Thursday, March 31, 2005

Is, was, and ever shall be

Drudge reports Jane Fonda will reveal on this week's 60 Minutes that she is, in fact, still guilty of treason, and still an all-around monster. I guess it doesn't hurt to have that periodically re-confirmed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Let me draw the latest score to your attention

Busy busy busy lately - finishing up the last of my term papers, as well as working. The coincidence of those due dates with the printer's deadlines is not fun at all. I don't like to get too far down that most-recent-at-the-top BloggingTories blogroll, however, so apropos of nothing, I submit to you my term paper for Russia in Transition, comparing two major incidences of ham-handed Russian interference in the tiny nation of Moldova. (Sadly, I really don't have the time to properly hyperlink footnotes or their contents. Most of the news links are dead now anyway, though, and few of the academic journals are freely available online to non-academic users, so no big loss.) In related news, Prof. Clayton has promised a real live Russian junior diplomat to visit and answer questions from the class next Wednesday. What to ambush him with, what to ambush him with...
Moldova, as a former Soviet republic, continues to suffer from the exercise of Russian influence in domestic politics. After two centuries of first imperial Russian and then Soviet rule, the Russian habit of assuming the nation to be (as part of the traditionally subjugated “Near Abroad”) a legitimate sphere of influence has continued. This has become demonstrably evident in two contrasting domestic concerns in the nation and former Soviet republic of Moldova: the continued declaration of sovereignty by the Russian-backed breakaway region of Trans-Dniestria, and the political dynamics of Moldova’s 2005 parliamentary elections. What purpose does it serve for Russia to so fiercely defend a rump state, and what seems probable to be the eventual goal of doing so? What will be the eventual result of Moldova’s decisions in this year’s elections, and how were they influenced by recent events in other former Soviet republics? These and other factors are addressed in recent Russian behaviour towards one of its smaller neighbours. Moldova seems a likely model for how Russia does, in fact, seek to re-establish control over the “Near Abroad.” The Trans-Dniestrian region of Moldova (also translated as Transnistria), on the east, Russian-facing bank of that river’s course through the borders of the country, is home to the breakaway Trans-Dniestr Republic. Declared in 1990, as a constituent part of the USSR, the ‘Trans-Dniestrian Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic’ largely came into being as a backlash against Moldovan language laws, which in 1989 made Moldovan the sole state language; Russian-speaking Moldovans perceived this as a threat, fearing marginalization, the loss of access to government, and diminishing job opportunities. (1) This reliance on identity politics and ethnicity to differentiate Moldova from the traditional Soviet socio-political outlook (and to demonstrate similarities, cultural and linguistic, with neighbouring Romania) was to become, though not uncommon in any of the post-Soviet states, a defining aspect of Moldovan life, occupying a significant role in the public consciousness. (2) It has even been suggested that Moldovans share a latent xenophobic linguistic nationalism with closely-related ethnic Romanians, (3) while others argue that linguistic minorities remained adequately protected even under the final form of the language law. (4) In either case, the reasons for this Moldovan policy are largely historical in nature, as Pal Kolsto explains: Russians have moved outwards to the periphery for several hundred years…with the exception of cities where a special residence permit was required, the entire Soviet Union functioned as one single labour market. Borders between the republics did not constitute a strong psychological or practical barrier against migration. […] The central ministries in Moscow often preferred to employ skilled Russian labour to build up new industries in the outskirts of the Union, rather than make the effort to train new, local cadres. (5) If not actually oppressed, the ethnic majorities of the former Soviet republics were at least marginalized in their own home regions, subjected to a form of ethnic chauvinism that reserved the best jobs for Russians. Part of this policy can likely be explained as efficiency, where it may in fact make more sense to relocate skilled workers to less-developed areas than to establish the infrastructure for local training. However, this explanation only serves to heighten the supposition that Russians, even throughout the Soviet period, continued to see the non-ethnically Russian subjects of the USSR as unskilled labour, fundamentally rural, to be ignored or exploited. The Soviet Union, under this calculus, was (even more than would otherwise necessarily be obvious) clearly a continuation of the Russian Empire, extracting natural resources from a subject region at the not entirely metaphorical gunpoint. Indeed, ethnic Russians served an explicit function of both propagandists and administrators in the Soviet form of the Russian state: During the Brezhnev era the Russian diaspora was generally seen as part of the 'glue' that kept the multinational Soviet state together…[justifying itself] as an ethnically alien element in the non-Russian republics by adopting an 'internationalist' self-understanding, claiming that in a 'mature socialist society' ethnic differences no longer mattered. (6) This permanently privileged minority thus had much to lose, and little to gain, from any attempts to reform the Soviet socio-political system. The threat to this group in the Moldovan context came during the period of perestroika, beginning in 1988, when informal groups of Moldavan academics and cultural elites began to agitate against the republic’s long-established Communist Party-ordered imposition of Cyrillic script and denial of linguistic ties between the Moldavan and Romanian languages. This proved to be a crucial turning point, prompting the Moldavan legislature (small and unrepresentative though it was) to seize initiative and formally begin the process of moving away from Moscow, via language laws. (7) Given this, and the sizable numbers of ethnic Russians involved (some 17% of all ethnic Russians lived outside the borders of Russia, and yet largely within the former borders of the USSR and its satellite states during the early 1990s (8)), it is thus not entirely surprising that Russian policies would favour subsidizing and protecting what remaining power could be reserved for such minorities, stranded in the suddenly hostile abroad as the empire collapsed for a second time. Such efforts – at least rational, in the context of national pride and credibility in areas considered anciently Russian, such as Ukraine or Belarus – do not seem to have been the case in Moldova, however. Yet there was a sound strategic reason for doing so in this case, in the form of heavy industry; history and ideology were notably absent from this calculation. Those skilled workers and their families imported from Russia throughout the Soviet period remained, by perestroika, a majority ethnic bloc in the heavily industrialized Trans-Dniestr region. (9) More than 560,000 ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, respectively composing 23% and 26% of the total population, were recorded by a 1989 census as resident in the area. (10) When Moldova (in the aftermath of the August 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev) moved to separate itself further from Soviet authority, establishing the instruments of a national government, Soviet hard-liners in Trans-Dniestria began what has been called a “creeping putsch” of militia violence that eventually escalated into ethnic war by the spring of 1992. (11) Their stated opposition to Moldovan authority was officially in regards to the threat of Moldovan unification with Romania, an unusual justification, given that at the time only 7-10% of Moldovans were seen to actually favour such a radical policy. (12) Rather, it remains far more likely that the lesser (if valid) grievance against language laws was played up into an allegedly more immediate and threatening issue as a ruse and casus belli, in order to maintain control over valuable Moldovan heavy industry, both for its own sake as well as for the bonus of denying that complex infrastructure to Moldova. Also significant was the ideological component for many extremely conservative Russians wistful for the glory days of communism, who portrayed the Trans-Dniestrian breakaway republic as the “last bastion of healthy communist order…as a heroic community of besieged ethnic brethren, or both.” (13) Indeed, in a newspaper interview published in May 1992, one General Makashov called on Moscow to defend ethnic Russians in the region, saying "If we are defeated here, we'll be defeated everywhere in the borderlands adjacent to great Russia." (14) This reflected the internal political order in Moldova, where the front lines, once war began, aptly demonstrated the immovable positions of both sides: An armored personnel carrier painted with the slogan “Death to the Fascists” in the Latin alphabet of the Romanian language and bearing the Moldovan tricolor marks the beginning of Moldovan-controlled territory. It is the twin of an APC on the separatist side, which reads, in Cyrillic Russian script, “Death to Romanians” and is draped with the old red-and-green flag of Soviet Moldavia… (15) The Russian-backed Trans-Dniestrian rebels (and their imperially-minded defenders in Russia proper) couched their arguments in the language of extreme ethnic nationalism, against the ‘Romanian’ Moldovans, while the Moldovans argued against the continued maintenance of communist dictatorship. With such irreconcilable skewed perceptions of reality (in fairness, far more grounded in facts on the Moldovan side), armed conflict seems to have been an inevitability. On March 29, 1992, shortly before full-scale war broke out (but significantly, during a month in which more than fifty had already been killed in minor skirmishes), Moldovan President Mircea Snegur remarked, "As God is my witness, I never wanted bloodshed, [but] the hour has come when we can no longer delay putting our own house in order in the way that we consider proper." (16) His words were to prove ironic, for in no way would events shortly thereafter settle the Trans-Dniestrian dispute. The Moldovan assault on Trans-Dniestrian forces was finally ordered under the mistaken assumptions that both the Russian 14th Army – headquartered in Moldovan territory as the Soviet 14th Army since 1956 – would be reluctant to “engage openly” on the Trans-Dniestrian side, as well as that Russian President Boris Yeltsin would attempt to restrain those ethnic Russians in Trans-Dniestria. (17) Russian forces claimed neutrality, (18) yet within a month of those May 1992 claims, 14th Army spokesmen were making specific threats against Moldovan forces, particularly Moldovan MiG fighter planes on reconnaissance missions, warning that any further flights would be shot down. (19) In what was surely a horrific realization for Moldovan leadership, the 14th Army became involved as both an extension of Russian foreign policy, as well as of its own motivations. Indeed, the 14th Army had become by late 1991, for the most part, the National Guard of Trans-Dniestria, though still seeking to maintain the fiction that the two forces were separate entities. Russian spokesmen, attempting to officially distance Moscow from the conflict, pointed out that many 14th Army conscripts were local to the region. (20) Lieut. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, the army’s commander throughout the Moldavan conflict, spoke for his men regarding any possible withdrawal: “They were born here…they will stay and call themselves the ‘National Liberation Army.’” (21) The 14th Army, in the guise of Trans-Dniestrian forces, even intervened in Moldova’s 1991 elections, intimidating entire villages and dropping anti- Chişinău pamphlets by helicopter. (22) However, largely local or not, the 14th Army did and still does remain officially Russian, with the attendant issues of poor Russian credibility their continued presence in what is internationally recognized to remain Moldovan sovereign territory implies. Though peace was finally made between all three parties – Russia, Moldova, and Trans-Dniestria – in 1997, Russian forces still number some 1,200 in the region as of 2005. (23) This remains the case despite an agreement signed in 1994 to withdraw all Russian troops in a phased three-year period, (24) as well as 1999 and 2003 reiterations of that promise. “This year,” wrote one reporter in 2004, “with the troops still there, Russian officials are stating they will remain indefinitely – and they are blocking any mention of their earlier promises from being included in any [OSCE organizational] agenda or conference declarations.” (25) As Lieut. Gen. Lebed ominously warned in 1994, “This army has been here for 50 years…it’s very important not to be in a hurry to leave.” (26) Yet, more and more every year does this army – still present, despite its characteristic wartime commander’s reassignment and 2002 death – appear to be nothing more than an occupying force maintaining a Russian toehold in a strategically important area. Moldova today remains a divided nation, Russian troops and organizational infrastructure still present. However, the issue of Trans-Dniestria would eventually prove to be one of the later factors tipping the Russian hand concerning new imperial designs for the former Soviet republics and Moldova in particular, something most evident during the period of 2001-2005, between two election cycles. In 2001, Moldova would elect a communist parliament and president, campaigning on the basis of repairing relations with Moscow. President Vladimir Voronin and his party nonetheless fell out of favour with their Russian counterparts over precisely the issue of Trans-Dniestria. In 2003, Moldova rejected a Russian-negotiated plan of constitutional change that would have given Trans-Dniestria considerable local autonomy in an asymmetrically federal Moldova, as well as permitting the Russian 14th Army (repurposed as “peacekeepers”) to remain until 2020. (27) This plan may have had some merit; the uncertain status of the Trans-Dniestr Republic’s sovereignty in practical effect gave it transparent borders, making the region’s towns ideal and highly dangerous loci for smugglers in black-market Soviet-made arms. (28) In theory, unitary Moldovan control (albeit with the limitations of federal sharing of authority) over borders could be re-established, ending this trade, a new priority given the danger of such rogue states arming terrorists of all sorts, to say nothing of the closure possibly granted a still-tenuous peace with a still-largely-unrecognized national entity. In practice, however, the past Russian failure to adhere to agreements concerning Russian forces and influence in Moldova seems to have made Moldovan leadership conclude that a benevolent and beneficial relationship with a yet-Russian-backed (but officially Moldovan) Trans-Dniestria was an unlikely proposition. The effect of this falling-out for 2005’s election was an even wider split between Moldovan communists and the government of Vladimir Putin. State-controlled Russian media have accused Voronin of corruption, (29) ironic given the widespread corruption and personal despotic rule of the Russian-backed Trans-Dniestrian government. (30) The Russian Duma has also threatened to impose economic sanctions, from (before the election) withdrawing visa access for Moldovans seeking work in Russia, (31) to (after an outcome unfavourable to Russia) outlawing imports of Moldavan wine. (32) The attitudes of pro-Trans-Dniestrian Russians are perhaps best expressed in a statement of Konstantin Zatulin, member of the Duma and its CIS Affairs and “Compatriots Abroad” committee: “It is like the inscription ‘The King’s Last Argument’ made on cannons in the 18th-19th centuries. If the [Moldovan] government does not love us, then we must make it respect us.” (33) Electoral results have, as Zalutin’s rhetoric implies, proved displeasing for Russia. Russian (if nominally CIS-affiliated) election observers have claimed electoral fraud, (34) though European OSCE observers have declared (if not without some reservations) that the Moldovan election met Western standards. (35) What stands out is precisely the claims made on behalf of each side. Western observers remain wary – Finnish OSCE mission chief Kimmo Kiljunen has stated there was considerable effort from the Moldovan government “to prevent the election from unfolding in a fully free and competitive manner” – but neither was any opposition party seemingly any more democratic in intent or methods, by some accounts. (36) However, the claims of CIS representatives, made by member of the Duma and deputy chairman of the “Compatriots Abroad” committee Akhmed Bilalov, seem less credible, while at the same time demonstrating the dogged persistence of Russian prejudices against the country: “The level at which the elections were prepared was non-professional, with massive crude breaches,” […] Among the irregularities Bilalov mentioned in particular the fact that citizens of Moldova residing in Transdniestria could not vote locally and had to travel to Moldova for casting their ballots. “This may have had a substantive effect on the election results, since to go to vote for a distance of 60 kilometres is very problematical…” He also considers it was an infringement on civil rights that there were no voting papers in Russian at Moldova’s polling stations, [but] “…only in Romanian…” (37) In this report, Bilalov goes on to intimate further irregularities in that internal passports were stamped upon voting, ominously noting “An official version is to evade repeat voting.” (38) Bilalov’s complaints are less than convincing; they seem merely to confirm the continued presence of certain Russian attitudes towards the Trans-Dniestr Republic, such as that it is a sovereign nation with a legitimate government. Given the control of Trans-Dniestrian forces (and Russian influence) upon the region, it seems unlikely that ballots could be fairly cast and counted there. (Trans-Dniestrians themselves voted largely for the Democratic Moldova party, which took 28.4% of the national vote in official results. (39) It also seems unlikely in any event, even in the case of vote fraud, that this party could have formed the Moldovan government.) The language issue which caused the initial break between Moldova and Trans-Dniestria is also shown to remain firmly lodged in the Russian consciousness; that Moldova uses the Moldovan (not Romanian, though the languages are similar) tongue, in Roman script, for all official documents, given the overwhelmingly-ethnically-Moldovan population, seems to have eluded Bilavov. Nor does he acknowledge the Moldovan ethnicity in its own right; to Russia, non-Russian Moldovans are Romanian. Finally, the statement seems genuinely offended at any attempt to prevent electoral fraud. After the experience of Ukraine, where Russian-backed candidate Yanukovich was shown to have initially won due solely to massive fraud and intimidation tactics, (40) Russian accusations of such corruption are unconvincing. However, they must be mentioned, in consideration of corroborated Russian claims of CIS (Russian) election observers being detained at the border and expelled during the Moldovan election. (41, 42) Yet while it is true that Russian observers were expelled, considering the lessons of Ukraine and other recent elections in the successor states, Moldovan authorities cannot be faulted for taking such precautions. Indeed, though the results of the election were not necessarily conducive to Russian interests, it remains to be seen whether or not Moldova is genuinely moving towards the west as much as comparisons to Ukraine and Georgia (or its own quarrels with Russia) might imply. Though the Moldovan press has become relentlessly anti-Russian, it seems to have done so at behest of government. (43) Moldova’s Communist Party has “taken up the coattails of the Orange Revolution” [of Ukraine], but may have done so largely out of political expediency; many conservative Moldovans who might otherwise have supported the reforming opposition party of Democratic Moldova instead chose the seemingly trending-towards-change incumbent, causing a decidedly “mixed paradigm” of electorate intentions. (44) It is undoubtedly a factor that the Moldovan opposition parties, after Communist changes of heart vis-à-vis relations with Russia, offered few differences in either foreign or domestic policy. (45) Russian influence seems to have swayed the larger Moldovan polity in this respect, albeit not in the manner intended; where in past years the internal split on Russian-Moldovan relations was reflected in different parties, the Communists have successfully triangulated their position, capitalizing on heavy-handed Russian negotiations over the issue of Trans-Dniestria. It would indeed be an ironic postscript to the Soviet era in the successor states of the USSR to see Moldovan Communists successfully establish themselves as the necessary counterweight to both domestic Soviet recidivism, as well as resurgent Russian imperialism. Since the period of Soviet collapse and into the 1990s, so turbulent for all of the Soviet successor states, the prime mover of Moldovan politics has been the issue of Trans-Dniestria. Russian interference in that region, recognized as a legitimate sovereign state, in fact, only by Russia, is self-evidently self-serving. Moldovans attempted some form of compromise with the election of a pro-Moscow government, yet even that government was unable to reconcile Russian demands for Trans-Dniestrian sovereignty with the best interests of Moldova. This historic tendency to maintain influence in areas no longer formally under the control of Russia has, in this case, proven harmful to Russian interests, in causing such a foreign policy backlash. In truth, it is difficult to determine which factor is more responsible for this: intransigence on the matter of the continued Russian military presence in Trans-Dniestria, or arrogance on the matter of determining the extent of Trans-Dniestrian self-rule. In either case, while Russia will likely continue to use any and all available means of subterfuge to control the “Near Abroad,” the experience of Moldova between 1991-2005 seems to demonstrate that even in a state still remote from the western ideals of liberal democracy and representative government, these methods will no longer be tolerated.
1 Claus Neukirch, “Transdniestria and Moldova: Cold Peace at the Dniestr.” Helsinki Monitor, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2001): 123-124. 2 Charles King, “Moldovan Identity and the Politics of Pan-Romanianism.” Slavic Review, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Summer 1994): 345-346. 3 Victor Neumann, “Conceptual Confusions Concerning the Romanian Identity: Neam and Popor as Expressions of Ethno-Nationalism (Part 3).” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty East European Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 2 (9 March 2005). 9 March 2005, . 4 John B. Dunlop, ”Will a Large-Scale Migration of Russians to the Russian Republic Take Place Over the Current Decade?” International Migration Review, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Autumn 1993): 616. 5 Pal Kolsto, “The New Russian Diaspora.” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 30, No. 2 (May 1993): 200. 6 Kolsto, “Diaspora,” 200. 7 King, “Moldovan Identity,” 349. 8 Kolsto, “Diaspora,” 199. 9 Neukirch, “Cold Peace,” 123. 10 Dunlop, “Large-Scale Migration of Russians,” 615-616. 11 Neukirch, “Cold Peace,” 124-126. 12 Dunlop, “Large-Scale Migration of Russians,” 616. 13 Pal Kolsto, Andrei Edemsky & Natalya Kalashnikova, “The Dniester Conflict: Between Irredentism and Separatism.” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 45, No. 6 (1993): 992. 14 “Moldova Calls on Russia to End Aid to Separatists.” Christian Science Monitor, 27 May 1992. 15 Chrystia Freeland, “Caught in the Cross-Fire on the Dniester; Civilians Find Themselves Trapped in Fighting Between Moldovans, Russian Separatists.” Washington Post, 27 June 1992, A15. 16 Michael Parks, “Moldovan Troops Ordered to Put Down Secessionists.” Los Angeles Times, 29 March 1992, 1. 17 Neukirch, “Cold Peace,” 125. 18 “Ex-Soviet Republic Says It May Declare War Against Russia.” New York Times, 26 May 1992, A7. 19 Chrystia Freeland, “Russian Army Airs Threat to Moldova; Government’s MiGs Warned Against Attacking Separatist Region.” Washington Post, 25 June 1992, A33. 20 Kolsto et al, “Irredentism and Separatism,” 987-988. 21 Henry Kamm, “Russian Troops Quitting a Hot Spot in Moldova.” New York Times, 28 October 1994, A12. 22 “‘Democracies’ Still Precarious.” Christian Science Monitor, 8 January 1992. 23 David Holley, “Moldova Appears Poised to Turn West.” Los Angeles Times, 8 March 2005, A8. 24 Henry Kamm, “Russian Troops Quitting a Hot Spot in Moldova.” New York Times, 28 October 1994, A12. 25 Jackson Diehl, “Russia’s Unchecked Ambitions.” Washington Post, 6 December 2004, A21. 26 Lee Hockstader, “In Moldova’s East Bank, Separatists Still Cling to the Bad Old Days.” Washington Post, 25 March 1994, A31. 27 Jeremy Page, “Moldova has pro-Western revolution even before poll is held.” The Times of London, 5 March 2005. 6 March 2005, . 28 Joby Warrick, “Dirty Bomb Warheads Disappear; Stocks of Soviet-Era Arms for Sale on Black Market.” Washington Post, 7 December 2003, A1. 29 Page, “Moldova has pro-Western revolution even before poll is held.” 30 Hockstader, “Bad Old Days.” 31 C.J. Chivers, “Russia and the West Warily Monitor Moldova’s Election.” New York Times, 6 March 2005, A8. 32 “Russian Lawmakers to Outlaw Moldavan Wine.” Pravda, 9 March 2005. 9 March 2005, . 33 Ibid. 34 “Monitors Report Violations in Moldovan Elections.” Russian News & Information Agency Novosti, 11 March 2005. 11 March 2005, . 35 C.J. Chivers, “Moldova Voting Was Fair (Almost).” New York Times, 8 March 2005, A10. 36 Valery Panyushkin & Vladimir Solovyev, “Voronin Didn’t Take It All.” Kommersant Daily, 9 March 2005. 9 March 2005, . 37 “Parliamentary elections in Moldova as seen by PACE and Russian representative.” Russian News & Information Agency Novosti, 7 March 2005. 9 March 2005, . 38 Ibid. 39 “Communists win Moldova parliamentary elections.” ITAR-TASS, 7 March 2005. 9 March 2005, . 40 Chivers, “Russia and the West.” 41 “Communists' victory in Moldova to considerably aggravate relations with Russia.” Pravda, 7 March 2005. 9 March 2005, . 42 “International Periscope.” MSNBC/Newsweek, 21 March 2005. 14 March 2005, . 43 “The CIS and Baltic Press on Russia.” Russian News & Information Agency Novosti, 14 March 2005. 14 March 2005, . 44 Jeremy Bransten, “Moldova - Voters Back Communists: But Which Communists?” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 7 March 2005. 7 March 2005, . 45 Ilian Cashu, “Analysis: Why An Orange Revolution Is Unlikely In Moldova.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 6 March 2005. 7 March 2005, .

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Make 'em laugh, that's the trick

John Tory starts off at Queen's Park on a rather silly note: Premier Dalton McGuinty's unmentionables remained a mystery Tuesday, despite the urging of Official Opposition Leader John Tory's family that he use his Queen's Park debut to get to the bottom of a certain age-old question. Ahead of his first official day in the provincial legislature, Mr. Tory said he asked around the dinner table what his first question to the Premier should be. The response? “Boxers or briefs?” “I decided to seek alternate advice,” he said. That's probably for the best. People don't seem to like it when Tories try to be funny. (In retrospect: What the hell, people?)

One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble

I think what bothers me most about this photo essay of the former Russian embassy to Thailand isn't the unseen resident of the abandoned building who sleeps with an axe (!), but the staircase to nowhere and the mysteriously walled-off rooms. Jeebus, that's a creepy building. (Via BoingBoing.)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Ain't no passing craze

I was pretty hard on Father of the Pride when it originally aired on NBC, (see here, here, here, and here) never exactly rooting for it to be brought back from that slow death of permanent hiatus; the DVD release would seem to be a pretty final footnote to the whole sorry affair. Good riddance, I say. On the other hand, there's still three or four episodes that haven't aired...and so help me, I think I may want to see them. I'm intrigued, yet disgusted with myself.

Looking after number one will be my only creed

On DRM micromanagement in cell phones, particularly in the form of popular and desirable ringtones: "Customers get frustrated because they don't see what they want day one. That's understandable. Unfortunately, we have bad guys out there who want to do other things" such as illegal file-sharing. Verizon's explanation jibes with statements by several producers and aggregators of mobile entertainment. Walt Disney Co., for one, won't allow its wireless partners to deliver any of its ringtones, video games and other content to phones with Bluetooth or infrared, another technology for direct connections between devices, until the industry adopts a more secure format to prevent unauthorized sharing and copying. Simply because I can, I just uploaded an MP3 clip of "That's All I Need" to my phone, which is capable of using such files as ringtones. (It does MIDI a bit better, but no one's arranged a MIDI orchestration of the song, alas.) Amazingly, I didn't have to break any kind of copy protection, hardware or software, to do it; I ripped the track from the CD, manually edited it down to a nice short clip from the middle, and then sent it to my phone via USB. Not just to spite a wrongheaded rights-management strategy that considers keeping the customer's grubby hands off intellectual property in any form (even though legal) to be the only safe option, mind you; it's a delightful song. But there's some spite in there somewhere, I'm sure. (Via BoingBoing>.)

Glorious technicolor, breathtaking cinemascope

I don't even remember where I found the link now, but this is a fascinating gallery of those epic (and more than a bit improbable) plans Stalinist Soviet planners had for remaking Moscow. They're uniformly bleak, colossal, and inhuman, in a way that puts all Soviet architecture that actually did get off the drawing board to shame; nonetheless, there's still something stunning about the sheer scale of these designs, Metropolis imagined as a statement of communist stolidity. It's also a reminder that grand, Haussmannesque plans, while they may look dramatic, tend (when being applied to a pre-existing city) to require more money, time, and attention than any state should waste on disrupting commerce or natural urban growth. (Are you listening, NCC planners?)

Life Upon the Wicked Stage

This NYT Theater article is all over the map in enumerating ill-defined complaints it has over the current state of Broadway. The only unifying theme I can see is that popularity = TEH SUCK: Close your eyes and listen as their larynxes stretch and vibrate with the pain of being an underdog and the joy of being really loud. Bet you can't tell them apart. For that matter, bet you can't distinguish the heroines of the current Broadway musicals "Wicked," "Little Women" and "Brooklyn" from the average female finalist on "American Idol."[...] The style of vocalizing that is rewarded on "American Idol" - by its panel of on-air judges and by the television audience that votes on the winners - is both intensely emotional and oddly impersonal. The accent is on abstract feelings, usually embodied by people of stunning ordinariness, than on particular character. Quivering vibrato, curlicued melisma, notes held past the vanishing point: the favorite technical tricks of "Idol" contestants are often like screams divorced from the pain or ecstasy that inspired them. The Broadway musical has always had its share of big-voiced belters, from Ethel Merman to Patti LuPone. But they have usually belonged to the tradition of Broadway as a temple to magnified idiosyncrasies, to performers for whom song is an extension of individuality. Which is why when Simon Cowell, the most notoriously harsh of "American Idol's" judges, describes a contestant as "too Broadway," it is meant as a withering dismissal. Carol Channing, Robert Preston, Jerry Orbach and Gwen Verdon wouldn't stand a chance in the court of Cowell. And if they were starting out today, they probably wouldn't stand a chance in Broadway musicals either. That should be the best argument against such a joyless, puritan attitude, right there; volume is no reason to disqualify an entertaining performer. (Although he does make a point, in that those more unique singers would be dismissed out of hand, trying to break into the business nowadays.) But what's the real reason the Times' theatre critic so upset? By the 1980's, however, a homogenizing force had begun to steal over the Broadway voice. It started with the invasion of the British poperettas by Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Cats," "Phantom of the Opera") and the team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg ("Les Misérables," "Miss Saigon"). Their swoony, ever crescendoing music required voices that were pretty and strong, but not much else. It seems appropriate that the ultimate Lloyd Webber star was Sarah Brightman, who possessed a register-testing but anonymous soprano. Lord Lloyd Webber's spiritual heir in the United States, Frank Wildhorn, came up with cruder versions of the poperetta formula. "Jekyll and Hyde," "The Civil War" and most recently "Dracula" were costume musicals drenched in ersatz blood and ersatz passion. Though his characters were intense, as mad scientists and vampires tend to be, when it came to selling a song they all sounded pretty much the same, especially with their voices synthetically processed and amplified by the aural equivalent of Sensurround. These folks at least had vitality, especially compared to the cipherlike sounds of the jukebox musicals that came to the fore in the 90's. Whether the source was rock opera ("The Who's Tommy"), feel-good rock 'n' roll (the songs of Lieber and Stoller, for "Smokey Joe's Cafe") or the sublime standards of Duke Elllington ("Play On"), the performers largely registered as cute, eager and personality-free, like peppy summer interns in a Disney World pavilion. Even singing gritty ballads like "On Broadway" or rock anthems like "Pinball Wizard," their voices came across as shiny, smooth and antiseptic, like those of grown-up Mouseketeers. The upside for the producers of such shows is that their cast members are eminently replaceable. Sui generis stars are not necessarily advantages for investors hoping for long, sold-out runs. (And a full-scale Broadway musical needs to run and run and run just to break even.) Ah, there we are; now we're getting to the heart of the matter. Anything which smacks of a fun evening for the lumpenproletariat is to be shunned by those who know better, such things necessarily being constructed around the premises that a) making a profit is necessary, and b) the laws of supply and demand remain as ironclad concerning art as any other commodity. The audience (myself included, though I also enjoy works in the earlier styles) likes Lloyd Webber-ish grand guignol spectacles, but those aren't usually showcases for quirky, deeply personal performances by all the cool kids; ergo, sneer like mad. I think what upsets Ben Brantley so much is the crystal-clear way American Idol has demonstrated that performing on Broadway is a job like any other, one that can be done by anyone with the ability to - as he notes - "carry a tune and turn up the volume." Anything beyond that is stuntcasting, branding for marketing's sake. To some extent, I'll admit, it bothers me too - but the solution isn't to scoff at popular productions simply because they are. That's out-of-touch elitism of the worst kind.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Going to school, and I can't be late

Hot Damn. The Venture Bros. got renewed, which I was all but sure wouldn't happen; finally starting to air in Canada usually seems like a bad omen for American-network small-batch original animation. Clone High, Undergrads, The Brak Show - all were already cancelled or on the unpleasant-loooking side of the bubble when picked up by Teletoon, long after their original US airings. Finally, they've picked a winner. In related banter, Bromwell High, a current Teletoon original, is fascinating me. It's set in Britain (a seedy middle school in South London, to be precise), but seems to have been written by those having little familiarity with even superficial details of English culture. (It is a Canadian production, funded with federal subsidies, of course, so it counts as Cancon.) Chips are called chips, not crisps; the main characters are said to be in Year 7, which should make them about 10 or 11, not the 14-16 they're written as; the European Court of Justice is claimed to be in Brussels, rather than where it actually convenes, in Luxembourg; and those are just ones I can think of off the top of my head, with five out of thirteen extant episodes so far aired. I'll give the writers points for what slang and cultural references they do get right, but I can't imagine how laughable the setting would seem to a British audience. Sort of like the Turkish Star Trek does to us, I imagine. As for content...whooo. It's reminiscent of the early seasons of South Park, where there still seemed to be more emphasis placed on the shock value of using deliberately offensive, "edgy" concepts, than the amusing, compelling and increasingly subtle arguments that can slide under the radar therewith. Two examples from the episode "Police Story" can be found, in mpeg form, here. (To recap: the Mobile Thief is stealing cellphones all over the school, and the police investigation thereof is cutting into Headmaster Iqbal's black market animal trade. Also, that clip? Definitely NSFW.) Interestingly, Iqbal is naked for part of every episode, and no profanity has yet been bleeped. I'm mildly astounded at that, considering what usually gets censored in a 10:00ish timeslot. Bromwell can be clever at times, but I think there's more humour in the characterization, and that's probably how it should be; anyone can do plot-driven narrative, but to let the characters run wild throughout a series of completely irrelevant plots shows shows an unusual confidence in the writers, one that reminds me - tenuously - of, in fact, The Venture Bros. and ATHF. The show is doomed, of course, in that it's very, very unlikely ever to get another season. Teletoon will run it into the ground on a nightly basis like those other doomed series before it, but that's okay; it's enjoyable, but probably not so delightful it merits another production run. UPDATE: Hear the glee regarding new Venturage from the writer/producer/actor's mouth himself.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Every wink and every stare is the neighbourhood's affair

Realization dawns, in the wake of yesterday's headline, that there isn't a whole lot of oversight in private school curricula: Most people probably think of private schools as posh institutions selling expensive upper-class educations far superior to the publicly funded school system. But Wednesday's suspension of two teachers at Ottawa's Abraar Islamic school after they heaped praise on a student's anti-Jewish story has many questioning the apparent absence of government oversight. [...] But Mary Ann Turnbull, director of the Turnbull private elementary school on Fischer Avenue, said the last thing the private school industry needs is expensive bureaucratic oversight. "There's a danger of jumping from what happened with these two teachers, to saying we need provincial regulations," said Mrs. Turnbull. She stressed the need for schools to be transparent, and for parents to play a greater role in their child's education. "Rather than say the province should oversee all of this, making sure those two teachers didn't do what they did, people have to be wise when they're shopping for a school -- public or private." That assumes the teachers were rogue actors, expressing neither the preferred spin of the school administration, nor fee-paying parents. Do you really want to put so much faith in the premise that the parents in question didn't know exactly what they were shopping for in a curriculum? This would be one of those instances where I'm perfectly happy to let the provincial government get its greasy hands on the wheel; the alternative is no control at all, which - as the Happy Fun Jihad Writing Assignment debacle demonstrates - is more than a bit unnerving.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

And next, the room was full of wild and angry men; they seemed to hate this man

It troubles me that decidedly Orwellian-sounding "Anti-Social Behaviour Order" citations are apparently issued frequently enough in Britain that the slang "asbo" exists to describe them. Moreso, however, because of what it's being issued for: A man who was made subject to an Anti-Social Behaviour Order for putting up a sign saying “porking yard” in his pub car park, because it was offensive to Muslims, today described the court action as “a joke”. [...] He said the sign was intended to commemorate the large number of butchers’ shops that used to be located in the area and he had never intended to cause any offence. He said: “We ran a competition in the pub to think of a funny name for the car park and one of the customers came up with the name ‘the porking yard’. “I grew up in Bristol so I know that this area has traditionally had a lot of butchers. It was always known as ‘pork alley’ so ‘the porking yard’ just seemed to fit. “There’s a butcher across the street that has been here for more than 100 years. It’s political correctness gone mad. “At the end of the day to receive an Asbo for this is a joke. We had no intention to cause any offence whatsoever. “What really annoys me is the complaints that the sign is sexually offensive. Well, I can’t see anything sexual about it. The people who thought that must have dirty minds.” Somali-born Khalil Abdi, who is street warden in the area, said the sign was deliberately provoking the Muslim community. Speaking to the Bristol Evening Post, he said: “Because of my faith I am required to attend the mosque in the education centre to pray. “I regularly use the learning centre in Wade Street, which is near to the pub, with my fellow Somali friends. “Muslims do not eat pork but the sign has a picture of a pig and the words ‘porking yard’. “My friends and I were angered and upset by the sign and we have welcomed the court ruling ordering the sign to be changed. I definitely think it is provocative and insulting to Muslims.” Beat manager Adrian Williams, of Avon and Somerset Police, welcomed the Asbo. He said he had received complaints about the sign from school teachers, community leaders and members of the Somali community. He said: “We are very pleased that the order has been made following complaints from the community. “It shows that this kind of behaviour, which is provocative, will not be tolerated.” What kind of fragile mind is so threatened by mere nouns? What kind of paranoid, hateful loons - hijacking the meme of "tolerance" - can't even bear to tolerate a non-inflammatory, non-accusatory (non-anything, really) use of a word used to describe an animal? I don't like dogs, but I don't consider a sign reading "DOG" to be an attack on everything I believe. I don't eat squash - I find the texture entirely nauseating - but I don't prissily act as though a picture of a ripe Hubbard or Acorn somehow repulses me like garlic to a vampire. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a word is just a word. To see an entire community retreating into magical thinking, where banning a word must therefore make non-existent the distasteful thing described, is somewhere between sad and terrifying. Moreover, the ban itself is overkill, the product of a culture deathly afraid of letting anyone become offended, because it's easier to just go along with the touchiest members of society; to feed that crocodile, rather than attempt to fight it. The local beat cop, I'm sure, would rather censure a harmless joke than deal with the pub being mysteriously firebombed one night. (It'd create more paperwork than issuing the asbo, if nothing else.) I think there's a point at which some level of assimilation is required for any ethnic group. The ability to comprehend jokes of one's host culture, say, and realize when imperious overreacting will just cause resentment, would be a good start. (Via Fark.)

Gazizza, my dilznoofuses

Ain't It Cool claims that NBC's remake of The Office is the next NewsRadio. I'll believe it when I see it. (And I'm reminded how much I still miss Phil Hartman, who would no doubt be playing Steve Carrell's part, in a more just universe. Sigh.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I could cheer; the reason's clear

Well, it's done. I've ordered my new computer, what ended up being a dual-2.5gHz G5. Given the experiences of the last time I bought something from Apple's online ordering mechanism, I think I can expect to receive it in no less than three weeks, which is my best Scientific Wild-Ass Guess. (Hey, whichever mischevious gnome in the system was responsible for giving me an extra Cinema Display: I wouldn't mind if the tower ended up being mysteriously cloned, either. Just a thought.) So, now, I wait. And, to kill time, consider the name it'll receive (as if it mattered to anyone but me). My current network naming scheme has run out of track to traverse, what with there not being a new Star Trek series set in the present future (as opposed to the past future) for several years, and thus no nifty new Federation starships. (I shouldn't logically name a machine light-years beyond the capabilities of the Defiant as a lesser ship, you see. There are rules to this sort of thing, oh my, yes.) But, then, there's always looking back and forward at the same time. I'm leaning towards Columbia right now - for the best reason no less than the frivolous.

In the sunlight, who can see a flame?

Apropos of nothing - and because I notice some hits in my referrer logs looking for information on it - there was a semi-major fire on Bank Street last night, and as it happens I did take the above picture when I was out earlier today. You can expect to see fire crews for most of the day at Bank and Gladstone, following a four-alarm blaze at a pizza shop early this morning. Two fire fighters were sent to hospital with minor injures, but everyone who lived in the residential part of the building escaped unharmed. Still no word on what caused the fire. The flames were first spotted coming out of Milano's Restaurant at around 2 am. It was, to be sure, mildly surreal to be shopping in the Staples across the street with the gutted building still faintly smoking, visible through the front windows.

A crime and a shame

On the question of Nazis in the news... Today's lecture of Russia In Transition covered domestic politics of the Yeltsin-Putin era. One of Prof. Clayton's main points in discussing the utterly-dysfunctional Russian electoral system (it's half-proportional representation, but even more corrupt than such systems usually tend to be, and PR-appointed seats in the Duma are eagerly sought by businessmen for the immunity to criminal prosecution they grant) was to highlight the rise of 'personal parties;' nearly every one is built around a single dominant personality. Rather than being joiners in an existing, stable party system, aspiring Russian politicians apparently prefer to start their own. (And with creepy-as-hell names, too; a good deal of the major parties running in the last few elections sound right out of the Newspeak dictionary, when translated. Russian Unity and Concord, Union of Right Forces, Our Home is Russia, Motherland Peoples' Patriotic Union, Power to the People, Citizens' Dignity; the list goes on. Lots more fascinating information on the subject here.) One of these personality cult leaders, the bohemian author Eduard Limonov, heads the National Bolsheviks - AKA the Nazbols - who are entirely as repulsive as their halfway-between-Nazgûl-and-Nazi nickname suggests. These are authentic fascists in the Neo-Nazi mould, (Warning: site is icky, terrifying, possibly NSFW) who simply prefer the hammer and sickle to the swastika. Their flag, their armbands, their specifically megalomaniacal threats and current polices of "direct actions," all are nearly mirror images of the NSDAP. They're Nazis in all but name, albeit with the very mildly exculpatory fact that they're far less racist than generically violent and expansionist. (Their photo gallery of "combat girlfriends" even do pretty fair impressions of Leni Riefenstahl or Marlene Dietrich, for that matter.) The professor's opinion on them? They're charming, theatrical, and more or less harmless. They can't be taken seriously, because their entire schtick is "obviously" just that, and not indicative of any real intentions. They're just disenfranchised-feeling young men in an entirely corrupt, immobile political system, acting naughty for the shock value. I mean, Good Lord. The perception that an angry party of otherwise ennui-ridden young men with a ridiculous-sounding platform of aggressively imperialist nationalism is just acting out for attention, and can’t be taken seriously is all too familiar in precisely the Nazi context; just look to the last few years of the Weimar Republic's collapse. Hitler was similarly dismissed as an easily-manipulated but basically non-threatening demagogue by Hindenburg and Von Papen until it was too late. If the National Bolsheviks really are just treating politics as theatre, they would seem to be doing it entirely too subtly; there's no giveaways, no disclaimers on their site. If it’s a joke, they should know better. That participating in “actions” (and that’s too euphemistic a word for the threat they’re imposing to civil institutions with thuggish pseudo-protests, things like breaking, entering and occupying the Russian Ministry of Justice) is occupying the time of xenophobic young hoods who might otherwise (as Prof. Clayton suggested) be beating immigrants in alleyways, would seem to be less positive sublimation than temporary distraction. If they’re inclined to violence, and encouraging each other towards it with rhetoric publicly legitimized as mere bombasticism, I doubt it can be suppressed forever. So what does it say when a reasonably-leftist university professor is dismissing genuine fascists as harmless pranksters, and only cautious policy hawks are being tarred with the epithet of "Nazi?" Nothing good. And that's a problem.

Prepare to suck that golden teat

Interestingly popping up in my inbox: A local house-cleaning firm, Freeknkleen. Their motto? "It's not Clean, until it's Freeknkleen." Possibly, I'm thinking, because "My God, this House is Freeknkleen" would be too much of a giveaway. Indeed, why do I have the feeling this is a business named as a reference to the musical number in "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater?" (Not that I'm complaining. It's just odd, is what it is.)

Hazard this prognostication

Given the degree of anti-Semitism espoused by more nationalist Russians - traditionally, through the Soviet period, and right up to today - this is interesting: JERUSALEM -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Israel at the end of April, the first visit ever by a Russian leader to the Jewish state, Israeli officials said Tuesday. Israeli-Russian relations have improved greatly in the past 15 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, which supported Israel's Arab enemies. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is of Russian descent, has visited Moscow three times since taking office in 2001. Sharon, who learned Russian from his parents, has spoken with Putin on the phone. I suppose it sounds friendly enough. On the other hand, Russia is still looking for new client states, with the continued turning of the Near Abroad (those former Soviet constituent republics, formerly parts of Imperial Russia before that) to Europe and the west in general. It's too early to know if this is a benign gesture, or pure geopolitical strategizing.

And they clamor to put his remarks on the air

Me oh my, this documentary on the woes of lefty talk-radio network Air America sounds fascinating. The film captures AIR AMERICA staff first learning about the Chicago and LA nightmare by reading a DRUDGE REPORT exclusive on their computers. It shows midday host Al Franken at a staff meeting being told there is no money left, hilariously, just moments after ranting about George Bush's ethics. I'm going to have to find a copy of that, once it airs next week... (I wonder: if it ends up making Air America look as bad as Drudge's summary sounds, will Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker™ Michael Moore be among the first to step up and defend the format and its biases against the howls of assembled moonbats?)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Don't let them fool you, for thirty years on they're the same

I'll at least give the socialists credit (heh) for acknowledging the opposing viewpoint, I guess. Still: goons, I say, all of them.

Every eye in town's on you, and so it goes

This probably isn't going to be very effective accomplishing anything, but I applaud the sentiment nonetheless: TORONTO -- Two politicians are going door-to-door in an east-end Toronto neighbourhood in hopes of weeding out marijuana grow-houses. Scarborough-Agincourt MP Jim Karygiannis and city councillor Mike Del Grande say their crusade is already a success. Toronto police Superintendent Tony Warr applauds the politicians' efforts, but says they should stick to lawmaking and let the police do the police work. Warr says it's "almost vigilantism." But what's wrong with a little vigilantism anyway, huh? BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 22 - Ordinary Iraqis rarely strike back at the insurgents who terrorize their country. But just before noon today, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming towards his shop and decided he had had enough. As the gunmen emerged from their cars, Dhia and his young relatives shouldered their own AK-47's and opened fire, police and witnesses said. In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Two of Dhia's young nephews and a bystander were injured, the police said. "We attacked them before they attacked us," Dhia, 35, his face still contorted with rage and excitement, said in a brief exchange at his shop a few hours after the battle. He did not give his last name. "We killed three of those who call themselves the mujahedeen. I am waiting for the rest of them to come and we will show them." No matter what the stakes, better vigilance, than the dangerous paralysis of waiting for the "proper authorities" to come and do their job... (Via Instapundit.)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Nothing certain left to know

It is most definitely a good thing that there's persistent and growing American suspicion of lax Canadian attitudes towards those certainly guilty of (at least) aiding and abetting terrorism. But the credibility of such accusations - while basically sound - is not aided by technical gaffes like "Conservative-party" in place of "Conservative Party," or "premier" when meaning "prime minister." Nor does the awkward joke in the lede about Labrador retrievers seem very well thought out, for that matter. Please, NR; try harder, huh? (Via LGF.)

If there's a war on, don't bring me the news

You know the "anti-war" movement is losing steam when even well-wishers such as the Globe & Mail are forced to use artful euphemisms in enumerating the crowd. Small but noisy protests were held across Canada on Saturday to mark the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I'd considered (if I hadn't been otherwise busy) going out to document the promised local moonbattery, but it appears that would have been wasted effort anyway, given their pathetic turnout: In Ottawa, about 100 protesters, mostly students, waved signs and took over an intersection a block from Parliament Hill. 100? 100? In Ottawa, with the real, genuine US Embassy present, and two overwhelmingly leftist university student bodies (to say nothing of colleges or high schools), one of them largely Francophone, they could only muster 100, to hang around what I assume was probably the corner of Rideau and Sussex? Hah. Every day, my suspicion that they'll go down in history as little more than carbon copies of Charles Lindbergh's old racist, isolationist WWII-opposers seems more on the money - and those unwilling to be tarred with that brush are wising up, and bailing out, fast.

CPC-Con: We don't mean to annoy, but send comfort and joy

I was too preoccupied with more pressing concerns to pay much attention to the rest of the policy convention over the weekend, but it's a relief to read analysis that concludes everything turned out fine; Scott Reid's schism-threatening motion was (literally!) boo'ed down. What irritated me most was the circumstances. I was, at the time of the merger, and remain closer to the Alliance side of the party, at least on finance and foreign policy; the old federal PCs had become weak-sister Liberal lookalikes, mostly unworthy of being an official opposition in any event. Nonetheless, I would have sided with Peter MacKay and his crowd had the threatened re-split gone any further than a threat; to renege on something like the merger's agreement-in-principle is just plain sleazy. (To anyone who would bring up MacKay's betrayal of opportunist perennial party-jumper David Orchard, as barely-refraining-from-snickering anchors and pundits did: Orchard had to be betrayed. Isolationist paleocon crypto-socialists can and should be marginalized without remorse.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Taunt me and hurt me, deceive me, desert me

Some people, asked to decide which of George W. Bush or Saddam Hussein is the most trustworthy and least likely to knowingly deceive journalists, make what they think is the obvious choice. At what point do the eyes glaze over, and DOES NOT COMPUTE starts flashing, accompanied by warning klaxons? Why does the only logical and reasonable argument of the two choices actually have to be explained? Does the obvious and rational have to always be discounted precisely for being that?

And this monster is mysterious at least

Can't sleep, clown will touch me: March 18, 2005 -- MICHAEL Jackson can't catch a break. "The Simpsons" creator, Sam Simon, went on Howard Stern's radio show yesterday and shared a weird memory of when Jacko was a guest star on the animated series, lending his voice to a mental patient with a shaved head. As recalled by Simon, Jackson demanded the script be changed so his character could spend more time with Bart. So Simon gave Jackson a scene where he spends the night alone with Bart in his room. Simon added that during the voice recording, someone gave Jackson a giant Bart Simpson doll — and that when he thought no one was looking, Jackson started to kiss the doll. These things make more and more sense in retrospect. "Stark Raving Dad," the episode in question, was the season premiere episode of 1991. Michael Jackson has been blatantly telegraphing loonball pedophilic behaviour at least that long. How is it even possible that a) parents have been willing to let children out of their sight with this man, and b) no court's been able to convict him, in the last fifteen years?

CPC-Con: Divergence

There's an interesting speech from Michel Kelly Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute on right now, pointing out that historically, Canadian federal government has been far less interventionist than American. Railroad land grants, central banks, the New Deal, the Great Society - up until the mid-Trudeau period, the ideals and practices of each came later here, if on a gradually-speeding-up timeline, until the gap was closed and overshot. Even Quebecers at one point dismissed the New Deal as vaguely communist. So...what went wrong? (Also, he used the term "Mainstream Media." Derisively. Woo!)

CPC-Con: For that rugged, heavy load

Lordy. CPAC's reporting that the party constitution workshop has passed a resolution to renege on appointing equally weighted convention delegates by riding association, as agreed during the merger process. Under this proposal, riding associations would get one delegate per ten members, up to a maximum of ten for 100 or more. Peter MacKay is said to be furious, what with having personally negotiated the existing equal weighting with Scott Reid and others. Speaking of whom, Scott Reid is behind this for some reason, and I'm disappointed; I tend to like him. He's justifying this in terms of taking control away from the national leadership in determining the total number of delegates at a convention. It's true that some riding associations have few members, but that doesn't mean that it's necessary to proportionally disenfranchise them in the party process. Yes, Reid's riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox has a riding association with 1,000 members, but that doesn't mean that lonely Conservatives from a safe Liberal riding deserve to be silenced. (Moreso, even, because less dense riding associations are likely to have been largely PC, pre-merger.) Sen. Marjory LeBreton is spinning this as just pushing every riding association to sell at least 100 memberships; but, surely, every riding association is already doing all they can to raise funds in that manner. If they're unable, I don't see how that requires punishment at the internal representative level. Weird-ass petty power-plays like this - no matter how silly or immaterial - are not making me regret neglecting to renew my membership.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

CPC-Con: Cut Short

Blogspot is acting up, so while I'd like to continue in the policy con vein, I can't, and doing it non-live feels somehow...lacking. There have been no fantastically interesting statements so far, but one thing that's bothersome: As an Anglo, pandering to Quebec pisses me off to no end, no matter what party is doing it, and is in fact one of the things that could induce me to just abstain. I won't vote Tory if that kind of patronage is going to be at a level equal to or greater than the Liberal version. Also, Rusty Baird's jokes are awful.

CPC-Con: Forever in peace may you wave

Stephen Harper has arrived on the floor, and is doing a meet-and-greet on his way into the hall for the opening ceremonies. I can't for the life of me determine what the white Harper-logo'ed things his yellow-wearing teen supporters are waving are supposed to be. They can't be balloons, because they're actually making noise when banged together. Giant pills, maybe? Phalli? They're obnoxious-looking enough, anyway. And kind of confusing.

CPC-Con: Please remember that I want us to live

I fear the Tory policy convention is going to be messy. I've been watching CPAC for the past hour while working, and their pre-show convention coverage has been quite good. Some of the subjects thereof, though... A few minutes ago, there was an interview with Craig Chandler of Concerned Christians Canada, making some rather inciendiary statements, most of all demanding a "purge," and promising "there'll be blood" should party policy not go to 11 on the SoCon scale - his words, not mine. He also seemed to think that the reason for losing the last election was a failure to aggressively push a strictly delineated "traditional family" agenda, and considered that the GOP example could demonstrate that a winning party could and should be singularly socially conservative. Oy. I mean, Jeebus, man; the Tories are supposed to be the party that doesn't establish a single-minded, one-tracked party machine. We're supposed to be the people who don't need to demand apostates be cast out, because we can respect a wider range of opinions within the party than the Liberals. What is wrong with you? Are you trying to pre-emptively lose the next election? No matter how satisfying the vicarious Republican victory of 2004 was, this is still Canada. The populace is, first of all, not nearly as socially conservative as Americans; and, more importantly, on average anti-American enough to cast FUD leading to electoral defeat on those who seem so. A Tory win, though never likely to be the Evangelical wonderland CCC (now that's a mildly creepy acronym for you) imagines, will at least be less hostile to Christianity than a Liberal government. Isn't that enough? Get it through your head, Chandler: the Canadian media is hostile to conservatives at large, and social conservatives in particular. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. Do we really have to go through the theatrics of being demanded to enact veiled anti-gay policies that'll sink the party's chances for another full electoral cycle?

His half-witted fans will get out of control

Maybe these grandiose plans on "How to Save the Internet" will make typically more-leftish-than-libertarian open source proponents realize why strict gun control is a dangerous precedent to set: [Ed Amoroso, CISO of AT&T] thinks AT&T can make a ton of money off this idea: Return control to the network providers (like his own company's phone system in the 1970s, he says, a time when Ma Bell controlled everything, including the technology's interface), and let the providers charge you for doing all of the filtering, traffic analytics, worm detection and incident response. "That's my solution," Amoroso says. "Create a service. Make money." [...] Guns are dangerous; therefore, we license them. We give them unique serial numbers and control their distribution. James Whittaker says programmable PCs are dangerous, so why not treat them like guns? "Let's make all end user devices nonprogrammable," he says. "No one can connect to the Internet on a machine that creates code. If you want a computer to do programming, you would have to be licensed. We could license software companies to purchase programmable machines, which would be completely traceable along with the code created on them." Guns, computers, deregulated telephony hardware, anything that gives the average person some measure of control at the expense of a central bureaucracy; it's all part of the same continuum. If you don't like the idea of crippled 'media appliances' (cf. featureless, hardwired rotary phones) being the only computers available to the consumer without a specially restricted license, set a precedent for private ownership and responsibility in similar areas pre-emptively. If government isn't given the ability to suppress the ownership of a value-neutral piece of technology, it's less likely to listen to the frankly terrifying, power-consolidating, monopoly-building schemes of these CIOs, merely out of a practical inability to act. (Via BoingBoing.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hypocrite and toady

It appears OC Transpo wasn't always so staunchly against political advertising: Sean McKenny, president of [the Ottawa and District Labour Council], says it paid $10,000 for ads to run on 150 city buses [in 1998]. The ads denounced then-premier Mike Harris and his Conservative government. McKenny says OC Transpo can't have it both ways. "They claim that it's not political," McKenny says. "Our claim is that it sure looks that way to us. "Back in 1998, there was no problem with us putting these ads on the OC Transpo buses. The Conservative government were not big favourites in this city of Ottawa. So that was fine," McKenny says. McKenny says the labour council is giving its support to OPSEU, and intends to take the matter up with city council. But of course there could never be such a a bias in municipal government, because, as we know, muncipal government is officially non-partisan. Oh, sure, maybe it leans a bit Liberal; maybe the mayor's chief of staff used to be Brendan McGuinty (I'm amazed that's the best short bio of the man I can find), brother to Premier Dalton McGuinty; maybe Ottawa's deputy police chief was openly stumping for the Liberals last federal election, but that doesn't mean anything. Really. The policy is based on premises of pure political neutrality. Honest. The Citizen makes a more evenhanded case, however: The idea is presumably to avoid having city property associated with political views that might offend -- "offensive references to racial matters" are also banned, and so is "advertising of questionable taste or which is irritating in its content or method of presentation." [...] For instance, election-campaign advertising is OK, except a candidate can only buy an ad to tell people who she is and what she's running for -- not what she'd do if she were elected. That would mean advocating policy. OC Transpo buses are on the road right now with advocacy ads for political causes. Governments use city-owned advertising space to tell people not to smoke tobacco, for instance. Planned Parenthood uses the image of a brown-spotted banana to suggest getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, with an implied message about sexual morality. A government ad campaign encourages young people to turn off their electronics and go out to get some exercise. By OC Transpo's logic, a campaign promoting the federal government's "one-tonne challenge" to reduce air pollution should be forbidden, because it advocates the government's policies related to the Kyoto accord. In fact, OC Transpo seems content to run ads that endorse government policy, if only implicitly. It's when citizens want to buy advertising to criticize any government that there's a problem. Not to mention that the message in most commercial advertising is a call to consume, with an inescapable political implication. [...] The city sells ad space on public property to defray the costs of public services -- by $2.2 million last year. In doing so, it has no business playing private censor over the advertising messages citizens are willing to pay to spread. As long as ads meet basic standards of decency and don't unduly irk OC Transpo riders (or passersby) in their format or content, the city should take them -- including OPSEU's ad. I won't deny that it's OC Transpo's - and thus City Hall's - prerogative to decide this sort of policy at their whim. But the intent behind it is more transparent than usual, this time.

In these modern times

Rumoured: Apple to introduce two-button mouse. If I may permitted a "heh," heh. The one-button mouse has long been one of my few persistent peeves with Macs. The right mouse button might be confusing for absolute neophytes, but I feel like my control is crippled, when unable to summon up context menus without an awkward keyboard-mouse combination. If OSX hadn't supported third-party standard USB mice since its release - to similar cries of horror - it would have been a lot more difficult to make the decision to switch. If true, it'll be nice to see Apple retiring one of those final few non-useful, non-interesting, non-clever iconoclastic quirks of design.

This is the life of illusion, right trouble laced with confusion

Where does the quality of "free" socialized medicine eventually end up? In Cuba-like conditions, that's where. So what if there's cockroaches in the ER? At least it's not a two-tier system! (Well, not for the average Cuban, anyway; the other tier is only for the party nomenklatura and rich tourists...) I'd like to show these photos to every smug Canadian defender of El Jefe, and especially to those who think themselves enlightened and compassionate for deigning to vacation in a totalitarian hellhole merely out of solidarity with Yanqui-bashing socialists. (Via Instapundit.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Nothing portentous or polite

OPSEU and the Liberal Party of Ontario: it's a shame they both can't lose. (On that note, as OC Transpo is a corporation of the City of Ottawa, governed by the Transportation Committee of City Council, isn't it great how municipal government has thus promised to side with every incumbent, federal or provincial, against all criticisms?)

'Cause we don't want to see, what is lurking right behind the façade

CP: "Reports of anti-Semitic incidents up dramatically in 2004, says Jewish group." The Globe and Mail: "Group links anti-Jewish incidents to blockbuster film." Funny how some people zero in on exactly the extenuating-circumstance excuse they want to emphasize, huh? It would really be uncomfortable to admit that perhaps The Passion of the Christ can't be blamed for all recent acts of anti-Semitism. Thanks, BellGlobeMedia, for continuing to be a reliable reverse exemplar of adequate journalistic decency.

Glad to bring the coin in

This makes the fourth non-standard loonie reverse die since 1987, which suggests to me only that the Mint is falling into the same trap as they already have with quarters: too many "special" designs, making none of them particularly special, only irregular.

For even the blind change their views, and it's time we tried something new

The Senate is being told a useful and realistic fact. For the first time ever, I'm hoping I can be appreciative of their unelected status. Without having to pander to powerful local constituent groups, can they actually make the politically-suicidal-yet-reasonable admission that yes, despite Canada's fantasy multicultural ideals, some groups are, in fact, statistically far more likely to commit acts of terrorism? Here's hoping. "We're not looking for non-Russians when we go after the Russian mafia," pointed out [John] Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a privately funded research organization that studies political instability and terrorism. Make Russians the primary Liberal voting blocs in a couple of dozen ridings, and you'd be amazed how fast we can start looking for, say, Australians, when going after the Russian mafia.

To float as the clouds on air do

The problem with addressing a non-issue like "gender-based pricing" with legislation is that it assumes that - all other things being equal - prices are set higher for women out of, well, spite, rather than valid economic reasons: TORONTO - Haircuts, dry cleaning and clothes could soon cost the same for men and women in Ontario if a bill currently before the legislature passes. Liberal Lorenzo Berardinetti, who is pushing the bill to outlaw what he calls "gender-based pricing," says there is no good reason why men and women should pay different prices for similar products and services. "It's a form of discrimination ... that should have been removed a long time ago," Berardinetti told the Toronto Star. Women across the country are overcharged a total of $750 million for their hairstyling alone, according to Joanne Thomas Yaccato, a marketing consultant. The bill, which would impose fines of up to $5,000 for charging women more than men, will be debated on April 14. The recently married Berardinetti said he didn't know how much more women paid until he went shopping for clothes with his wife, and noticed a men's suit that cost 30 per cent less than a similar women's outfit by the same designer. California passed a similar law in 1996, but critics question its effectiveness. Perhaps the price of women's haircuts and clothing are set higher than those for the equivalent goods and services marketed to men. So what? On average, women tend to have longer hair than men. No matter what quality of haircutter, from discount strip-mall barber to upscale stylist, a greater quantity of hair is going to take longer to properly and professionally cut; time is money. I have short hair, keep it short, and very basically cut; a good barber can finish cutting my hair in about ten or fifteen minutes. If it takes longer or is more complex for women's styles, what's wrong with charging more? Setting a marginally higher price prevents having to engage in theatrics like charging by length, measured for each and every customer. The cost of performing the job is reflected in the price. That's how the free market works. As for goods rather than services, I find it difficult to see how a direct comparison can effectively be made. Unless each and every article of clothing has the equivalent of the nutritional information chart found on food - "This shirt contains exactly A% of cotton valued at $B/kg at time of manufacture, styled in the manner of hot current design X valued at a fashionability index of Y for year Z" - how can you determine that it's "discrimination" for one to be priced higher than another? Even for simple items like a T-shirt, what if it genuinely costs more at wholesale in labour, in wasted material, in time due to sewing complexity, to create a form-fitting women's shirt? Because they look the same to the untrained eye, does that make it right to tell a manufacturer that they may no longer charge more for the women's shirt? Imposing equal prices for unequal costs is simply a means of redistributing wealth based on gender, which is arguably more discriminatory than anything the market on its own could informally establish. Government shouldn't be establishing price controls at all, let alone ones with such silly justification. Such an imposition would mean only that prices for menswear and male-marketed services will increase to match women's, which doesn't actually solve the dilemma, except for a certain type of socialist mind. (Also, is it my imagination, or do the circumstances of the private member's bill seem suspiciously like Berardinetti might be pandering to his new wife, rather than being possessed of a great moral need to eliminate the scourge of the market's invisible hand?)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

And that bitch Anne Murray too

The Weekly Standard does a bang-up job on the generic, apropos-of-nothing Blame Canada article, and I mean that in the best possible way: Canadians are traditionally so insecure about the lack of attention we pay them that their government has even paid American universities $300,000 to study them. One of the foremost Canadian Studies programs in the country is at Duke. A professor in the program has said, "We're the most important university to make a serious effort to study Canada. That's like being the best hockey team in Zimbabwe." Ow. Burn. And rightly so. Don't miss the very much deserved props to Will Ferguson, either; if ever there was a man with a firm grasp of the national character, it's he. (Via The Corner.)

The privileged few, plus you-know-who

Something new I found out today during a few hours at the office, while barely making a dent in that massive job for the HM: The internal Parliamentary cable network carries C-SPAN. (Hey, I've never had the office to myself before; otherwise, I would have changed the channel from Newsworld long ago.) I'm jealous. Also a bit angry, because that's not available as an option to private consumers, despite long ago being approved by the CRTC to be rebroadcast in Canada. (If it's listed anywhere on Rogers' or Bell's channel line-ups, I'm missing it.) It's not that I imagine I'd watch it much - or, at least, no more than CPAC, which would mean only in the case of interesting impending legislation. But I resent not having the option, as ever, to decide that for myself.

Friday, March 11, 2005

You wanna see sin of the wickedest kind

"Eclectic maestro of electro-pop" and loudmouth member of the insane-left Moby is as condescending as ever: "It's one of the reasons why George Bush was re-elected," says Moby. "There are a majority of Americans who are scared provincial white Christians. There is nothing wrong with being a provincial white Christian. There's nothing even particularly wrong with being a scared white provincial Christian, but it's harmful in that they fear the complexity of the truth. So basically George Bush presented himself to Americans as someone who is going to preserve this very anachronistic status quo. Americans love him for it because he didn't confuse them with complicated truths." Lest we forget, Moby himself has what could be called a complex relationship with the truth. Pot, meet kettle: "No one's talking about how to keep the other side home on Election Day," Moby tells us. "It's a lot easier than you think and it doesn't cost that much. This election can be won by 200,000 votes." Moby suggests that it's possible to seed doubt among Bush's far-right supporters on the Web. "You target his natural constituencies," says the Grammy-nominated techno-wizard. "For example, you can go on all the pro-life chat rooms and say you're an outraged right-wing voter and that you know that George Bush drove an ex-girlfriend to an abortion clinic and paid for her to get an abortion. "Then you go to an anti-immigration Web site chat room and ask, 'What's all this about George Bush proposing amnesty for illegal aliens?'" Some of us call "complicated truths" by their habitual name of 'lies.' Maybe that's something too "provincial" for Moby. (Via Tim Blair.)

A moo cow, a new cow, a true cow

This kind of puts the kibosh on that whole 'beef ban as part of far-reaching American conspiracy' thing, hmm? I guess the meatpackers didn't get that memo...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Using the kind of language, that makes the sergeant blush

Most of the time, the NYT's Frank Rich does a wildly bad job of his function as a television critic, digressing into rants so lacking in lucidity as to seriously give Maureen Dowd a run for her money in the paper's weekly Chock Full of Crazy competition. On occasion, though, his work can be rather sharp, such as in this discussion of Deadwood: The latest scheme for broadening [broadcast] censorship arrived the week after the Oscar show was reduced to colorless piffle on network television. Ted Stevens, the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, pronounced himself sick of "four-letter words with participles" on cable and satellite television. "I think we have the same power to deal with cable as over the air," he said, promising to carry the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. [...] If you can see only one of the shows that he wants to banish or launder, let me recommend the series that probably has more four-letter words, with or without participles, than any in TV history. That would be "Deadwood" on HBO. Its linguistic gait befits its chapter of American history, the story of a gold-rush mining camp in the Dakota Territory of the late 1870's. "Deadwood" is the back story of a joke like "The Aristocrats" and of everything else that is joyously vulgar in American culture and that our new Puritans want to stamp out. It's the ur-text of Vegas and hip-hop and pulp fiction. It captures with Boschian relish what freedom, by turns cruel and comic and exhilarating, looked and sounded like at full throttle in frontier America before anyone got around to building churches or a government. Its creator is David Milch, a former Yale fraternity brother of George W. Bush and the onetime protégé of Robert Penn Warren, whose 1946 novel "All the King's Men" upends bowdlerized fairy tales about American politics just as "Deadwood" dismantles Hollywood's old sanitized Westerns. As Mr. Milch says in an interview on the DVD of the first "Deadwood" season: "It's very well documented that the obscenity of the West was striking, and that the obscenity of mining camps was unbelievable." There was "a tremendous energy to the language," he adds, but the reason this language never surfaced in movie Westerns during the genre's heyday was the Hays production code. For some 30 years starting in 1934, Hollywood's self-censorship strictures kept even married couples in separate beds on screen. I know it sounds pretentious, but Deadwood really does put me in mind of Shakespeare. It's rhythmic and profane and powerful in a way that maintains incredible dignity in, and even outright pride at, the lawlessness of the rapidly-vanishing frontier of the 1870s. Deadwood portrays a society being built from the ground up, and it'd seem no less basically true in any other frontier setting, past or future. I like that. Like Shakespeare, it can be timeless; strip away the details of time and place, and you've still got a very human story about good, evil, and the grey area in-between much widened by the absence of civil society. To find fault with it on the basis of the ubiquitous profanity is to miss the point entirely; that's just an attention-grabbing tactic, for a work that's what tends to be charmingly called "bawdy" when the right name is on the cover or in the credits. I'm sure the real-life residents of Deadwood, South Dakota never used quite the language (NSFW, probably) put in the mouths of their fictional counterparts. But odds are they didn't speak so poetically, or in occasional expository soliloquys, either. I can live with both fictions. (Via TV Tattle.)

We can hear a grateful nation's cheers

This just in: the military tends to be a somewhat conservative institution. People interested in a career with the Canadian Forces tended to be "somewhat timid in the face of change and preferred traditional categories of identity by race, gender, and nationality," an army survey says. "As a result, they may resist affirmative-action initiatives." Hey, you know how modern, professional, military organization is based on a meritocratic system of recognition and career advancement? I wonder if that has anything to do with it. Wait a tick...maybe it does: Some characteristics of potential recruits are similar to those of serving soldiers. "Survey results suggest that soldiers tend to be traditionalists in regard to gender and minorities," the report says. "In comparison to Canadian society, soldiers are less supportive of affirmative action for women and minorities. "In the hiring of new employees, they tend to believe that experience and ability, not quotas, should be the primary considerations. They tend to support sexual stereotypes and prefer to preserve and maintain their own cultural traditions and customs. This is a bad thing? We don't need a new aristocracy of the "better sort" of candidates for promotion based on factors so immaterial as race, gender, and self-identified ethnicity; whoever's best for any given job should get it, and that's especially true in a job where lives will be on the line. Insofar as Canadian military operations are now mostly toothless peacekeeping missions, there aren't going to be as many situations as might otherwise occur where it's a matter of life or death for an unqualified affirmative-action hire to replace a qualified (but unfortunately likely to be white, male, and Anglo) alternative, but still. Generally, those interested in joining the Forces "tend to be lacking in life goals and feel alienated from society and its values." And, thus, maybe feel they might benefit from an environment with externally-imposed order and discipline. (And, perhaps, have been made to feel alienated by imperious bureaucrats demeaning them for being "timid in the face of change.") I'm not seeing the negatives, here. "They are attracted to violence more than the average member of Canadian society and accept violence as a legitimate means of getting what they want," says the report. I'm wondering what the questions were that came to the conclusion "attracted to violence." Willingness to handle firearms? A belief that force can be used for just and moral ends? I know such personality quirks are terribly gauche nowadays, but theoretically, Canadian soldiers should probably be able to defend themselves when necessary, and not be plagued by self-doubt cast upon them by an unappreciative populace. I'm just, y'know, saying. There's far more to snipe at in this ramblingly vague survey-of-a-survey, but one last gem before I have to get out of here: "They also tend to consider national superiority to be important and to see themselves as superior to foreigners," the report continues. "These attitudes and values may, at times, result in conflict with Canadian values as expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms." Nationalism = Unconstitutional! It's nice to see we've cleared that up.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Mea Culpa

Colby Cosh probably offers the best and most reasonable of final interim reactions to the Mayerthorpe killings. I've come to regret jumping to the conclusions I did when the news first hit. Mea culpa; I was wrong. (Though, to be fair, so were both RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli and Minister of Public Safety Anne McLellan.) I still don't like drug use. I do support restrictive drug laws, even if I rationally know that they tend to be either unworkable or overly harsh. (Yes, it's that little libertarian voice in the back of my conscience again, damn him.) But I shouldn't have made the utterly tasteless leap to waving a bloody shirt in support of a policy I know is only barely tenable, at best. I've despised that in others in the past, and I'm sorry I fell into that ideological trap now; not only in the obvious, obnoxiously partisan "This is why good people hate us" context, but because I've felt horribly guilty about it for the past week. May the victims of a violent, unstable madman rest in peace, appreciated, and may no one else on either side of the aisle so attempt to exploit their deaths for political gain.

It's a pretty little picture to share, as the little boat sails to sea

So I'm browsing around looking for high-resolution public domain imagery (long story), and came across the US Navy historical ship insignia archive. What I'd really like to know: what, pray tell, is the heraldic meaning of this, especially as it concerns a USN oil tanker? (Via Wikipedia via Drawn via BoingBoing.)

And you'll have to admit I'm endearing; I help keep things humming, I'm not domineering

Even the NYT gets on board with admitting, maybe Bush's grand transformative vision for the Middle East might have been, y'know, an alright idea. A thought occurs. Now, what we've been seeing for the past month and a half is largely the result of events set in motion between 2003-2004, one major catalyst of which was the relatively successful Iraqi elections. If last year's election had gone differently, if Kerry had won, I doubt very much the Iraqi elections would have been postponed or rescheduled. I doubt the turnout would have been different. I doubt Ukraine's popular revolution against a corrupt regime's electoral fraud (superb encouragement for similar uprisings elsewhere) would have gone down any differently, and I doubt Syria would have acted any less hamhandedly in Lebanon. In short, for whatever credit Bush may be attributed in the current apparent vindication of his administration's policy, the acts that led to that success were accomplished entirely during his first term. If that had been his only term, and these successes were happening under a Kerry administration, how much different would the media spin be? I've got a feeling that credit for the current wave of good news (and I'll grant that it could collapse at any point, though I certainly hope not; we supporters of that grand plan would do well to be humble) would now be going to anyone else, if not for that inconvenient fact that Bush was re-elected - even, perhaps, John F. Kerry himself, in that counterfactual universe. Anything's possible. History is a funny thing, in that curious process by which it's slowly constructed out of Current Events. It's so subjective, so fluid, that it's sometimes difficult to imagine the bigger picture. Most people aren't able to look at bare girders, and see the skyscraper that will eventually be - but I'm grateful that some can at least realize the structual validity of the blueprints.