Saturday, April 29, 2006

PSAC Convention, etc.

I'm off to the Triennial Convention of the Public Service Alliance of Canada for a week, and the annual meeting of the Canadian Anthropology Society for a few days after that, so expect sporadic blogging for a while. I'll have some good material for posts on my return, though.

The PSAC Convention promises to be interesting--there will be a top leadership change, as National President Nycole Turmel steps down after two terms in office, and there will also be a call for a dues increase to build up the union strike fund.

In the meantime, some random comments on current events, in no particular order of importance:

The album. I'm an old Neil Young fan, and once included a reference to "Don't Let It Bring You Down" in a piece of academic work. At his best, the man is a lyric poet. He is not at his best here. It's good political stuff, but I get the feeling that,
as Theodore Sturgeon once said of H.G. Wells, he's sold his birthright for a pot of message.

The deal. OK, we've paid the US a billion dollars of protection money to keep free trade optically alive. The pragmatists are already out in force--Gordon Ritchie has a piece in the Citizen today, and the Globe and Mail has weighed in with a dreary editorial. Somehow, beatifying Stephen Harper for being shaken down, though, as the Right spinmeisters are now doing apace, makes me feel a little queasy. At best, it's making a virtue out of Realpolitik necessity. The US is the Ishmael of the world--free trade is good for everyone but them. Harper is really just another mugging victim.

The bomb. Yeah, I'm nervous too. Iran has been sat upon by colonial and "post-colonial" powers for long enough to create collective madness. So, what do we do about it? I mean, as progressives? Compared to
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Saddam Hussein was a model of reason and stability. I have long opposed imperialist adventures like the Iraq and Afghanistan incursions, but...what about Iran? Is there room for a Left discourse of action that differs from the frothy ones on the Right? Serious debaters only, please.

The protest. And speaking of froth, the Caledonia standoff has the folks over at Dust My Broom a tad upset. A loyal reader and one of the Dusters are calling for napalm and white phosphorus. All in fun, of course. Steve Janke, meanwhile, is going on about a fool at Babble (a struck worksite, by the way--perhaps more on that at a later time) who called for Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan to "die like flies," and segueing into a personal attack on Judy Rebick.
The aforesaid fool was set upon, rightly, by other Babblers. But nary a peep out of Steve or anyone else on the Right when it comes to joking about mass-murdering Native people. A little hypocrisy in evidence here? Naw, you think?

Enough for now.



Thursday, April 27, 2006


I guess I've come a little late to the Chris Bliss juggling act. In fact, "juggling act" doesn't cover it, as you discover pretty quickly when you check out the video. It's pure poetry, on-stage transcendental meditation, a perfect synthesis of body and mind. Just look at Bliss' face while he's performing--there's a kind of radiance and raptness shining forth, a transfiguration, like that indescribable expression on Tiger Woods' face as he swept the 2001 Masters, stroke after stroke; the club, ball, and indeed the course itself were an extension of his body. Deleuze and Guattari, anyone?

The parody by Jason Garfield, using five balls instead of three, is just a put-down exercise. Never mind the deliberate, and very clever, setting--alone in a basement, cutting to an imagined audience and so on. The performance imitates but does not either repeat or surpass the original. It's all over-skill, self-conscious, "I can do better" sort of stuff. On one level he does, but the magic is missing. It's the difference between haiku and limerick.

Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of parody is more appealing to me, subversive play with high and "received" cultural language, forms of overturning and resistance. What we have here, on the other hand, is the parody of late modernity: anything can be mocked and derided, everything is fair game. There's no longer a political edge, it no longer has that appealing counter-hegemonic ring. It's just competition, individual against individual, the atomized subjects--or objects--of the New World Order. There's no content to it. There's a kind of hopelessness to it all, a momentary crabs-in-the-bucket advantage substituting for more far-reaching changes in the human condition. Technical routines supplant the merely human; our abilities and practices are misused against each other instead of combining in a project of community.

Turning for a moment to larger balls--basketballs, in fact--I am pleased to report that a downtown Ottawa basketball court is about to be restored to its players. St. Luke's park, host for maybe a quarter-century to some professional-level basketball on the weekends, ran into a snag a few days ago--a city crew lowered one of the hoops, after a handful of neighbours alleged that the predominantly Black players were (as the Ottawa Citizen helpfully repeated day after day) using drugs, drinking, swearing, fighting and publicly urinating. Naw, no whiff of racism there, eh?

The Ottawa police, who have never held back when there have been perceived infractions by visible minorities in the city, reported this time that there has been little or no trouble over the years at the park, and that no arrests have ever been made. The progressive city councillor in the ward, Diane Holmes, initially jumped too soon and supported the petitioners. But to her considerable credit she has since admitted she had been wrong, apologized, and will have the court restored. Everybody wins--except, of course, the folks who wanted "those people" out of the area.

As a side-note, when one basketball player called the local talk-show hosted by vulgarian Lowell Green, and put the case, Green's response was that "you people always play the race angle." The player, who is white, subsequently sent Green a photo of himself. But don't hold your breath waiting for an apology from that guy.

Blog Testing

Hi! This isn't Dr. Dawg. This is James Bow, here on a house call to try and diagnose problems with this site's Atom feed. Don't mind me; I'll soon be on my way and we'll be returning you to your regularly scheduled blogging shortly.

UPDATE: Three or more weeks of pure frustration, solved at a stroke by the masterful James Bow. James, you are da man! Many, many thanks and tailwags [~~~~~~]. Back to regular programming soon. Dr.Dawg

Friday, April 14, 2006

A whiff of dictatorship

The Harper government's latest outrage—gagging an Environment Canada scientist and part-time novelist, and ordering that he not attend his own book launch—is unsettlingly symptomatic of the regime that Canadians can expect to endure for the next couple of years.

It took virtually no time at all for the totalitarian Conservative worldview to emerge once Stephen Harper took power. Many of us have been in denial ever since, rubbing our eyes and struggling to wake up. But we're already awake, folks. This really is our Canada.

We’re a nation at war, with a strutting Prime Minister posing for endless media photo-ops with the military folks, looking for all the world like a pudgy recrudescence of
il Duce. This is a country where research programs to reduce global warming are being trashed as I write, despite hollow denials. A country in which supporting the theory of evolution can lose you a federal research grant.

Canada is now a place where government backbenchers can muse aloud about jailing journalists. A place where sick and elderly Native survivors of residential schools, promised a little cash in advance by the Liberals pending a global settlement, are now denied that support in a staggeringly mean-spirited move. A country that, internationally, leads the charge in trying to starve the Palestinian people into submission after they elected the "wrong" government in free and fair elections.

Harper's cheerleaders, of whom there are many in the blogosphere, have performed extraordinary feats of verbal and mental acrobatics to rationalize his behaviour. The man who claimed that he wanted transparency and openness in government has quickly moved to impose the exact opposite, dropping a new and lethal shroud of secrecy upon the public service and his own Cabinet. He's already making the one-man-rule antics of Jean Chrétien look, well, small-town cheap. And the retrograde and hateful "social conservatism" that has been kept under lock and key by the Maximum Leader continues to leak from bursting seams.

The Conservatives have been in power for less than three months. What's next? Welcome to my waking nightmare, which just may continue a little longer than a few days:

Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in the society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of...

Q: At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?

A: Well just watch me.


It used to be a nice neighbourhood. Then the cops moved in.

Gatineau's finest have just completed a "prostitution sweep" in the Eddy Street area of what used to be Hull, across the river from Ottawa. They netted ten johns, it is reported, but "no charges were laid against prostitutes." Enlightened, one might think, even liberal. The best and the brightest on the social front have been telling us for years, after all, that prostitution is not a victimless crime, because the prostitutes themselves are victims. Their customers, on the other hand, are predators, paying predators, to be sure, but predators nonetheless. They are perpetuating a social problem, and they ought to be punished for it.

A digression: this model is fundamentally flawed. We can all agree that pimps are predators, and those of us who rank prostitution pretty low on the list of social "evils," or leave it off the list altogether, wouldn't mind a pimp round-up, but things get a little grayer when we look at prostitution itself. It's a paying transaction, shorn of love but not of desire, the consummation of the latter being remunerated at market rates, as are other consummations, offered to the consumer by the same invisible hand of the capitalist system. Certainly some prostitutes conform to the image, or at least one of the contradictory images that circulate, of a whipped and degraded soul, drugged and diseased and without hope, forced into the game because she couldn't land a good job as a secretary or burger-flipper. But others are simply businesswomen, making good money and investing it wisely.

Why do we automatically deny agency to women, assuming that, if they pursue conduct of which our moral guardians disapprove, they must be victims? But wait--this isn't precisely how our legal system operates. Indeed, prostitutes regularly find themselves before the courts, victims once again. Doubly victimized, as some might have it. Or are they victimizers? Who is the real victim, then?

Perhaps the events in Gatineau may provide us with a clue. It wasn't a matter of letting the hookers off the hook. Because there were no hookers, none to be seen. All of the elegant ladies of the evening, it seems, were undercover police officers. Every last bodacious one was a public employee doing her duty.
The johns now face fines of up to $500.

So, as our neighbourhoods quickly go downhill, invaded by throngs of attractive police officers strutting their stuff, we ordinary citizens can reflect on this: we're the victims, if victims there are. We're doubly victimized, in fact--first by the Mrs. Grundys whose Puritan notions of sex have managed to keep soliciting laws on the books even in the new millennium, and secondly by the tax collector, whose bulging coffers provide the wherewithal to pay for these evening police excursions, coming soon, perhaps, to a neighbourhood near you.

Perhaps it is comforting to know at tax time (whence these grumpy reflections originate) that those coffers are, at least to some extent, replenished through a kind of user-pay system. Once more there are victims, of course: the users get nothing in return for their money. But, as any sex-trade worker will tell you, that's the whole point.

It wasn't foolish fancy that led William Blake to say, "Prisons are built with stones of law, Brothels with bricks of religion." There is an important corollary, however, these days: prostitution is police business. In all senses, it would seem, of the word.