Thursday, June 30, 2005

Happy Canada Day! Down with Canadian identity!

On this almost-Canada Day,let us now celebrate the fact that we have no fucking idea who we are.

I'm not kidding. For decades, since the First World War, if not before, the central question of Canadian intellectual-wankery has been the Canadian identity. Who are we? Are we lumberjacks living in igloos? Of course not! But are we British? French? Americans with funny looking currency and the good sense not to elect pea-brained Yale graduates who aspire to redneckhood?

A recent theory - one with which I do not totally disagree - is that we are people with a European sensibility trapped on top of North America. Our approval of gay marriage, just one day before Spain did the same, tends to drive the point home that we share more values with Europeans than with Americans.

And then there is the noble beer commercial, and its bastard Siamese twin, modern rock radio. These two devils have spent the last decade or so trying to convince us that being Canadian means proudly not being American (and you thought anti-Americanism was just for intellectual liberal elites at w(h)ine tastings) and also drinking lots of beer and going camping on the weekend. Unless it's winter, in which case the commercials are all about snowboarding. Beer commercial patriots have sprouted up everywhere in this country, drawn by a rather attractive notion. This is simple: all these commercials and morning-drive DJs sell the idea that patriotism can help you get drunk and laid. Or maybe getting drunk and laid makes you patriotic. Either way, skoal!

Health care is often described as central to our national identity, which seems odd for a goverment program less than 50 years old and in danger of going into the crapper at any moment.

Here is my theory about Canada: it doesn't exist.

Not that any other country exists either. They're all just random lines on maps, imaginary nations created by overgrown children. "You build a snow fort over there, and we'll build one here. Then we'll have a war." If everyone in the world stopped playing pretend tomorrow, nations would vanish. Like cultures, they are shared delusions, and mean nothing in and of themselves. They should only be allowed to exist as long as they serve us. The minute someone asks you what you can do for your country, spit in his face and tell him to go to hell. Tell him you'll do something for your neighbour, your family, your friends, your human race, but not for a pink blob on a globe.

Canada may have a brighter future than most nations because our uncertainty about identity reflects a better, albeit imperfect, understanding of the truth. With fewer preconceptions, we can freely shape our future. We can build a better nation, because we understand that it can become anything. We need not be tied to the past. We can stop asking if we are better or worse than the Americans, and simply say, "Are we better today than we were yesterday? Will we be in a better place tomorrow? And how can we get there?"

So let there never be a Canadian identity. Let us always be in flux, ever uncertain, ever striving for a better country, one just over the next hill, imanent and just beyond our grasp.

Monday, June 27, 2005

March of the Penguins

On Sunday, I sat in the back of a movie theatre and watched a flock of plump, flightless birds waddle across ice sheets. They squawked, they mated, they laid eggs and hatched them, and then the chicks grew up and followed their parents back to the ocean. All in all, it was one of the finest films I’ve seen in years.

March of the Penguins begins with shots of icebergs off the coast of Antarctica. The photography captures the jutting peaks of the bergs above the dark sea. Below the water, the ice is only dimly seen, a luminous shadow. It was like light, drawn down into the water by gravity, and quenched.

With those evocative opening images, the film tells the remarkable story of the emperor penguin.

The penguins march from the sea, where they have spent three months fattening up, seventy miles across the ice. They mate in the middle of nowhere, far from any large predator, and then the females lay a single, large egg.

The male of each pair immediately takes possession of the egg, cradling it on his scaly black feet, under a specially-evolved ruff of downy feathers. Then the females leave, heading back to the sea to eat for the first time in weeks.

The males hold the eggs for more weeks, through the total darkness of Antarctic summer. They hatch them, feed them crop milk for a few days, and await the return of their mates.

Once the females return, the parents take turns caring for the chicks, males and females continuously making the trip back and forth to the sea, returning to feed the ball-of-fluff chicks. By the end of the year, both parents leave, and the chicks eventually follow, still molting, to dive into the ocean for the first time.

I knew some of this before I saw the film; a childhood spent watching Nova and Lorne Green’s New Wilderness will give you plenty of nature trivia. What The March of the Penguins does so well is capture that sense that is so often missing from modern film, the sense of real wonder.

The penguins who make that trek every year, who are making it right now, cannot understand the heroic nature of their own travel. They follow biological imperatives laid down by thousands of years of natural selection. Their minds may be finely honed for catching fish, for swimming, for strategies to huddle against the cold, but they cannot stand back and look with amazement at their own adventure.

On this planet, only one animal can look at everything and see the adventure concealed just beneath the surface. By accident, we have evolved our own adventure, the adventure of the mind. Every human being on the planet, or off it, has a ticket on this ride. Use it.

Today, for all humans, here is your homework: learn something. Learn something about the world around you that makes your jaw drop open in awe and joy.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Tories: Not figured it out yet

The Tories have been blindsided, and they are angry, enraged, furious! How dare the Liberals hold a vote just because some of them were gone!

So now we have Peter McKay comparing Paul Martin to Hannibal Lector and Stephen Harper, aka Stumpy, the Great Wooden Leader, raging about "separatists and socialists." They still don't get it.

Yes, it was a rather sneaky move. It was very political (from politicians? we're shocked!) and at least a little bit anti-democratic. Yes, the Liberals are a bunch of slimy buggers desperate to stay in power just one more minute.

Guys. We already knew that. No one is surprised. Everyone in Canada has already a) decided to vote for someone else because of it, b) made their peace with Liberal sliminess or c) been driven away from the ballot box altogether.

All the Harper & McKay Brothers Circus will do is add more people from columns a and b into column c. Non-voters, as pointed out by Barry Link in a recent column, are far and away the largest political segment in the land right now.

The Tories, especially Harper, need to come up with some ideas. Look at recent polls. The Liberals are up because of the idiocy of the Grewal tapes fiasco, but the biggest gains are going to the NDP and the Bloc.

Now, I'll admit that the Liberals have stolen all their good ideas from other parties for, oh, about 30 or 40 years now. So their political survival has depended on stealing good ideas and pretending they came up with them. They haven't done too bad, Harper could learn from the Grits.

Look at the NDP and Bloc. They have ideas. Jack Layton has successfully rammed through more spending on social and environmental causes, and damn good for him. The Bloc may only have one idea, but they are quite clear about it.

What is Harper's big idea? "Gay marriage bad. BAD! HULK SMASH GAY MARRIAGE!" This idea has its fans, but it's not really a new idea. And for every intolerant, red-faced old geezer who has a heart attack while writing his daily letter to the editor about the damned sodomites, Canada comes closer to complete tolerance. Harper's natural constituency has a short shelf life.

So Harper needs new ideas. I hereby pledge that if he drops his opposition to gay marriage and comes up with a better plan for the country than any other political party, I will vote for him in the next election. I expect to go to the Ice Capades in Hell later the same day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rachel Marsden: What the Hell?

Rachel Marsden. I’d love to know how that name first got mentioned for a job with the National Post. Was it a simple case of forgetfulness? I can see the paper’s editorial board now, sitting around and thinking about hiring a new columnist, sifting through resumes of right wingers (and a few centre-rightists they can pass off as token lefties), and then Marsden’s comes to the top of the pile.
“Who’s this? Pundit, Republican, right wing think tank member, radio show... she’ll be great. Why’s the name familiar, though? Something to do with swimming?”
Maybe they actually forgot. About the swim coach she accused of raping her at SFU. And the other SFU professor who said she harassed him. About the radio host she was charged with harassing. About her stint as an employee of Gurmant Grewal.
Or maybe they were counting on this kind of reaction, to get people on the left screaming mad, thus drawing more publicity.
But let’s forget all that. The late 1990s and, well, early 2000s are a long way away, this is 2005, kids! Live in the now! Who cares what Rachel did when she was young and posing for Republican Babe calendar photos. What’s she been up to lately? And can she write?
Well, lately she’s apparently been on a number of right wing US talk shows, which I don’t see as Fox News is still stewing away south of the border only.
As for the writing... well, I’ve seen better, but I’ll be charitable about her style.
She tends to string together two or three descriptive elements in every sentence, using colloquialisms in an attempt to achieve a breezy, folksy writing style. It doesn’t quite work, but I’ll admit that if she was on my side, I’d probably like it.
On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to be able to hold a coherent argument together. Structurally, her columns are a mess.
Her “The World According to Linda McQuaig” column, published June 16, is all over the place. She starts by attacking the Toronto Star (“Canada’s Pravda,” according to Marsden) over its coverage of the Supreme Court ruling on health care in Quebec. Ho hum, typical right wing diatribe. She takes a few shots at Linda McQuaig, at Dr. Henry Morgenthaler, trots out the old “class war” claims, and tosses out some more positive comments about private health care. She veers into an attack on some left-wingers for calling for the imposition of the Notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to block the Supreme Court ruling. She could have taken this theme and run with it - there’s a good point to be made here about both right and left wingers trying to take cover under Notwithstanding for their pet causes - but then she goes right off the rails.
Here’s the relevant section of her column:

True humanitarianism always takes a back seat to leftist ideology. Human rights abuses by dictators like Fidel Castro in Cuba and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe get pushed aside by left-leaning groups like Amnesty International in favour of the greater cause of telling off the United States for the umpteen millionth time. That’s because on the international stage, America occupies roughly the same demonized spot that "rich" people do here at home.

In conjunction with the release of its annual report last month, Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director, Dr. William F. Schulz, issued a statement calling on foreign governments that are party to the Geneva Convention to arrest and prosecute Bush administration officials—including the U.S. President himself, former CIA director George Tenet, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—or to extradite them to a country that will prosecute them for the “torture” of suspected jihadists at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

No doubt he’ll take this week’s entire underwhelming Time Magazine revelations of using Christina Aguilera music to torture detainees as further proof of U.S. cruelty—rather than praising them for not unleashing any Kathy Lee Gifford CDs.

In its efforts to spread democracy and stop serious human rights abuses around the world, America is treated by the left like an A-plus student who gets grounded for coming home with a B while the all the lefty dictator D students are allowed to scribble all over the walls, eat the crayons, and are given gold stars just for spelling their names right.

Huh? What the heck did any of that have to do with health care? Or abortion? Or Linda McQuaig? Nothing, that’s what.
In the last paragraph, Marsden tries to tie it all together, and fails. She can’t think of enough things to say about health care to hold together a not-terribly-lengthy column.
Her Christina Aguilera comments are typical Bush-buddy boilerplate. The actual Time article paints a rather disturbing picture of the way the Guantanamo inmates are viewed by their captors. They forced him to bark like a dog, let him sleep four hours or less per night for days, and once pumped him full of fluids with an IV, then refused to allow him to go to the bathroom. He pissed in his pants while strapped down in restraints.
Her attack on Amnesty International is even farther off topic, and it’s demonstrable crap.
Amnesty International regularly takes Cuba, Zimbabwe and other horrible little dictatorships to the woodshed for a verbal beating. Here’s the introduction to the group’s 2004 report on Zimbabwe:

The government continued its campaign of repression aimed at eliminating political opposition and silencing dissent. Hundreds of people were arrested for holding meetings or participating in peaceful protests. The police, army, supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and youth militia were implicated in numerous human rights violations, including torture, assault and arbitrary detention. Despite compelling evidence that Zimbabwe would continue to experience food shortages, the government terminated most international food aid programmes. In December parliament passed legislation banning foreign human rights groups from operating in Zimbabwe and imposing restrictions on local human rights organizations, including prohibiting them from receiving foreign funding for human rights work.

Yeah, that’s a gold star all right.
The National Post is noted for being right wing. You expect this kind of demagoguery from their editorial and OpEd pages. You just don’t expect it to be done this badly.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Can't swing a dead cat without hitting a blogger

Welcome to my first experiment in blogging. At last, my desires to impose my views on the world can be sated! I shall finally know the peace that comes with a soap box for all my semi-deranged ramblings! Let the world quake before me!

Well, if anyone bothers to read it, that is.

I hope to use this blog to express my inner rage and sarcasm. Like a lot of people (especially we Canadians) I'm loathe to cause anyone distress in public, so I tend not to say what's on my mind. If someone says to me, for example, "Wow, that George Bush sure knows what he's doing," I seldom grab them by the lapels and shake them to and fro, screaming "What the fuck, are you kidding or something? He's a deranged man-ape propped up by a coalition of crony capitalists, cowardly neo-cons and knuckle-dragging creationists! I wouldn't give you an ounce of my own spit to save his life!" Here, of course, I can say such things without receiving disapproving stares, under which I wilt.

You may have noticed that my politics are somewhat to the left of centre. They are also strange, and subject to much change and soul-searching. I like to think of myself as a pragmatic utopian. I want a perfect society, but I'll take every little change I can get that makes things better.

And the blog's title?

I like Igunodons.