Monday, May 31, 2004

The Art of the Possible

I fail to see how a Lawren Harris work can possibly be worth this much. I mean, whatever the market will bear, that's great; but I can't help feeling that the price has been subtly inflated by decades of cultural conditioning. I dislike the Group of Seven. I really do. In high school, for the great music vs. art vs. drama tradeoff, I went with visual art; I was actually considering a career in animation at one point. (I changed my mind after spending a term doing a co-op internship at a local studio. I could see that while my work was good, it wasn't great, and "good but not great" seemed to be the hallmark of the animators there. Spending years working on mediocre Canadian content for cable and overseas distribution wasn't my idea of an interesting job. But I digress.) The section of each year's course devoted to art history varied in content, but I clearly remember an infuriatingly obsessive focus on the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, and Emily Carr for most of two years. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that; the result is, with a few exceptions, I just mentally grimace at the sight of one of their works. They're certainly not bad from a technical standpoint; many of their works, especially Harris', are beautiful in clean and very graphical stylization. But, of course, Technically Beautiful as they may be, I dislike them for another reason entirely. I resent that the Group of Seven are officially represented as Unique Canadian Artists Who Represent the Soul of the Country. I resent their place of prominence in the National Gallery. I resent that they've been appropriated by the official cultural establishment apparatchiks as mascots. I resent that their works are landscapes, landscapes, landscapes - as if we needed reminding that most of the county is rocks and trees and trees and rocks. (And water.) It's practically a designated Official Canadian Style, like the neoclassicism of the Academie Francaise in the 1780s and 90s. (See, I did learn other art history.) And if there's one thing I really resent, it's having matters of taste dictated from on high.

He has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot

Now that's what I call a trophy. He's earned it, too.

Yeaaaaaargh

And to think, I was fretting that Howard Dean would sink to such obscurity to be worthy of a Trivial Pursuit question by the end of the year. It turns out I need not have worried; the spectre of Howlin' Mad Howie is now being called up upon Jack Layton for his incomprehensibly hyperbolic remarks on Paul Martin's personal culpability for deaths in the homeless population. It's not an inapt comparison, y'know? And it remains a good sign that the Liberals are feeling the need to snipe at their flanks to the left. I'm feeling better and better about this campaign.

Take him away, he's got nothing to say

Memo to MoveOn.org and Democratic Underground members: This, not the presidency of George W. Bush, is what creeping authoritarianism looks like. It is now apparently an act suspicious enough to be worthy of police investigation and search to criticize the Premier of Ontario with "harsh language." Ah, but surely the accused must have been making death threats or otherwise showing some such worthy signs of suspicious behaviour? No charges have been laid regarding the e-mail as it did not contain any death threats or threats to cause bodily harm [...] Jack Carleton apparently did nothing illegal in the act that caused police to search his home, where they did in fact find evidence of illegal activity - some marijuana and several unlicensed handguns. Despite my intolerance for recreational drug use, I find this scenario reprehensible. It wasn't worth it, even for the OPP to find what they did. It was an improper search - though not, I'm sure, illegal. If he had made death threats to McGuinty, I'd be all for landing on Mr. Carleton with both feet. Yet he didn't. And that's unnerving. To Premier Dalton McGuinty: You, sir, are an obnoxious and despicable dissembler. Your party and you yourself have the same ignominious reek of corruption now so evident in the federal Liberals. Though I didn't much care for Ernie Eves, you are such a low and dishonest malfeasant that you are not worthy to lick his boots. It is my hope that, come next election, you are thrown out of office with as much force as the voters of this province can muster. To borrow a phrase from Saint Pierre of Montreal, Fuddle Duddle. Now, come and get me, bucko.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

From Sind to Cooch Behar

Veterans who fought and bled and remain haunted by their experiences might be surprised to learn Kerry took an 8mm home movie camera to Vietnam to capture himself in battle, an act of vanity that smacks of calculation. ...I see. In the current context, with digital cameras and phonecams being not only common but plentiful in the theatre of war, this is neither spectacular nor extraordinary. But in 1966? An 8mm camera wasn't exactly a toy for the idle rich by that point, but it still seems like a fantastic luxury for a junior officer to bring along. Was Kerry mentally directing the filmed hagiography of his life even then? Has he been plotting this presidential campaign his whole life? The rest of the article is worthwhile as well; it's a good reminder of just how much a braggart and self-appointed hero John Kerry is, compared to thousands of others. I honour Memorial Day in the memory of all veterans, even Kerry; I can't denigrate his honourable service that much, even though it is so tainted by his post-service dalliances with treason. (Via Betsy's Page.)

Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh

Boy Howdy, this election is turning out to be a great show. I never dreamed it would actually turn into something so genuinely interesting, considering the last two. This implies the NDP is running scared from both the Greens (who are actually running a candidate in every riding this time, for the federal matching funds alone) and the Marijuana Party. I realize that a sizable portion of the population may be indifferent to decriminalization at the very least (I'm not - make penalties harsher for even simple possession, I say), but I doubt this plan is going to be popular with the soccer moms and seniors who consider the NDP a reasonable second choice. A divided left, rapidly-crumbling centre, and united right? Everything's coming up roses.

All Cretans are liars

"I'll quit if I break my promises." Stop me if this seems obvious, but if Paul Martin breaks any other campaign promises he's made in the past two weeks, what would stop his loosely-defined sense of ethics from allowing him to break this promise as well?

When the money keeps rolling in, you don't ask how

...Because if we bribe them enough, terrorists will give up the "Death to the Great Satan" game, and settle down to become fair-trade coffee farmers. Yeah. That's the ticket.

You who fly the blimp of evil

As Instapundit suggests, the final graf of this article is by far the most important: Publicly furious with the occupation, the citizens are also privately blaming Sadr for bringing the fighting to the holiest Shiite city, and they say that they will be grateful when he and his ragtag bandit army leave. "Things were very good two months ago. It was a peaceful town. Then people from outside our city came in [and] the majority of the fighters came from outside of Najaf," said Ali Nasser, 25, while eating a lunch of stewed lamb and rice in the emptied bazaar. "When the Americans first came here, they played soccer and dominoes with us. They were just like our friends. We didn't even see a tank." Well, of course. That's the basic American attitude towards the rest of the world in a nutshell: "We would rather be your friend than your enemy. We want to sell you things. We don't want to rule you. But take a shot at us, and we'll crush you like nobody else can." That's the idealistic pragmatism I love.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

You'll be remembered forever for this

Sweet Guinea Pig of Winnipeg. This kind of backroom dealing is acknowledged to still be around in by-elections for yet-unelected new party leaders, say, but the way it seems to have gone down last election is just reprehensible. Throwing multiple ridings to the Liberals just to ensure the party leader be elected? Whatever happened to the notion of moving to a 'safe' riding? I continue to regret ever respecting Joe Clark in the slightest. He's been playing Benedict Arnold to the right for longer than anyone suspected.

She didn't say much, but she said it loud

What I'm seeing in this poll, which includes the good news that there were fewer Red Tories in the old PC Party than everyone thought, is that the Liberals have a weak core support base. I mean, I knew that already; voting Liberal at the federal level has for the past several elections been the refuge of the politically uninterested, those (outside of Quebec) that figured the NDP too far left, (Reform|Alliance) too far right, and the PCs completely impotent. Being a centrist party that stands for nothing in particular (beyond nest-feathering, Multiculturalism Is Good, Canada Is Nice and We're Not Americans) has a lot to recommend it when compliant domestic media are so willing to sell the above spin on your opponents. That that support is slipping away as the other parties gain strength is informative, however. It shows that there are fewer genuine believers in the Liberal platform than electoral results would indicate. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that fervent believers in a coherent Liberal campaign platform will be miniscule in number, which isn't to say they might not still win at least a minority at this point. The Liberal base is being pared down to its real immutable core - ethnic communities brainwashed into believing that only the Liberal Party is truly Canadian, and hoping for patronage from their friendly neighbourhood influence-peddler. With that kind of weakened base, Stephen LeDrew's going to have to hope for something other than the usual political ignoramuses to scratch out a victory this time. (Via Damian Penny.)

Friday, May 28, 2004

Don't Be the Bunny

Well, that's just neat. Maybe the ability to see, for example, the consequences of Neville Chamberlain's contemptuous strategy of appeasement will prevent the next generation of students from being quite so ignorant of history as the current one. (Via Betsy's Page.)

At last, all too well, I can see where we all soon will be

Fascinating. I was not at all aware that Pamela Wallin is the Canadian consul-general to New York. Nor would I have expected such clear and coldly rational thinking from a former Canadian news anchor: "I'm telling you that if another incident ever happens -- and most people in the U.S. assume that it will -- if it happens and there is any connection to Canada, and if that plane starts in Toronto and not Boston, and if that person on the plane has a Canadian visa and not an American visa, you will watch that border close very, very quickly," Wallin warned. I don't understand why more Canadians don't appreciate the gravity of the American security situation out of, at least, sheer enlightened self-interest. Instead there seems to be an awful lot of petty sniping and jeering - from the same people who tend to be outraged by any restrictions on Canadian trade. (Via Conservative Punk Canuck.)

The pious, hateful and devout

I agree that it's an encouraging sign to see the normally useless CBC Newsworld plan to report on the reprehensible barbarities that are committed by Islamofascists. But note the copy in the description of this special: In The Name of God: Scenes From The Exteme traces the connection between acts of terror and a religion of compassion and mercy. While the documentary focuses on the lives of extreme minority factions, it notes that followers of Islam have widely divergent views on the meaning of Jihad and martyrdom. Well, of course! Because the scary and violent Muslims comprise only an extreme minority of the population! Unlike those scary right-wing Christians, whom the CBC rarely miss a chance to cast FUD upon as a monolithic group. Now, I'm not religious at all. I suppose I'm nominally some variety of Protestant, but if I believe anything it's very vague agnosticism, and I certainly haven't been near a church (except to admire Gothic and Romanesque architecture) in at least ten years. I fear and loathe insane fundamentalist Christians as much as insane fundamentalist Muslims. The difference is that the CBC tries to pretend the former are Canada's biggest domestic security threat, while most of the time also implying the latter don't really exist, except in lying American propaganda. It's the same problem as in most every other media source in North America, admittedly. But most every other media source isn't a state organ, directly dictating policy to its viewers. I do accept - barring lack of hard evidence to the contrary - that the majority of Muslims don't practice or support terrorism or the barbarities shown in this report. But I resent the typical CBC spin that would whitewash what seems by reports to be a fairly large minority into a tiny minority, just for the sake of multiculti pieties.

Canadian Content

It's derived from the official CBC press release, of course, so while there's much talk about "new Canadian programming" (bolstered by reruns of Coronation Street - I mean, really, people, isn't that what BBC Canada on digital cable is for?) there's no mention of the network's dirty little shameful secret, the one remaining American show in the whole 24-hour schedule they can't bear to drop; it actually pulls in the ratings, y'know, and it'd be a shame to lose...

Is this repetition the tragedy, or the farce?

I'd endorse this theory, but for two reasons. First: False hope helps no one. Second: This is what some of the pundits were saying last time, about Stockwell Day, and we know how well that turned out, don't we.

Je n'aime pas la francais. C'est une langue mauvaise. Donnez-moi un oignon.

They might be too chicken to make Scott Reid's comment on official bilingualism party policy, but I'd certainly support it if it was. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to the official bilingualism policy had Quebec managed to secede at some point in the past ten years. I like to imagine it would have been thereafter rejected by the (minus Quebec) overwhelmingly unilingual anglophone population that composes the rest of the country, but I suspect it would have stayed in place, in exactly the same way. The public sector is predominantly staffed by bilingual francophones, who have a vested interest in keeping the competition for their jobs down. I have first-hand experience in this situation; despite being intelligent, efficient and conscientious, able to type at 80 WPM, write, summarize, file, and to edit photos, video and HTML, I can't get a government job to save my life. I'm not fluently bilingual, see. My French is better than that of a tourist reading out of a phrasebook, but not by a whole lot. I can read a newspaper, give directions, or order coffee in French without difficulty, but that's not good enough; every single posted entry-level job opportunity for any government department demands certified fluent bilingualism. No matter if the job actually requires dealing with Francophones or documents in French; it's just the thing to do, to set the correct tone. I hate the French language. I hate that I can't get a decent full-time job for the summer because I don't speak the language quite well enough. I hate the silly different forms of verb conjugation. I hate that what I did learn in school turns out to have been European French, quite different in ways than usable Quebecois French without considerable additional practice. I hated French long before it was cool. But, alas, there as yet is no Republique du Quebec, and we're stuck with a policy that implicitly reserves most federal government jobs for Quebecers. Even though it seems unlikely that the Conservatives will pick up any seats in the province, they can't be seen to be against discriminatory language policies in the campaign, because (if nothing else) it'll cause the CBC (if no one else) to trot out the old lying canard of institutional racism in the party. Though they're backing away from even engaging in conversation about an inane and discriminatory policy, which I find cowardly in an oh-so-specially electioneering way, it's not like I have a choice. I have to vote Conservative, just because they're the least of all possible evils, no matter how watered-down the platform gets to appeal to the "two solitudes" and "private clinics will destroy Canada" crowd. My riding, Ottawa Centre, is most certainly going to be won by Ed Broadbent, former leader of the NDP and perpetual political gadfly; he's returned from the dead once again, and is running here. I know he's going to win because, well, this is Ottawa Centre. It's one of the few ridings that actually runs a Communist Party of Canada candidate in every election. Stephen Harper may be a coward on anti-anglo discrimination, but it's not as though any of the other parties are going to reflect my views to a greater extent.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Making everything personal

The only thing I have to say about this font of vitriol, beyond what anyone else has, is that I sold Ralph Benmergui an MP3 player once. He was pretty damn surly about it for the deal he was getting, too.

Sweet Merciful Crap

Oy. That was even sillier than I imagined. Not only did the season end on pointless time travel (to the height of WWII, apparently), but Nazi Germany in this timeline has unidentifiable aliens on their side. Didn't Justice League already do this plot? On the plus side, this at least actually sets up what could be a potentially interesting long-term arc, even if it does smack of syndicated sci-fi adventure series desperation in the manner of Stargate SG-1 or Relic Hunter. It's also a rather remarkable jump from the deathly serious to the objectively ludicrous. Will you disappoint me yet again, Berman & Braga? Will you deny me?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Kiss Me, Son of God

Of any of the things the New York Times should be apologizing for regarding its coverage of Iraq and the leadup to war, this certainly isn't among them.

Take the money and run

French 35-hour week 'a disaster.' Well, yes. Create a massive welfare state, discourage people from working so as to prevent any competition in the market, and what do you expect will happen to the economy? I am well acquainted with a very socialist French economist (don't ask, don't ask) who fondly remembers making it through France's equivalents of university and graduate school for 300 FFR a year, and laments how wildly expensive my tuition is at $2000 (after scholarship funding) per annum. I had lunch with him and two American students in town for some sort of polisci exchange program yesterday; both seemed pleasant enough, but agreed with him wholeheartedly on the notion that post-secondary education should be as close to free as possible. I was not particularly surprised to find out that the more leftist of the two (a political science major at the University of Michigan, mind you) had never even heard of Adam Smith, let alone read "The Wealth of Nations" or in any way understood the concept of free market economies. But, then, it seems that most of France's political elites haven't either, so I suppose he's in good company.

The Actress Hasn't Learned the Lines (You Like to Hear)

I have exactly one kind thing to say about the NDP's platform: At least they're honest about wanting to raise taxes to finance an even more socialist welfare state. That's 50% more truthful than the Liberals have been on the subject.

Mean Green Mother from Outer Space

I'm dreading tonight's season finale of Enterprise. I almost wish that the show had been cancelled at the end of this season; a few years without an active Star Trek series would probably do the franchise good. And then we could have the Starfleet Academy series we keep getting promised, with crusty old Professor O'Brien. But, alas, it's been saved, and it doesn't really deserve it after season 3. Season 2 ended brilliantly, with Earth suffering a 9/11-style attack from the mysterious race of the Xindi; Six million dead and half of Florida obliterated. (I still can't decide if that's meant to be 'clever', in a Michael Mooresque "Bush carried the state in 2000, so they deserve it" fit of pique, or was just a random creative decision.) Finally, I thought; it's getting quasi-relevant again, as better writers than I have noted that every series has been analogous to contemporary geopolitics, in its own way. The fuzzy-thinking utopians that comprise an unfortunate portion of the fan base needed a good waking up; the UN isn't the Federation (which seems to be curiously undemocratic, for that matter, for what claims to be an interplanetary government), and there are evil and unreasonable people in this (world|galaxy) who want to fucking kill us, regardless of anything our (country|planet) has ever done to them. Archer and Trip, as the most senior human officers on the NX-01, were written with a lot of very justified rage in the first few episodes this year, as they set out to find the Xindi. Of course, as it happens to have turned out, the Xindi are mostly all just misunderstood and friendly, and have been misled by a small segment of their society who have in turn been misled by trans-dimensional superbeings (!). This is fairly insulting; if you're going to set up a 9/11 analogy, this was the equivalent of suggesting that, oh, only the really crazy Islamofascists hated us. Y'know, the scary ones, who probably didn't make up more than a fifth of Al-Qaeda. The way this was portrayed was fairly ham-handed too; improbably, the Xindi are comprised of five wildly divergent subspecies - where the most human-looking ones are, well, most human and reasonable, and the most alien-looking ones range in temperament from disinterest to scenery-chewing hatred for Earth and all humans. Why, thank you, Mr. Berman; now I know that the factions of groups or societies which want to kill us are those that look most alien, and make no effort to blend in; they not only look different from 'us,' but will loudly proclaim their hatred for all to hear in every scene. Gotcha. Good to know. At best, this was a rather silly and obvious metaphor for factionalism; I consider it weak. So, it's come down to this, where the Enterprise crew has teamed up with the Xindi-Sloths and Xindi-Humanoids against the increasingly Khan Noonien Singh-like Commander Dolum of the Xindi-Reptilians. (Last week's episode even featured a direct crib from Wrath of Khan - using a brain parasite on a captive to induce suggestibility. Sheezus. Try and make the ripoffs a bit less obvious, huh?) He is Khan, more or less, just not human, and with a jones for killing the entire population of Earth instead of just Kirk. That's lame, considering the elaborate setup. He's such a cartoonish and unsatisfying villain he's practically Ming the Merciless at this point. But I'll watch. Of course I'll watch. It's Star Trek. I have too much residual goodwill left over from DS9 and TOS to give up on the franchise yet - but that goodwill has been running out since the fourth season of Voyager.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Your queen is dead, your king is too; they're not coming back for you

"Filmmaker Michael Moore supports Lisa's cause when she stages a revolt at Springfield Elementary School." Sigh. Michael Moore appears for all of ten seconds in "The President Wore Pearls," in what is a surprisingly inoffensive scene - and appearing uncharacteristically thin and clean-shaven. (I suppose the producers might have wanted their slobbery wet blown kiss to the jackass really obvious, as a setup for last week's episode.) Yet Zap2It, or whoever's copy they've subcontracted for in the listings, has practically elevated him to co-star status. Gaaah.

You're not home on the range

Much as I enjoy Pixar's films, and admire and appreciate their success, I don't like the consequences of it. Disney Feature Animation, spurred by what they think is the only possible path to the future, has given up entirely on traditional cel animation, and I think that's a damned shame. There's really something to be said for 2-D animation, I think; it has to be simplified, and therefore can't be as detailed a representation of real things in an unreal world as CGI, but in being simplified it can be very interestingly stylized. In recent examples, I loved the chunky Mike Mignola-inspired comic book-like look of Atlantis, the angular and earthy Incans of The Emperor's New Groove, the godawfully grotesque-yet-compelling comix-inspired characters of Teacher's Pet (One of these days, I'm going to have to get around to writing something on the very slightly creepy subtext in the narrative thereof; I keep promising myself that) and the gorgeous palettes and line-art realism of Brother Bear and Home on the Range. If animation becomes too realistic, what's the point? You may as well take the hyperrealism ethos of CGI to extremes, and get things like Attack of the Clones, where two-thirds of the movie is composited against green-screened actors. There's something magical and beautiful about traditional animation, especially in the lines. I get a veritable chill looking at lines in a large-screen theatre; they're blown up so huge that it's possible to see, depending on the precise production process, either minute imperfections in a hand-drawn line, or the sinuous smoothness of crisp and perfectly sharp computer-aided inking. Either way, there's a real sense of the human effort that goes into the process; it's not just a series of algorithms manipulated into certain actions in a way that appears like a virtual puppet, but something made. I'm no Luddite. I enjoy 3-D processes aiding the traditional ones, in ways that enhance the finished product, like the eponymous Iron Giant's mechanical detail compared to the more organic nature of the human characters, or even the "Deep Canvas" technique of Tarzan that allowed for oil-paint-rich backgrounds with incredible depth. But to abandon even the facade of cel animation (what's sometimes called 2 1/2-D, colouring 3-D sprites as if they were hand-drawn), to leap wildly into the sometimes cold and sterile unloveliness of CGI, is a loss for the art form. (I saw the lame-beyond-words Dinosaur in a theatre. Pixar has nothing to fear from Disney, not in the slightest.) Because acrylic paints are cheaper, available in more colours, and easier to use, have painters given up on oils? Of course not. Yet that's much the same as what Disney has done, abandoning the company's founding techniques, only to join a race too late to seriously compete.

Krypton Sucks

Sorry - I still enjoy Family Guy. Yes, the animation is terrible. Yes, the gags are hit-or-miss. Yes, the writers knew when to give up on an overly long joke even less than those of mid-80s SNL. But it's still entertaining to watch, in a train-wreck sort of way. Peter is the logical extension of "Jerkass Homer" - a character so repellent, stupid and unpleasant that it's fascinating to see what'll happen next out of sheer voyeuristic schadenfreude. Kinda like Trailer Park Boys in that regard, really. And there are usually enough obscure one-liners and amusing non sequiturs to sustain one's interest through the dry patches. ("Me likee bouncee! Me likee bouncee!") I'd also submit that when the elements of satire are actually, y'know, satirical, they're superb; I point to the teaser of 3x02, "Brian Goes Hollywood," for a clever (and short) little riff on action movie clichés and the editing of recaps. Most importantly, much as I can understand disliking Family Guy, primetime animation is primetime animation - and, for the good of the industry, better it exist than not. The same phenomenon that gave us Futurama also brought forth The PJs and God, the Devil, and Bob. If the return of Family Guy rekindles even the slightest bit of interest in primetime animation, perhaps stimulating production of something more similar to the former than the latter, won't it be worth it to avoid Fox for a half-hour each week?

Joined at the hip

Haven't we heard this somewhere before?

I want to be the minority

Even Paul Martin's top lieutenants are now admitting the possibility of a minority government situtation. Their internal polls must look even worse than the public ones, to admit it so bluntly, even if it is part of a scare tactic to push Bloc voters into the Liberal camp.

Enemies and adversaries, they try and tear me down

BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow passes on John Gilmore's - the same idiot that went around wearing a "Suspected Terrorist" button on airplanes, picking fights to provoke security into throwing him off - theory on the ultimate Bush-killing Dem ticket: Kerry-Nader. It wouldn't work. Not a chance in hell. I suspect anyone who's actually so far left as to reject Kerry for Nader as too similar to Bush (when you're far enough away from the centre, I suppose Democratic and Republican platforms would look a bit alike) would see him taking the VP nomination as selling out. If there's one thing the smelly hippies of the world hate, it's selling out. Better to shake your fist in rage to an increasingly smaller extremist crowd than admit you were wrong and join the mainstream. Moreover, Kerry is by no means anyone's dream candidate, as Mickey Kaus' Dem Panic Watch series keeps showing - he was merely the least bad option in a field of career pols, nobodies, and crazies. Taking on a known quantity for the Democratic ticket that would be popularly perceived to be as nuts as Dean would likely turn off a number of centrists - and their staying home would be as good as a vote for Bush. I am worried about the election. As The Professor said this morning, it's either side's to lose. I should be hoping against hope that the Dems do something stupid like persuade Nader to sign on, but I don't. A two-party system relies on healthy competition between both sides. If Bush takes the prize in November, it seems probable that the Democratic Party as we know it will self-destruct like the Federalists or Whigs did in the past, and that is Not Good. Canada has seen what a de facto one-party system will do to a country. It's just not healthy. All I ask for is a good clean fight, really; if my guy wins, that's a bonus. Update: Of course, I'm forgetting that a lot of people on the left actually believe the nonsense they spout about Bush being Dick Cheney's catspaw. Perhaps the plan is to have Ralph Nader be a similar éminence grise?

Monday, May 24, 2004

The human mind is a dangerous plaything

Does Bob Woodward's jaw put anyone else in mind of The Tick?

We will walk through the fire

Too tired to blog on the president's speech itself on the Iraq handover - and, really, it wasn't fantastic anyway; no eminently quotable standout lines, just a genially bland list of policy statements* - but I noted this interesting pre-speech candour from CNN's Anderson Cooper on the transition: "You've got to wish the president smooth sailing. No, really. You've got to. We're all in this boat together." Cooper is obviously no fan of George Bush. He occasionally takes cheap shots in his arguments that makes this clear, and I don't much care for his show at the best of times. But he seems to understand, as many of his fellow journalists don't, that there's such a thing as being the loyal opposition. Disliking the president or being against the war need not mean rooting for humiliating and damaging American defeat. We are all in this together; not just all Americans, but the entire civilized world, and it's in everyone's interests but the terrorists' to have a free and stable Iraq. Wouldn't it be nice if the media at large was able to recognize this? *And, Jeebus, I can't believe he stumbled on the pronunciation of 'Abu Ghraib' three times. That's going to end up in a Kerry ad or a MoveOn.org agitprop piece, I just know it...

Going Through the Motions

Amen to that. One of the reasons I bought an iPod - the most significant after the delightfully well-integrated combination of iTunes and the iPod - was that I was just plain fed up with my MiniDisc player. MiniDisc could have been a neat and viable format at one point. It really could have. With the ability to store five hours of music on a single $4 rewritable disc, at roughly 96kbps MP3 quality, in theory it seems like a comparably good or better deal as hard drive-based players. But of course the catch is that 'roughly 96kbps MP3 quality' means 'proprietary Sony ATRAC3 compression at Long Play-4 quality.' My hearing isn't fantastic by any means. I can barely tell the difference between a 192kbps MP3 and the original CD. But the hassle of a proprietary codec is worsened by terribly buggy conversion/connection software, and the top speed of uploading to the device. The NetMD protocol, Sony's far-too-late amendment of the format to allow both compression and recording at greater than real-time speed, was still hampered by the speed of USB 1.1. It still took 45 minutes or so to burn a disc in LP4 mode - and that's assuming OpenMG Desktop, the conversion program, didn't choke and crash either itself or Windows. Sure, my MZ-N707 has fantastic battery life - 56 hours on a single regular AA, or around 20 on a rechargeable - but what's the point, when it's such a pain to convert your library? The iPod's 8-hour battery life, in comparison, is a minor annoyance, but for how beautiful its operation is otherwise I can forgive that. The Sony faux-MP3 player thing bothers me, mainly because a few years back I worked at Future Shop over the Christmas season. Commission sales are brutal at the best of times, but one aspect I really had an ambiguous relationship with were the "spiffed" items. Some products would feature an extra commission bonus, paid for by the manufacturer; this meant that given the choice between the MD player that sold for $329 with a $25 commission, or the generic flash drive MP3 player that sold for $349 with a $20 commission, I would of course push the MD every time. I even managed to believe my own hype for a little while, as the purchase of my own player shows. In retrospect, I regret pushing the MiniDisc players, knowing what a terrible choice they are in comparison to just about anything else. iPodLounge's review of the Vaio Pocket shows that Sony hasn't learned anything - it's like having the most annoying features of MD, in a hard drive-based player. Whoop-dee-doo, Tarantulatown. No doubt they'll pay spiffs in the commission-paid stores, just like with MiniDisc, and aggressively push it in more mundane ways everywhere else. Meh; Sony's long since been dethroned in the portable music game - but their latest work continues to imply that they don't seem to have noticed yet.

Shang-a-lang, feel the sturm und drang in the air

So if I'm understanding the National Trust for Historic Preservation's spokesman correctly, Wal-Mart should, instead of constructing new facilities for their stores, take over older abandoned buildings. Let's spin a story, shall we? The granddaddy of the discount store chain is, of course, F.W. Woolworth's Five & Dime. Frank Woolworth built a wildly successful retail empire because of efficiency and volume - finding new ways to shorten supply chains, and deliver quality goods to retail outlets quickly and cheaply. These efficiencies made his chain more profitable than its 'Mom & Pop' competitors. Sound familiar? Sam Walton took the exact same approach sixty years later, on a much larger scale, and it's similarly been paying off, at least for the time being. Woolworth's, like Wal-Mart, engaged in international expansion, opening locations in Canada, Britain, South Africa, Germany and even Cuba. The stores are still apparently there in Havana, run-down and filthy, as could be expected when operated by a property-expropriating socialist hellhole of a state - yet they survive, undead and unloved, after the parent corporation shut down American operations under the Woolworth's name in 1997. One spinoff of the original stores was the brand extension Woolco, intended as a competitor to Wal-Mart and the other discount chain challengers of the 60s and 70s. Woolco survived until 1994 in Canada - when they were bought out by Wal-Mart. Thus, the first Wal-Mart stores in Canada were established in former Woolco outlets, typically in dense and somewhat run-down suburban malls. These were cheaply built and badly aging facilities; the worst I can think of is the Lincoln Fields location, in the west end of Ottawa. It continues to operate as a Wal-Mart, and is perhaps the grubbiest, most badly designed and unpleasant example of the chain I've ever seen. A few years later, Wal-Mart started construction on their own buildings, at the edges of suburban expansion; these were a sharp contrast, being more or less bright, clean and inviting. I worked at the Kanata location for a few years in high school, and found it copacetic enough, if understandably awful in the manner of all dead-end retail jobs. We called Lincoln Fields "Shawshank." Even the company saw it as just that bad - more shoplifters, maintenance issues, and inventory movement problems than any other location, and mostly due to the inherent flaws of the old Woolco building. As a lowly drone, I of course was not privy to any detailed sales information regarding Lincoln Fields, but word on the grapevine suggested that it would not surprise me to find out it was less profitable than other locations in the region. (I don't remember it myself, but another former Wal-Martian insists that we were in fact told by management at one point that Lincoln Fields was the least profitable location in the country.) That is what's wrong with Mr. Moe's ("You wanna stop callin' me 'Mr. Moe?'") creative solution. Using already-existing buildings causes problems for a company with extensive experience in planning for traffic, inventory control, and population growth, problems that cut into the profit margin - and so force raising prices. Not that most opponents of Wal-Mart care about that, mind you, but it's necessary to understand why the company much prefers to build their own stores: It's cheaper in the long run. If it's cheaper in the long run, it'll serve the customers better. If it serves the customers faster, better and more cheaply, it's good for the economy - end of story.

From the shining dome of James Carville

Listen to that howling mob of blockheads in the street

While American media may have petulant, ignorant pundits of this calibre, no one forces you to listen or fund their efforts. NPR and Air America's hosts can whine and seethe all they like, but as at least AA is starting to learn, they still have to survive in a free market. Up here we're actually forced to support such things with our tax dollars. Don't like what the Mother Corporation says? Too bad. You're subsidizing them anyway.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Learning your place

"Some students and most of the faculty responded with a standing ovation." ...Some Hofstra professors said Doctorow was on target in discussing the war. "I thought this was a totally appropriate place to talk about politics because that's the world our students are entering," said sociology professor Cythnia Bogard. "I only wish their parents had provided them a better role model." Yes, how dare the majority of the student body loudly complain about a polemicist propagandizing to a captive audience? They need to learn to quietly accept The Objective Truth from their moral betters in the faculty. I attend, this being Ottawa and all, a very much left-leaning institution. For a while, I actually went to the trouble to document what I considered unacceptable bias in lectures - random anti-American comments not pertinent to the topic, intimations of fascism against conservatives of all stripes, overt statements of admiration for Mao and Trotsky, that kind of thing. I gave it up eventually; there was just too much - like when in the first lecture for American History 1776-1865, the instructor (a part-time prof, also some sort of civilian higher-up at National Defense), among other unkind statements, claimed he found the despicable Talking to Americans "a hoot." Would he find it quite as hilarious for an American news crew to trick ignorant Canadians into saying moronic things about American cultural minutiae, I wonder? How hard would it be to find a resident of Nunavut, say, who could be persuaded of some silly notion like the Whiskey Rebellion occurring in 1994? Or that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is an account of Tom Brokaw's vacation lodge? It's an awful premise, in that it relies on the natural goodwill of the public towards being interviewed on TV, only to cruelly trick them into humiliating themselves. (And what's the failure rate of Rick Mercer's little sideshow, I wonder? How many interviewees sense it's a setup, or call his bluff on the joke questions? We never see those takes, of course.) There are speakers and approaches to topics that I dislike, but when they're at least marginally relevant to the class material, I can't get too upset. This man admitted, point blank, in the first class, his contempt for most Americans, as though he was teaching a course on the Third Reich. If there'd been any way I could switch courses without having to seriously rearrange my schedule, I would have. Now I try to tune it out, and just make a short notation, the same every time, in the margin. I'm sure the precise nature of said notes are obvious. (I received an A for that particular class. He may have been a pedantic, overtly biased ass in lectures, but he was at least a fair marker.) (Via Instapundit.)

"By the way, that story I filed from Baghdad was all made up."

Well. I'm impressed. The season finale of The Simpsons. "Fraudcast News," managed to insult neither my intelligence nor my beliefs, which is quite a bit more than I expected after last week's travesty. There were one or two cheap shots - "Don't end up like me, Vote Republican" the worst of them - but also nice ridicule of media pundits, as in Milhouse's above admission of lacking journalistic ethics. ("I was actually in Basra," he adds. Hee.) The conclusion, however, sees - although Mr. Burns has control of all Springfield's media - the citizens of the town starting to publish their own newspapers, which I most definitely concur with as a Good Thing. (I'm guessing in another year or two, this would have been a call to blog, rather than self-publish on hard copy.) Though I'm sure the writers think of something else entirely than I do in their version of speaking truth to power. "A thousand freaks broadcasting their worthless opinions?" Yes. Yes, we will.

Birdhouse In Your Soul

This, plus this, equals...Idunno. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Tell Me Lies

Granted, it's from the Guardian, so I expect it to be purposefully obtuse and anti-war at all times, but this is dense, even so. To sum up: Coalition forces in Iraq will continue to have legal immunity from Iraqis after the June 30 handover. 'How is anyone in Iraq expected to bring a case in the British courts?' said Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East, who has been credited with uncovering many of the claims made against British troops. 'It is taking the idea of diplomatic immunity and applying it to 130,000 troops. There is a danger that you are actually going from immunity to being able to act with impunity.' Incorrect. There will still be a chain of command, one that frowns on and is more than willing to punish abuses of said immunity of its own accord. The reason why this is necessary is the same reason the US didn't join the International Criminal Court - showboating activist lawyers. Without these provisions, how long would it take some soulless leech to bring a class-action suit against George Bush or Tony Blair on behalf of Iraqis? Sure, it's not certain, and any such suit would be thrown out, but the phenomenon is a known one in the political fiction of "International Law." To pretend otherwise is dishonest and shoddy journalism.

A lotta locomotion, that's what we need

It's on. Finally. Though of course we've been having attack ads running for a week; I kept thinking I'd missed the call, or something. I was up on the Hill for a bit this afternoon. I was going to go grocery shopping (tomorrow being an annoyingly timed statutory holiday for my purposes) but the bus got stuck behind a broken-down taxi in front of the Langevin Block, i.e. across the street from Parliament Hill, where it's the normal weekend summer crowd plus a dozen campaign and media buses setting up for their own circus. So I went and hung around the press gaggle by the Tory buses for half an hour. Nothing happened, sadly. However, I do have to critique the particular photo of Stephen Harper they've used for the vinyl appliques on the buses. It's creepy. Really creepy. Harper looks fine on video, for some reason, but always seems to be badly lit in stills, and tends to look somewhere between deranged and megalomaniacal. This is, as it's said, not good.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Fool's Paradise

What happens when the Toronto Star has to choose between the platitudes of feminism and multiculturalism? They actually come up with a decent bit of reporting, on the truly disturbing creep of sharia law into the civilized world. I am impressed, but unnerved by the content. This is a problem. You want to immigrate to Canada? Fine. Leave your public stonings, beheadings, and beatings behind. They aren't welcome here. But, of course, the problem is that they are. An exceptionally liberal Liberal immigration policy refuses to make value judgments about potential immigrants, and makes claiming refugee status all too easy. Canada is the world's mark, and a ruling party become increasingly dependent on the support of ethnic communities only exacerbates the problem. They just can't imagine any danger in the pandering that allows such a barbaric legal code outside the law of the land. We're going to pay for it, sooner or later. (Via LGF.)

Clang clang, whoops, too late

Sign of the Times

From "The Paper's Papers," by Richard F. Shepard, p. 18: Upon all topics, - Political, Social, Moral and Religious, - we intend that the paper shall speak for itself; and we only ask that it may be judged accordingly. We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good; and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment, and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in society is either exactly right, or exactly wrong; what is good we desire to preserve and improve; what is evil, to exterminate, or reform....We do not mean to write as if we were in a passion, unless that shall really be the case and we shall make it a point to get into a passion as rarely as possible. The source of this eloquent statement of journalistic principles? The first issue of The New-York Daily Times, September 18, 1851. The objectivity of the current incarnation of the Times has been called into question repeatedly over the past few years, and rightly so - could Pinch Sulzberger (who, whenever any eventual TV movie is made about the Jayson Blair scandal, really needs to be played by Vincent D'Onofrio) claim the paper is living up to any part of this manifesto? Would the current New York Times actually deign to suggest that they might espouse conservative thoughts, when beneficial to the public good? Can some of the more easily excited columnists ever be said to not be 'in a passion' over something petty? In Citizen Kane, it took Jed Leland to remind Kane how his megalomania had veered his once-proud newspaper away from its founding statement of principles. I say we look into raising Joseph Cotten as some sort of zombie, and sic'ing him on the editorial board. It's the only way to be sure.

What power is

It's old news now (and apparently removed from their site), since the Prime Minister's Office issued the official press release for the election being called tomorrow, but this morning's headline in the Ottawa Citizen was "Liberals Weigh Delaying Election." It was mostly idle speculation anyway. There's been too much momentum building up in the past few weeks to just go and get thing over with; if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly, and all that. But even the suggestion thereof, even the speculation about the possibility, is representative of what infuriates me so in the Westminster parliamentary model. "Whoops, sorry, guys - our provincial party in the most populous province went and screwed up with a budget so egregious as to be illegal. Um, can we put off the election until this all blows over?" It's not even as though fixed election dates are incompatible with the Canadian parliamentary model; the Liberal Party in BC certainly managed to push it through under Premier Gordon "Make that Mai Tai to go" Campbell. However, the federal Liberals know all too well that their overlong stay in power has only been from judicious choice of election dates, and rejected a similar scheme last month. Moreover, it also has to involve the Governor-General; as the Queen's official representative, only she can actually drop the writ of election. So, to recap: Election called whenever the party in power feels like it? Check. Superfluous involvement of an aging literati doyenne in the process? Check. Political paralysis in the meantime, while everyone holds their breath waiting for the call? Check. Is it any wonder I prefer the eight-month campaign of American elections? If nothing else, at least they have a fixed timetable...

Friday, May 21, 2004

If You Had Wings

But do they at least remain 0/2 artifact creatures?

I'm Mister Icicle, I'm Mister Ten Below*

Oh. Oh. Beautiful. My air conditioning has finally been fixed, after nearly a month of unseasonably warm and exceptionally humid spring weather. I'll be able to sleep again without having to have two fans turned on my bed full-blast. I can feel the excess snark just melting away... *Alternate title lyrics: "Sing, ye cool, cool considerate men..."

When I was four, there was a hurricane in Kingston Town

I've been using iTunes since it was launched for Windows several months ago - or, as the 'date added' stamp of most of my library tells me, since 9:10 pm on October 16, 2003. At first I tried it just because it seemed, well, pretty and user-friendly, in that way that Mac applications tend to be. I was suitably impressed by centralized indexing, when I found I had six separate copies of Les Baxter's "Voodoo Dreams" and three of the Penguins' "Earth Angel," in separate folders, for some reason. But that was that, I thought; it was nice, but seemed a bit sluggish compared to the uber-tiny WinAmp. And then, over a period of about a week, I started noticing all the nifterrific special features, particularly ratings and smart playlists. By an ICQ log, I see that by October 22 I had remarked it was impressive enouch to warrant a place of honour in my Quicklaunch bar. What I enjoy more than anything about iTunes is the way it's changed my music listening habits. Using WinAmp, manually creating playlists and navigating through Windows to get to files, I'd often forget I had certain things, and so would never listen to them. Then I'd find those files later, when I didn't feel like listening to them, and resented the space they took up, yet didn't want to delete them. In iTunes, I have a smart playlist, "Not Recently Played" - everything rated over two stars, played at least once, but not played in the last three weeks. I've now reached the point where it's become a naturally cycling phenomenon, to hear certain songs just about once every three weeks on a random playlist, and I love that. It makes me feel like I've taken control of the experience. The same applies to the separate smart playlists of "Unheard" for each star level, so I don't forget to listen to (at some point) those things I know I enjoy enough to have rated but wouldn't immediately think of bothering with. Ditto the time and date information iTunes keeps, in general; I can micromanage what doesn't fall into the smart playlists far more efficiently. The effect of all this is to make my listening habits become ruthlessly efficient; it's not just a semi-leisure activity, a background soundtrack for work or exercise, but a sort of game: How many songs of a library that adds up to seven and a half days in length can I manage to listen to during any given period? Do I feel like getting new songs into the Most Often Played list? It's even easier, too, with an iPod, which may in fact be the most beautiful piece of hardware I've ever owned. (John Quincy iPod, to my computer. Let it not be said I have a one-tracked mind in naming computing devices.*) And that's why I love the combination so much. I've gone through other variations on the portable music experience - normal CD player, MP3 CD player, flash memory MP3 player, MiniDisc (Lordy, what was I thinking?) player - and none let me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something with each song. None have let listening to music become so effortlessly enjoyable. Not that it's particularly astounding by this point, but Kudos to Apple from a long-time PC user. *My primary computer's name on my home network: USS Defiant. Laptop: USS Sao Paulo. TiVo-esque PVR/server: USS Excelsior. PDA: USS Yangtzee Kiang. Roommate's computer I set up: USS Equinox. Yes, I'm a huge geek.

The battle may be bloody

But that kind of works for me. It's looking more and more like the Conservatives actually have a chance. Ontario has historically tended not to let the same party have power both provincially and federally, so that's a good sign, especially given the very appropriate discontent over the provincial Liberals' budget of tax hikes. Increasing discontent with Paul Martin, specifically, is a good sign; he's less earned the job than waited around his whole life to settle into it - sort of like Bob Dole or John Kerry, he really just expects to be the boss because, well, it's his turn. However, I have one major reservation that's bothering me more and more now: a minority government. I work for an MP's office, for a member of a party I do not support. (It's a long story; draw your own conclusions.) In a minority situation, this MP would possibly be part of a coalition government - and if so, given the honourable member's record specifically, might even be invited to a cabinet position. This worries me, given my concerns about the party's platform. I originally took the job because it wasn't for a government MP, not for a Liberal; in a way, any opposition will do sometimes. But, on the other hand, I'm no stranger to the principle of enlightened self-interest; I've got to save my phony-baloney job if I can. So I'll give it my all, hoping that at least this particular riding will re-elect their incumbent, despite hoping for a surprise Conservative upset. Though I almost don't, because that would put me in an even more tricky ethical position. The politics played in your own head are the worst kind, y'know?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Projecting

Hee. I have to confess: At one point I actually liked Michael Moore. Back in the days of TV Nation, before he completely imploded with sheer impotent rage - although, I must admit, I don't remember much of the show. It was probably as egregiously one-sided and awful as anything he's made recently, but in 1994 what politics I had were determined largely by what seemed entertaining, and he certainly did that to a point. I was young and stupid; wasn't everyone, once? I also recall being mildly entertained way back when by Canadian Bacon - though not at all, when forced to watch it in high school Politics class. I pushed for Bob Roberts as a token pointless movie. It may be Republican-bashing tripe, as most of the class would have favoured, but it's at least more sharply written tripe than Moore's clumsy attempt at satire. Somewhat more of an irritant: Being required to watch Bowling For Columbine for a criminology class last year. I think the prof was trying to make a point about media bias, and the non-documentary nature of such blatantly biased opinion pieces. If he was, it sailed right over the heads of most of the class, who cheered in the theatre. The irony of agitprop is lost on an audience wholeheartedly agreeing with it.

Careful with that line, it's an antique

The provincial tax hikes after winning a campaign on explicit promises to do exactly the opposite are bad enough. But I like to think that yet another inappropriate use of "Just watch me" is the real kick in the head.

It could be worse

Well, it could be, at least as libraries go. There's atrocious postmodernism, and then there's atrocious postmodernism. (Via Lileks.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Think of the things you could do with that money; choose any charity, give to the poor

FOAD, you old fool. This only proves once and for all that Joe Clark has never been conservative, just an opportunistic party hack who found blue a slightly more fetching choice of wardrobe. I only wish I'd known to say that to his face on one of the two occasions I've met him.

He also taw a puddy tat! He did! he did!

Yeah, it's election time all right. Tonight's Enterprise just had a Liberal attack ad using supposedly damning quotations from Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party. Culminating with, after familiar quotations about the government using social services and economic statistics to avoid confronting the fact that Canada has become a second-rate power, "He really did. He called Canada second-rate."
Mommmmmmmy! Stevie called me second-rate! Make him stop! There's more, at Stephen Harper Said. The left likes to crow about the evils of McCarthyism. Will they condemn this recklessly unsubtle attempt to paint Stephen Harper as "un-Canadian?" Or will they join in? Update: My mistake of the site's URL fixed, plus a screencap. Another thought: This could help. These aren't particularly groundbreaking statements, here. All of these ads make me want to vote Conservative even more, because they remind me that at least one of the parties actually stands for something.

Trudeau's only saving grace

I'dd add that the FLQ also serves as a reminder to the jaw-flapping media elites that some loathesome and murderous Canadians were bloody well engaged in international terrorism long before Ahmed Khadr. Maybe in another thirty years, the media will admit, if perhaps quietly, that he's a terrorist too?

I see the fireworks; I see the pageant and pomp and parade

Brian Tiemann: I mean, I'm quite convinced that the American system of government and society is the best yet developed by mankind, and I don't think that my being born here has much to do with that; I like to think that if I were born elsewhere, I'd come to the same conclusion, if I started from the same premise of 'freedom is good' and 'man has basic human rights'. But would I? On sober reflection, the answer isn't so clear. I was. I did. I'm one of those 'Americans in spirit' that SDB talks about. But I agree that it's definitely a matter of values and ideology, and tribalism and nationalism hinder acceptance of the obvious. To have reached the conclusions I have (see my profile), I've had to wholly reject the notion of Canadian cultural superiority - which is easy enough, if you ignore the Liberal Party's many various propaganda arms. Canada is a nation founded by losers - French defeated by the British in the Seven Years War, and Loyalists who fled the Thirteen Colonies when the Revolutionary War started. (I unfortunately count one of my ancestors, a cowardly cordwainer from upstate New York, among these.) One result of this has been a fuzzy, soft-focus feel-good version of officially sanctioned Canadian history; we're not a nation of losers, we're a nation of compromisers, and other such bunkum. Any remaining positive social values inherited from Britain have long since been papered over by the Cult of Multiculturalism. There's no pride in the actually notable and respectable achievements of Canada any more, like overwhelmingly disproportionate participation (by population) in both world wars - unless it's to make the jab that both Wilson and FDR stayed neutral too long. Too many Canadians have been conditioned for far too long (predominantly by the CBC, but I blame scary blowhard nationalists on the far right too) to think that Weakness is Strength (see former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy's book for as rational an explanation one is ever likely to find about "Soft Power"), and all those other vacuous sentiments that Big Brother shares with Joe Canadian. I have to confess, I did actually buy into this contemptible spin until the age of 14 or so. To paint a picture: I used to loathe Louis Riel for being a traitorous rabble-rouser; I agreed entirely with Macdonald's decision to hang him, "though every dog in Quebec may bark in his favour." However, I then started reading history. I found the founding fathers fascinating characters, striking an inspiring balance between idealism and realism, remaking the world as a better place; as my blog's title suggests, I maintain great admiration for, in particular, John Adams. Now, I wish Riel had done the job properly and won the Northwest Rebellion, because the odds are good that part or all of what is now Manitoba would have become American territory, and it probably would have benefited Manitobans far more than Canadian government has since Confederation. Of course, I don't love America blindly; I am aware of its failings throughout history. Yet the United States has rarely been any less free, benevolent, and fair compared to any of its neighbours, allies or enemies at any particular point in history, and has consistently made an effort to improve on the lot. This is why I want to be American. This is why I plan to emigrate after I finish university, including law school. (I may be against the principle of post-secondary education being governmentally subsidized to the large degree it is here, but I'm not stupid. I'll take the graduate degree, thankyouverymuch, and then become part of the Brain Drain problem.) This is why Old Glory hangs in a place of pride on my tiny apartment's living room wall. I believe in pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, in rugged individualism and taking personal responsibility for one's own success. I believe in free minds and free markets. I believe in the American ideal. And I'll be joining the party soon enough.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Ay Dios Mio!

Sweet Zombie Jesus, let Armisen get it. That'll necessitate promoting him to main cast, which should accelerate the pace at which SNL becomes the Armisen & Forte Smile-Time Variety Hour. Which is, of course, our fondest wish.

When I posted this, "proust muppet" only returned 588 results in Google

Since I was very young, I've had an unhealthy fascination with the regional differences in television. At the age of 5 or so, I remember it galled me to vacation in the US and see - wonder of wonders - an entire cable channel dedicated to what I wanted to see: cartoons. Or, at least, mainly cartoons. Nickelodeon blew my tiny mind; I can still remember their mid-80s station ID jingles. ("Stick-a-stick stick, a-stick with Nick, Nick-el-o-de-onnnn!") Given this, it was something of a nine days' wonder for me when YTV was launched. I remember fondly the first full summer it was on the air, watching Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Muppet Show every night, just as the dusk began to fall; I'm pretty sure, though not positive, that they ran at 6:30 and 7:00 respectively. Laugh if you must, but a warm summer night and Kermit the Frog are my version of Proust's madelines; all the memories come rushing back: the boredom, the periodic excitement, the simple joys of childhood, the days before I couldn't stand being outside for more than twenty minutes at a stretch for fear of bugs. A few weeks ago, the Ottawa cable lineup was slightly rejiggered to accomodate a new addition - the regional Southern Ontario channel CTS. Their mission statement is admittedly a bit unnervingly evangelical, but for two reasons I can forgive that. The first is the daytime schedule of delightfully awful sitcoms from the 70s and 80s, mostly of the sort that I imagine aren't terribly expensive to acquire in syndication. The second is The Muppet Show - at 7:00. To make it even better, the shuffle pushed YTV to channel 65 on the local Rogers lineup, giving CTS the slot of channel 25. I can watch The Muppet Show, at 7:00pm nightly, on channel 25, as I did way back in 1989. I enjoy that, I do.

"Scant Evidence"

The Globe and Mail spins the typical Liberal Party line on the sarin find. Could it prove American concerns about WMDs (and, strangely enough, Canadian ones - until recently - and then, again) correct? Well; just be sure to clutter up the issue with interjections from naysayers, as well as pooh-poohing the notion that it could possibly be a threat. Sure, it may be WMDs, but it doesn't really count, does it? Moreover, what bothers me about treating Hans Blix' word as holy writ in the inspections business is his obvious slant. He's said repeatedly, during his inspections and afterwards, that he didn't want to be the one to generate a casus belli by finding anything untoward in the old regime. And, coincidentally enough, he now has a book out. I am interested in what he has to say, to be sure; by no means would I dismiss his credibility outright simply for being a European UN wonk. But it needs to be mentioned. No one is neutral and objective, least of all the UN.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The stakes we are gambling are frighteningly high

One of my favourite sub-genres to read - not high literature, but one I find largely entertaining and thought-provoking - is that of alternate history. It's an utterly specious means of argument, of course; how could one ever be certain that any particular change to history would have caused subsequent predictable results? If there'd been no Hitler, Germany still might have gone to war for lebensraum under another embittered, mad and anti-semitic WWI veteran. If the Battle of Gettysburg hadn't been an utter rout for the Confederacy, who's to say the next battle wouldn't have been, in its place? Yet the fact remains that there are certain historical junctures that seem to bear the weight of the world, and decide the future. Alternate history loosely plays with those premises, usually avoiding the petty details of what and why particular seemingly-unrelated things might or might not be affected. Instapundit had a thought on perception. Over the weekend, though, a reader sent the best argument I've heard so far for putting Kerry in charge: Overnight, the press coverage would shift from negative to positive, good news from Iraq would be widely reported, misbehavior by American troops would be put in its proper context, and so on. This would, at a stroke, deprive the terrorists of their greatest asset. Sadly, I find this argument surprisingly compelling. . . . As do I, unfortunately. We're bearing down on one of those historical junctures right now, in the next six months. Fifty or a hundred years from now, there'll be textbooks written about what we consider current events. There'll also be alternate history. Which one will be which is largely being determined right now, by those with petty partisan biases. Which path we take is being steered by blind, equivocating fools. I hope that the alternate history of the far-off future is of the Man in the High Castle or the In the Presence of Mine Enemies variety. I really do. The alternative is too disturbing to imagine.

This just in

The French love Michael Moore. But especially so when he feeds them the anti-American agitprop they love. Imagine that. Drudge has additional details: "Controversial scene in film shows wounded American GI in Iraq talking about how Democrats must win election." Well? So what? It's not as though joining the GOP is a prerequisite to be in the army. Of course there are Democrats serving, brave ones doing their duty honourably. But what are the chances that a single opinion will be presented by media spin as indicative of a growing trend (they love that phrase), while a single beheading or a single sarin payload means nothing? Moreover - how many soldiers in Iraq support the president? How many will vote for him, regardless? The questions Moore fails to ask are just as important.

Squiggy Squared

Xeni of the often-abominable yet occasionally-neat BoingBoing seems not to be aware of the other times Michael McKean and David Lander have worked together in the Lenny & Squiggy mold, such as, curiously, the Disney TV animated series 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Cubs.

Damned if you do...

...Etc etc etc. There's no way to win an argument with the most rabid of antiwar types; if normal human logic suggests their arguments are incorrect, then there's a conspiracy. There's always a conspiracy.

Context

In the current warblogger backlash against Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias' clueless hit piece, I thought I'd share a related story. Every time I read Ms. Zerbisias' paper, I regret it afterwards; its anti-American editorial bias is nastier and more obvious than even the CBC's, and that's saying something. Until recently, I was working at Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, and on the way out one night a few weeks ago, I scrounged a stray copy of the Star while running to catch the bus. Slant in the editorial pages is fine by me, as long as it's acknowledged; to pretend objectivity there is despicable. However, what struck and annoyed me was a particular piece in the entertainment section, a review of Stephen Sondheim's play Assassins. The relevant graf: "Every now and then the country goes a little wrong," sings the Balladeer early in the show, and that's a message the United States never likes to hear. Perhaps. But I've heard the original cast recording. What Mr. Ouzonian isn't telling us is the Balladeer's next line, which is "Every now and then some madman's bound to come along," a direct reference to John Wilkes Booth in that particular scene, as well as all the other murderous loons who had such a grudge against the United States that they figured assassinating the president would be a jim-dandy way to solve it. Have we forgotten what the likely target of Flight 93 was? Ouzonian couldn't miss the point more if he was trying. It's all interpretation of lyrics, mind you, but it seems to me that the appropriate interpretation under the circumstances isn't the one that sees proactive foreign policy after terrorist ambush as "going a little wrong." Just in case you missed the point, there's also this charming epigraph closing the column: "Hurts a while, but soon the country's back where it belongs," sings the Balladeer and you wish he were telling the truth even though, in your heart, you know it isn't so. I know what Ouzonian is implying. I also suggest that he continues to miss the point entirely. But, then, reasoned discourse has never been a feature of the Star when there's a cheap shot against Damnyankees to be made, mm?

Carnegie spins in his grave


The main branch of the Ottawa Public Library is an unlovely concrete fortress at the corner of Metcalfe and Laurier. The city had the misfortune to need to move from the Andrew Carnegie-bankrolled neoclassical original library building during a period that favoured the movement known as brutalism. This was one of those clever-dick styles held up by artistes that sought to reject decoration, colour, or even shape, in favour of broad featureless slabs of rough cement. The effect is a depressing one; it's like walking into a Soviet apartment block. (A cramped Soviet apartment block.) It, in fact, is part of the Sir Richard Scott building, a federal government office tower. This makes the utter awfulness of the design understandable, if not excusable. I can't imagine how workers in that half of the building must feel about it. I managed to get lost in the interlinking access stairwells once, and found a creepy little morlock hole of a smoke shop in the basement; I've never seen it again, although to be fair, I wouldn't really want to. Some recent renovations have helped overcome some of the most user-unfriendly quirks of design, such as a circulation desk on an awkwardly raised dais between floors, and a sunken main floor; however, others remain, like the single escalator. (Up only, if you please. Want to use the single elevator? Good luck finding it. The utility core is pressed up against a back wall behind different-looking corners on each floor.) The most prominently redeeming features are the wide-open atrium, which serves as a welcome antidote to the claustrophobic and grubby stacks, and the large stained-glass window on the fourth floor scavenged from the original building. That aside, I have fond memories of the place. I've always been a voracious reader, and when I was younger I made a point of seeking out and visiting new libraries whenever possible when traveling. How many people would, on a three-day visit to San Antonio, TX, spend an hour seeing the Alamo and half a day at the city library? I was always hungry for new non-fiction, new works of history and argument; thankfully, the web now serves that purpose, and I no longer have to set aside time to hang around the library. But hang around I did, in my youth, usually in one of the dimmer corners. I'd read the reference section. I'd read old newspapers on microfiche. I'd beg and plead with my parents to let me visit the main library on weekends - no small inconvenience, when living 50 km beyond city limits. The proximity of the library was one of the reasons I looked for downtown housing when leaving home for university. Yet still, I have a definitely ambivalent relationship with the building; it's cramped and unpleasant in all sorts of ways, and will remain so, no matter what cosmetic renovations they make. I can't recapture the (in retrospect, misplaced) joy of leafing through a foot-high stack of books while sitting in a battered, musty-smelling pleather chair under a pointless concrete overhang, if only because the location of that particular overhang is now the site of a coffee bar. The National Capital Commission has for several years now been pushing for a plan to demolish most of Metcalfe down to the Queensway to create a grand Parisian-style boulevard leading to Parliament Hill, against the city's wishes. Should the NCC ever get their way, the Sir Richard Scott building will surely be among the first to fall. It won't bother me in the slightest.

Desperation and the Weak Horse

This is a sign of desperation on the part of the remaining dead-enders in Iraq. The Syrian, Saudi and Palestinian guerillas, the assorted terrorists still in the country, fear a democratic Iraqi government so much they'll try to stop it any way they can. They can't create, so they'll destroy the works of others out of sheer spite. I think this was another self-inflicted wound on their part, however. Is this likely to change any part of the transition to self-rule? Not likely. Will it cause Iraqis to resent other Arab nations and factions fighting a proxy war on their soil? I hope so. Will this be spun by the media as anything less than "more retaliation for Abu Ghraib?" Of course not.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Perspective

Tonight's episode of The Simpsons was more disappointing by far than I expected. To sum up: Bart accidentally moons the flag, the entire family are treated as un-American pariahs, and eventually sent to a "Re-education camp" (Alcatraz, interestingly, which hasn't been a prison since 1963) which also houses such violators of the "Government Knows What's Best Act" as Michael Moore, the Dixie Chicks, Al Franken, Bill Clinton (!) and a man who refuses to say Californian wine is superior to imports. In a tellingly badly timed moment for the episode's airing, the "Anti-American Simpsons" become a cause celebré in the Arab world, with en-burqa-ed women triumphantly holding up photos of Homer in a riot during a newscast. To say this is somewhat paranoid hyperbole is an understatement. Though the politics of the writers and producers have always been evident, they've never before tipped their hand so far. It's pandering, and fairly repellent pandering at that. Would the same writers willing to denounce prison camps dedicated to political indoctrination in a fictional depiction of the United States have the same opinions of such camps in Mao's China, or Castro's Cuba? It's easy to stand up against a straw man. It does remind me of something else, however. Of late I've been reading anthologies of short sci-fi. In every volume, there's one or two pieces with the central premise of America having become a theocratic police state. There's rarely any actual plot; most are just an elaborately masturbatory scenario of righteous leftist (is that an oxymoron?) indignation at the horrible repression. There's little doubt that the authors suspect conservatives to be latent fascists at heart. For some reason such stories appear more frequently in the annual anthologies dating from periods of Republican administrations. I can understand that. There are some people who see tyranny around every corner, except perhaps for corners that look onto North Korea or Iran. But they've long been a fringe element of the literary world, and expected. Could anyone imagine an episode of The Simpsons so pointedly political back in the early seasons? 1990's "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish" was a subtle and clever indictment of media-centric politics in general. Yet it managed to avoid being mean-spirited and petty, to say nothing of its failure to match tonight's excursion into outright paranoid fantasy. Clearly the writers believe it is necessary to make a Profound Statement, using what they likely believe to have been outrageously clever satire to illustrate the argument, in no uncertain terms, that BUSH=HITLER. In comparison, I've recently viewed some WWII shorts - Der Fuhrer's Face, The Ducktators, and Herr Meets Hare, among others. I had known of their existence, a priori. I had known that they were rarely aired and quietly buried, due to their explicit handing of the wartime subject matter. Yet it was still a shock to see animated satire that was so firmly taking a side, acknowledging a war as well as the existence of a moral high ground in fighting it. There was no moral equivocation, (obviously) no po-mo snark about the self-evident evil of America. The only modern counterpart I can think of is South Park, which has had several brilliant episodes on current events in the same vein; see, for example, "A Ladder to Heaven"'s take on pre-war UN inspections in Iraq. However, South Park serves a far more niche audience; it's still on a basic cable channel, not a broadcast network. It doesn't have the same captive audience, and so enages in wacky fantastic hoo-hah in a way that's certain to offend someone on a regular basis. In contrast, The Simpsons is rarely so overtly political. Moreover, it even more rarely depicts such outright fantasy. Or, at least, it actually does depict it as fantasy, rather than the 'real world.' For this kind of episode to have made it to air suggests that the writers are deeply worried. They've become the same self-righteous dissenters as those aforementioned sci-fi authors, imagining a world where their beliefs are outlawed; it would, after all, confirm their worst expectations. All I can hope is that the stunningly deluded and ugly plot of "The Bart-Mangled Banner" went far enough in its fantasizing that it might cause others to gather the same thoughts on reality, fantasy, and perspective.