Tuesday, May 30, 2006

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Afraid of Fear

Time to attack this sham head on. There are many wars and conflicts throughout the world, ignited and stoked by all the usual sadly human suspects -- xenophobia, greed, stupidity, etc. -- but a "war on terror" really makes little sense. Terrorism is a crime, albeit often an international one. Certainly here at home, it has always been investigated and pursued as one, as it should be. The lofty rhetoric of this near-crusade, however, is becoming increasingly meaningless, and in the US has led to a partial dismantling of some of the very "freedoms" the Bush administration claims made them so unpopular with these (supposedly seethingly envious) terrorists in the first place.

Not content with allowing such an exercise in smoke and mirrors to do its insidious damage south of the 49th, Mr. Harper appears to want to import this disingenuous lie along with a disturbingly familiar grab-bag of trickery straight outta DC, straight into Ottawa, so to speak.

Can we, do we want to, will we, stop him?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

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Blogs vs MSM: An Unnecessarily Stark Dichotomy?

The political blogosphere is a very self-conscious entity. Like anything new and young (teenagers, students) observing the established old guard (parents, teachers), it constantly frets about its relevance and position vis a vis the so-called mainstream. This will of course change one day when it becomes the new standard. In the mean time, examples of the current gulf between the two approaches — staid old-school journalism versus the gauche and awkward blog-o-rama — abound. Returning to my earlier post linking to a story in the Globe and Mail, notice the overall cool detachment and uniformly diplomatic tone throughout Brown's article. While clearly critical of Mr. Harper, there's a palpable sense of reluctance on Brown's part to overtly name the Prime Minister's manipulative nature, even ending on a fairly positive note ("Next to an exploding cannon like Mr. Vellacott, Big Daddy Harper looks wise, temperate, compassionate — maybe even calm enough to deserve a majority") [Emphasis mine]. There are no such qualms in this piece from rabble.ca, an online Canadian 'zine for progressive politics, a much more web-savvy entity than the venerable Globe and Mail could ever be. The writer, Jack McAndrew, pulls no punches in his decimation of Harper's motives. Compare this:

When Mr. Harper says he is protecting loved ones from the evil and relentless media by not allowing media coverage of the body bags as they come back from Afghanistan, he is lying. The only people he is trying to protect are Stephen Harper and the politicians of the Conservative party — protecting them from a Canadian public which just might start asking tough questions about the reason Canadians are being killed fighting a nonsensical war launched by his good buddy Mr. Bush.

And when Mr. Harper desecrates the memory of those Canadians who are killed and dismembered on behalf of Mr. Bush in the rough and rocky terrain of Afghanistan, he does so only so that we are not exposed to visible reminders of this feckless national adventure.

Indeed, there is only one reason for every action and every lie — the election of a majority Conservative government next spring.

With the much milder and more subtle:

To judge from his first four months in office, Mr. Harper is running the most hands-on, centrally controlled federal government in living memory, a government so Harper-centric and so micro-managed by the Prime Minister's Office it feels literally patriarchal. If Big Daddy Harper is a control freak — and no one denies it, even if they won't speak for attribution — he is a control freak on purpose, in order to come across as a firm and fatherly leader, one prime ministerial enough to deserve a majority in the next election.

Consider the evidence:

Last month, to avoid bad press on an issue he has tied firmly to the Conservative brand, Mr. Harper banned the media from filming the return of the bodies of four Canadian soldiers who died last month in Afghanistan.

Although the message of both pieces is very similar, the latter is far less accusatory, less inflammatory. In our current age of dualism, in which we apparently have to constantly choose between polarities, I suppose it's clear that we will have a preference for one form of polemic over another, but after reading both pieces carefully -- and incidentally agreeing strongly with the warnings they both espouse -- I don't feel the need to indicate a preference. I'm glad that there's the blogosphere, this clamouring unruly marketplace of ideas and humanity... but I'm also grateful for the arms-length detachment of our older media, the kindly professor to the former's wild-eyed student activist. They are both necessary. One caveat, though: we must be watchful that the benevolent old prof doesn't follow the example of his colleagues to the south and end up marching lockstep alongside the very institutions he is there to critique (if like me you don't have a subscription, that Salon link is definitely worth the relatively minor hassle of an ad-clickthrough, incidentally).
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President Gore

For a change in pace, here's the man who actually won the US Presidency in 2000. Remember, the media portrayed him as dull? Granted, this may not be comedy gold, but I think he comes across a thousand times better than the current Dullard-in-Chief. Anyone else have a sickening what-might-have-been feeling in their gut?
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Across The Divide

That 49th Parallel is an odd and intriguing thing. It divides two countries, sure, but we're still fairly free (although increasingly less so) to cross back and forth, if only to buy cheaper gas. What I also love about the border, however, is that we can communicate across it and actually learn from each other. I was e-mailing back and forth with an American blogger recently, and as a result, the seed for this very blog was sown. Here's what I wrote then, in response to his question about Harper's right-wing potential:

My take is that Canadians -- understandably wearied by Liberal corruption... and spurred on by the media -- allowed Harper in the back door, under the (perhaps) mistaken notion that voting in a minority government will rein in his more right wing excesses. Again, I think the media encouraged this "compromise", but I have a nagging fear that it will backfire. I mean, do Canadians want yet another general election so soon after June 2004 and January 2006, and will Harper take cynical, calculated risks with that reluctance? As for Harper himself, I think he admires(!) Dubya, hails from our version of Texas (Alberta) with all the faux machismo and "rugged individualist" nonsense that entails, has a religious agenda (with all the socially repressive baggage that that entails), and has already taken steps to weaken and distance the media vis a vis his government. But now I'm thinking that you've got me writing something I could just as easily drop into a blog, so...

So here it is. Another blog, whether the world needs one or not. The result of just one of many fertile conversations that occur between our two countries all the time, and one that proves there is still common ground in spite (or more likely because) of the current political realities in our two nations. Anti-Americanism is so tempting for Canadians, as I'm equally sure a dismissal of us as mollycoddled lib'rul pantywaists is from their perspective. But I think we can all be better than that. It's fun to play Rebel Alliance to the United States' evil Empire, but you know, Star Wars was fiction when all's said and done. And Luke really was a bit of a sap. Let's get away from stereotypes and try to play with reality; we might find it has a well-known liberal bias, after all.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

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Fitzmas Redux?

Well, whaddya know? I couldn't wrap up this blog's admittedly lengthy and scattered first day without linking to some developing news that makes me want to party with great gusto and righteous mayhem up and down the street this warm, almost hopeful Saturday night.
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Pale Blue Dot

Oh, yes, and let's remind ourselves, as early as it seems, what all this sturm und drang is really about, what is at stake, and why, ultimately, we care.

Just this.

Seriously. Do yourself a favour and take a second to click that link. It's jaw-droppingly heart-rendingly gorgeous.

(And while we're in the mood, click the title of this post.)
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Big Daddy

I suppose this article from the Globe and Mail is a prime example of why I felt the need to join the already baying blog-throng. The kind of outstanding hubris discussed in the linked piece -- masking a fear of inadequacy quite frankly -- is what initially reminds me strongly of the Bush regime, sure... but worse still is what sparks my fear that Harper's minority government is not planning minority status for long. The signs are there already that Harper means to turn the watchdog into a lapdog. Now, I'm just blogging here. I'm no journalist. I make no pretence of objectivity. But I do know a threat to democracy when I see one, and as sure as David Emerson was voted into his seat as a Liberal (oh, wait...), Harper's motives have to be very questionable indeed, whatever your political stripe.

But back to Ian Brown's article:

Last month, to avoid bad press on an issue he has tied firmly to the Conservative brand, Mr. Harper banned the media from filming the return of the bodies of four Canadian soldiers who died last month in Afghanistan.

I've watched as the American people have had their freedoms usurped by an unscrupulous regime, and have only recently begun to awake to the fact that, like the proverbial frog in the slowly heating water, they are in mortal danger. By paying attention early, we can avoid that fate here in Canada. It's really that critical.
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Canada Day

In March of this year, I became a citizen of this great country of Canada exactly 18 years -- to the day -- after migrating here from England back in 1988, the International Year of the Large Unruly Haircut and the Unlaced Hi-Top Runner. The "exact day" part is merely coincidence; it just happened to be the date the tortuous application process led to, likely picked without thought by some bureaucrat in a poorly-lit office in Ottawa.

I am very happy and strangely proud to be a Canadian. I say "strangely" because patriotism has always been an alien emotion for me, as if I missed out on that gene altogether. Well, maybe not: perhaps I'm a latent patriot after all, although 44 years is a long time to have been in any closet. This country is certainly no nirvana; it has its fault lines and gem seams in fairly equal measure, although I lean toward the latter and can't imagine wanting to live anywhere else on this lonely troubled planet.

On that day in early March -- my own personal Canada Day -- I felt buoyant -- included and inclusive and part of something much bigger, which I suppose is how religious people feel in a place of worship. And like a rabbi or a minister or an iman or even a shaman, the presiding Judge Day was suitably solemn yet simultaneously warm and welcoming, imparting a sense of the joy and specialness of the occasion while never appearing pompous or too formal. This being-a-Canadian thing feels great; it still retains its new car smell. It's cool and fresh and virginal. It even snowed throughout the ceremony, the large window on the left of the room distracting the roomful of 200 or so multi-hued citizens of the world with its vision of what most people associate Canada with in the first place. Snow. Great floating lacework coasters drifting from steely skies.

But the point of this first post, I suppose, is to try and justify yet another blog out there floating around among so many millions of equally unique and special snowflakes in the great wheeling sphere we sometimes still call cyberspace. And the truth is, I can't. Nothing can justify it. Audience of one (myself) or audience of thousands: it matters not. I just have to do this, and for simple, fairly mundane reasons: I have watched as the country to the south of us has fallen prey to a kind of collective madness since September 11, 2001. I don't doubt the seeds of that madness were planted and nurtured even before that terrible date. There was, and still is to an extent, something good about America that these events have increasingly buried like obliterated bodies under fallen concrete and steel. It has been horrifying to watch, and since I have (in some ways for the first time) truly staked my ground on this world, I cannot bear to see anything similar happen to this Canada that I do indeed love. And to that end, I'll use my best weapon, the only one I'm truly adept in -- language. English will be my sword with which I'll block and parry the same species of foe that has brought down our giant neighbour to its elephantine knees. And believe me, there are signs that similar cancers (to switch metaphors) are loose in our own society. By exposing them, if nothing else, I'll be helping to clear a path for the eventual passage of someone more skilled in their excision, some cultural surgeon.

I took an oath on March 9, 2006 to "respect our country's rights and freedoms, to defend our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen." [Emphasis mine.]

This blog, for all its inevitable missteps and no-doubt asinine tangents, will be me trying to live up to that very promise I made to a large mass of mostly frozen land and to a collection of 30 million random strangers I chose to embrace as my compatriots.