Smirking Toward Bethlehem

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trump.jpg “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Well, at least now we know the name, and initials, of that rough beast.

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Kindergarten reunion

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Kindergarten class of 52 afternoons.jpg

How loose can the connections be that permit a social network to be called a network? Let me suggest a kindergarten reunion as the limit case.

Out of the blue a few months ago I received a phone call. John Baglow? Did you attend kindergarten in Richmond Hill in 1952? Why, yes. Would you like to attend a reunion of the Class of ‘52? You bet! But ask me why I so readily agreed and I’d have a very hard time explaining.

Why would the organizer, Bob Blanchard (in my class, by the way), dream up such a thing? Well, he gets together every year with a few friends from grade-school days—they call themselves the McConaghy Old Boys, the later name of the Richmond Hill Public School we attended. This year, when we’re all turning 70 or have already done so, he suggested a birthday party. But who would come? He proceeded to track down most of the Class of ‘52, both the morning and afternoon classes, and he included some grade eights too from McConaghy and from other schools that had opened later to accommodate the growing town population.

I arrived in Richmond Hill early, and so decided to test my memory by walking to my old house. I didn’t put a foot wrong. I passed the high school, now refurbished, and there it stood. Part of the woods I remembered still remained across the street. I was surprised at how long the walk from my old school was, the walk that I did every day when I was 4 and then 5.

The sun was unrelenting, and the humidity enveloped me like fog. I was suddenly tired, carrying a bag and wearing a seasonally unsuitable jacket. I took a picture or two, forgetting momentarily in the haze how to use my cellphone camera. A welter of memories, like a waking dream. The Ozarks hillbilly house next door (more below) had been replaced by a repellant, massive brick structure that might have seemed modern once. I had remembered stairs at the side of my childhood home, but I could have been mistaken. The inside of this WWII veteran’s house, judging from a realtor’s virtual tour, appears to have been transformed.

I walked back to Yonge Street, turned up a mild slope I had remembered as a hill, and quickly entered a roomful of strangers. I’m shy in these situations, and find it hard to break the ice. But I was greeted by Bob Blanchard, and by Dave Barrow, the mayor of Richmond Hill, in mufti. The attendees, some 140 of us all told, found ourselves in a single space, the very gymnasium where my kindergarten was held in what was once the only school in town, and now, perhaps appropriately, was a seniors’ residence. A table-mate and I reminisced about the afternoon naps. The girls got nice soft, fluffy mats to lie on, the boys, thin green ones. A teacher had torn one of the former from my grasp. “That’s how I first realized that girls were different,” I said. And it was true.

Talking to others at the gathering, we recalled trick-or-treating everywhere, no anxious parents on sidewalks. There were few family cars at the time. The ice-man came two or three times a week. In the winter, the coal man emptied his wares down a chute into the basement, filling it with clouds of dust.

And the Guppys. Everyone I spoke to knew of them, but we lived right next door to them. Rusting cars in the yard. The father ran a blind pig, which accounted for the cars lined up on the streets on weekends. And Freddy. He picked on me, but I was assured he picked on everyone. He was a year earlier at kindergarten, and never made it to Grade 8. What, no truancy enforcement? Easier, one attendee said, to give that family a miss.

Mr. Guppy would bring in a load of topsoil every Spring, toss it in a pile, throw some seeds at it, and in the Fall, to everyone’s chagrin, he’d harvest the best veggies for miles around. Freddy, I was told, later became a garbageman—and was good at it, apparently, working both sides of the street on one pass-through.

Reminiscences. A network of time instead of space. What else would bind us? Some wore photos of themselves around their necks. I said that the only photo of me from back then was on a horse. “We all have those,” several exclaimed. A photographer at the time would take his horse around from house to house, and took photos of little Richmond Hill kids astride it.

“Look at the people here,” a man at our table said. “No multiculturalism back then.” And it was indeed a pale crowd, with a couple of Inuit*, one of whom came to our table and twice let us know she’d been adopted. “One Black family moved in to Richmond Hill,” said my former classmate. “The kid played amazing baseball. There was never any problem (with racism).”

I had wanted to apologize to the little girl whom I had teased to tears nearly sixty-five years ago. But I learned that she’d passed away five years earlier. She had rested at a funeral home a block or so from where we were. There would be no closure after all.

There were two Lindas in my kindergarten class. I knew the Linda I remembered had lived on Benson, around the corner from me, and one Linda did, but she had no memory of me. People ribbed me a bit when I talked about “playing house,” but that consisted of throwing a blanket over a couple of chairs and my mother bringing us puffed rice in bowls for a snack. I recalled suddenly that we had laughed about rhymes once.

The invitation to gather allowed us to add colour and definition to our fading memories, but it was a trap, in a way. Our lives were now caught between two bookends, the first few years of life and the last few. Everything in between had become hazy, compressed, foreshortened.

At times like this we realize how quickly our lives do run, and how what stands out is arbitrary, circumstantial, possibly meaningless. The narrative disappears, or is at least cast into shadow, as we re-live the very beginnings of our memories.

Why did we do this, why did we agree to it? No one there could put it into words that ran very deep. Perhaps we didn’t have to. It was something we wanted to do—something that fetched me from Ottawa, another from North Bay, still another from Winnipeg.

There was the attractive oddness of it, of course, but also a call, speaking to some kind of need. And so we gathered, in the background a pervasive melancholy: a time when we realize at last that we are old, resting on a high storey of a narrow tower of years, staring from the window at the ground so far below.

*I was later informed by Bob Blanchard that they were none other than John and Rosemary Mowat, adopted by Farley Mowat’s parents on his urging after he made a trip to the Northwest Territories to research a novel.

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To serve and protect

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Police v. woman.jpg

…whom, exactly?

American cops in Baton Rouge display their manliness. And I mean that without any sarcasm at all.

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All lives matter

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Philando Castile.jpg

…a pity some matter more than others. Which is why Black Lives Matter needs to remind us: Black bodies are alive too.

Needs to remind us. Good God. Really? Yes, really.

So Black Lives Matter, Toronto chapter, stopped a Pride parade for half an hour. The social media roof fell in. Even some people I respect called that protest within a protest (if Pride has even a vestige of protest left these days) “tone deaf,” or uncalled-for, or thankless, or impolite. Those people (and I use the phrase advisedly) were disruptive. They were spitting on the rug of their hosts. They were getting in the way. They were buzzkill. They were harshing everybody’s mellow.

They didn’t know their place.

Some didn’t merely knee-jerk. There’s John Ibbitson, of all people. I don’t like everything in his piece, but he thought about the meaning of the BLM_TO protest. He was conflicted about it. And, to his credit, he admitted it.

But pundits as a rule don’t like to be of two minds. They prefer to speak ex cathedra. So the other whi’ folks lined up. They opened their yaps and Mr. Charlie spoke. Who did those uppity protesters think they were? It was hot on that day, dammit. People were trying to celebrate. Never mind that the first Pride parade was a riot. Never mind that the first few parades after that were still risky for the folks that marched in them. Eventually Pride became respectable. Corporate floats and all. And police floats too.

I liked those floats when I first saw them in Ottawa. Local “morality squad” cops had been busting bathhouses. Found-ins were named in the newspapers. But things changed, if not overnight, in a very short time. Those floats were a vindication, almost an apology.

But that was then. As any smart-alec will tell you, Pride “evolved.” It’s safe enough now for the Prime Minister of Canada to join in.

Safe. Just like our streets for “non-white” GLBT folks? Well, no. Black and Asian queers and transpeople suffer police harassment and brutality all the time, in Toronto as elsewhere. The more corporate floats, booths and kiosks there are at Pride, the less space for people, ordinary LGBT people, to occupy. Their voices of pain are drowned out. There’s betrayal all around them, as the police (not LGBT police per se, but the police as an institution) join the parade. Like having management floats, as one activist said, on a Labour Day parade. Hell, bosses work too. Right?

Damn, I’m angry as I write this. BLM_TO, standing up for marginalized people, being re-marginalized by a cyber-mob, including “progressives.” Their demands all eminently reasonable: more space for them, please, in the annual Pride event. Recognition. Intersectionality, which appears to have too many syllables for some folks to grasp. If people of colour don’t want police floats, I’d rather deepen solidarity with them than worry about a few hurt fee-fees in the cop shop. That’s a strategic question. Do progressives want to march with a few cops on Pride day, or with people of colour every day, whose lives are marked by police victimization?

Why the hell should I even have to ask that question?

And then the news explodes: two more Black men murdered by cops in the US in as many days. One cop caught on video executing his victim, Alton Sterling, at point-blank range. More shots are pumped into his unresisting body by the death squad in blue. The body cameras that cops are supposed to wear somehow “fell off.” Philando Castile, in another city, is murdered by another cop who pulled him over for a broken tail-light (apparently a capital offence in the US if you’re Black), demanded he produce his ID, and shot him as he tried to comply. This in front of Castile’s partner and her 4-year-old child.

Anyone with the wit to keep more than one thing in their heads at a time could put two and two together. Black people don’t live the same lives that we white folks do. They may never live those lives in the comfort that we do. Many of them are angry about it, for some reason. Many of them think cops may be part of the problem. But the uncarded scratch their pallid brows and wonder what’s gotten into those people. BLM_TO made some people uncomfortable on Pride day, and they’re getting the treatment, and none of the people administering the media lash are talking about racism. Hey, Pride isn’t even about racism—right?

Meanwhile Black bodies are bullied, tortured and killed, and not a word is spoken in their defence by the oh-so-superior white cognoscenti. Those journalists, their smug faces almost winking in complicity, the very ones who whined in their sundry media columns about a 30-minute interruption of a Pride march, fell utterly silent.

Odd, that. Don’t all lives matter after all?

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Trudeau with pandas.jpg

“Sunny ways” had me going, too. I’ll admit it. All the right moves seemed to be getting made. The Dark Lord was beaten into silence, and has just now left the building.

For just one example of a break in the clouds, take organized labour. Justin promised to repeal several appalling pieces of anti-labour legislation:C-4, C-59, C-377 and C-525. The previous government (with Liberal support) effectively abolished pay equity in the Public Service: Trudeau struck a committee on pay equity, whose first recommendation was that this unconstitutional legislation be binned.

There has been more, much more. Our new PM quickly assembled a gender-equal Cabinet. Stalinoid monstrosities—the Mother Canada monument in Cape Breton and the “Monument to the Victims of Communism” to be plopped on the Supreme Court lawn—were axed. The risible “Office of Religious Freedom” disappeared. A gender-neutral national anthem was approved. Proposals for electoral reform would be drafted by a Parliamentary committee, one without a Liberal majority on it.

Foolishly, even at my age, and in spite of my politics screaming at me to wake the hell up, I dared to dream. Justin was wearing a lovely new multi-coloured cloak. I might even have sought a selfie with him, claiming later that it was meant to be ironic.

But I have rightfully earned my cynicism over many decades, and it recently began to kick me like a horse. A decision not to build a couple of monuments, words in an anthem, closing a pointless office that wasted revenues, none of this ran very deep. Whatever comes out of the committee studying electoral reform will still need a Liberal imprimatur before being put into effect. And what good is a gender-balanced Cabinet if the same bad policies of the previous government continue to be implemented by it?

The Liberals are uncommonly good at lathering cosmetics over an ugly agenda just as extreme as Stephen Harper’s—one, in fact, virtually indistinguishable from it.

Take those anti-labour Bills that still has us union types all jiggy. They were classic Harper overreach. They violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms every indefensible which way, and after the January 2015 “Labour Trilogy” of Supreme Court cases, they became even more constitutionally untenable. They were doomed, in a word, once they reached the Supreme Court. Better to repeal this garbage legislation now rather than spend considerable taxpayers’ coin fighting impossible court battles.

What happened to the changes in the secret-police Bill C-51 that we were promised? Canadians have been having their Charter rights breached ever since the passage of this Harper-era legislation (supported by the Liberals). Judges in secret courtrooms are still approving violations of the Charter without ever hearing from the other side. Not a move from the Liberals, though, other than some toothless Parliamentary “oversight” that kicks in long after the bad decisions have already been made and executed by low-level operatives.

Trudeau quickly proceeded to rubber-stamp two Harper trade deals: the TPP, which will throw countless workers out of their jobs, and CETA, which will enrich Big Pharma to the cost of ordinary Canadians struggling to cover the grossly inflated costs of drugs. He approved a $15 billion deal with one of the most evil regimes in the world—Saudi Arabia—to supply that government with military vehicles to be used against the Saudi people and very likely against Yemeni civilians as well. And now we’re warmongering with Russia by sending troops to its borders. Remember how we raised our eyebrows when Harper got shirty about Canadian airspace? Sabre-rattling! Chest-puffing! Harper must be smiling ruefully to himself in his Calgary redoubt.

Despite a promise to re-open service offices, Trudeau has resumed Harper’s scorched-earth attack on wounded Canadian veterans, even putting one of the former Prime Minister’s key hatchetmen in charge of the assault. He recently ordered that the “mincome” experiment, which has been a proven success in reducing poverty, not even be permitted to be studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.

For reasons known best to the Liberal inner circle, a right-to-die bill was watered down to the point that a number of Canadians have been condemned to lives of unremitting physical agony. A prominent Liberal who has spent time and effort researching this issue was mocked at the recent Liberal Convention by the snotty Carolyn Bennett, who called her “the professor from Fredericton.” (Does that anti-intellectual smell seem familiar?) A proposal to set up a national organ registry to make things easier for transplant recipients was nixed without debate by the Liberals.

And remember the Afghan detainee issue—where Canadians were allegedly handing over Afghan prisoners to be tortured? The Liberals nearly brought down the Harper government over that, clamouring with moral indignation. Now they are in power, however, the cover-up continues. There will be no third-party inquiry.

The targeting of progressive charities by the Canada Revenue Agency, begun by Harper, is continuing, at tremendous cost to the victims, and the Liberals have rubbed salt in the wounds by awarding a promotion to the witchfinder-in-chief. The Unitarian Church, for one, has already had to spend tens of thousands of dollars, with no end in sight, to defend itself against aggressive CRA auditors who demand that references to “social justice” be removed from the church’s charter.

Even Harper took more than a mere few months to implement much of his Maximum Program. Trudeau, on the other hand, has been racing at warp speed to commit countless indecencies upon vulnerable Canadians and ordinary people in other lands. The difference? He smiles and takes selfies while he’s doing it. And, judging from the polls, folks are still being taken in. Or, perhaps some Conservatives—the smart ones—are part of these approval stats, as they notice that many of the policies they like are continuing to be implemented, even more quickly than before. The now-neutered NDP raises barely a whisper about any of this, but still sends regular begging letters, which these days don’t mention any issues at all. The Conservative Opposition scrambles to find a political foothold anywhere, watching their own program progress non-stop, complete with their trademark cruelty, but now wearing a handsome, hip young disguise.

It’s not that the new Emperor isn’t wearing clothes. The very opposite is true: he is utterly resplendent. And that’s the problem .

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Summer reading open thread

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By popular demand, this open thread. “Popular” can, of course, mean just about anything these days, eh, Craig?

So, what have people read? What are they planning to read? What should we read?

Floor is yours. I’m reading a sci-fi novel at the moment, Iain M. Banks’ Excession. Not far enough into it to decide if I like it yet.

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Civil war on the Right

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civil war brexit.jpg

Brexit is one of those historical phenomena that is a mosaic of sub-phenomena; or, if you prefer, a forest with a number of diverting trees. Step back.

We’re watching a civil war within ruling classes unfold before our eyes. Look at the leaders, and then consider the largely hapless voters asked to choose between two unpalatable alternatives.

Some very broad strokes:

On the Remain side: Neo-liberal sharpsters, with-it wealthy businessmen, camp-follower economists, international capital, corporate globalizers, austerity-mongers.

On the Leave side: Protectionists, isolationists, assorted in-bred toffs and chinless wonders, nostalgic Empire buffs, opportunistic nativists, racists.

Among the Leave voters: Racists and xenophobes. Confused folks who thought their votes wouldn’t count. Fools. Charlatans. Knaves. Progressive leftists who have observed the utter immiseration and social devastation among vast swathes of the population that the EU and successive, increasingly savage, UK governments have wrought. Who have seen the wealthy double their take during the same period.

Among the Remain voters: Neo-liberals. Working folks who prefer the devil they know. Young folks who wanted to have a shot at a career, or even employment, in other EU countries. Realists aware of the insanely colossal task that withdrawal will be. Progressive leftists of the sort who prefer Clinton to Trump.

Ah. Clinton and Trump. No, I’m not trolling. There again is a palace civil war. Rich and crazy isolationist nativists on the one side; rich and smart, forward-looking corporate globalizers on the other. Each with a hand in the worker’s pocket. “Our” elites vs. “their” elites. Think of it as like another World War I, that family quarrel among inter-bred royalty, conducted by other means.

Each elite appeals to a different set of popular prejudices. Opportunist populism versus a more consistently ideological approach. Guns and religion and xenophobia on the one hand; the American dream and free trade and opportunity (if not equality) for all on the other. Hate versus more congenial pipe-fantasies.

Choose your poison. Or just push the chalices away.

Of course, no true progressive can leave it thus. We need a strategy.

(continued p.94)

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Junuary in Ottawa

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Our Simcoe Street party yesterday. We have one every year to celebrate the coming of summer. Meanwhile, in Nuuk

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US election.jpg

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” ~K.M.

I hear folks are calling for unity now. I propose a Clinton-Trump ticket in that spirit of post-primary comity. Why settle for the lesser evil when you can have it all?

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Free speech chronicles

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My buddy Canadian Cynic is being sued for something he said. By Ezra Levant, the king of the Speech Warrior™ crowd, the folks who believe it’s OK to say pretty much anything—if they’re the ones doing the saying.

There are times that Hypocrisy stands on a mountaintop in a howling wind, his cape flapping, his voice thundering across the reaches of space and time, his mighty thews and sinews striking terror and madness in those who merely hold a double standard or two, or fail on occasion to practise what they preach.

“Pussies,” he sneers, as levin flashes overhead, and the ground trembles from sea to sea, and the seas toss their ships, aglow with St. Elmo’s fire, like toothpicks in a tornado. “Look to Ezra Levant, and tremble. You are not worthy even to speak his name.”

We need to give our pal CC a hand by supporting him in his legal travails. The discovery phase alone should be a pure joy, the trial a popcorn event. Ezra doesn’t have much of a track record when it comes to libel cases. He’s more than likely to be properly flensed when the matter reaches court, if he’s foolish enough to let things go that far. But (as I myself know well), justice comes at a cost—if it comes at all.

Some may find CC a trifle rich for their blood. But there’s a principle at stake here, or so I’ve been told by the intrepid defenders of free speech. And there’s another, more fleshly principle as well, one that may be more immediately appealing to many. Ezra is a putz, and such creatures can not, must not prevail under any circumstances. His goose must be cooked. His dog must die.

And so let us all find it in our hearts, or at least our wallets, to do what needs to be done. Our roguish, merry son who prowls the halls of Twitter, a mischievous imp with a peashooter, must be free to continue on his way unmolested.

Click. Give.

[Declaration of interest: I was once threatened with a lawsuit by that self-same king of free speech. Assorted Speech Warriors™, contrary to all expectations, failed to rally to my cause. If you’re reading this (and you know who you are), don’t make the same mistake twice.]

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