Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nick Cohen Strikes Back At the "Smear-Job" Lie

"I go to great lengths to separate decent people from the scoundrels who lead them. I put their arguments as well as I can, and say they were right in all respects except one: they couldn't support their comrades in Iraq once the war was over."

Good for Nick.

As in the similarly-reviled Euston Manifesto: "We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted — rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention."

Agree with it or not, it's like I said: "Whatever else you might say about What's Left? you'd have to be pig-ignorant or a liar to write it off as a right-wing diatribe -- although that hasn't stopped many of Cohen's critics."

It sure didn't stop them from filling up the comments here, and one of them strayed so deep into Jew-bashing territory that not only did his disgusting remarks disappear, he himself vanished entirely. And someone will blame the Jews for that, too, I bet.

Which is another thing that's really starting to get to me. It's high time we started laying the blame where it belongs:

Blame Canada.

UPDATE: It's a bit like watching a trainwreck in progress, but if you're amused by berserking you won't want to miss the ongoing saga I refer to above, in the comments. Tyee editor David Beers and I are called bigots, and David, for banning comments persistently "derogatory towards Jewish people," is accused of taking offence to comments that "criticize Israel harshly" and unfairly objecting to views regarding "Jewish attitudes towards Palestinians and other Arabs." In a perverse way it's too bad the comment that set this off isn't still there (in which, as I recall, I was condemned for having a Jewish attitude about things or something), but I am happy to report that you can still read comments in which I am exposed as "gatekeeper" for "neocons and warlovers" and I tell "Goebbels type lies" as I go about my affairs, which consist of making "hateful neocon propaganda against the peace movement."

Which is a phenomenon I touched on here.

Peace out.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What's Left? A Chat With Nick Cohen About It All

More berserking about Cohen's book What's Left? ensued yesterday following Norm Geras and his take, and Oliver Kamm and his. Here's mine, in today's Tyee. One of things I asked Cohen when we spoke a couple of days ago is why, exactly, certain otherwise reasonable-sounding people tend to go batty when the questions he raises in his book are openly discussed.

“People don’t like admitting that there are significant disagreements within the left. It breaks the air of moral superiority and makes them seem more fragile,” he said. “So anyone who does disagree is immediately attacked, as though you can’t be left wing and find fault, as though we are all united and there are no cracks in the armour. So you’re anathematized as soon as you start talking out of it.”

You're also anathematized for having supported the invasion of Iraq - which Cohen did, for all the good reasons many people on the Left did. But Cohen points out that if he'd opposed the invasion - as did some of his fellow Euston Manifesto co-authors and many of its signers - it wouldn't have made What’s Left? all that different a book.

Kamm supported the invasion and hasn't backed down. Geras supported the invasion and has since said that if he'd known how things would have turned out, he wouldn't have. Shalom Lappin opposed the invasion (but Lappin's take on the trajectory of the Left complements Cohen's perfectly), and on it goes. But with the benefit of hindsight, what does Cohen say now?

“Maybe I wouldn’t. I don’t know. But if you were to ask me, `Would you turn the clock back and put Saddam Hussein back in power?’ I would find that very hard to say. If you were to have been given foresight at the time, and said, `Well look here, you see now what’s going to happen,’ then you’d also have to give the foresight to say, `This is what will happen if you leave Saddam Hussein in power.’ ”

No matter how badly things have gone in Iraq, those of us who were against the invasion have no right to get on a high horse about it, not just because the drama is still unfolding, but because none of us is clairvoyant. None of us can say that things would have turned out better if George W. Bush and Tony Blair had gone for a long walk one day and just decided then and there to drop the subject and leave Hans Blix to figure it all out.

All you have to do is say this out loud to see how stupid it sounds. "Things would have been better if they'd just left Saddam Hussein in power."

Try it. See?

There comes a point where all these might-have-beens become completely irrelevant. We're actually long past that point: It occurred on March 20, 2003, when the bombs started falling. From that moment on, the Left, all over the world - in government and in the streets - should have come to the aid of Iraqi democrats, Iraqi teachers, Iraqi feminists, trade unionists and socialists. It didn't. There were exceptions, of course. But in the main, the Left was paralyzed.

Cohen sets out to explain the reasons why this was the case, and he traces the paralysis to its origins (the book is by no means just about Iraq or the contemporary "anti-war" movement). I think Cohen does a splendid job, and I think What's Left? is a brave book, a smart book, and damn well-written, in the bargain.

Agree with him or not, anyone who says Cohen's book is just a "smear job" is someone who's trying to hide something. And if you think what Cohen has to say has no direct relevance to Canada, you simply haven't been paying any attention at all.

Ralph (Tiger) Michell, Friend And Fighter, Is Dead

Anyone familiar with the struggles of aboriginal people for land rights in North America will be aware of the Supreme Court of Canada decision Delgamuukw Vs. The Queen, the leading case on aboriginal title in Canada. And anyone familiar with the logging-road and rail-line blockades and all the lower-court skirmishing that led to the Delgamuukw decision will be familiar with the name, Ralph "Tiger" Michell.

Tiger died this afternoon of a massive heart attack. That's all I know at the moment.

Tiger was an old friend. He was the best man at my wedding and my son Eamonn's godfather. He was more formally known as Wii Seeks, the Gitksan fireweed-clan hereditary chief from the Kispiox Valley.

Tiger was persistently cheerful no matter the adversity. He was brave, compassionate, funny, stubborn, and always ready to see the good side in people. He got the nickname Tiger when he was a teenager in Gitanmaax, owing to his refusal to back away from any fight he found himself in. He showed his mettle for leadership in the villages along the Skeena River as the vice-president of the sawmill workers' local union of the International Woodworkers of America. He went on to become a leader in the Gitksan land-rights battles.

Tiger, who was as fluent and literate in English as he was in his native Gitxsanimaax, was raised by Waigyet (Elsie Morrison) and David Gun-an-noot, son of the famous Simon Gun-an-noot, who eluded provincial police and American Pinkertons for 13 years in the heavily-forested Gitksan country after being charged with the murder of a white man and a "half-breed" near Hagwilget in 1906 (Simon turned himself in in 1919, stood trial in Vancouver, and was acquitted of the charges).

During the land battles of the 1980s and 1990s, Tiger did a lot more than just stare down Mounties at roadblocks. He served his people as vice-president of the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en Tribal Council, as president of the local legal services society, and as an intepreter for the legal team in the Delgamuukw case.

After the victory, Tiger headed back to work in the bush. And that's how I'll remember him the best, from those days. You'd find him way back in the hills, roaring down the Kuldo Main in a battered old Ford F-150 company truck, when he was working for Skeena Cellulose helping loggers figure out where the new cutblock lines were and how to deal with the new Forest Practices Code rules.

And it would be raining on South Town and New Town, on Gitsegukla and Gitwangak, raining on Indians and Umshewa and everyone in between, and Tiger would be out there in the rain and the slash, working hard, for decent wages. And he was happy.


Updated Wednesday morning: An old friend, Doug Donaldson, reports that there will be a smoke feast in Kispiox this afternoon, a celebration of life/memorial service tomorrow and a funeral and feast on Saturday.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hail Conquering Heroes (Human Curling Division)

"The first solitudes of Vancouver and B.C. were not English and French, they were Scottish and Chinese," said Wong, a fifth-generation Chinese-Canadian and proud kilt-wearer known as "Toddish McWong" at this time of year.

Which is to follow up from this, with McWong's more complete report here. We've all rather let down the side on the Haggis-eating-record attempt. No matter. There's always Sunday.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

But What, And But Where, Is The Old Mole Now?

By way of a response to The Enigmatic One: Is the old mole still burrowing along, traveling through purgatory? Is it just curious conscience, still lording its strength for the darkness? Are you really as sure as Rosa was that there is no third way?

I'm not so sure. For all I know it could be this guy.

Multiculturalism: The Year Of The Pig With Haggis

Dragon-cart races, human curling with MC and play-by-play announcer Toddish McWong (the fabulous Todd Wong) and his attempt to set a world's record for the largest number of people eating haggis at one time - all taking place as I write this.

Which leaves only three days to go before Vancouver's annual Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner at the Floata, on Keefer Street in the heart of Chinatown, with Haggis Won Ton and Haggis Dim Sum and an array of delights.

Todd has teamed up with master piper Joseph McDonald of Brave Waves ("world music fusion with bagpipes, South Asian tabla drums, chinese flute, sitar. . .") and Trevor Chan of the No Luck Club (a "Chinese-Canadian instrumental hip hop band") to make some weird rap music.

Asked whether he has any Scots in his ancestry, this is what Todd Wong will tell you: "All Canadians have Scottish heritage. . . as they do Chinese heritage."

And that, comrades, is how you do multiculturalism.

(NB Commandante Will got me thinking about this.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

London Calling: The Whole World Is Upside Down

"In the past conservatives made excuses for fascism because they mistakenly saw it as a continuation of their democratic rightwing ideas. Now, overwhelmingly and everywhere, liberals and leftists are far more likely than conservatives to excuse fascistic governments and movements, with the exception of their native far-right parties. As long as local racists are white, they have no difficulty in opposing them in a manner that would have been recognisable to the traditional left. But give them a foreign far-right movement that is anti-Western and they treat it as at best a distraction and at worst an ally."

That's from Nick Cohen's What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way, which is excerpted at length in the Observer today. I expect to be reviewing What's Left? in my Dissent column soon.

Over at the Sunday Times, Christopher Hitchens observes: "Cohen has no problem with those who are upset about state-sponsored exaggerations of the causes of war, or furious about the bungled occupation of Iraq that has ensued. People who think this is the problem are not his problem. Here’s his problem: the people who would die before they would applaud the squaddies and grunts who removed hideous regimes from Afghanistan and Iraq, yet who happily describe Islamist video-butchers and suicide-murderers as a “resistance”.

The book has set off the usual berserking, in spades.

Cohen is a writer I've long admired. His web page is here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

`Has Anyone Actually Been Put In Prison?'

"As if going to prison was the only way to pay the price. This is the price. This is the price."

And this, and this, and this, and around the world, 82 killed in 2006.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pot Prince Emery, Still Sticking It To The Man

Facing extradition to the United States and the possibility of a life sentence without parole - for doing only what he says he's been doing openly, in Vancouver, for a decade - Marc Emery and his supporters see something sinister at work: A foul American violation of Canadian sovereignty, and a supine Canadian government letting it happen.

Vancouver-East New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies says Vancouver cops were used as foot soldiers in the U.S. war on drugs: “It feels to me like the long arm of U.S. enforcement reaching into Canada.”

The nationalist Council of Canadians says the proceedings “raise serious questions about Canada’s sovereignty over law enforcement.” The Canadian Action Party says the case goes to “the core of being Canadian, being a sovereign nation, being able to make decisions we choose in our interest, in our own time, on our own terms.”

That’s what you’ll hear from voices as disparate as Province columnist Ian Mulgrew (“an outrageous infringement of Canadian sovereignty”) and the Communist Party of Canada - Marxist-Leninist (“No to the Extradition of B.C. Marijuana Party Officials! Annexation No! Sovereignty Yes!”)

Sorry, but that's not the explanation I propose in my Chronicles column today.

Why is Emery in this mess, then?

“My mentor is Ayn Rand,” Emery told me, referring to the American anti-state prophet of selfishness beloved of right-wing libertarians. Long before Emery got into the marijuana business, he’d already had a history of civil disobedience as a bookshop proprietor in London, Ontario, in protests against Sunday shopping bans, obscenity laws, and even street-sign bylaws.
During our conversation, Emery reiterated his view that Canada’s universal health-care system should be scrapped, and public schools should be abolished in favour of a voucher system allowing parents a free choice of private tutors for their children. And no public funds should be spent on medical care for anyone over the age of 70, either.

Make of that whatever you like, but don't tell me it's about chafing against Yankee Imperialism.


Elsewhere, Ivan Coyote has written her first novel. Grant Shilling talks to her about it here: Working Class Dignity. You can be pretty dang certain Bow Grip will be excellent.

"The longest journey of my life was a short one..."

In the middle of May in 1988, late on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my nine-year-old son Jesse disappeared from a hollow near a trail not far from the house on Island Beach where he was born. That afternoon we found only two signs. One was a large, fresh print of a cougar's foot -- just one, pressed into the brown, speckled sand -- on the next beach near a creek. The other was Jesse's orange rubber ball, tennis-size, in the woods, on the trail near where my son-in-law left him while on a walk. The ball on the ground I can still see clearly; throbbing against the wet green, looking so out of place; but whole, globelike, as if orbiting. . .

That's from Tofino's Frank Harper, out of his book Journeys. Our comrade Grant Shilling introduces Tyee readers to Frank and his stories here.

Speaking of books, news comes from John Parsley at Thomas Dunne Books in New York: My book Waiting for the Macaws, coming out in the U.S. with Thomas Dunne in April as The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among The Lost and the Left Behind, just got a "starred review" in Publishers' Weekly, which is apparently a pretty good thing. There's a chapter in the book called Ghost of the Woods, woven around a history of cougars in North America since the Pleistocene. The idea for that chapter began with a cover story I wrote for Canadian Geographic.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Birds Die En Masse In Texas, Colorado, Australia

This: AUSTIN, Texas - Police shut down 10 blocks in downtown Austin for several hours Monday after 63 birds were found dead in the street, but officials said preliminary tests found no threat to people.

And this: THOUSANDS of birds have fallen from the skies over Esperance and no one knows why. Is it an illness, toxins or a natural phenomenon? A string of autopsies in Perth have shed no light on the mystery. All the residents of flood-devastated Esperance know is that their "dawn chorus" of singing birds is missing.

Then this: LONGMONT — About 40 dead birds littered a short stretch of U.S. Highway 287 south of the city Tuesday. Boulder County health officials and the Colorado Division of Wildlife were still coordinating efforts late afternoon to investigate the site, just south Mooring Road.

Noticed by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas from Rocking Raven up in Haida Gwaii. Probably some weird coincidence. I hope.

Time to clock out and go for a pint.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hinterland Who's Who: Andrew Struthers Is Who

Here's Andrew pointing an accusing finger at his evil twin Velcrow Ripper, and here you'll find Andrew telling the whole sordidly hilarious tale of his short film Spiders on Drugs, and his encounters with Youtube, and Comedy Central and not, thankfully, the rental agency: "The funny thing is, I've been showing the script for Spiders On Drugs to Canadian film producers for seven years. Nobody bit. I could have made a thousand of these little films in the meantime, but I was tied up with committees and meetings."

For more on Andrew, see this, which I posted last week, around the same time Andrew first posted the wee film on Youtube. Since then - last time I checked, anyway - Spiders On Drugs had been viewed 1,241,113 times. For more about Andrew's encounters with the world as a bigshot Canadian feature-film mogul, see this.

To appreciate the hilarity of it all, it's not necessary to have grown up with that melancholy flute music in your head, from all those grainy little public service films from the Canadian Wildlife Service about the woodchuck and the loon and the beaver and the rest. But it helps. The video library is here. And yes, the narrator in Andrew's short film really is the same guy.

Once again, with feeling:

Against Some Enemies, Nonviolence Isn't Enough

These days, when my thoughts turn to the increasingly desperate need for steadfast and principled non-violent resistance in the face of war and brutality around the world, I think of an especially brave man, a 46-year-old school teacher in the Afghan city of Ghazni.

His name was Mohammed Halim. He persisted in teaching young girls, despite repeated threats from the Taliban. Late last year, in the middle of the night, Halim was dragged from his crying children and his pleading wife. His body was later found in bits and pieces, in a heap, as a warning to other teachers.

I also think of the struggle being waged by the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, a socialist and anti-war party the Pashtun people are increasingly turning to, in open defiance of the Taliban, right in the Taliban's Pashtun heartlands traversing the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The case of Mohammed Halim and of the heroic struggle of the Pakhtunkhwa serve as grim reminders that non-violent resistance to oppression is always right, proper and necessary, but sometimes it must also be accompanied by force of arms. Against certain kinds of enemies, non-violence just isn't enough.

However unpleasant this might be, it's the way the world is, and to pretend that it isn't is to harbour something the great British essayist and novelist George Orwell, writing in the Partisan Review in 1942, succinctly described as "a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security."

It's rare that a single text comes along that presents the persistence of that illusion in all its contemporary folly -- the "state" is bad, the "west" is always wrong -- but sadly, that's what's on offer in Mark Kurlansky's Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library, 2006).

That's from my Dissent column in today's Tyee.

Oliver Kamm takes a slightly different tack, but reaches the same sort of conclusion, only much harsher. It's a "foul and stupid" book: "Mark Kurlansky, author of bestselling histories of Cod and of Salt, has thus written a book that I initially thought was shady and disgusting, but turns out mainly to be historically illiterate, morally vacuous and professionally incompetent."

There are some who disagree with that judgment. But Kurlansky does strain one's patience:

"Perhaps the book was written for personal reasons: It seems that young Kurlansky was big but wimpy. He says his size made him a moving target, and he was often challenged to schoolyard fights by plucky little classmates with something to prove. A born enthusiast of nonviolence, Kurlansky dealt with the attacks by "raising his arms to cover his head and weaving to avoid the blows." Maybe all those beating by midgets gave him a chip on the shoulder that needed exorcising in 184 quick and dirty pages of widely spaced type."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hughes Follows Griffiths On A Last Trip Up-Coast

E.J. Hughes is dead. I've long been a fan of his paintings. Captured the working-class landscapes of this coast like nobody else.

Much of Mr. Hughes's focus was on quintessential B.C. sights that are now vanishing -- fishing fleets, log jams and steamships.

Pat Salmon, a long-time friend of the 93-year-old artist, had planned to pick him up for lunch Saturday, but she instead sent an ambulance to his house when Mr. Hughes said he was having breathing problems.

He was rushed to hospital in Duncan, where he died of cardiac arrest.

Found out via Keefer.

Last month, my pal Grant Shilling, author of The Cedar Surf (#10 in my Transmontanus series), wrote a fine tribute to Bus Griffiths, the artist-logger and graphic-novel writer who died late last year.

Mr. Griffiths's work was first seen during the Second World War in an eight-page pamphlet about logging that was intended for children. Later, an editor at the industry magazine, The BC Lumberman, encouraged him to produce a series of comic strips on the subject. Eventually, they became Now You're Logging, first published in 1978 by Harbour Publishing.

They're not making them like that anymore.

Some of Hughes' work can be found here. A Labour/Le Travail overview of Griffiths' work is here.

And Who Are The Happiest People In The World?

These days, it would appear to be the Danes, tied with the Swiss. Last year it was the Puerto Ricans. Or maybe the Australians. Three years ago, Nigerians came in first. It's a bit disorienting. This guy says happy people are crazy: they're burdened with "major affective disorder, pleasant type."

In the New Statesman, Nick Cohen tries to sort it out with the help of the economist Andrew Oswald:

Novelists, poets and psychologists have always thought about happiness. Oswald has found a way of counting it. And this miserabilist approach, this calculus of contentment whose utilitarianism seems against all the spontaneity we associate with happiness, may be a great intellectual breakthrough, precisely because it translates feelings into figures.

If the political interest and the sales of popular "happiness economics" books are a guide, Oswald has provided a tool that will change the way people think, as his once sceptical colleagues are beginning to realise.

"I just have to click on the internet now, and every week there are new papers on happiness written by people I've never met, never heard of," he says.


Here's the World Database of Happiness. Here's Happiness and Public Policy.

I'm feeling postively chipper.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Is Neoconservatism dead, or just brain damaged?

“Neoconservatism, one of the dominant ideologies of the past decade, was decisively wiped out in the past six months, slaughtered along with a good number of innocent people in the imbroglio of the Iraq war – a conflict that was devised as a pure test of the neoconservative concept.”

There are a lot of people who would quibble with that, but Globe and Mail European bureau chief Doug Saunders, writing in this weekend’s paper (behind a subscription wall here) presents an assessment of the foreign-policy aspects of "neoconservatism" that is the most clear-eyed and honest I've read in a daily newspaper. It's especially valuable for a saucy question Saunders raises about neoconservatives: "Did they represent, for those of us who consider ourselves progressives, the only group of conservatives who are ever likely to share our values? Were they the conservatives leftists could love?"

My answer would be no, they're not. Not for Canadians of the left, anyway.

Of course it depends what one means when one says `neoconservative': "To many Canadians on the left, it was a way of saying American, in the worst possible sense of the word. For some, it was code for Jewish, and was at the root of many sinister conspiracies involving oil, money, and Washington. Even other conservatives, of the non-neo variety, took to calling the neocons "cowboys" or "imperialists."

Seen through the eyes of "an intelligent leftist," though, what neoconservativism did promise, despite its pathetic domestic obsessiveness with dismantling the state, was a break from paleoconservative isolationism of the kind that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda and the Balkans, just for starters. Of the liberal left that found at the least the basis for a foreign-policy conversation with some neoconservatives, Saunders cites Michael ("I'm cautiously in favour of a military operation on humanitarian grounds against Saddam Hussein under certain circumstances") Ignatieff, and Saunders also takes the time to have a chat with Oliver Kamm, author of the deliberately cheeky title Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case For a Neoconservative Foreign Policy.

Many like-minded people on the left are associated with the Euston Manifesto, which takes an ad-hominum drubbing from the unreconstructed left - the standard, unintentionally funny melange of half-truth and hyperbole - here.

Saunders offers two ways to look at the failure in Iraq.

One: Saddam's overthrow was not accompanied by the necessary "social spending, the aid money, the nation building" because the entire project was left to American neoconservatives. "If that's the case, countries like Canada have a lot to answer for, and the anti-war movement has a lot of blood on its hands." Alternatively: The Iraq project was doomed to failure because it could never have succeeded under neoconservative leadership. They just don't "do" nation-building.

Saunders observes that the latter analysis is now the default position of neoconservativism's repentant architects, such as Francis Fukiyama (who now says neoconservatism is now so irretrievably associated with George W. Bush that any attempt at reviving it would likely be futile) and Kenneth Adelman, who concludes that after everything that's happened in Iraq, it's just "not going to sell."

But out of this Saunders sees something hopeful emerging, "a more socially-focussed form of nation-building," with "elements of a social-democratic, progressive foreign policy."

I'd hope so.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Seven Deadliest Sins I Committed in 2006

I set them out in my Chronicles column this week.

Why, I keep getting asked, have I suddenly decided to go after the left? Never mind that nothing sudden has happened here, and never mind whether it’s really the “left” I’ve been going after. I reckon I owe everybody an explanation.

That's what I attempt.

So, in hindsight, is there anything in those seven columns I wish I’d written differently?

I deeply regret to say, no. Not one dang word.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hinterland Who's Who: The Wood Spider on Drugs

"The Crack Cocaine Spider figured that building webs was for suckahs. He waited until the Caffeine Spider was exhausted, then came up behind it and popped a cap in its ass. . . for more information on the Crack Spider's bitch, contact the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa."

Filmmaker/Author/Artist Andrew Struthers is an auld chum. I was pleased to bring his book The Green Shadow to my Transmontanus series (it was one of our first), and I use his The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan in a course I teach at UBC. More of Andrew's short and weird films are here. You can hear Andrew giving out of himself here.

For some reason I found myself thinking about Andrew when I was reading this: Canadian Wins Damages In False Pie-Assault Arrest. I think it was the line: "He was too far away and was not in possession of a pie," British Columbia Supreme Court Judge David Tysoe wrote in his ruling. . .

Not implying anything. Just saying.