Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In Praise Of

Now, this corner has been accused of being a bit negative these days, but really, with the Apocalypse upon us (I predict bombs falling on Iran in late September or early October), it's hard to find many things to be hugely happy with.

However, this weekend, while fat and happy from Mexican food and on the way to a party, we stopped by Virgin Records and there was this awesome music playing. A middle-eastern group called Niyaz. Very interesting melodies, amazing rhythms, cool vocals - a great listen. I'm particularly fond of the track Dilruba, which is intensely rhythmic and dynamic. You can find them on iTunes, and I suggest downloading that one track - it's with the $0.99.

From the web site:

Their first joint album weaves together ten beautiful, mystical poems written by some of the greatest Sufi poets of all time, with music accessible to a contemporary audience. Azam, who was born in Iran but largely raised in India, sings in both Farsi (the Persian language) as well as in Urdu, a language widely spoken in India and in Pakistan. The music, too, represents cultural blendings of the highest order, crossing back and forth over centuries of musical expression to combine ancient instruments, rhythms, and tonalities with brand new sounds. Mingling the textures of traditional acoustic music with new electronica, Niyaz represents a finely-tuned balance that ushers in a new era of artistic possibilities for Iranian music.

I've been playing it in my car - a convertible - and certainly getting some very interesting looks as the drums and bass thump out across Santa Monica Boulevard.

Update: I was also quite struck by how interesting it is to listen to music in a language that you don't understand at all. Most music I listen to - modern or classical - will be sung in English or Spanish (modern) and French or German or Latin (classical). My French, German, and English are all pretty good, and listening to Spanish or Latin, you get a lot of cognates from French, so there is still meaning. But listening to music sung in Farsi or Urdu is something completely different. I was quite struck by how rhythmic the language is, and how they use the rhythm of the language to compliment the music.

But then, maybe that's also the case in other music, it's just that when you know the meaning, the mind focuses on the meaning and not the sound, if that makes any sense. Maybe not. I was listening recently to Tchaikovsky's Vespers Service (also beautiful and a good purchase - infinitely more accessible than Rachmaninov's similar service), sung all in Russian, and it lacks the same sense of rhythm. But that could be a function of the liturgical nature of the music.

Basically I'm saying that I've realized it's very cool to listen to singing you don't understand, because it allows you to focus exclusively on the music and completely ignore the words.

Soldiers in Afghanistan

This is an old article from the Telegraph in London, but today, when four Canadians killed in Afghanistan are returned to Canada, it seems somewhat relevant.

LONDON - Until the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a U.S. warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region.

And as always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does. It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored. Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved. Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular memory as somehow or other the work of the "British."

The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third-largest navy and the fourth-largest air force in the world.

The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United States had clearly not participated -- a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality -- unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British. It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves -- and are unheard by anyone else -that 1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peacekeepers on Earth -- in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace -- a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit. So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun.

It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost. This week, four more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Free speech

This is nonsense.

So - the US is prosecuting a woman who stood up to protest Hu Jintao.

The Post makes excuses, but let's get one thing straight - apparently in the US, leaders don't need to face hostile criticism (see my earlier post about how in Parliamentary systems, the Government, PM, and Cabinet have to answer to the Opposition without a Scott McC) - whether they be foreign or domestic.

But - recall - this is the President who wouldn't speak in our Parliament during his State Visit to Canada - for fear of hecklers.

The woman I'd switch for

I've not read her article, but I'd marry Dalia Lithwick.

Poor Scott

Ana Marie Cox does a great job of dissecting Scott McClellan here. (Total aside: she's the original Wonkette, and we love Wonkette.)

But. This corner has never flinched in its belief that Parliamentary democracy, whereby the Prime Minister and the Government have to stand up every day to defend themselves, without "spokesmen," is the better system.

And this is proof.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Let's get something straight

Everyone was all happy happy isn't it great that Harper headed off to Afghanistan to pay attention to our troops.

Tedious, political ploy.

The person who should get the real props for visiting our soldiers in Afghanistan in Dec. 2003 is The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, who at the time happened to be Governor-General and Commander in Chief of Canada.

This is the same Governor General who went to Kosovo, spent New Year's Eve with the troops (in the junior mess, no less) in Afghanistan, spent Christmas Eve and Day with the Navy, who was there to commemorate the Liberation of the Netherlands, created a new military decoration, constantly reached out to veterans, was always present at ceremonies and Rememberance Day commemorations.

Any time a politician does it, to me it's just getting votes ("Mission accomplished," anyone?).

The ones you should pay attention to are the ones who have no votes to get - the Governor-General, the Queen, etc. They do it out of a real sense of devotion - because they know that they are the heads of the state that these people are defending.

More importantly, they can represent the state in a nonpartisan way. If you look at the rapturous reception the Queen is getting for her 80th, and you compare it to elected heads' of state popularity (ahem, Bush) - you see the advantage.

With Clarkson, Her Excellency Michaelle Jean, the Queen - there are people who can stand up and speak for Canada and for Britain and speak for everyone. They can thank our soldiers not on behalf of the people who elected them, but on all of our behalf.

And when you see Clarkson, Jean, or the Queen's face light up in smile when she shakes the hand of a veteran or of a current soldier, you can trust that the emotion behind it is real and is for the veteran or soldier, not just for the camera.

PM Ambrose?

In today's Star, Chantal Hebert writes a memo to Harper , explaining that the path to a majority lies in embracing a green agenda. It silences his critics, and instead of preaching to the converted by acting on standard Conservative policy items, if Harper moves on the environment, he will likely convert voters reluctant to fully embrace him.

Hebert also points out that in the case of several prominent politicians (Mulroney, Bouchard, Charest, Dion), the green card was the ticket to bigger and better things. So who's the current Minister of the Environment? That's right, the It Girl ....

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cameras in the courts

I actually really don't get it. Why are Americans - and the courts - so happy to have cameras in trial courts, but not in the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court?

The courts cite all these worries - security is a big one. But honestly, if I wanted to see what Justice Kennedy looked like, it wouldn't be too hard on Google (that picture was the second listing on my search).

And the strange thing is, as usual, no one ever looks at the Canadian model.

In Canada, proceedings of the 13 provincial and territorial Courts of Appeal are televised, as also with the Supreme Court. Trial courts are subject to strict media bans. The exact opposite of the US (everyone remembers Judge Ito?)

This makes enormous sense. In trial courts, the issues are between the litigants, or the Crown and the accused. Other than mere entertainment, the public has no real interest (given most constitutional cases are decided without trial).

Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court, are different. They don't decide fact - they decide law. The law affects us all. So sure - an issue from a trial court goes up, but the law decided could conceivably affect us all, not just the litigants.

It makes enormous sense to televise higher courts' proceedings, and none at all to televise lower courts'.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Well, duh. Y'all.

Surely the answer is because there's nothing else to DO in the South but sing other people's music.

And take government handouts.

And complain about losing the Civil War.

UPDATE: I sure am glad I originally linked this to my personal email. I hope you found nothing particularly salacious. ;-)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Babylon, destroyed

This story is depressing. Not only did we fail to plan for post-war Iraq (other than getting ready to hand out flags for all the happy Iraqis to wave), but when we got there, we didn't really care about all them old thangs that might get broked in the process.

Somehow, this seems to me to be the constant theme of this Administration: we can break it, but we can't build it. We have great destructive power, but no creative power.

We can bomb Iraq back into the stone age, but can't create a stable society there.

We talk of bombing Iran, but our diplomacy there is moribund.

So - whenever you hear some jingo going on about how America is the strongest country in the world, ask what he means. To me, the ability to ruin something is not power. It may be strength, but it is not power.

To paraphrase Trudeau (only cos I can't find the quote), a nation can be great by the strenth of its heart and the breadth of its mind.

But the wanton, thoughtless destruction of humanity's heritage is not greatness, and neither is it power.

Friday, April 14, 2006

"Exactly what's needed"

Good god, is there no end to this Administrations complete inability to think it has made a single mistake? An increasingly-large chorus of retired generals with on the ground experience in Iraq have all said that Rumsfeld is a liability, and yet Dubya dismisses them as irrelevant and wrong.

Does any other country run itself this way? Major cities lost, spending through the roof, revenues through the floor, inteligence falsified, information illegally leaked, lies lies lies lies and yet the administration carries on in some strange Pollyanna-meets-Ostrich-Defence approach, perpetually insisting the sky is blue with its head in the sand not noticing the thunderheads.

This, at least, also shows that the parliamentary system that the Americans abandoned and that we kept has some sense. Although the Official Opposition is subject to many of the Government's whims, it is not completely emasculated here. The Dems have no power to do anything - to call hearings, to force the Government to answer questions, &c.

If Dubya and his robber baron cabinet had to stand up for an hour, every day, to be grilled by the opposition, to defend policies, to explain itself without the chance to prepare spin, without the ability to stage-manage the questions and the scene - do you think that we'd be where we are now?

We even saw in Canada a rejection of the tactic that worked so well here. Harper tried to paint people opposed to Afghanistan as unpatriotic or "not supporting our troops" - and it backfired on him.

But in the US, where opposition has no real platform to speak from, and the Administration controls when and where and how messages get out, there is no real debate.

A government whose feet are not held to the fire by an opposition is an autocracy, not matter how democratically elected.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Good god, we're ruined

It seems totally strange to me that the Government is after Enron for its alleged accounting wrongdoing, when it's doing the same thing itself. As David Broder explains:

For years, the federal budget has been stated in cash terms, not the accrual accounting method, which Cooper said has been in use for five centuries and is now mandated for all private corporations. The difference, as he explained it, is this:

If you go to Target and buy an item for cash, it's felt in your wallet immediately. If you buy the same item on a credit card, unless you are using accrual accounting, it is disguised until the bill arrives.

The U.S. government has been running up bills -- notably the promises of pensions and health-care benefits for military veterans and millions of other retirees -- without putting the obligations on the books.

That is what is really scary about the financial report. It contains page after page of graphs showing the probable future course of income and expenditures for Social Security and Medicare. In each chart, the dotted line for spending climbs far faster than the solid line for revenue. Beginning a decade from now, the shortfalls explode in what Cooper calls "a perfect storm" of fiscal ruin.

Hi - is anyone else a little frightened? The Government is using shady accounting that will become evident ten years from now - when Dubya and his Amoklaeufer are out of office.

In the meantime, we're ruined.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

God Fearing v Godless

This map is pretty cool:

What I'd really like to see, however, is the same map with Canada also included. It would be very interesting to see if, straight across the border, the numbers are the same.

More of those maps of the US can be found here.

Why are people STILL drinking the Kool Aid?

I have said in the past, and I'll say again - I just don't get it. Why, oh why, do Bush's approval ratings remain SO HIGH? How can there possibly be 38% of the population who thinks he's doing a fine job?

Where do they come from? Do they live under rocks?

Think about Brian Mulroney. Brian wasn't a bad guy. Sure, he was seen as a bit slimy, a little too cozy with the Yankees, he'd stirred up the pot with Constitutional amendments, and he brought in a nasty tax. And ended his second term with 10% approval ratings.

But this pales in comparison to Bush! Readers of our little space here know my litany of charges against Bush. But let's even compare:

Where Mulroney tried to amend the Constitution to make it more inclusive (I voted no for other reasons); Bush wants to amend it to enshrine discrimination.

Where Mulroney was seen as very cozy with business, he hardly compares to Bush's rabid pro-business/oil/Haliburton stance.

While Mulroney took us into the Iraq war, sanctioned by the UN, he at least didn't launch a war on false premises and then lie about it.

True, Murroney introduced the GST, but lived in reality and realized that the only way to erase a deficit was to increase revenue, not enshrine massive tax cuts and create a crushing deficit.

And look at the volatility of the Canadian electorate: In the 1993 election, more than half of all voters changed parties. Every decade or so, our system engages in a massive upheaval. Canadians aren't wedded to parties. Yet in the US, there is a section of the population that would keep voting for Bush even as the country falls apart around him.

That is, unless he got a blowjob. I'll take one for the team.

More valuable lives?

I confess that victim impact statements like these really infuriate me.

The theory of them is, on a very superficial level, very appealing: let the jury (or the person setting the sentence) see the consequences of the criminal's actions: Not only did he steal, in stealing, he made the victim's babies go hungry. Not only did she kill, in killing, she ruined the life of the victim's wife.

But therein lies the problem. Because the moment we allow the sentence to depend, in any part, on the impact on the victim, we start to judge people's lives and their worth relative to others' (appealing, perhaps, to Republicans and those who think that some lives are simply more valuable than others).

For example: A murderer kills a father of two, happily married, a pillar of his community, a teacher and basketball coach. The kids show up and say how devestated they are, the basketball team shows up and says that he was their mentor, community members stand up and talk about how the local Glee Club just won't be the same.

But another murderer kills a homeless man. No one shows up. No one is really even sure of the homeless man's name; the prosecutors only know he went by the nickname "Shorty." He's cremated and ashes scattered outside the city morgue.

Do these two murderers deserve a different sentence? I don't believe they do. The punishment should depend on the thing you do - kill - rather than two whom you do it. It shouldn't make a difference whether you kill a rich man or a poor man - it should matter that you kill.

And then think about the other consequences. The father, murdered above. All this great testimony about how great he was. And then a witness for the defence comes forward: this "pillar of the community" secretly had a drug habit. Oh, and he mollested young boys. And was engaged in shady tax deals. Does his sentence now change?

What if, say, Pol Pot were living in retirement here in the US, and someone killed him?

The point, to me, is this: life is life. A crime is a crime. You can set objective measures: Stealing goods of a certain value, or the level of intent in a killing. But to make things depend on the subjective measure of how many mourners you have turns sentencing into a popularity contest.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Why on earth was an unofficial flag flying?

I don't get it. Today, at the opening of Parliament, Michaelle Jean arrived to the front of the Centre Block, where both our Flag and also the "Canadian Unity Flag" were flying.

This makes no sense. First, it's not an official flag, and has no place whatsoever at the opening of Parliament.

Second, it incorporates a design specifically rejected during the flag debates, that the flag should suggest that there are two peoples of Canada - the French and the English.

Mike suggested that maybe Jean asked for it - but if she's so keen on "briser les solitudes," why would she fly a flag that highlights them?

I don't like it. It smacks too much to me of eroding ancient traditions through folsky populism.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Pundit Hair Watch

At long last, the At Issue panel returns, and so does this corner's critical analysis of the media's most defining attribute: their hair. Onwards...

Andrew Coyne, David Whathisname, and our dear Chantal Hebert. So let's get to the main issue at stake: Chantal's hair. Verdict: If it's raining in Montreal like it is in Toronto...well...the humidity has not been kind.

The panel talked about the new government, it being the first day back for Parliament. Andrew Coyne said that this government's mantra will be substance over style, stick to the agenda, don't let the opposition take it over.

Chantal countered that it isn't throne speeches that define governments, it is crises. She said the government can't be judged until then.

David Whoeverheis said that at this piont, Harper's government has dealt with crises (admittedly minor) far better than Martin's ever did, citing various foreign policy issues.

Next question from Mansbridge was on who to watch. Coyne said Flaherty in Finance, Maxime Bernier and the evolution of federalism in Quebec, and Jim Prentice, the latter being on a lot of committees.

Chantal said the Opposition will be after the weak points. Translation: Stockwell Day, and Emerson with his liabilities. She also said that a lot of journalists on the Hill are looking to see how Rona Ambrose fares, the new It-Girl of Canadian Politics. Perhaps Mackay will date her....

On the life of the government:
David Forgothisname said it will last so long as the Liberals are looking for a leader. And that when it falls, it will be by Harper's doing.

Coyne agreed, giving the government 2 years at least.

Chantal pointed out that Quebec and Ontario are approaching provincial elections. There won't be a federal election anywhere near those dates.

Good thing, because if we're going to be seeing more of Chantal, she needs to invest in some industrial frizz control.

Final Conclusion: I'll give David Missedhisname the nod, if only because he wore a leather jacket on air.
So apparently the Dubya administration, attempting to somehow further excuse its ineptitude in losing a city and then in not being able to help it recover, thinks that it might take 25 years to recover in New Orleans.

Twenty-five years? Excuse me?

This from the Administration that can't stop blathering on about America being the land of opportunity, that thinks we can put a man on Mars, that talks about prosperity and the ability of Americans to do great things.

I'm sorry. Berlin was 89% flat at the end of the Second World War. With regard to Nuremberg, in the words of William Shirer, "Nuremberg is gone!" Dresden, Leipzig, Coventry, huge swathes of London. Yet somehow it didn't take 25 years for people to get back and get moving in these cities. What about the destruction of Halifax? You didn't hear Borden saying, "Oh yeah, it's going to be a quarter century before we can use this city again."

What sort of can't-do government is the Bush admin?

ps the Borden link is really worth clicking on.