Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My New Year's Resolution: No More Mr. Nice Guy

As we all know, the Global Jewish plutocracy, having made "the wealth of the century at the expense of the economies of the world," is preparing to put in motion 'war machines' in various hot spots around the globe "in order to control the price of oil, redistribute the world's natural resources and start a new cycle of weapons production."

Well, sorry (for all you Johnny Foreigners, "sorry" means "good morning" in Canadian), but that's not sufficiently ambitious. Here's the deal. We're taking this over, and here's how:

1. The systematic destruction and sublimation of all opposing our inevitable Canadian reign – and the polite, yet horrifically brutal, control of our future territories of conquest.

2. Infiltrating the USA and through a cleverly designed plan, destroying it, and using its resources for our own purposes.

3. Demonstrating to the world that Canada is the final and ultimate power.

4. Decontaminating the world of Non-Canadian influence. Reorganizing a New World Society of Canucks to suit our loving, kindly, peaceful and diabolical aims.

We'll be carrying this out with the help of our Mossad paymasters, of course, and we've already got the green light from the Ard Feis back in the Holy Land, where the example of the Glavin family's ancestral village should serve to reassure the world how happily painless this can be, so long as you play along: "The following morning they returned not to where they had left the night before but to the new distillery a few hundred yards away, from here they carried on their craft as if nothing had happened."

In the meantime, everyone remain calm.

All polite and submissive non-Canadians will be welcomed into our fold come our time of ultimate tyranny. Those who show automatic obedience to perceived authority, a fondness for a Tims double-double, and/or demonstrate a tendency for self-effacing introspection are especially assured of Canadian citizenship once our annexation begins.

Resistance is futile:

“If you support democracy and peace for Palestinians and Israelis, Hamas has to go.”

"Canadians who support peace and human rights for all people must demand that Hamas give up its violence or give way to Palestinian leaders who truly want a state more than they want Jewish blood. Palestinians need an intifada against the tyranny of Hamas. When this happens, a Palestinian state at peace with Israel will be possible. That is a goal all Canadians should be in solidarity with."

It doesn't get clearer than that. It's from a succinct and saucy essay by my comrade Jonathon Narvey (in the photo, with the brolly), one of my co-founders at the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, in today's Vancouver Province.

While everyone's been droning on about Israel's conduct in recent days, it's refreshing to see the focus properly turned on the culpability of Hamas in the sufferings of the Palestinians, and I see Michael Weiss has written a splendid and finely balanced essay setting out the complicity of Hamas in it all. Most pertinently, from my point of view - what with all the demented braying about Israeli "genocide" these days - Weiss points to this report last year from B'Tselem, the eagle-eyed observer of human rights violations in the Occupied Territories.

The report documents the slaughter of at least 344 Palestinians over the space of a few months by the Palestinian "leadership," which is to say Hamas and the Iz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades and their rivals among Fatah loyalists and the Palestinian Authority security forces. Thousands were injured in the bloodbath. The casualties were mainly in Gaza. The terror included summary executions, illegal arrests, torture, the deliberate crippling of prisoners by gunshots, revenge attacks, abductions, and looting. I guess it doesn't count as a Palestinian "genocide" when Hamas and Fatah are doing it.

But one man's genocide is another man's justice - at least if we are to believe the likes of the troops-out darling Nir Rosen, whose recent essay about terrorism in the Guardian could stand as a manifesto of the moral and intellectual pathologies that corrupt the "anti-imperialist" and "anti-war" discourse among the elites of the world's rich countries. A couple of months ago, I set out my thoughts on Why Nir Rosen Isn't To Be Trusted. He's confirmed that now in spades. Short version: Murdering civilians is perfectly justified so long as the murderer is "weak" and he's doing it in order to stick it to the man. For a much more sophisticated, withering and forensic critique of Rosen's illness, Norm Geras is an absolute must-read.

And at the risk of allowing the shibboleth of proportionality to enter the conversation again, could we all just take a deep breath before we get up on our hind legs about Israel declaring its border zone with Gaza a no-go area for journalists, and perhaps remember to keep in our thoughts the 11 Palestinian journalists that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have chucked in jail and held without trial in recent months?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Debasement of Language: "Israeli Genocide"

With the Israeli Air Force continuing its ongoing retaliation against Hamas, the columnist David Aaronovitch is not what you could call a cheerleader for the Israeli side. He raises some useful criticisms, along the "this sort of thing never works" line, favouring instead an emphasis on more carrot, less stick.

Then he turns to what I consider a more important observation, which he begins by being facetious: "But why speak about such things when we can hold up placards equating Jews with Nazis, emote over dead babies or talk tough about defending Israeli citizens?" He goes on to suggest that Israel's critics would do well to behave like grown-ups, but: "If we are to do this then the friends of the Palestinians would be best advised to put pressure on Hamas never to launch another of its bloody rockets and to stop its death-laden rhetoric, and the friends of Israel well placed to cajole it into making a settlement seem worthwhile. All else is verbiage."

All well and good, but the problem is worse than mere verbiage. In Iran, the people are told Israel’s genocide in Gaza reveals the nature of what the US leaders consider to be the human rights. And they are told Gaza Slaughter Condemned as Genocide. In the Saudi Gazette, we read: Stop Gaza Genocide. In the Gulf Times: Qatar has condemned the savage Israeli raids on Gaza and the genocide operations perpetrated by the Israeli forces against the Palestinian people.

On it goes like that, and one can to some degree excuse the "Arab street" for being so wrong about what's happening in Gaza that not an eyebrow is raised when the word "genocide" gets chucked around so liberally. In countries with low literacy levels and no press freedom, people can't be expected to do nuance very well. The Arab despotisms, and indeed most Islamic republics, consistently rank at the bottom of the 173-nation press freedom index maintained by Reporters Without Borders: "Free expression continues to be no more than a dream in Iraq (158th), Syria (159th), Libya (160th), Saudi Arabia (161st), the Palestinian Territories (163rd) and Iran (166th)."

Note the 163rd place ranking of the Palestinian territories, down from 82nd place six years ago. Rashid Shahin explains why.

But then there's this: "The Palestinian resistance in Gaza has been retaliating to the Israeli genocide in Gaza and fired Sunday three rockets at Ashdod and Ashkelon, 40 km away from Strip." That's from the British magazine alJazeera, based in Manchester. And in the Toronto Star, Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, says: "People are suffering and dying. There is an actual genocide taking place." And in the same article, Sid Ryan, president of CUPE Ontario, says: "I want to condemn in the strongest terms the acts of genocide committed by Israel this weekend," he said.

Michelle Sieff notices the same kind of deranged hyper-propaganda abroad in South Africa, and asks: "Isn’t Hamas the political entity which calls for the destruction of Israel in its charter?" She answers: "It is Hamas which has 'genocidal intentions,' not Israel."

Go to Google News and type the words Gaza and genocide, and you will get 640 results, as of this afternoon. Type Gaza holocaust and you'll get 1,007 results. A Google blog search for Gaza genocide turns up 77,501 results as of 2:20 p.m. today.

This is not just "verbiage." This is not just about Muslims being driven half-mad by the bloodcurdling lies they read in their state-sponsored newspapers.

Something else is going on.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel, Gaza, and 'The Left.'

Eric Lee of Labourstart states the obvious, which should not be necessary, but is necessary, anyway: "Israel is defending itself against an uncompromising fascist enemy, and while it is entirely legitimate to debate its tactics and to insist that it make the utmost effort to spare civilian lives, a decent Left should have no difficulty saying which side it is on."

For an outstanding example of the falsifications, misrepresentation and absurd circumlocutions the indecent Canadian left is obliged to practice in order to sustain its irrational hatred of Israel in the context of ongoing events in Gaza, read this. It's all there, in one neat package. It's one-stop shopping: Israel is guilty of slaughter, atrocities, war crimes and massacres, prosecuted according to its own "genocidal logic," and the ultimate blame lies with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Stephen Harper, Condoleezza Rice, the European Union. . . everyone but Hamas.

If you prefer your hyperbolic idiocy succinctly stated in a single sentence, then Sid Ryan is your man: "I want to condemn in the strongest terms the acts of genocide committed by Israel this weekend." Thank you, brother Ryan.

UPDATE: Here's a video of the demonstration against the "Israeli terrorist state apartheid regime" in Vancouver today (to their credit, these people appear to have at least abandoned the fraudulent claim to be part of an "anti-war" movement). About half way through, the camera turns to my good comrade Jonathon Narvey among a small group of pro-Israel supporters, across the street. He explains the difference between his side and the other in a single, plain statement: "We want peace for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. They don't."

Edmund Standing notices a certain pattern: "The continuing attacks on Israel from those who claim to favour civilised values are based on a perverse inversion of reality. When theocratic devotees of a Jihadist death cult launch murderous attacks on Israeli civilians, the fashionable approach is to ‘understand’ these criminal actions. And when Israel, in a very limited way, fights back against this violence being directed at its civilian population it encounters a firestorm of criticism and abuse, being accused of ‘racism’ and painted as a bloodthirsty monster that delights in ’slaughtering’ and ‘massacring’ women and children."

For a properly progressive critique of Israel's current strategy, you can always rely on Ami Isseroff: "The Israeli action is justified and long overdue. But the real question is, 'What can it accomplish?'" That's the question Lisa Goldman has been asking, and the answer she settles on is not exactly encouraging: "I am against the attacks on Gaza because they won’t work. Neither air force bombardments nor a ground invasion will stop the Qassams. In fact, the IAF and IDF attacks will make life more dangerous and disturbing for the residents of Sderot and the western Negev, because Hamas and Islamic Jihad will respond by increasing their rocket barrages."

We will see. For the time being, there is only one proper response: Solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis. For the time being, this will require acceptance of being in a minority position on the left. But that is what it has come to, because this is what it has come to:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

On The Fate Of Post-Soviet 'Imitation Democracies'; Expect Four More Afghanistans

In New Left Review, Dmitri Furman provides an overview of democratic development throughout the 15 states that emerged from the collapse of the USSR. He groups them into three categories - democratic, authoritarian, and a third type that has switched between the two. This last group includes "imitation democracies" that are doomed to crisis and collapse:

"Increased control over society means the atrophy of ‘feedback mechanisms’. Once elections become pure fiction and the media are on a tight leash, the authorities lose all sense of what is happening in the country. The strengthening of control leads, ‘dialectically’, to a loss of control. The quality of the elite deteriorates, due to systematic promotion of the weakest and most servile. Corruption reaches monstrous proportions. Legitimacy disappears, since there is no alternative ideology and democracy itself becomes an increasingly transparent fiction."

Afghanistan's northern neighbours, already political dungheaps to varying degrees, should be expected to convulse in the coming years: "I foresee there being Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek and Turkmen ‘revolutions’, which will not conform to the ‘colour’ model, or necessarily lead to democracy."

It's not called 'the long war' for nothing. But where does it lead?

"I am convinced that democracy will triumph everywhere. It is a necessary component of modernity."

"Message: Do Not Fuck With The Jews."

In the UK, the editorialists at the Independent wonder whether "counterproductive" rather than "disproportionate" is the better term to deploy in considering, say, a possible ground assault on Gaza: "There are, in any case, problems with the notion of proportionality in situations such as these. No state can be expected to tolerate rockets being launched at its civilians."

In the Irish Times, Zion Evrony writes: "Regarding the issue of proportionality concerning Israel's military operation, it is important to note that the principle of self-defence, according to international law, states that military actions must be measured in terms of the total threat facing a country. As such, the right to self-defence includes not just actions taken to neutralise the immediate threat, but also those taken to prevent subsequent attacks."

More to the point, Marty Peretz at the New Republic: "Frankly, I am up to my gullet with this reflex criticism of Israel as going beyond proportionality in its responses to war waged against its population with the undisguised intention of putting an end to the political expression of the Jewish nation. . . Enough. What would be proportionate, oh, so so proportionate apparently, are those tried-and-true half measures to contain Hamas that have never worked."

Better still, George Szirtes on the same subject: "But what would be proportionate? How would one go about arranging a proportionate response? Make sure one was firing duds? Aiming to miss? Executing a Hamas prisoner? Would that be internationally welcomed?"

UPDATE - George Jonas: "Certainly Israel has tolerated insurgents terrorizing civilian populations to a much greater extent than the U. S. (or, for that matter, Canada) ever would. In Canada, prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in response to a few mailbox bombs and two kidnappings by the Front de liberation du Quebec. Agree with Trudeau or not, it took just one murder (Pierre Laporte), one maiming (Sergeant-Major Walter Leja) and one abduction (James Cross) to send tanks rumbling down the streets of Montreal in 1970."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

There's Only One Proper Response Available: Solidarity With Palestinians & Israelis

Sage counsel from Eamonn McDonagh: "Israel must take every possible care to avoid civilian casualities and there should be no limits placed on the entry of food and medicine into the Strip. It should also strive to kill as many political and military leaders as it can."

Similarly, Bradley Burston, who looks forward to the election one day of an Arab as Israel's prime minister: "Nothing has been more instrumental in harming the cause of Palestinian independence than Hamas, with its brutal take-over of Gaza in a war with brother Palestinians, and its frank efforts to build a large-scale regular army force in the Strip." Keep an eye on Burston for a dissection of "the Alpha-male displays of the Israel-bashing right, the group which constantly berates the government and the IDF for not bombing Gaza into a parking lot, for not shooting and starving and freezing innocent civilians to death."

Let's remember that the Hamas leadership knew this was coming and looked forward to it, and only two days ago they were eagerly anticipating
"joining the bandwagon of martyrs." The IDF, taking every caution not just to minimize but to avoid civilian casualties altogether, should do its very best to oblige them, and send them on their way.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Experts say a lot of things.

Christmas plant not toxic, experts say. Healthy eating can include Christmas treats, experts say. Oliver Twist wouldn't have needed more gruel in real life, experts say. Canada losing grip on arctic agenda, experts say. Women best at assembling IKEA furntiure, experts say. Wealthy people deprived of true meaning of Christmas, experts say:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tagged (The Working Life)

Jeez. This things are like chain letters. But what the hell:

Truckweld mechanics helper, Bakery Workers Union on-call, freelance writer (Georgia Straight mostly), butcher shop clerk, human rights officer (working with Sikh and Chinese youth groups, Quebecois farmworker kids), that kind of thing. First union job - making licence plates at Oakalla prison (the prisoners rioted, refused to do it, so they hired us kids from the neighbourhood).

College, then: Reporter, labour columnist, assistant city editor at the old Daily Columbian, various interregna with the Newspaper Guild; then to the Vancouver Sun as reporter, columnist, assistant city editor, with brief stint in India for the Globe and Mail. Got a buyout from the company, went straight to the track with it. Started writing books.

Various giggage: In Ottawa with the Native Council of Canada (and in Joe Clark's shop, of all places) on the aboriginal self-government constitutional amemendment that went down in flames with the Charlottetown Accord; Analyst, B.C. Treaty Commission; short stints at gillnet deckhanding and working with the Fraser River tribal fisheries authority; Treaty researcher, Katzie First Nation; founding member, Pacific Fisheries Research Conservation Council, misc. research projects with the Sierra Club, David Suzuki Foundation, Watershed Watch and so on.

All the while, writing lots. Straight column, Globe and Mail column, magazine features. Still doing magazine writing and freelancing for the dailies, writing books from home and away, editing my own imprint/series (Transmontanus), occasional Tyee column, and part-time adjunct teaching gig at UBC, MFA Creative Writing Program. If anyone knows of an afternoon shift forklift job in a warehouse, let me know.

I'm tagging Jim, Johnny, Jay and Jonathon, because their names start with the letter "J," for job. And they will hold me in contempt for it, prolly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What Effective Progressive Activism Really Looks Like

A glimpse, in today's Globe and Mail, from a profile of our pal Lauryn Oates, co-founder of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.

Contrary to naysayers, Ms. Oates said, ordinary Afghans want international aid and intervention. "People have this incredible resilience," she said. "If they're willing to go on, we have to be behind them. The least we can do is stand by them. This is not about charity or pity."

For the opposite of progressive politics (the kind that animates the "anti-war left" in Canada today) and which our friends over at Shiraz Socialist have properly characterized as "a piece of propaganda for a fascist movement that would have been shocking six or seven years back, but wouldn’t raise an eyebrow now," you can read a thorough whitewash of the Taliban, if you can bear it, in International Socialism.

Shiraz notes that the IS apologist for the Taliban observes: ". . .almost all the feminists have collaborated with the occupation, or the NGOs or Karzai’s government. So have most former Communists, the returned Afghan-Americans, the ‘modernisers’ and the ’secular’ liberals." I wonder why. Could it be because they want a fledgeling democracy over fascist theocracy? What sellouts!

Better to just read Shiraz, so you won't feel soiled.

In a related line of inquiry, elsewhere today, the splendid Johnny Guitar from Belfast has bashed together a fine wee essay: The Immorality of Pacifism, The Necessity of Intervention, taking apart the arguments of the otherwise intelligent Peter Tatchell, in the context of Zimbabwe and Mugabe (for what it's worth, I lean to the just-shoot-the-bastard side of the debates).

And in what should sorely upset the 'Hands Off Iran' crowd, Ben Cohen makes a necessary observation:

More than three hundred news outlets, including CNN, the BBC, the Associated Press and the other majors, have reported the Iranian regime’s closure of a human rights center run by Shirin Ebadi. But there’s one outlet which hasn’t done so, despite its attempt to pass itself off as a legitimate news organization.

I refer, of course, to Holocaust-denial outfit Press TV, which selects news not on the basis of an editorially independent survey of what’s actually happening in the world, but on what its paymasters in Tehran decide is fit for consumption.

No pasaran.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Today's National Post: "In Afghanistan, An Air Of Hope."

. . .It was no great surprise, then, that the postures of the "anti-war" movement based in the world's rich countries leave the Afghan activists I interviewed utterly mystified. Without exception, the proposition that the 39-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is merely a tool of Western imperialism was greeted with derision. As for the notion that the way forward in Afghanistan involves the withdrawal of foreign troops and some kind of brokered pact with the Taliban, the response was invariably wide-eyed incredulity.

There was a range of opinion on these subjects, of course. At one end there was bemusement, and at the other was fury, with a great deal of worry and dread in between. . . Here in the 'west,' none of us on the liberal left would fail to recognise these brave women and men as our comrades and allies, and if we were to flatter ourselves we might even imagine them to be our Afghan counterparts. On the question of troop withdrawal, their views were varied and nuanced, but their answer was ultimately the same: Stay.

And yet this is not the position that the left has been fighting for, in the main, in Europe or North America. It changes by degree from country to country, of course, and the left's positions are varied and nuanced. But in Canada, the left's answer is pretty much unequivocal: Leave.

It's a slight abbreviated version of my essay in Democratiya, here.

The National Post version is accompanied by an editorial, "Our Mission in Afghanistan," with which there is much to agree, but which is also partly wrong, in two important ways.

Firstly, ". . .were we not to remain firm on our target withdrawal date, the Afghan government would not take seriously its need to bring its army and police up to the levels needed to maintain national and local security once we and other NATO nations are gone." Secondly, the editorial asserts that the Afghan people "have little taste for such Western preoccupations as feminism, free speech, due process, religious pluralism, literacy and even democracy itself. Our Canadian presumption that ordinary Afghans want the same sort of society we have, with the same sort of freedoms, turned out to be an act of psychological projection. . ."

On the first point, we don't need a firm target date to force the Afghan government to take more seriously the need to build up a competent and effective army and police force. ISAF and the U.S. have been taking this objective less seriously than the Afghan government has, and indeed NATO's laggardly approach to these challenges has been one of the prime causes of disaffection between Hamid Karzai and Britain's Gordon Brown.

More importantly, this business about Afghan disinterest in "Western preoccupations" such as women's rights, free speech, democracy and so on, is simply groundless and wrong. First, these values are not "western," and secondly, the vast majority of Afghans do want their version of "the same sort of freedoms" Canadians enjoy - including the right of women to work, to go to school, and to run for office - and they have said so, time and again, in poll after poll after poll.

Here's just a few:

National Democratic Institute of International Affairs: "Afghan Perspectives on Democracy: A Report on Focus Groups in the Kabul Area on the Eve of the Emergency Loya Jirga." May, 2002.

Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC): "Speaking Out: Afghan
Opinions on Rights and Responsibilities." November, 2003.

National Democratic Institute of International Affairs: "A Society in Transition: Focus Group Discussions in Afghanistan." December, 2003.

Asia Foundation / Afghan Media Resource Center: "Democracy In Afghanistan." July 13, 2004.

Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC): "Take the Guns Away: Afghan Voices on Security and Elections." September, 2004.

Center for Strategic and International Studies: "Voices of a New Afghanistan." June 14, 2005.

ABC News Poll: "Life in Afghanistan." December 7, 2005.

Program on International Policy Attitudes (University of Maryland) / D3 Systems / Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research, Kabul: "Poll of Afghanistan." January 11, 2006 .

Asia Foundation / Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research: "A Survey of the Afghan People." November 9, 2006.

Human Rights Watch: "The Human Cost: The Consequences of Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan." April, 2007.

Environics / D3 Systems / Afghan Centre for Social and Opinion Research: "2007 Survey of Afghans." October 18, 2007.

You're welcome.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Explaining The Crisis In Capitalism: "This is the magic of the market."

"What started off as lending a few thousand dollars to an unemployed black man in a string vest has become a high-grade structured credit enhanced leverage fund. . . What was stupid was that at some point somebody asked how much money these houses were actually worth. If they hadn't bothered to ask that question, then everything would have gone on perfectly, as normal."

How to avoid a total meltdown? "It can be avoided, so long as governments and central banks gives back to us, the financial speculators, the money that we've lost."

Friday, December 12, 2008

"With his eyes all closed and his head bowed down, My young man never sleeps."

An explosion at a mine in the Murmansk region of northern Russia killed 12 people just before midnight on Thursday, a regional emergency spokeswoman said.

Harbin (Xinhua) - Fifteen miners were killed in a coal mine explosion Sunday in northeast China, rescuers said Monday.

Hanoi - At least eight miners were killed and another 20 injured in a methane explosion in a coalmine in northeastern Vietnam early on Monday, local media reported.

Harare, Zimbabwe - The miners say hundreds have died. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says it has the names of 140 people killed although there is common agreement that many have been buried without a word.

Manicaland, Zimbabwe - After issuing statements denying that scores of people were murdered in the Chiadzwa diamond fields, the truth finally came out on Thursday when the District Administrator for Mutare appealed to the City Council for land to bury 83 people.

The dust before his eyes is black, and oft the times, oft the times my young man weeps.

Support LabourStart.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is The Weird Slavic Cultural Theorist Slavoj Žižek A "Dangerous" Proto-Totalitarian?

I'm happy to see Slavoj Žižek subjected to a serious critical analysis for once, but in the case of the furiously antagonistic review of Žižek and his ouvre by Adam Kirsch in The New Republic (which has set off all manner of excitements) we have what seems to me the fundamental mistake of taking Žižek rather too seriously in all the wrong places, and not taking him seriously where it counts.

It may well be that because I've got a bit of a tin ear for highbrow philosophical orchestration I am missing something. It's Žižek's wildly flamboyant erudition, his saucy assaults on fashionably leftish orthodoxy and his outrageous and campy perspectives on contemporary political, cultural and ideological currents that draw me to his work. I admit it. I mainly come for the trumpet blasts and the high-wire act. Still, I've been paying fairly close attention to the guy for some while - I'm currently wading through Žižek's In Defense of Lost Causes - and Kirsch leaves me wholly unconvinced.

But fair play to him. It's about time Comrade Slavoj was approached with something other than fawning adoration, and yes, let's properly interrogate this absurdly dishevelled Slovenian post-Marxist Lacanian or whatever he is. But what name does Kirsch give the exotic outline of a politics that emerges from Žižek's In Defence of Violence? "Its name is not communism. Its name is fascism, and in his most recent work Žižek has inarguably revealed himself as some sort of fascist."

To reach this conclusion, Kirsch relies upon dubiously selective quote-citing and text-highgrading, which reveals less about Žižek than about Kirsch, not least an utter tone deafness for irony. The same sort of technique cheapens Assaf Sagiv's sweeping criticism in Azure, only more transparently.

In just one instance of this from Sagiv, we read: "Žižek appears to believe that the war against the hegemony of global capitalism not only justifies, but also necessitates, taking horrific action. He thus grants an intellectual and moral seal of approval to every tyrant or terrorist who has acted under the banner of a war against 'the enemy' - namely, America and all it stands for." Note the words appears to believe, and note how the passage Sagiv cites actually supports nothing of the kind, but rather, just as easily, an opposite conclusion.

Prompted by this recent unwelcome attention to write an essay in Žižek's defense, Josh Strawn points out: "If Žižek suggests we notice the kernel in Leninism worthy of recuperation - the willingness to make the historical rupture and assume full responsibility for our political struggle toward a better world - this does not make him nostalgic for the Soviet state. This is politics as the art of the impossible and philosophy as the art of the asshole. Some like Kirsch will invariably insist that this means he is the harbinger of the next fascist apocalypse cloaked in pop culture references and irony. But looking awry from Žižek and his work, he looks less like the Elvis of cultural theory and more like Willy Wonka. There's a juvenile Socrates-cum-Johnny Rotten element to it. A gadfly who, like any great humorist, will take the joke too far--to the point of discomfort--to prove a point. A little ingenious, a little sadistic, very fallible, wildly imaginative, but ultimately well-intentioned and aware of the pitfalls that go along with the risks."

Also in Žižek's defense, but far more succinctly, the General weighs in: "It’s a bit pointless trying to discuss philosophy with people who believe that the concealment of politics and democracy are the priority and that the first and last word on Žižek is that he should be denounced as a Nazi. So I fucking well won’t."

Over here, we find Žižek defended against Kirschs's more disturbing claims, but a sober criticism of Žižek nonetheless: "As an ironist, just when you think you’ve pinned down his position, he reverses everything and articulates yet another position contradicting the first. Hence the sense that he never gets anywhere."

Elsewhere, Mikhail Emelianov writes: "I am not an admirer of Žižek, I can barely count myself as an attentive reader of Žižek, but certainly I don’t think that he is as useless and laughable (and dangerous) as Kirsch presents him to be. I am also pretty sure that this reaction to Žižek, however belated on Kirsch’s part, is exactly the calculated reaction Žižek expects and provokes."

Which is to say, the joke's on us.

Why, then, are we afraid? Who are we afraid of?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Rise Of Mephistopheles

Like I said. I told you so.

When he arrived on the scene a little more than two years ago he sat down with your correspondent to give an accounting of himself. The unabridged, annotated version of that interview is here.

Starts this way: “I’m very struck by the difficulty Canadians have in associating a progressive social agenda with a robust internationalism that does involve the use of force. The minute you say that you’re in favour of holding steady in Afghanistan and seeing it through, it’s automatically assumed that you’re on the far right, or `Harper lite’, when really, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve always seen my international commitments as being sustained by a belief in human rights, and my domestic commitments being sustained by a belief in equal rights, and there doesn’t see to be any conflict to me. It’s part of the same project."

One of the signatures on this document is his. It could be worse, yes?

Monday, December 08, 2008

'P' is for 'Prorogue': Looks Like Stephen Harper Got More Than He Bargained For

It's not going Jack Layton's way, either, now that the Liberals will be getting a new leader out of it all.


Friday, December 05, 2008

If we're going to go crazy, might as well do it properly: Stephen Harper, in his bunker

"Shush, Justin Trudeau won't let him touch the constitution."

Commandante Will found it. Comes from here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In The Latest Democratiya ( Winter, 2008): "Afghanistan: A Choice of Comrades"

Here's an excerpt from my most recent contribution to the conversation about the struggle in Afghanistan and its implications for those of us still impudent enough to imagine that we're "progressives" of some sort:

Into the vacuum left by the absence of any robust left-wing analysis on the Afghanistan question came Canada's 'anti-war' movement, which rapidly emerged as the primary organisational forum for collaboration between Third Worldists and far-right Islamists. This was a bizarre phenomenon, but Canada's news media, in its efforts to offer an uncomplicated and 'balanced' view of the Afghanistan story, conveniently overlooked it. Ignoring the appeals of Canada's progressive Muslims, Canada's left-wing press simply looked the other way.

The result was a troops-out campaign that was allowed to pose as 'anti-war' without being called to account for the deadly consequences of its fundamental demands. For one, a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan would plunge the country back into the bloodshed that had left hundreds of thousands dead and made refugees out of a quarter of Afghanistan's people during the 1990s. For another, a troop withdrawal would threaten to trigger countless more wars by emboldening the most bloodthirsty jihadists from the Pillars of Hercules to the Banda Sea.

But across the liberal-left, these implications remained unexamined. What mattered more was the protection of Canada's virtue as a refuge from the bad neoconservative vibes emanating from the Bush White House. In these ways, the Canadian debates about Afghanistan became thoroughly infantilised, and by 2006, during the Israel-Hezbollah war, public opinion was turning sharply against Canada's engagement in Afghanistan.

In Ottawa, an unpopular Conservative minority government was at best lukewarm about the engagement. The Liberal Party that first sent battle troops to Kandahar when it was in power had lost all interest in championing the Afghan cause. The only momentum on the Afghanistan question was for withdrawal, and it was gathering steam. Worse still, for those of us who considered ourselves socialists or social democrats, the troops-out momentum was being driven by the central institutions of Canada's mainstream left. . .

Anyway, that's a piece of it, but as is the case with every issue of Democratiya (see the praise I heaped upon the journal here last year), there's a wealth of essays worth reading. Irfan Khawaja's got a review of Sarah Chayes' splendid The Punishment of Virtue, and then there's Fred Seigel's take on Bernard Henri-Levy's Left In Dark Times: A Stand Against The New Barbarism. David Sidorsky looks back on Sidney Hook's Heresy, Yes - Conspiracy, No. Will Marshall considers Barack Obama and the New Internationalism, and Eric Lee of Labourstart ponders Obama and the Unions. It just keeps on going like that.

Democratiya is an excellent journal, from front to back.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Andrew Potter: The Coalition, the 'Coup,' the 'Crisis,' and the Language of Complaint

People really need to just calm down, for starters. Then read Andrew Potter:

The language of complaint is shot through with assumptions and norms that rest on an American view of checks and balances, bicameralism, and presidentialism. In many ways, this is far more pernicious than 19th century romanticism, because at least the romantics understand, dimly, how parliament actually works.

The Americanists, on the other hand, don't understand parliament, and so their complaints are underwritten by an unwarranted sense that the working of Canadian system is actually illegitimate.
Take, for example, the current coalition agreement that has been set up by the Libs and NDP and the tacit support of the Bloc. I don’t like it, but there is nothing remotely unconstitutional about it. It is thoroughly legitimate.

Canadians did not vote for Stephane Dion, no. But we did not vote for Stephen Harper either. We elected a parliament, which will support who it will support.
Under our constitution, neither the people nor the prime minister even exist, there is only parliament.

It is bad enough that most of the complainers out there don’t get it. Stephen Harper knows better, and chooses to pretend otherwise.

This reminded me of a recent essay by Raymond Mackintosh, in which he admits: "The problem is that liberal-minded people, and I am one such, are not immune from falling into the trap of believing what we wish to be true rather than that which is true."

The problem afflicts Conservatives, too, and it is here that Stephen Harper is going one worse. He's not just pretending he doesn't get it. He's asking Canada to engage in his game of pretend as well, in these two ways: He's saying "the opposition wants to overturn the results" of the recent federal election by entering into "a power-sharing coalition with a separatist party."

These are falsehoods.

Harper's big problem here isn't in the Opposition's complaints, but in its size, and its size is a result of the recent election, not an overturning of its results. Opposition MPs outnumber the MPs that support Harper in the Commons. If Harper doesn't have the confidence of a Commons majority, he's toast. This is obviously not what Harper would wish to be true, but it's true nonetheless. Wishing we were a republic won't make it so, so you can't pretend that we have a president that's about to be overthrown by some usurper. We're a parliamentary, constitutional democracy. Parliament rules.

Further, the Liberals and the New Democrats have not entered a "power-sharing coalition" with the Bloc (as if this would change Harper's predicament in any way), nor do they propose to. Instead, they have proposed a two-party coalition, and the Bloc says it would support it, for a period of 18 months, if the coalition can win support from the Governor-General.

I don't buy the hyperventilation about the spectre of proroguing Parliament, either. Give everybody a few weeks to calm down, bring in a budget, and if it fails, the coalition can assemble itself and put its pleadings to Michaelle Jean. Her constitutional and legal advisers may well suggest she decline the offer, rendering the coalition idea moot by sending it all back to the people to decide.

Which would suit me fine.

Update: "Liberal MP Derrick Lee, meanwhile, compared Harper's move to suspend Parliament to the burning of the Reichstag in Germany by the Nazis."

Like I said, people really need to calm down.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Boys Have Been Evicted