Friday, September 29, 2006

Vox Clamantis in Deserto

I've long had my suspicions that, far from being the Punk Rock paragon that he (and only he) claims to be, Warren Kinsella is much closer kin with the "boring old fart" oft lamented by such real punk luminaries as Johnny Rotten.

But proving this has been very difficult. Because, of course--in true Boring Old Fart fashion--BOFs like Warren have, post hoc, sewn themselves into the very fabric of the movement (indeed, have miscontrued it as a "movement," in stark contrast to what it truly was: an intentionally inartistic expression of pure cynicism--punks did not so much shriek defiance into the Nietzschean abyss, as pass out next to it in a stew of their own puke), and by so doing have, of necessity, plucked out Punk Rock's real substance and authority.

This is rather fittingly illustrated, I think, in the infamous transformation of the historical (that is, the real life) Sid Vicious, who notoriously dared to sport a swastika across his shirt front for all to see and be affronted by, to that simpering, obtusely personal Sid Vicious--played by Gary Oldman in the catastrophically boring Sid and Nancy--sporting a barely politically shocking hammer and sickle across his. (I have no doubt that the miscarriage of Punk Rock occurred long before 1986, but as one of the more glaring pieces of revisionism to have been conjured up by the BOFs since its demise, Sid and Nancy stands out as one of Punk's most conspicuous (as it were) Bodies.)

But the devil is in the details ... And when it comes to Punk Rock, any inordinate attention to detail is itself an indictable offense. Bothering to make a movie about Punk Rock--unless it is the sort of intentionally exploitative movie grimly reconciled to the inevitability of 'filthy lucre'--is not Punk. But, as far as I know, Alex Cox wasn't a punk. So, personally, he risked nothing by making his rather tacky little contribution to the "love kills" oeuvre. Warren Kinsella, on the other hand, does claim to have been a punk--indeed claims, at the ripe age of 46, to still be a punk--and he's gone and bothered to write an entire book about it. Not Punk! ... The fact that he has recast that necessarily short lived trend as an ongoing and aggressive "search for the real" is not only not Punk, it's lame by any standard (including an academic one).

But I have reason to believe that there's more than just a bit of irony at work in this conflict between the various appearances of Warren Kinsella and what lurks, darkly, beneath ... In spite of their expressly formless response to the ubiquitous fact of boring-old-fartdom, Johnny Rotten et al's disdain of same did spring from a fairly defensible (even, rudimentarily noble) notion of what, at least, the world shouldn't be. In the end, they thought it more fitting that the BOFs (and the rest of us with them) should simply be made to choke on their own filth ... Kevin Michael Grace, however, with his incurable faith in worldly justice, has undertaken a "search for the real" of his own (here, here, and most recently here) and, it seems to me, he might actually have found it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kinsella: Wong Again!

In today's National Post--and with a record minimum of coherence--Warren Kinsella says (or asks ... it's a syntactical nightmare, in any case): "In fairness to Jan Wong, this much can be said: If the Globe and Mail didn't keep her on the payroll, who else would write the thoughtless and stupid stuff?"

Erm ... Warren Kinsella would. I should've thought that was obvious. (Explain, again, the need to describe Ms. Wong's "stuff" as both "thoughtless" and "stupid." As distinct from what exactly? The thoughtful and stupid stuff; the thoughtless and smart stuff? Could we have slipped a dumb and an idiotic in there too for good measure?)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Omne Ignotum Pro Magnifico

The irony that so many commentators have been bashing away at in re. the Pope's recent, now infamous, Regensburg address is itself, methinks, a trifle ironic. They've all sunk their teeth so deeply into the fact of the absurdity of a violent response by certain Muslims to a (perceived) accusation that Islam is a religion of violence, that they themselves have gone and illustrated the very "reduction of the radius of science and reason" which the poor Pontiff spent the bulk of his speech bemoaning ... For--it should go without saying at this point--the speech had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. The quote from Manuel II Paleologus was anecdotal, and was employed only to introduce the true substance of the lecture: a rather tidy piece of scholarship outlining the process by which Western man has alienated himself from the proper study, and use, of reason.

In brief Benedict's argument runs as follows: he traces (what he calls) the "program of dehellenization" to three distinct causes. The first: the Reformation, and by extension, the Enlightenment. The second: the "liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries." And the third: the contemporary worship of "cultural pluralism." He concludes that, compounded of one another, these movements have had a massively detrimental effect on man's capacity to reason, and that we have far to go in restoring the proper order of things in order to achieve the possibility of any kind of beneficial progress.

... But, as I say, ironically, so stuck are we now in the thrall of the last stage, that not even the Pope's defenders could be bothered to notice the exquisite proof they themselves provide of the consequences of dehellenization: that a purely philosophical criticism of Europeans and, more particularly, of Christians, has been thinly construed but widely accepted as an attack on Islam. (I should exempt Gerald Owen from so many of his contemporaries in this. And, indeed, Father David Curry--who, as an Anglican priest, might be among the very few entitled to take semi-legitimate exception to the Pope's argument. And who doesn't (take exception), by the way--precisely because he's bothered to take the time to understand what was actually said.)

It really is amazing. A better expression of our 21st century alchemy need not be found. We've succeeded in creating something from nothing; burned churches and murdered nuns, picketed cathedrals with hateful slogans and threats, all because the Pope didn't say something and then didn't expound on it. (And as you'll observe, as with all alchemy, the something that has been produced is, really, only more nothing ... Behold the mysterious and consuming efficacy of nothing!)

It would appear to be the consensus now, from all quarters, that a perceived slight--blinkered as it is by the inclusivist's sensitivities--is a slight. The rallying cry (explicit and tacit) has gone up: Firebomb reason where it stays the forward steamroll of cultural pluralism!

And thus we have, in other spheres, the conspicuous absence of scruple in suggestions such as this: Alfonso Gagliano--found by the Gomery report to have played a central role in the sponsorship scandal--has come forward to defend Joe Volpe--under scrutiny now, for the second time!, for shady dealings in re. his leadership campaign--to suggest that it is not his or Mr. Volpe's indisputable criminality that makes them unfit for public office, but the fact that we are prejudiced against Italians. (A suggestion that I hope, at least, the majority of self-respecting Italians will strenuously object to.)

Now. While I have no doubt that many people would concede that such an accusation is absurd, I'm fairly certain that none of them would go so far as to condemn it for what it really is: a malicious and contemptible lie. Such, alas, is no longer part of our equipment. Indeed, that it is a malicious and contemptible lie that, first and foremost, flagrantly begs the question, will ironically enough be proven to be immaterial. (Honestly: you just watch the Toronto Star wring every conceivable ounce of copy potential out of Gagliano's claim, while at the same time running stories confirming Volpe's culpability in the Montreal fiasco.) Do remember the lengths to which we went and succeeded in vindicating Dee Brown--who was caught red-handed drinking and driving--because of an absurd, impossible-to-substantiate, and wholly beside the point conjecture that the apprehending officer might've been a racist.

Our dehellenized age is, I think, an instance of what Blake meant by "fearful symmetry"--and it is precisely this that is the Pope's concern. For the correlate threat to what Benedict XVI has identified as our reduced capacity to effectively reason is not so much what might happen to a world deprived of religion, as it is the reduction in our capacity to distinguish between fact and falsehood. Thus Dee Brown, Joe Volpe and (if I might be allowed to paint it with so broad a stroke) Islam--all as victims, when they are rather evidently anything but.

ADDENDUM: I came across this in my searches re. Dee Brown. A priceless piece of anti-reasoning that illustrates rather perfectly, I think, the degradation of thought in the absence of reasoned (and reasonable) argument. A sample:
Fairgrieve, the Court of Appeal found, failed to "appreciate" the argument being advanced by Brown's lawyers that racial profiling is not necessarily an overt act, that "it can be a subconscious factor impacting on the exercise of a discretionary power."

Judging by the howls coming from police quarters, that concept seems to be lost on the force as a whole.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Waugh On Ancient Names

Only God and Guy knew the massive and singular quality of Mr. Crouchback's family pride. He kept it to himself. That passion, which is often so thorny a growth, bore nothing save roses for Mr. Crouchback. He was quite without class consciousness because he saw the whole intricate social structure of his country divided neatly into two unequal and unmistakable parts. On one side stood the Crouchbacks and certain inconspicuous, anciently allied families; on the other side stood the rest of mankind, Box-Bender, the butcher, the Duke of Omnium (whose onetime wealth derived from monastic spoils), Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain - all of a piece together. Mr. Crouchback acknowledged no monarch since James II. It was not an entirely sane conspectus but it engendered in his gentle breast two rare qualities, tolerance and humility. For nothing much, he assumed, could reasonably be expected from the commonalty; it was remarkable how well some of them did behave on occasions; while, for himself, any virtue he had came from afar without his deserving, and every small fault was grossly culpable in a man of his high tradition.

Evelyn Waugh Men at Arms

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Star Proclaims: Liberté Jamais!

Welcome, Mr. Penn, to the lamest town on Earth.

Easy there! Don't run away just yet ... Mrs. Star would like to have a quick word or two with you, if you don't mind. Eyes front, please. Hands out of pockets, there's a good lad.

Spitfire, what? Damned fine woman!

For future reference though, chappy, there are just two things you need to remember about Toronto, the 21st century's fertile ground for the historical tyrant's obliging corn. One: you've taken a look around the place so it mustn't be too much of a leap for you to recognize that, no, we really don't have anything better to do. Two: our hatred of smokers is surpassed only by our hatred of anyone perceived to be rising above the general level (though, I'll admit, we might be under a slight misapprehension as regards your, and indeed all other actors', accomplishments). Dog have mercy upon your soul if you should dare to twin these heinous sins!

You had us here and here, Sean, but ... Smoking?! One wonders if you and Mel Gibson have anything else in common.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Evan Solomon Misfires

Evan Solomon, it seems to me, has somehow managed to get away with making an entire career out of begging the question. Indeed, not only is his journalistic mark almost invariably missed, but the missile of his insight often, too, has the habit of ricocheting a couple of times, unsteadying various unintended targets, before it finally thunks down in the ineffectual dust.

What I didn't realize was that he can be as obtuse in print--usually the last refuge of those (like Evan) unable to think on their toes--as he is during the endless, offensively puerile prattle that is the trademark of CBC News: Sunday. In reply to an editorial that appeared in the National Post yesterday--that criticized Mr. Solomon for his mishandling of what might have been "a useful (and entertaining) examination" of the various conspiracy theories surrounding the events of 9/11--he, as ever, succeeds only in making it rather painfully clear that he didn't actually understand the criticism when he undertook to rebut it.

He says: "The Post suggests that merely by examining the conspiracy theories, the CBC somehow supports their allegations. That's neither logical nor true."

No, indeed, as that wasn't what the Post was suggesting at all. And they really weren't being that subtle about what they were suggesting either.

The point was, Evan, that your piece "9/11: Truth, Lies, and Conspiracy" was exceptionally poor journalism. To wit: it consisted in large part of a meticulously close examination of the various conspiracy theories being peddled about, only to shoot them down with no ceremony (and no style) at the story's disproportionately terse conclusion. I don't think anyone could've been under the impression that the CBC, or even Evan Solomon, were persuaded by the nostrum spouted by the conspiracy theory straw man they'd set-up only to knock it over with a sneeze ... But this is precisely the problem. The story was obviously and painfully contrived.

Imagine the first 28 minutes--of a half-hour long piece about a suspected murderer--being devoted to the hearsay of neighbours. All their suspicions settle upon The Boyfriend; well-known to beat the victim on occasion, to drink compulsively, etc. The story builds and builds until there can be little doubt as to the man's guilt, and then, in the remaining two minutes, he is instantly cleared by a yawning police constable, who says that (a) The Boyfriend was out of the country at the time, and (b) Osama bin Laden has already taken responsibility for the crime!

What the Post was getting at, Evan, was that you missed a fairly good opportunity to produce a good, relevant, and informative story, i.e. that there are a phenomenal number of idiots in North America, willing to entertain the most absurd, reason-defying long shots over the more obvious explanation. The real story here was the deleterious effect upon common sense of the novelty appeal of conspiracy theories.

Monday, September 11, 2006

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Had one of those terribly depressing revelations the other day and--in spite of the pain it gives me to linger upon the event--it is, I guess, incumbent upon me to pass it on.

It happened thus ...

My wife (Lenore--you'll remember her) and I were invited for the Labour Day weekend to visit friends in the country. Which of course always leads to some small panic re. the matter of the cat, Thomas. My inclination on such occasions is to leave her (the cat) to her own devices--and, maybe, a half-bowl of rice al dente if I'm feeling particularly generous--so that she might be persuaded of necessity to give that other matter, the matter of the mice, the full extent of her attention.

(... Are you perhaps relieved to hear, gentle reader, that my inclinations where the treatment of house pets is concerned are never ever paid any mind? Yes? Well then hear this: t'cha to you and your pieties! That cat never gave me so much as a scrap for all the dinners I gave her, and don't think she wouldn't do the same to you for your trouble. Indeed, were you--as was my old friend John Parry--shrunken to the size of a mouse and made, thereby, subject to her feline whimsy for nigh on a year, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts you wouldn't think twice about force-feeding her a steady diet of naught until such time as she'd learned some respect ... But I digress.)

In any case, it worked out that I was spared the shame and embarrassment of hauling the little bag of fleas--tucked caterwaulingly away in her precious sea-foam coloured carrier--to the vet's to have my pockets picked to the tune of twenty bones a night. A neighbour, you see, had recently made it known to Lenore that she would be willing to look in on the creature any time we happened to be away.

One bird with one stone, anyway. A not entirely satisfying compromise, but a compromise.

So ... A convenient time was arranged for this obliging neighbour, whom we shall call Jude, to come up and see where everything was kept, and as Lenore was off working--most inconveniently--at the time, the task fell to me. I should say that I'd met the woman before this. Once. She seemed quite nice--though the conversation was only two minutes long, and, for my own part, I managed to pack into the exchange at least one considerable lie. Anyway, at the proposed hour, up she came and we went about the redoubtable task of mixing awkward chitchat with the more pressing business of litter scooping, favoured bits of string, and what inconvenient corners of the place the cat was likely to be found sleeping eighteen hours of the day.

Now, before I get to the gist of the story, it needs to be noted that by the standard of any generation prior to the last two, the décor of our apartment would be considered, I think, unremarkable (if a little anachronistic, obviously). The usual nonsense adorns our walls (where they aren't obscured by bookcases brimming with (sad to say) largely crap novels of the transgressive sort, unique and exclusive to the generations aforementioned): feeble, fading facsimiles of various deservedly-obscure artists' work, some original daubs foisted off on us by emotionally needy friends, photographs of the cat and the brats, a full-sized and framed Magna Carta, and rather a lot of brass rubbings ... Indeed, as I peruse this list it occurs to me that all of these things--with the notable exception of the last--are acceptable even now. But those rubbings!

They were all inherited, I'll have you know. Still, it is not from some misbegotten sense of obligation that our dining room now contains exactly six of them. They are there because I like them, one; and, two, the aesthetics of the thing require that they should be presented as a set. Any idiot can tell you why it would be wrong to put a monumental brass next, say, an Egon Schiele genital special, when it is possible to avoid such a match; it is, after all, not recommended that the stomach should be made to turn. Indeed, one runs the risk by so doing of seriously marring for all time the appeal to the observer of the pieces respectively.

Still, in spite of such considerations it has been my experience that the pious postures of Johns Bacon and Raven, Mary Bence et al, unmitigated by something a little more cheekily secular, create a distinctly jarring--i.e. too obviously Christian--impression upon the postmodern sensibility. And given that the dining room is the natural congregational point of the flat, it is just this impression which tends to be the lasting one ... And on this particular occassion--with Jude the cat-sitter visiting--I happened also to have a catalogue of Byzantine icons sitting open upon the table ...

And thus the journey from front door (where formal introductions were made) to dining room (where instructions were given) saw in Jude a considerable and very rapid shift in attitude; warmly awkward through cooly disingenuous is as close as I can get to describing it. In between relevant cupboard openings and instructions as to when the cat liked most to be brushed, I noticed her eyes--independent of her rigidly fixed head and neck--frenetically twitching from wall to wall.

"It's certainly very serious in here," she finally managed, tittering slightly. "Do you like this sort of stuff?"

"Oh yes," I said, affably, lighting a cigarette end I'd retrieved from a stinkingly brimming ashtray. "Don't you?"

"Oh yes," she replied--but in such a way as to leave absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was only a sense of what was fitting that kept her from shouting "No, you horrible man, I don't!"

"Good, good." I said, and hoped in turn that it might be taken to mean: "Damn your fine words, ye snaggletoothed hen! Repent! REPENT!"

The conversation twisted and writhed through the next ten minutes. So what do you do? Oh this and that. Cigarette? No thanks, I don't--oh, and I see you have a picture book here too ... Oh, oh yes. And so forth.

Then two remarkable things happened. Or, rather, one remarkable thing happened, and another didn't. What didn't happen was that she didn't ask me if I was, myself, a Christian. Which might not strike you as remarkable at all, but which is exactly my point: the question was hovering so close in the air that I could feel the feathers of its wings as they beat about my head. And yet it was never asked. But religion, you see--particularly Christianity--is the great outré of our age. Just short of incest, pederasty and anti-semitism; it has, ironically enough, been made to fill that part of the closet left free by the sodomites. It was not mentioned because it is not mentioned.

The remarkable thing that did happen was: in lieu of asking this question--that was eating away at the woman's spleen like ... like something that feeds ravenously and exclusively upon pedant's spleen--she decided to ask me if I was familiar with an early-Renaissance school of painters well-known for their depiction of Christ ... with an erection.

"Because," she said with dignity, and by way of explanation, "he was a man, you see."

Which, of course, is quite true. If only by half. (Or, if you prefer: it's entirely true, whilst also being entirely false.)

Bear with me here, gentle reader, for it very well may be that such is the advanced state of your affliction that the question doesn't strike you as being the very height of topsy-turvidom. A woman, abrim with do-goodery, enters a house only to find the walls awash with (roughly) Christian iconography. Not a Christian herself, she still defeats the urge to defer any understanding of the faith to the part of the second party (with whom she has only a fleeting aquaintance) and, instead, decides to broach the topic of erections.

I was long under the impression that the common perception was: there aren't any religious, there are only religious nuts. I see now that religious nuts might be the only thing spared the postmodern boot.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bernard's Letter

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Wet Dreams of Canadians

Jack Layton let it be known yesterday that the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan should be removed no later than February of 2007. He further suggested that Canadians should, instead, take part in a "comprehensive peace plan" that would include peace talks with the Taliban. He says, "Canadians want a foreign policy that is rooted in fact, not fear, one that is uniquely independent, not ideologically imported and one that leads the world into peace, not follows the US into wars."

Okay, Jack. But that would be to lend the tiniest bit of credence to this idea that it is even conceivable that the Taliban will participate (in anything other than a token capacity) in peace talks--which is so laughably absurd one can't help but wonder what planet the NDP leader is importing his ideology from. To which, of course, Jack would protest that his position is not the product of ideology at all--that that is a uniquely conservative hangover from the dark ages and, indeed, the source of all our problems.

How to explain the current left's ludicrous belief that what makes their crusade righteous is the very absence of ideology from their, er ..., ideology? This is logically impossible, right? And yet the reasoning prevails that: if (a) we reject the dominating neo-con belief (i.e. that democracy is a thing that has to be exported using force because bad men do exist in the world and will try to stop it at any cost), we are then (b) somehow rejecting all ideology wholesale. Nonsense. If neo-cons suffer under the delusion that bad men exist and are bad enough (and efficient enough in their badness) to have acquired some fairly serious sway over certain parts of the planet, then it is also the case that the likes of Jack Layton--with his moronic faith invested so utterly in the belief that peace is the universally acknowledged aspiration of all men--suffers under an equal and opposite delusion. They are both, in any case, the product of ideology; for while Jack's reasoning may not be rooted in "fear," it most assuredly is not "rooted in fact."

But here I am yakking away, when Jack himself puts the matter at its ironic best when he says, "It's time once again for a made-in- Canada foreign policy that reflects the values and the dreams of Canadians." Why do I get the impression he was on the brink of saying daydreams, or even wet dreams, and caught himself?

But still ... Dreams, Jack? That's the problem, isn't it?