Res ipsa loquitur

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Obama, it seems, is not a credit to his race.

But by this logic, if we survive the next four years, we will not see a white President again. Ever. So there’s that.

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Slouching Toward Washington

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the white house2.jpgA quick quiz for those of you who still doubt that we have entered the End Times and that the Trumpocalypse looms. Quick, who said the following:

“Barack Obama was a principled and able president who governed in relatively peaceful times. Who knows when we’ll be able to say that again? No wonder I feel so nostalgic for 2009. Our giddy expectation for hope and change may have been naive - but it sure beats the feeling I am having in the pit of my stomach now. We’re poised at the top of a roller coaster with a crazed 12-year-old in control, and we’re about to head full-tilt down the slope. All we can do is hang on tight.”

Warren Kinsella? Naomi Klein? Rick Salutin? John Baglow?


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Getting a grip

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In just a few days, a spoiled child prone to tantrums will have his finger on the nuclear button. As Commander-in-Chief, he gets to call that shot. It cannot be countermanded, unless there is a mutiny.

Just about anything one says about Donald Trump’s vulgar, oafish personality is eminently believable, including the latest unverified revelations. The “golden showers” business is good for a few snickers and guffaws, but the worst thing about the unsubstantiated intelligence briefing now making the rounds of cyberspace is how deeply implicated the President-elect may be in the Great Russian game plan. From “he’s a Manchurian candidate” to “anti-Russia hysteria reminiscent of the Cold War,” commentators and counter-commentators are speculating at the top of their lungs. Imagine conversations like this happening even five years ago.

I can no longer summon up the slightest sense of shock, let alone what seems to be increasingly pointless outrage. The whole world is being trolled. Where is a safe space when we need one?

And the Left is vanishing up its own fundament as I write this.

I’m getting trashed more by “progressives” these days than by right-wingers. The latter, thankfully, have given up on me. Perhaps I should be flattered that my erstwhile comrades still think I’m worth the trouble. Sneering contempt is, after all, a form of engagement. I’m not whining about this, by the way: I can and do give as good as I get, although it hardly seems fair in some instances. Admittedly, I have shown less patience of late with obscure points of doctrine. Dried-out husks of dogma are rolling about like tumbleweeds, but there seems to be a complete inability to discuss ideas. The very notion, in fact, appears to cause deep offence. Better to read, endlessly, off the tablets of the day, while wagging a finger.

What to do about Trump? Not much at the moment, and there’s the rub. What propelled him to the presidency? All we get is “Wuzn’t me.” Maybe, you know, we should build a movement. But wait—still having trouble with “allyship?” Let’s strike a committee and have a conference and denounce people.

Maybe we can go after some poor working-class schlub at Wilfred Laurier who dared utter the word “slave.” The cafe he ran has re-opened, with more vegan and gluten-free options. Yum.

Or we could run a campaign to clean up Halloween. Sombreros are out. Or we could censure the “Merry Christmas” bigots. Or lecture people on what they should and shouldn’t write about. Or put trigger warnings on damned near everything. A very partial list of topics requiring one of those TWs:

[M]isogyny, the death penalty, calories in a food item, terrorism, drunk driving, how much a person weighs, racism, gun violence, Stand Your Ground laws, drones, homophobia, PTSD, slavery, victim-blaming, abuse, swearing, child abuse, self-injury, suicide, talk of drug use, descriptions of medical procedures, corpses, skulls, skeletons, needles, discussion of “isms,” neuroatypical shaming, slurs (including “stupid” or “dumb”), kidnapping, dental trauma, discussions of sex (even consensual), death or dying, spiders, insects, snakes, vomit, pregnancy, childbirth, blood, scarification, Nazi paraphernalia, slimy things, holes and “anything that might inspire intrusive thoughts in people with OCD.”

As Spock would say, deadpan, “Fascinating.” He was a person of few words.

We may be facing 1933 all over again, this time with nukes. Don’t look now—trigger warning!—but fascism is rising out of a shallow grave, prematurely buried as it turns out, and he’s pissed. What to do, what to do. I know: let’s ban applause.

The saving grace of a Trump presidency—if he doesn’t get us all killed—might be to restore a sense of perspective to the Left. Once we were a world-historical movement. Capitalists trembled in their top hats. Then we began the lengthy process of eating ourselves alive without anesthetic. The struggle continues.

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Disclosure: I’m now a septuagenarian. Sounds better in Latin.

The odd thing is, I don’t feel it. Not a bit. So when I first encountered ageism, I went into denial. Or laughed as though it was a joke.

But it isn’t. Ours is one of the few human societies in which the default position for age is disrespect. You have to earn your stripes all over again. You either become invisible, or are too often shrugged off with amused or not-so-amused contempt.

The odd thing is that this attitude extends across the political spectrum. Expect no mercy from “progressives” on this score. One recently referred to the plethora of “old, white newspaper columnists.” Well, white, sure, that bespeaks a relatively privileged subject-position, and is worth noting in a country with a growing indigenous (1 million+) and visible minority (5 million+) population. The punditocracy is far from inclusive in this respect, yet more of those voices need to be heard. They should be part of the national conversation—and especially so when they are the topic of that conversation. This is hardly even worth debating.

But “old,” used as a pejorative, really needs to be, er, retired. It’s even used by old people to refer to other old people in that manner. Terry Glavin, who qualified last year for CPP, once did that to me.

So I objected to the aforesaid progressive’s use of the word. They almost inevitably doubled down. Called me a “man-baby,” somewhat paradoxically. It reminded me of the days when women began to object to being called “girls.” It’s an endearment, quoth the backlash bros. It’s just a word. Besides, don’t they call each other that? (Or am I mixing this up with the bizarre debates over the n-word?) When does a girl become a woman? When does a person of years become “old?”

Person of years. I like that.

People seem eager to help out. Doors are held open for me. Folks heading in my metaphorical direction smile at me. I apparently qualify for “senior’s discounts,” but never ask for them. “Senior?” Hell, naw.

So the Big Dismissal can’t be universally true. Donald Trump is my age. (Well, he has six months on me.) Voters seemed to ignore his years, wrinkles, fake hair, fake skin, and paunch. Not to mention his crude sexual voracity. They’re no doubt buying up all that cheap hawker’s merchandise from the Trump Store—the latest is a pair of inaugural lapel pins, by the way. Before that, it was beer mugs and MAGA hat Christmas tree ornaments. Somehow he still runs with the cool kids.

So maybe there’s hope. Yet, encountering casual ageism still stings. The contents of a column are what should count, not the age of the writer. “Old” doesn’t mean out of touch, or unable to think, or un-engaged, or living off the avails of idées fixes. There is no such thing as “age privilege” in our intersectional analyses. Age actually de-privileges. Boomer wealth, an accumulation usually based upon a lifetime of work and inheritance, gets inherited in turn. And most boomers aren’t wealthy at all. Many are living below the poverty line, with no means of working themselves over it.

Those of us lucky enough to have pensions are receiving investment returns on a lifetime of forced savings. Young folks lucky enough to have jobs aren’t keeping us afloat, despite the resentment-feeding fairy tales. (Health care costs, on the other hand, are indeed unequally distributed: another strong argument for immigration. But even the young will make use of universal healthcare someday, they should live so long.)

Does this work in reverse? Of course. Humans like to generalize. The phrase “before you were born” gives one a smug sense of satisfaction. We become irritated watching so many young people fall into the same ideological prisons and semantic traps that we did ourselves. The same mistakes, fueled with too much self-confidence and impetuousness, keep getting made. There doesn’t seem to be a damned thing we can do about it except shake our canes in frustration. By the time they learn, and get the same guff from their own kids, we’ll be in the ground. Ashes and dust, unable to enjoy even the minor satisfaction of an “I told you so.” That would make a good headstone comment, though. Social media snark by other means.

Until then, they’re welcome on my lawn. Just keep the noise down a little, OK?

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Joseph Boyden and the identity trap

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He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. ~George Orwell, “On Shooting An Elephant”

Much has already been said on the Boyden scandal, more than likely too much. I would be foolhardy indeed to attempt to recapitulate the eloquence of indigenous writers and scholars like Hayden King, and will not make any such attempt here. Instead, as a white, relatively comfortable Canadian, I’d like to come at the issue tangentially: in particular, regarding the question of identity itself.

A friend strongly rooted in her Jewish identity once challenged me, in a manner similar to the indigenous “where are you from” gambit. She was puzzled that I didn’t seem to have a clearly marked identity of my own. I was uncharacteristically speechless. I have dwelt on that question ever since. I had, and still have, no fully satisfactory answer for her. I remain amazed that other people I know—but not all other people—seem so clear on the matter.

The identity field seems impossibly strewn and complex to me. I have a name, and a family, and citizenship in a country that is founded upon civic engagement—not, thankfully, on blood or ethnicity. I have specific interests that keep me working and involved. I’m male, and I’m white, and I share in colonial privilege too, but questioning all of those privileges is also part of what I am. So, then, who am I? I dunno. What community claims me? Ditto. To what community am I accountable? Ditto.

Indeed, what is a community? Again, I have little idea: the way the term is thrown around these days, a lot gets erased. There is talk of an indigenous community, for example, but in fact there are a great many, and none of them is monolithic.

Perhaps because of privilege, both my identity and my community, whatever they happen to be, are more amorphous. There is less call to define, to include and exclude, to identify markers, to band together. Nevertheless, the same social processes have been at work. I did not get here by myself.

But back to Boyden. It is clear that, in many eyes, a grievous wrong has been committed: a writer, claiming an indigenous connection by ancestry, has done well in the CanLit realm, been showered with acclaim, has won prizes, awards and grants reserved for indigenous people, and made political interventions in the slow process of reconciliation between First Peoples and the rest of Canada. Most of that work remains to be done, and it is no doubt confounded by self-appointed spokespeople who are accountable to no one, and whose claims to a shared indigenous heritage, in the present instance, are now in considerable doubt. The reaction has been completely understandable.

We have heard very little of substance from Boyden himself, the erstwhile culture-bearer of the indigenous peoples. His Facebook statement seems defensive, and is far from illuminating. But here we need to step cautiously. Judging from an ill-fated interview three years ago, he reacts badly to personal questions, even if he was perhaps understandably provoked on that occasion by the superficiality of the interviewer. Retreating now under withering fire, he may well have been properly exposed as a fraud, and perhaps relative silence is all that is left to him.

But if he does not possess an “authentic” indigenous identity, who is he? Or, as Hayden King reiterates, “where is he from?”

Identity is not related to blood, unless one accepts the discredited Nazi notion of Blutsgefuhl—“blood (racial) consciousness”—or the colonial masters’ invidious “blood quantum” measure. Instead, it derives from the social, in which individuals find themselves immersed at birth. It’s a complex construct, a web of personal interactions, social scripts, and the internal stories one tells about oneself. Identities also seem to take hard form under duress: the most salient aspect of the identities of racialized minorities is the fact of their oppression, giving rise to defiant expressions of identity that too often seem, in dialectical fashion, to valorize the categories into which the dominant power structure has placed them.

“Identity” at its most fundamental implies connection, in a world that reinforces only the most superficial relations (e.g., social media “friends” and “followers” and what-not). It is a cry for community, for the social as opposed to the atomistic individual. And it is here that the Boyden case invites deeper interrogation.

The suspicions that have surfaced about him may well be entirely well-founded. That is, that he constructed an identity in order to reap material and cultural rewards. But consider this: we all to a greater or lesser degree construct ourselves, confabulating who we are. We fill in the gaps to make coherent internal narratives. We drop some discordant elements, we keep others, and we imagine still more. We discover ourselves, in others and in the world, in our real and in our imagined connections. By immersing himself in indigenous lore, tradition and history, Boyden may well have fashioned a mask. But I am tantalized by the possibility, however faint, that he became the very mask that he donned.

ADDENDUM: And here’s Andrea Smith.

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Christmas 2011.jpgChristmas is an entirely secular holiday for me, and yet I plunge in, year after year, just basking in it. The raw sentimentality pleases me.

I notice small acts of kindness that seem to go with the season, and ignore the godawful Christmas music (never carols) in the supermarkets and shopping malls. This time, I begin to say a thankful goodbye to the worst year I have personally ever experienced. Death and madness the world over.

For me, Christmas is family, friends and hope. I wish all readers the very best of the season, and a New Year that is better than this one—it could hardly be worse, but maybe I lack imagination.

Thank you to friends, including those I have never met face-to-face. And to those who have, in some way large or small, blown back against the prevailing winds.

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A tragic story out of Ottawa—and the carrion-eaters are already out in force.

A young man with a history of mental illness murdered his two sisters. But he was a Muslim, and so were they. He is presently on suicide watch, and is due to appear in mental health court, a special court dealing with crimes committed by people with mental illness. But that makes no difference to the professional Islamophobes.

His sisters were by all accounts devout. One, Nasiba A-Noor, taught the Quran at the Tarbiyah Learning school in Ottawa.

From the very beginning, this had none of the hallmarks of so-called “honour killings,” but that didn’t stop the bigots in social media from jumping immediately to that conclusion. Meanwhile, the “journalists’ at Rebel Media were on the case, as the Tweet above indicates. The sick-making Faith Goldy was dispatched to Ottawa to feed on the tragedy. She apparently interviewed—a cab driver.

The ink-stained tribe was up in arms when Ezra Levant was denied access to an Alberta presser, and later when he was refused UN credentials to attend a climate conference. But they got scant thanks for it. Ezra has gleefully seized upon the Nazi term “Lügenpresse” to describe the very people going to bat for him. At least he had the grace to translate “Lügenpresse” for us this time. After all, not all of his lynch-mob yokels speak German.

One has to wonder why real journalists would so fiercely defend a man who was described by a judge in a recent ruling as demonstrating “a reckless disregard for the truth.” But we’re living in the post-truth era now. Whatever journalistic standards might be these days, they clearly don’t have much to do with fact-finding and integrity.

Ezra’s scabrous underling has already established her alt-right credentials by targeting Muslim schoolchildren. Now she’s in my town to batten upon the sorrow and grief of the Ottawa Somali community. The bodies are scarcely cold, and the ghouls are already feeding.

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Nostalgia politics

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It is no secret that the Left is split on Aleppo and on Syria in general.

At first I found it hard to understand. The record seems clear enough. The rising of the Arab Spring in Syria led to a brutal clampdown by its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, that developed into a full-fledged civil war. Rebels wanted an end to Assad’s torturous reign. Soon, other less savoury groups opportunistically joined in: Jabhat al-Nusra (now Jabhan Fatah al-Sham), ISIS, and (possibly) Khorasan. Many groups, many fronts, many battles, many objectives.

Assad gained support in several progressive quarters because some could not distinguish all the rebel groups from each other, and they imagined that this was solely a fight between Assad and ISIS+al-Qaeda. But the emergence of Russia’s involvement in the war sealed the deal for many. Old communists and new became ardent defenders of Assad.

What’s it all about? I suggest nostalgia.

“Russia,” in too many minds, is still the USSR. So some backed it more or less uncritically: in some ways this was understandable, given the ferocious and overblown coverage of the Soviet Union by the corporate media. Scepticism became stubborn unbelief. If the media said “A,” the truth must be “-A.” This purblind mental laziness pervaded the Left, for decades too long.

I used to see this close up.

So the knee-jerk responses we are seeing are instinctual. Consider what one normally sensible individual responded when I complained on Facebook that Russian scammers are always locking down my non-existent bank accounts (just follow those phishers and pay attention to the URLs). “Red-baiting, John? Really?”

“Red-baiting?” Really?

Not only are we seeing an immensely complex revenge tragedy playing out in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, with uncertain narratives comprising our “knowledge” of it, but now some insist on looking at the whole thing through a foggy lamination of Cold War history.

I pity them. It must be like trying to see through granite spectacles.

UPDATE: I may owe the commenter I quoted an apology. He tells me the “red-baiting” comment was meant to be jocular, in response to what he thought was my “channeling Tailgunner Joe.” But he does cop to the nostalgia.

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Wilfrid Laurier.jpg

The last post divagated into a discussion of the goings-on at Wilfrid Laurier. I thought I’d open a new thread for general discussion.

There is no good idea that cannot be pushed too hard and too far, with serious human consequences. I suggest that this is what has happened here. Folks who posted on the last thread are welcome to repost their comments here.

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Justin Trudeau smokes

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Trudeau smokes.jpg

…but doesn’t inhale.

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