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)

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















Eric

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.




















EMG

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


































Eric

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.


EMG

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)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Penn & Teller on 9-11 conspiracy theories

Video clip from Penn & Teller's show "Bullshit" about 9-11 Truthers:
"It's important to nip this bullshit paranoid fantasy before it takes root in the national conscience and Oliver Stone makes a shitty movie about it."



(HT: Queer Conservative)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The peasants are revolting

I'm mildly amused by the reaction to Congressman Joe Wilson's faux pas during President Obama's health care speech to Congress last night. After eight years of the most vicious personal attacks on President Bush, Democrats are shocked, shocked to find out that there is unparliamentary behaviour going on here. ABC News wonders if Wilson's outburst "crossed the line on Congressional courtesy" and "may have reached a new low". The BBC World News tonight interviewed a reporter from the Black Entertainment Network who ridiculously suggested that because Wilson's catcall occured during the part of the speech about illegal immigrants, that meant that he was a racist. After all, Wilson is a white Republican and the President is black - QED.

The best part was watching the look on Obama's face and the shocked expression by Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi (who once called President Bush a "total failure") when they realized that someone had dared to heckle The One. How did that peasant get inside the palace gates?














Here's the video clip:



When I saw this last night I was immediately reminded of an event that happened on December 21 1989, when Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was giving a speech to a huge throng in Bucharest. It was a few days after government troops had opened fire on demonstrators in the town of Timisoara and revolution was in the air. Ceausescu appeared on a balcony with his wife Elena and delivered a boilerplate speech about baby bonuses when suddenly the crowd erupted in boos, whistles and shouts of "Timisoara! Timisoara!" Ceausescu's speech ground to a halt and he looked around, disoriented by the fact that the normally compliant crowds dared to interrupt him. He later retreated to his palace and by Christmas Day he and his wife had been executed by a rebel firing squad. Here's a video clip of Ceausescu's last speech:



Now before lefty critics go ape, I'm not comparing Barack Obama to a communist dictator and suggesting he be executed. However, his barely suppressed annoyance and the startled look on Nancy Pelosi's face come from the same source as Ceausescu's bewilderment: incomprehension that anyone would so rudely voice their opposition and suggest that The Party doesn't know what's best for everyone. Hope and change.

UPDATE: Roger Simon is feeling the same vibe:
Barely more than a half-year later, they’re putting two million people on the Washington Mall. Wow! If I were Obama & Co., I’d be afraid, I’d be very afraid.

And no doubt they are. They bobbled the ball big time and I wouldn’t be surprised if heads are going to start to roll – and not just the obvious (and relatively inconsequential) ones like Van Jones. Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod are going to be looking at each other like nervous apparatchiks in the Politburo because someone is going to have take the bullet for the disaster they have wrought.