Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bits and pieces of Canada

  • More on the Homolka-Teale entity: Many, many column inches today from Christie Blatchford in the Globe, who only last week told us in another lengthy column that people were sick of the subject. And some handwriting analysis thrown in: seems that the shape of Karla's letters indicates criminal tendencies, secretiveness, weak will and low self-esteem. Funny. I have no training in the subject, nor in phrenology or astrology, but I could have told you the same thing by reading her tea-leaves or casting hexagrams. Paul Martin's handwriting, I can inform you after careful study, reveals indecisiveness coupled with ambition. And Blatchford's exemplifies that of an extroverted sensationalist with acute spasms of faux-moralizing.

  • The price of an apostrophe: $786, at last count. Seems that the language cops in West Quebec acted on a complaint that Bob Rice, a plumber, has referred to his business as "Bob's." The money was a combination fine and bailiff fee. "Chez Bob" would presumably have worked, or even "Bob," which came within a whisker of replacing "Northwest Territories" a few years back.

    Ah, but there may be more here than meets the eye: the Office de la langue francaise denies all knowledge of the ticket. Stay tuned.

  • "Safe predictions on a slow news day" department: "Military jails child porn collector: Conviction, six-month sentence likely to end air officer's career" [Ottawa Citizen]. If I don't make it as a handwriting expert, maybe I can get a job as a seer.

  • Deserting a sinking ship? Seems that Harper's senior advisors are taking flight. Is this a case of bad advice being punished, or intractable material to work with? In any case, off go Geoff Norquay (communications director) and Yaroslav Baran (strategic communications manager), and very possibly Chief-of-Staff Phil Murphy in the near future. Watch for another Harper makeover. Speculation is warmly invited.

  • UnCanadian: Pierre Trudeau's son, Sacha, is taking on security certificates. Good on him. These measures, under which people can be, and are, held for years in Canadian prisons without charge, trial or access to evidence, are intolerable. When asked why he was going to bat for Hassan Almrei, Trudeau replied, "For my country." Ah, at last: a patriotism I can relate to. It won't get me waving a flag tomorrow, but it does make me just a little prouder.

  • Meanwhile, in another part of the forest: "Animal with mad cow disease was born in Texas." Another take on the same subject: "BSE Positive Cow was Completely American." And my favourite: "Spain joins Canada in gay marriage."

    Have a fine Canada Day weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Give Bev Desjarlais the heave

Bev Desjarlais. NDP MP. Homophobe.

Why is she still in the NDP caucus?

Doesn’t the NDP claim to stand for human rights? No exceptions? No equivocations? Didn’t Jack and a few others celebrate yet another human rights triumph last night?

Don’t, please, hand me any guff about her alleged “crisis of conscience.” She voted against human rights. Period. And she’s staying in the caucus.

If the Conservatives discovered that one of their MPs was a member of CPC (ML), would anyone (for once) challenge Harper’s judgment in making him or her sit with Chuck Cadman? If Gilles Duceppe discovered that one of his sitting members was campaigning for federalism, wouldn’t he take decisive action that no one, given the context, could challenge?

Human rights. We’re all the same before the law. Gays and lesbians are first-class citizens, and they can’t be denied access where straight people can head right in. Marriage is a state-sanctioned institution: no colour bar, and now no “orientation” test. Whatever one thinks of that creaky institution, and the state’s continued involvement in what is no more than a quaint and oppressive mediaeval custom, everyone gets equal access. No separate water-fountains, no separate institutions for gays and straights.

Bev Desjarlais thinks otherwise. Her conscience tells her that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be treated equally before the law. Her conscience tells her that they are second-class citizens. Her conscience believes in “separate but equal.” Her conscience tells her that human rights are OK, “except for.”

Hey, no problem. Let her sit with Vic Toews. He’s got one of those consciences too. But she has no business, no business at all, sitting in the caucus of a party that claims to stand for human rights. And as long as she sits there, she raises questions about the firmness of the NDP’s commitment to them.

C’mon, Jack. Do the right thing.

The Jewish Conspiracy

Leon Mugesera is going home.

The Rwandan national, who incited genocide in his home country, but somehow obtained a permanent residency permit to live in Canada, will be deported after a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It took ten years, but better late than never. Good riddance.

The Court did not take kindly at all to the suggestion--hell, it was a full-blown accusation--by Mugesera's lawyer that it could not try the case fairly because it had been "infiltrated" by some kind of Jewish cabal. Details need not be recounted here--you can read all about it in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Some things never change.

But there is an interesting wrinkle in this case. The Canadian Jewish Congress did, in fact, win intervenor status before the Court. And this is not the first time that we have heard from the CJC when the issue of racial or ethnic hatred is raised. When a Tamil is beaten into a coma in Toronto, or some skinheads mount a racist demonstration against Roma, or when the leader of the neo-Nazi Heritage Front bites the dust, the CJC is always first up in the media, as though the communities involved had no spokespeople of their own, as though Nazis and Jews are in some kind of binary opposition.

This sort of thing distorts recorded history--how many people know, for example, that twelve million, not six million, perished at the hands of Nazi death squads and extermination camps?--and it excludes and silences the authentic and legitimate voices of other victims of hate crimes, including genocide. Were there no Tutsis in Canada to make their case before the Supreme Court of Canada against Mugesera? Are there no Tamils or Roma to speak for themselves, no other victims of race hatred to celebrate the death of a neo-Nazi goon?

This is not to deprecate the voice of the Jewish community, with its own considerable history of suffering, persecution and mass murder. It is simply to make the case that other stories are there to be told as well, if the media would only create the space for them. As things remain, Jews appear to be expected to carry not only their own burden of history, but that of every other people in like circumstances. The CJC may embrace this burden willingly, but it is time for those other voices to be heard.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Is separatism fa-a-bulous?

On the increasingly surrealistic landscape of Canadian parliamentary politics, same-sex unions and separatist agendas are the ballroom theme as pols writhe and gyrate to the haunting strains of accordion music played skillfully by pundits with too much time on their hands. The pace is revving up, and Stephen Harper, spurned by Gilles Duceppe (whose waltzing skills have vastly improved) is now sitting by himself, a grimacing wallflower making rude remarks about his former partner, now pirouetting on the dance floor with new friends.

It’s not a pretty sight, that scowling man in off-the-rack mortician clothes licking his wounds in public. As the twirling couples while away the hours, Paul Martin and Jack Layton making an impressive political fashion statement all of their own as Jack leads Paul in some unfamiliar steps, one is left to ponder: what makes souverainisme “that way?” What did Harper’s political gaydar reveal?

For separatism, it seems, in some bizarre and subterranean fashion, is indeed a part of the Gay Agenda. It seeks to unite what Harper would put asunder. At the same time it seeks to divide what Harper would keep together. Federalists, he says, are against what some news sources now refer to as SSM (oooh, that sets the mind racing, doesn’t it?). And now he’s sulking in the corner, his manly blue eyes misted over with tears, being an absolute party-pooper, looking like his underwear is too tight.

Come on, Stevie—get down and boogie with the rest of us while there’s still time. You don’t want to go home alone, do you?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Statistical equality

Employment equity is in the news again.

Two professors from the University of Manitoba, Wayne Simpson and Derek Hum, have generated some stats to show that there is no wage gap (with the exception of Black men) between Canadian-born visible minorities and whites. In consequence, they argue, current employment equity strategies need to be re-thought, targeting visible minority immigants (males in this category make 13% less than their white counterparts) and Black males (a staggering 24% gap), rather than "treating visible minorities as a homogeneous group for public policy purposes."

A demographer at Western, Roderic Beaujot, has weighed in as well. Reacting to the fact that first-generation visible minority Canadians are almost twice as likely to hold a university degree as a third-generation-plus white Canadian, Beaujot concludes: "That, I think, is a very important indicator that Canada's doing very well in terms of not maintaining a continuous disadvantage to those who have visible minority status."

What is wrong with this picture?

To begin with, the stats collected by the Manitoba professors were from the current period. Employment equity legislation has been in place for many years. One would indeed hope that such legislation is working, and, with some exceptions, it appears to be. So what conclusion should we draw from this? Simple, say the profs. We don't need the legislation anymore. Let's concentrate on the people the legislation missed.

Now, that's a bit like arguing that, given the superior wages and benefits now enjoyed in the public sector (I say this hypothetically), public service unions are no longer necessary. Indeed, I recall being told this on numerous occasions in my past life by people who seemed to be entirely serious. Abolish the unions, and somehow those wages and benefits will continue, and even improve, is the implicit claim. Abolish employment equity legislation, and the soaring numbers of women, people with disabilities, aboriginals and visible minorities in the workforce in recent years will continue their meteoric rise. The barriers are gone. The battles have been won.

Such commentators, of course, are either disingenuous or dreaming. All their statistics prove is that employment equity legislation, and unions, are both successful projects. Should attention be paid to those who are left out? Of course. This should be a social priority. But why should that mean getting rid of the very measures that have benefited, and continue to benefit, the others? Have employers grown less rapacious? Has racism disappeared?

It's good to know that visible minority Canadians are so successful at university. But why does Professor Beaujot see this as a triumph over disadvantage? It is far more likely that it reflects precisely that disadvantage--that these young people, in other words, have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts to join and survive in the workforce. How many of them end up in jobs for which they are overqualified? What promotional opportunities do they enjoy in comparison with whites? Perhaps investigations in such areas would be of more use than jumping to facile conclusions about equality based on university graduation rates.

Statistics, after all, are just statistics. It's the conclusions one draws from them that need to be looked at with a critical eye. And these equity studies just don't stand up to scrutiny.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The ties that bind

Count me as one of Heather Mallick's most fervent groupies. She writes with a flair and a style that I would kill to have, she has a take on the world that sends rightists into gibbering fits, she has a column that I paw desperately through the Saturday Globe and Mail to find first thing, inevitably spilling my coffee onto the bedclothes in the process, and she's magically and quirkily right on most of the time.

Did I say "most of the time?" Yes, alas. For, this weekend, I must part company with her. Not a divorce, but certainly a separation is called for. A walk in the snow, which would be nice right about now anyway--this muggy Ottawa heat reminds me of Samoa. Time by myself to cool off and consider.

Because she wants me to wear a tie.

I have sworn that I will keep this blog neat and tidy, but I will admit that the first thoughts that arose in me, after realizing that she was serious, expressed themselves in an uncultured manner. I spent years in executive union office without once having to wrap that noose around my neck, while succumbing to custom and habit by donning a jacket and black turtleneck (a Pierre Cardin, now at least twenty years old, and still hanging in there) for formal occasions. In fact, the last time I choked myself with some stupid, multicoloured yard of fabric is lost in the mists of time.

Now I'm told, in so many words, that I need one to score.

No. No way. No...way. Not if my life, and I don't mean just my sex life, depended on it. Never.

Is Mallick unaware of the origins of this custom of public half-strangulation? Anthropologist Marvin Harris says it's no more than a badge to indicate that the wearer is above physical labour. Maybe I won't wear one to get lucky, but I'll whip it out (due obeisance to Mallick's sub-text here) when it's time to do the dishes, or weed the garden.

Ties, of course, go with suits, and suits go with class. No, not "elegance in dress or behaviour." I'm talking hegemony here. A tie is nothing less than an accessory to a uniform, and that uniform, especially in its pin-stripey iteration, simply reeks of privilege, oppression, exploitation, the fun little world of banksters and privateers.

Ties are uncomfortable. I could never master that damned Windsor knot anyway. But herein, do we not find echoes of that looking-glass chatter that surrounds us today from the right-wing geckoes and crickets of popular culture? "Hey, men are oppressed too. We suffer, we feel, we aren't even allowed to cry." "Hey, whites don't have it so easy. Just try mowing my lawn and see for yourself. Here, let me fix you a drink." The relatively minor choking and itching that a tie creates allows its wearers to say, in effect, "We know what it is to suffer. We're just like you. Really, we are. We feel your pain."

John Berger, responding in a brilliant essay ("The Suit and the Photograph") to a famous photograph by August Sander, sums up what Mallick unfortunately misses: "Villagers... were persuaded to choose suits. By publicity. By pictures. By the new mass media.... The working classes... came to accept as their own certain standards of the class that ruled over them - in this case standards of chic and sartorial worthiness. At the same time their very acceptance of these standards, their very conforming to these norms which had nothing to do with either their own inheritance or their daily experience, condemned them, within the system of those standards, to being always, and recognisably to the classes above them, second-rate, clumsy, uncouth, defensive. That is indeed to succumb to a cultural hegemony".

Not me. Even if I'm condemned to monkhood by Mallick's foray into fashion-mavenhood. To be honest, I began avoiding ties because they chafed and choked, but now, dammit, I'm making a political statement. The struggle continues.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A quiet day in Ottawa...

My partner and I, members of the Ottawa Witness Group, were on duty this a.m. at Ottawa police headquarters, where a squeegee protest was to take place by a number of Ottawa's homeless. The Safe Streets Act, a law that criminalizes "aggressive panhandling" (yes, that means squeegeeing), passed in the bad old Mike Harris days, is still in force, and is used by a number of Ottawa police officers to hassle homeless people. They issue tickets to them, a modern take on the blood-from-stones notion, they arrest them on occasion, they move them along and generally make their lives more miserable than they already are.

So a small crowd showed up, squeegees and leaflets in hand, and a demonstration permit too, which caused no end of grief. By getting the permit, the group had effectively agreed to specific restrictions that likely went beyond the law--bad idea. A few decided to head right into the police station walkway, and were told by officers that this was "private property," a comment that had some of us scratching our heads. Nevertheless, the protesters backed away, and many went off downtown to squeegee and deliver their message. We followed them, but there were no police and no incidents.

Walking back in this steambath Ottawa weather, we came upon a familiar figure: Dr. Henry Morgentaler, here for a Humanist conference, taking a street break. The Ottawa Citizen had predicted crowds of protesters, but there was nary a one--this, after all, is a get-out-of-town day, if ever there was one. We go back a few years, so we chatted a little, and my partner was more than pleased to meet him and shake his hand. I wished "Dr. Dr." well, and on the way back we agreed that this sharp and sprightly octogenarian gives us ageing boomers hope.

We passed the police station on the way back to the car, and caught a few stragglers, who thanked us for being out. One of the leaders had just put in an official complaint about the police for their handling of the demo, thus helping to legitimize a cop-heavy procedure with no credibility--but it wasn't our role to get into active discussion with protesters. More on the role and work of the Witness Group in later posts.

Tomorrow, who knows? A quiet day would be nice...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hill japery

OK, OK, I may as well pile on too, if there's anything left underneath the seething, blogging mass of gleeful commentators today. Harper lost, the NDP got its budget, the Liberals received salvation from the Bloc, same-sex marriage is a dead cert, and meanwhile they're duking it out--literally--in the Senate, if you can believe Anne Cools. (Not that I'd ask those in their right minds to do any such thing.)

There are more wheels within wheels here than a dozen Ezekiels could figure out. I'm not even going to try. Call me cynical, call me anything you like, but you know what? I really don't
much give a damn.

Of course I'm happy that gay rights legislation is being passed, to a flourish of howls from assorted bigots and those who troll for their votes. And I'm happy that the NDP got their budget, although in a year or so everyone will praise the Liberals for it. And I'm always happy to see the Tories sucker-punched. But was last night really--politics?

Clever procedural manoeuvering is, of course, part of the game. But it's not the whole of it. Too many commentators are so taken with, or appalled by, the late-night deal between the Liberals and the Bloc that they've lost track of the issues themselves. The Bloc comes out of this one smelling like the proverbial roses--they didn't ask for some pro-separatist quid pro quo, after all, just for the long-overdue passage of an equal-rights bill upon the defeat of which the luckless Harper seems to have staked his shabby and increasingly shaky career.

So the inevitable has been put off for a while. Good. Maybe when the tumult dies we can have an election that's about issues: the erosion of health care under the Liberals, the erosion of rights that would surely follow a Tory victory, the erosion of public services that would accelerate under either, that unquenchable ignis fatuus called "Canadian unity," proportional representation (read: "democracy"), deep integration with the US, and our appalling involvement in Haiti, to name just a few. Have we heard a single original, bloggable comment on any of these
recently from the major players in last night's shenanigans? Are we about to? Don't hold your breath.

Bring back Hockey Night In Canada, I say. Switch Don Cherry and Mike Duffy. Stay tuned. And maybe I'll say a bit more about Anne Cools in an upcoming piece.

Chemical cover-up

A lot of folks in the vicinity of CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick are dying or already dead from a toxic rainbow of herbicide sprays, and the military is looking for plausible deniability. Agents Orange, White and Purple were deployed in reportedly massive quantities in the 1960s, with the consequences we would now expect: 170 soldiers in the Black Watch regiment at Gagetown died of cancer, many of them at a young age; civilians working on the base, and their families, have suffered likewise. Sarnia redux, by the sound of things.

A military spokesperson claims that the use of these deadly chemicals was limited and carefully controlled. But the news item noted that the chemicals at the time were considered harmless to human health, so why the controls? In fact, many of those who worked on the base at the time recall being soaked with the stuff. Clearing out sprayed bush, recalls one worker. "We cut it, we ingested the fumes, we burned it, therefore we inhaled the smoke ... and when it came time to eat, we sat down among all the toxins and we ate lunch with our bare hands."

Another, recalling that the spraying had gone on for years from fixed-wing aircraft, said "[The] first few times that we were out there, we came in, we were coloured orange, we were coloured yellow from the spray that came down on top of us." Both have cancer today.

A former Black Watch member recalls that soldiers "were out in the exercise area and the planes flew over spraying and they were told to just put ponchos over their head, that it wouldn't hurt them," Graves said. Duck and cover all over again. Which is, it seems, the current military strategy as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The recovering rich

You have to love the way business news gets reported these days. In the Globe and Mail, on page B3, we read that a "high-profile Parliamentary committee" (actually a gaggle of Senators) is urging "across-the-board tax cuts." (Yawn). These would include abolishing the federal capital tax, cutting corporate income tax--and reducing personal income tax for middle and upper income earners.

On page B13, utterly disconnected from this corporate wet dream, a small headline informs us that "Canada's richest regain big share of income." The on-line version is oddly headed, "Canada's wealthiest regain touch," whatever that means. One of the many meanings of the word "touch" is "to solicit money," but I digress.

In essence, the sweaty toil of the top 1% of income earners in Canada presently garners them 13% of the total Canadian personal income. This is back to pre-WWII levels: during the war the share plummeted, and continued to drop until 1980, when it reached 7.5%. But (let us all breathe a sigh of relief here) at that point "the recovery started."

Back to Jerry Grafstein, the chair of that Senate banking, trade and commerce committee. Big tax cuts, he says, are the only thing that can fix our "lagging productivity." Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said that the neoliberal philosophy amounts to this: "The poor have too much money, and the rich don't have enough." Nice that the latter have pals like Grafstein in their corner to help their recovery along.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fangs and wags

This will be an irregular feature in Dawg's Blawg.

First, a serious bite at FrontPage Mag's latest nonsense: the "revelation" that the POWs, er, "enemy combatants" in the Gitmo Gulag have legal hearings.

Turns out this means "in front of a military tribunal."

And they have rights under the Geneva Conventions--"in situations where those treaties apply."

And anyway, American citizens considered to be "enemy combatants" are treated no worse: "Obviously," one former Attorney General says, "if these procedures are sufficient for American citizens, they are more than enough for foreign detainees."

A nice bit of parsing, to be sure. In plain English (which I favour), military tribunals have the last word about guilt or innocence, the Geneva Conventions aren't relevant, and American citizens can also be driven to suicide by years of vigorous interrogation, so that's OK then.

On the Dawg Scale, this rates a 4 out of 5: ^^^^

Closer to home, inveterate rightwing Bible-thumper Kathy Shaidle, in an article quaintly entitled "The United States is the greatest force for good the world has ever known," attributes her rejection as a literary critic as due to her, well, being a critic: "
I've been quietly let go from reviewing posts at Canadian literary journals because I've dared to (gasp!) write critical reviews." Er, as opposed to what? Being one of them lit-critters myself, I'm downright curious. Although I got into a little trouble once upon a time for being unkind to Barbara Amiel. But that's another story.

On the Dawg Scale, this barely rates a nip: 1 out of 5. ^

A tail-wag, however, to whatever conjuncture of political forces, common sense and decency has extended Parliament until the same-sex marriage legislation is passed. Now, I will admit that this is a conflict for me, a bit like fighting for women in the priesthood. I mean, here we are defending the rights of everyone, regardless of "orientation," to participate in a thoroughly reactionary institution, originally conceived to pass women from father to husband with no intervening self-identity. I would have preferred civil unions for everyone, with church / temple/ synagogue/ mosque add-ons if people really want them--in other words, for once in my life I favour privatization, in this case of marriage.

But of course, this isn't what's at issue. If marriage licences, dog licences (don't get me started), fishing licenses and driving licenses are available to heterosexuals, then there is simply no good reason to deny any of these to gays and lesbians. To do so is to be in clear violation of the Charter. Parliament may as well bow to the inevitable: being homosexual doesn't make you a second-class citizen, whatever assorted bishops, evangelists and neo-Nazis think, if "think" is the right word to use here.

As to what constitutes the nature of citizenship, however, perhaps we need a wider debate: must it include equal-opportunity adherence to institutions with roots in mediaeval times? I'm typing this on a computer, after all, not scribbling on parchment. Anyhow:

Three Dawg wags: ~ ~ ~

Road Rage

"An affront to democracy!" "Appalling!" Ottawa Councillor Diane Deans, representing upscale Alta Vista, could barely contain herself.

What a fine piece of news to wake up to: a key city committee in Ottawa has put what promises to be the kibosh on the Alta Vista corridor--another massive expressway project threatening to pave communities and congest the downtown area with hundreds more cars per hour.

A little history here. Expressways are the wave of the past. The concept has no place in 21st-century thinking. Car-centred planning is being replaced by the notion of environment-friendly public transport, like buses and light rail. But a few years back, the corridor--which would bring cars and trucks down a four-lane highway into the heart of Ottawa's downtown--somehow found itself part of the official city plan.

The battle has been on, with lulls, ever since. For a while, it looked like the fix was in. The firm advising the city on the corridor was also first in line to bid on the eventual road-building contract. Their "environmental assessment" of increased traffic flows took place at off-peak hours, and did not include the effects of vastlly increased traffic into the downtown core. $5 million was set aside by city bureaucrats in the 2005 budget to commence work.

Then the mayor, Bob Chiarelli, stepped in. Now, I've always had a dim view of the man--a Liberal apparatchik, great defender of the police after their assault on peaceful protesters at the September 2001 G-20 (yes, I do tend to carry grudges), took the only police critic off the Police Services Board, that sort of thing. But I might even vote for him after this. In April, he held a press conference to express his strong opposition to the current corridor plan. Now the city committee has recommended that $32 million be deleted from the long-range budget (which is where the corridor money would have come from) and the corridor lands be devoted to green space and community recreational areas.

Ah, parks of rest and culture.

Chiarelli, being the politician that he is, said that this doesn't necessarily kill the corridor in the future, just for the next fifteen years. The Alta Vista councillor is hopping mad, though, and says this effectively "sterilizes" the land--and let's hope she's right. All that is needed now is City Council approval for the back-flip. The July 13 Council meeting may be the final conflict in this long saga of roads versus people.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So they finally nailed the old bastard...

...but so what? Ku Kluxer Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty, not of murder, but of manslaughter in the "Mississippi Burning" case. In 1964, three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerners, were murdered by a KKK death squad. Now, more than four decades after the fact, a Mississipi jury deadlocked 6-6, and finally agreed on the lesser charge. A former preacher and church-burner, the old so-and-so may even do time.

It's hard not to think of these cases as diversions. Plucking sick old racists out of history has its charms, to be sure, and I for one, in my darker moments, hope he expires on a chain gang, but what does any of this have to do with the endlessly-morphing and still virulent plague of racism today? Prominence given to such stories has an undertext: that racism is something out of the past, that only a few loose-end individuals remain to be "brought to justice," and we can all celebrate the end of a stone-cold era. Would that it were so.

Here in good ol' Canada, racism is alive and well. In Ottawa alone, the police have been involved recently in a number of unsavoury incidents, including:

  • repeated raids on the restaurant of a Caribbean-Canadian health-care worker at the Perley hospital, resulting in significant damages to the place but not a single charge. She has finally bowed to the inevitable, and closed the restaurant. Too bad, the jerk chicken was superb. But the police were more interested in drugs, weapons and even, believe it or not, child molestation. Seems like any and every crank call about this struggling worker's attempt to run an eatery was taken oh-so-seriously by Ottawa's finest.
  • a raid on a Somalian restaurant, precipitated by a racist neighbour who phoned in a complaint that someone on the premises had a firearm. The police were taking no chances, and descended on the place, roughing up the owner and placing every Black person there under arrest--but not the lone white person. Many were held overnight. One of those pernicious (at least from a public policy point of view) "undisclosed settlements resulted. We aren't permitted to know if the cops involved were disciplined, or anything else.
  • a "driving while Black" incident a matter of weeks ago. Chad Aiken, a young man driving his Mom's Mercedes, was stopped by a police officer allegedly for not wearing a seatbelt. Indeed, he was wearing one, so the cop searched the vehicle, came up with a burned-out licence-plate light, and ticketed him for that. The officer refused to give his name or badge number, and hassled Aiken, even reportedly punching and choking him. His quick-thinking girlfriend caught much of this good-natured banter on her cellphone. Since then, both Aiken and the girlfriend have, according to their lawyer, been under plainclothes police surveillance.

Now this has all happened within a short timeframe, in one city, in Canada, not at the hands of KKK whackos, but at those of police officers sworn to uphold the law, which, when I last checked, included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Act. Perhaps, then, rather than celebrating the four-decades-late under-conviction of an ancient Mississippi nutjob, we should start thinking--and acting--locally.

Monday, June 20, 2005

An odd beginning to the week...

Headline: (Ottawa Citizen) "Nun crucified; priest faces murder charge." Perhaps it was the news that he proceeded to officiate at her funeral that pushed me over the edge.

How is a writer supposed to out-do this? A work of fiction on this topic would be dismissed as contrived. The critics would have a field day with it. Art doesn't imitate life these days--it struggles to keep up.

Headline: (Globe & Mail) "Kazemi wasn't censored." An opinion-piece by veteran journalist Barbara Yaffe, who apparently believes that removing an exhibition of photographs by the murdered Iranian-Canadian photojournalist from a library in Montreal's Côte St. Luc district doesn't qualify as censorship. See, it wasn't the photographs, but the accompanying text, "in part written by (her) son," that caused the problem. Yet we are informed a few lines further down that the town council sanctioned the removal of the photographs themselves. I believe that Yaffe's vanishingly-fine distinction would qualify as a good example of Talmudic pilpul. The fact remains: Kazemi was murdered in Iran for daring to take photographs, and here at home they are being removed from libraries.

Headline: (Globe and Mail) "Union protest greets opening of Blue Man show." It's seems that this aggressively anti-union bunch of artificially pigmented Americans, which refused to work with local unions in Toronto, has little regard for freedom of assembly: it tried (unsuccessfully) to get the union protest banned. Well, we all know that "freedom" is a highly coded word down there, so no surprise. Anyway, they obviously have company. Here's Martin Bragg, artistic director of the Canadian Stage Company and Blue Man enthusiast: "It's 2005; we're not sitting in a coal mine."

Moving on from labour illiteracy, how about "Homolka longs to be the girl next door" (Montreal Gazette)? On that slightly creepy note, perhaps this morning's excursions into the mediated world should end.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A taxing issue

Michael Coren is at it again. In a recent column, he takes on, in the process providing plenty of free publicity, so thanks, I guess, are in order. God works in mysterious ways, as he might say.

But the contents of that column shouldn't go unchallenged. In it, Coren paints a picture of a loving Church under unfair attack by
--well, the rabble.

Why, it was the Church, he says, that made the pharmaceutical companies offer cheap AIDS drugs in Africa. But is is also, of course, the Church that actively opposes the distribution of condoms in Africa as an AIDS preventative. This is a bit like throwing a crowd of people into a raging river and then plucking a few out of the water downstream.

But Coren's main concern is the current proposal from beleaguered gays and lesbians that the churches be taxed. This, he says, is nothing less than an attack on free speech. That's a bit of a leap, even for a mediocre columnist. Taxation is a zero-sum game: if the churches, with their vast holdings, are tax-exempt, then the rest of us are paying more. Those of us who are a little out of sympathy with the churches these days are still forced to subsidize them. That's tough enough when they're doing all the charitable things Coren says they do
--although I suspect he is exaggerating just a trifle when he claims that's where the bulk of their money goes. These days, a whack of it is being paid out to the countless victims of "brotherly love," so much that churches are whimpering about bankruptcy and begging for government assistance.

But when the churches get into the political arena, something that the law says is forbidden to those organizations who want to keep their charitable status, something just has to give. Right now, they're having it both ways. We've seen Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary calling for "state coercion" to be used against gays and lesbians, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic publicly calling for the use of the notwithstanding clause to remove their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, church-organized protests against same-sex marriage, and it goes on and on.

Perhaps the most ludicrous and insupportable claim in Coren's vapourings on the subject is his reference to these folks as "loving and honest people." That one nearly cost me a mouthful of coffee and a new keyboard. Honest? Well, they've been open enough about their views. Perhaps they'll now be honest enough to cough up tax money like the rest of us, the legal price that other political lobby groups must pay. But "loving?"

Come on, Michael, pull the other one. Do the comments above from church officials sound loving? Demanding state coercion and the removal of Charter rights for gays and lesbians?

Well, let them go on like that, I say. It's salutary to see this sort of thing coming out, as it were: the last words of dying mediaeval institutions gasping aloud in 21st century air. But--
not on my nickel, guys.
The normal ones

"Touting (sic) red-and-white Polish flags, thousands of members of a Polish youth organization opposed to special rights for homosexuals marched through Warsaw today in a so-called "Normal Parade" in answer to a recent "gay pride" event in the city." (WorldNet Daily)

Good grief. A "Normal Parade." Sounds like rush-hour in downtown Ottawa, doesn't it? Or a metaphor for the life sketched out by Malvina Reynolds in her immortal "Little Boxes?" It reminds me of the paradox about uninteresting people
--they are interesting because they are uninteresting. So I would dearly love to hold a balloon, bring the family and wave at the crowd of "Normals" marching down Bank Street, if it happens here.

What should we expect? Well, no priests or nuns, because they're not normal by any standard definition of the term. Celibate, given all day to prayer and political activity, wearing the uniforms of their trade, we are not dealing with averages, medians and majorities here. So we won't expect to see them.

What about Fred Phelps and his merry crew from Topeka, Kansas? They're all lawyers, every last one of 'em, and spend their time picketing funerals of gays and lesbians, carrying signs saying "God Hates Fags." Two things in no way normal, so they'll be absent too.

As near as I can figure it, we would see floats consisting of replicas of new property developments, the very "little boxes" of the song. There would be folks wearing sandals with socks. And a squad of well-dressed youngsters, doing their homework in formation, with all the boys in blue and the girls in pink. These are the people in commercials who spray their houses with aerosol freshness, who wipe screaming germs out
by the millions in the comfort of their kitchens, who kill bugs dead. The people next door.

I must live in the wrong neighbourhood, though, because I've never met any of these normal people. On one side, our neighbour likes to listen to opera at top volume while she barbecues, and has covered her garden area with frog replicas. On the other side is a distant relative of Jean Chretien, a retired electrical worker who is seldom in the best of moods, but warmed up to me when I acquired a family. Neither of them, I suspect, would qualify for the Normal Parade. In fact, no one I have ever met would.

So I remain fascinated. Who are these Normal people? What do they do, what do they think, where on earth are they hiding? It's high time that they dare to come out, be proud of who they are, and have a lavish
--well, not too lavish--Normal Pride Day. I'll be there with bells on, celebrating the self-liberation of our least-recognized minority, making the links, doing my best to build solidarity. They're there, they're square--get used to it.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The theory of unintelligent design

Does anyone else get tired of the endless bleatings about the world coming to an end? You know, all the weeping and hand-wringing from the ones who think a wedding ring on a gay finger means the destruction of civilization, who inhabit a looking-glass planet where Blacks oppress whites and women oppress men, who groove to the mortician vibe of Stephen Harper, and get offended by spirited cartoons on and Dr. Morgentaler's second doctorate.

Here's a newsflash: if the world ends, it will be because of global warming and one-too-many American wars and the increasing gap between rich and poor that is the chief hallmark of globalization. It will be because humanity as a whole is not intelligently designed, has evolved to be more tactical than strategic, more impulsive than reflective, and has sinuses that drain upwards.

Ever wonder why the Right has what Burgundy-lovers call "immediate appeal," while the Left must struggle daily to evoke human empathy and solidarity in people--including themselves? It's unintelligent design, nothing deeper than that. want proof?

  • A very foolish diplomat named Mr. Franco Pillarella was unaware, so he claims, that Syria practises torture. He is now Ambassador to Romania.
  • MRI machines stand idle while waiting lists grow. Why? Because, according to a report by Dr. Anne Keller, asked to look at the situation in Ontario, there "is not optimal business management."
  • A young woman in California faces ten years in prison for watering some marijuana plants.
This is from ONE page of today's Ottawa Citizen. I'm almost afraid to move on to page two, but a kind of heart-breaking surrealist poem is taking shape. Later for that.

One final question: what is it with the "bodacious babes of backlash," as Michele Landsberg used to call them? Must they all be anorexic damaged goods? There's Rachel Marsden, has a gig in the National Post now, which figures--she seems to have outgrown swimming coaches and now finds herself afloat in a brackish sea of well-worn cliches, scooping cupfuls out for the somnambulists who must receive their daily sedative but think they're above the Sun. There's the ridiculous Ann Coulter and her pack of lies. And right here in blogland there's our own Kathy Shaidle, with her mixture of pith Christ and vinegar, mixing it up with the folks over at of--and posting fitful bursts of self-hype between installments of a boring anti-Islam crusade.

In case anyone thinks I'm being sexist (heaven forbid, I'm a well-processed SNAG and I know the secret handshake), let me devote a moment to David Horowitz, FrontPage Magazine editor and writer. You know the guy actually answers e-mails? I'd been moved to send him one, based on some racist comment or other I found in his e-zine, and suddenly there he was, asking what my politics were. There is no simple answer to that question, and we exchanged a few messages. I swear I gave up nothing, but now I get regular requests for money from "the desk of David Horowitz", and I'm allegedly a supporter.

What surprises me is that his style hasn't changed a bit from the good old days when he edited
Ramparts. He still loves the biting polemic and the thrill of the chase. But there's something a little superficial and even dishonest about him these days.

Horowitz is no dummy, even if some of his contributors assuredly are. But even when we're smart, we seem to be programmed to behave in stupid ways and say stupid things. The man is far too bright to believe, for example, that "the Left" really endorses the tenets of radical, homophobic, misogynist, fanatical, mediaeval Islamic extremism as evinced by bin Laden et al. But there he is, pushing the latest demonizing craze with tremendous gusto. Reminds me of the time, way back in the mid-sixties, when a baseball player or coach or something said that anyone who throws a beanball is a "Communist."

Talk about unintelligent design.