Jackson Browne covers by James Dupre

February 3, 2009

I guess I’ve run out of blogging steam for the most part, maybe another few posts. I’m thinking of coming back in a few months with a bit more structure, and probably be around commenting in any case. Thanks very much for reading!

Meanwhile, I’ve been listening to some of the songs on James Dupre’s youtube channel – especially covers of Jackson Browne.

The Naked Ride Home

For a Dancer

These Days


It’s not the country they thought it was

January 30, 2009

It’s not the country a lot of people thought it was. Even me. I was suprised that his candidacy suprised me because in my head I already believed it was more than possible in America. To quote David Gergen on the night of the election: “this happened in George Bush’s America”. That doesn’t suprise me.

Not that I wanted him to win, but…

Getting the short end of the stick in Canada

January 28, 2009

This may be the greatest poem I, or anyone, has ever written. I wrote it for the anti-Harper facebook group Stephen Harper Poems, where I was the conservative poet-in-residence. Sheer propoganda – I even worked in Harper’s primary election message, that he stands up for the people who “work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules”. For authenticity points, I tapped it out on my cellphone in spare moments at work. It’s more than a little snippy, but hey, at least I didn’t call anyone fascist for increasing arts funding insufficiently.

People like to say Harper was divisively making a play for the votes of a particular section of Canadian society at the expense of a group unlikely to vote for him. Considering that he was painted as such for a general increase of arts funding it seems to me that the pointy edge of this wedge we hear of actually faces the other way. What really bothers me about it is that there are people who work brutal jobs in the oil patch – away from home a week or two weeks at a time – and their tax money goes to fund artists doing work that they don’t value and that for many people is a hobby they’d like to have more time for. I don’t care to cut arts funding, although I think there’s a lot that could be done to improve it. But even considering the point of view of that guy in the oil patch is automatically “divisive”.

That guy gets the short end of the stick in Canada every time.

Avant Garde; Derriere Noggined
“works hard” Steve they’ll be floggin’

they live in channels straight and narrow
blind hostile to neighbor harrow’s
call classic liberal evil monster
needed foil to the Good People
he honoured Dalai to Stronach’s sigh
but better
“play by the rules” and no one gets smeared

now wonderin’ just what’s so progressive
’bout paying for Statements
with my labour’s sweat

and livin’ off middle class “pay their tax” fascists.

post script.

Say come to Alberta, welcome able body
Try a hand with your hand
Try labourer’s sweat
Make a working man poetic
Say skip The Dialectic!
Taste the other narrative
And then make comment

Iranian Freedom and perspectives on the Shah

January 27, 2009

A few of my posts have linked to a blog called Iranian Freedom as ‘possibly related’:

Iranian Freedom seeks to serve as a conduit for Iranian dissidents within and without Iran and from across the political spectrum — all those who believe that in order to move forward, the freedom-loving Iranian nation must leave the Islamic Republic behind.

Ganselmi’s latest post is the most interesting I’ve read in a long time – about a book by Gholam Reza Afkhami called The Life and Times of the Shah and argues that the commonly accepted stereotype of the Shah isn’t the true picture.

A common narrative concerning the Shah and the Pahlavi legacy unites much of Iran’s intelligentsia with liberal-left opinion in the West. According to this narrative, Mohammad Reza Shah’s father, Reza Shah, was an absolutist dictator who attempted to modernize Iran at the point of the gun and an entirely unacceptable pace. Meanwhile, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is depicted as a corrupt stooge and a “westoxicated” lapdog of American imperialism who, by squashing the authentic democratic urges of his people, ultimately empowered the fundamentalist scourge now raging in his homeland.

Particularily interesting to me is the perspective on the CIA backed coup of Mossadegh that Ganselmi’s post offers. He argues that the CIA was by no means the only or even main influence in the coup:

As Afkhami explains, it was not until Mossadeq accorded himself unconstitutional emergency powers (suspending the Majlis, etc.) and began to speak openly against the crown that the Shah turned against him. The events that followed have gained mythical status among opponents of the Shah. But as Afkhami shows, the coup against Mossadeq was largely homemade and enjoyed solid support among broad segments of Iranian society.

It astonishes me to realize that before this my view on the coup of Mossadegh was essentially that western powers completely engineered this overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian leader. On second thought, the idea that the CIA could have done such a thing out of the blue is ridiculous – an incredibly chauvanistic overestimation of the influence western powers could have on Iran. That isn’t to defend what role the CIA did have. Perhaps Iran and the U.S. would have been much better served if a man like George W. Bush had been president then.

What I do know about Iran comes from We Are Iran by Nasrin Alavi – a book about Iran built around excerpts from Iranian blogs. It is by far one of my favorite books, and it too gives me hope for Iranian freedom:

The annual gathering to mark Iran’s National Youth Day 2004 proved another flashpoint. Some 150 representatives of the country’s youth groups met with the President and all were allocated three-minute slots to put their questions to him.
     Traditionally on such occasions, representatives of different youth groups gather and, rather than actually asking questions, they praise the Supreme Leader and the good deeds of the President. But Youth Day 2004 was a very different affair: the President got a ‘severe grilling’ from many of those present. One young girl demanded: ‘Mr President, look me in the eye when I ask my question.’ She went on to say: ‘Mr Khatami, you were unfaithful to us all.’ Another asked: ‘Do you sleep well at night?’ A revolt was brewing.
     The bold language of these student representatives was unprecedented. As a generation they see themselves as citizens with rights struggling for a civil society – and they greatly outnumber the soldiers of the ideological state
     ….Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Islamic Republic is its children – educated young women like Samieh Touhidlo, who bravely stand up for democracy in Iran.

-from We Are Iran pages 320 to 322

Pretentiousness is bliss

January 26, 2009

According to the author of this post about the song My Girls, it would be unsavvy of me to post about it. (assuming I have an audience) So I’ll just link to it. But let me mischievously posit: are we talking about Savvy or Pretence? Consider some of the author’s phrases:

  • “I’ve been guiltily buying Animal Collective albums for a while now, and it has taken me a long time to fall hard.”
  • “…discography…”
  • “If this is what neo-primitivism sounds like, sign me up. No ritual scarring, please.”

My highly sensitive pretencedar was ringing 3 bells. Then the first comment:

“Pretty good. This song’s hook, structure, and charming relationship to past pop music seems analogous…”

That’s a 5 bell alarm. But then I listened to the song, several times. Now that comment about charming relationships sounds very much in tune. I don’t listen to this kind of music… ever, which is probably why I’ve never thought of a song as having a nice, sweet aftertaste. Ugh. Now I’m setting myself off. If this is pretence, pretentiousness is up there with ignorance.

***Update: Just listened to My Girls a few more times dammit. It’s not a sweet aftertaste, it’s more round – like a peeled almond. Yeah, like if you just had a peeled almond in your mouth for a while and can still taste it. Now where’s my Okie From Muskogie CD…***

Anyhow, Jessi Colter is sweet, almondy, and most importantly – unpretentious:

A ginger ale toast to Robbie Burns

January 26, 2009

Montreal Simon commemorates Robbie Burns with a fine toast, and a poem I haven’t read before. I notice from his previous post that we have different perspectives on Gaza, but on Robbie – and Haggis –  we very much agree.

Another of my favorite Canadian blogs.

A theory of left-wing antisemitism

January 24, 2009

If an angel falls, he does not become human – he becomes a devil.

There’s a lot of debate to be had on whether and to what degree faulting Israel for the deaths in responding to Hamas’s rockets could be considered antisemitic or influenced by antisemitism. The argument I made for that is here.

Another question is, how do you explain something like Eric Margolis’s characterization of Israel’s actions against Hamas as “a final solution campaign”?

A generous adaptation of a theory current on the right would say Margolis is a self-hating westerner shocked into saying something so incredible by the frustrating prospect of a “western” country successfully defending itself. A quote from Andrew Robert’s book Napoleon and Wellington about the reaction to Waterloo among the British radicals and Whigs:

Wellington enjoyed telling stories of the Whig’s discomforture at his victory. In 1838 at Walmer Castle he recalled that ‘when the truth came out of our having won, Lord Sefton went to Lady Jersey and said to her “Horrible news! They have gained a great victory!” – Napoleon and Wellington -pg 195

Wellington was talking about men like Samuel Whitbread, a British Whig politician who actually committed suicide after Napoleon was defeated a second time. Perhaps Margolis is reacting to Israel as the guilt-banner of the west in the Middle-East. In the same way that the pro-western Shah could never be right enough to be justified for Jimmy Carter – until Carter’s increasing demands of democratic openness finally crippled him in the face of revolution, for Eric Margolis Israel’s success in attacking even Hamas is the kind of thing liberals might have committed suicide over once apon a time.

But that’s unfair to liberals, and to Samuel Whitbread.

Napolean may have killed more men than Hamas can hope to, but he dreamed of a grand revolutionary empire of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. And liberals dreamed with him. Hamas dreams of driving the Jews into the sea. I recall a Canadian interview of a Hamas spokesperson shortly after they won their election – his revealing message was that Hamas didn’t have any kind of global goals. Canadians had nothing to worry about, personally.

Nevertheless, Canadians have decided that – personal or not, global or not, we take sides against Hamas.

So why is it that Margolis sides with Hamas? In the post I linked to Ezra Levant calls it “classic antisemitism” for Margolis to associate an operation against Hamas, of all things, to Hitler’s Final Solution. It’s definitely something. But I don’t think that western guilt or classic antisemitism can entirely explain what we’re seeing on the left or the right when it comes to judgements about the Gaza conflict.

I don’t think it’s typically antisemitic because it resembles the treatment other members of minorities or disadvantaged groups get from the hard left. The particularily notable incidents have involved the outings of gay staffers working for Republican politicians. If you were asked which side of the political spectrum you’d typically expect to out gays for political reasons you’d probably think of James Dobson. You’d be quite wrong. The hard American leftist is something of an ideological pimp. There are particular groups he believes that he stands up for and when he encounters members of those groups working against his vision it becomes unusually ugly. I consider that it goes beyond that as well. Some of the North American left thinks of white males in the way that caused George Jonas to say that just when Jews finally got to be European, Europeans became the new Jews. They are the villians of history, the source of injustice and defined by bigotries like racism and homophobia – the scapegoat. Opposed to the European man are his victims, and the victims of the villian are always heroes. In this political current, the Conservative and Republican parties are the vehicles of what’s wrong with everything. This liberal expects no better of a white man than to be a Conservative or Republican. It’s in his worse nature. A gay man who would work for the Republican party is different. He should be better than that. A hero working for the villians is the worst of things. And so the people who believe they stand for gay rights out gay men. Unlike the average person working for the Republicans, that man has lost his rights.

It is a selective bigotry that applies to members of groups that the left at least rhetorically champions. Judging by the special tone of hate mail she gets,  Michelle Malkin has concluded that left wingers are especially racist and misogynist. B. Daniel Blatt, writing for Gay Patriot – a blog linked to and read mostly by conservatives – wonders why hate mail they get from the left outweighs hate mail from the right by 19-1. It may be that when you identify with a political view that is by reputation anti-racist and anti-sexist it somehow gives cover or leave to your own streak of bigotry. My argument is not quite that. Because liberals see women and minorities as heroic vicitms they have a very absolute reaction to women or minorities with the political views they despise. Suddenly that person becomes a target of bigotry to a degree that few on the right could match and none get away with.  The cartoonist who depicted Condoleeza Rice – who was blocks away when the Birmingham bombs went off, rose to become the American Secretary of State, and who calls herself a Second Amendment absolutist because the KKK disarmed blacks before persecuting them – as a barefooted slave birthing lies for her Republican massah’ may have thought he was being liberal, but it is racist by any name.

My argument is that the left is prone to bigotry precisely because they positively otherize minorities, gays, and women. Jonah Goldberg occasionally mentions in his columns a term conservatives have for the positive otherizing of African-Americans by liberals: “black numinescence” – an attitude of mystique and awe. When a racial group is thought of in such a way, individuals of that group are either condescendingly elevated or fall far short. It may be useful for counteracting negative stereotypes, but in the end it is one – and it risks reversal.

That’s where we come back to anti-semitism. I believe that the “risk of reversal” is what defines attitudes towards Isreal on both ends of the political spectrum. Speaking for myself from the right, I seem to be emotionally incapable of coming to terms with the possibility of any wrongdoing from Israel. More accurately – I find myself viscerally unable to support Israel’s right to defend it’s innocent civilians and not be perfect. My choice has been to view Israel as almost perfect. This is the key to understanding the extremism of views about Gaza.

On one side Israel can do no wrong and on the other a response to unrelenting terrorist attacks that is exceptionally humane by any standard that isn’t angelic earns comparisons of Gaza to Warsaw, Jews to Nazis, and even Israel’s specific attack on Hamas to Hitler’s Final Solution.

If one way of responding to typical bigotry is to overcompensate, that goes double for the oldest one. George Jonas wrote in “Beethoven’s Mask” that there are anti-semites and philo-semites and he doesn’t see much to either view. The parvenau Jew is treated as exceptional in either a positive or negative way. Maybe it isn’t whether or not it is decided that Jews are exceptional in a good or bad way but the fact that they are assumed to be so exceptional at all that is the long-term problem. Given a bianary choice between parvenau and pariah there will always be too many who, even out of a sense of their own failings, will find reason to go with pariah – just as the hard American left reacts to the positively otherized people that they consider to have fallen short of their better nature. In the same way that gays are hallowed in Hollywood and so to a degree set up to be either glorified or hated, the positive otherizing of targets of discrimination is not the best and most durable social reaction to bigotry. For if an angel falls, he does not become human – he becomes a devil.

If the ultimate victim even once becomes a victimizer, or at least is believed to have done so, you get the truly strange and very absolute reaction we see on some of the left and which is partially mirrored on the right.

In the long run, a parvenau video like this should take care to emphasize cultural success and a video like this – a collection of idiotic individuals (I include the Jewish cameraman), which is to say very unexceptional people, shouldn’t be a pariah video at all. It is the basis for a better long-term tack in the fight against anti-semitism and all bigotries. Canada, and our Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are right to side against Hamas – but it may be just as important if from that position we can question something like Israel’s west bank settlements or use of specific weapons and so avoid either of the strange habits men have developed towards the ones called “Jew”.

-da wolfe-

“Why aren’t your sun-worshippers spread out a little more? There’s plenty of room on the beach.”

The Israeli laughs, perhaps a little uncomfortably.

“Ah! Well, don’t you see? Look! Ashkenazi, there… then a little space, then Sephardim… a little space and Ashkenazi again… and Sephardim, space, Ashkenazi, and so on…”

As he points from group to group, I do see it. European Jews — buffer zone — Oriental Jews — another buffer zone…

“But why, for heaven’s sake? Is there a law?”

“Of course not. It’s only… well, that’s what people do. It makes them feel more comfortable.”

We walk silently for a while, my Israeli escort and I. All right: this is the country my uncle built for me. So what if it isn’t exempt from the human condition? You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

I’m not as patient as Mike Brock

January 23, 2009

Mike Brock wrote a post earlier this month about “transistory libertarianism”, explaining why he supports the Human Rights Commissions – less the censorship article – for the time being.

I made a related and perhaps more radical argument that resembles progressive libertarianism way back called Will Alan Borovoy go all the way?

a system with the power to punish an employer for dismissing a person if it is supposed to have been done for discriminatory reasons damages the employment prospects of the very people it is supposed to protect. This dynamic is plainly demonstrated by the high unemployment rate in economies such as France where restrictive firing laws force employers to be very careful in whom they hire. This kind of system, “progressive” in intent, forces employers to discriminate against young and inexperienced people – and has a severe effect on new immigrant groups. Sarkozy’s government attempted to pass a law making it easier to fire young employees in order to increase the ability of employers to hire them. Imagine the consequense if French politicians passed laws to make it harder still to fire young people and immigrants instead. Yet this is exactly what our Human Rights Commisions are doing – in Canada the only people we discriminate against in this way are those named in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The basic problem with the commissions is that they assume that an employer or landlord will get rid of a minority or disabled person for discriminatory reasons after they’ve already hired or rented to them. How likely is that? What kind of person would hire someone with a disablility, find that they were capable of doing the job, and then fire them?

“Well James, I’m happy to say that I’m pleased with your work and the value it adds to my bidness. However that wasn’t why I hired you. That was just so I could then discriminatorily fire you and start my search for an employee over again. Now. HAHAHAHAHAHA! F-ing retard!”

It strikes me as unlikely. And the problem is that, as I argued in my excerpt above, the commissions are probably actually detrimental. The trick is not to ask what the intention of a law is, but the effect. I referenced in my original post a column by John Stossel about the actual effect of the American Disablilities Act on people with disabilities. Stossel cited a study that found lower employment after it came into effect and quoted someone involved with hiring who said that people with disabilities became lawsuit bombs – you couldn’t fire them for any reason. So they don’t hire them.

And that’s why I’m not as patient as Mike Brock. Liberals see the fact that disabled people are employed at a lower rate than others and because they have confused equality with sameness assume that this means there is discrimination. I grant that discrimination is possible in hiring – employers might not want to take a chance on someone different or actually discriminate on the basis of race. But I believe that the commissions make it worse by actually disincentivizing the hiring of the people who are supposedly protected. Instead of leaving the commissions until later, they should be replaced now. It will never be a winning issue to get rid of “Human Rights” commissions. It could be to replace them with something more effective – call them “Human Rights” incentives: a hiring bonus for disabled people that does something like estimate potential costs in employing that individual and possibly a general rent subsidy for low income people in order to mitigate potential discriminatory effects.

I am not so libertarian as Brock. But I want it now – in general, a reincentivizing of the welfare state to make it leaner and more effective which in the long run will make it less and less neccessary, politically or morally.

A literary farewell to Dubya

January 22, 2009

So Dubya’s gone I suppose. There’s a lot you might say about it. I certainly had something of an odd connection with the man – the number of books we’ve both read.

  • I read Compassionate Conservativism by Marvin Olavsky as a young student in the University of Saskatchewan library. I opened the book to find a foreward written by a certain Governor of Texas, who was President by then. It’s a very inspiring book with beautiful personal stories and also a careful focus on statistics – Olavsky related a story of driving around America from one promising poverty and anti-addiction program to another and telling his son that no matter how much you like the idea of a program always pay attention to the statistics: how many people no longer need the program when they’re done. David Frum himself argued that George Bush’s enormous domestic spending increases were calculated to avoid political battles at home during a war. I don’t think anyone who’s read Olavsky’s book would agree – it was probably more integral to Bush’s governing philosophy than anything. The main message of hope in the book was that shifting federal spending from inefficient and ineffective or even counter-productive bueaucratic programs to the kind of charitable programs Olavsky had found effective – always with a spiritual element which was usually Christian – would finally begin to realize the dreams of Lyndon Johnson’s great society programs. It doesn’t seem to have worked that well. All I can ever remember being said about it has been in the occasional conservative’s column which mentioned that the influence of federal subsidies seemed to be corrupting the efficiency of those programs. Of course there was a great deal of famous criticism from the left that including programs with religious content violated the “separation of church and state”. Interestingly, it was not the conservatives who were focused on the religious aspect rather than the effectiveness of social programs – and in the end the most effective questions raised about mixing private charity and state charity came from conservatives.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Swift Needs To Believe

January 20, 2009
  • Update: Just read a few more of Swift’s posts. Now I’m even more impressed because for the second post in a row, I have been fooled. Jon Swift really is a Mega Concern Troll. And that’s even funnier. I did not believe there existed a liberal American blogger with a combination of intelligence and humour. I could not believe it, and I can hardly still. For several years the conservative humour blogs I link in this post have roamed the blogosphere as giants among anklebiters. At last a liberal has risen to the challenge. Swift couldn’t quite match them, for he had to position himself as a conservative and talk like a conservative FTW. But, WIN nonetheless Jon. WIN nonetheless.

    The fisking challenge still stands.

Read the rest of this entry »