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)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Smokestack Lightning, by Howlin' Wolf

Proof you don't need brains to be a reporter

The Montreal Gazette's Karen Seidman must have skipped the high school civics class where they explained what the Federal Government does. In an April 26 hagiography of Quebec student activist Martine Desjardins (who led the student strike that paralyzed Montreal last summer), Seidman writes:

The level-headed student leader sits down with The Gazette as she prepares to hand over the reins of the FEUQ after two tumultuous years at its helm.
Perhaps Justin Trudeau needs a good education critic for his revitalized federal Liberal Party.
Good lord, there's a lot of crazy packed into that short passage, even for a reporter.  She describes as "level-headed" a woman who led a violent strike that shut down large parts of the city to oppose a modest tuition fee increase that still would have Quebec students paying the lowest fees in the country. Well, Ms Seidman was probably the beneficiary of a journalism degree in that same dysfunctional Quebec university system, so cut her some slack.

She thinks that the best place for such a paragon is in public service fighting under the banner of  Justin Trudeau and his "revitalized" Liberal Party. OK, Seidman is female and Justin is just so dreamy and irresistible, so what star-struck fan girl wouldn't think that was every woman's dream job?

The real head-scratcher though is the revelation that a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, one of Canada's most important newspapers and the English paper of record in Montreal, thinks that the federal government is in charge of education. There is no federal Department of Education - education falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces, as surely Ms Seidman must realize having just written an article about the leader of a student strike against the GOVERNMENT OF QUEBEC. There is no federal Minister of Education, and opposition parties in the House of Commons do not have Education Critics in their shadow cabinets, despite her fervent wish that Justin Trudeau turn his gaze that way and lay on his healing hands.

Is it asking too much to expect reporters in major newspapers to have a basic understanding of how Canada works?

(UPDATE: It gets even better - Justin Trudeau DOES have a critic for "Post-secondary Education and Amateur Sport" in his shadow cabinet, despite there being no corresponding department in the federal government. Has someone told Pauline Marois?)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Albert King sings Born Under A Bad Sign, accompanied by Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pinkwashing and homonationalism

Bruce Bawer has written a hilarious yet disturbing article at Frontpage Mag about an academic conference in New York that revealed the sorry state of gay academia. Read it for yourself - you won't believe it.

Here's a few excerpts:
It was in November 2011, less than a year and a half ago, that the veteran far-left Jewish lesbian activist Sarah Schulman wrote an op-ed in which she introduced New York Times readers to a couple of unfamiliar terms. One was “pinkwashing,” which she defined as “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” The other was “homonationalism”: the alleged tendency of gays who’ve won social acceptance and legal rights to identify with “the racial and religious hegemony of their countries,” and to “construct the ‘other,’ often Muslims of Arab, South Asian, Turkish, or African origin, as ‘homophobic’ and fanatically heterosexual.”
In one particularly loathsome session, entitled “LGBT Rescue Narratives,” the speakers mocked the idea that for gays the Muslim world is a dangerous place and the West a sanctuary. Katherin Forbear of the University of British Columbia sneered about the Canadian refugee system, saying that its attitude – which she mockingly summed up as “Let’s help these poor people come to the great state of Canada” – simplifies a complex situation. (Exactly how many Canadians, Ms. Forbear, are seeking refuge in the Muslim world?)
Colleen Jankovic of the University of Pittsburgh savaged the 2006 Israeli film The Bubble, about an Israeli man and Palestinian man who fall in love, saying that it wrongly reinforces the idea that “homophobic Palestinian society” is at the “root of queer Palestinians’ problems.” And Emrah Yildiz of Harvard told the story of a gay couple from Tehran whom he described as being caught in a “double bind”: in Iran, they were officially viewed as deviant and harassed by the “moral police”; in the West, where they tried to secure refugee status, authorities at first didn’t accept that they were gay because they “acted straight” and therefore, as Yildiz puts it, weren’t “adequately deviant.” Yildiz’s point, in short, was to draw a moral equivalence between Iran’s treatment of these guys and the West’s. (After pushing this ridiculous equation at length, Yildiz admitted, during the Q. & A., that the two men are now living happily in Canada.)
Yildiz defended Iran passionately. Reacting to the charge that Iran has executed innumerable people for being gay, he complained: “There’s no other country in the world that gets targeted like this!” He also suggested that Iran’s “heteronormativity” (a euphemistic way, apparently, of referring to its habit of arresting, torturing, and, yes, executing gays) “opens up the possibility of not identifying” as either gay or straight – a plus for the many contemporary academics who, viewing such labels as bourgeois, prefer the chichi concept of “queer.” Yildiz also stood up for Islam: “We don’t ask Christianity to account for sexuality in the West,” he asked bemusingly, “so why are we asking for Islam to account for sexuality in the Middle East?"
This was an overwhelmingly female conference, and most of the females were of a type – white girls, either grad students or very junior faculty, who bore all the marks of privileged youth. Most of their voices were well-nigh indistinguishable. “They all sound like Barbie dolls!” commented the poor soul who watched some of the live stream with me. Yes, or like Valley girls. Every sentence sounded as if it ended in a question mark; while their papers were jargon-ridden, their Q. & A. responses were packed with the words “like” and “basically” (one of them expressed approval of the event by referring to it as “this super rad conference”); and both before and after the sessions, several of them kept giggling inanely, like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.
The men, for their part, were the usual castrated feminist fellow travelers who meekly accepted their subordinate role, one of them apologizing for “the privileges I have as a man” (what privileges? in the academy? in 2013?) and another one insisting that “queer women and trans people,” certainly not gay men, should be in charge of all gay organizations and events like this one. None of these craven apologies kept the conference from being a riot of male-bashing – specifically, gay-white-male bashing. Perhaps the most vigorous offender in this regard was Elena Kiesling, who ranted at length about the unbearable “whiteness” of the public image of the “gay community” and charged that the “gay white male” is the “poster boy” for gayness. (Leaving aside the absurdity of this charge, it was hilarious to hear it voiced by a six-foot-one blonde Aryan goddess who, in addition to being a graduate student in American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-Universit├Ąt in Mainz, plays on a championship beach volleyball team in Bad Soden, Germany.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: She's So Scandalous by Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Last of the Titans - goodbye to Margaret Thatcher

When I was a university student in the late 1970s (I graduated in 1981) I was a political naif. I vaguely believed in individual liberty and the free market, but I really couldn't articulate a personal political philosophy. Save for the brief interregnum of the hapless Joe Clark, Canada was led by Pierre Trudeau - the man who gave us wage and price controls and multiculturalism while partying with John and Yoko, sucking up to Fidel Castro and doing pirouettes behind the Queen's back. The US had Jimmy Carter - enough said. It was hard to get fired up about politics in those days.

Then in 1979, like a blazing comet in the political firmament, appeared Margaret Thatcher. She was mesmerizing to watch. Here, for the first time I could remember, was a politician who actually believed in something bigger than politics, and who could forcefully and emotionally articulate the true core values of conservative ideology. Here was a leader who sent the British Navy to take back the Falkland Islands from the Argentine military junta just to keep the islanders free and British. I date the beginning of my true political awareness to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1981, it was like all the planets had aligned, and the ensuing years which brought the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism were an amazing time to live through. I remember watching on TV as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, thinking that I was privileged to be able to witness it, and being grateful for the circumstances that brought us leaders like Thatcher and Reagan. The following year I traveled to Berlin to see the collapse of the Evil Empire in person - I'll never forget it.

We conservatives owe Baroness Thatcher a huge debt of gratitude for the legacy she left us. What conservative politicians can walk in her footsteps? Tim Hudak? Mitt Romney? David Cameron? What female politician can hold a candle to her? Angela Merkel? Hillary Clinton? Sarah Palin?

Margaret Thatcher was a giant among pygmies. We need politicians like her desperately right now, but I fear we won't see the likes of her again for a long, long time.

Rest in peace, Lady Thatcher.

Here's one of my favourite clips of Mrs. Thatcher - one of her last speeches in the House of Commons. It's the way I like to remember her.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Louisiana Blues, by Hugh Laurie (Dr. House of TV fame):

Attorney General Eye Candy

So President Obama has been forced to apologize for commenting that California Attorney General Kamala Harris was "by far the best-looking attorney general in the country". I don't see what's the big deal - I've been a fan of hot Attorneys General for some time, although I disagree with Mr. Obama that Ms. Harris is America's best-looking AG.

Case in point - South Dakota Attorney General Jacky Hartley, looking great in the requisite dark suit:

Next, Kentucky AG Jack Conway. Great teeth, by the way - and that dimpled chin!

Here's the Attorney General of Virginia, Mr. Ken Cuccinelli, looking a little like the young deNiro, with eyes like limpid pools:

And finally, Delaware's AG Mr. Beau Biden, son of none other than Vice President Joe Biden. He's a war veteran, by the way:

Over to you, Mr. President.

Elizabeth May's parliamentary gong show

Why does anyone take Elizabeth May seriously anymore? After running unsuccessfully in federal elections in Ontario and Nova Scotia she washed up in a flaky riding on Vancouver Island representing her party's only seat, and yet she gets treated by the media like she's the de facto Leader of the Opposition. Her latest publicity stunt - asking Her Majesty the Queen to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate Stephen Harper.

May sent a letter to the Queen in August requesting her assistance in investigating the Robocalls so-called scandal:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA
United Kingdom

August 30, 2012
Your Majesty,
I wish to write to you regarding a matter of grave importance to Canadians, and I request your assistance with this matter. The mechanisms Canada had in place to ensure free and fair democratic elections appear to be failing.
Many Canadians are concerned that our democracy is endangered, due to election infractions in our most recent elections, the lack of investigation of infractions, the de-funding of investigative bodies, and unprecedented prorogations of Canada’s Parliament, which threaten to undermine the fundamental basis of democracy in Canada. I write to request that Your Majesty Commission a Royal Inquiry to investigate what may potentially be criminal activities which influenced Canada’s last election, and that the aim of the Royal Inquiry be to restore Canada to a free and fair democracy.
Shortly following the last election, I wrote to the head of Elections Canada to express these concerns. I have also repeatedly requested in Parliament that Prime Minister Stephen Harper Commission a Royal Commission of Inquiry. I have never received any response. I remain concerned that with Canadian elections in question, that the current government in power may not be legitimate.
I will, by copy of this letter, share these concerns and request with the Governor General of Canada. I request that Your Majesty please seek a resolution which will benefit all Canadians, by restoring Canadians’ confidence that we can have a free and fair democracy.
I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant,
Elizabeth May,
Officer of the Order of Canada,
Leader of the Green Party of Canada
Member of Parliament, Saanich-Gulf Islands

Every now and then some nut from one of the Dominions fires off a letter to Buckingham Palace requesting Her Majesty's intervention in some petty squabble. I'm surprised my crazy next-door neighbour hasn't written to her about a fence that I put up along our shared property line twenty years ago which caused us to stop speaking to each other.  The latest case to get national attention was when Theresa Spence stepped away from her fish broth long enough to ask the Queen to personally intervene in her so-called hunger strike.

However, it's beyond belief that a Member of Parliament (and a leader of a Canadian political party at that) has so little knowledge of how our system of government works that she believes that the Queen should personally intervene in the operation of our elected government. Wasn't she paying attention in civics class back in high school?

Memo to Ms May:  the Queen is a figurehead who represents the sovereignty of the Canadian state, and is a Constitutional monarch who NEVER interferes with the elected governments of the states of which she is the head. That's how it should be, and I imagine that Ms May would be screaming bloody murder about "undermining the fundamental basis of democracy in Canada" if Her Majesty personally intervened in a hypothetical government headed by the Green Party.

Kelly McParland wrote in the National Post about May's letter and the Palace's reply in an article titled Elizabeth May writes to the Queen and gets a civics lesson in reply: 
In other words, why are you wasting our time with trivial complaints about Canadian affairs? And you a party leader – Does the Canadian education system provide no training whatsoever in the nature and operation of Parliamentary government?
It was a bit odd when First Nations leaders, in their confrontation with the Conservative government, wrote to the Queen in search of intervention. Natives were here before the Brits (or French) and can make a case that disputes over agreements signed centuries ago should be referred to the sovereign power at the time. It wasn’t going to work, but it was a cute reminder that Canada didn’t just spring into existence when the Europeans arrived.
But the leader of a political party with aspirations to national prominence should have better things to do with her time than bothering some Royal bureaucrat over Canadian domestic issues, especially over some silly suggestion that democracy was about to collapse. Were they supposed to send gunboats?
Britain doesn’t run Canada any more, news as that may be to the Green party.
Elizabeth May is a clown, and it's time we started treating her like one.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Hideous Public Art - Kingston Edition

Located about half-way between Montreal and Toronto, the sometimes-beautiful city of Kingston Ontario graces the north shore of Lake Ontario where it empties into the St Lawrence River. The one-time capital of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, it is home to some spectacular public architecture and is situated in a magnificent natural setting. Unfortunately for citizens and visitors alike, it is also home to some spectacularly hideous public art, which I had the misfortune to stumble upon during an otherwise pleasant visit over the weekend.

Kingston was first inhabited by Europeans in 1673 when the French established a fortified trading post called Fort Frontenac at the mouth of the Cataraqui River. Captured by the British in 1758 during the Seven Years War, it was settled by Loyalist refugees from the United States in the 1780s. During the War of 1812 it became an important military outpost, and following that war the British fortified the city with some of the important structures that are still there today - Fort Henry and the several Martello Towers that guard the harbour.

From 1841 to 1844 Kingston served as the capital of Canada and the citizens had grand visions of the future of their city. It was at this time that magnificent public buildings were erected, like the City Hall:

St George's Cathedral:

and the Frontenac County Court House. (Kingston's early movers and shakers seemed to have had a fondness for domes and neoclassical porticos.)

Kingston has developed parts of its waterfront and opened up the lakeshore to the public. A public square has been created on the harbour in front of City Hall, and a waterfront park and trail extends west along the lake past the campus of Queen's University. It is a beautiful space, much loved by residents and tourists. Unfortunately as a result of a fit of civic boosterism in the 1970s, the waterfront has been blighted by some truly hideous public art.

In the square fronting the city hall near the old train station and across from the Martello Tower sits this neglected monstrosity.

From some angles, it looks vaguely anthropormorphic, like a human figure pushing a wheelbarrow. From others, it just looks like a pile of scrap metal or construction debris. Some philistines have adorned it with graffiti tags and dogs like to piss on it. It is glaringly out of place in this space in front of the neo-classical City Hall, and while I was photographing it people walking by glanced at it with quizzical looks of faint distaste.

Most of these public sculptures have some kind of plaque to explain them to the perplexed public, but sadly this work's marker has been vandalized so its artistic meaning will remain known only to the artist.

Further west along the lake is a beautiful park that is heavily used by joggers and picnickers. It runs along the shore south of the Queen's campus in front of Kingston General Hospital, one of the ugliest buildings in the city:

The park features another of Kingston's famous Martello Towers - the Murney Tower, with it's nearby Cenotaph:

A graceful pavilion stands along the beach:

Kingston residents have been erecting monuments in this space for many years. In nearby City Park on the former Militia Parade Ground which fronts the Frontenac County Courthouse is a monument to Kingston native Sir John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada. The plinth is engraved with the bold statement "A British subject I was born, a British subject I will die".

Nearby is a poignant memorial to the First World War:

In 1973, the city celebrated the tercentenary of the arrival of Count Frontenac, governor of New France, who established Fort Frontenac on the site of modern Kingston. The occasion was marked by all kinds of festivities, including a visit by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. No occasion of this significance could be celebrated without a piece of monumental public art, and Frontenac's successors in the Government of Quebec stepped up with a gift from the people of Quebec to the citizens of Kingston. Did the sculpture commemorate the establishment of the fort?  Perhaps a figure of Count Frontenac himself? Maybe something to mark the shared French and English heritage of the area which dates back to 1673? No, Quebec presented Kingston with this abomination - a sculpture by Yves Cozin called "Pollution":

Consisting of two concrete sewer pipes spilling a mass of toxic liquid, this thing sits in one of the most beautiful spots in the city and has been assaulting the eyes of passersby since 1973.  It is hideous from every angle:

I can imagine the conversation around the table at Quebec's Ministry of Culture, a scant three years after the October Crisis saw federal troops putting down the violent FLQ insurrection in Montreal:

"Monsieur le Ministre - the city of Kingston is commemorating the founding of Fort Frontenac - should we send them a gift?"
"Fort Frontenac - that's the one on Lake Ontario that was taken from us by the damned English, right?"
"Oui, Monsieur le Ministre."
"Send them something ugly. Something that will remind them every day that the mere presence of the English on Lake Ontario pollutes our very souls."
"We have just the thing, Monsieur."

I can also imagine the Kingston city council discussing the new gift:

"Mr. Mayor, a sculpture has arrived for the Tercentenary - a gift from the Province of Quebec." 
"OK then - let's open 'er up."
"What the fuck is this?"
"The tag says it's called 'Pollution'.  By some guy named 'Yves Cozin' "
"Jesus H. Christ - it looks like two concrete sewer pipes. Are they serious? "
"Well, send them a thank you note saying 'It's lovely, thanks for thinking of us' and put it up on the Queen's campus. Those lefty eggheads eat that shit up."
"Premier Bourassa says it's for the waterfront, down by the Murney Tower."
"They must be kidding."
"Apparently not, sir. We have to handle this carefully, what with all that FLQ unpleasantness and whatnot."
"All right, stick it in front of Kingston General - nothing could spoil that view. And when that SOB Bourassa comes for the big shindig, make sure he sits right beside the Queen. By the way, when is Montreal's big anniversary?"

Over the winter, Idle No More protesters vandalized the statue of Macdonald in City Park. I suppose that the protesters, seeking an outlet for their inchoate rage, might have looked at the "Pollution" sculpture which commemorates the founding of a European settlement in the heart of native territory. They must have muttered to each other "Dude, how are they going to know we've vandalized it? It looks like crap already!" and then moved on to the Macdonald memorial.

Although the city of Kingston has areas of great beauty, this god-awful eyesore is a permanent blight on one of its most beautiful spots. I can't imagine any uproar if a city construction crew "accidentally" bulldozed the whole thing one night and carted off the sewer pipes for use in some industrial park.