On satire

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Jonathan Swift.jpgMost folks can tell an Onion-like piece when they see it, although we keep saying satire is dead, but we don’t really mean it, right? Deep down we figure there is still room to send up this already exaggerated, crazed world.

Perhaps the greatest mark of its effectiveness is when people worry that it might be describing an actual state of affairs. Good satire must be believable, but only to some degree. It’s what hooks you in.

The other essential half, however, is that doubts must be left in the reader’s mind. A satirist doesn’t claim to record our present reality—that would be mere duplicity. Instead, he or she stretches that reality for effect, overemphasizing this, underemphasizing that, producing at once a perceivable distortion and a critique. The better examples create a double effect in the audience—“Insane! But…could this be true? Or could it actually come to pass?”

Jonathan Swift’s justly famous piece on harvesting Irish babies for food produces just such a double effect. He was satirizing, not English state policy towards Ireland, but—presciently—the style and matter-of-fact tone that marks public policy discourse. A crazy proposal, we think—but could some policy wonk really frame something like it, in this self-same way? A Modest Proposal was published 234 years before Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and we have our answer.

It is that uncomfortable sense of possibility that gives satire its edge.

Now, I knew Jonathan Swift—he was a friend of mine—and I’m no Jonathan Swift. But I like to write in various genres, and occasionally try my hand at satire when I’m in the mood.

My last blogpost was satire. Yup, it really was. All made up. Please don’t feel insulted, dear readers. I know you knew that.

But not everyone did, or so it seems. I’m going to get a little cagey here, because there’s no point stirring a still-bubbling pot into a froth, but let’s just say that not everyone mentioned in the piece was pleased to appear in it. Phone calls were made; emails flew. After being spoken to in the blunt and unambiguous manner that those near power tend to assume, I made a slight modification to the post here at Dawg’s, rather than deep-sixing the whole thing as demanded. Meanwhile, my cross-post to rabble.ca—which I had cleared with my editor beforehand in an email exchange entitled “This is probably too much for Rabble”—disappeared.

I’ve been in this game a long time, and recognize how these things are played, and how power works, especially force majeure. So I’m not resentful about the piece being pulled. An editorial decision was made, I have a good idea how and why it was made, and I accept its internal logic. A temporary suspension by rabble.ca was harder to take, because I hadn’t done anything wrong. But everything has since been patched and repaired.

All I can think at the moment, though, is—someone should really write a satire about this.

But not I.

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Exciting Ottawa news!

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NDP merger.jpg

(Ottawa, December 17) DawgNews has learned that Thomas Mulcair will be joining the Liberal caucus in the House of Commons—and bringing most of his MPs with him.

Wildrose showed us the way,” said NDP spokesperson Ann McWrath. “We’ve been in the political wilderness for more than fifty years. Not any more.”

Citing the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in 2003, McWrath went on to say that “common values and common goals, whatever they happen to be, should unify and not divide. Besides,” she continued, “we can shed a few more of those Paul Manly types, get Keystone built, that kind of thing. We were just in the way, now it’s Justin, The Way,” she quipped.

Thomas Mulcair said he was not expecting anything in return for leading this unprecedented political migration. “It’s the right thing to do, and that’s all there is to it,” he said, citing Bob Rae’s move to the Liberals in 2006. “Like Bob, I’ve really been Liberal all along.”

A Liberal-NDP merger convention will be held in the Spring, and insiders expect a substantial bounce in the polls in time for the federal election. Talks are reportedly already under way to find a name for the new party. “‘Liberal Party of Canada’ is the leading contender,” said a highly-placed source. “But it’s not a deal-breaker. ‘The New Liberal Party’ is a close second.”

Organized labour, traditionally a strong supporter of the NDP, is split on the move. “We’re now considering our options,” said an ashen-faced representative of the CLC, who asked not to be identified. “I’ll say this, though: it would be great if just once we could merge with ourselves.”

Deputy Leader Libby Davies’ recent announcement that she will not be running in the 2015 federal election reportedly cleared the way for merger talks. “United under the dynamic Justin Trudeau, we can finally rid this country of the Conservatives,” said Mulcair. “At a stroke we have made the debate over strategic voting moot.” Asked what policies the new party would be likely to adopt, Mulcair replied, “Look, we’ve shed our ideological straitjacket at last. Pretty much anything goes.”

[Illustration: Huffington Post]

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Not ALL Muslims are Rapists...

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…but all REAL rapists are Muslim. Have I got that right, Mr. Steyn?

“There are plenty of real rape victims out there - the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the sex slaves of ISIS, the children of Rotherham - but they’re useless to the lynch mob in advancing its goals and so nothing can “enkindle” their stories.”

I won’t link. Dawg keeps too clean a house.

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BC RCMP at it again

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RCMP brutality.jpg

It’s not enough to pepper-spray infants or slaughter a new immigrant holding a stapler. Why not drag a 61-year-old woman from her walker (to the right in the photo) and throw her on the ground—for the made-up “crime” of refusing to answer questions?

Impunity will reign. The police will clear themselves. Or some Mickey-Mouse charge may be substituted when they actually kill somebody.

This older woman with a walker was considered dangerous enough for the manly cop roughing her up to call for backup. As the police statement stated:

“Police detained an individual who did not comply with verbal direction. The police officer restrained the person when they resisted and called for a second officer.”

Refusing to answer questions from police is not illegal—in fact, it’s a right. Unless, of course, you’re an Aboriginal woman who cannot walk unassisted.

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Helplessness, learned or otherwise

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Even if you believed torture methods worked to gather useful, lifesaving intelligence — although you have to construct extremely elaborate improbable scenarios to do so, not that there seem to be any shortage of people making the effort — and even if you believed that it were ethical to save lives this way, you must at least agree that inducing a state of learned helplessness is counterproductive. The thus conditioned person is one who has lost the incentive to avoid aversive stimuli. Under any theory of “useful torture”, the avoidance of aversive stimuli through cooperation must logically be the goal of the torture sessions. So someone that is learnedly helpless has no notional incentive to “constructively” engage the torturer.

(I presume the thin “logic” under which the learned helplessness idea was sold was as a way of overcoming the other reason why torture in ineffective: the desire of the torturee to avoid aversive stimuli by giving useless information in order to make the torture stop. Solution: make the torturee stop trying to avoid pain. Therefore making them…do what? It’s the Underpants Gnomes theory of torture. You shouldn’t fail to notice that now, you can simply claim that their non-cooperation is because they aren’t helpless enough…)

And yet, it turns out that the CIA paid two psychologists tens of millions of dollars precisely to exercise such a counterproductive theory of learned helplessness against clandestine detainees. Despite the fact that their own interrogation experts warned against it and objected to the idea, people higher-up (I’m assuming the Cheney-ites) appear to have overruled them.

This circle can only be squared if you accept that the purpose of the torture is not, in fact, to gather information — little or none of which, quite predictably, was thus gathered. And what it was actually for was worth it to the tune of hundreds of millions (if you count all the presumable expenses, not just the 81 megabucks going to the psychologists).

So what was it actually for?

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The torture state

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Torture.jpgWhipping with cables. Prolonged solitary confinement. Other unspeakable acts, committed against citizens with official blessing. Use of “information” gathered by torture considered legitimate.

No, no, I don’t mean the Torture Report. I’m talking about Canada.

Let the other sordid drama play itself out in America. We’ve now learned more about “rectal feeding” (read: medically unjustified anal rape) than we ever wanted to know, and that’s just for starters. Did the authorities raid every prison for the criminally insane to swell CIA ranks? Far worse, we’re watching a desperate attempt to frame this whole series of vile acts as a period in (recent) history now thankfully ended. Don’t you go believing that fairy-tale, now.

Torture and other state-sanctioned violence against civilians continues. Gitmo persists, despite Obama’s promises. His drones are still killing and maiming civilians in far-off lands. American citizens can now be extra-judicially executed by Presidential decree. Due process, Obama’s Attorney General explains, doesn’t necessarily mean judicial process—just a convo in the Oval Office will satisfy Constitutional requirements. Recall also that Obama gave immunity to the creatures who enabled and committed state torture under his predecessor. They aren’t hurting any. The monstrous John Yoo, for one, who advocated for the legality of crushing the testicles of children, is now a well-paid professor in California. Dick Cheney is still making a fortune on the speaking circuit.

Well, as I said, let the US be the US, that godawful prison-house, continuing on its downward spiral. But no one should imagine for one moment that it is alone in using torture as a routine implement of policy.

While the current Canadian government—particularly its former Paraguayan wing—is known for its open support of torture as a supposed information-gathering tool, the rot really set in under the previous Liberal administrations of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Just ask a victim of “extraordinary rendition” like Maher Arar. Talk to others tortured and imprisoned thanks to the collegial complicity of CSIS with the secret police in Syria, Egypt and Sudan—Canadian citizens Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, and Abousfian Abdelrazik.

Or ask (if any remain alive) the Afghan detainees turned over by Canadian Forces to Afghan government torturers. Stephen Harper was willing to risk all the marbles there, and he successfully maintained his cover-up after all was said and done. CSIS was up to its neck in that one, too. Most of the documents will likely never be made public, despite an historic ruling by the then-Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken.

Then there is child soldier Omar Khadr, tortured (once again with CSIS complicity, this time after the fact) in Guantanamo. His only way out of that hell-hole was to cop a plea. He’s sitting in a Canadian jail at the moment, while the Harper government continues to make his life miserable.

Is this torture thing just about national security? Not at all. Take the use of solitary confinement within Canada’s prison system. Prolonged solitary confinement is well-recognized as a form of torture. But Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has now confirmed that it will continue to be imposed on mentally ill inmates, rejecting out of hand the key recommendation from the coroner’s inquest into the death of Ashley Smith.

Let us not be too smug, then, about the horrific revelations south of the border. Because, to put it bluntly, we torture too—and under Stephen Harper, torture has been officially and publicly sanctioned. Compliments of the season, everyone.

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The Harperium's next move

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Spin it can't happen here.jpg

Jailing peaceful pipeline protesters.

Full marks to, uh, Justin Ling for busting this one wide open. Another “Private Member’s Bill” that isn’t, backed by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice. It could put environmentalists behind bars for ten years.

Water getting a little warmer, eh, fellow froggies?

The full text of Bill C-639 may be found here. And no doubt most of the punditocracy will be busy with their painting, as above, and keeping up with the Kardashians.

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Land of the Free

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Icelandic officer.jpg

No, not that barbarous fake one. This one. Ég get andað!

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December 6, 2014

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Montreal memorial.jpg

It’s the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

Everyone knows the name of the misogynist bastard who did this.

Perhaps readers might want to take the time to memorize, say, three of the names of his fourteen victims.

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Thug life in Edmonton

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Mike W.jpg

Officer Darren Wilson of Ferguson, MO, has reportedly made his first million by gunning down an unarmed Black kid. In Edmonton, AB, Constable Mike Wasylyshen has just become a Sergeant.

Who is Mike Wasylyshen?

He’s the son of a former Edmonton police chief. He’s also a convicted criminal with a history of violence.

In 2002, he Tasered an unconscious Aboriginal youth eight times. It took ten years for the young man’s family even to get a disciplinary hearing for what a judge called “cruel and unusual punishment.” Wasylyshen was docked 120 hours of pay.

Then, in 2005, he beat up a man on crutches, seemingly just for the hell of it. It took eighteen months before the Edmonton police bothered to lay charges. He eventually received a whopping $500 fine for that one, but at least earned himself a criminal record.

Between times, in 2003, Wasylyshen was dressed down by a provincial court judge for lying to obtain a search warrant. Evidence in a drug case had to be tossed out due to Mike’s “carelessness bordering on indifference.” There was another one of those “internal investigation” thingies. No discipline.

The man is not without chutzpah. Before he was disciplined for the Tasering incident, he sued the CBC for “defamation” for reporting on it.

Now this sterling model of professional policing has received a promotion.

Hey, says the Edmonton Police Service. That was then. This is now.

Does crime pay after all? You decide.

[Photocredit: Edmonton Sun]

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