Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2012 - On the End of Days and a Non-Believer's Special Offer

On this penultimate day of 2009, I awake knowing that in just a little under two years, we are all going to blown to smithereens by an as yet unseen celestial onject! Or inundated by a mega-tsunami right up to the peaks of the Himalayas. Or - worst of all - become transformed into gibbering hordes of mystical new-agers, not unlike the krishnas who used to hang about chanting in airport terminals. The horror, the horror!

Now that the movie is out, so too in ever greater numbers will be the dire predictions and expectations of the last days of earth. Variously, this prophecy is Mayan or Hopi in origin -- neither of which really say the world will end only that it will change precipitously, a much safer bet since it has been doing so, according to no less that the great Marcel Proust:

The one thing that does not change is that at any and every time it appears that there have been ‘great changes.’

I had taken about as much notice of this dreaded imminence as I had of the anal infection of the beetle that lives under my desk, until recently when my rather sensitive and nervous 11-year old daughter came home from school verging on tears because her reading group had been avidly discussing the ominous possibilities two years hence. Overcoming my instinctual desire to rip the lips off of whatever presumptive adult had presided over such malarkey-talk, I played the judicious and wise father and explained quite a number of things about the history of prophecy to her. I noted, for example, the fascinating sociological study I read years ago, called When Prophecy Fails. In that account, the researchers - including the late Leon Festinger, originator of the concept of cognitive dissonance - closely followed the dynamics of a millenarian claque in Michigan. The group had received the wisdom of THE END from much further afield than old wise indigenous earthlings - kindly aliens had informed their leader, Mrs. Keech, of a flood that would engulf us all on December 21, 1954 - there's something about the Winter Solstice, eh? So Festinger and his colleagues sat up all night with the believers as they patiently, at first, but then with growing, albeit temporary, disquiet as the hours passed, awaiting the catastrophe.

As you may have already figured out by the very fact of your sitting comfortably reading this excellent blog, they and their extraterrestrial informants were wrong...No wait, not wrong at all! The Keech family wackos took very little time realizing that they and the rest of creation had been saved at the last minute by - you guessed it! - God who in his beneficence had once more held the finger off the global smite button. They came out of it their beliefs intact, the quintessential exemplar of the aforementioned phenomenon of cognitive dissonance.

It does seem, then, that it may take some considerable effort to move devotees of this doomsday bullcrap off their spot and, again in that same conversation with my daughter, an inspiration came to me which I shall apply to anyone I henceforth encounter who espouses the inevitability that at 11:11 a.m. (11:41 in Newfoundland) on December 21, 2012 we'll all be trans-personalized into some infinite or new age-y void. This offer applies to any reader wishing to take me up on this.

I will agree to pay any such person the princely sum of $2,012.00, right now, for full title to their unmortgaged house (or any other similarly-valued chattel) with possession on December 22, 2012. Naturally, their unshakable conviction that I am buying what will at that point no longer exist should have them laughing all the way to the bank, so to speak.

Any takers?

If not then will y'all believers do the rest of us the great kindness of shutting your gob about 2012 and the apolcalyptic hocus-pocus surrounding it!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who We Are Dealing With: China Murders Sick Man

If all the tainted goods and devastated North American local economies, all the bald-faced brutal suppression of internal opposition and the dogged attempts to discredit his Holiness the Dalai Lama while making Tibet, a "hell on earth,", all the price-gouging and illicit counterfeiting of goods, haven't convinced you, today's state-sanctioned murder of Akmal Shaikh ought to move you a little closer to recognizing the monsters that have been allowed to take over the world economy.
I am not opposed to finding the kingpins who tirelessly underwrite the international drug trade, and removing them in any manner whatsoever. The head honchos are unquestionably destroying lives in every sense of the words. But China, as in so many other things makes punishment into an hyperbole and in this case has plain-and-simple murdered a delusional sufferer of bipolar disorder who was clearly duped into muling several kilos of heroin. This empire, more truly evil than anything even Ronnie Reagan could have ever imagined, carries out nearly three-quarters of annual executions worldwide.

In this case wide-ranging international appeals, including from Britain where Shaikh was a citizen, met with the same "fuck you guys!" attitude that the People's Republic adopts increasingly as its economic might aggrandizes. And be clear: China is vigourously converting that financial clout into military capacity that will further assure their ability to do what they want within and outside their borders. The lethal injection stuck into Akmal Shaikh is just one more small if revolting shot fired in the widening China Wars.

One sees in the stiffly worded but action-free reaction of the British Prime Minister, the extent of empty puffery which most Nations on earth now feel obliged to limit themselves to due to China's power. In response to Gordon Brown's noisy indignation, China has, in essence, even challenged the right to freely criticize their atrocities. Thus does party mouthpiece Jiang Yu rejoin, "We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British government's unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge [them] to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations."

Correct our mistake? This is the same "re-educational" argot as in Pol Pot's Cambodian bloody regime -- and the time is surely coming when China will not hesitate to apply the very military force that our relentless purchasing of their cheap and dangerous goods has funded, to physically shut up us impudent westerners, just as they now silence the Tibetans and groups such as the Muslim Uighur and Falun Gong.

Is it too late for the West to recognize the monster that we have largely created, and put them back in the isolation tank? Too late to suspend them from every gathering of purportedly respectable world leaders and impose on imports of their nigh slave-produced goods, a rigourous human rights audit? Probably, for to paraphrase from Leonard Cohen's old song, "Stories of the Street," our pleasures - the pleasures of cheap - are the seal of the prison we are now locking ourselves into.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Of Externalities, or Sticking PG Polluters with the Bill

It was a clear night as I flew back on a recent Sunday evening from Vancouver. You could see Prince George glistening like a jewel (well, a bunch of rhinestones, anyway) even by Quesnel. At the crew's insistence, I put away my iPod on which I was listening to B.J. Harrison's fine rendition of the Moonstone (Classic Tales readings - shameless promotion) and prepared to step out into the -24C crispness that the pilot had announced.

But as we were about to land, simultaneously the cabin filled with the familiar noxious smell of the pulp mills and the engines revved up suddenly. We began to ascend. Things grew quiet among the passengers and after a few minutes of banking and flying about, the pilot announced that visibility had been too limited: there was, he said, "a bit of fog" at the north end of the runway.

By this time we were high enough to have a good vantage for seeing what the real problem was. The mills located on the north side of the Fraser were, as usual, spewing out their filth and in the considerable cold, plumes of vapours, aqueous and otherwise would rapidly condensing. And the winds just happened to be pushing this airborne crap to the south, straight over the Prince George airport.

The pilot tried another approach, this time from the west but with no better outcome. Having had a nice scenic tour over BC's northern capital, we turned south for Vancouver where we recollected our luggage and a fistful of food and hotel vouchers from West-Jet. Having boarded the plane at a little after seven, it was near midnight by the time I settled into the palatial facility at the Richmond Sandman, thinking back to economics 101 and the concept of externality.

To the economist, an externality "... exists whenever one individual's actions affect the well-being of another individual -- whether for the better or for the worse -- in ways that need not be paid for..." In simpler and very crude but apt terms, it means I enjoy a nice shit and you have to smell it. We are all familiar with the game that pulp mills and similarly noxious industries play with local and high-level pols. In essence it is that if such companies are forced to clean up and, thereby, to absorb externalities, to pay fully for the burden they place on the well-being of others, they'll just shut down and move to a more welcoming locale, i.e. some even more desperate community or country where they can get away with figurative and, if it so happens, literal murder.

I did suggest to West-Jet that they ought to invoice CanFor and its malodorous buddies for the substantial cost to the airline of an extra flight and all those meals and beds for the stranded. So far they have only chuckled and sighed and, yet, internalizing such externalities is the exact prescription that economists are making the world over as an alternative to more draconian regulations or, my personal favourite, putting the executives of these polluters in pillories down at the public market.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen - Just whose deadline is it anyway?

As the clock winds down at the Copenhagen climate change boondoggle, the theater has become evermore tedious and predictable. Obama, playing so well the ineffectual postmodern hero; Wen Jiabao, Premier of China, mouthing the usual lame alibis of the nasty heavy, and Stephen Harper.. well I'd say, the court fool, but that would denigrate a very useful medieval occupation and, Stephen is only funny when he's trying to act as if he was actually a human being.

Meanwhile myriads of primarily useless bureaucrats from all sectors scurry about self-importantly, accomplishing very little except that they will be able to go back home soon and act as if, somehow, breathing the fetid air of a predictably failed treaty process, makes them special, worthy claimants of insights into something that so very few, if any, have.

The hubris of humans individually and collectively is, of course, at the spiritual roots of why we are in crisis. Like boozed-up teenage boys on prom night, we've got high and been speeding around in our souped up vehicles, sure that cold scientific facts of impending doom will make never catch us, that we shall escape becoming a fatal statistic.

In part the foreseeable failure at Copenhagen has to with the excessively complex nature of the event itself. Billed as treaty-making it has few of the requisites for that seemingly lost art. The hitherto most complex exemplar of relatively successful multi-nation environmental diplomacy were the United Nations Law of the Sea negotiations. The process of developing a substantive multi-faceted treaty that won most of the world's support took 15 years of steadily building. In contrast, foolish hopes blossomed in Kyoto with few or no sanctions for duplicitous participants - like Canada - who figured that a climate treaty was like an election, that it's okay to promise more than you ever intend and hope that the public goes amnesiac. The global climate issue, unlike the global ocean issues, has never seen power and knowledge combined in dedicated visionary leadership. Obama, the heir apparent to saving the world, shows little of the sustained commitment that he did, for example, to passing medicare and, even more vigourously, to getting himself to the White House. Now, there was a cause he could really sink his teeth into!

No one is even asking the right guiding questions: what future course will save us and the biomes we are so powerfully affecting? What does the path to salvation actually look like? We need that vision in as much specificity as we can muster. Instead we (I refer to the collective "we" of humanity) have busied ourselves bickering about meaningless reduction targets -- is 1.5 % reduction compared to 1990 emission levels enough or should we agree on 2%? - as if scientific knowledge is anywhere close to being able to say what different outcomes such alternatives might lead to. Will this difference really matter in coastal Bangladesh and, indeed, will we ever have the predictive insights to make that call?

Meanwhile, like jealous infantile siblings, the leaders point accusatory fingers at each other, saying in effect, "I'm not going to behave if my brothers and sisters won't." There is no thought of any significant nation (something which Canada once was on the verge of being), saying in essence, screw you all: we are not going down in history (if there is any left to be read) as having dithered around while the storm tides swelled. We will make sacrifices regardless of who else does it, adopting the noble disposition of the great Spanish existentialist, Miguel de Unamuno, who said: "If it is nothingness that awaits us let us so act that it will be an unjust fate."

Meanwhile back in Copenhagen, one question that none of the legion of reporters on site seemed to have asked, is where this ostensibly unshakable deadline comes from? Yes, yes, I know that this is an urgent global problem but it is not going to be significantly less solvable (if it is solvable at all) the day, or month or year after Copenhagen than it is now. To believe that this fractional assemblage of the human population, well-fed and overpaid as it is holds the key to all our futures is just more of the same bloated self-importance and hubris that got us where we are.

Like it or not, the same pompous politicians and their lackeys will have climate change to deal with next week and into the very distant future. They don't get to just move on to the next flavour of the month issue. If there is the thinnest vein of real leadership among them, they will leave the Danish capital humbled by the enormity of what must be done, and committed to act, as they have not so far, as if - paraphrasing Unamuno once again - they are the valourous parents of our future rather than just the whimpering offspring of the past.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Obamian Fable

Trying to wrap my head around the mind-set that has resulted in last night's dramatically pronounced new American Afghan strategy, I get to thinking analogically.

Let us shift the setting to an inner city neighbourhood rotten with punk gangs running protection schemes. In the parlance, they own the 'hood. A new savvy, good-talkin' police chief is hired and after much deliberation and amidst great pomp and circumstance announces how he's going to fix things.

He says he will be tripling the number of police in the 'hood for 18 months. the baddies will be hunted down like dogs and neutralized if not neutered; and meanwhile, he will collaborate with one particular gang, build up their capabilities and then pull all the cops out of the area once and for all. The police chief warns the leader of his chosen thug allies that if they aren't able to subdue the even nastier groups within this time frame, he's still going to yank out all the flatfoots come hell or high water. That should make the living easy for the hapless civvies especially women and free-thinkers!

Now imagine yourself head honchos of the targeted gangs. You know the place'll be crawling with cops for a year and half. No biggie. Keep your head down, bide your time, and get set for all the post July 2011 fireworks reunion with the homeys.

And the moral? It may sound great sitting in the Oval Office to spout tough-sounding guidelines and timetables but any Taliban and Al-Qaeda with half a brain -- and they have shown that intelligence is not their short suit - is just going to hang in there and prepare to take back the whole country when America's half-hearted, half-baked and half-assed strategy implodes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

All Points Tasteless

I will be uncharacteristically brief here because I have no wish to add to the unimaginable grief of the families, friends, and communities of the six people who died in Sunday's float plane crash at Saturna Island. As is so often the case when a commercial flight goes down, we are beginning to hear and posthumously appreciate the gifts that were those lost lives.

What I write for is to draw attention to the utter insensitivity of the producers and staff of CBC's All Points West who sent a reporter down to Victoria's float plane terminal and asked passengers if they felt safe flying today. It seems hard to believe that no one from the afternoon program had the minimum intelligence needed to immediately recognize just what a bad and heartless idea this was.

It was vulturous, the depraved act of two-bit journalists whose only interest, apparently, is to fill up more time on their already bloated show. For All Points West was expanded from 2 to 3 hours a few months ago at the same time that a truly wise and fine program, BC Almanac was cut back to one hour. Naturally, I wrote CBC back then and asked for a financial accounting as to how Alamanc being diminished while the less than shining Miss Roberts and her Vancouver opposite number had their shows enlarged, could be justified. No answer yet from the folks whose salaries I pay.

Just think about it, if you are at all familiar with the now sadly abridged host, Mark Forsythe - can anyone imagine him countenancing for a moment such callousness?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Journalistic World of George Packer

Another very early waking for me and a vain attempt -- it almost always is - to chase mundane but nerve-racking thoughts away and get more sleep by listening to the drone of some podcast I've downloaded. One of my favourite podcast subscriptions is the Carnegie Council which with what seems high pretension subtitles itself "The Voice for Ethics in International Policy." Holy cripes, I thought when I first ran into this bunch, I hadn't known such a voice exists and I wouldn't have expected it to arise from the riches of one of the great robber barons (yes, I know I've used that word now in two consecutive posts , so now, one more time and it's mine), the industrialist arguably to be blamed for such notorieties as the bloody 1892 Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania and the Johnstown flood of 1889 in which over 2,000 died. That Carnegie would later become a reputed philanthropist, among many other things endowing public libraries throughout the English-speaking world, still seemed merely redress for a wild and woolly career of plunder. Thus my initial puzzlement at also being the benefactor of a centre with such immodesty about its role in "global ethics" whatever the heck that is.

But this said, and with my usual concision, the Carnegie Council has some fascinating podcasts usually centered on an author of some repute with a just-released tome which she or he discourses on, as some relatively small and select audience munches on breakfast in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Among the most recent event was a presentation by a journalist from the New Yorker, George Packer who has compiled a book of essays, titled Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade.

I knew his name by sight but not much of him (still don't matter even after the inevitable "enlightenment," such as it is, from Wikipedia!). Packer is one of the New Yorker's stable of in-house writers whose articles are lengthy - often over 15,000 words - insider perspectives on difficult places. Yes, I know, that is an odd generic epithet but how else does one group contexts that range from the seamiest slums of the bloated city of Lagos, Nigeria, to the butchery in Baghdad, to the soldier-children of the Cote D'Ivoire. Packer's tack is go deep inside finding intimate narrators who can give dimension to the otherwise voiceless. He calls it "long form narrative journalism" and has not only practiced this difficult art form but even transmuted his research from the Iraq context, into a stage play, Betrayed, exposing the shameful treatment of Iraqis who served as translators for the Bush invading force.

But the points that caught my attention circa 4 this morning were those about the perilously rare brand of reportage that Packer conducts, and its perilously plentiful opposite, the talking heads on most news TV networks who, without ever having been to the places they pontificate about, feed their cheap tripe to the great unwashed. Further, that broad public, according to Packer, can now be seen as doing little more in the enunciation of its views than parroting high-paid ignoramuses whether from Fox or Al Jazeera. Insightfully and worryingly, Packer tells of squabbles overheard in heartland, USA diners that are also verbatim playbacks of whatever shallow debates among armchair experts that CNN ran the night before.

I shall not spoil more, the trip you really ought to take to the Carnegie podcast with George Packer nor (look in my side bar) this rare bird's New Yorker blog).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's time to Boycott Wal-Mart

I grew up or, at least came of age, in an era of passionate boycotting. The earliest I recall was the Delano grape boycott and vivid images of the great Cesar Chavez marching on Sacramento. It was distant news and I don't recall ever passing up a nice grape no matter its provenance. But this was merely the signs of things yet to come as the 1960s writhed with all varieties of social protest, of which boycotting was but one.

Now, of course, the world did not begin with me on a sullen gray evening 61 years ago to this very day (shameless hint that, yes, this is the anniversary of my hatching and any good wishes and gifts you wanna send along, do so, except if they are from Wal-Mart the matter of which I am getting to, trust me). The word, boycott, derives from one Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, a land agent for John Crichton, the 3rd Earl of Erne. Poor Charlie was caught somewhat in the middle. Having defended his employer against angry tenants, he became their target and was so successfully ostracized that he hightailed it out of the Emerald Isle and, unwittingly into the dictionary.

Since those etymologically fateful days of the 1880s, boycotts have become legion. Some we can look back on admiringly, as for example, the courageous bus boycotts in old Dixie in the early 60s, the miscellaneous determined anti-apartheid boycotts - I can still remember snubbing Paarl Roodeberg one night during a period when I snubbed very little of the alcoholic beverage family. And there were infamous boycotts as well, most notoriously, the Nazi ones against the Jews.

Overall, however one hears less about boycotting these days but it is long overdue now to direct one at the great Satan of Bentonville, Arkansas, Sam Walton whose Wal-Marts have become one the primary causes of the de-industrialization of most of the western world. In the process, Wal-Mart has led the way in enabling an even greater nemesis, the Peoples Republic of China to use economic judo on America and its allies, turning the force of our insatiable appetites for cheap crap into our undoing. I am tellling you nothing you don't already know, to say that there are very few goods we buy today which have not been manufactured in China. But the role that Western greed and cupidity has played in not allowing but forcing this to happen is too often forgotten as we race into one of the always proliferating Peoples' Republic factory outlet stores, AKA so-called "dollar stores" or to the very nucleus of the problem, Wal-Mart.

Along the way to reeking macro-economic havoc, Wal-Mart has not neglected the micro-level, making sure that it decimates older down-towns and at the same time brutally fights off any attempts by its workers to unionize. the latest development in this and indeed the impetus for this grousingly call for a boycott is the adjudicated finale exonerating the Wal-Mart bullies for their blatant tactics of intimidation. The setting is Jonquiere a small city on the Saguenay in Quebec. In 2004 the Jonquiere Wal-Mart was unionized by United Food and Commercial Works (UFCW). Within a few months, Wal-Mart Canada made a press release to the effect that the Jonquiere store was not "meetings its business plan." Indeed! The very presence of a union that can offer some modest counterbalance to Wal-Mart's despotic intolerance of the slightest uppitiness of employees, is certainly not part of old Sam or his descendant's "plan." To the contrary in its own stores and in the massive infrastructure of Chinese suppliers, worker democracy is verboten.

So it came as no surprise that a mere six months after unionization, Wal-Mart pulled the plug at Jonquiere. Uncharacteristically for the corporation -- which has used cut and run punitive tactics before when the spectre of unionization loomed, the locals fought back. Two former clerks Gaeten Plourde and Johanne Desbiens led an ultimately quixotic legal tilt at the giant claiming that not only had the closure violated Quebec's labour laws but, that since joining a union was a basic right, Wal-Mart had violated the charter.

In a split decision on Friday, the majority of our highest court chose to affirm 21st century serfdom. Largely disregarding the charter rights issue, the majority of 6 over 3, came to the brilliant conclusion that since Wal-Mart had, for whatever reasons it saw fit, closed the plant, naturally it permanently laid off its workforce in Jonquiere. That the closure was a direct attack on a sanctioned right and, indeed a very much planned threat to any employees in Canada and beyond, was disregarded in this trivialization of the matter by our learned lead justices. There is some solace to be taken in the minority opinion, written by Madam Justice Rosalie Abella who, in an unusually candid statement, opined that the majority decision was a ""a marked and arbitrary departure from the philosophical underpinnings, objectives and general scope of the labour code."

Two things emerge with painful clarity here: Wal-Mart can and will continue to throw its behemoth weight around in all aspects of its business (a similar union busting closure hit Wal-Mart's tire and lube outlet at Gatineau, Quebec, just last year) and the highest court of the land cannot be counted upon to challenge these robber barons. It is just for such a case that the valiant precedent of the good but poor tenants of Erne in 19th century Ireland should be followed. The extraordinary social and also economic costs of supporting Wal-Mart with your consumer loonie are crystal-clear. Each time you check out so much as a chocolate bar at one of the many outposts of these thugs, you are shoring up their dismal vision of self-aggrandizement and tyranny over all.

Googling the phrase "Boycott Wal-Mart" already turns up about 300,000 hits (though I have to admit that such sums are only to be expected, since googling damn near anything turns up crazily high numbers) but I believe sifting through all the usual internet chaff to find legitimate and potentially effective movements against us all having to live in Sam's dreams, is important enough that in coming blogs, you'll be seeing a kind of "field guide' to the options. Meanwhile, as Christmas comes on: please, please think about this question before you get sucked into one of those smiley-faced emporia of social repression: just whose job or community are you helping to wreck today?!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Finishing the Job in Afghanistan

News Flash! Peace Nobelist Obama has just finished protracted deliberations with his brightest and best, with a Bush-y style one liner about finishing the job, to wit, being able to show that America's going-on-ten-year Afghan police action has amounted to something more than a hill, nay, a mountain of corpses.

The likelihood of such an achievement is severely diminished by vagueness as to what success would even look like. All those years ago when the American led alliance was cutting through the Taliban and Al-Qaeda traditional forces like the proverbial hot knife through butter, the objective was to eradicate Muslim terrorism's cancerous core.
Then, totally predictably, the enemy just slipped into the hills, adopting and adapting the same successful guerrilla tactics that have worked all over the world for dedicated indigenes to confront vastly superior foreign military forces.

Over the years the relevance has become inescapable of historical precedents wherein world-class imperial forces were humbled in the rugged terrain of the Afghans. Alexander the Great was one of the earliest and, in fact, most successful of would-be overlords there. Yet having driven his way inexorably and rapidly all the way from Greece to the Orient, it then took three years to reach a semblance of control over the land then known as Bactria. Accordingly, he is said to have whined immodestly to his momma, "I am involved in the land of a leonine and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldiers. You have brought only one son into the world, but everyone in this land can be called an Alexander." Multitudinous latter-day Afghan Alexanders re-appeared over the ages to play havoc with the British Raj and, more recently, the mighty USSR, which is now the former USSR, a fact not entirely unrelated to the ruinous war in Afghanistan from 1979 to1989.

This history means, that to "finish the job", as Monty Python might say, it's time for something entirely different, tactics that shall not win Amnesty International's seal of approval for playing nice with killers. And that does not mean pouring in thousands more troops but devising a strategy that will get a killing force right into the strongholds and refuges of the enemy. Of course, far more likely, will be proliferating political junk talk to make the continuing stalemate (or worse) smell like victory. Had I farm to bet on what things are gonna look like, say, in 2020, it would be that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda or some even worse Muslim extremist entity, will have retaken full control over the country, as we retreat under the spray of machine-gun-fast cover laid down in a second term of Obama's verbiage.

Not the least reason for this, other than all those latter-day Alexanders scurrying about in their rugged highland refugia, is well shown back home in one of the countries that has been sacrificing the most lives over there, Canada. Nationally, we have taken our eye of the ball, just, as at long last, Obama seems on the verge of doing something decisive, however questionable.

Our Afghan policy attention these days is almost entirely focused on the treatment of detainees. Cross-Canada hand-wringing predominates as we all feign shock at learning that Taliban and Al-Qaeda captured by Canadian troops get manhandled when turned over to an army composed largely of those who suffered under Taliban rule.


Allegedly, those who serve the high masters of terror and fatwa, are getting what many would say they had coming to them: treatment almost as brutal as what the same young minions and their masters dished out to their captives -- remembering for example, Daniel Pearl, but, more broadly, countless, nameless women murdered or maimed in the name of Sharia law. Figure out for yourself whether the adjacent picture illustrates compliance with UN conventions.

Now, at a time when the uncaptured buddies of these detainees are still blowing up Canadian and other soldiers - not, to my knowledge humanely or in accordance with any rules except their own - we are glued to the media watching the debate over how much our military and political leaders knew about the likelihood of torturing the bad guys. On principle, I do have respect for Richard Colvin and any whistle blower who socks it to the craven bureaucrats and pols of Ottawa, but in this case, really: there are so many more injustices in this world we ought to be attending to before losing sleep over pay back to the Taliban and Al Qaeda bully-boys. And unless we stop fretting over international laws of war -- ones that no winning side has ever given a sweet shit about -- and get literally bloody-minded about the strategies used to dig the perps out of their mountain lairs, there will be no real "finishing the job" in any meaningful sense. We can just pack up, go home, and wait for the bad guys to return to power and start cloning the terrorists, who'll kill us and our children -- without concern for the Geneva or any other convention espoused by "decent" societies.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

And Bless You More, Bobby Orr!

From the category of I-told-you-so's: The Bobby Orr was in the Grouse's current smelly domicile. i.e. Prince George, BC, this week as part of the local version of the Chevy Safe and Fun hockey camps. Naturally the presence of one of Canada's most deservedly famous sports celebrities led our daily garbage liner's reporter down to the coliseum for an interview, during which the question was popped: who is the greatest hockey player of all time?

"Orr takes little time in answering...--and it's not Gretzky, Beliveau or Lemieux. 'Gordie,' Orr answers with no hesitation...He could do everything."

Hey: who you gonna believe?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bless You, Cathy Haag!

I am pleased to announce to the night-shifters, sleepless, early risers and the like that CBC has at long last trashed its long-irritating overnight programming, something which I had badgered them about for years (although I am not delusional enough to think they were paying me much attention). For those readers so fortunate as to spend the time between midnight and 5 am in the tender arms of Morpheus, you will have the added good fortune to have had, I presume, minimal if any knowledge of the indigestible smorgasbord our national broadcaster had been dishing out nightly.

The "feast" so to speak, began not too badly, in fact, with an hour long and often quite entertainingly newsy show from Radio Netherland. Thereafter, came Radio Sweden for a half hour, often featuring some deservedly unknown Swedish pop music. Then a taste of the BBC, a program called Outlook which now is sensibly at a better time on the new CBC Overnight. Thereafter half hour blurts followed one after another. For a while the absolutely dreadful Russian show, often an apologia for Putin's latest violations, would ensue; a ho-hum Czech or Romanian newscast that would probably not even interest its own nationals, and then in the darkest hour before dawn, we would be set up by a reasonable 30 minute piece from Germany followed by what was the crown jewel of dreadfullness that CBC Overnight would spring on the early-risers or utter insomniacs, Radio Polonia.

Canadians may have some sympathy to the mentality of Poland which like ourselves resides next to famous or, if you prefer infamous giant world powers. Always living in that shadow can lead to a collective inferiority complex and, springing from that motivation no doubt, Radio Polonia devoted almost every show to hyperbolic claims for the superiority of all things Polish - some backwater that produced the indisputably best pigfoot pies in the world or the "little known fact" (as Cheers's Cliffie used to say) that Einstein's theory of relativity had already been articulated though never written down by a late 19th century dockworker from Gdansk. It was truly the most dreadful programming I have heard on CBC or anywhere else.

Not one to leave such transgressions alone, some time ago I Googled up CBC Overnight and encountered the veritable last straw pushing me to abandon my characteristic reserve and register objections: There for all to see -- and none to readily dispute -- was the preposterous claim "CBC RADIO OVERNIGHT has become a huge success among listeners."

Huh? By what measure? And, more importantly, in comparison to what alternatives that the sleepless have such as listening to the wavering signal from a Los Angeles sports call-in show or a Wichita evangelist?

Now, I should say that writing and bitching to the CBC about anything - I do mean anything - evokes almost as surely as summer follows spring a boiler-plate response along these lines: "Dear Mr. Dale - Thank you for your interest in (name of program). We are always glad to hear from our listeners. We appreciate your concern about (slight paraphrasing of whatever I complained of). However, you should know that we get just as many listeners who like (whatever the hell I took umbrage at)... This happens so often that I now include in my initial crank letters a preemptive warning that I am not interested in hearing the standard insubstantial and un-substantiatable drivel about all the people who have spontaneously written countervailing feedback.

And so I wrote, suggesting, just for the fun of it, that not only was the programming bad, period, but that it was - O the horror of it! - Eurocentric. Where, I asked, were the rest of the continents, the Asian, the African the South American, that is, those who are not white?

The reply I received was, of course, along the aforementioned predictable vein, but went on to lament the extraordinary difficulty of getting such programming -- this, in an era when a few taps of the mouse and you can listen to radio stations from every nook and cranny of creation. The show host, Cathy Haag, then gave me a quick lesson in global economics, explaining that "Only rich nations can produce and broadcast external programs in English." A rather odd claim I thought for two reasons:

a) many of those less well off nations have English as a major second if not primary language (e.g. India, Nigeria, South Africa)

b) that some of the European Nations that were part of the current CBC Overnight stable are hardly "rich", by any standards: e.g. Romania!

Then, finding her groove, no doubt, Ms. Haag, ended her letter by telling me, and I quote, "If you do not enjoy Overnight, you do not have to listen to it." Oh the rapier repartee well honed from years of telling us who she is and that we're listening to CBC Overnight a dozen times a night! Of course I really was not confused about my basic freedom to shut her mixed but primarily trashy program off. But as I advised Ms. Haag in reply, alas, I have no such choice of whether my tax dollars subsidize such crap.

I think we had a few more vituperative little exchanges including her kindly providing me with a more senior locus to direct my nasties to. Then, our newfound relationship in tatters, life returned to normal, her telling us who she is over and over nightly, me suffering from frequent insomnia and the jingoistic early morning proclamations of Polish cultural hegemony.

But then several weeks ago, with the sudden joyous relief that remission of toothache can bring, Radio Polonia and the rest of the aural dog-breakfast vanished without even a magical "poof". Although they have yet to change the information on their website, the CBC Overnight show now begins with a redux of As It Happens between 12 and 1; some - omigod! - US programming from their National Public Radio, twixt 1 and 2; two hours of an excellent show from Radio Canada International, The Link, which is for "connecting new immigrants to Canada and Canada to the World"; and finally in the immediate pre-dawn two fine BBC shows, Outlook (which used to come on at 2:30 a.m.) and The Strand, a global trot around intriguing vanguard cultural art happenings.

Always one to show appreciation, your humble Grouse wrote again to Miss Haag, who still announces program transitions and herself throughout the night, and complemented her and her colleagues for having, midst this literal darkness, at last seen the light. Nothing back so far, but I am sure she's having to do a lot of thank you cards up for the all the night-crawlers who, like me, are singing "Hallelujah!"

Friday, November 06, 2009

Of Symbolism

Not to harp on things – nay, never in this blog! – I am moved to add a few more lines about the monarchy and its symbolism, prompted by the attention, so to speak, His Majesty’s visit has brought forth.

In particular, I have just finished listening to and trying – unsuccessfully as usual; - to get through to respond, to BC Almanac, guest hosted by Gloria Macarneko this week. There was a good back -and forth on the deliberately provocative either-or choice that Ms. Macarenko used to lure call-ins. The question was – “Are you keen about the visit or would you rather do away with the monarchy?” Like most exercises in political legerdemain, a logical fallacy -- the false dichotomy of choosing between two extremes -- was amply employed.

A pro-monarchist guest more than held his own against the usual bevy of pseudo-nationalists who equate being a good Canadian with snuffing out all connections to Britain. There was also a surprising number of what I would deem sensible souls (because they agree with me) who, among other good points, spoke of what bad manners it was, with Charles and Camilla in BC at this time, to even be making this a discussion item. After all, if you have a house-guest, perhaps it’s best to defer debates about whether you want them as long-term friends (which, really, is what the British monarch is for Canada) until they’ve headed home.

I was struck by the anti-monarchists several times bringing up the “symbolism” issue, as in “what does it say about a country that isn’t mature enough to have its own native head-of-state”!? – Most of them seemed intelligent enough to be able to grasp that Queen Elizabeth II has about as much power over the conduct of Canadian governance as the wee dachshund sleeping across the room from me does. But it’s the symbol, get it?

Well, if we are going to get excited about symbols, perhaps we should think harder about how so many of these same astute Canadians are queuing up to see an endless array of nobodies run about the country with a lighted stick in their hands in tribute to the gathering of an elitist small array of wintery nations in a city whose jingoist residents are always telling everybody else that they do not even “get winter” (a fabrication, of course, perpetrated by Vancouverites' feigned looks of shock when every year they do get snow). This glorious little flame that we’re hoisting around like excited tots is, like the British Monarchy, a tradition, something which droves of Canucks seem to think connects us and our costly little two week skiing party with the glory that was Greece.

Well, that was where this particular silly flambeau was lit all right, but the custom is far less ancient. The torch relay appeared for the first time at another Olympiad when the host nation was also out to make an international impression for itself: Berlin 1936 where the ceremony fit nicely in with Hitler’s intent to establish the superiority of what he deemed to be his Aryan race. Oh yes, let’s not also forget as we bandy about symbolism, that when this monster’s quest for supremacy culminated in the ferocious bombing of London, our future King’s grandfather was standing upright with the Queen Mother amidst the ruins, a symbol of resistance for all their subjects, including Canadians.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Audrey-Lea Dawson - 1950-1989

Twenty years ago today my ex-wife, Audrey-Lea Dawson died by her own hands and wishes. Earlier this fall I marked the 40th anniversary of my first meeting her and what would have been our 37th wedding anniversary too. Ah, unforgiving numbers. Lea and I separated in '85 and a couple of years later formalized a divorce by which time the lustrous friendship we had had in earliest days had rekindled. She had come out as a lesbian well before that and it was with her primarily lesbian friends that I gathered for a vigil, wake, what is, I think too euphemistically termed " a celebration of the life" a few nights after November, 5th, 1989. They were good people and they comforted me with little stories of Lea and affirmations that she had always spoken well of her "ex".

Now, two decades later there is pretty well no one I see much anymore who knew "Lea and Norman" as a never-all-that-happy but deeply attached and loyal couple. And so to this dubiously read blog I must turn to mark this moment, to repeat how much I admired Lea's courage in the face of inner demons that arose from a markedly unhappy childhood, and, possibly from sublimated abuses she was only just beginning to explore at the time of her death. Most of all I want to say how I loved her in a way that went beyond the fragility of romance.

In the days immediately after she chose to leave us I wrote this sonnet which, obviously, is to and for her.


To know someone as well as I knew you
Was to walk down the same path every day
For years on years, until, so known the way,
That not a twig would snap as we passed through.

And so this quiet between us was a sign
Of closeness that no marriage could divide.
I could look forward to the change in tide
to times when, in a new way, you were "mine."

But without you, I wander through a place
Of which I have no knowledge and less hope.
This land is now an unfamiliar face
That scowls. I ask the question: can I cope?

With thirty - perhaps more - years apart from you
And from those well worn paths of love we knew.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Happy Birthday King Charles III !

I probably have always had a soft spot in my heart or head for Prince Charles who is now embarked on a what at least CBC I determined to feature as an under-whelmingly received Royal Visit to Canada. Charles and I grew up together. At least in a fashion – he was born 13 days before me in 1948. Thus as my own little life story unfolded with its statutory milestones – turning 13, 16, 21, 30, 40 etc. – I could bask parasitically in the limelight of my more famous, regal cohort-mate.

Like anyone else, I noticed the ears and – admitting hastily all that stuff about people in glass houses and stone throwing – that he was no matinee idol, his lack of beauty somewhat exaggerated by the formal demeanour and puffed-up accent of his coddled upbringing. When others rather obviously spotted the young Prince’s resemblance to the Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman, I confess to having chuckled agreement.

Then came Diana – a choice of wife with which I immediately disagreed, as my phony-spotting antennae were immediately aroused by this moderately pretty and much younger minor -ruling class booby. The future King and his handlers may have thought that he would benefit from Lady Dianna’s appeal and I suppose he did until his sensible but long-unrevealed lack of romantic interest in this foppish Barbie doll, combined with her inbred nuttiness and penchant for hyper-rich playboys, to place the marriage among the most infamous British disasters since Dunkirk.

Flash forward decades to a time when both Britain and her once predominant British inhabited former dominions have become multi-cultural kaleidoscopes with ever-growing numbers of new citizens who, for quite sensible reasons bear no allegiance to the monarchy, especially since a goodly proportion of them are descended from the “subjects”, i.e. subalterns of the Empire on which the sun used never to set. I can live with the outcome for our political system, the seeming inevitability that at some point not too long from now, in another of its petty demos of selfhood, Canada will devolve into a nation with not a constitutional trace of fealty to the Windsors, the pomp and circumstance they once commanded. We will show a real lack of class as a nation if we even talk about doing this before Elizabeth II joins her ancestors at Westminster.

Now – and this along with the current Royal Visit is what prompts this entry - I learn that it is not only peabrains on FaceBook who create silly polls but purportedly respectable professionals. Apparently lacking for anything else sale-able to poll us about, CP/Harris Decima asked 1000 of us if we think Charles should step aside for his son, Willy. Go look and see for yourself the results – I don’t want to add to the already overly scurrilous nature of my blog by bothering with the responses to this useless question. It is rather by way of lament that I must reveal that the majority of the 1000 poll-ees gave an opinion at all rather than telling the pollster to get a life and hanging up.

One of the many good things about our Constitutional Monarchy is that, unlike democratic elections it is not a popularity contest. For the sake of both brevity and persuasion, just turn on CPAC’s House of Commons stream and see where we get when Canadians go to the polls en masse. Watch the truly small-and-mean minded Prime Minister and his minions equivocate about H1N1 vaccination which now Minister Aglukkaq is promising us as a Christmas present; watch the amazing shrinking Leader of the Opposition as he demonstrates ever more each day with appropriate academic rigour his inability do what should be a no-brainer and send Harper packing off back to the corporate world that he has never really left, in spirit.

Then, if you can find it, try to tune in on the never-that-popular Prince of Wales and ask yourself whether our exercising our democratic mandate does any better than this gracious and thoughtful prospective king, indeed, whether our Canadian ability at making leadership choices makes it worth having some Harris Decima butt-pain disrupt the rightful enjoyment of the World Series.

So then an early Happy 61st King Charles, on the 14th of this month (which if you’ve read this carefully should enable your adroit calculation of your humble grouse’s upcoming natal day and thereby your advance planning of appropriate celebrations).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Polling and Trolling

It was surprising indeed that Obama allowed (or perhaps even directed) his communications beagle, Anita Dunn, to get down and dirty with Fox News. Could this network have wanted anything more than a dirt-slinging confrontation with the dubiously premature Peace Nobelist to get even moderate Americans flipping on their channel to see what the fuss is all about?

There is more than enough fresh verbiage sprouting up in conventional and online news commentaries (a good balanced but critical example being Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus) that I do not have to wade in here other than to echo advice I had on a wall poster many a year ago: "Never mud wrestle with a pig: you'll both get dirty but the pig will love it!"

What I will comment on, however, is a poll that popped up on FaceBook today. Here is what it looks like (click on image to enlarge).

Adroit readers would need only a glance at this -- and particularly at the nigh incoherent and pathetically biased drivel the author placed above the three choices - to know that this poll and whoever mounted it on FaceBook seem not worth taking seriously. Alas, in addition to several of my FaceBook Friends - people I greatly respect - having taken this survey, the stats suggest that no fewer than 36,841 benighted souls have played along, no doubt to the orgasmic glee of the semi-illiterate perpetrator!

It is obvious, but I'll say it anyway for the record, that the survey is irremediably flawed. Of course, its purpose was what is called trolling: it's not meant to evoke reflection on the Obama-Fox conflagration but to stir up emotions and, if possible, legitimize the underlying ridiculous presumption that the Prez would even contemplate such a move.

I am sure logicians have complicated names for the erroneous thinking therein but for simplicity, think of it this way. Down the street lives a pleasant mild-mannered young man and his mother. With a few clicks I can set up a poll asking FaceBookers whether the fellow should murder his mum. Please choose Yes? No? or It's Illegal.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Proportionate Response a la UN Human Rights Council

This morning the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), with a predictability not exceeded by forecasting solar eclipses, endorsed Justice Richard Goldstone's report on civilian abuse during the 2008 Gaza war. Whatever the merits and content of the report itself, this was a foregone conclusion, in part because the same Council commissioned the inquiry but more so because of this dubious body's track record of Israel-bashing.

Isn't this in the same world where Sudan encourages the ongoing massive butchery in Darfur? Wherein Mugabe has destroyed civil life and innumerable opponents? Where North Korea and Iran continue to suppress, jail and disappear even mild critics? Where the tyrants of Burma silence and stomp Nobel peace laureates? And where the People's Republic of China continually murders off ethnic and other opposition? But in this world, there is one Nation that has garnered 6 times the number of UNHRC condemnatory resolutions than any other: yup, Israel.

Here's a screen-shot that compiles the number of such resolutions between 2003 and 2009.

(apologies for the small image size but the scaling of the bar graph is thrown off by the preponderance of resolutions directed at Israel! - if you click on it, some magnification happens)

The Report talks about Israel's disproportionate military response but might one also think about "disproportion" in the way that that nation itself is assaulted by the luminaries of Human Rights of the UN?

No surprise here that Goldstone's findings would be music to the largish ears of this "impartial" agglomeration of UNHRC kangaroos. The report certainly is extensive and delves scrupulously into what, in an earlier less enlightened era, would have been the expected outcomes of an invasion into an unavoidably densely populated area - a place where the quarry quite intentionally attempts to hide and blend in.

Figuring out what specific abuses the Israeli forces perpetrated versus inadvertent and unavoidable casualties - given Hamas's conscious strategy to embed among its own vulnerable civilians - was a task of enormous complexity. In order to appear a little balanced the Goldstone report rapped Hamas's knuckles too but failed anywhere to point out just how easy that claque of terrorists qua elected government made the learned investigation: for they were indiscriminately attacking Israeli civilians on a daily basis long before open military action began. In simple terms, had they heeded multiple warnings to put a stop to the daily barrage of missiles peppering its communities, Israel would have no reason or justification for the horrors that followed.

It is somewhat to Goldstone's credit that his panel documents the Palestinians' atrocities but, of course, in keeping with the culture of the institution who commissioned this analysis, and now endorse it, the lion's share of blame continues to rain down on Israel - you know, the side that was being attacked first.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stumbling into a low place

I used to live in a huge U.S. city: relatives would tell me to be careful because sometimes you can be a perfectly okay neighbourhood and then just make one wrong turn and end up in some dangerous scuzz-hole. I mainly ignored their warnings, obviously, survived my recklessness, and, as a result, saw extraordinary places I would not have otherwise.

But the Internet is a wholly different place. Of course, sexual pornography is never further than around the next clicked corner, as are batteries of white supremacists, Islamic polemicists and the like. But this week I happened into a fetid not-so-little backwater whose existence I would have preferred never to even know about much less have witnessed.

While helping my daughter work on a presentation about wolverines and checking out what YouTube had for footage of this rare, cagey and fearsome species, I happened across one harmless enough clip wherein the wolverine was chasing a much bigger bear up a tree. That seemed kind of amusing so I opened it, and... as frequent YouTubers know, when you view one video, others ostensibly related to it appear in a side bar. Suddenly, involuntarily, I was in a screwy netherworld rife with crude footage of deadly confrontations between various wild and domestic creatures which, for the most part, would never encounter each other in nature. Tigers were pitted against black bears and lions, lynxes versus cougars, pit-bulls against wolves, poisonous snakes against birds of prey, and crocodiles taking on damn near every kind of adversary.

Just as troubling as the content of this repulsive stuff is the copious dialogue - if such it can be called - of ostensible humans e-blabbering their commentary underneath each video. With more vehemence than beery hockey fans, anonymous rooters with nicknames like Panikmaker and Hickman13 triumphantly proclaim the superiority of their "home team" predator and, inevitably - though it hardly seems possible - stoop lower and lower in their mutual recriminations. "A tiger could own your f---ing polar bear you dumb motherf-----" etc. etc.

One has the distinct impression of overhearing lunatics who can get their ya-ya's off only vicariously through violence among wildlife they wish they were like... a pervert's version of the animal daemons in the Golden Compass.

But, it seems, these aren't just a few twisted odd ducks: YouTube tracks the number of viewings and for most of these videos there have been 100s of thousands of visits recorded. One clip of a tiger/lion encounter has been watched over 5 million times! Moreover, I soon discovered as I pressed with morbid fascination into deeper recesses that this manly preoccupation has been institutionalized in a wide array of websites including ones with such telling titles as and [Note: I am not providing direct links (a) because it is ugly stuff that you should search out only if you enjoy excrement; and (b) putting in links makes the crap all the more likely to turn up when kids do searches about wild animals on engines such as Google].

Naturally, because I am who I am, I left a scattering of mocking and contemptuous remarks, just to stir up the dim-wit sadists. I argued that a ruffed grouse would lay waste to their tigers and black mambas and referred to non-existent scientific literature on the inherent violence of gallinaceous birds. This seems to have found its mark, as a flurry of hate-mail soon landed in the box of the email address that I keep especially for such people and occasions. Most amounted to slightly less sophisticated versions of primary school "sez-yous" but with added epithets advising me to undertake various anatomically impossible maneuvers.

Any way, my latest windmill to tilt at involves tracking down whomever makes these videos, finding out whether the footage is real, and, as appropriate, bringing this sordid preoccupation to the attention of animal welfare bodies. I shall advise later on outcomes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One More and, I hope, Last Shot at the Whiner

So intriguing that until the details of his league-record - there he goes again! - salary , there was no mention much less criticism of the Grating One in all the chicaneries swirling about the hapless Phoenix Coyotes. The ill fate of this perennial loser of the desert, was attributed to everything from a poorly located stadium to an intrinsic lack of fan base to global warming with never a mention of the G-man and his ill-matched insatiable monetary hunger and mediocre (at best) coaching skills.

Usually when any professional team comes up with middling to poor seasons year after year, muttering about the man behind the bench starts up and grows in volume until general management kicks the bum out. Of course, when the bum in question happens to have a financial and management interest in the failing team, it's a tad more difficult. And so, despite four years of missing the playoffs and utter silence - forget about trying to help in any way - about the various controversies over the team's fate amidst the Basillie-Bettman battle, Gretzky is heard from only and about when there's a chance that he won't get the full $8.5 million he's been patiently waiting for at the nigh-empty Phoenix trough. Now there's news that matters.

The hesitation one sees on sports pages to even now call a spade a spade and the Wayner a whiner, makes me wonder if the writers there are still semi-consciously afraid that even a fair, well-researched verbal "body-check" on Gretzky might summon forth the ghost of the one of the bully-boys, like Dave Semenko, who, shall we say, facilitated those record-setting years on the Oilers.

Okay if Wayne will now promise to do something useful with his remaining years - such as fishing off the dock at his cottage - and stay far from hockey in every way, I shall commit to him and my faithful readers, that I have spake his name for the last time.

Taking off the Tight Shoe

My late mother used to speak metaphorically of a man so deprived that his only pleasure was wearing shoes a size too small so he could feel the relief of taking them off once a day.
This strikes me as the the kind of feeling that those who bore witness to Stephen Harper's musical performance at the National Arts Centre must have been going through. Undoubtedly well-coached by his usual faceless handlers, the Prime Minister touched down among presumptive mortal enemies within the very bastion of cultured folks whose values and livelihoods his government has so long demeaned. With Yo-Yo Ma backing him up, it's hard to imagine anybody being so churlish as to not give Harper rousing cheers for his pluck if not, nay, definitely not for his talent.

Fair enough, but, as might be expected, the NeoCon pundits were at the ready: Charles Adler, arguably the new Right's fair haired boy du jour, went a little out of control, reading into the culture crowd's reaction, a lighting strike realization that Stephen wasn't really "scary" after all.

I prefer the theory of the tight shoe. Having had this mean-spirited minority Prime Minister for an unthinkable four years of culture-trashing, it probably seemed, if only for a moment, a pleasurable relief to see him acting as if he was really not so bad. Adler, seized the occasion to make the rather mundane observation that Harper was the kind of guy you just might bump into at the Canadian Tire store on a Saturday morning -- an unprofound criterion, since uncaught serial killers and, even more evil in Adler's world, Michael Ignatieff, might also need lock de-icer some frosty weekend and turn up along the CT aisles.

To such as Adler, let me reassure you: no one was fooled; the relief was momentary, and the reaction you saw, merely the classy graciousness that the despised "Downtowners"(Adler's term for what a couple of generations ago, his like-minded predecessor Spiro Agnew would have called an"effete corps of impudent snobs") are good at.

Learn something, Chuckie.