Posts Tagged “Politics”

06w36:2 The Luxury of Terrorism and Adam Curtis

by timothy. 0 Comments

The Facts & Arguments section of last Thursday’s (Sept 7th) Globe & Mail brought this article by Geoffrey Lean to my attention, where it is noted that ‘food supplies are shrinking alarmingly around the globe, plunging the world into its greatest crisis for more than 30 years. New figures show that this year’s harvest will fail to produce enough to feed everyone on Earth, for the sixth time in the past seven years. Humanity has so far managed by eating its way through stockpiles built up in better times – but these have now fallen below the danger level’.

Earlier in the week I picked up Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Ingenuity Gap at a used bookstore. This particular copy seems to have been someone else’s review-copy, since I found tucked inside the cover the photocopied blurb for his upcoming title The Upside of Down; Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (to be published October 31st). The blurb offers as a teaser the Prologue, which sets the stage with a reminder of Ancient Rome, which grew too complex and fell because its citizens couldn’t maintain its late stages. Homer-Dixon writes, ‘In this book we’ll discover that our circumstances today are like Rome’s in key ways. Our societies are becoming steadily more complex and often more rigid…Eventually, as occurred in Rome, the stresses will become too extreme, and our societies too inflexible to respond, and some kind of economic or political breakdown is likely to occur. I’m not alone in this view. These days, lots of people have the intuition that the world is going haywire and an extraordinary crisis is coming’.

We are indeed lucky to be thus living in such a time, before the extraordinary crisis. Because it seems to me that when we find ourselves there – maybe in another ten years or so? – won’t we look back with nostalgia to the simpler time of this decade, and pine for the days when old Papa Bush was on TV everynight, making us laugh with his goofy phrasings, and miss the simple-minded certainty offered by the idea that Muslim fanatics want to kill us?

Which is to say that only in a society which has enough food, whose cities aren’t being destroyed by storms, whose children are well-sheltered and well-fed, can we afford the time and resources to let our politicians play boys-with-toys war games. We truly must be living in a utopia, to have the luxury to use our time and money so productively in being afraid of one another.

Because we don’t have an extraordinary crisis to unite us and to force us to work together. Our cities are not being destroyed by storms. There isn’t a plague ravaging continents. We aren’t living with a lead-pipe infrastructure based on an finite resource that we are squandering. There is no asteroid headed our way to force Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi to become astronauts, nor are there aliens coming to blow up the White House and force President Bush to brush up on his fighter-pilot skills, last used protecting Texan airspace during the Vietnam War (if we don’t count the air-craft carrier thing from a few years back). At the end of the day we can sit back and watch the war-show and the comedic commentaries and look forward to going back to our soul-nurturing jobs in the morning and think, today was a good day. Because the extraordinary crisis is coming, but not already here. We have the luxury of war and terrorism in this decade, and we’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Meanwhile, commentators like Homer-Dixon, Ronald Wright, and Jared Diamond warn us that things are shaky. This civilization may not survive the 21st Century. Homer-Dixon, in his prologue, writes, ‘Rome’s story reveals that civilizations, including our own, can change catastrophically. It also suggest the dark possibility that the human project is so evanescent that it’s essentially meaningless. Most sensible adults avoid such thoughts. Instead, we invest enormous energy in our families, friends, jobs, and day-to-day activities. And we yearn to leave some enduring evidence of our brief moment on Earth, some lasting sign of our individual or collective being. So we construct a building, perhaps, or found a company, write a book, or raise a family. We seldom acknowledge this deep desire for meaning and longevity, but it’s surely one source of our endless fascination with Rome’s fall: if we could just understand Rome’s fatal weakness, maybe our societies could avoid a similar fate and preserve their accomplishments for eternity.”

Let us then consider this American-centric civilization’s accomplishments: paranoid parents who think their fat video-game playing moronic children will be raped by pudgy balding men. Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise. The American news-media. Cellophane packaged food. Chemicals with unpronounceable names. Industrialized slaughter houses for our domesticated animals, one of which (the cow) now has to be treated as potential toxic waste. Oprah Winfrey’s book club, to industrialize fiction consumption. A tourism industry. An art industry. Designers working away designing the knobs for the ends of curtain rods. Marketing agencies. Billboards. Short films conceptually contrived to promote things.

I’m just playing the USA=Western Civilization game, since, that’s the PR, the marketing, the televised ads, and the billboards have told me my whole life. England would seem to be the Mini-me side-kick, while Canada is USA’s nerdy brother, perhaps austistic, perhaps a good reader. Canada has an inferiority complex and isn’t as glamourous as the more famous brother. Canada is Napoleon Dynamite’s brother chatting up hot babes on the internet. Canada is Western Civilization’s art movie compared to the USA’s Schawrzenegger action flick.

It seems like France, Russia, Poland, Italy – they’re civilizations unto themselves and are thus somewhat divorced from the Anglo-American Empire’s sphere of influence. I’m not sure where Australia fits in since they’re more Anglo than American. Nevertheless, the United States has over 700 military bases in 130 countries in the world. Whatever we think we’re doing when we call ourselves democracies, and whatever we think of our political situation, that reality alone makes the USA Rome. And while Rome left a legacy which can still inspire sixteen hundred years after the fact, a legacy of art, architecture and law, the American Empire’s legacy so far seems to be highways and chemically processed stuff, its art made largely without archival concerns, its documents increasingly becoming subject to digital fragility.

Rome’s reputation for wickedness – brilliantly captured in I Claudius – is usually taught to us via Christian exegesis with gladiatorial reference but I think USA is well on her way to matching Rome’s record given that in July, the Internet Watch Foundation (a UK ‘child porn hotline’ site, which prefers to refer to such images as simply ‘child abuse’) reported that servers in the United States host 50% of the world’s ‘child abuse content’ while the wild-west of Russia (where your last phishing attempt may have come from) is only responsible for 15%. If we take as a measure how we treat our children as a sign of civilization, one has a rather perverse way of judging the winner of the Cold War. This rather abysmal accomplishment of American/Western Civilization – the sexualization of children (I can’t even watch anything on Jon Benet Ramsay, nevermind August’s weirdo) is something I can’t even be sarcastic about here and want to triumph as another grand accomplishment of our globalized society worth preserving.

Homer-Dixon’s thoughts can be answered: yes our society is haywire, and yes, this can only lead to a greater crisis down the road. But if we agree that current living conditions are inhumane and not worth preserving, what then is the better way? It is a moral question – that is, it calls us to envision and articulate a vision of a good life which is currently being articulated for us by Hollywood and advertising. We are not choosing to live lives with meaning or with purpose. We are choosing to fit ourselves into someone else’s image of the world, striving to buy stuff we don’t need and tempted to envy by by Robin Leach’s fucking voiceovers. This decade’s terrorist nonsense is nothing more than another example of the resources squandered by the rich and famous. Because, once again, it’s not like we don’t have enough food. So, if kids screaming at their computers while others lip-sync ‘Numa Numa’; racism and intolerance; cold-heartedness; celebrity waste and stupidity isn’t this civilization’s vision of utopia, then what is?

Is our real crime, not that we have achieved these things, but that we jumped ahead and achieved them without a sustainable framework? Would we all want SUV’s if they contributed to the health of the planet? Would we all want to be obese if there were a pill that could make us Hollywood lean overnight? (Thereby making us procrastinate about taking it, saying, ‘oh, I just don’t feel like being thin today’ while we order the super-size fries). Isn’t the real horror about some of this (excluding the child-sex abomination) based on the fact that we’re indebting our children to a life more poor than our own? Because, evidently, our economy of supplying need-and-greed has made us happy to have cluttered homes and it’s obvious that this hoarding is in part due to a fuck-the-future selfishness.

Here, I’m reminded of the German historian Götz Aly, who wrote of Hitler: ‘Hitler gained overwhelming support with his policy of running up debts and explaining that it would be others that paid the price. He promised the Germans everything and asked little of them in return. The constant talk of “a people without living space”, “international standing”, “complementary economic areas” and “Jew purging” served a single purpose: to increase German prosperity without making Germans work for it themselves. This was the driving force behind his criminal politics: not the interests of industrialists and bankers such as Flick, Krupp and Abs. Economically, the Nazi state was a snowballing system of fraud. Politically, it was a monstrous bubble of speculation, inflated by the common party members”.

This is to say that our superficial wealth today, founded on the infrastructure of non-renewable oil, means poverty for our children’s children. Governments have given up passing laws – making intentional decisions – in favor of passing tax-cuts or tax-breaks, reserving attempts at law-making for such retrogressive ends as rebutting gay marriage or trying to legitimize torture. (Which implies that they can’t imagine how to control people in those ways through tax-breaks).

People have come to equate wealth with volumes of money and not with the cultural riches which make a place worth visiting and living in and treating as an heirloom. So we’ve built ugly office towers all over the world because they’re utilitarian function is to warehouse human capital for 8 or more hours a day and left to execute their inane tasks so that the minority in control of the organization can benefit from their expertise, skill and time, to play golf all day. This means that the cultural riches of our civilization, that which we hope to leave for our children to enjoy are not the maginficant cathedrals of yesteryear, but the landscaped greens of the 18-hole golf course to be found wherever there’s room to put one (even in the deserts of Saudi Arabia). But it’s not like we don’t have enough fresh water or anything.

If the sustainability issue were to be fixed in the next 25 years so that in 2031 we could indulge in guilt free celebrity watching at the Toronto Film Fest, would we still be miserable when superficially nothing had changed? Would we then be happy with a civilization of kiddie-porn perverts, fat and stupid kids, congested highways, fear-mongering news-media, thoughtless politicians?

If this consumerist utopia would not be acceptable then, why is it acceptable now? Again, what kind of world would we like to live in? What kind of life would we like to live? Because, with reference to Homer Dixon’s ‘extraordinary crisis’ those will be the questions that will need answering. And if we can’t answer it now, when we have all time time in the world, how much more difficult will it be to answer when our cities have begun to be destroyed by storms?

Adam Curtis
It may help if we were familiar with how we got here. An excellent summary can be found in the films of Adam Curtis.

I first came across the documentaries of Adam Curtis when The Power of Nightmares was broadcast on CBC Newsworld in the spring of 2005. I soon found copies online and linked to them on Goodreads (issue 05w17:1). In the 18 months since, we’ve had Google Video show up where you can now find the Nightmares series in better quality than what was then available and where you can also find his 2002 documentary The Century of the Self.

The Century of the Self is as remarkable as Nightmares in that it traces the influence of Sigmund Freud over the course of 20th Century Western soceity through, not only his theories, but his family. I was very surprised to learn that Freud’s nephew Edmund Bernays was the fellow who invented ‘public relations’ as an alternative form of propaganda, and who is thus responsible for the past century’s advertising industry. Basically, the story told in Century of the Self is how the marketing and advertising industry grew up around the idea that we were motivated by unconscious desires which could only be placated through products. We were turned into consumers by an application of Freud’s psychoanalysis; to such and extant that by the end of the century governments were treating us as customers and politcians saw themselves as managers in the retail sector of public services. Not only that, but the whole ‘selfish-baby-boomer’ / lifestyle politics / yuppie-thing’ of the 1980s has its roots in this combination of psychology and marketing.

(It should be noted that this documentary dates from 2002, the same year when John Ralston Saul mocked this point of view in a presentation for his then recently released book On Equilibrium recorded in Toronto and later broadcast on CBC’s Ideas. I raise this to suggest that in the years since things have changed so that this type of talk can now seem a little old-fashioned (as is Saul’s thesis in his most recent book, The Collaspe of Globalism). Instead of being treated as customers with regard to public services, we now have to deal with two-bit explanations of the world’s pseudo-problems caused by conservative men trying to fit everything into their god-box).

Curtis’s narratives, while profound, are also weak in the sense that they are too simplistic: the reality of our Western society since 1950 is a complex weave and while we can analyze a thread here and there, a larger pattern is meanwhile being expressed. The plot of the 20th century as presented in Century of the Self was that people were understood to be irrational and so it was thought democracy could never work; they were thus lulled into docility by bought dreams of happiness; dreams woven by Public Relations people.

Of course, business was complicit in this conspiracy, because they’d always feared a time when industrial supply would overwhelm demand and thus lead to a failure to sell. Lifestyle marketing eliminated that worry and in the process created Individualism. (John Ralston Saul’s brilliant analysis of Individualism is to be found as Chapter 19 of Voltaire’s Bastards). Politicians, in turn, used focus-group techniques to get themselves elected and then cater to the self-interested civilians/subjects-of-lifestyle-marketing (Individuals) with the added benefit that a docile population is democratically ineffective allowing those in charge to do whatever they want.

The population of the United States in 1790 was a little less than 4 million. That of the UK at the time was a little over 16 million. And so a Continental Congress from a population of less than the Greater Toronto Area declared independence from the Parliament representing half of the current Canadian population. These numbers, in today’s context, make history seem like the story of people who had nothing else better to do. And it shows just how docile our world is given our enormous numbers. We live within a remarkable feet of social-structuring brought about by educational conditioning.

This describes what John Ralston Saul constantly refers to as a corporatist society, which is fragmented into interest-groups; where the population is obedient and docile and feels incompetent beyond their area of expertise. Democracy has become a sham because we’ve given up control over our lives so that it can be scheduled by our bosses. But if we believe life is about ‘expressing our selves’ then we can buy a fast-food version: our identities come through products which saves time thinking about anything and we can thus focus on getting our jobs done in our machine-world. We live in a time were we routinely refer to people as ‘human capital’ and expect them to behave as smoothly in a role as any other machined, interchangeable part. This basic everyday dehumanization has stripped us of a sense of dignity which leads to weak backs and slumped shoulders and thus a new market for Dr. Ho’s pillows.

Curtis’s Wikipedia page states that he is working on a new series to air later this year, called Cold Cold Heart about the ‘the death of altruism and the collapse of trust – trust in politicians, trust in institutions and trust in ourselves, both in our minds and our bodies.’ I am looking forward to seeing this, since it is this quality of distrust, mean-spirtedness, and lack of trust in our selves by which I’ll forever remember this decade with the same amount of disgust I’ve so far had only for the 1980s. This series would seem to be an extension of Part 4 of Self because it was in this episode that Curtis traced the development of consumerist politics, and showed an excerpt for Mario Cuomo’s 1984 Democratic convention speech, followed by an interview conducted for the series where Cuomo says, (at about the 20 minute mark) ‘The worst thing Ronald Reagan did was to make the denial of compassion respectable’.

It is this quality of distrust and hard-heartedness that I’d like to better understand because our current society is nothing more than the expression of our own dehumanized inhumanity. But I’m not so caught up in Western-centrism to think there’s no alternative. The history of many civilizations teaches us that things have gotten really bad many times; each time the horrors pass and something simpler comes in its place. This is the thesis of Homer Dixon’s upcoming book. His point will be that we can control our future. We shouldn’t get caught up in dooming-and-glooming the present which doesn’t deserve to survive. I think we should instead begin brainstorming about what kind of society we’d like to live in, and then try to make it happen somehow.

The current Canadian population is about 32 million. In January, Apple Computers announced it had sold 42 million iPods around the world. This means that Apple’s infrastructure – to handle the registration requirements – is greater than that needed by the 1st world nation of Canada. It would seem to follow that if 32 million people can give themselves health-care, so could the 43 million uninsured Americans. Of course, this isn’t likely to happen, precisely due to the fractured nature of the common good brought about by the rise of Individualism.

While Individualism can be seen as having broken society, I’d like to think this is only temporary. The Individual rose up in a century dominated by dictatorships – not only political, but also cultural. The greatest art form of the 20th Century is undoubtedly the movie, which consists of a passive audience watching someone’s else’s artistic vision. At a basic level it is a dictatorial relationship. The Individual is now driving a cultural paradigm shift that makes the iPod the primary symbol of current cultural relationships – people want control over their cultural products, which is vastly different than the passive acceptance of media which existed throughout the 20th Century. The internet has empowered people away from the illusion of community and participation brought about through consumerism, and begun instead to interconnect them with other like minded people which can only in turn build bridges to new communities. Individualism now operates in such a way that someone like myself can watch these Curtis videos and feel educated and enlightened and informed, not only because MSM had originally served it to me through a scheduled broadcast, but because I downloaded it from a website, as can you. – Timothy

The Century of the Self & The Power of Nightmares | Adam Curtis

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 09 September 2006 @ 2:49 PM

06w21:1 Forgeting the Soil

by timothy. 0 Comments


Last night I caught the CBC1 Ideas re-broadcast of the 2004 symposium held to discuss Jane Jacobs’ last book, Dark Age Ahead. Toward the end of the program Nobel-winning economist Robert Lucas presented a picture of things being great just as they are. According to Lucas, the movement away from ‘the idiocy of rural life’ (a phrase he credited to Marx) was a good thing and nothing to be concerned about. I was dumbfounded to hear this, questioning the limits of his imagination. If everyone moved to cities, where would our food come from?

What then followed was a presentation by Norman Wirzba, who brought up my concerns with an eloquent speech on this basic problem, which is one of ignorance about the cycles of life. This ignorance is encouraged by city-living and tempts us to believe that we live in a post-agrarian age. His point is that we do not, nor could we realistically.

His talk was so good that I contacted him after the broadcast to request a copy of his paper to post on Goodreads. He got back to me this morning and it can now be found at the link below. – Timothy

The Forgetting of Soil: A Response to Dark Age Ahead | Norman Wirzba
“The steady migration of people from farms or rural areas to cities or suburbs, a migration pattern now being replicated across the globe, means that very few of us have any realistic or honest idea of where food comes from, and under what conditions it can be expected to be safely and reliably produced. Food is conveniently and cheaply purchased at the store. […] Given the important insight that culture is not primarily transmitted through the written page or computer screen but rather that ‘cultures live through word of mouth and example,’ (5) a fundamental question emerges: does the victory of urbanization over agrarian life nonetheless signal a long-term defeat if it means the loss of living, concrete examples of sustainable engagement with the land? Who in our society, what face-to-face apprenticeships, will pass on the wisdom we need to live well in bodies that are themselves dependent on the health and vitality of other biological bodies and systems?”

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emailed by Timothy on Wednesday 24 May 2006 @ 2:45 PM

06w16:1 Inventions of the March Hare

by timothy. 1 Comment

April is the cruelest month, supposedly. But I found March pretty shity. Which is why these didn’t get sent. This is the ‘lost Goodreads March Collection’ for 2006. I nevertheless appreciate this collection as a reminder of how fleeting ‘current’ topics of interest turn out to be. – Timothy


Text —————————–
Up With Grups | Adam Sternbergh
He owns eleven pairs of sneakers, hasn’t worn anything but jeans in a year, and won’t shut up about the latest Death Cab for Cutie CD. But he is no kid. He is among the ascendant breed of grown-up who has redefined adulthood as we once knew it and killed off the generation gap.
// I’ll admit that I only read about 1/3 of this article, and it got some play in the blogosphere during a time when there wasn’t much else (it seemed) to talk about; some consensus around it being too focused on the white upper-middle class of New York

Beijing’s Unwanted Best Seller | Jürgen Kremb,1518,407184,00.html
People across China are trying to uncover the name of the mystery author behind the much-discussed best seller “Wolf Totem,” which has sold millions of copies. The tome’s author is a known Chinese dissident who is writing under the nom de plume Jiang Rong. If he had used his real name, the book never would have been published.

The oil in your oatmeal | Chad Heeter
A lot of fossil fuel goes into producing, packaging and shipping our breakfast

Costing an Arm and a Leg | Carl Elliott
The victims of a growing mental disorder are obsessed with amputation.

Hole-y Cow | Daniel Lew
Animals can live a surprising amount of time with a permanent hole to their stomach, especially if it is a surgically made fistula. Humans have had fistulas; the first human on record as having one was a French Canadian by the name of Alexis St. Martin. He sustained a life-threatening musket wound in 1822, and was marked a terminal case by his physician. However, he managed to heal and was mostly functional again within two years – except for a hole in his stomach that would never close. Through this hole doctors were able to examine inner workings of his stomach.

Pedophilic promo has manga maniacs panting for pre-schooler panties | Ryann Connell
It’s gross, filthy and disgusting, but Japanese erotic manga fans can’t get enough of a comic that comes with a pair of pre-school girl’s panties as a promotional item, according to Cyzo (March).

More than This : Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation | Samara Allsop
The film’s emphatic climax is the inaudible whisper however it also places emphasis on the fact that the transgression from friend to lover is never fully realised. Perhaps this is what is so appealing to contemporary audiences who are often used to graphic representations of sexual conduct.

Celebrity Death Watch | Kurt Andersen
Could the country’s insane fame fixation maybe, finally – fingers crossed – be coming to an end? One hopeful sign: Paris Hilton.

Chamber of horrors
// Santiago Sierra filled a synagogue with carbon monoxide and the viewers toured it wearing gas masks. Gas and Jews, get it? It got shut down for two weeks. Should we care?

The Ten Commandments of Simon | Derek Kirk Kim
// how western males can remain virgins until age 29; online comic

Micheal Ignatieff’s speech to University of Ottawa
// Because he might be Prime Minister within the next five years

Malcolm Gladwell has a blog

Audio —————————–
Fighting Terrorism with Schools | Leonard Lopate and Greg Mortenson
After a failed mountain climbing trip to the summit of K2, Greg Mortenson was nursed back to health by villagers in a remote part of Pakistan. He promised to repay them by returning and building a school. Now, he’s built over 50 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. He describes his mission to fight extremism and terrorism on the Taliban’s home turf in Three Cups of Tea. // Very inspiring.

—————–Lectures —————————–
Lectures Archive
// a collection of links to a variety of lectures in streaming audio and mp3

Slought Foundation
// Lectures for the iPod by such notables as Zizek and his would-be canonical companions. As for Zizek, consider this comment from Crooked Timber:

“Today I was wondering whether it was worth buying Slavoj Zizek’s new book, The Parallax View and reading it, even in a spirit of ironic detachment or what have you. Reasons to Buy: 1. Some smart people I know like him. Selected Reason Not to Buy: 1. Life’s too short to deal with bullshit, even if it’s high-quality, triple-sifted, quintessence of ironic Lacanian crunchy-frog bullshit like this […] it’s clear to me that it’s not the Mainstream Media that has anything to fear from the blogosphere, but rather Slavoj Zizek-he will shortly be rendered obsolete by the universe of pop-culture enriched slacker grad-student/ABD bloggers. Even Zizek can’t write fast enough to keep up with them all.”

—————–Norman Mailer and Son ————————

The Mailers in Discussion
Part 1:
Part 2:
// Part 1: March 2nd afternoon on the Leonard Lopate Show; Part 2: March 2nd evening at some lecture hall. Norman Mailer and his son John Buffalo M. talk about their recent collaborative book and Mailer has great things to say about the state of the USA today. Personally, when Norman Mailer dies I’ll consider it a diminishment of humanity.

The Answer | Peter J. Charlton
// this lends support to my idea that art is meant for the easily impressed, or at the very least that the role of poetry in our lives has been totally taken over by pop lyrics.

The Simpsons in Real Life
// Apparently created in the UK to promote the new season; a month ago famous.

Microsoft iPod Video
// the importance of good design; a month ago famous. Somewhere it was said that this was actually created by Microsoft in order to critique their design department.

South Park Scientology Episode
// I think this episode was contrived simply to make fun of Tom Cruise; notable is the illustration of Scientology Doctrine with the overlaid ‘This is what Scientologists Actually Believe’. The question is: what movie did Cruise’s thetan watch 65 million years ago to inspire such feelings for her today? The entire episode used to be at YouTube and is probably still kicking around somewhere. This is the excerpt outlining their beliefs.


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emailed by Timothy on Monday 17 April 2006 @ 3:27 PM

06w07:1 The Cartoons

by timothy. 0 Comments


Last week saw a lot of coverage in mainstream media about the protests over some stupid drawings. In the Saturday (11 Feb) Globe and Mail, the editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon argued that they weren’t showing them because they didn’t feel they added anything important to the story, while justifying the occasional photo of bombed bodies on Israeli buses. (In that case I’m thinking of a 2003 front page). He wrote:

‘As one cartoonist said earlier this week, this is not a matter of self-censorship. It is a question of editing. Every day we are faced with similar decisions, particularly in choosing photos. Do we show a naked woman? Do we show a dead baby? Do we show bodies blown apart by a suicide bomber or other samples of the carnage that come our way regularly? Most often the answer is we do not. Only when we feel an offensive photo is absolutely necessary to the understanding of the story do we loosen our restraints.’

‘This point makes no sense, given that a full understanding of protests about drawings should require that one see them for oneself. I could take the mainstream media’s self-righteousness seriously if this were not the age of the internet and Google. You want to see ’em, go ahead and see them. The same goes for pictures of naked women (naked men aren’t offensive?) dead babies, and carnage ( The media has used arguments of self-censorship and editing to draw us a picture of their own obsolesce. I’ve been wondering about how many people have actually seen the images on the net. As that’s part of what Goodreads is about, I almost sent the link a week ago but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be part of the game of offending people. I’ve been wishing this story would just go away like they always do. Remember two years ago when Mel Gibson was supposedly an anti-semite?

Yet I can relate to being offended by images. In 2002 John Paul II came to Toronto for the World Youth Day and I went and saw him give Mass, since I grew up a Catholic and had seen his photograph at my grandmother’s house for as long as I could remember, in addition to it being very popular in the area. There was a feeling of obligation, mixed with nostalgia I suppose. The night before the Mass, I went to an opening at Art System, the Ontario College of Art and Design student run gallery. Their show was about the Pope, and extended to Catholicism in general. As you can imagine, there were plenty of images of priests and popes sodomizing young boys. For one of the few times in my life, I was offended, but I knew where it was coming from (the rebellious young influenced by the scandals in the news) and having grown up in an open and tolerant society, felt no need to staple a placard to a stick and lead a protest, considering it was all just stupid and immature.

Now, one of the arguments with these Muhammed cartoons is that the editors of the newspaper should have known better. These Muslims are rioting and protesting because they feel insulted. I find it all kind of crazy that some people can get all upset over drawings, but as a visual artist I suppose I’m supposed to get all excited by the power of the medium and jump on the iconographic bandwagon, or get on the side of the cartoonists and talk about freedom of expression and denounce this iconoclasm. But I feel I have better things to do. The World has better things to do.

The editors of newspapers in North America would know better than to publish the images I saw from OCAD. They would be able to see how unfair they were. I’m not sure if that’s censorship, as much as it’s a respect for context. I can well imagine the images published elsewhere – in a show catalogue, in some article critiquing or analyzing the Church’s pederast scandals, in some art history book. The show didn’t warrant getting shut down by the cops, which still happens sometimes. There were no protests.

In this case, the cartoons violate Islam’s prohibition against images, and especially the prohibition in depicting the Prophet. Worse, the arguments made against the images by Muslim spokespeople are that they stereotype Muslims as terrorists. The image by Claus Seidel seems aimed to offend by merely representing Muhammed, whereas the image by Erik Sorensen seems to be as juvenile and ignorant as the shit I saw that night at OCAD.

Further, I have a recent example of being offended by an image. And the image in question is that of an ad featuring Ann Coulter and Robert Novak, featured prominently next to the cartoons here. This webpage thus manages to offend not only Muslims, but secular liberals. And, when I ask myself, ‘why do they keep protesting?’ I’m reminded by Coulter, who recently referred to them as ‘ragheads’.

The best explanation for what’s happened over the past week (advanced by Rick Salutin and reported by Simon Tudiver in Maisonneuve’s Mediascout) is that Muslims are pissed off for always being stereotyped and caricatured as terrorists, from these stupid cartoons to Hollywood’s blockbusters. Tudivier’s headline, by the way, ‘Protesting the cartoon professor’ refers to Peter March, who posted the images on the door of his office at Saint Mary’s University. Peter March was a professor of mine in 1998. After Tudivier raises the Salutin article, he adds, ‘Had Professor March offered up such an idea, MediaScout would have applauded his contribution. We should be looking to our academics to elevate the debate, not debase it by merely inciting an angry mob.’ What’s unclear in the reportage about Prof. March was that he teaches philosophy, and I think it’s fair to suggest that, instead of merely trying to incite an angry mob (as he waded into a protest on campus last week), he was trying to engage in Socratic debate.

Which should help remind us that all of these easy explanations cheapen us all, and I’m going to go back to wishing the world had something better to talk about (like poverty, aids, hunger, global warming, etc). The way the religious keep hijacking the agenda of human betterment seems to me the best advertisement for agnostic secularism, which is why I’m rather happy to live in a Canada, where that’s pretty much the way it is, although we end watching the world’s news for entertainment rather than dealing with our own social agenda. A week ago I wanted to send out the link to the Colbert Report video below, under the headline, ‘why I’m glad I’m not American’ but truth be told, inasmuch as it critiques the American economy, it’s true here as well. This type of thing warrants a lot more discussion than drawings, or ‘turncoat politicians’. – Timothy


‘Thank You’ | The Colbert Report

Protesting the Cartoon Professor | Simon Tudvier

The Cartoons

Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy | Wikipedia

Face of Muhammed
A blog about the cartoons

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 13 February 2006 @ 4:37 PM (Permalink)

06w01:3 Political Vision

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2006 week 1 number 3 (political vision)

The Current had a discussion this morning on political vision, and why there doesn’t seem to be any during this election campaign, or for that matter, ever. Which just reminds me that the current crop of politicians in Ottawa are old men without ideas. The Current played clips of what are usually considered political visionaries – Martin Luther King, Trudeau, Kennedy, who are all comfortably dead with faults forgotten. Nevertheless they are voices from the 1960s, an over-idealized time to ‘the grown ups’ of my generation, and a time that means little to someone like me who came into the world in the midst of disco. Means little, except for seeming like a dream time when politicians had the balls to do stuff, like send men to the moon, and not whine about how much it’d cost. The only thing for which money seems to not be an obstacle nowadays is for pissing on our rights. But I digress.
Let’s consider what our options are:

The Liberals: they could have given us a guaranteed income thirty years ago but that didn’t happen. They’ve been promising to decriminalize marijuana for that long as well, but again, pigs will fly first. They’ve been letting Sea King helicopters fall out of the sky since 1993, buying second-rate submarines that catch fire, and talking about a National Child Care program for just as long. They don’t do shit but preen and stammer before the cameras and try to hold on to power. My time as a Board member here and there has given me insight both on how inaction happens, and how easy it can be to be overwhelmed by plans and papers and etcs. Anyway, the Liberals could use a dose of decisiveness. (Of course, if they were decisive, some people would protest).

The Conservatives: the wolf has bought a suit of sheep’s clothing at Moores. Suddenly they’re ahead in the polls and it doesn’t seem that scary. Maybe because the Liberals come across as so pathetic and tired. Maybe as well I’m dazzled by the fact that a political leader is actually laying out an agenda.

The NDP: what the hell is wrong with this country that Layton and the NDP don’t have a huge lead? The only party that makes any sense on anything, the only party made up of people who come across as human beings and not imagination-less managers (Liberals) and simply cold-hearted, mean and stupid (Conservatives), you’d think the NDP could win an election or two. But instead they’re stuck at 15%, which is to say only 15% of the electorate are worth having a beer with. Geesh.

Green Party: What a joke. They can’t even get on the news.

Of course, to be fair to both the Greens and the NDP, the news, (that is ‘the media’) displays clear bias in framing the choice as that between the Conservatives and the Liberals. The NDP are always talked about as if they were the underdog, and the media refuses to take them seriously. They look at the poll numbers as if their 15% wasn’t in fact, their creation, which it is. That fifteen percent (I’m sure it’s fair to say) reflect the citizens of this country who read and who may or may not have a television set, and thus are informed by a plurality of sources and are comfortable thinking about things themselves, rather than be spoon-fed ideas by punditry.

As for the Greens, they can’t even get included on the televised debates … why? Is it the politicians or the TV producers that think we’re too stupid to follow that many talking heads?

They debates themselves are anything but a debate. Speechifying and posturing and practiced mannerisms and phony, cued-up smiles. A debate is what we see the talk shows for christ’s sakes, and if that gets the ratings and get’s the livingroom agitated, why the hell can’t the politicians do that? Why can’t Paul Martin go all Dr. Phil on Stephen Harper and vice-versa?

Perhaps something like this:

Martin: Now listen Stephen, I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. I think you’re wrong about a lot of issues. I think, for example, you still harping on about gay-marriage and your infatuation for tax cuts isn’t good for the country. In a world of hate, why should we persecute and pick on people who simply want to love one another? And taxes are just an indirect way of paying for things that would cost you much more if that service was in the hands of a corporation.

Harper: I respect that point of view, but I disagree, and in the case of gay-marriage, I’ll have to respectfully disagree. But he’s thinking about respecting his poor old grandma and infatuated with the old white-picket fence vision of the world, because he thinks Adam and Steve isn’t the way the story should be told. My view is that people work hard for their money and such a large percentage of it shouldn’t be taxed away just so that you can redistrubute it in what was clearly an entranched crony system. The episode with Mr. Goodale is simply the latest example. There has to be a better way of running the country than you have for the past 12 years.

Layton: [interjecting] Can I say something ….

Moderator: No, it’s not your turn yet. And thus earning extra pay for pissing on the NDP. Mr. Duceppe, do you have anything to add?

Duceppe: No, it’s become rather clear that Canada doesn’t work, and so our aim of a sovereignty seems to make sense doesn’t it?

Given that the Conservatives are the ‘official opposition’ (that is, they came in a clear 2nd in the last election) CBC and the like think that means they are the clear second choice. And yet, we re-elected Liberals time and time again because we all hated Mulroney so much. The ’93 election decimated the Conservatives, and they lingered on with reduced numbers while the angry Westerners kept sending the Reform party to Ottawa, and for a time, the Bloc Quebecois was the ‘official opposition’. So after the Reform renamed itself to the Aliance and incorporated the old Progressive Conservatives into its ranks, (thereby making the voter who wanted Senate reform and less Quebec-centrism politics a conservative) suddenly they win enough seats to come in second.

And they booed Belinda Stronach when she spoke up at their convention last spring in support of gay marriage. The woman who, it was said, orchestrated to the merger of the parties, and then ran for its leadership. And then she dumped her boyfriend Mr. McKay to go become a Minister of something or other (what again?) by switching sides.

Oy vey.

So the story of Canadian politics over the past decade and half is more of a soap opera than of any social progress and implementation of policy that makes all of our lives better, the type of thing they were fond of doing in the 19th Century, when they thought a railway across the continent was a good idea, as were public schools. It was a trend you know, once, to care about the citizens and to build a future, and so, we got ourselves Medicare, which is now talked about as being ‘the soul of the country’ (John Doyle wrote that in the Globe last month, critiquing the documentary which in turn was critiquing ‘the funding mechanism’).

Merry Old England was derided by Napoleon as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’. Perhaps our partial English heritage is one of the reasons we get so attached to economic structures like funding mechanisms for doctors and hospitals, and department stores like Eatons and a corporation called the NHL. But ok, in that vein, let’s propose some 21st Century visions:

renticare: we figured out a way to keep people from paying medical bills when they get shot in Toronto, except now days they have to pay for the ambulance and all this other shit that should be free as well. But whatever … it seems to me that they’d be able to pay for the other things if they weren’t wasting money paying rent. Where does rent go? On the landlords’ mortgage or in their pocket … is that not true? It seems to me it’s a lateral transaction that simply enriches a few and improvishes many, kind of like what paying for an operation is like in the US. Them doctors, so rich, so expensive, that the poor just don’t go. Renticare baby – that’s the future. Homelessness would vanish, that seems pretty clear. No more sad stories and excuses and appeals from charities. It’s not like Ottawa can’t afford it, with its record surpluses for years now.

Instead we get Harper saying he’d give $100 buck a month to new families, and Paul Martin saying they’d pay for half the tuition for post-secondary students in their first and last years. Tuition, of course, being the cheapest part of the package, the living expense part being the real killer. (Everybody knows that the student loan program is simply a disguised subsidy to the beer companies). Which brings me to my second vision for the future of Canada:

wipe out student debt: why the hell should I have to pay back all this money, spent supporting the Halifax economy, and enriching a rich landlord? I look back now and say, I helped keep Shoppers Drug Mart, various bars, fast food restaurants and coffee shops going, and in turn, employing that many people. Then there was the tuition, which was a small percentage of the total debt. On top of this, I’m supposed to pay back interest, because I need to be taught a lesson of fiscal responsibility and be ushered into the wonderful modern world of usery. How else is our economy supposed to grow? How else are we going to make money, the governments ask, forgetting about their taxes, which are supposed to pay for social services, like child care programs, or the bureaucratic management of the government’s own grow-ops, producing weak marijuana for those to whom it’s medically sanctioned. Because of course, it’s devastating for society and our ethics that anyone get high in Canada, especially if they have cancer.

Student debt is a severe problem for our society, and yet no politician is talking about it (well, Layton’s said some things, but I’m forgetting he doesn’t count). Why not pay people to go to school instead?

classify students as workers: As Warren Wagar wrote, when he introduced this idea in his 1999 book, A Short History of the Future,‘all adult students were workers, whether their studies were undertaken to satisfy a market demand or not. Work had come to include the enlargement of the self, on the premise that every increase in personal capacity achieved without exploitation of the labor of others represented a net gain for the whole society of associated selves.’

By classifying students as workers, they’d be eligible to receive a wage. Imagine going to school as a job, graduating with a healthy bank account and not burdened by debt. Student Loan programs should be replaced with Student Subsidy ones. I can’t imagine any harm being done to our society by having an educated populace.

Rather, it seems to me that the whole point of the system (the job, the house, the lifestyle idea) is to help us be fully human, to enable us to enjoy our lives. And that simply can’t be done within the status quo. Without getting into the usual capitalist critique, the status quo is set up to divide us into demographic markets and sell us the idea of happiness, while keeping us bat-shit miserable so that the next commercial and Caribbean vacation will seem appealing.

Currently, we’re dealing with a system (inherited from a less kind world), that sets up the winner-loser dynamic throughout our lives. In Bowling for Columbine, the fellow who makes South Park explained the Columbine Massacre as being a result of that dynamic. The current media sensation of gun-violence in Toronto is also a result of that dynamic. We all deserve better. There’s no reason to think some people are just born stupid and are hopeless. If we’re going to have a percentage of the population who will always be useless, they might as well spend their time in university libraries to make the money for their pot purchase, which should have been made legal thirty years ago.

Which brings me to the last vision, and the links:

the most educated citizens in the world: As Michael Ignatieff said last spring, ‘let’s get the federal governments, the provincial governments, the municipal governments working together to make Canadians the best educated, most literate, numerate, and skilled people on the face of the earth’. This plays into the article by Timothy Brown, which I’ve linked to before, and one of the oddest sources of anything visionary. Outlining the world of a role-playing game called 2300 AD, he wrote of Canada:

‘A national effort began in the 22nd century to make Canada the higher education center of the world. A tremendous effort was put into motion at that time to attract great thinkers to Canada to teach, to build facilities which would draw students from around the world, and to build a worldwide reputation for superb education and positive results. Canada correctly recognized the economic potential in being a leader in education. Other nations eventually began sending students, as a matter of national policy, to Canada, not wanting to be left behind in the thinking of the age. By the end of the century Canada had achieved its goal and remains the uncontested master of higher education on Earth.’

As an artist, this got me to thinking about what kind of culture such students would find, and helped me consider the cultural legacy we (and I as a cultural worker) were building. For Ignatieff to be articulating this makes it seem possible, but then again, his chances of actually getting elected seem slim (which is merely another example of Liberal incompetence).

However, the century is still young, and the ‘leadership’ isn’t getting any younger, so there’s still time to make such ideas a reality. Unfortunately, they are not a choices to consider on January 23rd.


We don’t have a vision? | The Current
“Above the western entrance to the Peace Tower on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, this proverb is inscribed: ‘Where there is no vision, the people shall perish.’ And over the next hour on The Current we put that maxim to the test. This year’s election campaign trail has been littered with promises of tax cuts, improved child care and tackling government corruption. But we discussed whether policy announcements can add up to a grand vision for Canada, or if we are, indeed, doomed to perish. And we started with a look back at some politicians upon whom historians have bestowed the honour of ‘visionary’.”with links to real audio files

Speech to the Liberal Convention | Michael Ignatieff
My stats went up in November because people were Googling this

Canada in the 24th Century | Timothy B. Brown
There is a future beyond our deaths, but what are we doing to shape it?

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 05 January 2006 @ 11:26 AM

05w47:1 Darren O'Donnell on kids in politics

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 47 number 1 (Darren O’Donnell on kids in politics)

Thanks to Darren for allowing me to host his essay from the recently released uTOpia (Coach House Press) on Goodreads – Timothy

——————————————————————— Toronto the teenager: why we need a Children’s Council | Darren O’Donnell
“If you’re searching for utopia, you need look no further than the kids. The beautiful thing about focusing on youth is that while we may not be kids now, we all were once. And we carry the somatic memory of those days into almost every encounter; we all share, to some degree or other, a visceral understanding of powerlessness. Barring children from full political participation not only makes no sense when we consider the rights of the child, but also when we take into account the greater good. Excluding a huge segment of the population – a segment in the midst of forming views and attitudes that shape their behaviour for the rest of their lives – is a narrow-minded act that can only serve to limit our own possibilities as adults. So, while this proposal is for the children, it’s truly benefit of who those children become, for the adults who have to deal with results of eighteen years of their own political disenfranchisement.”
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emailed by Timothy on Wednesday 23 November 2005 @ 10:31 PM

05w45:1 The 2005 Massey Lectures

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 45 number 1 (The 2005 Massey Lectures)

The 2005 Massey Lectures begin tonight on CBC Ideas. They can be heard online at 9pm EST from the CBC website’s stream, or via old fashioned radio boxes at 9pm local time across the country on CBC Radio 1.

——————————————————————— Race Against Time: The 2005 Massey Lectures | Stephen Lewis
“‘I have spent the last four years watching people die.’ With these wrenching words, diplomat and humanitarian Stephen Lewis opens his 2005 Massey Lectures. Lewis’s determination to bear witness to the desperate plight of so many in Africa and elsewhere is balanced by his unique, personal, and often searing insider’s perspective on our ongoing failure to help. Lewis recounts how, in 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York introduced eight Millennium Development Goals, which focused on fundamental issues such as education, health, and cutting poverty in half by 2015. In audacious prose, alive with anecdotes ranging from maddening to hilarious to heartbreaking, Lewis shows why and how the international community is falling desperately short of these goals.”
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emailed by Timothy on Monday 07 November 2005 @ 4:55 PM

05w44:3 Aux Armes Citoyens!

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 44 number 3 (aux armes citoyens!)


Six nights of riots in Paris ghetto split Chirac cabinet | Henry Samuel
“The French government was reeling yesterday after six nights of rioting which have exposed a split in the cabinet over how to deal with poverty and immigration in the dilapidated Paris suburbs. As authorities cleaned up the debris of another bout of violence, including the wrecks of 250 cars burned out on Tuesday night, both the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, and the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, put off foreign trips to deal with the rioting. ‘We sure showed it to them last night,’ said one youth in Clichy-sous-Bois, a grim suburb of high-rises some 15 miles outside Paris.”

The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris | Theodore Dalrymple
“Where does the increase in crime come from? The geographical answer: from the public housing projects that encircle and increasingly besiege every French city or town of any size, Paris especially. In these housing projects lives an immigrant population numbering several million, from North and West Africa mostly, along with their French-born descendants and a smattering of the least successful members of the French working class. From these projects, the excellence of the French public transport system ensures that the most fashionable arrondissements are within easy reach of the most inveterate thief and vandal. Architecturally, the housing projects sprang from the ideas of Le Corbusier, the Swiss totalitarian architect—and still the untouchable hero of architectural education in France—who believed that a house was a machine for living in, that areas of cities should be entirely separated from one another by their function, and that the straight line and the right angle held the key to wisdom, virtue, beauty, and efficiency. “NOTE: article date August 2002

Neither whores nor submissives | Rebecca Hillauer
“Young Muslim women in the working class suburbs of France have two choices: slut or servant. Fadela Amara is trying to offer them a third option: respect. Fadela Amara has a mission. One sees it in the intensity of her eyes and feels it in the passion of her speech. A good two years ago, the daughter of an Algerian immigrant family in Paris, she founded the organisation ‘Ni putes ni soumises’. This is also the title of her book, which won the ‘Prix du Livre Politique’ of the French national assembly last year. In the book, Fadela Amara tells in a simple and direct style the story of her fight against the growing violence and social disintegration in France’s suburbs.”

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emailed by Timothy on Wednesday 02 November 2005 @ 11:03 PM

05w10:2 Michael Ignatieff

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 10 number 2 (Michael Ignatieff)

——————————————————————— Speech to the Liberal Convention | Michael Ignatieff
“I put national unity at the centre of our project as a party and as a people. But it matters not just to us. It matters to the world. This is something I see from afar. From afar, we’re a very special and precious experiment. We’re an experiment as to whether a multicultural, multilingual society can survive and prosper. If we can’t do it, ladies and gentlemen, no one else can. And the future of all multiethnic multicultural societies will be grim indeed. That’s why there’s a global stake in us getting this story right. We are a ray of light in a gloomy world, a ray of hope in a world which is in fact ravaged by intolerance and by hatred. Let’s get it right. The world does look to us, the world does ask us, ‘get it right, show us how’. Communities of difference, communities of different languages can live together, can forge a unity together. You’re doing it in this hall tonight but never forget that we truly are a light unto the nations, and we must never forget that in the daily life of our politics. Now, there are countries to the south of us that believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And these countries that shall remain nameless want to export freedom and democracy to the world. And because we’re Canadians, we’re skeptics. We don’t like rhetoric that’s that high flung. We got some doubts about the project. We have doubts about the American dream. Ok. But let’s remember that we have a dream. Because we are the people of peace, order, and good government.”
transcript of the audio

Smart Guy, Eh? | John Geddes
“Michael Ignatieff is used to being admired in his native Canada, not to mention envied. His genre-leaping successes as a writer and broadcaster — reporting from hot spots in books and documentaries, defining the legacy of a major 20th-century political theorist in his biography of Isaiah Berlin, and even making the Booker Prize short list for his novel Scar Tissue — rank him among the most influential Canadian thinkers. And it doesn’t hurt that, at 56, the former BBC talk-show host retains his made-for-TV looks and effortless eloquence. But these days Ignatieff is coming in for as much criticism as adulation on forays back to Canada from his day job as a human-rights professor at Harvard University. The issue that has driven a wedge between him and many of his Canadian fans: Ignatieff was arguably the most prominent liberal supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”
Mcleans Magazine profile, June 2003

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 08 March 2005 @ 12:22 AM