Friday, March 31, 2006

Mr. Hockey is 78 Today!

A long, long time ago – to be precise 78 years to this day - in Floral, Saskatchewan there was born unto a humble immigrant farm couple, a son. Hard work and some of the most incredible gifts any athlete, anywhere ever possessed led young Gordon to the National Hockey League in 1946 and the beginning of a career unlike any other in modern sports history.

I grew up on the South Shore of Montreal and cheering stridently at the old Montreal Forum for Howe and the Red Wings was one of the earliest manifestations of my contrarian disposition – for at that time in the late 1950s, the era of Detroit being at least a strong contender for the mighty Canadiens was pretty well over. Les Habs rolled to five consecutive Stanley Cups and the fact of Detroit having finished first in the league (the Prince of Wales Trophy) was largely eclipsed by Montreal’s achievements. All the more reason for a sawed-off little Anglo curmudgeon-in-training to be bellowing out “Go Gordie Go” amidst the din in the very spiritual core of Quebecois pride (the same epicentre, not long before, of the infamous riots over the suspension of Rocket Richard).

Once a year, just about this time when Detroit would be visiting, I’d take my saved up allowance and blow it on a card and a box of Laura Secord chocolates, then wait excitedly outside the visitor dressing-room at the Forum and pass it to me hero. In return I got my hand shook, my hair tussled and a card of thanks with the Gord’s autograph sometime within the ensuing week.

During the many years I followed Howe’s exploits, I was convinced that he was, as an corny song of the time by Big Bob and the Dollars rang out, “the greatest of them all” (for full lyrics scroll down on this page). Not that there were no other plausible claimants back in that era – Maurice Richard of course comes to mind but also the graceful and gentlemanly Jean Beliveau and the raw
power hawg, Bobby Hull. later, along came Bobby Orr the only player who to this day is the only guy who ever so slightly shook my confidence in Gordie’s primacy although honourable mention in the pantheon of aspirants must also go to the recently departed Mario Lemieux and the now-almost-utterly-forgotten player, Gilbert Perrault.

I have successfully gone several paragraphs without the W-word – Wayne, that is and I am sure the clamouring horde of readers, especially those who have detected in earlier postings a certain antipathy on my part towards Gretzky – are waiting for that skate to drop. Alas, it is not possible, given the ubiquitous oodles of stats and records and the mighty publicity machine that has worked for the past quarter century around this ill-clept “Great One”, to avoid saying precisely why and how Howe was his better, by far.

By way of sliding into this rant, allow me to relate a moment of revelation that came to me while listening to some colour commentator on Hockey Night in Canada. Some player who’d been scoring at a hectic pace at the time was the topic and the frenetic announcer said “Hey, he’s getting the goals and that’s the name of the game.”

No, I spake aloud, goals is not the name of the game: hockey is. This utterly unprofound observation got me to thinking more deeply about the exaltation of individual players on the sole attribute of scoring and how that had become the basis for what today is the seemingly unchallenged mantra about Gretzky being the greatest ever hockey player, i.e. because of his lion’s share of NHL scoring records.

I saw Gretzky play on several occasions in the flesh and, of course, many times on the tube. Seen live, his strategy of avoiding the nitty-gritty work in the corners - the jousting and elbowing and scrambling needed to gain possession of the puck, was pitifully clear. When the play was in his team’s end of the ice, Gretzky would be slowly circling around outside his team’s blueline waiting for a pass from far better all-around players like Messier and Coffey. Once he had the puck, a career-long unwritten but universally understood proscription against so much as brushing up against him would go into effect, enforced, of course, by Sather's stable of oversized brutes.

Indeed it was only when Gretzky came along that the notion so common today arose that superstars were untouchable. Gordie Howe - and the Rocket and the Golden Jet – didn’t get picked on a lot either but it was because they – not otherwise talentless bully-boys – were quite able and willing to demonstrate the consequences of undue aggression that might otherwise inhibit their brilliant play. One need only call to mind what happened to the NHL’s to-that-point lead brawler, Lou Fontinato when he decided to tangle with Howe. That now legendary encounter on February 1,1959 ended with “Leapin’ Louie” in reconstructive facial surgery. The rough and tumble whether in drop-your-gloves donnybrooks, dubiously legal infighting or just darn good clean hard body-checks was something that Howe excelled at in addition to scoring prowess and which Gretzky nimbly avoided for his entire career.

Indeed, it was not only his drooling henchmen and Coach Sather who bought Wayne a lifetime free pass, but complicit referees and their superiors to the highest levels of the NHL. “Aha! A conspiracy theory”, says you, the League allowing, even condoning strong-arm tactics that gave the indisputably offensively talented Gretzky free rein to run up incredible scoring records.

Tripe, you say? Not quite so fast there, my friend. Consider if you will a moment what the benefits were for the NHL to manufacture the myth of Gretzky and the fabrication of so seemingly dominant icon. At a time when the obvious dilution of talent by rapacious expansion would otherwise have been emptying the arenas, the feats of the well-cosseted young Gretzky were the made-to-order remedy. Motive and opportunity there were aplenty to provide the regulatory environment for a seemingly superlative performance. Thus Gretzky’s natural scoring prowess was hugely inflated by the ubiquitous tolerance of his teammates intimidation of opposing players. Gord did his own intimidation which, like it or not, is part of the armoury of the complete player, something Gretzky was never close to being.

Howe was a nonpareil class act off ice as well. His teams missed play-offs and the last thing he would have ever dreamed of was the kind of disgraceful display we saw with Gretzky who dissed his entire team in L.A. in early 1996. Seemed that Wayne felt he deserved a better career ending than with the lowly Kings. Unlike past superstars who quickly figured out that if your team’s not playing well you should lead them out of it, not blubber about being traded. But Gretzky whined until he was indeed traded off to St. Louis (who to my consummate pleasure bombed out of the playoff contention pretty quickly that year, shortly after which Gretzky fittingly got himself traded again into the glitz of Broadway for his discordant swan song).

This sense of entitlement, spurred on no doubt by the self-serving league and press was not some late-career peccadillo but something seen right from day one when Gretzky picked out 99 for his sweater as a rookie. For those who recall the numerology of the original six NHL the message he wanted to send was unmistakable. 9 had been Howe’s number also Maurice Richard’s and, in the final years of his career, Bobby Hull’s. Other original six teams tended to give nine to their highest scorer like Andy Bathgate on the Rangers and Johnny Bucyck on the Bruins. Doubling it up, and choosing a number that could not easily be exceeded across a player’s back was the Whiner's early assertion of being the top dog ever sent out before he even laced up the skates for his pro debut.

Despite this arrogance, so foreign to the famously modest Gord, in the final days in 1994 of this cossetted egotist’s inevitable overtaking of Howe’s scoring record, the Greatest once again showed what a class act he was by following Wayne about good-naturedly to be there to salute the man who’d beat his record whenever and wherever it happened. As difficult as it is to imagine anyone anytime soon approaching Gretzky’s well-oiled scoring records, it’s that much harder to think of the alleged Great One displaying any such magnanimity (just think of how he cut young Crosbie from this year's Olympic squad a thinly veiled and ultimately backfiring strategy to keep the spotlight on himself).

Hockey greatness is not just about racking up points when your bully-boys are there to give you a free pass around perfectly legal body-checking: it’s about doing the whole game well and being an exemplar off the ice in your humility and generosity. Only Orr and possibly Jean Beliveau are contenders of Howe’s in this regard. So HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. HOCKEY!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Greatest Canadian Hogwash

Following close on the heels of my recent and far from yet finished dissing of Gretzky and his purported greatness, this post may get some of you thinking that I am stuck on the theme of undeserved adulation – a kind of “Let us now flay famous men”! Perhaps. But the more immediate precipitant of the rave here is the sudden spotlight on the late and (I don’t think all that) great Tommy Douglas both on CBC’s Ideas series this week, on an upcoming biopic, Prairie Giant and, worst, in the as-usual inane ads preceding every CBC radio newscast by that ridiculous persona, Promo Girl. (I shall reserve for later a few lyrical lines for that twit and the dumbing down of Canada’s public broadcaster that she reflects and so adds to).

Here I have larger quarry. Idiot Girl’s clips, built entirely on the quivering foundation of the “Greatest Canadian” series CBC ran in 2004, blithely announce Douglas’s alleged status without any explanation for the uninitiated as to where that soubriquet comes from, and then goes on to proclaim that he had “ushered Canada into the modern age”. Oh the swine of our fair land have never been so spotless after hourly dousing with this utter hogwash!

First, let’s have a quick look at that spurious contest itself. Suffice to say that if some banana republic ever picked their leader with anything like the selection methodology CBC stole from BBC , it would be a laughing stock for anyone with a modicum of democratic concern and understanding. Why? At least four reasons:

(a) Nous semblons oublier un petit coin du Canada – the race was not run at all on the sister network, Société Radio-Canada and thus categorically disenfranchised about 25 % of the population, indeed the portion of our citizenry that most avidly listens to either arm of the CBC.

(b) The high-tech version of old-fashioned vote stuffing – there was no real control over who could vote or how many times (given that a determined multiple vote caster can fix himself up with 10 email addresses in about 15 minutes). At least three of the eventual top 50 got there with CBC’s explicit knowledge of this and, no doubt, many others probably did so below the radar screen of the public broadcaster’s lax monitoring.

(c) Unrepresentative “sampling” – or just who is watching/listening any way? Of the less than 50% of English Canadians who regularly listen to the radio, only 1 in 10 chooses CBC and there is a very strong bias within this listenership for university-educated types. Talk of elitism, so contrary to what Douglas himself publicly espoused with his second hand parables of mouseland! As for CBC TV --where the top candidates were formally nominated and profiled at length – and even smaller fraction tuned in on the English network – 7.5% or about 1 in 15 households in 2000-2001 according to the Parliamentary Committee Report, Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting.

(d) Last but not least, one must, with admittedly delicious tatutological reasoning, look no further than the outcome to see how biased and, in many a case dog-dumb this Greatest Canadian travesty was: No women in the top 10? Stomping Tom Connors at 13th ? And the coup de grace, Don Cherry up in the number 7 position!?

As for Tommy Douglas and his ushering in of Canada’s modern age, indeed even his much vaunted paternal status vis-à-vis national medicare, today’s electors cum celebrants seem to have forgotten that the man never led a party to more than 17% of the popular vote in Canada, never had the kind of say-so over major advances (if such they be called) in our nation’s society that would merit such claims, in short, was never Prime Minister or even close to.

I well recall (and wish I could locate a copy of) an editorial cartoon by the late Duncan MacPherson of the Toronto Star on the eve of a federal leaders debate. It portrayed the goal of electoral victory as an apple on a boy’s head a la William Tell (the boy stood for the bemused Canadian voter). Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker were very nervously lining up their shots while, dressed appropriately as a jester, Douglas was merrily aiming wildly between his legs while looking in another direction from the fearful boy. MacPherson’s well-taken point was that canny Tommy, fully knowing the zero possibility of hitting the target of a winning mandate could do and say anything he wished – which is precisely what he (and the long string of successor NDP leaders) always did. He had the luxury of promising and promoting whatever sounded most progressive and admirable because the truly hard work of legislating and implementing anything was never going to fall in his lap.

Even in what is supposed to be his halcyon achievement - universal free medical care in Saskatchewan – the predominance of his role is open to question or, at least, moderation. The concept sprung into existence in – of all places – Alberta in the formative convention of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Universal health insurance was a plank in its inaugural manifesto germinating from the real grassroots of prairie farmers rather than then-youthful Tommy's eye twinkles.

Almost completely unsung - lost indeed in the glitzy acclamation of Douglas as medicare's originator - no doubt now much abetted by the even greater acting achievements by and tributes from his grandson, Kiefer Sutherland - were the tireless, politically unrewarded, efforts of the likes of Norwegian immigrant dirt farmer, Matthew Anderson who successfully pushed Regina legislators to enable local government sponsored health insurance plans. After his earlier and significant pioneering work, Anderson went back to the farm and into undeserved obscurity, all the more so due to the blaring overstatement of Douglas's role.

Douglas became the first CCF leader to win electoral victory in Saskatchewan in 1944. Despite Tommy’s five successive majorities in that province, it was not until 1962, 18 years later and after Douglas left the increasingly hot kitchen of Saskie medicare battles in the hands of his successor, Woodrow Lloyd, for his foray in national politics, that the dream of fully free hospital care for all that province’s citizens was realized. Indeed, it was that now mostly forgotten successor who held the line in the face of mobs of irate and striking physicians in the summer of ’62. If Douglas was “father” of at least Saskatchewan medicare, no doubt mightily enjoying the act of procreation and the kudos when the prodigal child reached fame, it was poor forgotten Lloyd who went through the labour, birthing and struggling infancy, while dead-beat “Dad” took off for Ottawa.

By 1967, vociferously applauded but hardly led by Douglas, the Liberal Government passed national medicare. Unquestionably the former Saskatchewan Premier’s commitment to universalize medical care back in Regina, two decades before, was powerfully influential. But to exalt Douglas’s supporting role to the top podium and thereby overlook others' central roles -- John Diefenbaker whose Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act started cost shared medical insurance across Canada, Justice Emmett Hall whose powerful Royal Commission detailed the need and mechanisms for medicare and Lester Pearson and Paul Martin sr. who enacted the 1966 Medical Care Act that made it happen -- is grossly unfair.

To attribute to Douglas, as Idiot Girl’s clips do, the advances, such as they were, on human rights, multiculturalism and, of course, medicare that unfolded in Ottawa during the time that he led the third or fourth ranking party in Parliament, is a distortion of history that those of us actually alive and aware at the time would find purely laughable – were it not for the insufferable burst of adulation, including the ominously looming biopic (A CBC-funded which a cynic might say may help to explain the glorious excretia of the also CBC-produced Greatest Canadian series), that we are now having to abide.

How easily does historical fact blur to vague rememberings and thence to utter myth. We older Canadians had no fewer than four chances to decide just how great Douglas was, not in some ill-conceived, poorly managed and elitist popularity contest but in the national elections of 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1968 when we gave the "Prairie Giant" a consistent and resounding thumbs down.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Go, Gretzky, Go...Away

This I suppose is further to the post several days back when I took exception to the storylines developed by Canadian media covering the Winter Olympics insofar as the heartening "mouse that roared" victory of the Swiss over Team Canada. The script that played out in the ensuing 24 hours was tediously predictable. As in 2002, Wayne Gretzky stepped forward in mock Churchillian fashion, to rally the troops, doing so - again as he did in 2002 - not with the team iustelf as the primary audience but to the whole world. He went on, this time, on the theme of "boys (should) just wanna have fun" but restating the obvious that a few more goals would be desirable. This, as I say, was not rocket science since the lads had just gone 6 scoreless period.

In the utterly meaningless game (insofar as making the medal round was concerned) that followed, Canada banged home 3 first period goals, looking like they would be chasing the Czechs off the ice. The story didn't roll out quite as Gretzky and the hapless fans back home might have wanted: the Czechs game back and made it awfully close. Watching the third period, one might well have had a feeling that the team was not quite back on the path to glory that ist exalted executive director had hoped. No matter - the Canadian press lapped it up just as Wayne had intended and gave him the headlines over any of the worker bees who'd actually been out there on the ice. Right on cue, exactly as Wayne intended, the media got sucked in by this fakery. Here are the leading heavy-breathing lines of our zealous public broadcasting system's story on the win over the Czech Republic:

Wayne Gretzky, the most prolific scorer in hockey history, wanted more goals and commitment. And what Gretzky wants, he usually gets.Team Canada responded to Gretzky's edict with its most determined effort of the Torino Olympics, a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday before a lively crowd of 9,126 at Turin's Palasport Olimpico."Every game is a stepping stone in getting better and getting to the final game," Gretzky told CBC Sports. I thought our guys played really hard and got our feet wet with a nice win. It's do or die now."

One had to read down in this over-boiled tripe for quite a ways before a word was said about who scored and when. It was all about Gretzky.

Well the "Great One" was spot on in what he said about do or die: for soon we saw the dying - to the huge amusement and even satisfaction of some of us less patriotic types. A couple of days later Team Canada found its 0-2 groove again and our ancient adversaries, the Russians, sent Bertuzzi, Heatley and the lesser felons packing for home. In vain, I watched for Wayne (hey there's a poem wants out there!) as the post game interviews unfolded. One can recall back in the halycon golden moments of 2002 how the many time Lady Byng winner, uncharacteristically elbowed his way to the front of the line moments after the victory over the USA. It was his characteristic (and this case quite apt) "aw shucks, I didn't do nuttin'" kind of performance. But the press lapped up the false modesty, crediting Wayne's inspirational burst of paranoia (remember: everyone is against us and wants us to lose) rather than the apparently trivial on-ice activities of the likes of Mario Lemieux, Paul Kariya and Steve Yzerman.
Listen to this typical crap from 2002: "If you're looking for the main reason Canadian hockey players heard an Olympic crowd serenade them with Oh Canada for the final minute of their 5-2 win over the U.S.A., one reason 23 hockey heroes are coming home with gold medals around their necks, you've got to go to Gretzky."

To make matters even worse, when Gretzky got up to explain Canada's two hockey triumphs in 2002 - including the women's who have mercifully spared his ministrations, did he talk about stellar performances of any of the team? No, instead he chortled on about a loonie that had been secretly embedded in the Salt Lake City ice, turning an occasion where praise was warranted into buffoonery that only accomplished, once again, keeping his foolishly grinning visage as the main focus of media attention.

In 2006, sweating for another big fix of the drug he can never have enough us - everyone's worshipful attention - Gretzky was - we were all told - given the prime responsibility of picking the team. I hope our media is as lavish in giving him the credit for the pitiful results of his selections as they were back in 2002. In particular, they may wish to reflect on the startling omission of a brilliant young player who had captivated all of the NHL's strike-bewearied fans, Sidney Crosby. Was the old "great one" responsible for this petty snubbing of the game's most promising young star and, if so, might that have been because the new "great one" threatened to share if not take over the limelight Wayne has so craved and skilfully held on to these many hockey years, even well past the time when he was doing much at all on the ice?

I suppose one could say, if looking superficially, that it is to the credit of the beleaguered and we hope,soon to permanently EX executive director, mouthed his apologies after the Russian loss. Still, it was all about Wayne, "I'll take all.. the responsibility for not winning. That's the position I'm in, and the responsibility I have. It's nobody else's fault." As in 2002, it's as if the real players, their strengths and shortcomings during the big game, don't matter a whit. Let us now honour Wayne with this excerpt from "the first realist":

A jellyfish swam in a tropical sea
and he said: "This world it consists of me,
Since there's nothing above and there's nothing below
that a jellyfish ever could possibly know...

Just then a shark who was happening by
Gulped the jellyfish down in the wink of an eye
and he died with one convulsive twist:
but somehow the universe still exists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There they go again, those Zionists and Crusaders!

Everyone has heard about the grievous transgressions of the West, the sacrilege of some backwater Danish newspaper portraying the Prophet. And the world of Islam, not at all recovered from these insults, no doubt somehow traceable to the Zionists and latter-day Crusaders -, now staggers amidst the rubble of one the Shia Muslims' most holy places, the Askariya Shrine in Samarra.

The obvious culprits - aside from those ubiquitously conniving Jews who many in the Arab world also are still certain are the perps behind the World Trade Center attacks - are Sunnis violently embittered by their loss of power when the US et al brought down Saddam's regime. Here, one cannot but be struck by what religious respect means among the Believers versus we, the Infidels. Let us travel back to early June 1967 when, as part of their rapid rout of their belligerent neighbours, Israeli forces entered Jerusalem and fought hand-to-hand to retake this ancient prime city of their faith at the spiritual centre of which was the site of Temple. On this holiest of site for Judaism, a mighty mosque had been built- Al-Aksa or "The Dome of the Rock". Much vaunted as Islam's third holiest site, some very good questions can be asked about just how revered the site was for Islam prior to 1967 and the Six Days War. Notwithstanding, invading/returning Israelis in 1967 were under the strictest military orders to forego the use of heavy artillery in the vicinity of the Dome as they pushed back Jordanian soldiers. As a result, that bloody, if short, battle resulted in no significant damage to the Mosque, probably at the cost of extra Israeli caualties sustained by virtue of their mandated reticence and respect in the vicinity of this Muslim holy place.

In the years that followed, quite understandably, devout Jews pushed hard to take down the Dome and rebuild the great Temple for whom more than a millenium of mixed Muslim and Christian authority in Jerusalem had shown no respect. Today, Muslim commentators ridiculously assert that Israel never allowed this to happen because of its fear of "retribution from the Muslim World": yeah, that's pretty credible - the Israeli government's 1969 ban on any practice of Jewish religious ceremonies beside the Dome(let alone razing the Dome)came came two short years after little Israel had kicked ass of its far more populous Muslim "neighbours."

What we saw then, what we see now, is a fundamental distinction between what is deemed to be sacred and inviolable - even among one's enemy's icons - between western democracies (including Israel therein) and the practiced radicalism of Islam.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Better Storyline: Hooray for the Swiss!

After the Canadian hockey team fell to the nigh anonymous Swiss yesterday, the rah-rah commentators of the CBC quickly adjusted, rolling out the predictable "wake-up call" metaphor, as if our multi-millionaire squad's conquest by the Helvetians was just an obligatory chapter in the Bildungsroman of inevitable Canadian Olympic Gold. We Canucks so often point fingers at the American media coverage of international sports for its indubitably jingoistic flair. But this kind of post hoc rationalization in defeat - something we are rather good at through long practice - is just as bad, as our journalists neglect the better Cinderella storyline of the Swiss who have beaten two historic hockey powers in succession. This narrative is all the more intriguing in light of the fact that the most lopsided game in international history was Canada's drubbing of the same diminutive nation 33-0 way back in 1924. Surely the long and winding road from that ancient humiliation at Chamonix is a better plot than cliches about wake-up calls to spoiled pros! But for Canada the narrative of should-have-beens is pretty well-grooved.

Mine own awakening to the Olympics generally and the Canadian thema of rationalizing unexpected but almost inevitable defeat was in 1960 when world-record holding Harry Jerome pulled up lame in the gold medal final of the prestigious 100 metres. Shucks, I said, a word that I so often repeated until 1980 - when the Yanks had shown that true grit could beat out the Russians in hockey after all our own country's efforts had so long proven inexplicably fruitless. At that point, jubilant as I was with our great southern neighbour's triumph, I did some long overdue soul-searching and in good internationlist spirit, concluded that there was no valid reason at all to root primarily for athletes with whom I merely shared the accident of geographically proximate nativity.
(To be honest I had begun a curmudgeonish resistance to hometown fidelity long before that, growing up on Montreal's south shore and cheering on the Detroit Red Wings and the man who is still the greatest of them all, a case for which I shall make on, and you can look forward to until, his upcoming 78th birthday, March 31st).

Since that reflective revelation, I have always pulled for the underdog, which brings me back to my exquisite delight with yesterday's Swiss miracle. Getting blanked by unknowns couldn't have happened to a more deserving self-important assemblage than Team Canada and, especially to their Executive Director - whatever that is - the hockey personality for whom centerstage and limelight have become nothing short of an addiction. I refer of course to the man who despite his much-trumpeted epithet and scoring records, is about the 5th or 6th greatest player at best, in NHL history and who has managed to get his famously grinning visage centerstage whenever Team Canada wins, despite doing little other than making obvious picks for who is to play. Oh yes, he inspires if the Olympic circumstance should not be enough for seasoned professional hockey players.

As the distinct possibility, I am hopeful, looms of no gold, perhaps even no medal, my mind casts back to late in the 1995-96 season when Gretzky whined himself into a trade from the lowly Los Angeles Kings to the more prospective St. Louis Blues quite openly stating that he wanted to play for a "real contender". Odd: other great players in pro sports have usually assumed that one's superb talents are supposed to be applied on the ice or field to making your team a contender, rather than fussing until you can be once again surrounded, as Gretzky was in his most triumphant Oiler days, with a champion-level mix of stars to help you and bullies to clear your path.

Well, who knows? Wayne's absence from the glare of defeat Saturday may not have been just a hangover from the Tocchet gambling affair or his lifelong situational shyness when his team has just taken a shit-kicking. Perhaps he was off trying to cage a deal to join up with the unbeaten Slovaks or Finns...or maybe even this year's "miracle on ice" little Switzerland. After all "the Great One" likes to be with real contenders.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Postcripts on Cartooning

Since my brethren in the Middle east will not let go of this bone, I must show no less perserverance.

I came across a news story that the Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, has decided to exercise one of the less overtly violent protest options in response to the blasphemous West: a contest is underway for the best (funniest? most offensive?) cartoons about the Shoah (Holocaust). It is nice, I guess, that usually muzzled would-be political satirists of that paleolithic state, now have a sanctioned opportunity to be"creative." In announcing this, Hamshari's editor said, "The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons." I do hope that our journals of record shall comply with these wishes, so that those in our midst who think Bush et al overrate the dangers flowing from the world of radical Islam, gain insight into the minds at work there. As a preview, here are a few readily found ouevres that the children of the Prophet have already demonstrated their artistic prowess with.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fight Back - Buy Danish

There is a beautiful story -- which I was raised believing -- which really ought to be true: it is that of the brave Danish people, led by their King, donned yellow stars-of-David when the invading Nazis ordered all Jews to do so in 1941. Apparently this particular heroic is all myth, but accurately reflected the real courage of countless Danes who hid away or ferried their Jewish neighbours away from the jaws of the Shoah.

I am put in mind of the need for such solidarity in the face of the totalitarian mindset winning in the current furor over the cartoons of the Prophet. Throughout the Muslim world, the usual suspects -- gigantic drooling mobs of primarily youthful males with a smattering of stern looking elderly mullahs -- sweep through the streets looking for anything Danish to torch. Despite the more than sufficient-seeming apologies not only by the editor whose newspaper carried the Mohammed cartoon but by Prime Minister Rasmussen, this hooliganism continued and spread around the Muslim world. Likewise, boycotts were launched against Danish products, regardless of the affected companies and workers having had nothing to do with the original sin. Righteous outrage, of course, is never selective in its targets or collateral casualties.

Muslims in their own lands and even in the disapora of Europe and North America which, despite our insensitivity to Allah, have a powerful attraction for Middle Eastern immigrants, have every right to choose their own cheese, so to speak. And while reprehensible, even the right or ability to violate Western embassies is I guess, a time honoured tradition of the Muslim world. The True Believers must make their own choices, governed, sadly, by the mediaeval mentality that envelops and retards their worlds and driven, it now appears, by the concerted effort to foment these riots by what has been aptly called “a global fascist movement masking as religion”. The goal, let us be clear, is not simply revenge but intimidation, a muzzling of anyone in the West who, consistent with our ideals of free thought and speech, has the temerity to criticize or satirize the violent turn that a small but dangerously significant fraction of Muslims appear to have chosen. The killing of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh for his documentary on the ill-treatment of Muslim women, was, alas, the mere prelude to the well-orchestrated symphony of intimidation that Islamic Jihadists have in store for us.

Hordes of that cohort swarming through the streets burning flags, desecrating Christian sites, even assassinating innocent and unconnected “non-believers” have become commonplace. One cannot shake memories of tediously identical scenes of ferment bubbling over in Middle Eastern cities when a few of their more dedicated brethren commandeered planes into several architectural icons of American life on September 11, 2001. Largely we turn the other cheek at the plenitude of insults and worse dumped onto the places and symbols that Westerners treasure but are expected to don hair-shirts when a rather poorly executed cartoon violating Muslim sensibilities re-ignites their world of unceasing griping and gnashing.

I don’t doubt that many of the less Internet-able people here in Canada, the US and Europe would like to see just what the fuss is all about, exactly what the cartoon depicted. In our society under our customs of free speech and press we have every right to expect our media to have the guts to show the full story, inclusive of reproducing the source of all this moral outrage. Alas, fear and spinelessness have prevailed and, to my knowledge neither the major North American networks nor any of our principal newspapers have dared display the offending cartoon.* This monolithic self-censoring of the free world’s media has sent, an unequivocal and welcome message to Muslim extremists: burn a few flags and embassies, shoot a priest or two, shun some cheese and the mightiest nations on earth will bow down.

I hope that everyday citizens in the West will be less craven and, as one small step I come back to the beautiful myth about the star-of-David armbands. Let’s get out and strike our own delicious blow against the vicious mentality of the marauding hordes in the streets of Damascus, Beirut etc.: Purchase and proudly serve some creamy Havarti, a tangy Saga Blue, a smoky Rygeost, smelly Esrom and some unequalled Danish butter.

* Update: I stand corrected. The Philadelphia Inquirer has drawn itself away from the flock of journalistic sheep and reproduced the egregious cartoons. At least in this case, I am inclined to concur with the posthumous W.C. Fields about where I'd rather be!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Guten Tag!

Many helpings of matjes herring later, I have returned from Deutschland. My apologies to loyal fans for making them go "cold grouse" all this time. I was five days in the great Hanseatic city of Hamburg attending a remarkable gathering led by Israeli scholar, Dan Bar-On at the Korber Foundation. The latter is an institution established by the late eponymous gentleman who got rich inventing a machine to put the tips on cigarettes but who had deeper avocations, to wit, ensuring that Europe never forgets recent history's lessons. After the sessions, I fast-trained it to Berlin where many hours were spent in the marvelous Judisches (Jewish) Museum there. It seemed fitting to come to this epicentre of the Shoah and so devote my time. Even more apt was learning what I had never absorbed before - that Berlin's Holocaust Memorial was plunked down right atop Adolf's bunker where, so belatedly, he cleansed the world of his own nauseous self. So much for the Final Solution; so much for the 1000-year Reich!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Two Grinnin' Grits on the Morning After

Despite victories in their home ridings, the 103 elected Liberals must feel bittersweet this morning after. Overall, the Grits didn't do all that bad, better than many polls predicted. Of course, critically, they held on to their Ontario plurality: that was a given. And they actually gained a seat in BC. As John Manley - who will not be the new leader - bespoke: "Well it's not just 2 seats" unsubtlely reminding us of the 1993 Tory humiliation. But still a night of somber sobriety it was ...except for two prominent Liberals who weren't even running.

One, of course, is Chretien whose enduring hatred for Paul Martin is a matter of record. He will be unconcealedly delighted with the ignonimous dumping of that persistently pesky pretender to his throne. Especial glee may come for Jean in contemplating that, whatever his own sullied "legacy", Martin's will inalterably be even lesser, a small piece added to the dusty miniature collection of prime ministers who never won a majority and, accordingly, didn't stay around long enough to have even back alleys named for them (e.g. Turner, Campbell).

The other Lib whose mirth may be really hard to contain in this pale blue dawn is the man who, I predict, in a surprisingly short time, will assure Stephen Harper's place amidst that same array of the soon-to-be-politically-forgotten: His Excellency, Frank McKenna. Methinks he'll quickly be winging home from Washington ready to inherit the mantle of Canada's Natural Ruling Party. Once the Liberals have reorchestrated under this glib New Brunswicker's baton, they will get busy undermining Harper's tenuous minority government -- which will not be all that hard to do. The strange and creepy fauna whom the Conservative election machine managed to gag for the past two months will come bobbing into public view from their customary abyss, readily giving the re-engineered McKenna Liberals more than enough ammunition to insure reclaiming their divine right of governance.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Getting Tough on Disruptive Foreign Elements

In the U.K., so-called “xenophobic” reactions to certain immigrants are, in my view, perfectly understandable, indeed should have come much, much sooner than they have to no-longer-so Merrie Olde England. For far too long, indeed generations, a way of life that was unique and admirable has steadily been eroded by an onslaught of aggressive outsiders, ones not even from the always avaricious but more closely related adjacent continent but from much further across seas real and virtual. These are aliens with no intention of mixing and mingling with indigenes who’ve inhabited that fair and mellow land for aeons.

To the contrary the foreigners have imported their own peculiar lifestyles and thereby narrowed the lebensraum of good Anglo stock. High time, indeed past time, that extreme action be taken. Over the years, some so-called experts, mostly soft-hearted as well as soft-headed, have counseled moderation to English folk. “Do nothing uncivil; this is, after all, England, the tolerance-loving land of John Stuart Mill! Just give them more time and they'll adjust and peacefully fit into the lifeways here."

Not so. A glance at the demographics alone proves almost indisputably that these “refugees,” as some may naively label them, are literally pushing natives out of niches that once were exclusively theirs. Already an ever diminishing proportion of that fair but finite Island remains in the kind of pure and natural state that the English “species” needs if it is to remain itself. The loud and loutish public behaviour of the newcomers terrorizes native populations whose reserve, even shyness, is so legendary. It seems only a matter of time until the rapacious spread of these immigrants will obliterate the local bio-culture and natural economy and, concurrently, destroy the physical environment that signifies the essence of what it is to be English.

And before you even think of it, forget merely trying to keep more of them from getting in. It’s whole decades too late for that. They’re here, already outnumbering original British stock by a shocking 66 to 1. They must be stomped or perhaps sterilized so that they can no longer breed like the rodents they are!

Accordingly, and reluctantly (from a purely humanitarian standpoint) the Grouse must applaud the announcement of a proactive eradication program targeting Sciurus caroliensis. Only in this way will the native British red squirrel,Sciurus vulgaris, hang on tenuously to the few outposts of Great Britain yet beyond the reach of the grey peril.

(For a more in-depth analysis of this unfolding tragedy, please consult the European Squirrel Initiative website.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Misremembering Chretien's "Courage"

In desperation at their impending electoral boot in the arse, the Liberal Party has dredged up, rather ineffectively, it seems, Stephen Harper’s unambiguous support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In so doing they not only are busy fudging Paul Martin’s dubious stance on the issue but also perpetrating poppycock that is being swallowed by an ever-increasing proportion of Canada’s apparently amnesiacal population: that is that Jean Chretien was some kind of national and international strongman, a stalwart and defiant bastion against the indisputable bad judgment and bad intentions of our giant southern neighbour’s president.

Waiter: reality check, please! How soon, we forget the weeks of waffling and months of temporization before March 20th, 2003, when Chretien offloaded the dreadful choice at hand onto “international law” as represented by the collection of do-nothings and bad asses known as the U.N. Security Council. Even NDP leader Jack Layton, in correctly crapping all over Paul Martin’s Iraq credentials, lifts Chretien to Churchillian heights, as a lone and valiant guardian against a gathering military storm. Thus, in a campaign speech supposedly about public transit, Jack careened off course, as he is so inclined, to say: “Mr. Martin is wrapping himself in the courage of his predecessor…”

Courage? Huh? Or should I say, “Eh?” Have we forgotten both the impoverished rationale for non-engagement and the confusing, shilly-shallying verbiage of that “courageous” predecessor and his foreign affairs minion, Bill Graham? Do we not recall that it was way less than 48 hours before the Yanks struck that Chretien finally announced what Canada’s position was?

The reasoning and the timing reveal anything but courage – or even coherence. One may pore in vain over the reports of the Liberal deliberations and revelations of the time for a lucid statement or position justifying the now commonplace image of a stalwart leader. Did Chrétien ever doubt, let alone dispute the likelihood of WMDs based on Saddam’s earlier liberal use of chemical and biological warfare and the suspicious Osiraq nuclear facility which the Israelis wisely reduced to rubble in 1981? Not at all: indeed, his boy Bill, summing up the basis for Canada’s position to Parliament on the very day of the invasion, mused about why all this had happened:

What then are the lessons that I draw from the past few days? First, I would say that Saddam Hussein acquired weapons of mass destruction. This is clearly what started this and what brought us to where we are.

Chrétien and his coterie no more questioned WMDs than did Bush or Blair at the time. Indeed, at least according to then-Cabinet minister, Sheila Copps, the Prime Minister had a Canadian-style pint-sized brigade all ready to head for Iraq but got talked out of it by herself. Nor did he ever challenge the terrorist connection the Americans asserted, despite the preposterous notion of an alliance between the secular Ba’athists – who routinely included Islamic militants in their murderous swath of repression - and the Wahabi-spouting devotees of Osama?

Chretien’s barely intelligible mutterings throughout the long drawn months as Bush and the Brits rattled their sabres, were all about deferring to whatever the U.N. Security Council (not a nicety that Chretien gave two hoots about when Canada was indeed among the most bellicose participants in NATO’s bombing of Serbia). But this time around, Chretien was ready to jump off any cliff if -- but only if – selected external powers sitting at the Security Council table, said okay. Our much-trumpeted and over-stated national reputation as peacekeepers, indeed any real sovereignty was to be gladly signed over to the say-so of the same clique who fiddled while Rwanda burned, who, now, for two years have dithered about whether the 6-figure killings in Darfur are really genocide and who despite the wordy bluster of Resolution 1441, did little but chatter as Saddam thumbed his nose at weapons inspectors and the world. This is how, and only how, Chretien set his and our nation’s moral compass re the Iraq invasion.

Chrétien’s belated, garbled and thinly-justified position on the American adventure was so bafflingly feckless through the long build-up to war, that analysts had to look elsewhere for an explanation. It could not escape notice that, with his licked finger ever to the domestic political wind, Chrétien was closely watching the reaction from notre société distincte, the one that has consistently opposed military action, since Confederation. Old political fox that he was, Chretien could see that the deployment of Canadian troops to full combat would be a gift to the Bloc and their PQ confreres, something he could never stomach.

This was no admirable mighty-mouse stand for Canada against the 800-pound Yankee gorilla, no shining exemplar of international morality, just quintessential Chretien doing, at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute what any natural born snake-oil man would: play righteous big-shot to the gullible.

And, I suppose, it is further testament to his guile, - not courage - that the myth survives, nay, thrives, of how and why he and his colleagues did what they did amidst March 2003’s “shock and awe”.