Wednesday, December 20, 2006

From: Snook (The Elder) at Table

Wherein Snook distinguishes between Right and Left.

I have a theory ... Easy there, what are you getting up for? ... But I just told you that I have a theory? How am I supposed to explain it with you traipsing about the sideboard getting more beans? Sit down ... No, you'll appreciate this one. I've got diagrams and everything.

You know how I'm always after nailing down types? Types of men, I mean. Well I think I've managed it this time. Listen.

It has, as you will of course know, long been the pursuit of thinking persons to devise a method by which an individual's quality might be determined quickly and easily by some obvious outward sign of his ... You didn't? Oh, yes! Indeed, it is to the lasting regret of all us alchemical thinkers that books, as it were, cannot be told by their covers. And many of us maintain that that particular saying is just popular cant; that it is an entirely fulsome piece of superstition.

(... No ... No, my dear--if you'll permit me to interrupt you--I think you might be under a slight misapprehension as to the meaning of the word 'fulsome'. You're getting it confused with wholesome I think, and it means quite near the opposite ... No, no. That's quite all right. A common enough mistake.)

Now, where was I? ... Sorry, yes. Types of men. Well, it occurred to me yesterday, as I was going north on University Avenue (towards College, as I had some business there to attend to), it occurred to me, I say, then and there, that you can judge a man by his appearance. So long, that is, as he's carrying an umbrella.

... You're laughing, I see, which is quite understandable. But just bear with me for a second.

Fix in your mind's eye the image of a man making his way along any well-trafficked pedestrian thoroughfare, carrying his umbrella--encumbered, it needs be noted, with a briefcase too, so that he's unable to hold the thing by its handle--with its point facing those walking towards him, as per Figure 1.

Now, ask yourself: what sort of man would carry his umbrella thus?

... Do you think so? ... You think that there is the suggestion of something threatening about a man who carries his brolly with the point facing forward. Fascinating. You're under the impression that his must be an aggressive personality; that he has little concern for his fellow men, except, that is, as oversized pincushions. Excellent!

And this fellow here then, in Figure 2? What say you of him? Yes, indeed! A far less intimidating fellow isn't he? What with the point of his umbrella pointing in exactly the opposite direction. Conscientious, clearly ... Yes, likely very polite too, I dare say. Certainly, by all appearances, a responsible fellow at the very least.

Well that's fine and good and exactly as I suspected you would say.

Now, I wonder if you would permit me to give you my own analysis of our two figures here? ... Well, never mind, I shall do so anyway.

I should point out, first of all, that it is very interesting to me that you made your judgements of these fellows solely by virtue of the surroundings in which each of them, as I described, found themselves. Rather than from the perspective of the men themselves. Your concern was of how they should appear to the other pedestrians in their midst. Particularly those walking towards them. Is that right? ... Yes? ...

What would you say then if I were to tell you that you are the worst kind of cynic, madam?

... Now, now, now. You haven't let me explain why I would accuse you of this ... Well, that's what I shall do, if you'll just give me the chance.

It seems to me that with the respective nuances of our two umbrella bearing figures here, we have THE outward and visible sign that distinguishes the inward graces of, in the case of Figure 1, the Traditionalist, and in the case of Figure 2, the Progressive. Or to put it in more accessible (if a little less accurate) terms: the Conservative* and the Liberal.

... Really, you must stop laughing! If you don't, I will be forced to join Lenore--who, you see, is gesturing at me with some vehemence from across the room to save her from that obese gentleman brandishing the pork chop--and then you'll have been deprived of the rub of my little theory.

Thank you.

I should say, for my own part, that contrary to your method of appraisal, I prefer to imagine myself in the place of the subject himself (rather than in that (or those) of his milieu, i.e. the myriad individual concerns that, as I have described, are moving about him, towards him, and that are, as such, in a constant and unaccountable state of flux). From this perspective it seems to me that the motivation of the sort of person who chooses to carry his umbrella with the point facing forward is not, as you suggest, to threaten so much as it is to control. Which is not to say that he wishes to control his environment, so much as he hopes to control his participation in that environment.

This way, it is my strong conviction, should our Traditional fellow happen to impale someone on his umbrella, it is clear that he is prepared to take full responsibility for his carelessness. A novel idea, yes, and terribly idealistic. Such is the democratic impulse in all men, I guess. But given that he has taken the extraordinary precaution of always keeping the lethal end of his accessory within view, the odds of such an impaling are, I think you'll concede, considerably lower than if he didn't.

Not so in the case of our Progressive! Concerned that the point of his umbrella might appear, as you say, threatening, he keeps it behind him. But, if he's thought about it--which is to say, if he's thought of anyone apart from himself--he'll recognize that this is far the more dangerous, and therefore irresponsible, of the two stances, as he is unable to keep track of the hazard he poses to those about him (particularly those behind him).

So why should he do it then?

(... No, it was a rhetorical question, my dear. I asked that I might answer.)

You are familiar, I assume, with this populist fallacy: "the win-win scenario"? ... Oh but it is a fallacy ... Well, because such a result can only be produced in a technical sense; the reasoning being: given that any outcome producing a quote-unquote winner necessitates the existence of a quote-unquote loser, it is only then possible for a win-win situation if, by some logical loophole, the loser is prevented from claiming his loss.

But, you see, the loss itself--even if orphaned--remains in any case ... Yes, it is nonsense. Glad to see that you agree with me ... No, I'm not dissembling; I was just coming to that. Our Progressive carries his umbrella with the point behind him because he knows full well the convenience this affords him in the face of the best and the worst case scenarios. On the one hand: he has the eminently desirable appearance of being unthreatening. On the other: should he happen to impale someone with his umbrella from behind, he is able to play at victim himself.

"As you can see," he would say in the event, "I do not have eyes in the back of my head. The person--the impalee, shall we call him? (it seems only fitting as his part was not the lesser one in this unfortunate occurrence)--approached me from behind, tripped or some such bit of tomfoolery, and now has the point of my umbrella lodged between the sixth and seventh of his ribs. The fault simply cannot be mine, alas. Accidents happen after all, and most unfortunate that this one should've happened to me--what with all the precautions I took, viz. holding the point of my umbrella away from the oncoming pedestrian traffic in an unthreatening manner."

And so you see that out of concern for appearances, rather than with attention to them, you have made a monster of a man, and an icon of, at best, an intentionally witless idiot, and, at worst, a recreational litigator.

And you wonder that I call you a cynic!

... Yes, I guess that is it. Though I don't see the need to put it so tartly. My point was just that while it holds that looks can be deceiving, when observed from the correct angle, they can be relied upon to be entirely revealing too. So long as the persons concerned are carrying umbrellas ... Well, yes, the fatal inconsistency does appear to be that both figures are smoking. But this is fairly easily explained. Figure 1 is indulging the bowlful a day society permits him of Dr. Surgeon General's Asthma Mixture, while Figure 2's pipe is filled with a half-and-half blend of Evian and phosphate-free dish soap.

... No, I wouldn't say that it was a total waste of time ... Well, fine, if you feel that way ... I think though that you protest too much, madam. Am I to take it that I've touched a nerve? That, perhaps, you carry your parasol point aft?


* Snook's reluctance to bridge the gap between "Conservatives" and those he (rather nebulously) calls "Traditionalists" might be explained by the fact that there aren't enough confessing Conservatives existent who understand, or who are willing to admit, that a baseball cap is not an acceptable substitute for an umbrella. --ed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Toronto Star: The Unilectic Journalism

The Toronto Star has revamped its website, and has this to say for its efforts:
The new look of today is the culmination of months of work and the foundation on which we'll build for the future. Read about it and give us your thoughts.
Okay. Here's a thought: why must the Toronto Star couch even the most insignificant of changes to its format in such monstrously melodramatic terms? I mean, it is on this foundation that you'll build for the whole goddamn future?! The website looks like a slightly-off version of everybody else's now.

A polyester patch on a degrading rag.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Belloc On Christmas and The Ancestral House

Man has a body as well as a soul, and the whole of man, soul and body, is nourished sanely by a multiplicity of observed traditional things. Moreover, there is this great quality in the unchanging practice of Holy Seasons, that it makes explicable, tolerable and normal what is otherwise a shocking and intolerable and even in the fullest sense, abnormal thing. I mean, the mortality of immortal man.

Not only death (which shakes and rends all that is human in us, creating a monstrous separation and threatening the soul with isolation which destroys), not only death, but that accompaniment of mortality which is a perpetual series of lesser deaths and is called change, are challenged, chained, and put in their place by unaltered and successive acts of seasonable regard for loss and dereliction and mutability. The threats of despair, remorse, necessary expiation, weariness almost beyond bearing, dull repetition of things apparently fruitless, unnecessary and without meaning, estrangement, the misunderstanding of mind by mind, forgetfulness which is a false alarm, grief, and repentance, which are true ones, but of a sad company, young men perished in battle before their parents had lost vigour in age, the perils of sickness in the body and in the mind, anxiety, honour harassed, all the bitterness of living--become part of a large business which may lead to Beatitude. For they are all connected in the memory with holy day after holy day, year by year, binding the generations together; carrying on even in this world, as it were, the life of the dead and giving corporate substance, permanence and stability, without the symbol of which (at least) the vast increasing burden of life might at last conquer us and be no longer borne.

* * *

This house where such good things are done year by year has suffered all the things that every age has suffered. It has known the sudden separation of wife and husband, the sudden fall of young men under arms who will never more come home, the scattering of the living and their precarious return, the increase and the loss of fortune, all those terrors and all those lessenings and haltings and failures of hope which make up the life of man. But its Christmas binds it to its own past and promises its future; making the house an undying thing of which those subject to mortality within it are members, sharing in its continuous survival.

It is not wonderful that of such a house verse should be written. Many verses have been so written commemorating and praising this house. The last verse written of it I may quote here by way of ending:
'Stand thou for ever among human Houses,
House of the Resurrection, House of Birth;
House of the rooted hearts and long carouses,
Stand, and be famous over all the Earth.'

Hilaire Belloc "A Remaining Christmas"

Friday, December 15, 2006

It doesn't bother me if you say Merry Christmas, dumbass!

What do you call this? This I was right even when I was wrong, and you'll always have a pencil-dick anyway argument?

Let me see if I can summarize (self-styled Red Tory--oooh! how very avant-garde!) John Moore's contra-contra-anti-Christmas argument from last Tuesday's National Post:

Okay, meatheads! Nobody ever said you couldn't say Merry Christmas, so shut your idiotic pie-holes! Jeez! You socons are serious wack-jobs! And, anyway, Christmas has never been about Christmas, which just goes to show how ignorant I've always been saying you guys are. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good reason why nobody should be saying Merry Christmas--but I'll let you say it anyway, if you're that hell-bent on showing everybody with a braincell how friggin' stupid you are ... Oh, and you're anti-Semites!

Likewise, Tony Parsons in The Mirror:

Christmas sucks! Nothing Christmassy ever happens. At my house we just watch James Bond reruns. Who cares?! Why is everybody getting so yutzed about James Bond reruns?! I'm a daddy who loves his daughter. That's more Jesus than anything Jesus ever fucking did! And, anyway, Muslims make better Christians than most Christians do. I like James Bond though, and I like getting drunk--and if you assholes can't realize that that's the true message of Christmas than you're the goddamn pea-brained wankers I've always taken you for! I'm trash, you're trash, we're all trash together! Grow up!

Instances, I think, of vegetarians giving their recipe for steak and kidney pie.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Banalities of the Red Book Headings

I would've written this yesterday, but I couldn't. I was too busy barfing up my guts to get anywhere near a keyboard.

Why, I hear you asking, did EMG spend the better part of his Saturday praying to the porcelain god? Well, I'd like to say that it was because I thought it a more fitting form of worship, to a more fitting god, than the ones presented me by Lawrence Martin in this: perhaps the most obsequious, disturbing piece of garbage* I've ever read. But that would be to suggest a degree of intentionality about my actions that did not--alas--exist in the event. Rather, I was driven to the toilet by Mr. Martin's piece. I had no choice in the matter. This was not protest, it was irreducible and violent rebellion.

And I should very much like to say too that it was only on aesthetic grounds--because they're the most fashionable kind, don't you know--that I had my outburst. That it was all that could be done, with so delicate a sensibility as mine, when confronted with descriptions of "a shimmering young Trudeau," a "bracing Martha Hall-Findlay," "the legendary goalkeeper" Ken Dryden, and a Stéphane Dion imbued at first with "a pale modest glow," then beatified with "a self-effacing nimbus" and "a trace of the mystical." (An also "mystical" Bobby Kennedy is held up as a kind of St. John, the child of promise to Dion's apparent messiah. Likewise Richard Nixon was the "darkness" to RFK's light.) ... It is all patently vulgar, I know. So much an affront to the eyes that it, quite literally, turns the stomach. But given that this must have been apparent to a writer as seasoned as Lawrence Martin, and that he still wrote it anyway, there is the suggestion here of a rather serious moral deficiency too. (In addition, if I'm not being clear, to the bludgeoningly obvious deficiency in taste.)

The problem is: Mr. Martin saturates his piece with intimations, not so much just of the sacred, but of the divine ascendancy of Stéphane Dion to the leadership of Canada's New Jerusalem Party, in an effort to demonstrate that Dion is the clear answer to Ken Dryden's 'thundering' plea that "People don't want politicians. They want people." But--given the painfully obvious correlate to these intimations--while it may very well be that "people" don't want politicians, it is also rather clear from Mr. Martin's relentless metaphor that they don't want people either. If that was something that we really valued, then his little paean should've been written in the language of the people. Sturdy, pragmatic, secular stuff. But it wasn't. The clear suggestion of the piece, rather, is that there is something of the Immortals about the Liberal party under its new godhead. That that is what Canadians desire. They don't want politicians. No. And they don't want politics either.

They want religion.

But you'll notice that Mr. Martin is constantly at odds in naming his anti-Christ; an evil so potent and unbalancing as to have merited Stéphane's Immaculate Election. He points, as I've mentioned, a vague finger at Richard Nixon--surely the most evil man of recent memory--and I guess we're supposed to infer from this that Stephen Harper is his bestial progeny. And he mentions some "crushing iniquities" of "the larger world," which, I gather, are part and parcel of the "ideology" and "military solutions" that he later, with rhetorical obliqueness, condemns. But I assume that you, like me, are having trouble nailing such iniquities down to a Canadian reality. Or--if you are able to do this--trying then to separate them from a reality that wasn't in large part created by the Liberals themselves.

But the Liberals (beginning with Trudeau the Elder (get used to hearing that, by the way), and taking root with Chrétien) understand only too well that "when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing--they believe in anything." And it is some measure of their effectiveness in unseating any authority that might challenge their own, that the pen-pushing, desk-sucking spectre of (of all people) Stéphane Dion looms large enough in the collective imagination that it might be printed in the Globe and Mail that "during that weekend in Montreal ... a leader with a trace of the mystical, with the potential to change so much, was born."

And he spent his first week as leader of Canada's Divine Opposition comparing the Government to the Nazis. (... Surely, making lepers of men is as miraculous as its converse?)

Ah me! Still, as Dalton McGuinty sang on that blessèd day (playing on Cowper's lyric):
They move in magical and mysterious ways
Their wonders to perform!

*This particular link doesn't get you very far, does it? There's a trick to getting Globe subscriber stuff without actually subscribing ... go here, follow the link, see what happens.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Carson on Ginger Fever; Salad Days of Insurgency

We march the road like regular quaternions
In jackets of the froggy green, and Paddy hats.
Our socks are gartered and our hair in Croppy plaits:

We are the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Our silken banners waver in the dewy breeze
With emblematic gold embroidery of Ireland:
Wolfhound, Shamrock, Harp, the Plough in Hyades--
Five provinces not fingered by a severed hand.

We blow a fife tune on our red accordions,
And thrum the goatskins of our borrowed Lambeg drums,
For we're the Noble Order of Hibernians.

We are pedestrians, we're not equestrians;
We will outbreed the others; we have done our sums.
Will you, Sir, join our Union of Hibernians?

Ciaran Carson
"The Ay O' Haitch"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Wank

Can we imagine for a second that C-38 didn't pass a largely whipped House of Commons the summer before last, to become the Civil Marriages Act? And can we then imagine that the Conservatives had been elected to government on a promise that they would reopen the defeated motion to debate, that it might be voted on according to the consciences of the individual members? ... Stop moaning about likelihood. Just imagine, will you! I have a point.

Were this so, do you think that the Toronto Star would be saying this:
But political posturing is a bad reason to meddle with constitutional rights. With little hope of passing, this motion promises only to resurrect a divisive debate that Canadians across the political spectrum hoped had been settled for good.
Erm ... I think not. I suspect it should look a lot more like this:
But the accusation of political posturing is a bad reason to avoid settling a matter of constitutional rights. Even if it had little hope of passing, this motion promises to bring to the fore a necessary debate that Canadians across the political spectrum have, as yet, to settle for good.
I mean honestly! How does the Star figure that Canadians across the political spectrum hoped that a ruling that was unconstitutional right up until the moment it was (rather shadily) jury-rigged to be constitutional settled this matter for good? How does it figure that a majority's* support of a party that ran on a clear promise to reopen the same-sex marriage debate (notwithstanding the whole notwithstanding thing) qualifies as a passive acceptance of SSM?

And since when has the Toronto Star done anything but fan the flames of divisive issues? Often not merely resurrecting them, but pulling them directly from the thin, reeking air seeping out of their editorial board's poop chutes.

Wrong questions, obviously. When you omit half the political spectrum from your idea of the political spectrum, hypocrisies do look uncannily like righteousnesses.


ADDENDUM (December 6th)

*Jay Currie takes issue with my use of the term "majority" here, and I am willing to concede this. I should perhaps have used the word plurality.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Real Story Here

Stephanie Somebody-or-other takes the federal Liberal leadership; Adam Radwanski points out the obvious:
Selling bland to the broader electorate is an entirely different matter - as is winning votes outside Quebec with English as awkward as Dion's. But for all the talk of the Liberals' oft-cited commitment to winning, the outside world ceases to exist when you're inside the convention hall. It becomes about feeling good when you leave it, or at least feeling less bad about your own candidate losing.
Meanwhile, in Alberta, it very well might be that the fate of the nation is being determined.