Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stange Bedfellows . . .

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. One of the difficulties with holding views that are not considered "mainstream" is that, at a superficial level, people will find various ways in which the views that you hold correspond or overlap with people who are widely vilified. If you are critical the State of Israel, for example, people will quickly attempt to align you with racists or anti-Semites in order to smear or marginalize you. If you hold any sorts of socialist beliefs you will quickly be painted with the brush of Stalinistic communism.

And of course, radicals of all stripes will take advantage of people's ignorance. It is easy to attack taxes or some abstract government waste to get a few people onside while also holding all sorts of distasteful views. The fact is that I think that the majority of people simply don't understand the important connection between modern government programs and the modern quality of life. Without massive public health programs, education programs, food regulations, labor laws, etc., we would simply not have the standard of living that we presently enjoy.

This is why I find politicians like Ron Paul particularly frustrating. Ron Paul is critical of Israel, and has been willing to criticize large aspects of US foreign policy, but for none of the same reasons that people on the left would do. Meanwhile he holds what he claims are Libertarian views which many ignorant schmucks mistake for so-called 'free-market' ideas. In reality, Paul's ideas, like many so-called Tea-Party types, will lead to greater concentrations of corporate power and eventually to social catastrophe in which people are once again at the mercy of employers as they have been, and still are, in the worst kinds of capitalist conditions.  Modern rightwingers from Friedman and Hayek onward have claimed to be concerned with the concentration of power which is why, they claim, they are critical of any kind of socialist effort. However, what they are always silent about is the fact that the modern corporations are the greatest single concentrations of power in history. And whether the rightwingers come with a flag of 'libertarianism' like Ron Paul, or a more centralizing ideology like many European rightwingers, or a strange combination of both like Stephen Harper, we must expose them for what they really are - peddlers of an age-old ideology of the rich getting richer, the poor getting screwed, and corporations doing pretty much anything they want.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Only the Courts can Stop the Harpercons' attempted Crime Spree. . . .

As I, and others have recently pointed out, with the existence of a de facto criminal cadre in Ottawa those who hope to protect human rights and limit the arbitrary power of government will have to depend upon the Supreme Court of Canada. The Harpercons routinely flout the law, disregard lower court decisions, bend or break the rules of the House, condemn the facts wherever those facts contradict their ideology, smear and marginalize opponents (particularly whistle-blowers), attack principles of democracy, and break elections laws.

Today the Harpercon fascists lost a major court battle over the creation of a national securities regulator. The Court's decision was clear and unanimous - the Harpercon's efforts were once again unlawful, and this time more than simply unlawful, but unconstitutional. I don't know where I stand on the issue of a national securities regulator in principle. I have never spent the time to attempt to understand the issue properly. But the SCoC was very clear in their decision that such an effort would violate the constitution. And, given this government's corporatist history, I find it difficult to imagine that anything that they advocated could possibly be good for anyone but their corporate friends. Remember, it is the Harpercons that opposed most of Martin's banking controls and spoke vociferously in favour of the banking mergers that were prevented by the previous government.

This is one in a line of court decisions that will come down in the next few years that will place the Harpercon's fascist government squarely in the light of what they are - a criminal organization that is attempting to subvert the laws and principles of the country in order to remake it into an American style corporatopoly. Years from now, if we managed to save this country from the downfall which the Harpercons are precipitating, people will look back and wonder how it happened that a Criminal sat in the PMO, much like many Americans still wonder how a man like Nixon gained the White House.

A Post-Script to this story emerged a couple hours after I posted this blog-entry. Helena Guergis filed a suit against the Prime Minster, the Conservative Party and several other individuals claiming that the engaged in a conspiracy to discredit her. I know how Woodward and Bernstein must have felt - after a while this story just seems to write itself!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Monty Hall Problem. . . . .

Ok, this blog requires two clarifications by way of introduction. One is that I grew up watching too much tv and one of the shows that I recall seeing many times was "Let's Make a Deal," with beloved Canadian MC Monty Hall, (who is still alive, by the way, and is 90 years old). That game show has recently be revived hosted my the charming and funny Wayne Brady. The other point of clarification is that, as my readers know, I have very little faith in any organized institutions in general, and of the so-called sciences in particular.

These two introductory points bring us to the so-called Monty Hall Problem (or Monty Hall Paradox as some people call it.) The Monty Hall Problem was first explained in popular terms by Marilyn von Savant in Parade magazine in 1990. She explains it thus

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

It turns out, despite the apparently counter-intuitive nature such a problem, it is indeed to your advantage to which door if you are given the choice. There are a number of ways to explain this claim which at first glance seems so patently false. But I am no mathematician and so I choose an easier way to explain it that makes sense to those of us who cannot do it with numbers and equations. The explanation is simple - in the initial choice you have a one in three change of winning the car. After one door has been opened, if you choose not to switch doors, you still have a one in three chance of winning the car. However, if you switch doors you have a fifty-fifty chance of winning the car. The initial problem is so counter-intuitive that I did the experiment myself. I tried the experiment two hundred times, one hundred of which I didn't change my door and one hundred of which I did. When I switched doors I won 14 more times than when I didn't change doors.

Besides the fascinating issue of the problem itself, what I find interesting about the Monty Hall Problem is that, as pointed out by von Savant in her book The Power of Logical Thinking, "even Nobel physicists systematically give the wrong answer, and they insist on it, and they are ready to berate in print those who propose the right answer."

I will let people draw their own conclusions concerning the implications of these interesting issues. One thing that I think von Savant's problem has demonstrated is that there is more to the work of Thomas Kuhn than many people might think.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fascism, a Liberal Party Legacy. . .

There is no question that the Harper government is a de facto fascist organization. I refer you to this excellent outline of what constitutes fascism in case you are so hopelessly naive or blindly partisan that you don't know what is going on. However, as bad as this government is, and it is worse than even most of its vociferous detractors suspect, the seeds for this fascism were planted by successive Liberal Governments who benefited from the undue power of the PMO and the various short-comings of our British Parliamentary system. The Liberals could, at any point, have embraced electoral and parliamentary reforms that would have ensured that our present fascist government could not systematically take control of every element of our nation and run roughshod over rights, ignore the law, and gerrymander the system to their advantage. For years the LPC didn't care about our lack of democracy, lack of transparency, or our lack of accountability, because they were the ones benefiting from it. There is no doubt that the present government is much worse in this regard than previous ones and that it is led by a group of men that is clearly mentally ill and models of dictatorship. But we are just seeing the result of decades of neglect on the part of the Liberal Party which, as long as it was in power, had no regard for our democratic short-comings.  When you neglect your democracy, that neglect comes back to haunt you. The Liberals were like abusive parents who have nurtured an abusive child and is now seeing the results. And it looks as though things will now get considerably worse as the present government is abusive of democracy to a whole new degree and its leaders are mentally disturbed, paranoid, insulated, whack-jobs who seem to be entirely out of control in their thirst for power.

And despite all of this, amid the LPC big hype for "renewal," they have entirely failed to own up to their terrible legacy of mistakes and power-hungry abuses. They still don't get it. They are out of power and because of their abuses of democracy there is a good chance we have lost our democracy permanently. But are they calling for real electoral and parliamentary reform? Not in the slightest. They still live under the delusion that they will return to power and be able to enjoy their traditional abuses of that power, and with the more corrupted system that the present fascist government leaves them they are hoping to rain down an unprecedented revenge on their opponents. And like the Liberals before them, the  present government is wholly ignoring the prospect that they will eventually become victims of the very abuse and hatred that they are now peddling. This points to something worse than a cycle of abuse, rather it points to a downward spiral that will end in the destruction of everything we hold dear.

So my message to the Liberals is - next time you go out of your way to criticize our present fascist government, remember, your laid the groundwork for this failure and you are showing no signs of changing the system of failure to which you gave birth. Our present government is twisted, immoral, fascist, and dangerous. But it is the child of the LPC and that parent company is still its old self with no signs of regret or reform.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Niqab and our Discourse. . . . .

Like many of us, I have thought a great deal about the issue of the niqab in public life. The recent banning of this garment in public in France set many people thinking and talking about the question and Minister Kenney's recent banning of the niqab in citizenship ceremonies has generated a certain amount of debate. After thinking about it a lot I have come to certain conclusions about the arguments that people have made.

I believe that the arguments that people like Jason Kenney have made are essentially shallow and empty. Appealing to questions of 'security' and the public nature of the citizenship ceremony is simply absurd. First of all, I became a citizen some twenty-five years ago and there were only a couple of people there. I am sure that there was no restricted access to the event, but that didn't mean it was a "public" event in the sense that that term is commonly used. Furthermore, an event can be "public" and restricted at the same time. We have all seem marches protesting violence against women in which men, understandably, do not take part. I have no problem with such events. One might argue that such exclusions are divisive, but in such matters I bow to those for whom it is most important and the organizers. A swearing-in ceremony that didn't include men would not be ideal, but I believe that it could still qualify as public for all intents and purposes. Furthermore, suggesting that someone's face being covered-up somehow robs the event of its "publicness" is patently absurd and purely conventional. We generally attend most public events with almost every part of our body covered, I don't see how there exists a huge conceptual distinction concerning the covering of the face. As for the question of "security," this is, I believe, a non-issue and part of the traditional scare-politics of the rightwing. No, Minister Kenney's arguments are hollow and specious and meant only to maintain a politics of fear. I don't think the issue is that Mr. Kenney hates Islamic women and wants us to fear and hate them also. Rather, like rightwingers have always done, they turn Islamic women who wear a niqab into simply a means to an end, an easy target that allows the right to a divided society in which we all fear compromise, difference, and perceived deviancy. The right has always depended on images of "normality" as well as division and fear to maintain power. This is what their crime bills are about. They know crime is at an all time low and that their efforts will do nothing to decrease crime or reform criminals. Rather, their efforts are about creating a brooding sense of doom among citizens in which we all imagine that there are criminals behind every corner and if we practice an open and forgiving lifestyle we will all go to hell in a hand-basket.

Now we have to address the question of religious symbolism. Many people have argued in public that the niqab is not, in fact, a religious symbol but only a cultural one. People like Kenney, of course, need to make this argument because if it is a religious symbol not only will the optics of prohibiting it be bad but eventually the SCoC will strike down any restrictions that Mr. Kenney seeks to make. The problem is, of course, that the SCoC has already rulled that what is important in such matters are not the technicalities of whether a particular symbol or action is or is not actually part of a religion, but whether there is a reasonable conviction among certain people that it is so. This was a necessary decision by the Supreme Court because it didn't want to put itself in the position becoming the ultimate arbiter of theological questions. Such a situation would have been deeply problematic and inevitably created all sorts of bad blood between people and groups. Based on these facts it is folly to make an argument about the non-religious status of the niqab and any such argument will eventually fail.

Now, having said all of that, I believe the only meaningful argument that one could present concerning restrictions of the niqab would be a kind of feminist one. Like many people, I admit to being troubled by the niqab. I can't imagine any religion or culture that really believed in gender equality in a meaningful way, advocating such garments which hide women from public eyes. Furthermore, I believe that the niqab and even the hijab do the exact opposite of what the advocates suggest that they do, and instead they sexualizes women by suggesting that simply seeing the head of a woman precipitates sexual feeling. The creation of a taboo often creates sexuality where none might otherwise exists. The problem is, however, that even if I have a certain amount of trouble with people's actions, it doesn't mean that I can justify restriction of those actions. One always has to weigh questions of freedom with questions of prohibition. And here we have a real problem - it can be very paternalistic for us to tell women who wear the niqab that they are victims of a rampant misogyny. These are adult women, most of whom would say that they are making their own decisions. And of course, there are not very women in Western nations who actually wear the niqab. I remember when France took steps to outlaw the public use of this garment it was estimated that their were only two thousand women in all of France that used the niqab. This small number of people makes restrictions on them seem like a serious over-reaction. When only a very small number of people choose to engage in what many perceive to be a strange or deviant behaviour, it is difficult to justify restrictions on that behaviour unless it is clearly and demonstrably harmful to others. I think one could make an argument that the niqab is harmful to women, but even in a strong argument that harm would be socially small and I think outlawing the niqab would simply create more problems than it would aim to solve. I mean, I would like to see the end of skinny, anorexic-like models, in magazines and on television, but legislating the weight of models would be an near-impossible issue.

Thus, even though I could see that one could make an argument against the public use of the niqab, I ultimately believe that such arguments are simply not strong enough to justify the outlawing of this garment, and as long as we have not outlawed it, restricting its use in public (whether at a citizenship ceremony or elsewhere) is deeply problematic.

I have no doubt that Mr. Kenney, or any rightwinger, will be swayed by my arguments here. They are generally not interested in the actual arguments (pro and con) for an issue, they have goals that transcends the actual issue, and these goals are usually about fear, division, control, and power. Jason Kenney has as little interest in the rights of women as he does about democracy, or justice; these things only mean something to him in as much as they can lead to his power and control. But I have a real hope that the Harpercons will eventually be hounded from power by a public that realizes just how evil and anti-democratic they are, and when that time comes I hope that reasonable discourse actually means something.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our Little Children in Government. . . .

I think most people would agree that a person's inability to think long-term is a sign of a kind of immaturity.  Kids, for example, suffere from this notion of immediacy, they have trouble thinking about what might happen tomorrow, or even later the same day. I know if my daughter is too hot to wear her big, winter coat, she is almost incapable of conceiving that she might need it later when she will be cold. And I have read research that suggests that before a certain age, kids are not nearly as able to learn from experience as we would like them to be. So when they are really young we see them making the same mistakes over and over when those mistakes involve complex predictions about future states.

Now, has anyone noticed the degree to which our present government suffers from this syndrome of immaturity? They seem congenitally incapable of conceiving of how their decisions today may effect them tomorrow. Many governments have been plagued by various scandals; events in which some rogue MP or Minister makes some bad decisions which reflect poorly on the reigning government and on the office of government more generally. Our current government is certainly no exception to this tendency. We have had MP make racist comments, Ministers lie to the House or leave sensitive documents where they shouldn't be. This is par for the course. But since we can be certain that every government will be subject to these difficulties, it is not the difficulties themselves that are the problem (unless they get completely out of hand), rather, it is the way that a government reacts to these scandals which is one of the true tests of a government's maturity. Can they own their shortcomings, face them head on, deal with them and move on? In our current case, I think we all know the answer - no matter how deep or remarkable the scandal, this government simply ignores them. It makes one wonder how profound a scandal would have to be for Harper and his cronies before they would face it and not simply ride out the news cycle. Given their recent history I can't imagine how bad things would have to be before Harper would be willing to own up to a mistake.

However, all this being said, it doesn't speak directly to my first point which is the ability to guide one's behaviour according to certain future implications. They are so bent on controlling everything they just can't use their imaginations to look into the future. Take something which seems relatively small such as their tendency to exclude opposition members from being included in various foreign events or conferences. Traditionally, even bad governments have allowed opposition members to attend such conferences because, after all, we are supposed to see the other party as the "loyal opposition" - in other words, people who have a central role in the process of democracy and how government works. The Harpercons exclude someone like Megan Leslie from the recent Durban Conference because they don't care about the idea of a "loyal opposition;" they care about the message and the news cycle. They simply imagine that if they can control the message effectively enough, they can maintain their power. Here is where their immaturity is so evident. Someday, the Conservative Party will no longer be in power. No matter how hard they attempt to control the message, alienate voters, discredit or smear those who oppose them, eventually the CPC will be ousted from power one way or another. This is an absolute, irrefutable fact. The only constant is change and eventually the CPC will succumb to this basic law of motion. And when that time comes and the CPC find themselves in the political wilderness their actions and the precedents that they have set will become the standards by which their successors will act. And the more ruthlessly that this government acts, the more angry and vindictive the next government will be toward them. The next government will prorogue parliament, shut down committees, cut short debate, fire and discredit whistle-blowers, exclude opposition members from every process of government, use constant advertising and dishonest methods to maintain power, etc, etc. And like little children who were unable to predict the implications of their acts, they will cry and carry-on about the injustice of it all. Anyone who has supported this government up until this point really needs to be mature and think about our collective future and what kind of country their children will inherit. Will it be one in which the government supports certain principles of accountability, honesty, and democratic rights, or will it act like this one?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kill the Messenger, Then Cut Him UP, Drag Him Through the Mud, and Feed him to the Dogs.

Most people are familiar with this scenario - there is someone you know who, whenever they do something wrong, instead of simply apologizing and being contrite about it, they get really pissed off at whoever points out the error. I have known several people (who will remain nameless) who have adopted this rather aggravating and offensive personality trait. These people make a mistake or act in an entirely inappropriate manner (as we all do sometimes) and then get angry when people call them on it. It seems like kids are particularly prone to this kind of difficult response. They knock over some valued or treasured item and break it and when you get upset that the item is broken you hear that classic "un-apology" which goes up at the end - "SORR-REE."

I don't know if this tendency is a sign of immaturity or a lack of empathy but it is certainly aggravating. It seems that people like this are simply incapable of offering a heart-felt apology even for the most mild of offences.

It seems that we now have a government which is entirely populated by people with this offensive character trait. During their time in office they have broken many laws, been guilty of many acts of corruption, and many of their MPs have lied as well as made offensive gestures or said offensive things in and out of the House of Commons. But instead of apologizing for these offenses, in almost every case they have blamed others. The PMO as well as the Government's ministers simply fire some underling and then ignores the problem. In the case of whistle-blowers the Government goes on a concerted endeavour to smear and discredit the person. It is classic 'blame the messenger' strategy of people who cannot own their own failings.

The lastest example is to be found in Tory MP Jim Hillyer's deeply offensive, glib, smug, gesture of shooting imaginary guns at the opposition during a vote to eliminate the long-gun registry. Instead of apologizing for the gesture, Mr. Hillyer blames the people who posted the event on Youtube. Mr. Hillyer, instead of being sorry that he would make such a gesture, is angry that someone posted in such a way and on such a date that would lead people to think that he maid the gesture on  Dec. 6th, the anniversary of the Montreal massacre. But this gesture was offensive no matter when it was made and this is what Mr. Hillyer refuses to acknowledge. Instead he blames the messenger. "Those damn, pesky Youtubers shouldn't be demonstrating that my behaviour is offensive." One is almost surprised that Mr. Hillyer didn't say "SORR-REE" and then stomp off in anger.

It reminds me a great deal of the Harris government in Ontario which was so populated by mean-spirited, angry white men in suits who couldn't, under any circumstances, imagine that they could be wrong about anything. During the process of energy privatization in Ontario, the government was compelled by the courts to hold public hearings into the process. This really angered the government and this anger really showed in the actions of the short-lived Environment and Energy Minister, Chris Stockwell who held sham hearings and stormed out of the hearings on several occasions, yelling at people who had the gall to come and speak against the process of privatization. It was amazing to see a Minister of the Provincial government yell at members of the public and then storm out of the meetings like a little child.

All governments make mistakes and all governments endure instances of corruption or inappropriate actions by some of their members. But to smear whistle-blowers, to blame the messengers, or by failing to simply own their errors, a government demonstrates its lack of suitability for office. We have a government that has never demonstrate the moral authority to govern. Yesterday, when a federal court judge in Winnipeg determined that Bill C-18 is illegal, the always offensive Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said point-blank that they will continue with the legislation. Thus we have a government which blithely admits that it is disobeying the law. (Incidentally, Gerry Ritz also said he was going to file an appeal in the case. However, exactly why they have to appeal a decision that they admit they will ignore, I can't understand) The Government creates laws, but the courts are our society's messenger that confirms the legality, consistency, appropriateness, and constitutionality of laws. Without an independent judiciary, a country is a de facto dictatorship. But again, this government closes its ears to all messages except those that confirm their ideological blindness.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Attawapiskat. . . racism and tragedy. . . .

I have felt angry and helpless since I was very young and discovered just how much evil has been directed at First Nations People by the white men in suits who run our governments. These feelings of frustration have been elevated in recent days by the disgusting actions of the Federal Government regarding the people at Attawapiskat. It is not that I have been surprised by the conditions on James Bay. Anyone who pays attention knows that conditions in many Northern Communities has been terrible for as long as anyone can remember. It is surprising that these conditions have made headlines, of course. But what is really upsetting is that when the Federal Government is finally forced to face this issue with the public because of media attention, the Harpercons simply attempt to divert attention away from the real crisis and once again attempt to blame the victim by unilaterally imposing "third-party administration" of the community's financing. People are suffering, as they have been for generations, and the response is always the same - blame the victim and impose some paternalistic administrative response. We need to be absolutely clear - the roots of this problem is racism. If there were some community of white folks on the coast of, say, Newfoundland, that was suffering the same kind of conditions, army would be called in immediately to save the people. Just as the Bush administration ignored the real dangers of Hurricane Katrina because the vast majority of victims were black, the government of Canada couldn't care less about the people of Attawapiskat because they are First Nations People.

I stand with Chief Theresa Spence and Grand Chief Stan Louttit and against Minister John Duncan. I condemn the degraded human filth that is the Harper Government.

Conservative MPs are Pedophiles (It is just a Rumour) . . .

I am sort of tired of commenting on daily political stuff nowadays. I feel like Marx must have felt after the failure of the 1848 revolutions when he began to think that it would be quite a while before the forces of opposition would once again muster the ability to create an organized effort so he locked himself in the British Museum and spent years writing. But research has demonstrated that blogging can be an effective therapeutic technique, and since I have been having a hard time with the Christmas season this year and really missing my father, it seems that I am often drawn to write something about some daily political frustration as a method of venting my feelings of anger.

And this story is just too rich to pass up. The Conservative have long believed that lying is a 'normal' part of political discourse. The Harpercons have demonstrated time and again that they are pathological liars and criminals for whom "normal" politics is nothing short of a criminal effort to stay in power. With their recent admission that they were behind calls in which they intentionally misrepresented the facts to voters, they have finally admitted point-blank that they think lying is not only 'ok' but is just par for the course.

Well this is my advice to the NDP and Liberal caucuses - find some government minister around whom some rumours have swirled for a while and start calling conservative constituents and ask them this question - "If the rumours are true and your Conservative Party MP is soon going to be convicted of Child-abuse, can we count on your support?"

Will John Baird stand up in the House and claim that such practices are a normal part of political discourse? Because, after all, there is no lying involved in such a call. You are just saying that there are rumours. In the case of the Conservative calls, they blatantly lied about a by-election that wasn't happening.

No, of couse, it just wouldn't do, would it. Well, I say shame on every CPC MP and everyone that supports them. If lying is a normal part of political discourse, you should be in prison not in the House of Commons.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Some Thoughts on Romanticism. . . .

I am always on the lookout for early uses of the term Romanticism in English. The term Romantic as applied to literature was commonplace even in the 18th century but it usually referred things such as gothic novels or overtly pastoral material, and was often used in the pejorative sense.  Romanticism identified as a literary movement associated with the work of such poets as Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and others did not come into general until later in the 19th century. This is not to say that it then had, or even has today, a clear and straightforward connotation. Today, Romanticism as a literary term has basically lost credibility from an academic point of view. There are far too many conflicting interests and ideas within the work of those authors normally deemed to be leading Romanticists for it to be a rigorously useful notion. But then most terms in Art and Literary history are really just terms of convenience which we should only use loosely for the sake of historical and biographical ease. Thus, if I were teaching a group of highschool or young university students I would use the term Romanticism for the sake of creating a useful picture of historical movement, all the while making sure to stress that such terms are historically convenient rather than philosophically rigorous. I think what is important for young students to understand is that there were major social and economic changes taking place toward the end of the 18th century and that these changes had a significant correlate in the arts.

Anyway, getting back to my point about the use of the word Romanticism, I found an early use of the term yesterday in a 1829 edition of the London Magazine. It is found in an article entitled "Modern French Poetry" which is particularly concerned with the work of Victor Hugo who was still a young man and had not produced his important work. The passage also contains an interesting use of the word "ultraism" now usually associated with a Spanish literary movement of the early 20th century. The sentence in which the word is used is as follows - "For, in France, romanticism and ultraism (strange as the supposed union may appear) are considered, in a writer, consequent on, and inseparable from, each other; - whilst an undeviating, scrupulous attachment to the authors of the age of Louis XIV, (for, after all, the French idea of classic is nearly confined to them,) - a supercilious contempt for literature of other countries - a dread of change or innovation, in language, rhythm, or general costume - classicism, in short, as it is understood, is considered as equivalent to liberalism, though it is, in fact ultrasim in literature."

Now, I have a fair degree of knowledge of this subject and over twenty years of experience and I cannot honestly say that this sentence makes complete sense to me. The author (who, by the way remains anonymous) seems to be contradicting himself, saying that both romanticism and classicism are forms of ultraism. It also seems to strangely suggest that classicism is associated with liberalism - an idea that seems in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom. I welcome comments by any of my five or six readers on how they read this sentence.

Despite the turgid obscurity of this sentence, it is an early use of the term Romanticism, and is therefore interesting. However, what is arguably more interesting is the paragraph that follows this passage and, by certain interpretations, it could be seen as shedding light on the previous sentence.

"These unions between parties in politics, and parties in poetry, really exist in France, as we have described them. The fact presents an evident anomaly, and not one of the least curious of our days. For, according to our general notion of things, the parties certainly should be differently assorted. The romantic, or the bold, the innovating, the irregular, in poetry, would ally itself with the speculative, the reforming, the experimental, in politics. On the other side, a scrupulous observance of ancient ordonnances in belles lettres, an exclusive reverence for the works of the great monarchy, for set forms, for the unities, for the dictionary of the Academy, (who determined, in their wisdom, some century and a half ago, that they had fixed the language of their country, which was thenceforth to know neither change nor augmentation) - in short, a devotion to every thing settled, regular, and legitimate, and an abhorrence of novelties and exotics - classicism, in a word, would take refuge in the faubourg St. Germain, the head-quarters of ultraism."

(The Faubourg Saint-Germain, for those who don't know, was the richest, most aristocratic district in Paris)

This sentence does two things. First, it eliminates once an for all the notion that obfuscating prose is a product only of the "post-modern" philosophical mind. Second, it clears up somewhat the previous sentence. The writer is suggesting that while one would expect the Romantics to be associated with radical politics and Classicists to be associated with more conservative political efforts, this is not what in fact prevails in France in the early part of the 19th century. Now, 19th century French literature is certainly not my area of expertise and I am not sure that I am qualified to make a properly informed decision on this issue. (By the way, the editor of the magazine (which at this particular point may have been either John Taylor or Thomas Hood) puts a footnote at this point in the text to suggest that he, in fact, disagrees with the writer). I suspect that this may be a misinterpretation of the events by the writer, but I will leave it to my own readers to decide for themselves.

What I do know is that in England, the ideas of Romanticism are clearly more associated (at least in peoples' minds) with radical politics. The first generation of Romantic authors began as serious radicals and reformers. And as they grew more conservative in outlook, it is almost universally acknowledged that their work declined significantly in quality and interest. The younger generation of Romantics, such as Shelley and Byron, were outspoken political radicals. Other, lesser known writers who bridged the generations and some of whom lived well into the Victorian age such as Leigh Hunt, Thomas Hood, Charles Lamb, Mary Mitford, John Hamilton Reynolds, Allan Cunningham,  were all committed reformers.

Again, since Romanticism is not a very rigorous concept, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to make a consistent argument that the values of Romanticism are necessarily radical in any political sense. However, I do know one thing for certain. Almost all of the writers that I really love are political radicals, and that is how I think it should be. Art, by its nature, should look toward the ideal, toward utopia, and it should believe, at some basic level, that the ideal is worth striving for. If an artist cannot strive toward utopia in the 'real' world, then she will not know how to strive for it in the aesthetic one.

Friday, November 25, 2011

History and the Swing Riots.

Like many bloggers, I have, of late, been commenting on the so-called "Occupy" movement, its significance and importance, and the need to take such movements seriously regardless of the degree to which they seem focused or significant in the moment. I think it is difficult for many people to understand the importance of such protest movements because many people have trouble seeing the wide scope of history and the way that dissenting voices (which are sometimes incoherent) have long-term affects on the process of history.

Regarding this process, let me point people to a now largely forgotten set of events known as the "Swing Riots," an uprising of the Southern English peasantry which began in 1830 in Kent. The Swing Riots were a set of violent actions undertaken by poor peasants who were reacting to the gradual decline in their living standards. The peasants took to destroying various agricultural machines, attacking workhouses, and even committing violence against some rich tenant farmers. These peasants, who lived in horrendous conditions for the most part and had little hope for a decent future, had little in the way of coherent organization, and not a very good idea of what kind of solutions to their conditions might be enacted. But in difficult and troubled times, people are often not presenting alternatives, but simply pointing to problems.

When the Swing Riots began the Tories had been in power in England, with a couple of short exceptions, for forty years. Reforms had been very slow in coming and the so-called "Poor Laws" often made things even worse for the working poor. Earl Grey showed some sympathy to the Swing Rioters and used the events to argue for various reforms which liberal thinkers had been advocating for two generations. The dreaded Duke of Wellington responded to Earl Grey by suggesting that no reforms were necessary because the English constitution was the most perfect that could be imagined. Wellington's callousness resulted in his home being attacked by some who sympathized with the rioters.

The Swing Riots had only a small direct effect on the fight for reform in English political and economic culture. However, in the grand scheme of history, they were an important part of the multi-fold movement for better economic and political practices. The rioters were, of course, condemned as thugs and lawbreakers and nineteen of them were eventually hanged for their participation in the movement. But the simple fact is that it was only the loud and violent effort on the part of the Swing Rioters that made many people pay attention to the real difficulties being faced by many agricultural workers. And though some paid with their lives, it is these kinds of political efforts, though they are sometimes vague and unfocused, that bring about reforms and make people's lives better. This is the way history has always worked. It is those people out in the lead who are fighting against wretched poverty and political and economic inequality, who drag the human race forward. They seldom receive thanks or even recognition, but they are the ones who have made my life and your life better. They often have to break laws to do what they do, but one generation's lawbreaker is the next generation's hero; just look at Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But these two famous men are fighters we remember because they were attached to large and clear social questions. But just as important as such "great" men are the thousands of little, seemingly unimportant, men and woman who are fighting anonymously against impossible odds for sometimes vague demands. These are the heroes of history.

I salute the Swing Rioters, and the members of the Occupy movement, without whom we would a civilization going nowhere.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Brief Lesson in Western Semantics. . . .

A brief lesson in semantics according to Western discourse. . . .

Here we have an Egyptian protestor in Tahrir Square, or a "noble, freedom-fighter committed to the cause of democracy, freedom and the people." 

Here we have a Wall Street Protestor or "a lazy, misguided, troublemaker, who has no 'right' to occupy public space and who should go get a job.

Here we have two Syrian Police Officers, or "brutal tools of a police state that thwarts freedom of speech and contravenes people's human rights." 

Here we have some members of the Toronto Police Department, or "committed civil servants who keep the streets safe from trouble-making thugs." 

Here we have Honsi Mubarak or "a viscous dictator who thwarts democracy." 

Here we have Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper or "a committed leader of a Western democracy who believes in the rule of law." 

Any Questions? 

(P.S. Both leaders in question have or had about the same percentage of public support) 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Subtlety of Modern Protest. . . . .

A lot of criticism has been directed at the 'Occupy Movement' because of a supposed lack of focus. And indeed the goals of these protesters seem to be vague and unclear. But the lack of focus is not, I believe, a result of an absence of difficulties facing society, but rather I think it is a sign of the real depth and broad nature of the crisis. The people of Egypt put up with forty years of harsh and clear dictatorship and the real crisis in the Middle East only came when the price of bread (and a host of essential goods) suddenly became prohibitively expensive. The 1789 revolution in France saw a similar evolution; the lead up to the storming of the Bastille saw a serious draught and a dangerous shortage of bread in the country. Western democracies are not, at least for the moment, facing this kind of acute crisis. Arguably, we are suffering under the yoke of a kind of dictatorship that is the result of a corporate monopoly on the political system, but out democracies still have a kind of flexibility that states like Tunisia and Egypt did not possess. Protest against a rigid political state is relatively simply; people just call for a loosening up of basic democratic operations and an end to harsh repression. Protest against a flexible state in which power has spred its tentacles fairly evenly throughout society is a much tougher target.

You see, I think there are many people within the "Occupy Movement," as well as many of its sympathizers, who are not radical socialists. Rather, many of these folks simply know that something has gone terribly wrong with capitalism as they know it. Too much corporate control of our political agenda, huge profits for corporations while many can't make ends meet, a growing disparity between rich and poor, stagnating wages for a disappearing middle-class, ever decreasing citizen participation in the democratic process, and a globalizing economy that sets all countries into a race for the bottom: these are all genuine problems facing Western Democracies, and one can be cognizant of them without being rabidly anti-capitalist. However, the bigger problem is formulating a clear political response to these problems, and not just a political response, but one that will get people up off their couches after a hard day at work and ready to do something. You see, if millions of people can't afford to purchase bread for their children, it is not difficult to motivate them. But if your society is eroding slowly from the inside, people lack focus and tend to drift toward cynicism. It is a little like the slowly boiling frog analogy - if you boil the citizens of Western Capitalism slowly enough, they will lack the focus to protest their own gradual decline. And when people are slowly lossing their democratic rights, working more or less constantly just to make ends meet, and most importantly, all are declining more or less at an equal rate, it is very difficult to get them out on the street on-mass to demand that, for example, we have a fairer rate of taxation or that we remove the money from the political process.

The protests of the 'Occupy Movement' seem vague because the problems that we are facing are subtle in nature. Corporations have slowly infiltrated our system and taken control of it, all the while using the media to convince people that corporate control and a lack of corporate taxation are the primary roads to prosperity. As a result people begin to live in a state of cognitive dissonance, essentially believing two contradicting things at once. And this cognitive dissonance leads to a subtle kind of collective mental illness in which people become profoundly confused about the society in which they live - its power structures and its basic operations. People know that everyone should have access to healthcare, and that presidents of corporations shouldn't be earning tens of millions a years while they are putting people out of work and average people's salaries are stagnating. Meanwhile they have been continually plied, since infancy, with an ideology that tells them that the endless pursuit of money and profit are beneficial to all. In other words, the rich and the powerful have done everything in their power to make any solutions, short of radical socialism, seem pointless and/or impossible. And it is easy to bash "socialist" solutions amid a population that has been so effectively taught to equate anything vaguely socialist with Soviet repression.

Thus people are vague and confused. How do we stop CEOs from making fifty millon a year while simultaneously bankrupting the country and putting people out of work? How do we stop certain political parties being the exclusive representatives of a corporate ideology without fundamental change to our political system; changes that some believe will threaten the 'freedoms' we take for granted? How do we reform a legal system that profoundly favours those with money and power? How do we change the lives of hundreds of millions of people who have been raised on certain kinds of technologies and modern conveniences? It is easy to demand the ouster of a dictator who routinely has thousands of dissidents arrested and tortured. It is not so easy to demand the reform of a system which most people believe has many effective and admirable aspects but in which power has gradually infested all areas of social life and corrupted it like a widespread cancer.

This is why the "Occupy Movement" is so important - it is an attempt by a weary and troubled population to start a dialogue about some profound problems facing our society, problems which, if gone unchecked, will most assuredly destroy everything we hold dear. We ignore such protests at our peril - vague though they might be. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult dialogue because the ideology with which we are struggling is subtle and powerful and we, as a society, are becoming badly divided as the crisis looms. Such divisions are a customary part of a social crisis, but in a milieu of cognitive dissonance it is a difficult problem to navigate for many. But make no mistake, it must be navigated or the corporate power and ideology our present leaders represent, will rob us of everything we are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What is our Future?

It seems that there are daily more reasons to dispair. We are so fragile and even the luckiest among us are compelled, at one time or another, to watch someone we love die and we must see them put securely and irreparably into the cold earth. The great institutions into which we put our faith, such as churches or governments, seem to tend toward the actions which directly contradict their very purpose. Even those regions of life such a art and poetry which we hope will express the purest, most noble aspects of who we are, are subject to the vagaries of the human ego. One cannot read or watch news of current event without some story that potentially undermines our hope in what is good about the world. We watch the innocence of our children eroded before our eyes by bullies as well as teachers that lack the compassion which their job should necessitate. And how do we tell them that violence and bullying is bad when those who "lead" our nations make violence and bullying the cornerstone of their political strategies?

If someone were to come here from another world I would be hard-pressed to muster a defence of our race which is gradually destroying itself in the name of profit and money. I having nothing but one simple principle on which to hang the hat of my hope; love. There is no rational reason to get up in the morning. I must go on simple faith that love is worth saving and that it will, in turn, save us. I know it is not much on which to rest one's hope in the future, but it is all we have.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some more thoughts on Democracy. . . .

Democracy is almost always a tricky matter. The most difficult aspect of democracy is that it is not, as one often imagines it is supposed to be, a process wherein we have a meaningful debate about policy and legislation and the outcome reflects the most effective and most "rational" argument. Life is never really like this, and it couldn't be even if we wanted it to be. All sorts of things come into our decisions both individually and collectively. We have certain social and individual beliefs that are not subject to any sort of rational discourse. Furthermore, we are swayed by all sorts of emotional and ideological elements in our surroundings. Thus not only are our goals based upon various religious, philosophical, and ethical beliefs, but we live in a world of complex events and interactions and we rely on information and arguments presented to us from other people who are better informed than we. The complexity of many issues makes it difficult to know when so-called experts or authorities are motivated, consciously or subconsciously, by ideological factors.

In relation to these complex ideological factors, the most glaring problem for democracy is fairly simple: money. If one is in any setting of discoure, particularly if that discourse involves a large number of people, certain people have a greater ability to control the agenda of that discourse. They may have this power through a 'natural' authority that derives from respect of the collective or they may control that agenda through power or manipulation. At a large social level, this discourse is manipulated through money. People in a position of economic power can manipulate knowledge, information, and opinion simply by projecting a presumption of knowledge. If a lot of rich and powerful people  say "IT IS SO" then a lot of people are going to believe it is so just because of the presumed authority of money and wealth. Then, of course, there is the simple fact that rich and powerful people own the media and they can say almost anything they want and many people will simply believe them based upon the presumed authority found in the power of volume. All of these issues are made more problematical by the inherent complexity of modern society. Science can be easily manipulated through selective funding and grants as well as through the fact that large corporations are obviously going to pursue those areas of research that promote their interests.

Then there are global complications to take into consideration. Countries have decreasing room for manoeuvre in a context in which a relatively small set of capital interests can cripple an economy with ease. Banks and financial institutions have so thoroughly manipulated the economies and government policies on taxation and regulation that people have become convinced that it is essential for banks to make billions in order for the economy to succeed even while the majority of people are barely getting by.

So while we are pursing some abstract ideal of democracy, the principle of meaningful and equal discourse has largely lost all meaning. And people can rise to power with all sorts or outrageous beliefs as long as they represent the larger goals which lay behind the monied interests. Even here in Canada, which suffers less than some countries from the undue influence of money in the political process, we have a government that is full of individuals who possess distinctly "anti-democratic" beliefs, who harbor deeply unpopular religious beliefs, who have antiquated religious and social ideas, and who are distinctly racist, sexist, and homophobic. But these people can come to power because discourse in democracy has come to mean a lot less than the ideological power of money.

But, of course, a lot of people have written about the power of democracy in recent years, both from the academic and journalistic point of view. It seems that people are increasingly aware that our democracies are suffering from some serious problems and the so-called financial crisis as well as the increasing gap between rich and poor are some of the outward signs of a crisis of democracy. Of course, those who continue to have an interest in the status quo desperately spin these factors in a way that takes people's focus away from the real causes. They will tell people that the financial crisis is a result of public sector pensions and union power. And for a while this spin will surely work, as it has already. The banking bailout in countries like the US saw billions of dollars going from average tax-payers into the private accounts of already wealthy bankers and brokers. And in many countries governments are talking about new austerity plans. The problem is, of course, that these plans will just make things worse and when more an more people realize that they have no financial future and that their children have little chance of a decent education, decent housing, and any kind of pension, people will start to wake up. People will be particularly angered when they see that through all their hardships, the rich are just getting richer, becoming more comfortable, and are using the working masses as a cheap servant class.

There is a reason that greed has always been considered one of the so-called seven deadly sins. The problem with greed is that it is self-replicating. Greed breeds more greed just as the thirst of capital becomes unquenchable. Those individuals who seek tremendous wealth or run corporations have no stoping point. Unlike the old-time family-based capitalist enterprise, the nature of the modern corporation and market makes it technically impossible for corporations that rely on private investors to be satisfied with a certain amount of profit. Corporations must drive to ever greater profit rates and this creates a psychological syndrome among people that similarly drives them toward greater and greater wealth. The impact of this ideological shift is devastating for society - it not only creates a war of all against all but it undermines institutions of social unity at all levels.

Western capitalist democracies must find a way to deal with this fundamental problem if it is to avoid absolute crisis and total breakdown. The problem is, or course, that many among the rightwing do not even acknowledge the nature of the crisis. But history will eventually make the options clear - a more equal and socially oriented society or total barbarism.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What I Remember on Remembrance Day, The Unpopular Recall. . . . .

I honestly believe that Remembrance Day (or Veteran's Day as it was in the States when I grew up) does a significant and and lasting disservice to veterans of all wars and to our nations in general, at least in its modern incarnation. One would have to be blind not to see that Remembrance day has become not an effort to remember the horrors of war and need to avoid armed conflict in the future, but rather has become an exercise in blind patriotism. I think that an argument can be made that certain armed conflicts in, say, the past hundred years have been necessary, or even justified. But one would have to be deeply ignorant of 20th century history to imagine that the lion's share of armed conflicts that the Western nations have been involved in during the last century had anything to do with freedom or democracy. Such a claim is, quite frankly, counterfactual. But the 'patriotic' element in the Remembrance Day process has come to spin the events this way for a couple of reasons. The first is that no one wants to believe that any of the soldiers who were killed (on our side that is) died fighting for some ignoble goal; as though if we suggest that soldiers of the line were somehow duped into fighting for the wrong reasons, this belittles them as men. Another reason that this spin on on war must continue is that we continue to fight in wars that are part of a Western Capitalist agenda of money and geo-politics. And so the History Channel airs movie after movie that portrays our "good soldiers" on the one side and the the "bad guys" on the other. And on Remembrance Day everyone seems to forget that war is, almost literally, 'hell,' and a real and meaningful Remembrance Day would do a proper service to veterans and nations if we recalled all the terrible things of which our own country and our allies have been guilty as well as the good things. This would help us remember that war should be avoided at all costs and that the silent victims of war such as the millions of women that have been raped and children that have been killed and abused over the past hundred years in armed conflict are all too easily forgotten on these days when we are supposed to remember. My great-grandfather was in the First World War, a pointless horrible conflict that was really about colonialism, and he suffered from mustard gas poisoning. He blamed the leaders and the rich for the war and he hated war ever after. And it is his stories of the war that come down through our family. He believed that the war was committed in the service of big capital and that the workers were the cannon fodder for a battle over business turf. People can suggest all day long that I am disrespectful of the veterans, but as far as I am concerned each Remembrance Day is deeply disrespectful of my great grandfather because people have tried to romanticize and justify the slaughter of innocents and average workers.

For all these reasons, on Remembrance Day, I chose to remember all the horrible things that all sides in all armed conflicts have engaged in, as well as all the silent victims of our bombs and our guns that had nothing to do with the choices of the leaders and the elites. And if I want to really remember who gave us our freedoms, I recall all the Unions activists like my Grandfather Thomas Evans who spent his life fighting for workers rights, human rights, and democracy - not against foreign invaders but against the capitalists and the elite of his own country who did everything they could to keep such rights away from the people. If you are looking for someone to thank for your freedoms, go to your nearest union and you will find people that are fighting everyday to save our country from tyranny, and remember it is not vague, faceless enemies from across the sea somewhere that are the threat to your rights, it is people right here at home like Stephen Harper. Remember that!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't Let them Tell you. . . . . .

You have to give credit to the rightwing to one thing at least - the way that they have convinced so many people that our society is broke and we can't afford pensions for the elderly or living wages for the mass of working people. And they have managed to convince people of this at a time when our society has never been wealthier. "But," I hear you say, "aren't we in a financial crisis?" And the answer is, of course, yes. But it is not a crisis of wealth, rather it is a crisis of distribution. There is plenty of wealth in the world but the bulk of it is in so few hands that governments cannot afford to function the way that they should. And at a time when corporations are making record profits and the rich have never been richer, somehow the rightwing has convinced people that the financial crisis is the fault of a guy fixing your roads in Sarnia who just wants enough to send his kids to college, or a nurse in Athens who can't afford her own house, or auto-workers in Michigan who want decent healthcare and want to retire without living in poverty. It is not the fault to these people that capitalism is in crisis, it is a corrupt banking system, lack of a proper tax on the rich and on corporations, and the greed of people who are comfortable with keeping millions and millions while many working people can't afford the basics.

Imagine that society is a family of four with an income of one hundred thousand a year. Not bad, but not a fortune with today's housing prices etc. That family can get along reasonably well. But now let's say that the father buys a seventy thousand dollar new car every year and the mother takes two vacations in Cancun. Now when his kids come to the parents and say they want to go to college the parents say, we just can't afford it. Well, of course they can't afford it if unless the parents are willing distribute the income properly in the family and invest in the family's future in the form of educating the children.

The rightwing wants you to think that it is complicated. They want you to believe that unions have bankrupted the economy by asking for decent wages. They want you to think that all the people are spending all their money on wine, women, and songs - and the rest they are just wasting. But don't believe it. Instead demand common sense - a healthy society is one in which the wealth of that society is distributed well throughout all groups, where everyone has a voice, where the media is not at the behest only of the wealthy, and where we are investing in the future.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Freight Train, Freight Train, Going so fast. . . . .

I am certainly not a constitutional expert, but you don't have to be an engineer to see a freight train coming your way. And I suspect that a freight train in the form of whole slew of legal problems and possibly a constitutional crisis is headed in this direction. All of us who have been paying attention have a growing sense of danger as various issues are clearly moving toward real legal conflict between various groups and provincial governments and this atrociously self-absorbed, ideologically driven federal government. Legal battles over breaches of previous SCOC rulings concerning collective bargaining, gun-registry data, and of course provinces potentially refusing to implement the new federal crime bill are all pending. This is not even to mention the possibility that Harper will attempt unilateral senate reform. Of course loses on all or any of these issues will make the conservative base livid with talk of obstructionist courts or "activist" judges and this will further solidify that part of the CPC support. Furthermore, these issues could help to once again ignite separatist sympathies in Quebec, something that I suspect Harper wants because a Canada without Quebec is one that would be easier for the Conservatives to control.

I would contend that most of the various conflicts on the horizon stem from the simple fact that the Harper government is not satisfied with just creating conservative legislation but is a result of their broader goals of destroying the country in general. They not only hope to see the separation of Quebec in order to strengthen their political power, but they want to undermine the courts by effectively doing away with hundreds of years of precedent law and put the courts completely in the hand of the PMO, eliminate the Charter of Rights (or marginalize it to the degree that it becomes meaningless) eventually eliminate all unions, eliminate all sign of socialized medicine, completely eliminate all rehabilitation efforts in the legal system and increase the prison population by tens of thousands, eliminate the principle of innocence before the law, and essentially take away the structure of human rights which underpins this society.

Will they succeed? I don't know, I really don't. Countries have spiraled into fascism before and to think that it couldn't happen here is just naive. My hope is that people will smarten up and either oust this government through mass action as happened in Egypt or Tunisia, or at the very least get rid of it at the ballot box by concerted effort at electoral cooperation if necessary. Keep in mind that it won't be easy. Events at the G20 demonstrate to anyone who has any idea of history and politics that our government would be just as ready as any other to use any degree of violence if their existence was threatened. Furthermore, do not discount political assassination being used on any opposition leader that shows real signs of gaining popularity which threatens this government. (Maybe this has already happened).

And if you are tempted to call me crazy - JUST READ HISTORY!!!!!!!!! These things have been happening since the beginning of time and to imagine that somehow it is all in the past or that we are somehow above all that is naivety and pure egoism.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Whither Greece?

Anyone who has been a close observer of democracy knows that Western countries have only ever been committed to democratic principles to the degree to which they support and strengthen Western (generally capitalist) interests. Western countries love to talk about democracy but when they don't like the results that a democratic process promotes they quietly (or sometimes loudly) ignore or condemn the process. From the early days of the Trilateral Commission worrying about "too much democracy" to the election of Hamas, the West shows itself again and again to be interested in democracy only to the degree that it promotes their interests. Recently our own government in the past several years has done everything in its power to avoid established democratic processes and principle.

This anti-democratic tendency among the world's nations and the capitalist elite was on full display today when Prime Minister Papandreou suggested that his nation should hold a referendum on the policy that will have perhaps the greatest effect of any legislation on Greece for a generation, and governments and capitalist around the world reacted with disgust and panic. Imagine letting the people decide on something so important. Now, I am not naive and I know that there are cases in which so-called direct democracy can be a problem. But the cases in which democracy can be overridden are those in which the rights of the few are going to be overridden by the bigotry of the many. Federal and supreme courts in many countries can override democratically elected governments in cases such as human rights in which the majority is attempting to prevent certain people in society from enjoying equal rights. Such cases have been seen in things like so-called "interracial" marriage or gay marriage. Furthermore, I am sure that there are cases in which the "people" do not act in the real, longterm interests of the nation. However, in the case of Greece we have a nation that has been pushed to the brink by the irresponsibility of the banks and by a deeply corrupted taxation system in which the rich and corporations have paid almost no tax for decades despite so-called 'socialist' governments. Now, even though they have been paying for generations, the people are once again being asked to bear the brunt of the rich exploiting the system in their own interests. Bankers, large market investors, and the rich in general dread the idea that Greece or any nation could ask the people what is right and wrong when it comes to economic interests. This is what capitalists have always feared. But socialists (and in the old days even Liberals) have been saying for a long time, the economy is hear to serve us not the other way around, and if we decide that banks or capitalist shouldn't be allowed to act in certain ways then frankly that is just too bad for the banks. Despite what rightwingers might tell you, corporations are NOT people and the people can control, and always have controlled markets in various ways. If the people of Greece reject a solution to an economic crisis entirely brought about by banks and the rich syphoning off billions of dollars that should be distributed more fairly throughout the economy - that is a victory for democracy, and those who fear it are those that fear democracy in its most basic and principled form.

UPDATE - Shortly after I wrote this our dear Finance Minister Flaherty responded to the issue of a referendum in Greece. Trying not to sound too outrageously anti-democratic Flaherty said "It is not for us to dictate terms to the Europeans." But he we went on to say that "delay endangers the global economy." The real message from the Harper Tories has consistently been that democracy is dangerous to THEIR goals unless they can get something out of it for themselves. Remember that this is the man who, as finance minister of Ontario left a six billion dollar deficit during a time of global prosperity and then tried to hide his incompetence during the election. Naturally, for this remarkable feat, Harper put him in charge of the nation's finances. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Whither the Arts?

Though I am closing in on fifty, by today's standards I know that I am not old. But of course, like many people in this age, the degree to which many aspects of society have changed, can make me feel rather older than my years. And it is not just the computer revolution and the end of so-called "communism" that make me feel a lot older than, say, a twenty-five year old who doesn't really remember the Soviet Union or a time before personal computers. But over and above the huge technological and political changes that have occurred over the past forty years, I believe I have seen a fundamental cultural shift relating to our aesthetic experience. Specifically the close of the 20th century witnessed the death (or dying process) of our traditional art forms, including painting, the novel, theatre, and to a certain degree much of what we know as music.

The explanation for this rather significant claim would, of course, take a great deal more space than what we have on a blog. But given enough space and time, I believe the claim is perfectly demonstrable and therefore justifiable. In the fifties Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a book that is seldom read today entitled Search for a Method. This book was intended as a conceptual introduction to his Critique of Dialectical Reason, a book that for most philosophers was never able to live up to the promise of its title. Anyway, Sartre's most interesting claim Search for a Method was the claim that there is basically only one living philosophy at any given time. Of course for Sartre the "living" philosophy (and keep in mind that this was written in the 1950s) was Marxism and that any anti-Marxist argument was, at best, a pre-Marxist argument. Though today Sartre's argument has a distinct subtext of Ethno-centrism, at the time (before the real linguistic turn in philosophy had taken effect) Sartre had a very good point. What interests me about Sartre's argument though is the degree to which it points to the "living" aspect of a philosophy. At the risk of paraphrasing a philosopher considerably more brilliant than I, Sartre was suggesting that a philosophy was only "living" during the period that other philosophies had not surpassed it and it still was central to the way that we define and understand our experience at the meta-social level. Now, obviously this is an extremely truncated argument that could fill an entire book. There are many potential points of argument but I think this sums it up enough that my handful of readers out there will get the point. For me Sartre's argument became important because I applied it to the life and death of art forms. Art forms are "living" while other art forms have not significantly surpassed them, while they still have new things to say, and while they continue to express and influence the ways we define ourselves as a society. It is by these standards that I believe the significant art forms of the past have. . . . well .. . . passed away. In the early twentieth century the Surrealists attempted to shift the way we look at visual and written art work. They tried to kill the novel because they essentially thought it was a dead art form. The story of the relationship between the Surrealists and the novel is a long and complex one, but I believe that men like Andre Breton and his various followers in the literary movement of Surrealism had a lot to say to us about literature. But people were not really listening because there continued to be a significant profit in the bourgeois novel and the "literary industry" was bound to keep it alive. I have said before, and received much abuse and derision for the claim, that the novel as an art form reaches its apex around the time of Proust. Proust took the psychological aspect of the bourgeois art form of the novel to it complete and somewhat ridiculous conclusion. After the era of the Surrealists and Proust, I think the novel is just in the period of denouement, if you will pardon the expression. (Though I think one can mount an argument that so-called Magic Realism and some science fiction such as the work of Samuel Delany,  are genuine steps in the development of the novel) But in general I think all the art forms that were still so important at the beginning of the 20th century were more or less deceased by the beginning of the 21st century. Not only have the models and markets changed, but technology has rendered the old art forms largely mute.

When I was silly enough to talk about these things in public, people usually reacted to these claims with a pretentious smirk as though to say that either I had no idea what I was talking about or that if I were an artist or a writer I would know better. Of course, I am now both a professional writer and painter and I am more convinced than ever that my opinion on this matter is correct. I have my own personal reasons for being an artist and a writer and it doesn't really trouble me that traditional arts form have largely died. I can live with the status of being an anachronism. But the university educated, cultural consumers of any age are loath to give up their traditional art forms because it is these that they believe separate them from the hoi polloi. These people would never, of course, admit that a major aspect of their attachment to certain art forms is actually a way to express their elitism. Many of them consider themselves enlightened and even leftwing and they sit in their well-decorated, intercity, red-brick houses reading novels that 90 percent of people couldn't care less about and they secretly love the status that they believe themselves to possess. But really they are just feeding on the corpse of a bygone era.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Looming Crisis. . . . .

Every instinct I have suggests to me that we are entering a time of a crisis of capital similar in form, if not content, to the crisis that gripped it in the nineteen thirties. Just as the depression in the thirties was brought on in part by the over-confidence and irresponsibility of the capitalist elite, this crisis is rooted in the same kind of problem. Globalization of capital and industry, the radical expansion of corporate profits, the growth of extreme and lopsided wealth of the top 10 or twenty percent, the stagnation of real wages for the vast majority, the manner in which large corporations act outside the law in many nations, put together these factors suggest a coming crisis. Of course, the necessary incendiary ingredient is dissatisfaction of the people at large. While the wealth of the corporation and the economic elite is skyrocketing, governments are pleading poverty and everywhere people are being asked to give up their pensions, decent wages, and any sense of security. People may be easy to con when they are feeling ok about things, but they will not be such obedient sheep when they are pushed into more poverty and insecurity.

Marx pointed out that a socio-economic system nurtures the system that will eventually come after it. At the present moment in history even a genuine capitalist must understand that international corporate capitalism is headed for a major problem if its leaders don't begin to ensure a greater distribution of wealth and system that makes people feel as though they are not simply the play-things of corporate power.

Unfortunately, a society's elite seldom sees a crisis coming and seldom gives up any of their power and wealth voluntarily. We shall see.

Letter to Rob F***king Ford. . . . .

Hello Mayor Rob F***King Ford,

Yesterday you released a statement  concerning the incident in which a great Canadian comedian attempted to have you take part in a time honoured tradition in Canadian Television. In your statement you said you called the police because you were "attacked" in your driveway.

Well Mr. Ford, since you don't seem to know what the word "attacked" actually means I thought I would assist you with a couple of visual aids.

Mr. Ford, this is what it looks like when you are being attacked.

This, on the other hand, is not what it looks like when you are being attacked - 

Of course, Mr. Ford, since there is clearly a smile on your face in this picture, I suspect you really know the difference between being attacked and not being attacked. 

And since you have so much experience in verbally attacking and abusing others, the whole matter is actually very clear to you. Suddenly the overbaring, glib, bully of a man desperately wants us to see him as a victim because when you are out of your comfort zone you are actually a petty, cowardly little man who fears, perhaps more than anything, being questioned about your public persona. 

And that, Mr. Ford is, as they say, that. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Abusive Behaviour and the Mayor of Toronto. . . . .

Can anyone out there seriously say that they are surprised by Robert Ford's abuse of the hardworking 911 operators? After all, we knew what kind of man Mr. Ford was before he was elected to be Mayor of Toronto. Ford is a self-absorbed, bully of a man who seeks for recognition by attempting to make people afraid of him, by belittling others in order to compensate for his own shortcomings as a man and a human-being. People who lack compassion and genuine human feeling find it difficult to comprehend why people do not conform to their wants and desires, somewhere deep inside them they are frustrated by their own lack of human connection and the only way that their truncated souls can react to their frustration is to lash out in an, often futile, attempt to force others to conform to their will. Lacking a basic level of humanity, these sad individuals are vaguely aware of their shortcomings and the only way that they can deal with it is by attempting to lower others through violence (verbal and physical), thus attempting to trick their psyche into believing that they are superior to those around them. This is central to Mr. Ford's behaviour at all times, as it is with so many rightwing politicians. This is why the natural consequence of a certain brand of rightwing politics is fascism. Stephen Harper is a similar man to Robert Ford, though with a considerably greater degree of self-control. Such men (and occasionally women) are not connected to other human beings at a basic emotional level and therefore the only thing that they can understand is control. And, of course, lacking empathy, such people are very seldom able to form meaningful alliances or create significant loyalty from others. If your modus operandi is power and abusive control, people only care about you to the degree that you can wield power or use your power to assist them in some way. In other words, to borrow from Kant, if you treat people as a means to an end, they will treat you the same way. This is why such autocratic leaders so often fall suddenly and inauspiciously - because once power is gone they have nothing, and no one to depend upon.

In Ottawa we had a mayor with a similar style to Mr. Ford, though not quite as bad or obtuse. Mayor O'Brian went down to ignominious defeat because he didn't how to deal with people at a basic human level. He was able to use his self-centred, abusive style to gain success in the business world so he assumed that it would translate directly into the job of mayor. Mr. Ford had a certain degree of success as a councilman because in this position he didn't depend on the goodwill of his coworkers - he could be the squeaky door of the council, gaining attention and bemusement as he went. But when you put such a man in a position of significant power, it is a disaster waiting to happen. I wouldn't be surprised if Ford fails to complete his time in office because at some point his abusive ego will carry him too far. Mr. Harper will go the same way at some point and history will judge him very badly. When I was young I said it about Nixon, in the 80s I said it about Thatcher and Mulroney, and I say the same about Ford and Harper. Unfortunately this abusive, philistine, angry personality sometimes carries people to power and maintains them there for a while. But it almost always ends badly. And it is not just an issue of right and left wing. Take John Tory in Ontario for example. I disagree with most, if not all, of Mr. Tory's ideological beliefs. But he treats people with a significant degree of respect, listens to the arguments of others, and doesn't depend upon abusive power-mongering to stake out his beliefs in the public realm. Of course, just as abuse can lead people to power, respectable behaviour can prevent you from gaining power. However, while John Tory still has the respect of his allies and his opponents, Mr. Ford is quickly losing the respect of everyone.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NDP Blogging site goes Offline. . . .

I was very sorry to see the NDP Bloggers site go off line. It seems odd that at a time when the NDP has never been stronger, their primary online voice has been silenced. If I were a conspiracy minded person I would say that insiders at the NDP, such as those that might favor the victory of one of the two most high-profile candidates, have intentionally put a stop to it. The good thing about the NDP Bloggers site was that it was an independent voice of fellow travellers and in a leadership race many of the bloggers were looking at alternatives to Mulcair and Topp. Not that I think the bloggers were necessarily going to make a big difference in which leader got elected, but it is one more area of debate that has been closed down in the lead up to the vote.

It seems strange that the Liberals who have a fraction of the seats in the House of Commons  can maintain a very strong internet blogging site but the NDP, as soon as it gets close to power, suddenly cannot. Coincidence? I find it difficult to believe. It will definitely be harder to get a sense of what people who are sympathetic to the NDP are thinking.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Karzai's Rejection and Geo-Politics. . . . .

Well the chances of a war between the US and Pakistan are probably considerably less than zero percent. However, those ridiculously long odd do nothing to dampen the supreme irony and humor in the recent revelation of Afghanistan's President Karzai that if such a war were to erupt, Afghanistan would be squarely on the side of it's neighbouring Islamic nation against the world's only so-called 'super-power.'  One cannot help but wonder how this revelation must play in mainstream America among those poor ignorant souls who bought into the neo-colonial spin, so prevalent in the US and elsewhere, that the invasion of Afghanistan was an act of benevolence, or at the very least 'self-defence.' History will, of course, read it differently. All colonial efforts, whether traditional or economic, are accompanied by some grand narrative of benevolence and defence. The real motivations of such efforts are, of course, geo-political power and economic interest. But to the average American (or Canadian for that matter) who doesn't understand the complex economic and political issues behind the spin, Mr. Karzai's words must send their heads reeling. For most Americans, steeped as they are in the professional ignorance peddled by Fox News and friends, this must sound like Charles De Gualle telling the New York Times that he would support Hitler after D Day. Of course the comparison would be specious but this is the kind of thing that goes on inside the head of people that fail to take a realistic view of geo-politics.

The reason that Karzai would say that he would, in a conflict situation, come to the aid (however minimal it would be) of Pakistan against the US is that the United States never built up any so-called 'good-will' in Afghanistan, whether among the people in general or the brutal tribal lords who still govern the nation. For all its fancy, completely fictional, spin, the US's invasion of  Afghanistan was part of a multi-pronged effort at consolidating its waning power in West Asia and the Middle East and to entrench the dominance of weapons and security corporations within the United States, a symbiotic relationship that was coming under threat with the end of the Cold War. Year in and year out, the lion's share of US federal spending finds its way, through one door or another, into the pockets of Weapons producers or private security companies. The American establishment knew that this relationship had become tentative an increasingly difficult to justify during the 1990s but the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq  made this huge transfer of cash from average tax-payers to large corporations once again unquestionable. However, like most colonial or neo-colonial powers, the US forgot basic lessons of the past and failed to maintain good-will with those on whom their basic geo-political plan depended. In other words, as is their history, they didn't take care of 'the people,' but they also failed, as they once did so effectively, to establish an adequate strong-arm regime on who they could depend for blind obedience. In the long run this means real trouble for the US as their global power slowly dissipates and their ability to compel nations to do their bidding with their economic power disappears.

 For example, for several generations the US has had a vested interest in conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This is because while the Palestinians pose no real threat to the US or Israel, the conflict gives the US government a ready-made excuse for the billions and billions that it gives to Israel, thus further justifying their militarist economy. But Mr. Karzai's rather blatant rejection of the US in the recent interview, suggests that time is running out for the US and its Allies; they are gradually losing their grip on their once unquestioned global dominance, but they are also running out of the economic clout to enforce their control. Unless they fundamentally change their basic strategy the US will gradually lose its ability to maintain any serious control over any country and they will be forced either into an extreme fascist reaction or a new conciliatory policy that looks for peace and economic cooperation. If Mr. Karzai is any indication of their job so far, the US, and the West in general, is in serious trouble.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rowland Hill and the Modern Struggle. . . . .

I bet you have never heard of Rowland Hill. Like so many important reformers, Mr. Hill has faded into partial obscurity and only those interested in 19th century English history will have run into his name. But it is a prestigious name and one worth knowing. Hill was a teacher, inventor, and social reformer who was born in 1795 and died in 1879. Hill's father, Thomas Wright Hill, was an educator from Worcestershire and was a personal friend of Joseph Priestly, Thomas Paine, and Richard Price. As an educator Rowland Hill set up his own school in Birmingham which gained international fame. Hill was one of the first major educators to insist that encouragement and gentleness in education was not only more humane but also would, in the long run, be more efficacious.

Hill was obsessed by the shortcomings in the English postal system and he spent years attempting to create a model for reform of the system. Hill understood two central shortcomings of the post. Most importantly, he thought that it was far too expensive and inefficient both for the personal interests of British People and for the interests of the British economy. Before Hill's reforms many of the letters that were sent in England went by so-called 'franks' which was essentially a system of free postage used by MPs, Lords, and other government officials. Letters were so expensive to send that fraud was widespread and people would even resort to sending c.o.d. letters to loved ones with nothing in them, after which the loved one would refuse delivery, in a kind of system of secret message letting people know all was well. Hill understood that the difficulty that people experienced in contacting family members was not only a major emotional hardship but it made them reluctant to travel, lest they lose contact with loved ones. Hill also understood that not only were the franks costing the government money and resources, but exorbitant postal costs were standing in the way of business.

As they always are, the Tories were reactionary and shortsighted and under Prime Ministers Peel and Wellington, Hill's plans were resisted and attacked. But with the help of Melbourne (and eventually Lord John Russell) Hill's plans for an inexpensive, nationally organized postal system with one penny stamps was adopted. Russell made Hill the Secretary of the Post Office and he was knighted in turn. Perhaps most significantly, Hill is usually credited with the invention of the postage stamp. Though it took many years after Hill's plans were enacted for the Post Office to begin to make as much revenue as they had before, Hill's plans modernized the Postal System and not only helped individuals but actually helped modernize the British economy.

Like most reformers, Hill was attacked at every turn by myopic conservatives who cared nothing for people or for more generalized prosperity, but only cared for their own power and privilege. But Hill would not be turned aside and his determination should be celebrated and admired. Twenty years from now when our education system is defunct, our economy is entirely owned by foreign corporations, there are few or no family farms left, there is no public pensions system, remember the determination of Rowland Hill. We are going to need a dose of it ourselves.