banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A "cranky anachronistic curmudgeon" talks to himself

This post is a plug for one of my favourite bloggers, Edward Michael George. I think EMG is that rare occurence in amateur blogs - a good and original writer. He is noteworthy chiefly for a series of audio dialogues with himself called Semper Poo Poo Calls the World. The latest installment, The Drive, can be found here. These "audiotainments" contain dialogues between EMG and himself, or rather between a slacker persona manifesting his ego and a more uptight straitlaced id with whom he shares an apartment. The result is always funny - imagine a schizophrenic Bob Newhart talking to himself and you get the idea. I think these audio posts are some of the most original work in the blogosphere.

The latest installment, The Drive, takes place as the Ego EMG borrows a friend's car and drives both of them across downtown Toronto while the Id EMG comments on various things like the ROM Crystal, prompting Ego to declare Id a "cranky anachronistic curmudgeon". They eventually end up in the Gay Village where Ego attempts to demonstrate that Id is secretly a hatemongering homophobe. As usual, he pokes at some sacred cows and takes aim at the hypocrisy of modern urban living.

Take a trip over there and have a listen - you won't be disappointed.

(btw, EMG and I did a couple of joint posts on the Hideous Public Art on Toronto's University Avenue, which can be found here and here)

Monday, December 14, 2009

COP15: let's turn the developed world into Cuba

Of all the nonsense pouring out of the COP15 conference in Copenhagen, this has to be the most nonsensical, and the most revealing of the true agenda driving many anti-global warming activists: Cuba - a world climate leader. Published in the COP15 Post, the official publication of the conference, it offers a glimpse of what would happen to developed nations like Canada if the emissions reduction targets being tossed around actually become binding agreements:

The Cuban people are a tremendous inspiration. They are living proof that another – better – world is possible. Usually when Cuba is cited as an example to follow, it is because of the health and educational system which are among the best in the world according to WHO and UNESCO. Or it is because of decades of solidarity work in other developing countries, where the Cuban volunteers still outnumber the WHO. Or it is because of the strong Cuban stance against US domination.

But who would have thought that the Cubans, who in the 1980’s boasted the highest degree of mechanisation of agricultural production in Latin America, would come to be the avant-garde of sustainability and ecology?

Humankind’s exploitation of nature and indeed each other has sent the entire planet into crisis: economic crisis, energy crisis, food crisis, climate crisis. But one country has already experienced what it’s like being without economic means, energy and food overnight: Cuba, on the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in early 1989 represented more than 80 percent of Cuban international trade. The fact that Cuban socialism survived the so-called ‘special period’, a state of economic emergency that lasted until the year 2000, and today actually experiences annual growth rates well above 5 percent, shows us that it is indeed possible to survive even the deepest crises. But what is the Cuban secret?

The Cubans did not choose the ‘usual’ solution to crises, i.e. social cutbacks and increased competition. The key to Cuban success was the practical solidarity which permeates the revolution: when resources are few, you simply share to make sure that everyone receives according to need. When the Soviet oil stopped flowing, the Cuban state imported 1.2 million bicycles and built half a million more. Large trucks were built into busses – dubbed ‘camels’ because of the two humps above the wheels and all state vehicles were obliged to pick up hitchhikers. Solar-heated rice boilers and energy-saving light bulbs were made and handed out free of charge. Not all problems were solved, but the living conditions of the Cuban people were made tolerable.

However, the worst part of the ‘special period’ was the lack of food, which was exacerbated by the Torricelli and Helms-Burton tightenings on the US blockade against the country. During the years 1990 to 1994, the Cuban people each lost 20 pounds in weight on average – perhaps the most cruel expression of the inhumanity of those who set the course in US policy towards Cuba. But the Cubans also fought the food crisis. Rationing was introduced to guarantee the necessary amount of basic foods at heavily subsidised prices. Since neither pesticides nor fertilizers were available, the state began its own production, which by necessity was organic – and which today is exported to several other Latin American countries. Today, 80 percent of Cuban agriculture is purely organic. Because there was no fuel for the tractors, the oxen and horses returned to the fields, and bi-products from the sugar industry was converted to electricity at local power stations. Because the lack of food was most severe in the cities, and because of the lack of fuel for transport from the countryside, small urban kitchen gardens sprang up.

Cuban statistics speak for themselves: today the country produces 80 percent of the amount of food that had to be imported in 1991. The progress in sustainable agriculture also plays an important role in the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) countries’ co-operation with eight other Latin American countries, where for example Cuban experts help to revive Venezuelan agriculture long neglected because of that country’s oil success. Even the classic problem of migration from countryside to city is basically solved in Cuba, simply by guaranteeing farmers a decent income.

However different the histories and current situations of our countries, let us allow ourselves to be inspired by the Cuban experience. To that extent, the Danish Cuban Association invites you to participate in five different activities as part of Klimaforum 09: Search the programme for our showing of the marvellous documentary The Power of Community, conferences on Cuba’s energy revolution, organic agriculture and the ALBA, and not least the gigantic popular meeting with all nine ALBA presidents as invited speakers in Valby Hallen on 17 December.

A better world is necessary – and the Cubans know how to create it.

Here's a different take on the Cuban situation, from the US State Department:


The Cuban Government continues to adhere to socialist principles in organizing its state-controlled economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and, according to Cuban Government statistics, about 75% of the labor force is employed by the state. The actual figure is closer to 93%, with some 150,000 small farmers and another 150,000 "cuentapropistas," or holders of licenses for self-employment, representing a mere 2.1% of the nearly 4.87 million-person workforce.

The Cuban economy is still recovering from a decline in gross domestic product of at least 35% between 1989 and 1993 as the loss of Soviet subsidies laid bare the economy's fundamental weaknesses. To alleviate the economic crisis, in 1993 and 1994 the government introduced a few market-oriented reforms, including opening to tourism, allowing foreign investment, legalizing the dollar, and authorizing self-employment for some 150 occupations. These measures resulted in modest economic growth; the official statistics, however, are deficient and as a result provide an incomplete measure of Cuba's real economic situation. Living conditions at the end of the decade remained well below the 1989 level. Lower sugar and nickel prices, increases in petroleum costs, a post-September 11, 2001 decline in tourism, devastating hurricanes in November 2001 and August 2004, and a major drought in the eastern half of the island caused severe economic disruptions. Growth rates continued to stagnate in 2002 and 2003, while 2004 and 2005 showed some renewed growth. Moreover, the gap in the standard of living has widened between those with access to dollars and those without. Jobs that can earn dollar salaries or tips from foreign businesses and tourists have become highly desirable. It is not uncommon to see doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals working in restaurants or as taxi drivers.


Prolonged austerity and the state-controlled economy's inefficiency in providing adequate goods and services have created conditions for a flourishing informal economy in Cuba. As the variety and amount of goods available in state-run peso stores has declined, Cubans have turned increasingly to the black market to obtain needed food, clothing, and household items. Pilferage of items from the work place to sell on the black market or illegally offering services on the sidelines of official employment is common, and Cuban companies regularly figure 15% in losses into their production plans to cover this. Recognizing that Cubans must engage in such activity to make ends meet and that attempts to shut the informal economy down would be futile, the government concentrates its control efforts on ideological appeals against theft and shutting down large organized operations. A report by an independent economist and opposition leader speculates that more than 40% of the Cuban economy operates in the informal sector. Since 2005, the government has carried out a large anti-corruption campaign as it continues efforts to recentralize much of the economy under the regime's control.

Sugar, which has been the mainstay of the island's economy for most of its history, has fallen upon troubled times. In 1989, production was more than 8 million tons, but by the mid-1990s, it had fallen to around 3.5 million tons. Inefficient planting and cultivation methods, poor management, shortages of spare parts, and poor transportation infrastructure combined to deter the recovery of the sector. In June 2002, the government announced its intention to implement a "comprehensive transformation" of this declining sector. Almost half the existing sugar mills were closed, and more than 100,000 workers were laid off. The government has promised that these workers will be "retrained" in other fields, though it is unlikely they will find new jobs in Cuba's stagnant economy. Moreover, despite such efforts, the sugar harvest continued to decline, falling to 2.1 million tons in 2003, the smallest since 1933. According to government reports, the harvest was not much better in 2004 (2.3 million tons), and continued to slide in 2005 (1.3 million tons), 2006 (1.2 million tons), and 2007 (approximately 1 million tons). According to government projections, Cuba expects to meet domestic sugar demand in 2009 for the first time after a major restructuring in 2002.


To help keep the economy afloat, Cuba has actively courted foreign investment, which often takes the form of joint ventures with the Cuban Government holding half of the equity, management contracts for tourism facilities, or financing for the sugar harvest. A new legal framework laid out in 1995 allowed for majority foreign ownership in joint ventures with the Cuban Government. In practice, majority ownership by the foreign partner is nonexistent. Of the 540 joint ventures formed since the Cuban Government issued the first legislation on foreign investment in 1982, 397 remained at the end of 2002, and 287 at the close of 2005. Due in large part to the government's recentralization efforts, it is estimated that one joint venture and two small cooperative production ventures have closed each week since 2000. Responding to this decline in the number of joint ventures, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Investment explained that foreign investment is not a pillar of development in and of itself. Moreover, the hostile investment climate, characterized by inefficient and overpriced labor imposed by the Communist government, dense regulations, and an impenetrable bureaucracy, continue to deter foreign investment. Foreign direct investment flows decreased from $448 million in 2000 to $39 million in 2001 and were at zero in 2002. In July 2002, the European Union, through its embassies in Havana, transmitted to the Cuban Government a document that outlined the problems encountered in operating joint ventures in Cuba. Titled "The Legal and Administrative Framework for Foreign Trade and Investment by European Companies in Cuba," the paper noted the difficulty in obtaining such basic necessities as work and residence permits for foreign employees--even exit visas and drivers licenses. It complained that the Government of Cuba gave EU joint venture partners little or no say in hiring Cuban staff, often forced the joint venture to contract employees who were not professionally suitable, and yet reserved to itself the right to fire any worker at any time without cause. It noted administrative difficulties in securing financing and warned that "the difficulties of state firms in meeting their payment obligations are seriously threatening some firms and increasing the risk premium which all operators have to pay for their operations with Cuba." The Cuban Government offered no response.


In an attempt to provide jobs for workers laid off due to the economic crisis and bring some forms of black market activity into more controllable channels, the Cuban Government in 1993 legalized self-employment for some 150 occupations. This small private sector is tightly controlled and regulated. Set monthly fees must be paid regardless of income earned, and frequent inspections yield stiff fines when any of the many self-employment regulations are violated. Rather than expanding private sector opportunities, in recent years, the government has been attempting to squeeze more of these private sector entrepreneurs out of business and back to the public sector. Many have opted to enter the informal economy or black market, and others have closed. These measures reduced private sector employment from a peak of 209,000 to less than 100,000. Moreover, a large number of those people who nominally are self-employed in reality are well-connected fronts for military officials. No recent figures have been made available, but the Government of Cuba reported at the end of 2001 that tax receipts from the self-employed fell 8.1% due to the decrease in the number of these taxpayers. Since October 1, 2004, the Cuban Government no longer issues new licenses for 40 of the approximately 150 categories of self-employment, including for the most popular ones, such as private restaurants.



Cuba's totalitarian regime controls all aspects of life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy, and State Security Department. The latter is tasked with monitoring, infiltrating, and controlling the country's beleaguered human rights community. Despite having signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in February 2008, Cuba ignores the obligations assumed in these treaties, continuing to commit serious abuses and denying its citizens the right to change their government. Cuba is also a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and sits on the UN Human Rights Council, yet routinely arrests citizens who seek to exercise internationally recognized fundamental freedoms.

The government incarcerates people for their peaceful political beliefs or activities. The total number of political prisoners and detainees is unknown, because the government does not disclose such information and keeps its prisons off-limits to human rights organizations and international human rights monitors. There are an estimated 225 prisoners of conscience currently detained in Cuba in addition to as many as 5,000 people sentenced for "dangerousness."

The government places severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, as noted by international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Reporters Without Borders. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press insofar as views "conform to the aims of a socialist society." In March 2008, demonstrators distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were attacked by an orchestrated mob and later detained. Despite the government's decision to permit Cubans to purchase personal computers, access to the Internet is strictly controlled and given only to those deemed ideologically trustworthy; Internet restrictions were tightened further in March and April 2008 to block access by Cuban citizens to certain independent websites.

Freedom of assembly is not constitutionally guaranteed in Cuba. The law punishes unauthorized assembly of more than three persons. The government also restricts freedom of movement and prevents some citizens from emigrating because of their political views. Cubans need explicit "exit permission" from their government to leave their country, and many people are denied exit permission by the Cuban Government, despite the fact that they have received travel documents issued by other countries.

There it is, folks - "a better world is necessary – and the Cubans know how to create it". This is what reducing emissions in the developed world to Cuban levels is going to entail - living in a green sustainable totalitarian prison state just like Cuba.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

US consultants reveal Afghanistan policy: we're doomed

The website Improbable Research has posted the results of a study of Afghanistan policy conducted by a consulting firm hired by the US Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It shows a summary of the US military's plan for the stabilization and security of Afghanistan. Here's what they came up with - read it and weep. (click to enlarge)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hideous Public Art: Copenhagen edition

Political circuses bring out the crazies - remember the anti-globalization clowns that show up at every G8 summit or the bottled-water-sipping Marxists with their giant puppets at the Republican convention in New York in 2008? These events also bring out the so-called artists who use the world media's fickle attention to showcase their meagre talents. The Copenhagen climate summit is no different, and true to form it is producing the worst kind of Hideous Public Art - the kind that's political.

Bruce Bawer, one of my favourite writers, is covering the summit for Pajamas Media. He is struck by the "Cult of the Dear Leader" vibe that is so pervasive in Copenhagen during the conference:

Of course, everything here in Copenhagen seems to be proceeding as planned. The show must go on. All over town, the message being trumpeted is the same one reiterated in Sunday’s Times: that the science of this stuff is all settled, period, and that all that remains is to act. Indeed it’s being trumpeted so loudly and ubiquitously that Copenhagen, on second thought, doesn’t feel so much like the Vatican as it does, say, Havana or Pyongyang. Stroll around awhile and you’ll keep encountering giant banners or posters or displays designed to ensure that the great unwashed don’t lose sight of the orthodoxy to which they’re expected to pay mindless obeisance. On the side of one church, for example, a banner three stories high proclaims that it’s “TIME FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE.” There are also endless outsized placards — inspired, I suspect, by Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric – bearing the unfortunate coinage “HOPENHAGEN.” Barfsville. I don’t remember where, if anyplace, I’ve ever seen so many huge, fancy banners. Not to mention the big, splashy, World’s Fair-style displays — among them a giant globe in City Hall Park — which certainly must be using up plenty of electricity. Wasting resources is OK, it seems, when you’re engaged in a noble struggle against wasting resources.

Is it a stretch, by the way, to drag Pyongyang into this? I don’t think so. You know that famous picture of Earth at night, which shows the civilized countries ablaze with light while North Korea is pitch dark? That darkness, after all, is what these characters are proposing for all of us, and for our posterity: international agreements that would create a brave new world in which we’d sit in our feebly lit little bathrooms using one miserable square of Soviet Union-style toilet paper per visit while thinking about all the places we might be traveling to if we still had the right to fly airplanes. Meanwhile these climate kings, these would-be Masters of the Universe (and I can only hope Tom Wolfe is planning to write a novel about them at this very moment), exempt from their own draconian edicts, would continue to jet around the world on private Gulfstreams, attending one pointless conference like this one after another.
Meanwhile, the artists are hard at work. The National Gallery of Denmark is showing a collection of work called RETHINK: Contemporary Art and Climate Change which features such masterpieces as Acid Rain by Nigerian artist Bright Ugochukwu Eke. Eke's work "uses water as a metaphor for the universal source of all life":

His installation Acid Rain consists of numerous suspended, teardrop-shaped bags filled with water and carbon. The work reflects Bright’s experience with rain in polluted areas, particularly in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria.

Canada's own Bill Burns has a piece in the exhibit entitled Safety Gear for Small Animals, which consists of "safety vests, helmets, goggles and the like all scaled down to the size of mice, frogs and birds".

The piece de resistance, though, is a massive bronze sculpture titled Survival of the Fattest, which has been erected in the harbour right next to Copenhagen's most famous landmark, the Little Mermaid.

Sculpted by Jens Galschiot, it comes with the following inscription:

I’m sitting on the back of a man.
He is sinking under the burden.
I would do anything to help him.
Except stepping down from his back
In case you didn't get the incredibly obvious symbolism, the organization responsible for the installation has this guide for the perplexed on its website:

The sculpture ’Survival of the Fattest’ is a symbol of the rich worlds (i.e. the fat woman, ‘Justitia’) self-complacent ‘righteousness’. With a pair of scales in her hand she sits on the back of starved African man (i.e. the third world), while pretending to do what is best for him.
The deliberate juxtaposition next to the Little Mermaid is also explained:

The little Mermaid is a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen and one of the most important symbols in Denmark. It is a part of the Danish idea of them selves as a small, cosy nation where the living is good, but where we are also doing our bit to help the world that surrounds us. This is, of course, only a fairytale.
Of course. The sculpture was originally displayed in London in 2004 as a symbolic protest against globalization and free trade, but hey - its all good in the fight against capitalism, right?

It's hard to parody the juvenile "symbolism for beginners" in political art like this. Artists seem to go through an obligatory anti-establishment phase as students (often while collecting state subsidies) but apparently a lot of them never grow out of it.

I'll leave the last word on Survival of the Fattest to Jesse Walker at Reason Magazine:

[The sculpture] has prompted a rather histrionic reaction from Americans for Limited Government, which declared the art "obscene," insisted that the West should be "depicted as generous benefactors" instead, and urged President Barack Obama to "demand that the statue be promptly removed." It's an odd response, given that the sculpture neatly encapsulates the developing world's objections to international climate controls. The statue shows a west that industrialized, got rich and fat, then passed rules that restrain the rest of the world; western leaders appear as hypocrites who will "do anything to help" the global poor except getting off their backs. That sounds like a call for freedom, not regulation.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ballot initiative to ban divorce in California

"Occasional prankster" John Marcotte is making a political statement about California's recent ballot initiative banning gay marriage by collecting signatures for his own ballot initiative banning divorce. He may actually collect the 700 000 signatures necessary to get his California Marriage Protection Act put to a vote in the next election.
"If you want to protect traditional marriage, don't stop gay people from getting married," he said. "Stop straight people from getting divorced."

Watch the hilarious commercial Marcotte has produced to publicize his project:

My favourite lines: "Socialist countries like Canada condone divorce. What did we even fight the Communists in World War II for?" and "If outlawing divorce was good enough for the Babylonians, then it's good enough for California".

(HT: Jonathan Rauch)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When health & safety committees put up Christmas trees

The town of Poole in Dorset, UK puts up a Christmas tree according to "strict health and safety guidelines":
Shoppers stared in bemusement at the mysterious object that landed in a shopping precinct in Poole, Dorset, this week. Some compared it to a giant traffic cone, a witch’s hat or a cheap special effect from an early episode of Doctor Who.

The 33ft structure turned out to be their Christmas tree, designed according to the principles of health and safety, circa 2009.

Thus it has no trunk so it won’t blow over, no branches to break off and land on someone’s head, no pine needles to poke a passer-by in the eye, no decorations for drunken teenagers to steal and no angel, presumably because it would need a dangerously long ladder to place it at the top.

(HT: Reason Hit & Run)

Uganda determined to enter a new Dark Age?

David Link comments on Uganda's proposed law to criminalize homosexuality:
Uganda is determined to uncivilize itself and head straight into a new Dark Age by formally and explicitly criminalizing an offense they call homosexuality. In fact, the bill, itself, says that current law is defective because it “. . .has no comprehensive provision catering for [sic] anti homosexuality.”

The bill’s single-minded focus on punishing homosexuality is breathtaking. The mere intention to commit homosexuality will expose the offender to life imprisonment. The law also prohibits and punishes speaking publicly in favor of gay rights in any form. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a progressive dream by comparison.

But even that is not enough for this thuggish piece of aggression. Anyone who even knows about someone who is gay has an obligation to turn them in – whether it’s a family member, a dear friend or a stranger. Failure to do that is also a punishable offense.

All of this arises from the premise that homosexuality, by itself, is an “offence.” Once that is established in the law, everything else flows from it. The power of the state to protect citizens from danger is called into play in all its majesty and force, up to and including making sure that citizens who are not themselves homosexual must report to the authorities any real or suspected violations. This is how genocides start.

Calling the bill “retrograde” seems wildly inadequate. The modern world has come so far on gay equality, and this detestable and gruesome scheme looks like a sick joke.

Hats off to Prime Minister Harper for expressing outrage to the Ugandan government on Canada's behalf at the recent Commonwealth summit in Trinidad:
Harper told reporters he met privately with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni during the Commonwealth leaders' summit to express "Canada's deep concern and strong opposition to the bill."

"We deplore these kinds of measures," said Harper. "We find them inconsistent with any reasonable understanding of human rights."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Students of Nova Scotia - to the barricades!

A friend forwarded me this email that his daughter received from the Housing Office of Dalhousie University in Halifax advising her that "personnel" would be entering student rooms to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights.

Good afternoon! Please be advised that we will have teams of personnel from Clean Nova Scotia in our buildings over the next few days, as per the schedule below. They will be escorted by Dalhousie staff and will be entering all rooms in the building, including student bedrooms.

Their purpose is to change all incandescent and other lightbulbs where possible and replace them with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) or LED lights as appropriate. This can include your own personal lamps.

This is an exciting project that is a partnership between the University, Clean Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Power at no cost. It will represent a major shift in reducing the GHG and carbon footprint of our residence buildings! Work will commence at approximately 10am each day.

If you have your own lamps and lights and DO NOT WISH for your bulb to be replaced, please leave a clear note on the lamp (either by sticky note or paper) saying "Please do not replace this bulb." We will be replacing all bulbs in Dalhousie fixtures regardless.

The schedule is as follows:
Shirreff Hall November 23rd - November 24th
Howe Hall November 25th
Risley Hall November 23rd - November 24th
Gerard Hall November 25th
Colpitt House November 25th
Lyall House November 25th
DeMille House November 25th

Thank you for your cooperation in this exciting project!

I'm trying to imagine a scenario where university students would meekly stand by while "personnel" from the government entered their rooms to make sure that their lifestyles were in compliance with official policy guidelines. It's hard to picture, isn't it? Attach a green label to such actions though and no one utters a word of concern. After all, every time you use an incandescent bulb, a polar bear cries.

Students of Halifax - to the barricades! Resist the enviro-fascist oppressor and his running-dog lackeys at Clean Nova Scotia! Keep the state out of your bedrooms - you have nothing to lose but your bongs and your Che posters!

The Pol Pot of modern architecture

Theodore Dalrymple has a great article at City Journal - The Architect as Totalitarian - about the life and work of Le Corbusier, the "father of modern architecture". Le Corbusier's work and ideas are the inspiration, if you can call it that, for much of the bleak soulless concrete architecture (think York University) put up in cities all over the world after the Second World War.

Dalrymple writes:
Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.


The most sincere, because unconscious, tribute to Le Corbusier comes from the scrawlers of graffiti. If you approach the results of their activities epidemiologically, so to speak, you will soon notice that, where good architecture is within reach of Corbusian architecture, they tend to deface only the Corbusian surfaces and buildings. As if by instinct, these uneducated slum denizens have accurately apprehended what so many architects have expended a huge intellectual effort to avoid apprehending: that Le Corbusier was the enemy of mankind.

Le Corbusier does not belong so much to the history of architecture as to that of totalitarianism, to the spiritual, intellectual, and moral deformity of the interbellum years in Europe. Clearly, he was not alone; he was both a creator and a symptom of the zeitgeist. His plans for Stockholm, after all, were in response to an official Swedish competition for ways to rebuild the beautiful old city, so such destruction was on the menu. It is a sign of the abiding strength of the totalitarian temptation, as the French philosopher Jean-François Revel called it, that Le Corbusier is still revered in architectural schools and elsewhere, rather than universally reviled.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's official! The ROM Crystal is the 8th ugliest building in the world has released its second annual list of the world's ugliest buildings, and world-class Toronto has made the list. The Michael Lee Chin Crystal, Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, comes in at number eight. The website rather politely says:
What I.M. Pei’s pyramid is to the Louvre, so is the relatively new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal to the Royal Ontario Museum. While many praise the glass structure, just as many are troubled by the incongruity to the original, more traditional museum that still sits directly beside it.

When contacted by the National Post, David McKay, the ROM's communications co-ordinator, declined comment.
“We won’t be commenting. I guess the only thing I can say is that we won’t be saying anything.”

Sensible policy, Mr. McKay. As my mother always said, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

(If you're interested in my previous rants about Toronto's ugliest building, go here, here, here, here and here. )

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The end of Brutalist architecture?

University campuses that were massively built up in the 1960s and 1970s have one thing in common - a soul-destroying style of modern architecture known as Brutalism. Brutalist buildings are generally made of poured concrete, are completely devoid of ornamentation, and invade their neighbourhoods like Sherman tanks. A good example is the hideously ugly Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.

It has taken a long time, but some communities are recognizing that Brutalist buildings are not worth renovating and should be demolished. The latest example of a brutalist structure slated to be put out of its misery is the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, which was completed in 1969. In the University's 2005 Campus Master Plan, administrators decided to tear the building down, along with other similar campus eyesores.

According to the UW student newspaper:

Upon its completion, the Humanities Building was described as a testament to the “brutalist” style of architecture, a style made famous in America from the 1950s to the 1970s, but one that had flourished throughout Europe prior to that.

But this unique architectural design of the building is the main problem that most students have with its construction. Chances are that if one has attended UW-Madison for more than one semester, one has had a class in Humanities, whether it was a lecture or discussion. There is also a chance, if not an absolute certainty, that one got lost along the winding corridors of the confusing, irrational building layout. I cannot fathom just how many times I have had no idea where my class is, only to stumble around Pan’s Labyrinth for twenty minutes in a desperate effort to find a buried hobbit-hole of a room on the other side of the building.

A shoddy layout isn’t the only failure here. With its poor ventilation, narrow windows, inclined base, and cantilevered upper floors, you might suspect you were in a bomb shelter. The building is simply not designed well for an environment conductive to learning.

In 2005, UW-Madison released its “Campus Master Plan,” which, among other things, called for the destruction the Humanities building and other 60’s-era buildings to make way for more updated learning venues. Students should be thrilled by this idea, as we are paying top dollar for what are supposed to be top-of-the-line facilities but, as evidenced by this architectural failure, we are not getting what we are paying for.
If this trend catches on, we may soon see the complete destruction of the entire York University campus. It's a start.

(HT: Ann Althouse)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hideous Public Art: Curmudgeons II - Revenge of the Killer Curmudgeons

I had the great pleasure of meeting up with fellow blogger Edward Michael George in Toronto in September. After lunch and a few beers at a café on Baldwin Street, we took a critical stroll down University Avenue to look at some of Toronto’s Hideous Public Art - a subject of mutual interest. We were both so moved that we decided to write a joint critique and cross-post it at each of our sites. Part One ("Gumby Goes to Heaven") can be found here. Welcome to Part Two: The Pillars and Gardens of Justice


The next stop on our stroll was not anticipated, but ended up being—in my opinion—its highlight.

Immediately outside of the Ontario Superior Court (across the street from the U.S. Consulate General) and—as we were traveling south—just past a very thin presence of still-protesting Tamils, Eric and I happened upon what are known as “The Pillars of Justice” and “The McMurtry Gardens of Justice”.

A little background:

The McMurtry Gardens project—named in honour of then-Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, who was on the point of retiring—was conceived of nearly 3 years ago with the purpose of enlivening an otherwise dull block of the downtown with a sculptural garden (comprising around ten pieces,of which the Pillars are the first), contained within just the garden-variety of gardens stretching to Queen Street. The monuments were to depict “justice-related themes”; the garden itself, to borrow poor Michael Bryant's agonizing description, would “forever serve as a reminder that justice bloomed in Ontario under Roy McMurtry … [who] ensured that nothing could stop the growth of justice, human rights, and the rule of law."

Well, as it is now, there’s a little too much of the Gaza Strip about the Gardens—what with their flowerless piles of bleached-out dirt (save for a few weeds), made inaccessible by clumsily erected chain-link fences—and we’re still 9 short of the proposed 10 sculptures. (And that’s 3 years on, in case you’re not remembering. Three years!)

The Gardens wouldn’t be a hundredth so ridiculous were it not for the facts that 1) their commemorative plaque was erected well in advance of the planting of any actual greenery (work that cannot be undertaken any sooner than spring of next year), and 2) the plaque urges us to take this wasteland as our cue for a reflection on the state of our f-ing judicial system.

Nothing can stop the growth of justice, human rights, and the rule of law, eh Mr. Bryant? How about neglecting to sow their seeds?

But, no doubt, this will become a moot point in a year. Or two. Or three.

As for the Pillars … Well, this piece is something like exquisitely awful. The thing is just so banal, so unimaginative, and so aesthetically barren that it seems to me that only silver jump-suited aliens visiting our post-apocalyptic world could be impressed by it. A little primitive did I hear you say, Quaxon 2000? Yes, perhaps. But is it not admirable that this civilization evolved to the point of developing a Public Art Algorithm of which, clearly, this is a product? It puts me in mind of the emblem on our own galactic shield. You know the one: the really big spaceship made-up of 42 smaller spaceships?

This burrito of adolescent pretension is made of steel apparently, but you’d never know from looking at it; somebody had the brilliant idea of painting the thing white so that it looks like huge slabs of foam core. And while the maquette suggested that the Pillars would have a sturdy base of four steps, it only has two—bolted carelessly to a disproportionate (and concrete) third. The consequent impression of flimsiness is so vivid that you’d think a strong gust could toss the whole mess up University, bunking lightly off car-roofs and pedestrians’ heads until it got caught on a staple protruding from a telephone poll … Where it would flap for months until nothing was left of it but a few exhaust-stained tatters.

The body of Oscar Nemon’s work at least gave us the reassurance that Gumby Goes to Heaven was an exception—however glaring—to the sculptor’s rule. The same, alas, cannot be said of this artist, Edwina Sandys. (That’s pronounced “sands” by the way—who is, coincidentally, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, whose be-bird-shitted likeness, you’ll remember, scowls but a block east of here.) There isn’t enough space here to dedicate to a proper examination of Ms. Sandys’ work; suffice it to say that anyone who thinks they are doing something challenging or original by putting a pair of tits on the crucified Christ and calling the thing “Christa” deserves to be ridiculed to scorn. Ms. Sandys is the very embodiment of social justice activism as psychosis.

By way of introduction to Eric’s analysis, I leave you with this tidbit (from James Rusk of The Globe and Mail--scroll down the thread) regarding the artist’s process:

Ms. Sandys … said she had first thought of modelling a work on the statue of Blind Justice at The Old Bailey in London, but on realizing the concept of blind justice could be misconstrued, chose a different design.

On realizing the concept of blind justice could be misconstrued, she chose a different design.



Where does one start? There's not much I can add to EMG's observations about the Gardens of Justice except to re-iterate the point that if you're going to put up a monument called Gardens of Justice complete with a helpful plaque explaining the concept to puzzled viewers, you'd better include ... what's the word? ... a garden. The site in its current form just invites mockery. The boulevard down the centre of University Avenue includes some beautifully tended flower beds, but the only one specifically designed to symbolize a civic virtue - and one that has been three years in the making - looks like Berlin after the Russians were through with it in 1945.

I can just imagine some poor sap having some life-altering case adjudicated in the nearby Superior Court building after having mortgaged his meagre possessions to pay the shysters at Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, stepping out during the lunch adjournment to eat a sandwich on University Avenue. He beholds the Gardens of Justice choked with noxious weeds and promptly steps in front of a north-bound bus.

I'm willing to give the project the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Gardens will eventually be in full bloom sometime in the near future (since the wheels of justice do grind slowly), so perhaps I'm being a little harsh. Nevertheless, even if it is ever full of tulips this garden will still be a little cringe-inducing. It's a garden, get it? A "garden of justice!" Get it? Justice "blooms" in Ontario! Get it? They say that a pun is the lowest form of humour - ditto for visual, horticultural puns.

As for the Pillars of Justice - good lord. I assume the structure is meant to mimic the Erechtheum's Porch of the Caryatids on Athen's ancient acropolis. The Erechtheum was Athens' temple to Athena Polias, protectress of the city, and the Athenians built a suitably impressive monument for her. What do we have on University Avenue? A cartoon-like structure which looks more like the temporary set from a low-budget high school production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

Once again, the patricians responsible for this artwork have included a helpful plaque to explain its symbolism to the bewildered plebes. "We are the pillars of justice", we are told. "The missing pillar invites you to imagine that you are the twelfth juror." Oh - it's interactive! How clever! If I stand in the gap, I can participate in the justice system in all its panoply! Please. EMG and I took turns standing in the place of the missing Pillar of Justice and we both felt like idiots. In fact, EMG felt compelled to grab the ass of caryatid number 11. People walking by looked at us patronizingly like we'd just fallen off the turnip truck from some benighted art-less place east of the Don Valley. "It's a metaphor, you stupid hicks," you could almost hear them saying. "You're not meant to literally be a pillar of justice."

In this case, maybe not. A look at Edwina Sandys' previous commissions reveals a tiresome fascination with juvenile metaphors. Check out The Marriage Bed, in which one learns that marriage can literally be both a bed of roses and a bed of nails. Or how about Woman Free - another sculptural cartoon depicting, well, a free woman. I noticed on her website that the United Nations is one of her main clients. That seems fitting. She seems to produce works of art suited to government committees looking for logos for their PowerPoint presentations. Pillars of Justice fits right in with the rest of her teen-angst oeuvre. The viewer is literally a pillar of justice. Groan.

This woman is the grand-daughter of Winston Churchill? This is another sad example of the decline of once-great families. Commodore Vanderbilt's dynasty degenerated to Anderson Cooper; the Churchill line ends at Edwina Sandys. Churchill once said "success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm". Indeed.

(cross-posted at Edward Michael George)

Monday, November 02, 2009

"No one of any importance gives a rat's ass about the sex of the new Foreign Minister's partner"

Eric Scheie at Classical Values has some thoughts on the occasion of the swearing-in of Germany's new Foreign Minister, openly gay conservative Guido Westerwelle:
What I find more interesting about Westerwelle than his sex life (in which I'm about as interested as I am Chancellor Merkel's) is that he does not allow it to dictate his politics. He's against socialism:

Westerwelle is a staunch supporter of the free market and has proposed reforms to curtail the German welfare state and deregulate German labor law. In an interview in February 2003, Westerwelle described trade unions as a "plague on our country" and said unions bosses are "the pall-bearers of the welfare state and of the prosperity in our country". He has called for substantial tax cuts and smaller government, in line with the general direction of his party.
Amazing. In Germany, being gay does not translate into supporting welfare statism.

But in this country, being gay requires being on the left, because both sides of the damned Culture War say so. Human sexuality is political, so according to the "rules," the left is pro-gay and the right is anti-gay (or at least is supposed to be). And it does not matter whether homosexuality is chosen or innate; if you choose to be gay, you have chosen leftism, while if you're born gay, you're born into leftism.

A lot of people on both sides want to keep it that way.

Ditto for Canada, sadly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Suicide of the West

Alex Renton at the Guardian has recently written an article that gets right to the bottom line for many global-warming activists: civilization is bad and the only way to save the planet is to implement a drastic cull of the world's human population.

Renton writes:
It is certainly true that "fewer people equals a greener planet" is simplistic. In 2050, 95% of the extra population will be poor and the poorer you are, the less carbon you emit. By today's standards, a cull of Australians or Americans would be at least 60 times as productive as one of Bangladeshis.


Under normal circumstances, it takes perhaps a generation for the birth rate to drop with increasing wealth, whereas carbon emissions go up very quickly. As people get richer, they buy cars, use air conditioning, consume more calories and start to swap their vegetables for meat.

So the richer a country gets, the more pressing the need for it to curb its population. The only nation to have taken steps to do this is China – and the way it went about enforcing the notorious one child policy is one of the reasons the rest of us are so horrified by the notion of state intervention. Yet China now has 300-400 million fewer people. It was certainly the most successful governmental attempt to preserve the world's resources so far.


After all, based on current emissions and life expectancy, one less British child would permit some 30 women in sub-Saharan Africa to have a baby and still leave the planet a cleaner place.

If you have faith in the rich world's ability to achieve those 80% cuts in emissions in a mere 40 years, you need not concern yourself too much about population. But if you are sceptical, you should be worried. A lot.

Some scientists, the German chancellor's adviser, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber among them, say that if the cuts are not achieved, we will end up with a planet with a "carrying capacity" of just 1bn humans. If so, we need to start cutting back population now with methods that offer a humane choice – before it happens the hard way.

That sounds promising. After all, there are lots of great historical precedents where governments have decided to "cut back the population" for the greater good. Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge tried it in Cambodia - what could possibly go wrong? As Ann Althouse points out, "Oh, great. Thanks for the warning about cutting back 'population' the hard way. Germany."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Justice minister supports violating civil liberties

Sometimes its tough to be a libertarian in the Conservative Party of Canada - it often seems that they like to out-Liberal the Liberals in concocting schemes to increase the government's intrusion into the lives of citizens.

Case in point: Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has re-iterated his support for giving police the power to administer random breathalyzer tests to motorists:
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says he wants to give police the power to conduct random roadside tests to catch impaired drivers, but he intends to consult with his provincial counterparts before he puts forward a proposed new law in Parliament.

Random breath testing, if adopted, would replace Canada's 40-year-old legislation on impaired driving, which dictates police can only administer Breathalyzer testing if they have a reasonable suspicion of drunk driving.


Justice officials have been weighing the pros and cons of random testing for more than two years.

The debate centres around whether the initiative, which has proven internationally to be the most effective deterrent that exists to curtail drunk driving, would be a justifiable violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

"The government shares the committee's concern that there has been an increase in deaths caused by impaired drivers in recent years and its determination to strengthen the Criminal Code provisions dealing with this crime that kills and injures thousands of Canadians every year," Mr. Nicholson said in his one-page response to Ed Fast, justice committee chairman.

I've blogged about this before, but here it goes again: a government has crossed a line when it empowers the police to search citizens without just cause for suspecting that a crime has occured. One of the bedrock principles of justice in western democracies is the assumption that citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This new policy would stand that fundamental principal on its head; police will assume every motorist is impaired unless proven otherwise.

And before liberal bloggers jump all over this, it should be noted that this proposal has all-party support - there isn't one party of the four in Parliament that would not support this change.

This potential violation of our civil rights is being justified on the basis that it will save lives, since "progress in nabbing drunk drivers has stalled in the past decade". Well, that's the price we're going to have to pay to live in a free society. Minister Nicholson should be embarrassed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Miscegenation & gay marriage

I have a question for everyone who went ballistic when Saskatchewan marriage commissioner Orville Nichols was fined by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for refusing to marry a gay couple: are you going to go to the mat to defend Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's decision to refuse to marry a mixed-race couple?

There are some striking parallels between the two cases. Both gentlemen are civil servants tasked with performing marriages and issuing licenses to legally married couples. In both cases, the officials involved refused to marry the couples because of personal beliefs even though the law in both jurisdictions does not prohibit the couples in question from marrying.

In the case of Mr. Nichols, the couple involved were gay men:
Orville Nichols was approached by a gay man who wanted to get married in 2005 . At first, Nichols congratulated the man, identified in court documents only as "M.J."

When M.J. told Nichols his partner was another man, Nichols told M.J. he wouldn't do the ceremony because gay marriage is against his religious beliefs.

M.J. filed a human rights complaint, which was heard in 2007.

A tribunal set up by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that Nichols did not have the right to refuse service based on his personal beliefs, and ordered him to pay M.J. $2,500 in compensation.

Mr. Bardwell, on the other hand, refused to marry a white woman and a black man:
Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, refused to issue a marriage license earlier this month to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black. His refusal has prompted calls for an investigation or resignation from civil and constitutional rights groups and the state's Legislative Black Caucus.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement a nine-member commission that reviews lawyers and judges in the state should investigate.

"Disciplinary action should be taken immediately -- including the revoking of his license," Jindal said.

Bardwell did not return calls left on his answering machine Friday.

Bardwell has said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace. Bardwell said no one had complained in the past and he doesn't marry the couples because he's worried about their children's futures.

I know one case involves religious belief and the other a personal prejudice, but defenders of "traditional marriage" can't have it both ways. After all, anti-miscegenation laws have been traditional for centuries in most countries, including the United States and Canada. Legal marriage for mixed-race couples is a relatively recent development; state laws prohibiting mixed-race marriage were only ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1967 in the Loving v Virginia case.

Keith Bardwell sincerely believes that he is doing what's best by preventing poor innocent children from being born to mixed-race couples. So, to those bloggers and commentators who were outraged by the persecution of Orville Nichols: I expect a flurry of support for Bardwell as he goes through his ordeal. After all, government shouldn't be in the business of telling people how to think, right?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ever feel like you're living in a Fellini film?

Leave it to the Germans to come up with this invention: designer Stefan Ulrich has created "a conceptual shape-changing object to relieve loneliness, using artificial muscle technology."

Ulrich forsees a time when "people will turn to robots for the illusion of a living presence to satisfy their emotional needs."

Ulrich's invention, the "Funktionide", is "an amorph object whose intention is to provide the owner with an atmosphere of presence thus counteracting the feeling of loneliness. In the visions future people are lonely and with all the new dimensions products offer, humans will eventually turn to “robots” for emotional satisfaction."

Okaaaay ........

Here's a video of the Funktionide in action:

Funktionide Part II from eltopo on Vimeo.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Your papers, please

It's politically difficult to disagree with Mothers Against Drunk Driving - one is perceived as being in favour of drunk driving, or against motherhood, or something. That said, I'm going out on a limb here - MADD has gone too far.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spoke recently at MADD's annual convention and publicly supported a measure that MADD has been advocating for some time - random police breathalizer tests.
The House of Commons justice committee recommended in June that Canada follow in the footsteps of several other countries that have adopted random breath testing. Mr. Nicholson must publicly respond to the all-party report by Oct. 19.

The debate centres around whether random testing, while it has proven internationally to be the most effective deterrent that exists to curtail drunk driving, would be a justifiable violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

MADD says that action is needed because progress in nabbing drunk drivers has stalled in the past decade, largely because the remaining culprits are a hardcore group that was never persuaded to drive sober.

Also, research shows that even when impaired drivers are stopped at sobriety checkpoints, most go undetected so they are never tested, MADD says.

Police are even more likely to miss experienced drinkers, because they exhibit fewer signs of intoxication.

The justice committee, in its recent report, concluded the "current methods of enforcing the law lead police officers to apprehend only a small percentage of impaired drivers, even at roadside traffic stops."

Western democratic societies walk a fine line between personal liberty and public safety, never more so than since the 9-11 attacks. Relinquishing some personal freedom has always been necessary to ensure security, and a healthy political debate goes on continually about how much liberty must be surrendered and how much threat to security must be tolerated.The powers of the police as agents of the state are front and centre in that debate.

The underlying assumption, though, must be that police do not act arbitrarily and infringe on the liberties of citizens for no apparent reason. Centuries of jurisprudence have enshrined the principle that citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and police require just cause before depriving a citizen of his liberty. This fundamental concept is at risk if we allow police to arbitrarily stop us to look for potential violations.

RIDE checks are one thing, but random breath tests are another. At a RIDE check, police must suspect that a driver is impaired before administering a breath check. Nicholson's proposed changes will give police the power to randomly select drivers for breath tests. It may seem like nitpicking, but there is a big distinction. In the first instance, police have evidence of a crime being committed before taking action; in the second, the decision to take action is totally at the discretion of the police.

Where does this kind of thinking end? One could make the same "if it saves one life, it's worth it" argument for random searches of private homes looking for marijuana grow-ops, or arbitrary pat-downs of pedestrians on sidewalks looking for concealed weapons. The extreme result is a society where citizens are constantly monitored and police stop law-abiding citizens at checkpoints asking for "your papers, please". I don't trust the police to have my best interests at heart in these encounters.

Although I'm not advocating that I have an absolute right to drive drunk (since that action violates the right of other citizens to travel safely on the roads), society's fight against drunk driving must lean towards the persuasive, not the coercive. Certainly, throw the book at a person caught driving while impaired, and give police full powers to stop drivers who they suspect have been drinking. Nevertheless, we must operate on the assumption that most citizens are law-abiding unless proven otherwise - random breath tests assume the exact opposite.

MADD concludes their policy paper on this issue with this statement:
While random breath testing will be challenged under the Charter, this should not deter Parliament from introducing a measure that has dramatically reduced alcohol-related crash deaths around the world and can do the same in Canada.

There is a reason we have our fundamental rights and freedoms written in the Charter. Section 7 states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Section 8 says:
Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

Section 9 says:
Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

We have our rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution precisely to prevent agents of the state from deciding which rights are deemed worthy of having. We give up those rights at our peril, even for a seemingly righteous cause like the fight against impaired driving.

UPDATE: The National Post agrees - No to random breathalyzer tests:
Government is the servant of the people, not the other way around. That means that no matter how noble are the public policy ends advocated by politicians -- such as reducing drunk-driving fatalities -- it is dangerous for citizens to surrender one of their few protections against arbitrary police action.

Lock up drunk drivers longer. Give the provinces more money to enforce existing laws. But don't, Mr. Nicholson, presume all drivers are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent just because that is easier than honouring our traditional liberties.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Would a little vaseline have helped Chicago's Olympic bid?

Here's a hilarious mis-translation of Danish professor Hans Bonde's analysis of President Obama's performance at the IOC meeting in Copenhagen:
“Here come the more favor Obama just before the deadline and made showoff. He clearly won the battle in the media, but it turned out indeed to be indifferent. IOC members did not feel important, and they were indeed reduced to spectators and not players. So if he had come, he would have had time for a personal lubricant.”

Good advice.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A gay politician who defies gay political stereotypes

Guido Westerwelle (pictured on the right), the openly gay leader of Germany's Free Democratic Party and the junior partner in a coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, is rumoured to be Germany's next Foreign Minister.

Gay politicians are not that unusual anymore, but what is unusual about Westerwelle is that he defies gay political stereotypes. Westerwelle is described by the Telegraph as (gasp) an "arch-Thatcherite" who

led his pro-business Free Democrats to their best result ever with acerbic attacks on the welfare state and trade unions – which he called a "plague on our country".

As a partner in the ruling coalition, his party will have considerable influence in the new German government:

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and Bavarian allies survived the vote with a clipped mandate. She will have to give ground to Mr Westerwelle in the Centre-Right coalition as he presses for his great shrinkage of Germany's Leviathan state – tax cuts, spending cuts, subsidy cuts, labour reform, and emasculation of the state Landesbanken – whatever her own preference for playing the consensual role of national "Mutti" (Mum).

"German policies will likely shift towards a pro-growth agenda: this is a significant positive for German equities," said Holger Schmieding from Bank of America.

Westerwelle is openly gay and campaigned with his partner, Michael Mronz, and yet he does not view politics exclusively through a gay lens. This story from AP notes:

Guido Westerwelle and his gay partner are Germany's new "power couple" — at least according to the nation's leading daily, which splashed a photo of the pair hugging on election night on the front-page above the fold in Tuesday's paper.

The ringing endorsement for the 47-year-old Westerwelle, who is widely expected to be tapped for the high-profile post of foreign minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's new government, in the Bild daily also highlighted his personal life in a way he rarely has.

"His man makes him so strong," Bild wrote about Westerwelle, declaring that his 42-year-old partner Michael Mronz was not only his most important adviser during the campaign, but also "gives him security and ... supports him when he suffers a setback."

Despite eight years as leader of the pro-business Free Democrats, Westerwelle's homosexuality has generated relatively little discussion. But with his party set to become kingmaker to Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and him foreign minister, it has been thrust into the spotlight


While Westerwelle's certainly no gay activist, he has said before that his lifestyle may be "encouraging for some young gays."

"I can only tell all young gays and lesbians to not be disheartened, if not everything goes their way," Westerwelle told the Berlin's gay magazine Siegessaeule this month. "This society is changing for the good in the direction of tolerance and respect ... though slower than I would wish."

Westerwelle has been known to be gay since 2004, when he brought his partner to Merkel's 50th birthday party.

"I've never been hiding my life," Westerwelle said back then. "I just lived it."

Wow. An openly gay foreign minister of a G8 country who's a small-government tax-cutting labour-reforming Thatcherite. This is going to be interesting.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Some of his best friends are gay ...

but rapper Warren G doesn't want kids "watching that shit". From an interview in Vanity Fair:
Wait, what? You had me until the “I ain’t against the gays” part.

I ain’t against gay people. I’m just against it being promoted to kids.

I’m sorry, I don’t follow. What does the recession have to do with gay propaganda?

I know people that’s gay. My wife’s got friends that are gay. I got family that’s gay. Cousins and shit. He cool as fuck. He cool as a motherfucker. He’s my homie. I just mean that on some of these TV shows, they got dudes kissing. And kids are watching that shit. We can’t have kids growing up with that.

So you’ve got a “pot leads to heroin” theory about Hollywood homosexuality? Today there are men kissing on network TV, and tomorrow Grey’s Anatomy is all about mouth rape?

I know it happens, but let’s keep it behind the scenes. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it if that’s what two dudes wanna do. Cool. But that’s not bring that out into the world, where the kids can see that. We don’t want all the kids doing that. ‘Cause that ain’t how we was originally put here to do. Like I said, I ain’t got no problem with the gays.

(HT: Towleroad)

Incidentally, Mr. G is a Democrat and a big supporter of Barack Obama. Here's a video of the song "Mr. President" which he wrote and recorded during the 2008 presidential campaign:

Warren G - Mr. President (Feat. Blac Nic, Bad Lucc & Halla)

Obama: "doing Letterman again won't help"

If Obama's getting flack from Newsweek he must be in trouble. Howard Fineman writes in Enough TV, Mr. President:
If ubiquity were the measure of a presidency, Barack Obama would already be grinning at us from Mount Rushmore. But of course it is not. Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it. He's a man with an endless, worthy to-do list—health care, climate change, bank reform, global capital regulation, AfPak, the Middle East, you name it—but, as yet, no boxes checked "done." This is a problem that style will not fix. Unless Obama learns to rely less on charm, rhetoric, and good intentions and more on picking his spots and winning in political combat, he's not going to be reelected, let alone enshrined in South Dakota.

The president's problem isn't that he is too visible; it's the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer. There is, at times, a self-referential (even self-reverential) tone in his big speeches. They are heavily salted with the words "I" and "my." (He used the former 11 times in the first few paragraphs of his address to the U.N. last week.) Obama is a historic figure, but that is the beginning, not the end, of the story.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Progress & the left

I find it annoying that the political left has appropriated the word "progressive". Wikipedia defines progressivism as
a political and social term that refers to ideologies and movements favoring or advocating changes or reform, usually in a statist or egalitarian direction for economic policies (government management) and liberal direction for social policies (personal choice). Progressivism is often viewed in opposition to conservative ideologies.
When leftists label their ideology as progressive, they imply that people who don't share that space on the spectrum (specifically conservatives) are somehow "regressive" or opposed to progress. This of course is nonsense - most modern political ideologies believe in progress, but they have different visions of what progress means.

Case in point - Toronto City Hall. "Progressive" Mayor David Miller announced on Friday that he would not seek a third term in 2010.
"Toronto is a progressive city, with progressive values," Mr. Miller said, appealing for citizens to stay on the same course once he leaves office. "The next election will be hard fought, but if those with progressive values come together behind a new champion, work hard and fight hard, you can elect that champion."

to which potential conservative rival John Tory responded:
"I don't know what a progressive candidate means in his lexicon, I just know that the city is looking for a different kind of government and better results from their government, and I hope they get that after the next election, whoever the mayor is."

Commenting in the National Post, Kelly McParland had this to say about the mayor's progressivism:
One of the most frustrating things about dealing with left-wingers is their imperviousness to reality.

They see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe. They declare themselves "progressives," consigning everyone else to the reactionary bin, "progress" meaning adherence to whatever their personal agenda dictates. Their faith in their own moral superiority is bulletproof. Logic need not apply. Because they're progressives, see?

Thus Toronto Mayor David Miller could announce yesterday he plans to step down at the next election, having achieved everything he set out to achieve.


What likely won't penetrate this shield of self-congratulation is the Toronto many Torontonians see. The Mayor's achievements have come at the price of ever-more precarious financial machinations. The budget has grown from $6.7-billion to $8.7-billion, accompanied by annual crises, shortfalls and pleas to Queen's Park to save the city yet again. Contingency reserves have been pilfered, fees and surcharges ratcheted up, a convoluted new trash collection system instituted, accompanied by monster bins and garbage control technicians skilled at discovering arcane reasons why this week's trash doesn't qualify for their attention.

McParland concludes: "I love the left. They're bulletproof."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Netanyahu at the UN

Compare and contrast Barack Obama's mealy-mouthed speech to the assembled crackpots and despots at the UN yesterday to Benjamin Netanyahu's fire and brimstone address today (full text here):
Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations! Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.


Delegates of the United Nations, will you accept this farce?

Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace.


Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong."

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachibility of mankind" is for once proven wrong.

I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time.

In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.

Obama at the UN

Rich Lowry at the New York Post comments on President Obama's speech to the UN:
President Obama yesterday did his best impression of a high-school sophomore participating in his first Model UN meeting, retailing pious clichés he learned from his pony-tailed social studies teacher.

Even Woodrow Wilson might have blanched at the mushy-headed exhortations to world peace and collective action better suited to a college dorm-room bull session or a holiday-season Coca-Cola commercial.

(HT: Ann Althouse)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The cost of carbon dioxide reduction

The World Wildlife Federation and the International Institute of Environment and Development issued a statement from 40 leading climate scientists last week claiming that developed countries would have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent an average global temperature increase of 2 degrees celsius. Is that even possible? Ronald Bailey at Reason Online takes a look:
So is a 40 percent cut in emissions possible? The foregoing number crunching exercise suggests that it could be. But the commitment is huge: We're talking about the equivalent of shuttering every single one of America's coal plants in favor of hundreds of new nuclear facilities, hundreds of thousands of windmills, or millions of solar panels—or perhaps replacing the entire U.S. auto fleet with zero-emissions vehicles. The magnitude of such an effort would be similar to the projected costs of President Obama's proposed government-funded health insurance plan or the price tag for the War on Terror. These are big changes, not to be glossed over in glowing speeches about international cooperation and our bright green energy future.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"We deserve to govern this country"

John Hinderaker at Powerline issues a challenge to Republicans that Canadian Conservatives should pay attention to:
It's time for conservatives--mainstream Americans, in other words--to throw off the shackles and get aggressive. Our beliefs are correct, our values are the foundation of any society that doesn't have a death wish, and our interests, unlike those of the leftists, are legitimate. We deserve to govern this country, and before long, we will.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Racism is revolting, but so is the notion that we aren't allowed to criticize a President"

Ann Althouse on Jimmy Carter on Barack Obama:
Jimmy Carter's supremely sleazy accusation requires a solid, sound rebuke. It is an effort to place the President of the United States beyond criticism.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hideous Public Art: Two curmudgeons stroll down University Avenue

I had the great pleasure of meeting up with fellow blogger Edward Michael George in Toronto a few weeks ago. After lunch and a few beers at a café on Baldwin Street, we took a critical stroll down University Avenue to look at some of Toronto’s Hideous Public Art - a subject of mutual interest. We were both so moved that we decided to write a joint critique and cross-post it at each of our sites. Here is Part One:

Stop 1: The Art Gallery of Ontario


After having ranted numerous times about Daniel Libeskind’s grotesque addition to the ROM known as “The Crystal”, it was appropriate to take a cursory glance at Frank Gehry’s recent renovation of the AGO. I was prepared to hate it, but it doesn’t provoke a strong reaction in me either way. The old AGO building was nothing to write home about, so the new Dundas Street facade certainly isn’t any worse. It has a certain charm with its expanses of clear glass stretched over a soaring wooden frame, but it reminds me of a transparent beached whale. At least it isn’t yet another iteration of his signature crumpled-tin-foil buildings, which are getting a little tiresome. The back of the building (facing Grange Park) is truly ugly; with its massive expanse of blue anodized aluminum cladding and its modern staircases curving down like claws around The Grange. It looks like an alien spacecraft that has landed in Victorian London.


Gehry’s redesign of the AGO is an improvement on the original building right up to the point where it does this dreadful thing you’re seeing done to the poor old Grange. Which is to say, seen from the northeast corner of Dundas and McCaul, it’s really something. Get around the other side, though, and you’re punched in the eyeballs, and beaten relentlessly about the credulity.

I notice that the façade is the same colour as the holograms on the Transformers toys of my boyhood; and no doubt if Eric and I had bothered to look at it from the right angle, we could’ve made out a Decepticon insignia.

So a slight variation on the alien spacecraft theme in my view: not quite suited to the physical demands of interstellar warfare, Capsizedboat-tron awaits the order for his post-colonization duties (something cushy in the Ministry for Space-propaganda, if it’s convenient) set spang in the centre of ever-accommodating Toronto.

Stop 2: Per Ardua ad Astra - Dundas Street & University Avenue


This is probably Toronto’s most famous piece of Hideous Public Art. Known officially as Per Ardua ad Astra (“through adversity to the stars” - the motto of the Royal Canadian Air Force) it was unveiled by none other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1984 as a memorial to Canadian airmen. It was sculpted by Oscar Nemon (1906 - 1985), a Croatian emigre who settled in England during the war and who is justly famous for his portrait sculptures of luminaries like Sigmund Freud and Winston Churchill. Per Ardua ad Astra was his last work.

Per Ardua was very controversial when it was installed. Paid for by philanthropist and art patron Hal Jackman, the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, it attracted criticism for being “politically motivated” and for being installed without consulting the Toronto arts community. At the time the Globe and Mail called it "vapid," "ghastly" and a "mediocre sculptural doodad" and art dealer Av Isaacs organized a protest against it. Nemon himself, when he saw that the city had placed his work on a plinth against his express wishes, reportedly said that they had made it look like “a tulip in a box” (as opposed to just a tulip, I suppose). Shortly after it was installed, vandals spray-painted the words “Gumby goes to Heaven” on the plinth and it’s been called that by Toronto residents ever since. The Great Canadian Book of Lists puts it at number six on its list of “Ten Controversial Moments in Canadian Art”.

Well, who am I to argue with the arts critic at the Globe and Mail? This thing really is a mediocre sculptural doodad. Prominently positioned in the middle of a major intersection on Toronto’s most ceremonial boulevard, it looks really out of place like it should be in a playground instead. I can imagine it installed in an amusement park somewhere with water spouting out of its hands. Its childish appearance is all the more startling when one realizes that it is in fact a memorial to Canadian airmen who fought and died in combat (including seven Victoria Cross winners). I can imagine the look on the Queen’s face when she pulled the shroud off this thing at the unveiling.

I just can’t understand the iconography of this sculpture. Is Gumby releasing a Dove of Peace? Perhaps warding off the Eagle of Fascism? Maybe just shooing away the Shitting Seagull of Lake Ontario? As art it’s just ridiculous, but as a war memorial it’s insulting.


I was surprised to discover that the sculptor, Oscar Nemon, is also responsible for the Winston Churchills to be found next Nathan Phillip’s Square here in Toronto, and outside of the Halifax Public Library. (No doubt there are others as well.) I’ve always rather liked these monuments—in spite, that is, of the effect the pebble-grained body has on the unstylized head, i.e. emphasis of the loads of birdshit on Winnie's face as compared with the body, where the stuff is effectively disguised in relief. And, indeed, there is much that is admirable about the corpus of Mr. Nemon’s work. But the Canadian Airman’s Memorial (aka Per Ardua Ad Astra, aka Gumby Goes to Heaven ) really is awful.

(And if I can just note: while I sympathize wholeheartedly with the mockery intended by the nickname, it strikes me as being a little inadequate. I get more a feeling of: Gumby’s Had Way Too Much To Drink, And Is Way Too Excited That A Village People Record’s Been Put On. For which, apparently, gay Gumby is about to get squashed by a homophobic anvil.)

It goes without saying that the piece is conspicuously ugly/trite, but, like Eric, what annoys me most about it is the confusion of its visual metaphors:

Here we have the figure, stretched impossibly to the heavens—its oversized hands palm-upwards and outwards, implying both the skyward aspiration and the hands’ transformation into wings—but then, for some reason, we’ve got an eagle, and an incongruously proportionate one, atop all that. I mean, if we are trying to describe man’s growth through technological progress (as per the former RCAF—the institution here being commemorated) then why go any further than the gumbification-and-wingy-hands theme? Or, if it’s the idea of man harnessing the power of flight, why not just have some regular sized dude dangling from the bird?

And don’t forget the memorial’s motto/title: through adversity to the stars. The stars! Yet another dimension of metaphorical convolution! Wouldn’t it have been at least a little less muddled if Gumby were reaching for a star, then? (Though, yes, that would be rather too Soviet, wouldn’t it?)

The thing’s just a mess.

(cross-posted at Edward Michael George)