Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conservative Crest

While I’m loath to admit it, even in the face of adroit hustings maneuvering, the Conservative party is running a near flawless campaign. And yet, I must vouch my Liberal allegiances before they are metaphysically revoked. So here goes. Stephen Harper will never earn my trust (his eyes, particularly in those egregious excuses for political ads the Conservatives are running, betray an evil of the worst kind; or there’re just tragically misshapen – ed.) however, the Conservatives have been nothing less than spectacular. OK, I’m being a tad facetious. But altogether, they have been ably up to the task of deliver the goods day in and day out, offering fresh idea after fresh idea.

Apropos, yesterday’s announcement of a $500 tax-credit for families with children under 16 involved in sport and physical activity was just another example of their growing appeal. And to name it a Sports credit? Pure genius! Along with the proposed GST percentage point cut and the income tax shelter for seniors, among others, the Conservatives have not only charmed the message much like a snake charmer but have also managed to stroke some psychological sweetspots that can’t but arouse interest among even the most liberal.

There have, no doubt, been a few hiccups, like Brian Pallister infelicitous gaffe regarding women and their inability to firmly answer questions. When asked to clarify his comments, which weren’t taken out of context primarily because they were delivered in front of a camera to an interviewer, he gave the predictably pat and therefore predictably flimsy response that is characteristically know as a mea culpa – he said he was taken out of context. But the story, your run-of-the-mill ‘Conservatives are out of touch with the mainstream of Canadian social values’, a story so quickly amplified by our ‘Liberal media’s’ journalistic aplomb, had no legs.

The Conservatives, it would appear, are getting a fairer shake this time around, if only because the country is in the throes of an insurgency of lethargy. People are simply tired of hearing anything the Liberals have to say. Anything! It’s the curse of being electorally successful for too long, the point at which returns begin to diminish. Aside from Paul Martin’s intention to ban handguns, which would be momentous if it weren’t so after-the-fact, the Liberal campaign has been a woefully tedious mess.

Communications Director Scott Reid’s fine contempt toward what families would spend their childcare dollars on under a Conservative plan -- beer and popcorn, as he sees it -- was met with the necessary opprobrium from all sides. And for all their public relations acumen, to counter Mr. Reid wry remarks the Liberal's took a descent into gay marriage demagoguery; a tired and unqualifiedly uninspired tactic. It was so incongruous to hear Mr. Martin fulminate about the threat the Conservatives posed to gay marriage. It was so 2000! Isn’t same-sex marriage already the law of the land?

Recent polls have been fairly static, The Liberals still manage to hold a seven to eight point lead over the Conservatives nationally, and in Ontario the Liberals are polling relatively well. But the trends seem to show a gradual warming towards the Conservative message in general, which has meant a virtual bottoming out of NDP support in Ontario. NDP support usually shifts to the Liberals strategically in an attempt to hedge Conservative gains. So now the question can’t help but reveal itself: Wither the Liberals?

* * *

A banishment to the political wilderness may be exactly what liberalism in Canada needs, in my opinion. I’m all for some type of political time-out to allow the Liberals to get their shit together. Or just get a breather at least. As a result of the dearth of ideas, an utter lack of principle, of direction, and, more prominently, of leadership, a programmatic and intellectual refashioning of liberal ideas is badly needed. And though I may be contradicting what I wrote in my last post, which was intended as pure political strategy, Stephen Harper is no more a leader than Paul Martin is. Paul Martin is a leader only because of his experience -- and by default.

A Conservative minority government wouldn’t necessarily be a horrible thing. The de facto Prime Minister Harper would be de jure powerless. In this scenario, the balance of seats in the house would be held by a generally centrist and social democratic rabble of MP’s. The Liberals will have an opportunity to go sit in the corner and think about of what they’ve done to the county.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The Canadian federal election is fully underway with hardly a step being missed by each political party, both in tone and message. Out of the gates first are the Conservatives, whose consistency and discipline has enabled them to frame the debate thus far.

Stephen Harper and his outfit have done an excellent job getting out message faster than the Liberals. For example, the proposed GST cut is undoubtedly a policy chestnut the Conservatives have been holding on to a for while now, and in the midst of the holiday shopping season functions more as a psychological boost than sound economic policy.

Jack Layton has stuck to the tried and true NDP hobbyhorses, health care, the environment, and education. But his electoral fortunes look to be much worse than if he continued to prop-up the minority Liberal government. Mr. Layton is no longer the most powerful man in Canada.

In the sponsorship scandal’s fallout, Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc are polling strong in Quebec, and no less a character than André Boisclair, the PQ's newly elected leader, makes the prospect of Separatist resurgence very real.

Paul Martin’s Liberals are doing what sitting governments mired in corruption allegations do, staying out of the headlines.

And it’s not exactly hurting them either. In a CPAC-SES poll conducted last night (Random Telephone Survey of1200 Canadians, MoE ± 2.9%, 19 times out of 20) the Liberals have 38% of decided voters’ support, a pick up of 4%, while the Conservatives have 29% of decided voters’ support, a drop off of 1%. This even despite last week’s strong campaigning by the Conservatives. Even more troubling for the Conservatives is the strong polling for Unsure, 20%, for Best PM, surpassing Stephen Harper’s 19%. And when it comes to trust, competence and vision on a Leadership index, it’s not even close: Martin is 30 points ahead of Harper, who seems to be losing ground.

This brings me to what Iwanted to say -- prefaced and couched as it is with the skeletal of bare journalistic requirements. Earlier this morning, Paul Martin gave what I think was a terse and piquant speech that should crystallize the Liberal message for the remainder of this election. His essential point was that leadership matters, or leaders matter – which ever way has more purchase. For all his otherwise charming deficits, Paul Martin projects the characteristics most closely associated with leadership better than Stephen Harper. One simple metric could be who wants the job more. Stephen Harper has always been a reluctant leader, quick to cut himself from party doyens. Paul Martin, on the other hand, has wanted this job since lord knows when. Another metric is international visibility, which Martin wins hands down – this isn’t a fair match for Harper.

So if the Liberals want to do well, I believe, they have to change the scope of their message. Healthcare is a dead metaphor, literally. There is a fatigue and growing malaise anytime the subject to brought up. It’s neither comprehensible as a general election question -- it’s too over wrought -- or palatable for reasonable dialogue. It is the stuff of antiseptic bromides and ridiculous tautologies. (“Fix HealthCare for a Generation”) Leaders, in light of our particular historical situation, matter. When international tumult threatens to damage the already threadbare international order [fill in obligatory analogy] who we elect reflects what we believe. Our Prime Minster must not only lead Canada, but represent Canada to the world. Now here there are obvious undertones of Bush and America’s perception throughout the world. (This tact must be navigated adroitly and great expense must be taken not to directly critique Bush – oblique criticism is permitted) Martin and the Liberals win this way. Liberal Message needs to raise the altitude coming into January.

I felt very strongly about getting this idea to the Liberal party, so much so that I called the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) which is a listed number on the Government of Canada’s website, and asked to speak to David Herle, a Liberal campaign strategist. To my amazement I was put through, or at least I assumed I was. His assistant informed me that he was on the other call and would get back to me when he was free. I was slack-jawed, although still very skeptical. Not to appear of bad repute, even though in their eyes I most certainly am, I left my real name and real number.

It turns out that my call may have been transferred to the PCO (Privy Council Office) which ‘provides public service support to the Prime Minister’, and security no doubt. Why do I think this? Well, it turns out that a recent visitor to my site works at the Privy Council Office and was likely checking the nature and content of my blog; this hardly bothers me – I welcome all eyes.

They justifiably assumed that something was amiss. A man calling the PMO and asking for a Liberal strategist? As if that’s possible. That I could call and be transferred to the Liberal War should be a testament to the accessibility of our country’s political machinery. But that’s too much to ask, and a service no political party should even entertain. Yet, there is something to be said about taking to pulse of the common man. To the PMO and PCO, no harm was intended. To David Herle, give me a call sometime, I have some good ideas.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Dwight Wilmerding is an erstwhile employee of the Pfizer Corporation, having been fired from an ambiguously unsatisfying technical-support job that, come to think of it, was probably going to be outsourced anyhow. Listless, unmoored, and an altogether likeable lay-about, Dwight is the feckless 28-year-old protagonist in Benjamin Kunkel’s first novel Indecision. Kunkel, 32, is one of the founding editors of n+1, a ‘little magazine’ in the mold of a Partisan Review circa. 1940’: a cadre of aspiring New York Intellectuals serious about literature and political and cultural criticism. It should go without saying, then, that Indecision should be a fictional vehicle to push his thus far imbibed political idiosyncrasies, and on a crass level it is. But Indecision turns out to be more+1, philosophic and cleverly comic at length, though evocative and poignant when the narrative permitted.

Our aforementioned hapless narrator suffers from abulia, “Loss or impairment of the ability to make decisions or act independently”, a fittingly postmodern condition which, fittingly enough, has a postmodern biomedical cure, namely the drug Abulinix. So racked with indecision Dwight is that he’s resorted to flipping a coin to determine his actions – yet somehow still ends up feeling ambivalent. The root of this irresolution, it can be gleaned, is Dwight’s overall sense that, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, liberal capitalism seems ineluctably directionless, with no end in sight, or impedance in path, and certainly no morality at its core. All this seems to imply that his particular life is without consequence.

Wryly glomming over what his maybe-possibly-girlfriend Vaneetha has just said, Dwight has resigned himself to being just another cliché:
I knew she was right. It wasn’t very unusual for me to lie awake at night feeling like a scrap of sociology blown into its designated corner of the world. But knowing the clichés are clichés doesn’t help you to escape them. You still have to go on experiencing your experience as if no one else has ever done it.
And then there is the mise en scene in which Dwight generally retreats to: New York City, Chambers St., with four other unambitious yet overeducated twenty-somethings cocooned in an atmosphere of eternal adolescence and irresponsibility. They wear their cultivated infantilism like a badge of honor; “Out of everybody we knew our immaturity was best-preserved, we dressed worst and succeeded least professionally.” Kunkel evokes a sentiment that is ubiquitous to this modern condition -- that of the young professional trying to evolve in a culture obsessed with youthfulness. But beyond the Chambers St. windows existed another world Dwight is understandably wary of:
Outside was the streaming traffic, the money bazaar, the trash-distributing winds with their careerist velocities. And here inside Chambers St. was the cozy set of underachievers.
Martin Heidegger show’s up disguised as Otto Knittel, a philosopher whose book Dwight is unhurriedly reading. One of the intuitive aphorisms in Der Gebrauch der Freiheit – or The Uses of Freedom – is “Procrastination is our substitute for immortality” because “we behave as if we have no shortage of time.” And who of us hasn’t felt the tugging in-temporality of procrastination? As such, Kunkel infuses Dwight with a Socratic inquisitiveness that is both witty and naïve. Dwight is never without an ironic turn of phrase and -- though, I suppose, this may have been Kunkel’s aim -- isn’t as guileless as he professes.

When one of Dwight’s roommates, a putative medical student, offers him Abulinix for his indecision, Dwight contains his enthusiasm, since an otherwise decisive yes would disqualify him. But it’s a clinical trial and likely side-effects are bound to be prohibitive to his taking the drug, right? No. Dwight dives in headlong hoping, in the process, to figure out his ‘romantico-sexual’ situation with Vaneetha, his laissez affair, if awkwardly loving, relationship with his recently divorced parents, his eerily incestuous proclivities towards his older sister, and, more chiefly, his uncertain life trajectory.

Dwight’s father, a commodities trader, plays the perfect foil to Dwight’s sister, a leftist inclining anthropologist. His mother being an Episcopalian vegetarian adds a similarly whacky layer to the already comic plot. So, it is finally his mother who sagaciously notes of the city that “you can become more inert than you notice. You can mistake the city’s commotion for your own.”

Dwight has something to chew over.

A fast approaching prep school reunion also inserts an element of urgency into Dwight’s predicament. Impetuously, he decides to fly to Ecuador to visit an old prep school classmate named Natasha, an intelligent, leggy Belgian who is the possessor of great pulchritude. The excursion, moreover, doubles as an excuse to experience the unfettered effects of Abulinix. Dwight then ends up in an Ecuadorian jungle with a native guide and a Belgian Argentine named Brigid who, coincidently, happens to be a doctoral student in anthropology with socialist leanings.

All this leads to an historical primer on the social externalities of Neo-imperialist aspirations and what, as a consequence, they excrete on benighted third world denizens. Little -- though admittedly just enough -- is said about the pervading emptiness of modern society’s secular materialism; the inaudibly incessant hum of purportedly time-saving technology, enveloping any meaningful sense of identity. Little is said of this because, I think, Kunkel was attempting to convey an astutely counterintuitive argument regarding something else.

First, concerning our choices and their concomitant freedoms, Kunkel’s protagonist says:
But my tastes, my interests, my relationships and beliefs are all really mediocre and typical… And so as of today what I’ve decided with utter decisiveness is just to resign my self to mediocrity and being totally clichéd.
Therefore, to embrace mediocrity, to resigns ones life to low expectations, is to accept life for what it is, contingency, absurdity, irrelevance. Since Dwight believes “it’s going to be ugly if at forty-two there’s still this like holy grail I’m hoping to trip over.” Here Kunkel renders, realistically, the common realization that one must pack-up his hopes and dreams and submit to the imperatives of the ‘real’-world. Dwight goes on to joke that a career as motivational speaker on the topic of mediocrity would be the next logical extension. Imagining himself at a lectern, Dwight admonishes thusly:
Our life sucks only because we wish it didn’t meanwhile we morally betray the world’s laboring and unemployed poor people in the nation of Ecuador and elsewhere by our failure to enjoy the fruits and nuts of our privileged consumer lifestyle. We have to be happy with this arrangement, so that some one can be.
Understandably, this sounds grim worldview. Yet Kunkel is coming another-way-round to make his argument. The trek in the Jungle, the primer in political economy, the chemical effects of Abulinix and other hallucinogenic miscellany, contribute to Dwight’s awareness of his choices and their concomitant freedoms. Just as he is free to choose the beige, existentially barren conveyor-belt to a consequence-free modernity, he is likewise free to choose a thankless and peripatetic existence of little to no remuneration fighting the Neoliberal hegemony. But exactly how Kunkel arrives to this conclusion is less persuasive than one would hope, and even less convincing than Kunkel himself lets on.

The deus ex machina, an Edenic folic in tropical bucolic with an ersatz Eve and apple, substituted for with a tomate de arbol, strains credulity when Dwight, with chemical-induced alacrity, signs up to serve in the fight for Global Justice. Where it not so swift and incongruous, Dwight’s decision could have at least been compelling.

Although, to be fair, Kunkel paints with broad strokes competently, and is even able to deliver a pointillist’s accuracy with impressionistic accounts. For example, even though I’m not clearly sold on Dwight’s conversion, this passage seems apt:
I had the other tomate de arbol in my hand. Gently I started peeling it. “Ah fuck, how will we ever be happy again, Brigid? I was afraid of this happening.” I sliced the skin off the fruit in red-yellow-green scabs. But this was only on autopilot and beneath or through the careless actions of my hands I was looking at something else. It was like flying over water and then when you looked down the ocean the skim of mirror was yanked off, so that the water became transparent, and there the sea was filled with what you knew had always been there: the rubbery gardens and drowned mountains, the creatures from plankton up to nekton, the swimming bodies and the unburied skeletons, and now you—or I—I saw it all at once. And so in the fucked-up San Pedrified way the entire world system of Neoliberal capitalism disclosed itself to me, and I felt somewhat grim.

Dwight, meanwhile, becomes an endearing and charming character with a singularly unique voice.

Despite finding it clumsy and misshapen to begin with, Indecision turned out to be a terrifically appealing read as it worn on. Dwight’s innocence and charisma are undeniable, and the structure of the novel integrates his relative progress adeptly. Kunkel’s prose, equal parts circuitous erudition and Hemmingwayesque succinctness, begins somewhat flat and too-pleased with its own cleverness, while eventually cresting to a terse, cause-and-effect essentialism that allows this type of crafty precocity not to dwarf the narrator. At times, Kunkel was in danger of breaching that Chinese Wall between the reader and himself. Dwight is rightly permitted these breaches but the author isn’t.

Altogether, Kunkel’s bildungsroman introduces the reader to an intriguing and not easily forgettable character in Dwight, a character trying and failing to make his decisions matter to the world, when, in the end, they should matter to him.

Art and the Critic: Part 2

It should only make sense, then, to anticipate the coming push-back against the preponderance of adulation the Canadian indie-scene has been the object of lately. As groups like Arcade Fire, New Pornographers, Dears, Stars, Metric, The Stills, Tegan and Sara (just to name a tendentious few) are lauded over, saturation of the all things indie-Canadiana will likely wake mordant detractors from their dogmatic slumber. Moreover, the general truncation of necessary criticism and the ascendancy of less than talented, but more efficiently marketed, apparatchiks won’t help matters.

Yet this outcome is to be expected. Industry has historically been canny at co-opting and digesting the Nouvelle Vague. However, those with better taste cannot be seen to enjoy what, all of a sudden, becomes universally accepted. Public sentiment therefore acts as a type of irrelevance barometer from which the critic can gauge and then, from this analysis, take leave from the banality of groupthink. A critic, thus, finds his niche in the oppositional judgments of what standards of taste currently prevail, or failing those, which should. The piquant irony is that the critic is most often the one who helped expound prevailing orthodoxies of taste. This ambivalence betrays a disjunction.

In some top-self publications this disjunction has shown itself. Writing in Stylus, an online publication of music and film criticism, Ian Mathers has a few curt things to say about indie music, even mentioning some bands of Canadian extraction:
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with indie music, and if that’s all you listen to then yes, this or the Arcade Fire probably sounds as catchy as all get out – but to the average person out there who doesn’t (for example) read Stylus, this still sounds like every other hotly tipped mess that most people don’t like, not because we privileged few have “better” “taste” or something equally smug, but just because most people are bored by this sort of music. It is not a badge of superiority or mark of inferiority to feel differently. But it would certainly be easier for others to tolerate if this was actually any good.
One has to concede that indie-rock tends to be an incestuous claque of the cognizant; Mathers’s point should be taken. I’m not convinced, however, that ‘most people are bored by this sort of music’ or that it’s less tolerable because it’s not good. (Broken Social Scene is selling to exactly the type of people it shouldn’t be selling to)

Mathers’s concern arises out of a reprisal of You Forgot it in People (YFIIP), which he likens to someone unwittingly receiving a golden shower and being told it was rain; and which placed 7th on Stlyus’s own top 50 of 2000-2005. So maybe he just disagrees with his colleagues’ taste, and that’s reasonable; but then in the reader-response section Mathers goes on to say,

I'm a strong believer in the idea that if you love an album, nothing anyone says should (or can) count against that. I also think a fair number of the people who hyped this record don't fall into that category, though, and that genuine love for the whole thing is a little thinner on the ground than some would claim.

Which would be true had we the empirical evidence. Mathers, then, is not only questioning the psychological motives of those who may be strong believers of YFIIP, he’s also throwing into doubt Stylus’s methodology or, more importantly, credibility in making Best-of lists altogether. What stock should we place in Stylus if their seventh significant album (out of a list of fifty) of the last five years has ‘thin’ support on the ground?

And this may be the case. Mathers may be right. But the weight of evidence supports a contrary conclusion: That Mathers just doesn’t like YFIIP while nearly everyone else at his publication does.

Indeed there is nothing wrong with Mathers distaste for Broken Social Scene’s aesthetic meandering, or his sentiment that ‘most people are bored by this sort of music’. Mathers criticism, although, seems to want to have it both ways. So the right brain is hearing it and saying it ‘still sounds like every other hotly tipped mess’, but the left brain is saying its ‘aimless’and ‘structurally it’s a mess’ and ‘aimless’. Ultimately, Mathers’s right brain should be listening to what his left brain is interpreting -- and vice versa -- that way they’d both be sated. What is aimless and structurally a mess to the left brain is novel and remarkable to the right brain, and what is ‘like every other hotly tipped mess’ to the right brain would please the autocracy and desire for familiarity of the left brain. (This metaphor has been unduly stretched)

Insofar as Mathers is exasperated by Broken Social Scene stylistic muddle, he is equally, if not more so, exasperated by the encomiums heaped on YFIIP. Here -- channeling Thalia, our muse of sarcasm -- is Mathers on this score:

This is it? This is the great revolution? This is what topped the critics’ charts, inspired a million rapturous articles and blog posts and personal testimonies? This? This rancid stew of sour indie self-regard, the disingenuous assurance that no, now we’re making pop music (so for once it’ll be good, lol)

It is fairly clear that Mathers’s distaste for Broken Social Scene is in part related to the genuflecting praise they receive. But why should it be any other way?


If reviews come out nem con in the favor of a particular artist and, subsequently, this results in that artist’s ascension, questions of relevance logically reveal themselves. The critic now has a chance to pours scorn on the artist and, inexplicably, the audience, who end up playing useful idiots. Why should this be so?

Well, this phenomenon speaks to the rational fear of the covetous and insular critic – who, at times, is indistinguishable from a booster. (Wink) Once underground music becomes accessible to the mass culture it is somehow seen as losing its aura, pace Walter Benjamin. The mechanical reproduction of it, and its social visibility, the critic argues, degrades its authenticity. This, of course, is entirely independent of the actual creative enterprise of plying ones trade as an artist; they, no doubt, have their own demons to wrestle with. But what is essential to understand is that, in effect, the critic is saying ‘because music I, at one point, thought was culturally significant is being listened to by the lower-brow and obtusely appreciative, the music now offends my sensibilities’.

This is in fact what the critic is saying -- something we’ve all said one time or another out of covetousness for a particular cultural objet d'art only a few of our close friends were astute or privileged enough to know about first. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t bask in my cognizance when I listened to Feel Good Lost, assured that I was in the Know (with infinitesimal pockets of others) months and years before anyone else -- people I gladly turned my nose to. And yes, there was a usurped pang in my chest when someone brought up the fact that they were already listening to Broken Social Scene two months before I was -- and then there was the contained shock when they said they no longer listened to them; likely as a result of my listening to them.

So this pantomime of sophistication, that my art is better and more avant-garde than yours, is nothing if not predictable. But the assertion that just because something is popular it therefore lacks relevance is wrongheaded. (Notwithstanding democratic elections in countries saddled with dictatorships) If so, nearly all classical music, from Renaissance to Baroque to the Romantics to Contemporary Avant Garde, would have no cultural value. Bartok, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Schoenberg especially, are still relevant today -- although in markedly different ways.

And yet the detractors do make sound arguments. That popularity may be its own justification, that prefabrication and mass distribution deracinates the DIY ethic of music in general and indie rock specifically, and that loss of artistic autonomy takes away something authentic in the process are all arguments that have found no easy response. Yet at the same time these arguments raise questions that are structural and indissoluble within the context of art and commerce.

Should artists live in penury to remain authentic? Why can’t being accessible mean something more than just selling-out? Is authorial sincerity in popular art always required, or even detectable? These are all difficult questions to interrogate. But each day the artist, the critic, and the audience are doing the calculus and responding with their actions. These questions are also eternal challenges that won’t be brought to any finality, and shouldn’t hoped to be, otherwise the whole enterprise of art would lapse into solipsism. We can see the forest for the trees or we can just see the trees. I’m a big fan of the forest -- and the trees.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Broken Social Scene: Part 1

If your ecumenical tent encompasses the likes of Metric’s Emily Haines and James Shaw, Evan Cranley and Amy Millan of the Stars, and Leslie Feist of Let it Die fame, among others, then the company you keep and the music you create has to be thoroughly layered and unflinchingly collaborative. This is to say nothing of the music’s originality. So, as it happens, there is such a thing, and said music is put together by the Toronto collective-cum-network of indie rockers dubed Broken Social Scene -- who manage to allay our fears about the psychological pathologies of communes. The Utopia hasn’t yet faltered. Since they’re a diverse outfit, they have the flexibility to pursue side projects while still maintaining the ethos of Broken Social Scene the idea. (It doesn't hurt that most of these side projects are in some way affliated with Arts and Crafts records, a boutique label created by the band's doyen, Kevin Drew.)

And this idea has been received with near universal praise. (Fawning reviews in all the major trade publications, the 2003 Juno for Best Alternative album, etc.) Taken literally, the group is a pastiche of each individual’s particular aesthetic bent -- Metric’s tightly shorn arrangements and acerbic lyricism; the lush yet literate extravagance of Stars; and (not a comprehensive list) Leslie Feist and Jason Collett’s soul and sincerity and earnest. (And yet the list goes on.) The ‘supergroup’ -- as they’ve been flatteringly referred to; as if this write up weren’t itself obsequious -- took its initial material form in 1997, fronted by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. It was only in about 2002 that I was caught up to speed on Feel Good Lost(2001) and You Forgot it in People(2003), which were both phenomenal if not epiphenomenal and subsequently seared into my indispensable hippocampus.

All this is just to say that I picked up Broken Social Scene’s eponymous new LP. To begin with, the art that adorns the cd’s packaging cover is a winsomely contrived cityscape back-dropped by a vermillion, almost fiery, sky. A three section fold-out stores two disc; the main disc and a bonus (i.e. limited edition) disc featuring songs equally up to rigor to appear on the first. The booklet, like the casing, is similarly artful, with the faux-jejune scribblings of a ten-year old boy and the epigrammatic tags of the unabashedly guileless -- for instance, the wry declaration “We hate your hate” can be read on the inside jacket. Though now we should turn to the music, lest this devolve into a tedious account of the all particulars.

The current LP is in many ways, both stylistically and tonally (atonally as well) akin to Feel Good Lost, mostly instrumental and atmospheric in tone. Case in point is the track ‘Feel Good Lost Reprise’ on the bonus cd. But where it departs from Feel Good Lost, it collides with You Forgot it in People (YFIIP) in its reflexive meandering. The acoustics, horns and base line -- as well as tambourines -- that open ‘Our faces split the coast in half’ harkens back to ‘Pacific Theme’ off YFIIP, albeit in a less sleepy and more enthused way. In plosive restraint, Feist’s fixed vocals turn out to punctuate a palimpsest of a song -- that may or may not feature the aural yawn of a cello. Feist’s lilting accompaniments are once again prominent in ‘7/4 (shoreline)’ as Brendan and Kevin et al. warm over the track with endearing falsettos. Lead guitars duel with frenetic drums while late arriving horns portend an impending collapse.

The rest album is an untidy and unstudied mash of experientialism, a bric-a-brac of orchestral cacophony; ponderously frustrating, but not too much so, yet axiomatic and ephemeral at once. The sound is decidedly arty and pop and abides to a sensibility producer Dave Newfeld also brought to YFIIP. Newfeld has show peerless technical proficiency in making blunt, disparate parts reflect light while intergrating recondite instrumentals and melodies into serviceable coherence. It's a creative match with serious fecundity.

‘Superconnected’, with its distorted and majestic keys and angst-laden, bleating vocals, ‘Hotel’, a clavicle jutting trip with nascent pretensions of Synth and Soul, and ‘It’s all gonna break’, a conventional though extend (as in nine minutes) indie-rock narrative that may be trying to say something, count as other notable mentions on this canonical opus.

The ironically titled ‘Major label debut’ is by leap and bounds my favorite of the whole lot. And that is no small feat. It begins ethereally enough with deliberately strummed acoustic guitars (and possibly a harpsichord) foreground by a paradoxically soft snare drum and heavy bass drums that mimic heartbeats but don’t overwhelm the ambience. Kevin Drew’s voice emerges -- along with the sliding atonal shiver of the cymbal -- filled with the insouciance of an autumnal night still kind enough to permit Bermudas. It’s positively weightless. An incantatory tone is struck: ‘I’m just coming here to come down / I can be here / and I can move town / Put my suits onto the guest lists / summer passport became weightless.’ Then the expletive chorus ‘I’m all fucked up’ is reverentially, and all-too-hypnotically, sung as the drums pick-up in a mannered and incremental cadence, the strings dovetailing into a fitting denouement. (Actually, the chorus could be as benign as "I'm all hooked-up"but it's too inaudible to tell, and beside the point anyway.)

The song, pastoral and unambitious, is the high-art equivalent of an early Matisse: not exactly challenging, but thoughtfully and artistically scrupulous with due respect to color, space, mood, and intellect. And this, I think, can describe one of Broken Social Scene’s aesthetic virtues. The other, of course, is the primary unintelligibility of some of their work, as if challenging the listener to engage the morass. Unfortunately this does lead to frustration and is even liable to alienate the listener. Though like any challenging piece of art, the pleasure is in accessing the implicit emotive aspect of the work, thus framing it with the coherence you see fit. Each song offers something new on each successive hearing.

Having moved from the more melancholic and aimless pessimism of Feel Good Lost, and keenly incorporating the technique of chaotic polish from YFIIP, their third album -- despite not being as virtuosic-ally competent as YFIIP -- places itself well in the Broken Social Scene oeuvre.

But critical praise always brings along her ugly, fraternal twin. When critics hoist artists onto a vaunted pedestal, it is usually them who double back and commit a punitive revisionism.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The State of the Nation

If one was so inclined -- and there are many that are -- one would get the impression that God is exercising a bit of his wrath. And he doesn’t seem to be letting up. Scoff if you must at Revelations, at End of Days and Armageddon, at the Second Coming or the four horsemen of the apocalypse, a cynic can’t deny the inherent eeriness of this past summer.

The city of Toronto officially acquired the all-too-realistic nickname Smoke City, literally becoming an emissions and carbon monoxide swelter. Gas prices -- or where to begin with gas prices! -- have defied comprehension while supply, instead of diminishing, has increased marginally. How to explain this discrepancy has everything to do with the psychological motive of fear—or more clearly, speculative fear. All summer long investors have been afraid of Iraq, of reforms in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Lebanon and how hegemony over oil is diminishing.

Similarly, investors have been afraid of China and Indian, both evolving economies that will soon eclipse the U.S economy. And somehow dollar-per-barrel became the demotic tongue of all. $30 dpb sometime in 2004, it was ridiculous to think, when they joked, that oil would reach $50 dpb. When it reached $70 dpb and looked as though it wasn’t planning on moving much, either up or down, the grousing and the bristling was no longer inaudible. Welcome to the Information Age, truly.

The Markets have learned to ‘price-in’ anticipated imbalances, and have subsequently begun operating on ‘attitudes’ and sentiments. A sentence from a Federal Reserve press release is parsed exegetically and the Markets move. A storm report from the The National Hurricane Center is issued and the Markets move. We are so awash with technical information, often times contradictory and conflicting, that we’ve settled into a catatonic paralysis. The risk premium, which is necessarily a portent for scarcity, or worse, collapse, has priced-up the one commodity that is sine non qua to the world economy: Oil.

It turns out that fear isn’t only a serviceable tactic in terrorism or electoral politics but also profit-taking. As cringe-worthy as arguments for nationalization of vital oil resources are, the notion has once again become far more appealing than the current scenario. Rita will wreck its havoc and the United States will be writing another $200 billion dollar cheque – on top of the $200 billion for Katrina and the $200 billion for Iraq; which isn’t even to speak of billions for Medicaid/Medicare. And although this financing is long-term, the horizon is closing in fast and liabilities are mounting. I pray for the U.S economy; if only for the fate of the Canadian economy.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The History of Love

Leo Grusky’s eccentricities are those of a warped personality, at peace with silence and loneliness as he is with old age and what it has done to his body. Leo Grusky is also a tragic soul -- bereft of the friends from his idyllic childhood, the family of his native town, and the woman he will love forever.

In 1938, as the Germans roll through Poland, Leo is forced into hiding, assured by his parents that they will return for him. When it is obvious that they will not, that they have died at the hands of the Nazis, Leo flees to America in search of his sweetheart Alma Meremenski -- who has also been driven to seek refuge in America. But when he arrives, Alma -- who thought he’d perished in Poland -- is set to marry another man.

This narrative buttresses the general premise from which the rest of the novel evolves in Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. Since Leo is unable to marry Alma, and, similarly, never to reveal to anyone that he is the father of their child together, he settles into an unremarkable existence, shuttling from his job as a locksmith to his lonely apartment where he writes, intermittently. That Alma would be unwilling to marry her lost sweetheart and that Leo would have to spend the rest of his life both alone and denied of his son are fairly weighty assumptions for this novel to rest on. And I don’t entirely buy them.

Yet Krauss once again does an excellent job creating a lithe yet deep edifice in which her characters can develop. Her first novel, A Man Walks Into a Room, was substantial while perpetrating all the sins of a vacuum. (Though, that was essentially the point; having lost his memory, the reader was tasked to fill in the blanks for Samson Greene.) The History of Love, however, asks the reader for too much credulity.

Leo Gursky has written a book with the eponymous title of the novel regarding the story of his and Alma’s love. Before leaving Slonim, Poland, Leo places The History of Love in an envelope and gives it to his friend Zvi Litvinoff for safe keeping. When the baleful aspirations of the Nazis become apparent, Zvi leaves for Chile, with envelop in-hand, to stay with a cousin. In the ensuing years, resigned to the fact that his friend Leo Gursky has mostly likely died, Zvi, encouraged mainly by his wife, publishes The History of Love under his name. The History of Love is an historical artifact that enmeshes another character in the novel, Alma Singer, whose father names her after the main character.

Alma is curious to find out, after her father dies, the significance of this novel, and whether the Alma Meremenski in the novel is real. I can’t say that I enjoyed this novel more than A Man Walks Into a Room, but it does have a charm -- Leo Gursky particularly.

While not necessarily imbuing an overly heart-rending wistfulness in him, Krauss deftly conveys Leo’s empathic qualities -- his thoughtfulness, his warmth, and his asceticism. There were also passages where Leo was unqualifiedly funny; but unfortunately there weren’t nearly enough. Krauss has a wry, almost counterintuitive way with prose and parody that is refreshingly trenchant. Take for instance this excerpt, where a woman has called to ask if Leo is interested in an Art project:
What kind of project? I asked. She said all I had to do was sit naked on a metal stool in the middle of the room and then, if I felt like it, which she was hoping I would, dip my body into a vat of kosher cow’s blood and roll on the large white sheet of paper provided.
I may be a fool but I’m not desperate. There’s only so far I’m willing to go, so I thanked her very much for the offer but said I was going to have to turn it down since I was already scheduled to sit on my thumb and rotate in accordance with the movements of the earth around the sun.
Passages like these are indispensable to the novel's wit. I’m hoping that her next project will be unreservedly ironic. But Krauss is as much in her skin with comedy as she is with fraught, pithy poetics. She is not cynical about love, and it shows in her relentlessly maudlin style -- which is to countervailing effect when the deluge exacts from the reader all that is left of romanticism and empathy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Rosemary, Heaven restores you in life:The inviting yet sinister baseline that opens Evil -- a track off Interpol’s 2004 sophomore LP Antics -- is too mesmerizing by half. The rest of the LP, which I think is solid, was greeted with tepid reviews. Surely they weren’t listening to the same album I was listening to. But yeah, good stuff! Turn on the Bright Lights, their 2002 offering, was clearly much stronger; tracks like Untitled, NYC, PDA, etc., have eerie parallels to Joy Division – an English post-punk band I’ve warmed to. Though, I can’t really see anything wrong with the aesthetics of Antics. The wan linearity of mood, an exercise in restrained impressionism, pervades through the album. Many would say it’s a recapitulation of TOTBL; and it generally is. But TOTBL was great, ergo: Antics > TOTBL? Same as?

Moving right along. At the Bodega down the way, purchasing miscellany, I was be-stilled of heart by a thoroughly indiesque Korean clerk -- likely holdin' it down while paterfamilias transacted business elsewhere. She seemed at ease with what can be ineptly described as an unguarded and unpretentious charm. I commented on her shirt since it appeared no other avenues for superfluous blather were viable, without sounding creepy or invasive of course. The shirt, black, up-against the body, fitting the way it should on a girl like her, was unremarkable, the illegible silkscreen graphics altogether uninspiring. It was only an afterthought to even actually look at the shirt, so consumed was I in fixing her a mawkish gaze. (You have to know I’m exaggerating.)

Anyway, the point is that the response to the shirt question was more interesting than the shirt itself. “The Weakerthans” she says, while continuing to catch me up to speed. Apparently they aren’t that bad. Remember Propagandhi, the Winnipeg punk outfit trafficking in agitprop par excellence? Well, The Weakerthans is Propagandhi member John K. Samson’s new (other?) gig. Presently, I’m enjoying Summer Rain and Benediction. I left to quickly and awkwardly to know whether or not said girl was feeling me, although in my experience it’s very likely that she was. (Zing!) Groups I’m enjoying: (Also) see Red House Painters, soul rending stuff.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Twenty-Seventh-City

The city of St. Louis, during a bizarre autumn sometime in the waning years of the 1980’s, selects S. Jammu, a Los Angles born Indian -- formally the Police commissioner of Bombay, Indian -- to succeed the city’s former police chief. The development, needless to say, is unexpected. Jammu hasn’t lived in the United States in over a decade, and that she is a woman doesn’t help matters. Unsurprisingly, the political and business community are skeptical -- the county’s benevolent advisory board, Municipal Growth, especially. And then things begin to change.

Where Jammu was once perceived as an inexperienced and inappropriate choice, she becomes a fount of civic adulations and a symbol for the New St. Louis. Members of Municipal Growth conveniently start revising their opinions of Jammu as, inexplicitly, incidences of bombings and terror related attacks are directed at either them or citizens of the city. It would only seem plausible to draw the necessary connections between Jammu’s arrival on the scene and the oddity of St. Louis being targeted by terrorists, or Indians (that is: Native Americans; an erstwhile, non-extant tribe that miraculously reassembles to terrorize the city and county of St. Louis for past pre-colonial grievances.)

No one but General Norris, a member of Municipal Growth and an unreconstructed character, smells a conspiracy afoot, implausible as this may seem. But this is with good reason: Jammu has managed to extort and blackmail nearly every prominent business and civic leader in St. Louis, amassing the necessary political and logistical power to execute her plan -- to create a real-estate appreciation in downtown St. Louis, an area, not too uncoincidentally, her mother has just recently invested considerable capital in. Nevertheless, Jammu has one final obstacle in Martin Probst, a respected contractor, a paragon of morality, and chairman of Municipal Growth.

And so begins The Twenty-Seventh City, Jonathan Franzen’s ambitious if somewhat circuitous first novel. The plot is dense, populated by a litany of characters with oscillating motives. Of the narratives, and there are many, Martin Probst’s is of primary import. Probst is best know for being the man who built the Arch, so naturally the mantel of probity rests on him while Jammu attempts, indefatigably, to break him, thus assuring her plan’s success. The campaign she wages would surely be without scruples if undertaken by any ordinary person; it is therefore that much worse that the police chief of St. Louis is behind it.

Yet Jammu isn’t your ordinary person -- or pol or public official, for that matter. She is a hardened politically militant socialist of Trotskyite bent. She is also a protégé of Indira Gandhi, a person to whom she owes much for her professional advancement in Bombay. Though, there is a strain of aimless malice in Jammu which strikes me as vapid. It is amazing how Franzen is able to masterly construct this gargantuan plot yet also skimp on his characters’ consciousness. This is particularly the case with Jammu, who is rarely, if only partially, psychologized to the extent of illumination. Insofar as she maintains a shadowy mystic to the characters in Franzen’s novel, she remains almost entirely ineffable to the reader.

Martin Probst, similarly, is fleshed out rather feebly. We understand that moral rectitude is his métier and “accomplishing things” drives him, but beyond that his rigidity and opacity become stifling—his asceticism literally frustrates the reader. Even when General Norris approaches Probst with the voluminous evidence of The Conspiracy and Jammu’s unsavory involvement in it, Martin chides the General for his outlandishness. What Franzen, in my opinion, seems to be saying of conspiracy theories -- possibly his novelistic conceit -- is that they are for ‘weaker minds.’ He says this while having elaborated on a baroque novel of conspiracy. Is this not frustrating? Was this his intention? What begins to happen to Probst, while tragic, could be construed as cathartic -- for the reader, me specifically. Martin reminds me too much of Alfred Lambert from The Corrections, a character he anticipates.

But Franzen is adept when he’s waxing political.There are overtones of Cold War critique and, as the thought strikes me now, nearly everyone is afflicted with the symptoms of a cold. This was a peculiar meme that I had first attributed to merely banal symbolism; but on further analysis it seems clear that Jammu, a committed marxist qua terrorist, represents an ideological infection, and her efforts at fomenting real-estate speculation are directed towards undermining (indulge me) the arbitrary logic of capitalism -- even if it’s only in St. Louis.

However, my understanding of this is still very shallow since, it seems, Franzen is all over the place. If it is anything, The Twenty-Seventh City is an astute commentary on the local and the political. That a small group of political and financially influential citizens can steer the course of a city, thus determining its fate, is not a new argument. Franzen, instead, offers something polemical:

Threatened with the prospect of thinking and deciding, the body politic had surrendered. It embarrassed the commentators -- but only because they failed to place the election within the larger context. Their shame was a measure of their obsolescence. They did not understand that America was outgrowing the age of action. (503)

Here, Franzen is speaking of the media trying to understand lower voter turn out in a St. Louis referendum -- this is in 1988. Franzen is anticipating the mainstream media’s ‘obsolescence’. Voter apathy was nascent but growing after Nixon and more prominent during the Carter administration. The obsolescence of the media was just around the corner. And now the electorate is mature in its apathy.

In the end, The Twenty-Seventh City is a feat, considering that Franzen was only 28 when the novel was published. A strong novel that is beguiling at turns and cast in the mold of epic grander than reality, it augured great things for Franzen. (As evidenced in The Corrections and Strong Motion (soon to be read)) Unfortunately, for me at least, it was also bloated; so heavy was its narrative enterprise that it began to sag at its edges, nearly making its conclusion indecipherable and, retrospectively, its beginnings fugitive.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

His head is flat.

In one paragraph a New York Review of Books essay offers a stinging rebuttal to the Panglossian polemics on globalization's behalf. Once again, Thomas Friedman -- with a mustache that assures him eternal allegiance with snake-oil salesman everywhere -- turns out looking silly. John Gray opines thusly:

Globalization has no inherent tendency to promote the free market or liberal democracy. Neither does it augur an end to nationalism or great-power rivalries. Describing a long conversation with the CEO of a small Indian game company in Bangalore, Friedman recounts the entrepreneur concluding: "India is going to be a superpower and we are going to rule." Friedman replies: "Rule whom?" Friedman's response suggests that the present phase of globalization is tending to make imbalances of power between states irrelevant. In fact what it is doing is creating new great powers, and this is one of the reasons it has been embraced in China and India.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Man Walks Into a Room

Nicole Krauss’s first novel A Man Walks Into a Room is a beautiful, poetic, lilt that is at once endearing and intellectual. Samson Greene is found wandering the Nevada desert, unknowing and unknown to authorities. Initially, law enforcement officers are doubtful if the identification that bears Samson’s name is, in fact, actually his; but it is soon confirmed that the Samson Greene aimlessly walking the Nevada desert is Samson Greene -- resident of New York, professor of English at Columbia.

To the surprise of a neurosurgeon and, later, his wife, Anna, it turns out that a tumor the size of a cherry has wiped out Samson’s entire memory – well not exactly. Samson will remember nothing of the past twenty-four years of his life once the tumor is removed; not his job, not his friends, and not, more tragically, Anna.

Recalling only the first twelve years of his life, Samson enters his new reality with timidity and awe. The geopolitical tête - à – tête that was the Cold War is over; an older and more intoxicated Billy Joel appears puzzling to him; modern technology like the computer, to say nothing of the internet, is altogether incomprehensible; and when he finds out that his mother has already passed away, five years prior, the pain is too much to bear. And in the interim, while he recovers, reconnecting with his friends and colleagues proves awkward and stifling, further exacerbating the swell of alienation and loneliness he’s already undergoing.

So what of Anna? In these exchanges Krauss deploys the language of restrained expectance. Anna is torn – wanting to, on the one hand, sooth and finesse, slowly, the lost memories to the surface, or, alternatively, shake, cajole and pull from Samson the experiences they shared together, experiences that are as much a part of his identity as hers. But Samson’s condition is irrevocable; and, inevitably, Anna and Samson drift apart. There is a culpability Samson feels, and as Anna begins to lose hope, he too loses rasion-d’etre, wandering into an ineffable anomie.

The novel follows Samson back to Nevada as he embarks on an experimental project that is touted to advance science and society, and then next to the center of his material mind where he is confronted with tough questions. Why this? What now? The journey is gut-wrenching and at times almost meaningless, but in the end it is cathartic.

I found Krauss’s prose fluid, and though initially the structure, even the narrative, seemed illegible, the second half of the novel was paced well, with the requisite amount of suspense. There were a star-lode of ideas that, in and of themselves, could buttress an entirely different novel. Ideas like the authenticity of memory, the psychology of the individual in relation to habits and memory, the cognitive structure of personalities as regards memory. (I may be repeating myself with the last clause, but oh well.)

I highly recommend the book. During the past month I’ve also read Philip Roth’s The Counterlife, which I’ll attempt to a mini-review of, and on the recommendation of my mother I’ve also read Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

US environs

Ambitions are low. I’ve been derelict from duty for the past two weeks for two very good reasons: a) Visiting family in Connecticut, and b) catching up with friends in Toronto. To say the very least, the time away was constructive -- and calming. The day I arrived in Hartford was the day of the London Bombings and, naturally, security was tight. My sister recalls hearing F-14 fighter jets flying over-head as she came to pick me up from the train station; and surrounding the station were numerous members of the US law enforcement apparatus, bomb-sniffing dogs, first responders, and, possibly, characters in radiological suits. (Though, this may have just been a peculiarly dressed individual.)

Somehow the overall mood seemed to be tepid, as though absolutely no threat existed, even though the transit systems are likely the most porous and vulnerable when it comes to point of weakness -- but nevertheless.

Connecticut is a breath-taking vision of pastoral with its Classical, Colonial and Victorian architecture, expansive and florid green-spaces, and historical landmarks. I had the opportunity to pass by Mark Twain’s Manor. And interestingly enough, I passed through the Berkshires, a prominent local in Saul Bellow’s Herzog, a novel that I’m currently reading.

There were, of course, no shortage of American flags; and the national pastime, contrary to popular falsehoods, is not baseball but shopping. I truly believe that ‘Hearts and Minds’ could easily be won over if detractors of all things Americana were sent through the extravagance of a shopping mall. Shopping is good -- but good for a reason. I now understand why Americans are the most productive people in the world -- their stores, it seems, never close. Consumption is a socializing and collectivizing force, first, and a patriotic refrain, second. The sales tax kicks in only after a certain amount, making many of my purchases incredibly economical.

But then there is the inequality. Almost as stark as it is in Washington, Connecticut could move quickly from uber-affluence to desolate squalor. It’s only a two minute drive from the Governor’s Mansion to crack-houses and car-jackings. This is the Two Americas that John Edwards so breathlessly and eloquently speaks of.

And yet, what struck me as constituting the underlying ethos of America was its entrepreneurial verve. Literally everyone is trying to make a dollar -- trying to attain that upward mobility so embodied in the American dream. The pitiful thing that stuck with me is how unquestionably popular Bush is when it comes to the economic argument. The 'Ownership Society' rhetoric has been appealing to the middle class, pinched on both sides by the vast entitlement tax-encroachment and the tax-avoiding, tax-sheltering, tax-haven plutocrats. But Bush’s 'Ownership Society' rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. The substance, pace R. Salam, has been a thin greul.

Unless they’ve already been obsolesced, the Democrats need to speak bread and butter to the electorate -- pocket-book issues resonate. Though, this is far easier to say since, as Kulturkampf persist, the Republicans have been successful at framing the debate around values—a debate they’ve soundly thrashed the Democrats in. On balance, my time in Connecticut was good.

Toronto was altogether another story. The city is always beautiful, always vibrant. The nightlife is extraordinary, there is too much to do, too many places to go. Celebrities and athletes mix with quasi-celebrities and quasi-athletes in clubs that putatively have guest lists but admit commoners. The city pulses at two-thirty-am when the bars and clubs let out, enveloping its denizens as they wander the formidable maze of heated concrete and elevated steel at altitudes close to Olympian. There is a depth and context to one’s surrounding, as if this is the three-dimensional and anything else you’ve otherwise encountered is ersatz. It is a city, in a continent, in an era whose history is being debated, written, shaped. For a moment, one is on history's stage, involved in a series of events with no particular coherence to their agents (us). Are we history's objects, simply being acted upon, or are we the subjects pushing the narrative? What will they say of our generation, of our culture?

My friends are always my friends and the city is always hot.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds

Let’s wade into l’affaire Homolka and her on-going attempts to prohibit media outlets from publishing her whereabouts. A Quebec Superior Court Justice rejected this plea last week. Too bad for Karla. She’s in a “State of Terror” contend her lawyers, and with no shortage of hate-mail and death threats Ms. Homolka is understandably fearful for her personal safety upon release. (Which, incidentally, is today by sundown.)

Offhandedly, Homolka’s lawyers caution that rather than the major media outlets being the culprit, internet bloggers zealously publishing Ms. Homolka’s whereabouts will create the real threat to her safety. It’s not hard to imagine some unreconstructed vigilante -- a sociopath at the very least -- taking it upon himself to met out society’s just deserts. This isn’t even to speak of the disparate common citizens, struck with a peculiar morbidity, field-tripping it to Québec for the day -- Ms. Homolka’s place of residence their primary draw; and why not Old Quebec for that matter?

There is that side of me that says “This citizen has served her time, let her be.” This is my far too charitable side. And then the sensible side of me says, “Well, actually… It was later proved that Homolka’s involvement in the rape and murder of three women -- one of them her sister -- was far more integral, her mens rea not diminished by her earlier and more dubious testimony. So really, she hasn’t served nearly enough time in prison; and who am I to stop a concerned citizen from airing his/her misgivings.” (I’m not condoning vigilantism.)

Of course I’m not suggesting that the streets of Montreal run with the blood of a triple-murderer. Not at all. Though, the thought that the media, concerned citizens, reckless bloggers, and the denizens of Montreal have to somehow respect Ms. Homolka’s privacy is painfully laughable. And the last time we respected Ms. Homolka’s privacy? (Ok, this is vile demagoguery and silly rhetoric. My bad.) All I have to offer Ms. Homolka is a trite aphorism: If you sow the wind you reap a storm. And did she ever sow the wind.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The approaching night’s dusk was naturally balmy and visibility, considering my waning but once impeccable night-vision, was marginal. Ed Broadbent crosses us on the left as we wire up the thoroughfare toward the House of Commons and the Peace Tower. Inexplicable to us at the time is the medium-size crowd assembled expectantly outside the doors of the Commons—Canada Day celebrations this Friday on the Hill, obligatory stage set-up with large T.V screens and alternating-ly grating lights; maybe the crowds are out early? No—something else entirely.

Man with familiar gait walking towards us surrounded by burly minders and two or three photographers as well as a cameraman who navigates backwards adeptly, like he’s practiced this many times. “I think it’s Paul Martin” my roommate says. Not believing him I raise my hand almost wryly, straining my face with an incredulous smirk, as though offering an affected greeting. “Hello. How are you doing Mr. Martin?” I say. A voice very similar to that of Prime Minister Paul Martin replies. “Fine Thank you. How are you?” Double-taking five or six times, I’ve just realized I was in the presence of the Prime Minister.

And then this realization: How is it possible that I, a common citizen, should be any where that close to the PM? Shouldn’t he exit through the back, possibly? (Indeed he has nothing to worry about; although I have Johnsonian foot speed, my slight upper body can be restrained with very little effort.) So the PM passes five feet from where I stand.

Get on the cell-phone to make self-aggrandizing calls to family and friends, I miss Belinda Stronach pass by me. “She's very attractive” says the roommate. The pastel green power-suit is enveloped by the night, a pate of blond ambition disembodied.

And in order of appearance Joe Vople, Pierre Pettigrew (“Ca va? Il dit. Je dit “Bein”) Hedy Fry, a man who at first appeared to be a chauffeur but on further reflection was house speaker Peter Milliken, Anne McClellan (Big round of applause), Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Dion ( a Quebecer beside me grudgingly confirmed this.) and Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler. Apparently, the same-sex marriage legislation passed in the house; therefore, interested parties were out to congratulate and celebrate.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Corrections

The word good would be an incredible understatement. In fact, the word excellent would seem a slight of the first order. (I’m overstating it, I know.) These were but a few of the initial thoughts that came to mind when I endeavored to write a review of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, an ambitious novel about family, depression, and our attempts to reconcile expectations and their resulting outcomes.

Set in the fictional Midwestern suburb of St. Judes (Franzen grew up in St. Louis) Franzen introduces the reader to the Lambert family and then begins to construct a series of clever, internal narratives around them: Alfred, the patriarch, is now approaching the winter of his life and is debilitated by the mental atrophy of Alzheimer’s and the corporeal rapaciousness of Parkinson’s; The mother Enid is preening, aspiration-al, and sometimes exacting, though more in a endearing than harsh way; Gary, the first child, is the fulfillment of his parents expectations, the vice president of a Bank, father of three and responsible to a clinical degree; Chip is the middle child struggling to find his moorings after losing his professorship at an Ivy League college for sleeping with a student—he’s the intellectual without a clue; Denise being the youngest child is the emotionally impassive uber-striver who seeks and is rewarded, continually, her father's approval, while, at the same time, staking for herself a life that appears an affront to Enid’s pedagogy.

Alfred and Enid arrive in New York to have lunch with their son Chip and daughter Denise—who’s flown in from Philadelphia—before they depart on a cruise that day. What ensues is nothing short of comic genius and, similarly, tragedy. Chip’s life is seemingly falling apart as he escorts his parents from JFK—only to be met at his apartment by his current girlfriend, Julia, who promptly dumps him after being introduced to Chip’s parents. Ever the irresponsible son, Chip leaves his parents in Denise’s care to persue Julia, embarking on a jarring self-assessment that is both neurotic and forlorn, while falling to find Julia. Chip does, however, find his way to the office of a friend of Julia’s and is offered a job that, though it pays well (much better than his not so lucrative job as a proofreader), appears to be criminal. The job is also in Lithuania—and to accept the offer would mean leaving that day. Naturally, Chip leaves. Denise is left to deflect the probing questions of her mother and watch the degradation of her beloved father.

Franzen then takes the narrative thread to alternating gears of emotional tone. With Gary, we are led through the psychological travails of a man so willing to embody the picture of refined domesticity that his very abiding becomes pathological. He begins to believe that his wife and children are conspiring against him—are driving him to a depression of their own construction. Gary’s wife Caroline is an emotional potentate (this is what I gather) who is adamant—after eight consecutive Christmas of not visiting Enid and Alfred in St. Judes, to Gary servile dismay—of not even considering going this Christmas'—even if it may be the last Christmas the Lamberts have together, even if her lack of compromise is pushing her husband closer and closer to this constructed depression.

Enid and Alfred’s narrative is more comedy than Gary’s grating supplication. Alfred was once a paragon of moral life, self-denying, modest, and truthful. Since his retirement, which was days before his pension was to kick-in (this being incomprehensible and unexplained to Enid) Alfred has wasted away in the basement, off with his own diminishing thoughts. Enid has always been denied the Alfred she hoped she would have when they married: The caring Alfred; the expressive Alfred; the kind Alfred; the, once in a while, sexually attentive Alfred. Her life has been that of a subject to Alfred’s Schopenhauer-ian will. And so the excess of her energy has been devoted to raising her children. And now that this may very well be their last Christmas together in St. Judes, she wants all of her children home for the holidays. Enid is easily my favorite character; she’s full of foibles and neurosis and traffics in a populist, Midwestern charm.

The most intriguing narrative, though, is that of Denise Lambert. I had difficulty keeping my mouth closed, as my jaw kept coming ajar. Not that the lesbianism wasn’t appealing; nor was the lifestyle she led unremarkable. Denise Lambert was singular as a character, touching and at times harsh, strong yet milquetoast. She was without humor but the situations she found herself in were humorous. And that filial love for her father anchors much in her life—it also portends other tectonic revelations.

The Corrections, needless to say, starts off furiously, eases comfortably into the middle, becomes intellectually intriguing during Denise Lambert’s narrative thread, and tidies up well—Franzen’s pacing and tone a touch of methodical mastery. Apparently it took him five years to create this Magnus opus, and at just over six hundred pages Franzen’s style makes the novel incredibly readable; even-though, at parts, it’s a complicated read, it is still very lucid.

Will the Lamberts be together for one last Christmas? Read the book and find out.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal who so surreptitiously endeavored to entrap Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh in a qui pro quo for his, and his wife’s, support of the Liberal budget bill has suddenly taken a leave of absence(follow the chronology)—due, we are led to believe, to stress. Understandably, the stress and growing dread of being found out as a fabricator of tape recordings you earlier alleged to be proof positive of Liberal corruption and influence peddling would be enough to make even the fiercest political animal retreat. Now that the entirety of the recordings have been released—a full four hours!—a number of independent experts say that portions have been doctored. But why the suspicion?

It took Mr. Grewal, with the sage advice of his party it is assumed, over two weeks to release all of the tapes; initially, only a tendentious hour and thirty minutes were released—of which, predictably, reflected poorly on Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Murphy, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.

And now even his wife, Nina Grewal, has distanced herself from the matter by saying “Nobody approached me, I wasn't part of any negotiations.” Mrs. Grewal is also avoiding the press, choosing to leave her office in the East Block through the back doors. Calls to her riding office are being directed to her husband’s office, who is away on leave.

Stephen Harper doesn’t need this. After the Liberals passed their budget bill (more work still needs to be done in committee) whispers about the fate of Stephen Harper’s leadership were soundless, out of respect, but various. Then Tapegate or Grewalgate, what have you, prefigured a grave outcome for the Liberals, insofar as Grewal’s allegations were true. Even if it were the case that the tapes proved ambiguous on the question as to who initiated the meetings, Liberal involvement carried its requisite stench of impropriety.

During this time Harper was strong in his fulminations, and with good reason: the tapes appeared to implicitly convey the Liberals attempt to buy Mr. Grewal’s vote, along with his wife’s.

At the very least it has now been proven that the tapes were doctored, and, as they were in Mr. Grewal’s possession this whole time, questions surrounding his motives have arisen. Mr. Grewal’s leave of absence is only evidence of the doubt Stephen Harper has on the matter. The truth may still lie somewhere in the abstracted middle, but for Stephen Harper and the Conservative party the perception isn’t helpful.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Critical Theory

I'm reading an interesting book, Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas, on the intellectual movement founded by the Frankfurt school -- a group of like minded academics and critics whose analyses on culture, capitalism, and society attempted to refigure the impracticalities of Marxian orthodoxy. In a summation of Marxian tenets, David Held, the book's author, offers this.

The progressive rise in the organic composition of capital -- the amount of fixed capital per worker -- exacerbates the inherently unstable accumulation process. In order to sustain this process, it's protagonists’ utilize all means available -- including imperialist expansion and war.
p. 42
Though an obvious point, it is also compelling on many levels. For instance, the relative move towards trade liberalization, fostered by institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF, has sustained the appetites of growing multinationals (usually Western) looking for new and pliant markets (almost always developing countries). Western industrialized nations are no different in this respect and, in essence, underwrite the political legitmacy of these international institutions. The Iraq war has been perceived through this lens, as critics see its rationale to be more convoluted and involving the unintelligible logic of capitalism. To this effect, the London Review of Books had an essay in April's issue entitled Blood for Oil? Its conclusion is eerily persuasive and, therefore, needs to be excerpted at length.

But something has clearly shifted over the last ten years. Even as recently as the late 1990s, there was confidence that the new world of capital penetration would come about essentially by means of agreement between governments and corporations, ‘fiscal discipline’, fine-tuning of subsidy and bail-out, and non-stop pressure from US creditors. What constellation of forces put all this in question is still open to debate. But it happened – precipitately. Cracks began to appear within the World Bank establishment: Western Europe fought with the Washington consensus, and the South often refused to take its bitter medicine. The grotesqueries of Third World indebtedness and First World subsidies to corporate agriculture became more widely recognised. The back-slapping and mutual congratulation of the Uruguay Round descended into the fiasco of Seattle, and then Doha and Cancœn. At Cancœn, an in-house insurgency of 20 nations refused to endorse the massive US-EU subsidies to North Atlantic agriculture and the WTO rules crafted to prevent the South from protecting itself.

This is the proper frame for understanding what has happened in Iraq. It is only as part of this neo-liberal firmament, in which a dominant capitalist core has begun to find it harder and harder to benefit from ‘consensual’ market expansion or corporate mergers and asset transfers, that the preference for the military option makes sense.

Marx had no illusions about the role of force in his own time. But he did seem to believe that the age of violent expropriation was at an end. It was capitalism’s strength that it had internalised coercion, so to speak, and that henceforward the ‘silent compulsions of economic relations’ would be enough to compel the worker to ‘sell the whole of his active life’. We are not the first to think Marx too sanguine in this prognosis. In fact it has turned out that primitive accumulation is an incomplete and recurring process, essential to capitalism’s continuing life. Dispossession is crucial to this, and its forms recur and reconstitute themselves endlessly. Hence the periodic movement of capitalism outwards, to geographies and polities it can plunder almost unopposed. (Or so it hoped, in the case of Iraq.)

Will military neo-liberalism endure? With the US deficit rolling along at $600 billion annually, and the national debt rising to $2.5 trillion, the cost-benefit balance of the strategy looks dubious. And, two years after the tanks rolled across the Euphrates floodplain, the occupation and its Vichy surrogate barely have control of Baghdad. With unemployment running at perhaps 50 per cent, the Mahdi army steadily draws new support from the ranks of the urban unemployed in the slums of Sadr City and Basra, now twice dispossessed: once by Saddam, once by Bush. Even the lustre of the privatised contract economy has tarnished. Of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds allocated by the US Congress in October 2003, less than 9 per cent had been spent a year later – and untold amounts of that was spent on ‘security’. During the same period, more than a hundred criminal investigations of contractors were launched, and cases opened on hundreds of allegations of fraud and ‘waste’. As if to confirm falling expectations, Halliburton is reported to be putting Kellogg, Brown and Root on the block because it has become so unprofitable. So much for the Great Iraqi Oil Robbery. As Rumsfeld has admitted: ‘We lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.’ However you calculate it, in the present equation a few more million barrels of oil won’t matter a damn.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Neo-Mainstream Media Agenda

Wake up. Early this morning, bleary eyed and cotton mouthed, I heard an interesting report on CBC radio. ‘The public is losing confidence in politicians and public officials in general…’ I was unsurprised. Should such a platitude be so unobvious to the media? For the media the public had even lower regard.

One in three people polled said they had little or no confidence in the media – unchanged from a year earlier. Only 11 per cent had a great deal of confidence in what the media had to say.

I was flummoxed to hear that 'bloggers' may have higher repute with the public than the Mainstream Media (MSM). This is supremely silly; I say: enough already with the blogger triumphalism. If you want your political slant steeper, you’re substance the consistency of a watery broth, the scope and focus negligible, read a political blog. At least this is the case for amateurish political blogs, present company included. Political journalists who maintain blogs are a staple for me; so are fledgling public intellectuals qua writers—for no other reason than ideas shape the world. Political Journalists are backed by incredible news gathering organizations that pay them. Anyone else with a political opinion and the requisite leisure time can register there inaudible gripe.

Why should I find the argument that the public is skeptical of the media misconceived, or merely miss-framed? One reason: if the public has grown skeptical of politicians because of the rise of personally invasive journalism, it should follow that they also appraise this invasive journalism as scurrilous on the media’s part, therefore lowering the opinion they hold for reporters and journalists.

Terry Eastland, in a piece from Wilson Quarterly, speaks to this point.

The negativity in the news may have resulted from the more personalized or interpretative journalism that began appearing in the 1960s. It represented a break from the old norm of objectivity by which reporters were obliged to keep their own views out of articles, and it was thought to help in uncovering the “real story” beyond any official statements and scheduled events. Perhaps the urgent need to compete for smaller pools of viewers and readers also played a role in the rise of negative news. But to judge by opinion polls, the public wasn’t impressed. The negativity, not to mention the arrogance with which it was often served up, caused many to tune out.

So whether the chicken or the egg came first -- if I can construct this awkward analogy -- is difficult to assess and will remain an open question for now. I'll be back to this in a moment.

The good days. Eastland offers up a historical sketch of the idyllic past of the MSM.

The media establishment emerged at a time when Americans generally respected those in authority. But when, beginning in the 1960s, authority took a severe beating, the media establishment was the one authority that actually gained in strength. Crusading reporters and editors became cultural heroes—the rebels and nonconformists who refused to kowtow to anybody. The Watergate scandal in particular confirmed in the media the sense they had of themselves as independent guardians of the public good and the very conscience of the nation in times of crisis. Over the years, judicial decisions also went their way, securing greater protection for the exercise of media power. For the establishment media, life was very good

An improper, slovenly analyzed, postulate: Doesn’t public cynicism greater reflect the electorate’s discernment and sober thought, aided and abetted by journalism’s aim at demystify conventional political fictions? Another query—if the electorate is so malleable, then why is it so disillusioned and jaded? So, is it that the media has been doing it's job overzealously? Maybe.

(Notwithstanding the ideological pall cast by an unintelligible, self-manifesting, disparately unknowing and self-perpetuating, shiftless mass that is the Neoliberal agenda.)

And now back to the politicians. This passage from the CBC report irked me.

The Conservatives came in at 22 per cent – the same level as last year. The NDP, however, was picked by 23 per cent – up four points from last year. But 23 per cent of those polled said none of the parties is best able to run a government with honesty and integrity. That's an increase of five percentage points from last year.

Does it really matter what the respondents to this poll think? Really--that 23 per cent of them believe none of the political parties can govern with honesty and integrity is irrelevance bordering on…. I don’t know, ridiculously, trite irrelevance. Voters already have their own built-in prejudices, either as a result of economics or social experience, so accessing which party can govern with relative probity is patent self selection: you’ll define honesty and integrity on the metric that suits you’re political allegiances—you’ll elide any inconsistencies that don’t agree with these definitions.

(I do this all the time.)

The eternal cynics don’t vote, regardless of the poking and prodding, yet still complain about government. They’re hemming and hawing is of no consequence. (Electoral reform is another issue entirely. And if you are to believe that our current political system is acrimonious, the experiences of PR electoral systems, though definitely fairer as regards plurality, appear far more bizarre and surpassingly acrimonious--'minority governments anyone'?.)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Last Saturday, like many people, I watched the third and – oddly enough, considering the anachronism – final installment of the Star Wars sextet, Revenge of the Sith. The movie was good—very, very good. Good enough to have me strongly considering an apostasy from the Anglican Church to follow The Jedi Order. I was completely blown away by the scale and proportion of this fictive far, far away universe; surprisingly, the story was far more engaging than I was expecting. We know that Anakin is slowly being seduced by the dark side yet, though we (the audience) cringe as he makes his descent there, secretly cheer him along.

This is my opinion at least.

There are, to be sure, schmaltzy dialogue exchanges – particularly between Padme and Anakin – and an excess of special effects, some of which are apropos and many others just plain excessive. At one point Ben Kenobi is riding this creature that essential looks like an iguana: It’s ridiculous but cool. One gets the feeling that this is all taking place in some miniature world. And it very well may be. But, for me, the movie pulls the narrative tight together. Lucas accomplishes a reasonably fulfilling end: a fitting dénouement to a Sci-Fi classic.

(The aberration of the appalling Attack of the Clones(2002) is unforgivable.)

But, as I said, last weekend I went to an actual theater to watch the Sith. Not even a week later, though I’m loath to admitt it lest the MPAA is monitoring this blog, I downloaded and watched the Sith, comfortably ensconced in my dank, fetid room. I think it’s terrible, really. Think of all the money George Lucas is losing? This is a canard.

The money, the MPAA suggests, isn’t being lost by Mr. Lucas but countless others involved in the production and distribution of movies—the little guy. And I’m not sure whether this year’s meager box office is a persuasive argument against piracy; but it sure seems like it should be.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Of Montreal

The Public Places By-law prohibits smoking in certain public places in order to protect the city of Ottawa's inhabitants from the public health hazzards and discomforts of second-hand smoke.


Any indoor area to which the public has access is a public place including such places as retail shops, hairdressers, restaurants, bars, bingo and billiard halls, bowling alleys, taxicabs and limousines. There is no provision for designated smoking rooms in the by-law.

By-law No. 2001-148

This is an excerpt from one of two Ottawa public health by-laws that prohibits smoking in public places—the other one relates to workplaces. If an analogous by-law had existed in Montreal, I have strong reason to believe that my trip there would have been more enjoyable.

This is not to say that there weren’t parts of the trip that I did like. There were a few, actually.

For instance, pursing through the social sciences section at a Chapters on Ste-Catherine, I happened upon a pair of forest green Nike throwbacks who, quiet auspiciously, were on the feet of Garden State(2004) writer and director Zach Braff. Initially I had to convince myself that it wasn’t Zach Braff and that it would be incredibly untoward to corner the innocent celebrity look-a-like. But at this point I was already making my move in his direction.

The Last Kiss is filming in Montreal, which happens to be starting Zach Braff, among others; the screenplay, interestingly enough, was penned by London, Ontario, native Paul Haggis, and is an adaptation of Italian director Gabriele Muccino L'ultimo Baccio (2001).

This was reason enough to assume that it was in fact Zach Braff wearing the forest green Nike throwbacks. “Hey” I said with some incredulity. He replied back hey, and after a few inert moments of mental vacancy, at which time I was trying not to call him Benjamin, I eerily and very inexplicably called him Braff. (Garden State was essentially homage to Mike Nicholas’ film The Graduate--the main character, Dustin Hoffman, was Benjamin Braddock).

Since he did actually extend his hand while replying yes I’m assuming it was Zach Braff. I quickly turned to my friend, who was himself flipping through a book, and motioned at Zach Braff, in hopes that my friend would recognize him. He didn’t. Now this was awkward. “Garden State” I said. My friend recognized him and Braff graciously offered his hand.

I should have asked him if he was going to the Decemberists show that night at La Sala Rossa, or maybe if he needed another member in his entourage, or maybe offered him some script ideas for a tenth Police Academy. I could have asked him a lot of things, but I didn’t. That’s not how we do in Canada.

Sufficiently star struck, the rest of the day consisted of good eating at the Peel Pub then the Decembrists show at La Sala Rossa, and finally a diversity of night spots on St-Laurent and Crescent. Omnipresent during all of this was the carcinogenic aroma of smoke. The Decembrists show was cool, although the prevalence of smokers, especially in such close proximity to each other and me, was very disconcerting. Being out at some of the "trendy" Montreal clubs left me longing for the staid, sterile clean air of bars in Ottawa, Waterloo, and London.

Montreal—Quebec, for that matter—has astonishing cultural sites which I’ve been to. That a socially progressive city, a darling among the top cities of the world, still hasn’t passed by-laws against smoking in public places is a little troubling. With New York already limiting smoking in public places, it’s time for other major cites to follow suit. The economic interest of private ownership has to be balance against the social interest of public health. But on balance Montreal was alright.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Hyper-speed prediction-falsification is not the case with my earlier thesis that the Liberal government wouldn’t fall as a result of being defeated on Thursday’s budget vote. As if this should be news to anyone, Belinda Stronach, former CEO of Magna, former Peter MacKay flame, perpetual political neophyte, did a fancy two-step across the figurative floor of the House of Common to join the Liberals. So astounded was I with this development that I literally (literally) jumped out of my shoes—my feet returning to the ground minutes later. Now my reaction should come as no surprise since, as has been stated prior, I’m a Liberal partisan.

(This is for no other reason than the electoral viability of the NDP is, well, feeble. Though they are considered the most ethical political party in the country, the NDP aren’t likely to form government in my life time.)

And now a digression, if you’ll indulge me. The jilted lover meme is stirring and incredibly poignant. Whether it’s purely political strategy or an honest account is difficult to assess; though, to be fair, the two can’t be mutually exclusive in this case. Seeing Peter MacKay nearly in tears as he spoke of the close affection he had for Belinda, her children, and her family, and then speak of the inexplicable betrayal (although he didn't use that word) of her decision was decidedly plaintive. The cameraman attempted to focus onto MacKay’s eyes as he fought back tears—a person shudders.

But on with the political machinations. The Liberals and NDP are now up one seat to 152, which ties the Conservative and Bloc seat count. Two independent MP’s, Chuck Cadman and David Kilgour, will determine the outcome. Kilgour looks serious but undecided and his appeals for increased attention and funding to Darfur is worthy political quid pro quo. However, there is something about Kilgour that strikes me as being incredibly flaky. Cadman, a jovial, ready-to-please type, appears more pliant. He’ll bring home the vote. Everybody that thought they had clout yesterday is doubling back, understanding that falling in line with the governing party is canny political strategy.

Apres Nous, Le Deluge. Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams is one voice among many advising two regional MP’s, Loyola Hearn and Norm Doyle, to vote yea on the Liberal budget, as it would assure the passage of the Atlantic Accord act—an act that means $2 billon for the Atlantic provinces. This seems to be working. And what of the remaining Bloc and Conservative MP’s who, after realizing it unlikely they’ll defeat the budget bill, consider the electoral calculus of voting against a healthy pork budget? If they’re smart, thoughtful to the necessity of political survival, they’ll vote for the bill.

Let me explain: the budget bill is a beautiful document because it’s like a pristine brook that reflects a sumptuous image. A person looking at the bill sees what they want— since it’s essentially designed to be everything to everyone. Vote against the bill -- when it’s going to pass anyway -- and leave yourself vulnerable to the argument that “You voted against childcare, against the municipalities, against monies for health care, against struggling students, against the environment, against the west, against the east—you sir, or madam, voted against Canada.” Very persuasive indeed.

So even if the Liberals do call an election after the Gomery inquiry adjourns -- the public outrage from which, by that time, would have already dissipated -- the Bloc and Conservatives will be open to this line of attack. However, the Conservatives, logic says, would be more vulnerable to this than the Bloc.


Funny how things change so quickly. It wasn't even a week and a half ago that the Liberals lost two consecutive confidence votes on Bloc and Conservative motions. Procedurally these motions weren't considered actual confidence votes and, therefore, the Liberals weren't required to disslove government. But they nonetheless made the Liberals look feckless--notwithstanding the house work they also impeded. And now, a week hence, the Liberals scooped Ms. Stronach, secured the vote of Chuck Cadman, and passed a fairly socially progressive budget bill.