Tuesday, February 28, 2006

U.S. troops don't support the troops

Dubya's support at home has hit a new low. His leadership is now endorsed by only about one-third of Americans. More than that, most U.S. troops in Iraq want out.

It is clear that if it were up to the troops, the US would be out of Iraq by the end of the year. In a poll of troops in Iraqi bases, conducted by Zogby International, 72% said the US should withdraw in 2006; more than a third of those said the troops should leave immediately. Just over one in five agreed with the president that they should stay in Iraq "as long as needed".

Another striking element of the poll was the opinion of US soldiers over why they were there.

Only a quarter thought their role was establishing a democracy "that can be a model for the Arab world".

Nearly 86% said it was "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks", a role proved to have been non-existent.
Hey, but don't let that stop you, George. The administration is settling in for the long haul, and going ahead with its plan to construct giant permanent military bases in Iraq, as part of the neo-con strategy for turning Iraq into the base (or, as they say in Arabic, "al Qaeda") for U.S. domination of the Middle East. The President knows what it takes to be a leader. "If I worried about polls," he said, "I wouldn't be doing my job."

Friday, February 24, 2006

The curse of Bertuzzi

A just, omnipotent God would not allow someone who was in serious violation of the Eligibility Code of the Olympic Charter, which requires that participants “respect the spirit of fair play and non-violence, and behave accordingly”, to be rewarded with an Olympic gold medal.
At least one player on Canada’s men’s hockey team was in serious violation of the Eligibility Code of the Olympic Charter.
Therefore, Canada’s men’s hockey team failed to win the gold medal.

There you have it: rigorous logic reveals the real reason for the Canadian team’s collapse. God was not amused. The fact that Todd Bertuzzi was in the penalty box when Russia scored the winning goal against Canada only drove the point home. Of course, when thuggish Bobby Clarke deliberately assaulted Soviet star Valery Kharlamov and broke his ankle in the 1972 series, Canada went on to win the series, but at least Clarke didn’t get a gold medal. What Clarke and the rest of the Canadian team got was a permanent stain on an otherwise heroic comeback. Thank goodness, the excellent Canadian women’s-hockey championship team contains no malefactors.

Before the Olympics, I predicted that Sweden would win the men’s hockey tournament. I think I’ll be cheering for underdog (?) Finland in the final, but it won’t be a bad thing for hockey that one of these nations will go home with the gold and the other with the silver. Finland has compiled an outstanding record so far, built on a tight defence and a good power play. In their shutout of Russia today, the Finns’ robot-like teamwork triumphed over the individualistic flair of the Russians. Remember when Canadian commentators used to laud Canada’s individualism and denigrate the robot-like teamwork of the godless communists? It was ideological garbage then and it’s just plain silly now. Go, Suomi!

Update, Feb. 26:

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What if?

What might have been the consequences for Canada if Stephen Harper and the Conservatives had won a majority in the 2006 federal election? What if the South had won the American Civil War? How would history have been different if the Axis powers had won the Second World War? What would the world be like today if the Black Death had wiped out almost everyone in Europe in the fourteenth century? One of my favourite types of fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction, is called alternative history and involves just these sorts of questions. (Pedant’s note: It’s also called alternate history by people who don’t know the difference between “alternative” and “alternate” – although it could be argued that “alternate” is acceptable if it is intended, which it probably is not, to mean “substitute” or “back-up” rather than referring, as “alternative” does, to another possibility.) Indeed, there’s a good web site, called Uchronia, devoted to listing and describing alternative-history stories.

I recently read Philip Roth’s The Plot against America. The novel is set in a world where Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt for the U.S. presidency in 1940. Lindbergh, an isolationist sympathetic to Nazi Germany, keeps the U.S. out of World War Two, and under his administration anti-Semitism flourishes. As an alternative-history story, this is an unusual one – not because of its particular counter-factual premise, but because the premise is firmly in the background for much of the novel, and only gradually works its way to the fore. The story is told in the first person, from the point of view of one Philip Roth, and recounts at length his growing up in a Jewish neighbourhood in Newark, New Jersey. This perspective lends an air of authenticity to the external menace on the horizon.

What is less believable is the way the fascist threat suddenly vanishes at the end of the novel and history is shunted back on to its familiar tracks, even to the point that Robert Kennedy is assassinated at the same time and in the same circumstances as in our world – a fact that seems highly improbable in light of the earlier upheavals in the political life of the country. Also improbable is that on Monday, October 5, 1942, Whitey Kurowski of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a ninth-inning home run to give his team a four-games-to-one World Series victory over the New York Yankees – just as in our world. I wonder whether Roth’s insistence on these details is meant to imply that his alternative world is a kind of bad dream overlying the “real” world. But it could simply be that he has just not thought through very well the implications of a major historical change. Odd too is the way Roth at times, and to no discernible purpose, gives great long lists of names of people attending various events. And all too often I would find one of his sentences so long and complex – likely including multiple dashes – that at the end I would have to go back and search for the verb in order to make sense of the whole thing.

For me the classic alternative- history novel is Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, originally published in 1962. The Axis powers have won World War Two. The eastern and western parts of the former U.S.A. are under the control of Germany and Japan respectively. Martin Bormann, successor to Hitler, dies and a power struggle breaks out over who is to replace him as leader of the Reich. But the novel is less about these larger events than about the struggles of ordinary people to get by and make sense of their lives. The story unfolds from multiple perspectives of characters who live in the Pacific States of America or in the non-aligned Rocky Mountain States, and whose lives are intertwined. The Chinese I Ching is widely consulted as an oracle, and a best selling novel, banned in German territory, portrays a world in which the Axis lost the war. Almost nothing is what it appears to be on the surface, from historical artifacts to personal identities. Dick gets inside the heads of his characters and lets us understand them in ways they often fail to do themselves. Although evil is an almost palpable presence in their lives, their ability to see the moral path is typically obscured by complexity and illusion. To my mind Dick's novel is both subtler and more exciting than Roth's.

A few more recommended works of alternative history: Robert Harris’s Fatherland is a police thriller set in a victorious Nazi Germany in the 1960s. Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee, set in a world where the South won the American Civil War, is both an alternative history and a time-travel story. The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is a sweeping narrative spanning centuries, beginning from the Black Death that wiped out Christian civilization in Europe in the Middle Ages and set the world on a different course. And the remarkable For Want of a Nail, by Robert Sobel, is a lengthy scholarly history textbook from a world in which the eighteenth-century rebellion in Britain’s American colonies was successfully put down.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Friday, February 10, 2006

An honest politician

While most Conservative MPs hypocritically attempt to rationalize Harper's appointment of David Emerson and Michael Fortier to the cabinet -- or else maintain an embarrassed silence -- there is at least one caucus member with integrity. Garth Turner, MP for the Ontario riding of Halton, has spoken out against the undemocratic moves. And he's prepared to pay the price.
Speaking of offices, after today I’m expecting the Whip will be assigning me a renovated washroom somewhere in a forgotten corner of a vermin-infested dank basement in Ottawa. That should go well with my seat in the House of Commons that will be visible only during lunar eclipses.

Uh-huh. That kind of a day. This one MP came face-to-face with the party machine in a series of unhappy meetings including one tonight with the prime minister. I think it is now safe to say my career options within the Conservative caucus are seriously limited.
On the night of his election, David Emerson promised that he would be the Conservatives' worst nightmare. I'm not the first to point out that this is one election promise he's fulfilling. Meanwhile, a new word has entered the Canadian political lexicon: Harpercrite -- which seems to have been invented spontaneously and independently by people all over the country.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Some good news

A landmark agreement has been reached concerning the Great Bear Rainforest.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Meet the new boss...

January 23, 2006, Vancouver Kingsway riding:
David Emerson, Liberal - 20,064
Ian Waddell, New Democrat - 15, 570
Kanman Wong, Conservative - 8,699

February 6, 2006: On his first day in office, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appoints David Emerson, now a de facto member of the Conservative Party, to his cabinet. Harper says there will not be a by-election in Vancouver Kingsway to consult the voters on Emerson's defection.

Feb. 8 update, from The Globe and Mail:
Dozens of Conservative MPs in the last House supported a NDP bill that would have required defectors to seek a new mandate in a by-election. ... Ontario Tory MP Helena Guergis was set to issue a press release yesterday morning reaffirming her support for the anti-crossing legislation. However, Mr. Harper made her parliamentary secretary to Mr. Emerson yesterday afternoon, and the press release was not issued.