impossible; and b) just too clunkily beside the point, given that it is Israel we are talking about, not the USA. As ever, the Star's hysterical anti-Americanism clouds its judgement to the point of obtuseness.

2) Siddiqui then invests his argument against the PM's 'principled stand' with the favourite weapon of intellectually indefensible (or not decisively defensible) positions: public opinion polls. That is, the Strategic Counsel tells us that only 32% of Canadians support Harper's position. My question is: so what? At a rough guess I'd say that 68% of Canadians know diddly-squat about what's going on between Israel and Hezbollah right now, as they certainly know diddly-squat about Canada's role as "mediator and peacemaker in the Middle East." So it works out. Indeed, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find 10 people on Bloor St. in rush hour who could string together 3 loosely factual sentences defending the majority's apparent desire to "stay neutral." (Stay neutral! I just love this! The myth of Canada's historic neutrality persists in spite of the fact--that so many effing people have pointed-out--that it has never actually been neutral.)

3) He then quotes this prize platitude from Allan Gregg (Chairman of the aforementioned Strategic Counsel) addressing Canada's steady shift from its once pro-Israeli position to a recognition that: "there are no white hats in this conflict." (How cute, Mr. Gregg. Are there ever?) And while this may be true--leaving, for a moment, the issue of its triteness--I wonder if he could say the same about the number of black hats being worn at this little costume party and by whom.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"Lebanon's 50,000 Canadians" etc.

Oh, semantics! Will you please explain, Mr. Star, the difference between " Lebanon's 50,000 Canadians" and the (unbelievable when you put it thus, yes, but still) 50,000 Canadians resident in Lebanon? Are we to believe that we are an ethnic group now? Are these 50,000 but a fraction of some kind of worldwide Canadian Diaspora? ... I guess Canadians should be proud that, failing news, the Star's fictions are at least cosmopolitan.

But I digress.

The editorial in question calls upon Israel to hurry-up and broker what it considers to be the "inevitable ceasefire"(--oh, were we boring you? So very sorry) with Hezbollah. It cites for its reasoning heavy civilian casualties, one, and says, two, that "despite the heavy fighting, Israel is nowhere close to destroying Hezbollah." It goes on to say: "Just two days ago, Hezbollah launched a record 160 rockets at Israel. Confounding Israeli expectations, Hezbollah shows little sign of backing down." A damning inference based on the facts! But why are we talking about "just two days ago" when we could be talking about just one day ago? Seems a little more relevant, wouldn't you say? And here: apparently just one day ago "Hezbollah ... continued firing rockets into Israel ... but it launched far fewer than in previous days." The National Post goes so far as to say that "Hezbollah guerrillas fired only two missiles into Israel yesterday and military sources claimed its rocket-launching capacity had been largely destroyed." Which seems a little preposterously exaggerated to me, but still: given a consensus since yesterday (as opposed to the 24 hours before that in which, surprise surprise, time passed and things changed) that there has been an at least sizeable decrease in the number of rockets being fired into Israel, there is the distinct suggestion (though, indeed, I wouldn't state it too much more strongly than that) that Hezbollah is backing down. Making Israel's "expectations," if not well-founded, certainly not confounded.

I must admit that I'm torn as to whether or not there should be a ceasefire at this point. Israel reached the frozen limit of its justifications for air assault when Haim Ramon asserted (what Chris Selley calls) his "categorical innacuracy" that: "all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah." This, as KMG has (quite correctly) pointed out to me, is little more than setting the groundwork to excuse a genocide ... But! Just as we reach the peak of our (justified but, I think, largely misconceived) hectoring censure of Israel and its terror bombings, it (Israel) undertakes to begin what it should have done some time ago: a ground war. (I'm torn here too (but only, as you can see, parenthetically). Ground war, I guess, is the only morally responsible means towards the ends Israel seeks, i.e. not being routinely bombed by nutjobs. But I hear echoing through the ether the shrill cries of the future: Military Occupation! of an (ostensibly) democratic country, no less ...And I don't know that the civilian death toll will be perceived as considerably less even if it is considerably less, given Hezbollah's modus operandi, combined of the West's beyond-the-pale queasiness at the prospect of any kind of civilian casualty. Ironically enough, our Holocaust-hypersensitive society has made the difference between 3 deaths and 30 merely academic. One, after all, is too many. It seems to me that if Israel ditches now, then nothing--as opposed to a significant little--has been accomplished. Except the killing of a lot of innocent children.

I don't know. But I reassure myself (though it's hardly reassuring in an objective sense) that I know more than the Star does. It says:
Clearly, any final peace accord must include pledges by Lebanon and Syria to disarm Hezbollah and by Hezbollah to immediately stop attacking Israel. Without such vows, peace in the Mideast will be impossible.

Still, any delay by Israel and Hezbollah in agreeing to a ceasefire will only result in more civilian deaths in Lebanon and Israel. It would not bring about Hezbollah's demise nor benefit Israel's long-term security.
Peace in the Mideast--a final(!) peace accord--is impossible! That's obvious and I'm absolutely blown-away by the stupidity of the suggestion. We're 60-odd years into this nonsense, for God's sake, not 20-odd days! The curtailment, however, of fitful but ongoing and pointless bloodbaths is, I think, not impossible. Whether the decisive stroke can (or should or will) be made now depends entirely on Israel--knowing full-well that it can't do so in good conscience, much less with any lasting effectiveness, from the air.