Friday, August 27, 2010

The New Age of Ignorance. . . . . .

  Few things seems more bizarre to me, more strangely twisted and disturbing, than a group of people that prides itself on its ignorance. And yet there is, in human society a strong tradition of 'Know-nothingism' which still emerges in these days of complex knowledge. Perhaps this strange ideology is partly sustained by the very fact that we live in such a complex age and people find comfort and solace in the idea of eschewing knowledge, as though by maintaining their ignorance they will somehow recapture a more simple (albeit completely imaginary) time in which there existed greater social, political, and philosophic clarity.

Of course, whatever the present state of the ideology of 'know-nothingism,' its roots are to be found in those who promoted it (and sometime still do) with the aim of maintaining control. Dictators and their ilk have long known that an ignorant population is an easily controlled and mailable one. And this promotion of ignorance was for centuries enshrined in the power and control maintained by the Roman Catholic church which prohibited on the threat of execution, for example, the translation of the Bible into common vernaculars comprehensible by the people. Besides undermining and threatening all those who would promote new forms of knowledge, for centuries the Church promoted ignorance as more or less a good thing, often couching this idea of know-nothingism in notions of attractive simplicity, an escape from all the trials and tribulation of worldly pains and knowledge. Later, more modern advocates of Conservative ideologies have promoted know-nothingism as the bulwark against ominous changes that lead, according to these advocates, to threatening chaos and radical, if often nondescript, social changes. The Tory-reactionaries of the late 18th century used this kind of argument in an attempt to hold back the looming changes in England which promised more universalized suffrage and education while threatening to undermine the absolute power of the British aristocracy. The aristocrats and their supporter knew what such changes meant to the maintenance of their authority and thus they actively and blatantly railed against education for the working and poor class, suggesting that any knowledge acquired by the masses would simply lead to dissatisfaction and rebellion.

Today, in most Western countries, we see varying degrees of resurgence in this ideology of know-nothingism. But nowhere is it more pronounced than in North America where openly fundamentalist politicians promote ignorance as a way of life. But our current government in Canada has taken this ideology to new, and unexpected, heights. As many commentators have begun to notice, this government is making every effort possible at closing down the knowledge based aspects of government. From killing the long-form census to firing ombudspersons whose job it is to monitor government with their expertise, this government has raised the bar on know-nothingism. For a generation now, neo-conservatism has been actively attempting to undermine knowledge in an effort to promote its agenda of near absolute and usually blind corporate power. From the Trilateral commission's condemnation of 'too much democracy' to the privatization of education, conservatives have attempted to shut down debate and knowledge based politics in order to maintain and ignorant and compliant population.

Conservatives in general, and Harper's Conservatives in particular, promote this agenda because they know that that cannot prevail in the face of an educated and informed population. They know that their cause would be profoundly weakened in the face of genuine and open discourse and thus the promotion of ignorance is their greatest weapon in the fight for dominance. Even their most hallowed argument of 'market efficiency' is largely a fabricated myth which is undermined time and again by actual discourse and investigation. Privatization of everything from transportation  to Third World social services has ended in disaster because the presence of middlemen that make huge profits consistently undermines rather than contributes to efficiency.

Conservatives everywhere are eager to keep people in the dark about almost everything because they know that knowledge will put an end to their efforts of control. And unfortunately a certain group of people lap this know-nothingism up because it eases their anxiety and feeds into a myth of simplicity and pastoralism. One needn't be a blind advocate of scienctism or technocracy to understand the benefits that knowledge, even specialized knowledge, can contribute to our social effort at constructing a better life. And in many cases it is actually simple knowledge that requires no specialization to understand which can contribute the most to these efforts. But this is a difficult struggle in an age in which our government can, for example, condemn an opposition leader for essentially being to smart.

Just the other day we witnessed a terrible example of know-nothingsm in action as the Manila police contributed to the deaths of eight people. Typical of a corrupt and brutal organization the Manila police lacked the expertise to handle the situation and were far too steeped in their own ignorance to understand what they lacked. After the fact, the police had to admit that they had "inadequate skills" to handle such a situation, but only a disaster brought them to this public conclusion. Luckily we averted a similar disaster when our government fired the nuclear watchdog, Linda Keen, for simply doing her job in attempting to avoid a literal meltdown.

Know-nothingism has threatened our civilization for centuries and our own government is keeping up the pressure. Will Canadians resist this ideology of ignorance? I am not sure.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arun Gandhi and the Palestinian Question. . . . .

A few years ago Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi became imbroiled in a controversy when he had the gall to criticize the State of Israel for using the memory of the Holocaust as an excuse to oppress the Palestinian people. Arun quickly learned the incredible power of the Israel Lobby in the US as he was essentially hounded out of his position as the president of the Gandhi Institute for Non-violence for daring to question the intentions of the Israeli State.  I remember reading of the controversy at the time and being quite depressed by the fact that it has come to the point in much of the West that if anyone dares speak against the blatantly expansionist policies of Israel one is instantly branded an Anti-Semite in a sad effort to silence the truth. But Arun Gandhi's credentials for the cause of peace are unimpeachable in my mind and though I would not have used the same words as he did, I think his central point was correct. We have indeed created a culture of violence from which no one is totally immune. Many in the state of Israel have used the Holocaust as an excuse to take the land of the Palestinians and ensure that they live in a state of terrible degradation and indignity. Arun was raised in South Africa during the age of Apartheid and, having seen the Palestinian refugee camps, he said that the Palestinians were suffering even greater indignities than the Blacks in South Africa. There is no doubt that many of the leaders of the Palestinian people have also succumbed to the global culture of violence. But they have practiced violence from a position of extreme weakness and poverty. It seems that any peoples, robbed of their land and identities and dignity will eventually respond with violence. This is why Arun Gandhi advocated a completely peaceful resistance on the part of the Palestinian peoples to the State of Israel. A kind of modern day Salt March. Most famously he advocated a peaceful march of fifty thousand Palestinians crossing the River of Jordan to return to their homeland. I believe that such a nonviolent resistance would be remarkably successful strategy against the State of Israel because I think it would expose the brutality and chauvinism of the Israeli State. This exposure would demonstrate to the world that Israel has also succumbed to the culture of violence. Every settlement in the occupied territory is another act of violence to the people of Palestine and to the people of Israel because it is an extension of the violence that ravages us all.

 I believe that the Jews and Palestinians can live in peace and harmony and even prosper together. But it means a genuine commitment to humanity, and the leaders of Israel, no less than the leaders of Palestine, have demonstrated that they are not interested in mutual prosperity. While the West invests billions in Israeli weapons in a country with a remarkably high standard of living, a relatively small trickle flows into Palestine which is barely enough to keep malnutrition from the door of the occupied territories. Enough is enough.

The NDP and the Gun Registry . . . . .

I have to take a few moments out of my birthday to make a few remarks about the NDP and the gun registry because I just cannot stand listening to NDP party hacks who are defending the NDP MPs who have previously voted, and are again going to vote, to kill the gun registry. A number of critics and bloggers have been defending Jack Layton for allowing a free vote on the gun registry because it is a tradition to allow such free votes on so-called private members' bills. In fact some people have even gone so far as to claim that Layton is adhering to 'principle' because to do otherwise would be to abandon the tradition simply because the bill contravenes the policies and spirit of the party. Now this argument seems fairly lame to me simply because while this bill may be a 'private members' bill' de jure, it is de facto a government bill and everyone knows it.

But let us accept, for the moment, that argument and say this is a private members' bill and tradition demands that we have a free vote on this issue. We could then absolve Mr. Layton of any ill effects of the death of the gun registry and say that he, at least, acted in an appropriate manner. The problem is that this still leaves a bad taste in my mouth and it simply shifts the unprincipled behavior from the leader of the party to the individual MPs who vote to kill the registry. Because what possible 'principle' could these MPs be adhering to? There are only two possible principles that they could argue. One is that they don't believe "in principle" in the gun registry. This argument surely stretches the limits of credibility. Given the history of the party to which they belong and the fact that we live in a country where, in most municipalities, you have to register your dog, I find it incredible that a member of the NDP would object to registering a gun. The argument just won't do. On the other hand, one might argue that these MPs are adhering to some populist principle that suggests that MPs are morally bound to vote the way their constituents want them to vote. Now the NDP is not a populist party and we have a representative form of government rather than a direct democracy. I don't think the NDP MPs who are voting to kill the registry would vote to outlaw, say, interracial marriage or vote to eliminate all corporate taxes just because a majority of their constituents wanted them to. Thus, I think it is very clear that this argument also fails to convince.

There is, of course, one rather convoluted argument that these MPs and their supporters might appeal to in defense of their vote to kill the long-gun registry. The argument goes like this; if those MPs voted to maintain the long-gun registry in certain rural ridings, they would surely lose their seats in the next election, thus allowing Liberals and/or Conservatives to win more seats, weakening the NDP's presence in the House and, in the long run, undermining the overall influence and impact of the party and its concerns. This argument is, of course, not 'principled' but it is, rather, pragmatic. The argument depends on the idea that the negative impact of killing the registry is less important that the over all impact of having fewer NDP Representatives in the House. Though I am sometimes sympathetic to this kind of political pragmatism, I am not particularly sympathetic to the argument in this case. I find this kind of argument particularly distasteful because no one ever admits it. MPs don't talk to the media or their constituents and say "I don't agree with this bill but I am going to vote for it because I am being pragmatic and strategic." Thus the whole project seems disingenuous.

If one is going to argue against the long-gun registry 'on principle' then one has to have a fairly strong libertarian streak and would therefore be opposed to many, if not most, government registry programs. You could also oppose it based upon a principle concerning the potential oppressive nature of militarist governments but I don't think there are many making this argument. Thus I admit that while there are principled reasons to oppose the gun-registry, most people who actually oppose it are hypocrites because they are not actually libertarians and don't actually oppose many government powers and intrusions. On the other hand there are fairly strong 'principled' arguments, from the NDP point of view, to be found for supporting the long-gun registry. The registry allows us to keep much better track of the guns in society, most of the country's police forces suggest that it helps 'fight crime,' a majority of gun crimes involve long-guns, many of which are stolen and a registry allows us to know their origin etc. Furthermore, the registry in no way undermines anyone's rights, at least more than already existing registry programs for, say, pets or motor-vehicles, or numerous other things we possess.

The fact is that even if we are to absolve Mr. Layton of responsibility here, there are no credible 'principles' on which NDP MPs can hang their political hat if they are going to vote to kill the registry. And since they are not appealing to the 'pragmatic' argument, at least not publicly, I am compelled to believe that the only real motivation for NDP MPs voting to kill the registry is a self-interested one. These MPs are looking after their own political skins and saving their pensions rather than acting on some principle. And bloggers who are making vague attempts to defend the principles of these MPs are barking up the wrong tree and sounding rather pathetic if you ask me.

If certain NDP members are integral to the death of the long-gun registry, you don't have to blame Jack Layton. You can blame the individual members for being wrong headed and unprincipled. But more fittingly, I think we can blame the party as a whole which, this whole affair suggests, has lost its way and its moral compass. If the NDP is unable to stand up for something as relatively minor as the long-gun registry then this party has had its day.

Shakespeare retires . . . . . .

In 1610, exactly four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare, age 46, the very same age that I turned today, retired from his literary career.

Not having reached the skill and competence that the Bard achieved, I think I will continue to write.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Toronto and the Death of Bookstores. . . . .

   I got back from Toronto last night. Because my dad had been sick for a while I hadn't been to the big smoke for what seems like a long. Well, it has gotten a lot bigger and crazier since then. I told my wife that I thought the down-town area was a lot more congested than it was when we first started making regular trips there twelve years ago. She insisted that I was just noticing the crowds more as I was getting old but given the number of very large high-rise condos that have gone up in the lower end of downtown I said there must be tens of thousands more people living in the area than there was a decade ago. Either way, to me the city seems considerably more crazy and crowded than it was just a few years ago.

   One day while I was driving around town I saw six car accidents, two of them I witnessed first hand. One was a fender-bender involving two women who proceeded to get into a slapping match on the street and another was a older man who seems to have lost his concentration and went up on the curb and knocked down a sign. Another accident at which I arrived moments after it occurred consisted of a guy who had attempted to weave his way between a parked bus and a moving semi and found himself completely stuck. Luckily it looked like the only thing that was injured was the poor guy's pride and from an outsider's point of view the whole thing looked rather comical.

   Car accidents could not, however, be as comical as the train-wreck that is the Toronto mayoral race. This Robert Ford character would be laughable if he wasn't so obnoxious. The idea that this offensive, race-baiting, Neanderthal has a chance of leading the country's biggest city is profoundly depressing. The fact that he shares a name with the cowardly disloyal man who shot Jesse James in the back is an interesting coincidence.

   One thing I was sad, though not shocked, to see was that the gradual trend of bookstore closings continues apace. Pages, arguably the best independent bookstore in Canada is gone. One thing that made Pages so good was that it had a large section of small-press books, the kind of books that you never hear about and are, therefore, best found by browsing, something that is difficult, if not impossible, to do online. Atticus Books, the finest academic used bookstore I have ever seen is also gone, though they continue their efforts online. There are now only one or two used bookstores of any consequence in all of Toronto and those surely cannot last much longer. I must confess that I have surely contributed to this trend because I have purchased many books online over the past few years. And overall, though online books have killed flesh and blood bookstores, they have been a boon to readers and collectors. In the past six years or so I have amassed a library of antique and collectible books that would have taken a lifetime and a small fortune to collect before the days of the internet. And thanks to ebay I have managed to acquire sets that are still valued at hundreds of dollars for only a fraction of that cost.

I did manage to purchase two books while in Toronto from private sellers. Many online sellers will allow you to purchase a book directly from them and save on the postage which is sometimes almost as much as the book itself. So I got two rare biographies of Coleridge that I have eluded me for a couple of years. It was good too because I met two interesting people who sell books online and I had a couple of entertaining conversations. The books that continue to escape my grasp are various books of German philosophy including Schlegel, Fichte, and Schelling. These books are so rare that even the internet has not produced decently priced translations of these authors. One can, of course, purchase modern paper-back reprints of such books but that undermines the aesthetic pleasure of the reading.

   Anyway, though the trip was difficult to make without my dad who for several years joined us on our summer trips to Toronto, everyone had a good time. Cairo, despite a few meltdowns, had a good time and I will upload some photos onto my facebook page for those Cairo fans out there.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kite Flying. . . .

When kites are outlawed. . . . . . only outlaws will have kites.

If you have seen this child please notify your local police department immediately!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The frustrating Hypocrisy goes on . . . . . .

As I have said on a number of occasions, it is blind partisanship in politics that I find most objectionable. When you find people vociferously defending their party for some political move that they would just as vehemently condemn if taken by an opposing party, then you know that politics has become more or less useless. And I think this is the most important reason that so many people are alienated from politics today, rather than corruption.

Yesterday the government orchestrated another obvious effort at political interference when their wiping boy at the RCMP, Bill Elliot, removed the director of the Firearms Program, M.J. Cheliak, from his job on the eve of a police conference where he was set to present a significant report supporting the Long-gun Registry. Many, even some who are usually fairly sympathetic to the present government, have condemned this move as obvious and dangerous political interference. Check out Don Martin's article.

But after you read Martin's article, read the comments left on the sight. These people condemn Martin as a Liberal stooge (a remarkable accusation if you have read his work carefully over the years) and some of them actually admit the political interference and say it is a good thing because Harper is sticking to the Liberals. Others try to spin it as coincidence etc. But almost all of the comments are, in one form or another, a defense of the government's moves on this and similar cases of interference. But you can be absolutely certain that almost everyone of these conservative defenders would be the first condemn another party for the very same things. It is so frustrating to see people who are so blind to their own hate and anger that they can't even be politically honest enough to find some consistency. But so it goes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coleridge, Conservatism and Radicalism. . . . .

I recently engaged in a rather fruitless discussion online concerning the question of whether Samuel Coleridge could properly be considered a 'conservative' thinker or not. My discussion partner seemed to be eager to classify the poet as a conservative and I expressed my belief that Coleridge's politics are considerably more ambiguous than to allow simple classification. I cannot rehash the entire conversation here but it made be think about the difficult question of classifying certain thinkers as either 'conservative' or 'radical,' particularly in the days before the Victorian era.

In the days after Karl Marx and the beginning of the Communist movement, politics became somewhat more clarified and thinkers easier to classify. However, even in those days of apparent clarity, things are not always cut and dry. I think, for example, that a pretty strong argument can be made that many in the orthodox communist movement were never really radical. I have read many such arguments by activists and academics alike who contend that the Communist movement was just a flip-side of capitalism, if you will, and that the Soviet Union was simply a form of so-called command capitalism, etc. As well as post-modern arguments by such thinkers as Derrida and Baudrillard.

Of course any such arguments are contingent on the question of what we actually think of as 'radical' and what we thing of as 'conservative.' I have long thought that one interesting why of looking at the question was encapsulated in the argument between Marx and Hegel concerning the Philosophy of Right. In the context of this discourse, radical and conservative ideologies are separated, I believe, by the degree of legitimacy of the state. A conservative before the 'democratic' era believed that the apparatus of the state, in whatever particular form it took, was the expression of the general good. In the 'democratic' ear, conservatives generally believe that the state (or government) is the expression of the 'general will.' Things are not that simple, of course, because conservatives will resist the 'general will' if it doesn't express the conservative goals.

Now on the other hand, radical ideology is expressed by the assumption that the state (whatever form it takes) is generally an expression of the ruling, or capitalist, class.(As Marx famously said; the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling) While various factors have allowed the state,  to gradually and to varying degrees, to be open and even to contain important social elements, the radial believes that there is a constant and uphill battle to keep excessive power out of the hands of those who want to create a system that simply serves the moneyed interests. Thus radicals in the modern era generally look to ensure ever greater levels of equality of opportunity and empowerment for those who lack the opportunities and even the inherent abilities to compete with those with greater power and more opportunity. Radicals, simply put, don't believe that the so-called 'market' will ensure greater levels of equality and opportunity. In fact, quiet the opposite. Radicals believe that the rich and powerful are constantly attempting to undermine the possibilities for equality, economic or otherwise.

This is, of course, an extremely truncated argument, but I think it captures the essence of what is really at stake. You could write a whole book just to clarify this argument and answer the various objections which people will put forward. And people can disagree with various parts of this analysis, but my point was really to introduce the other part of the argument.

Having said all of this, the argument that I was having online was more complicated because it concerned thinkers in the pre-marxist, pre-communist, and even pre-capitalist (in the full sense of the word), eras. Thinkers like Thomas Paine generally were suspicious of the state in general because they had never seen it as anything but the plaything of the aristocracy. Late 18th and early 19th century radicals could not have imagined the degree of democracy that later generations achieved and the degree to which the state could be a force of good for social welfare even while still largely in the hands of the rich and powerful. Furthermore, radicals and conservatives alike were struggling with the troubling events in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Men like Thomas Jefferson is often considered a genuine radical but he still supported slavery, and voting rights exclusively for a small, land-owning class.

The conservatives of this era were generally a little easier to pin down because many of them, like Edmund Burke, reacted to the French Revolution with a very simplistic argument that defended the ancient regime and the rule of the aristocracy and in many cases said point blank that the 'people' couldn't be trusted and the King and his ilk needed to guide society for its own good. Many modern conservatives actually believe the same thing only with the "market" replacing the King as an abstract sovereign and the corporations replacing the aristocracy as de facto rulers. For these people democracy is limited by the fact that it must only elect groups to 'administer' the market. If the people try to make decisions that contravene the fundamentals of the market, they will be very quick to condemn democracy.

But men like Coleridge were much harder to classify. He profoundly distrusted the aristocracy, he condemned the growing inequities and abuses of capitalism, and he spoke in favor of much greater degrees of economic and social equalities. In the early years Coleridge was clearly a Jacobin and was a radical in the same way that men like Hazlitt and Godwin were (only with a strong Christian streak guiding his morals). But Coleridge, even before the Revolution took a frightening turn, was something of a gradualist who was very wary of revolutions and thought that change should come through slow moral development of the people. But William Godwin also believed this and he is often considered the consummate radical of the late 18th century. Coleridge gradually came to believe that for society to move forward it had to be guided by institutions that encapsulated the moral and ethical good. This sounds like a fairly conservative idea, however, there are many on the left such as Christian Socialists, who also believe this. I think that even with his later, more conservative writings in mind, Coleridge is never an easy thinker to classify and that if he were alive today and saw the degree to which the state has promoted, at various times and in various ways, social and economic equality, Coleridge would be fairly radical by today's standards. I think he would distrust corporate power today in the same way that he distrusted reactionary Toryism in his own day.

The problems of radicalism and conservatism are always made more difficult by the shifting ground of power and state. But in the end I think radicalism is always defined by a desire to increase social and economic equality - not for the sake of homogeneity but for the exact opposite - so that society can benefit from the dynamic elements of difference in society.

Teneycke and the Sun Media, our very own Crusaders. . . . . . .

Anyone who has doubted that Harper's Conservatives are dangerous, trigger happy, militarists, with no interest in law and order or the constitution, and are infested with shades of frightening racism; then one need look no further than this Sun editorial which, most are assuming, is by Teneycke, one time spokesman for the big man himself. Has it really come to this? Have we become so Americanized by this administration that it has become expectable to talk about killing a boatload of 500 refugees in a nationally syndicated editorial for one the country's largest media outlets? I am disgusted and profoundly saddened that this seems to be the case. This is the language of some of the worst kinds of Republican voices in the US.

And let us say, for the sake of argument, that not all of these people are legitimate refugees. Let's even say that one or two are so-called 'terrorists' and the rest are just 'queue-jumpers" desperately looking for a better life. The Sun editorial staff is advocating killing them all instead of bothering with international (to say nothing of moral) law.

I recall another such position taken by a Cistercian monk in the 11th century. Arnuad Amalric, an inquisitor for Pope Innocent III, oversaw the siege of Beziers for the Church forces arrayed against the Albigensians. When asked by a soldier how the Crusaders would distinguish between legitimate Catholics and so-called 'heretics,' Amalric famously instructed the soldiers to "Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are his."

The Sun group has essentially updated this quip. One can assume that were Teneycke and his cronies in charge of the a Canadian Destroyer sent out to intercept a ship full of refugees, he would instruct the soldiers to "lock and load" and blast the ship out of the sea. When the confused soldier would ask "but how do we know some of the passengers aren't legitimate refugees?" The reply would come; "Let them all drown. For the Lord will know the terrorists and queue-jumpers."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Silly Tasks and Missing Loved Ones. . . . . .

Groucho Marx once wrote a very amusing essay called, if my memory serves, "The Worst Times Make the Best Memories." Groucho tells of how he and one of his brothers got into all sorts of trouble during a Vaudeville tour of the Midwest in the nineteen-twenties. I can't remember the details but I recall that they ran out of money and various other mishaps occurred to the pair. Groucho reminiscences about how terrible the times seemed when they happened but how great they were in retrospect. Something about sharing the troubles with a loved one and making it through made the experiences something very enjoyable to reminisce about.

 I had a particularly fine illustration of this principle today. Yesterday I found that my kitchen faucet had finally 'given up the ghost,' as the saying goes. Due to rust and mineral build up from our rather poor quality well-water,  the faucet was leaking badly from underneath whenever you turned it on. I went out this morning and purchased a new one and brought it home dreading the rather grim job of replacing the faucet; a job I never look forward to. As always, it was a lot more work getting the old one off than getting the new one on. But after over an hour which consisted of a rather wet and comical mistake of turning off the wrong spigot and a long time using a hacksaw, the old one finally came off. The new faucet went on without a hitch and it is working well and looks much better than the former, rusted one.

The point of this story is that half-way through the job I realized how much I miss my dad who, as followers of this blog will know, died earlier this year. For twenty years or so, every time I found myself fixing or replacing a faucet (and I have done it a surprising number of times over the years for myself and as a favor to others), my dad was always there as my rather hapless help-mate. My dad had actually been a 'plumber's mate' for a few weeks in the late 1940s and often talked about how ill-suited he was to the work and  how disappointed he was when he realized that the plumber he was working for was actually fairly dishonest and took particular pride in ripping-off the Finsbury Council for whom he did a lot of work. Anyway, when my dad used to help me out in my various plumbing escapades it was always kind of nice because I really hated doing the dirty work and he was always an excellent companion, joking and telling me stories as I struggled with my frustrations under the sink. We would often joke that I could do the job in two hours unless my dad helped me, in which case it would take three hours.

Today, replacing my faucet I became indescribably sad as I realized the terrible vacuum left by my dad's absence. He would have laughed heartily when the water began to spray from the pipe like a garden hose as I struggled to turn it off. He would have consoled my frustrations as I hacked away at the old faucet in my rather pathetic efforts to remove it. And though I still wouldn't have enjoyed the job, the three hours spent would have made a great memory of my dad and I sharing time together and consoling each other through the rather silly and time-consuming tasks of everyday life.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Harper's legacy. . . . .

Like many people, I have been somewhat surprised that Stephen Harper has managed to stay in the job of PM for as long as he has. But as I, and many others, have said, it has not been his mastery of political strategy that has maintained him at Sussex drive for this long. It has been a strange confluence of events that has kept the Conservatives in office, which has included above all a divided and often incompetent opposition. In other words, it hasn't been what the Conservatives have done that have kept them in office so much as what the opposition hasn't done. And of course, one effective strategy that the Cons have employed is legislating by stealth. Hiding troubling pieces of legislation in other, larger, bills, as well as making as many changes as possible through non-legislative means - these have been the hallmarks of the Cons time in office and they have set very dangerous precedents for the future. If all the things that the Cons have done actually went before the House and received adequate public debate, I believe Harper and his gang would be long gone from government. The largest failures of the opposition have been not getting these issues adequately on the public's mind. So it goes. 

However, like many others, I have felt a mood change in recent months. Time is the greatest enemy of governments regardless of their political stripes. Even with overwhelming support, time can weigh very heavily on the shoulders of any government. Things add up as the months and years go by, and even the most competent and honest government will find skeletons coming out of its closet, scandals pilling up on its doorstep, and its inadequacies coming home to roost. And in a situation of overall instability and minority government, a governing party's time is truncated and lessoned. In such a situation, a governing party is, in a sense, fighting up stream, particularly if its basic goal are controversial. It must thus, govern by stealth and stay in constant election mode. Such a government could only survive with extreme degrees of control and secrecy. Thus Harper's political instincts of control have been timely, another politician with the same situation and the same agenda would simply not have lasted this long. 

But it seems that time is catching up with the party in power as it always does. A party that was elected with a message of transparency, openness, and honesty cannot function too long in the direct opposite manner. Time itself will break down the strategy. Furthermore, time is giving more and more ammunition to the opposition  that will inevitably weigh heavily on the government. Apparent fiscal irresponsibility by a government that prides itself on its fiscal image is bound to be a major issue for any voter. Nine Billion for prisons in a time of fiscal trouble when the crime rate is going down, billions spent on international meetings with dubious outcomes, partisan directed funding, all of these things add up over time. And this is to say nothing of other important issues such as the constant firing of government watchdogs, the apparent disrespect for the supremacy of the House, etc. Indeed time's winged chariot is now beating the Prime Minister about the face and neck and the mood is slowly changing. 

The question then becomes; how many dangerous precedents of mismanagement has this government set which future governments can now take advantage of? Is this just one more four year period which will have resulted in the erosion of governance and the concentration of power in the office of the Prime Minister? And in the end, will this ironically be the very legacy that Stephan Harper was aiming at, successfully achieved??

Friday, August 13, 2010

Treat people with respect. . . .

I am just amazed at the reaction to the so-called 'refuge' ship that arrived yesterday with numerous Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board. Every news source that we see keeps asking the question "what is the right thing to do?" It is pretty simple I think - treat them with compassion and care, and do whatever we can to make their situation better. That is what we should always do.

Of course many people in the government and out, love to use a situation like this to demonstrate how 'tough' they are and how they 'hold the line' on people who are out to take advantage of us. But this generally doesn't concern me. I don't believe we should you people as political pawns in a partisan process with which they have nothing to do. Furthermore, I think our ethics on such matters should be clear.

You know, nothing is more distasteful than people like Stephen Harper who consistently claim to live by 'Christian' principle but who wouldn't recognize the 'Prince of Peace' if he dropped on them out of the sky. As I understand the Christian ethic it means you must treat people with love and compassion regardless of who they are or what they do. And I have never seen a proviso in the Gospels that instructs Christians to treat people well unless you suspect that they might do something bad in the future, in which case treat them badly first.

There is something unseemly, and certainly unchristian, about the atmosphere of suspicion that this situation is being treated with. Of course, there is important work to be done concerning identity and possible human trafficking, but that should be done against a backdrop of compassion and care. There are, no doubt, good people out there doing good work and treating the people in appropriately compassionate ways. But this is being overshadowed by the poisonous air of suspicion, doubt, and the occasional disregard for the human aspect of what is happening.

I think the political atmosphere has itself become poison in this country and our government has entirely abandoned the principles of honor, Christian ethics, and respect.This would be considerable less jarring to the mind if they didn't harp on their Christian background and principles.

A last, short, glimpse at Helena Guergis. . . . .

The most disturbing part of the Helena Guergis story is not that she was kicked out of her caucus, but that after all that she has been through she actually wants back in! It appears that she was removed from her party by the PM mostly in the hope that her removal would change the political channel. She says she was treated badly and never given a meeting with the PM, never given a reason for her dismissal, and never even given any information concerning the charges leveled against her. She was a proverbial sacrificial lamb for a party that doesn't care about process or justice, or right and wrong. When it comes to their political power Harper's Tories will do just about anything. But apparently Ms Guergis doesn't really care about these things either - as long as she is not the victim of the Conservative's bullying and railroading, she is absolutely fine with it, because despite all her complaints about being abused she was ready and willing to step right back into the party and once again be part of the nasty treatment of others. So after being abused herself - Ms Guergis is chomping at the bit to get right back in there and abuse other people. This demonstrates that not only does Ms Guergis not learn from her mistakes but she has an almost pathological need to be part of a clique of vulgar bullies. It is all part of a dangerous pathology that has gripped the Conservative Party of Canada which threatens all of us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Big Picture. . . . .

In the grand sweep of history through which we live our startlingly short lives, were are, in a word, enveloped by a kind of material shroud which, through petty concerns of everyday vanities and struggles, makes it very difficult to see that which lies beyond our life. It is as though we are small actors in a large play, let us say Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and the passion and rapture of our part enthralls us, but we cannot see the sweep and narrative of the play as a whole, nor the diminutive, yet essential, part that we play in the outcome of the story.

It is this myopia, a condition on which we dwell but which we simultaneously ignore, which holds us back, both as individuals and as a people. Unable to see the way in which history moves through us, the way (dare I say) it progresses, we get bogged down in petty squabbles and attempt to hold back change the way a child might resist the important yet inevitable changes in her life. Funny enough, as we age this condition often grows more acute as we look back on the way the world was in our youth and all too easily fall into a melancholia, a shadowy idealized memory of a past that never really existed in the way that we fondly remember it. Thus older people often resist social changes with the most vehemence, suggesting, for example, that some change in social outlook or policy will bring about the downfall of our entire civilization.In like manner, conservatives often idealize a past that didn't exist, a perfect suburban world in which social roles were well defined, crime was almost unknown, homosexuals didn't exist, people didn't complain about hardships, and everyone was more or less happy with the state of affairs.  Unable, of course, to actually turn back the clock on social progress, and forgetting that the very heart of conservatism resisted the changes that we now take for granted such as the need for equality for women and people of color, universalism in social policy, etc., conservatives aim their attacks on subtle, less visible, regions of society such as workers rights, employment equity, adult education, etc. In other words, a priori admitting that they have basically lost the battle on the social front, (and in some cases willfully forgetting that they ever opposed those things in the first place), they turn their attention to the legal and economic front to drive society back to this imaginary place of perfection and harmony. This leads, of course, as confused ideologies always do, to a deep-seated conflict in outlook and policy. Empower people socially and economically and they will exercise that empowerment in all sorts of ways that you never expected. That genie will not go back in the bottle. But the melancholy will, I am afraid, go merrily on as people fail to grasp their small part in the sweeping change of history. They will look back and laud the Revolutionary leaders in France for standing up for principles of democracy and freedom, they will cheer Thomas Jefferson and George Washington for pushing history forward, they will cry when they see the speeches of Martin Luther King. And yet, despite what they tell us, they don't really share the dream because when the very same spirit for right and justice that motivated these historical figures, moves through people today, they are once again (as they always have been) be condemned as fools, trouble-makers, and thugs.

The great spirit of utopianism moves on despite those who would thwart it. From the Brethren of the Free Spirit to the modern environmental movement, the dreamers watch history and move through it. Always struggling not to be dragged into the mire of melancholy and the petty concerns of vanity and power, they move into the future despite the forces of backwardness arrayed against them. These are the people that Bertold Brecht referred to as the 'indispensables,' those who see the big picture of history and struggle through toward the next Utopian shore, taking the rest of us with them sometimes kicking and screaming in resistance. I sing for the indispensables and for the movement of history; for the poets and the dreamers without which we would be nothing - less than nothing. And I condemn the petty, power-hungry, small-minded, vain, selfish little men in suits who would take us backward, and who attempt to enshrine power in a sacred veil of righteousness.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreak the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Keep your friends close, and your incompetents closer. . . . .

I have had a theory for a long time that Stephen Harper has intentionally surrounded himself with idiots and incompetents to avoid any chance that someone can significantly challenge his position. This theory has come to true fruition with the promotion of John Baird to the position of house leader. I have thought for a long time that Harper has used Baird's obnoxious and offensive style to turn people off politics in this country. If you can be loud enough and offensive enough, and sound just stupid enough, many people will simply give up on politics (particularly young people) and Harper wacko religious-right, pseudo-libertarian Capitalist base will be the only ones who want to keep voting. Voila - you have a better chance of ruling over a frustrated and increasingly apathetic population that feels as though there is nothing they can do and politics is just irretrievably corrupt and offensive.  But of course there is an added benefit here for Harper and his power hungry obsession. Unlike Thatcher who kept about her a number of very competent and intelligent ministers such as Michael Heseltine who ended up orchestrating her downfall, Harper keeps his most competent people at arms length and makes sure that those with the highest profile are the ones consistently before the public eye. Thus when you think of Harper's government you think first of John Baird, Pierre Poillievre, the unbelievably ignorant Van Loan, the slapstick Stockwell Day, the always offensive Jason Kenney, the sexy cancer-advocate Lisa Raitt and the ever incompetent  Jim Flaherty. But the people who have the best chance and being significant and competent replacements for the big man himself seldom have these kinds of visible rolls. Thus Harper seems to keep Chuck Strahl, Gary Lunn, Jim Prentice and others at arms length. (Don't get me wrong, I don't like any of them but the most salable and palatable potential replacements don't get anywhere near the air time that his incompetent bulldogs get.)

It is still a mystery to me how Harper maintains any real loyalty within the caucus. Here is a man who can't deliver a majority, runs roughshod over democracy, and discards anyone who is inconvenient without any due process. But these kinds of things are always a mystery to me. And I always think of Khrushchev's now famous speech to the Politburo in which he confessed being witness to the crimes of Stalin and when someone shouted the question from the ranks "where were you when all this was going on?" Khrushchev yelled out angrily "Who said that?!" When he was met with nothing but silence, he supposedly smiled and told the audience "Now you know where I was." In other words, thus far, like Stalin before him, no one has had the simple courage to stand up and challenge Harper's simple style of control and intimidate. And with point-men like Baird around it seems that no one will.  But Conservatives should be asking themselves an important question, to wit: If your leader can't deliver a minority and will inevitably retire, whether in the PM's chair or out of it, where does the party go next? Power vacuums are notoriously difficult to fill, and and if the rabble that is left behind are of the caliber of Baird and Poillievre, what kind of embarrassing carnage will ensure?