Tag Archives: politics

September 11th

I don’t want to let this day pass without saying something. First of all, I hate this day; I can’t bear the coverage or the memories. Second of all, here are a couple of great columns from the time, the first from Christopher Hitchens, the second from Ian McEwan. I have quoted frequently from the Hitchens’ column over the years, for the simple reason that it is brilliant. But this year I thought I’d quote from the McEwan piece, brilliant in a different way.

The hijackers used fanatical certainty, misplaced religious faith, and dehumanising hatred to purge themselves of the human instinct for empathy. Among their crimes was a failure of the imagination. As for their victims in the planes and in the towers, in their terror they would not have felt it at the time, but those snatched and anguished assertions of love were their defiance.

Never forget.

Travelling While Canadian

In the autumn of 2016 I was studying at a university in central Italy. The morning after the American election, my grammar professor walked into class muttering “incubo, e un incubo!” A nightmare! It’s a nightmare. We all knew to what he was referring. Italian universities lean the same way politically as those in Toronto, New York or Middlebury, Vermont.

He kept shaking his head in horror, and asked my one American classmate, a woman from Texas, “Come ti senti?” How do you feel? I felt sorry for her, put on the spot like that, but she handled it with aplomb, admitting surprise at the result and nothing more. If our professor was hoping for an argument or confirmation of his own views, she wasn’t going to help him.

How great to travel while Canadian, I have often said, because no one knows or cares whom you elect as leader, just as no one seems to know much about your country. I was working in Japan during a Canadian federal election years ago, and not one of my highly-educated colleagues knew or cared Canada was having an election, much less who won.

What people do “know” about Canada is often inaccurate: it’s always cold everywhere (no); Canadians all have moose in their backyards (if only!); Canadians are nice (“harmless” might be a better word); English and French Canadians hate each other (those days are gone – now it’s all about indifference); Canadians are boring (“sanctimonious” might be a better word).

But things are changing, and not for the better, as I discovered on a recent trip to Ireland.

Ireland is a glorious place – my trip was in the middle of this year’s hot, bright green summer — and I travelled primarily in the counties of Cork and Kerry along the southern Atlantic coast. It was as wild and elegant and stunning as I imagined, and as friendly. People speak English in Ireland, but occasionally they use expressions one cannot decipher, even if one has read or sung “Finnegans Wake.” (I have attempted the former and accomplished the latter.) Couple that with the chattiness of nearly everyone I approached, and the simple act of asking “do you have decaf Irish coffee” or “what breed of sheep are those” could lead to confusion, which could lead to extended conversations, which often led to my being asked my nationality.

And whenever the great Canadian reveal happened, I would be met with a variation on the following: “Justin Trudeau is so cute! He’s a feminist! He’s so clever!” The power of social media added to an energetic, left-of-centre politician with Tiger Beat looks – the son of the other globally famous Canadian politician –has brought the bliss of being a Canadian abroad to a halt.

When my standard reply was, “Yes, he is cute.” Sometimes I would go out on a limb with, “Yes, he’s super cute!” I couldn’t bear to risk the crestfallen look on people’s faces if I admitted that I think his main strength is virtue-signalling or that while I feel lucky to be Canadian, I don’t share what appears to be the glowing international consensus on Canada’s leader.

And it is international – during my trip I met people from all over the world who made similar comments. A French woman got the truth out of me, though – or perhaps it was my heavy sighing, eye-rolling and nose-crinkling when Trudeau’s name was uttered that gave it away — and told me how tired she was of hearing similar praise of Emmanuel Macron. She singled out his posturing as the “gender equality” president as something that drove her particularly mad.

I too recoil at men who make a public display of caring about “women’s issues” – it reeks of condescension and protesting too much. I was in Ireland shortly after the referendum which liberalized that country’s abortion laws, and about which there was still much talk. Trudeau, woke fellow that he is, tweeted enthusiastic praise for the results – “what a moment for democracy and women’s rights!” I am pro-choice, but I found the cheering unseemly.

Fortunately, I did get some respite during my trip. It happened at a beautiful spot in Kerry – a redundancy if ever there were one – when I began chatting with a man from Kansas about our respective itineraries. We were joined by some friendly German tourists far more interested in expressing their mystification at Donald Trump than in discussing the wonders of Canada’s prime minister, or of Ireland. As in Italy, I felt bad for my midwestern acquaintance – who remained affable under bombardment – and it occurred to me that I could derail the conversation by, say, mentioning the war.

I was so relieved, though, to not be hearing odes to Justin Trudeau, that I stayed mum. Because I’m a Canadian and we’re not that nice.

Jordan Peterson

There is clearly tremendous envy wrapped up in the reactions people have to Jordan Peterson. One doesn’t have to agree with all he says to recognize this. I find him a breath of fresh and necessary air. But it’s amusing — and a bit scary — to see how silly his critics become when you mention his name. It is even more amusing to see how so many of them clearly have never actually read anything he has written or listened to anything he has said. I give as an example something that happened when a very lovely young man I know posted something positive about Peterson on Facebook recently. The bullying pile-on was swift, angry, and not remotely fact-based. Included in the comments were that Peterson was against gender equality, that he belittled transgendered people, that he said young women who get drunk and who are sexually assaulted therefore deserved it, and on and on and on.

Sheer nonsense, of course. Not one of those accusations (and the others that were made in the same thread) is true. Further, someone used as an “argument” the acceptance of “Ms.” into our culture as proof that Peterson is wrong to be concerned about compelled speech. Well, “Ms.” was never compelled. It became accepted over time naturally. No one was ever threatened with an indictment by the state for refusing “Ms.” What concerns Peterson is the state attempting to control speech, not the natural and inevitable changes that take place in a language, and I share his concern. One need only a cursory knowledge of history to know that the state forcing sudden changes in word use is bad, bad news.

Many of his critics accuse him of being “alt right,” and as “proof” they point out he has “alt right” fans. I suspect he does have some alt right fans, but he can’t much control who likes him or doesn’t like him. Just as many of his critics haven’t actually read his work, I suspect his extremist fans haven’t either. (I had similar “fans” when I had my weekly Toronto Star column, and I did not like it, but I knew it had nothing to do with what I believed.) If you read Peterson’s work or listen to him, you will see he is more of a classical liberal.

What is interesting is that what Peterson is most concerned about is the stupidity of young males – another reason the accusation that he thinks girls who get drunk deserve sexual assault or that he is anti-gender equality does not hold up (that, and the fact that he has never said any such thing). One would think his concern that young males not behave like groping idiots might appeal to people, particularly on the left, particularly those who call themselves feminists. Well, it does to some, thank goodness.

All of this is on my mind because of tonight’s Munk Debate, which I will be attending and to which I am looking forward. And here’s a good (fact-based and not oozing jealousy) take on Peterson.

The Meaning of “Eres Tu” in the Age of Nixon

It seems to me there is enough to analyse and criticize and investigate and report about President Trump and his administration without resorting to truly absurd stretches, such as this one. Despacito is a gorgeous song, and it is successful now for that reason. To suggest some deep relevance based on current affairs strikes me as a desperate attempt to tie virtually everything to Trump. Why not ask about the success of Eres Tu (an even more beautiful song, in my view) and its connection to President Richard Nixon, or even La Bamba and the importance of the Eisenhower administration in bringing about its popularity?

Seriously, media? Pull it together…and listen to this lovely song from my childhood, while enjoying the lead singer’s cute gapped teeth and her geeky, hairy bandmates. Clip is from the 1973 Eurovision song contest (it came second and it was cheated!):

Can we All Get Along?

Recently read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Highly recommend, and while I am tempted to say that it is relevant now, it has, of course, always been relevant. One thing I found of note was a reference to Rodney King’s famous “can we all get along” query (short answer: no): Haidt provides a longer version of the quote, which I find so touching. Apparently King also said, “Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.”

Kind of broke my heart a bit to read that.

Turkey

A long overdue post about the Turkish referendum. I was certainly dismayed by it, but not surprised. Things had been going that way in Turkey for over a decade. I am in touch with several of my ex-students, all of whom still live in the Istanbul area. In general, they are pessimistic but have families and jobs and don’t want to leave. And, of course, they love Istanbul, as do I. Beyond that, I will outsource my commentary to Dani Rodrik, here. I believe it is a spot-on analysis.