That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Cowering before the real-life Sauron

It’s nice that New Zealand’s done so well out of these Lord of the Rings films. It’s a very pretty country full of nice people and they deserve some good attention. Just like hobbits themselves.

But listen – somewhere, in the South Pacific, a labour activist’s stomach just turned. Can you hear it? You got to listen like me.*

With Warner Bros. having threatened to move production of the Hobbit elsewhere (“O Canada….”), the Kiwi government has crumbled faster than Saruman’s orc minions. The Kiwi PM himself led negotiations with the American studio, and his government has actually legislated new labour terms to keep Hobbit production in country. Diluted labour conventions which have bypassed normal parliamentary procedure – this bill won’t go to committee, and has essentially been written on the fly to satisfy the rumblings of a corporate investor.

The sulphuric stench of Mordor indeed hangs over the Shire-folk.

Included in the deal was an offer of $25 million (£11.8m), $15 million of that in tax breaks, and the law changes, which were pushed through without the normal process of referral to a parliamentary committee and public submissions.

“What is the government going to do next – give in to any multinational that asks for a labour standard to be diluted in return for some form of investment?” said an opposition MP, Charles Chauvel.

“This is a government which, in the words of the Financial Times today, has reduced New Zealand to client status of an American film studio.”

And it’s true. There’s a touchy-feely aspect to New Zealand keeping the Hobbit, but had this been a story of (to get extreme in our examples here) Coca-Cola pressuring a Guatemalan government to dilute its labour laws, frustrate its citizens’ rights to collective bargaining, and circumvent its own congressional conventions to retain the prospect of steady investment, it would be an outrage. If it were Gap, Nike, or any manufacturer offering a small country the promise of investment in return for easy conditions (and indeed political influence), there would be accusations of corporate irresponsibility and a failure of transparency in the country itself.

What makes this all the more troubling is New Zealand’s stellar record on transparency and accountability. Transparency International has them tied in first place as the world’s least corrupt country. Yet, introduce them to a film studio that promises some investment, some pride, and some free tourism publicity, and we see extraordinary legislation pushed through without due process.

NZ’s government may have thought it was a populist no-brainer to do whatever was necessary to retain the Middle Earth brand. But if the principle of capitulation to corporate pressure were applied across all types of foreign investment, New Zealand would soon come to resemble South-East Asia much more than the bucolic Shire.

* props to Jimmy McMillan

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , ,

Spector trumpets more wind

Professional cut-and-paster Norman Spector yesterday opined that the Conservatives currently “have wind in their sails.” As usual, Spector is big on contentious headlines, and consistently thin on content. The only evidence he mounts to support the case for a (foul-smelling) breeze Toryward is a rambling attack on Frank Graves and EKOS – the firm that actually comes out this week with a Conservative jump to 33%.

Graves gets accused of Liberal bias, whereas I just see a pollster with erratic methodology. EKOS often predicts mythical Green seats, for example, just because a tenth of Canadians support them. Doesn’t he know that our electoral system is too messed up to allow for that? So, how a tirade against EKOS erraticism equates to Harper wind, I don’t quite know.

It appears Harper’s got a lead back, six points clear of Ignatieff’s Liberals who sit at 27%. I suppose that is a kind of wind. But on balance, the Conservatives continue to suffer a significant deficit of support as compared with their last time at the ballot box, and I can’t see how you have a parade for that.

Is losing seats in any hypothetical new federal election now seen as a good thing? A reduced minority should be trumpeted as a success? Yes indeed – black is white, Thursday is Friday, Spector is objective.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

On Khadr and kangaroo courts

The BBC notes the Khadr trial with the observation that:

The US is the first country since World War II to prosecute a person at a war crimes tribunal for actions allegedly committed as a juvenile.

What could I possibly add? Through Guantanamo, the U.S. has (along with Canadian acquiescence) a new record – one which the DR Congo, the Saudis, and the Afghan government itself couldn’t achieve. First a moon landing, and now the prosecution of a child soldier. Glad Canada could participate in at least one of the two!

Show me a 15-year old boy with perfect authority over his actions, and I’ll not only eat my hat, I’ll eat the Geneva Convention too. If it’s still around.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, ,

“Sad-eyed defender of the new reality”

Nick Clegg is kind of the man we hate to hate. We don’t want to hate him, and we do hate doing it. But there it is. It’s a double-hatey.

Charlie Brooker’s today pointed his blinding laser-beam of cynical humour directly Clegg’s way, in an article so cruelly funny it almost seems unfair. But what does fair really mean to the Lib Dem leader these days? Hum.

On cutting off his nose to spite his face

“Before the election, I made a solemn pledge to leave my nose intact. I even printed that pledge out, signed it, and posed for photos while holding it up and smiling like I meant it. So I can understand people’s disquiet over this. It’s something I’ve wrestled with personally. But nonetheless, off it goes. Cutty cutty nose time! Tee hee! Hoo hoo! Chop, chop, chop!”

Worth reading the whole thing, before falling into a small quandary about whether you feel more pity, or actually more hate, for the poor Lib Dem leader these days.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , ,

The many mainstreams

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange today explains the release of nearly 400,000 classified Iraq War records as an act of a free press in extremis. It’s a premise which anyone who takes part in the bloggosphere is naturally sympathetic.

Whatever the Pentagon’s sternness in vocalising concern over the safety of military personnel still in Iraq, they know as well as anyone that this is not remotely affected by such leaks. Instead, it’s a sternness expressed out of principle – a natural defence of the supposed right of states and armies to control and manage information and to act as a vanguard in the public’s interest, rather than letting too much democracy undermine their decisions.

Of course, a state is meant to represent its citizens. So, its citizens ought to not only direct the decisions of its state, but at the minimum, have access to information about how those decisions are carried out. So, unsurprisingly, I’m with Assange.

While I’m always thrilled with WikiLeaks publications, I’m not going to write about the Iraq leaks here per ce – partly as I certainly have nothing new to contribute, but also because it’s touched off another, mildly-related concern of mine. Assange’s point about absolute press freedom, and the shades of freedom that we, in various parts of the world, live with.

Forget your Twitter and your blogs for a moment. I don’t personally (yet!) subscribe to the revolutionary narrative of Twitter changing the world. I see a world that eats what it’s given, rather than a world that hunts. So the mainstream media matters, and the efforts of WikiLeaks and smaller alternative publishers continue to face an incredible uphill battle. But this battle is contextualised by where it’s happening. Mainstream media culture varies tremendously.

Let’s talk about Canada. Anywhere in the world, people complain about the mainstream media. So much so that it’s been acronymised into the “MSM” to save crucial typing and speaking time. And well people should complain. But I wonder sometimes whether Canadians ought to express a particularly voracious protest against the media concentration that exists in the Great White North.

The work of Progressive Bloggers and others to work around the MSM is fantastic, though I would actually criticise the view that the MSM is by its own nature a monopolous lie machine. In Canada, I think it is. But when looking at media culture in European countries, you see that Canada is exceptionally bad.

Look at Britain. Political discourse here is generally livelier and better informed than it is back in Canada, and this isn’t down to education systems so much as it’s about a much more diverse range of views expressed within the MSM (this British press diversity convinces me that a character like Stephen Harper would be eaten alive in the UK…. anyhoo).

Think about the national newspapers available to you. In Britain, you can read the Guardian, Independent, the Times, or the Telegraph (in left-to-right order of, umm, left-to-right papers), and those are only what are considered “quality publications.” If quality is less crucial to you, then you can range from the Morning Star to the Mirror, the Evening Standard, the Sun, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express (again, left-to-right) if you want something cheap and most probably full of pictures of boobies.

But at least it can be said there are a range of national publications that fuel debate. And crucially, none of these papers pretend they are “centrist” or unbiased papers. You know what you’re buying, you buy it because it makes you nod and say “yes!” a lot, but all the while you treat it as subjective commentary with which you agree – not as universal gospel, and not necessarily as reflective of the mainstream mood. Every reader of a quality newspaper remains aware that, each day, the Sun outsells all qualities combined.

In Canada, it’s the Globe and Mail. Umm. That’s kind of it. I know, there’s some upstart paper with a bright yellow banner called the National Post (tell Kory Teneycke! His services are not necessary!), and it’s good for an outrage and all. But if you want a serious newspaper available in any city in the country, you really have just the one choice. And it doesn’t wear a bias on its sleeve – it seems to purport neutrality, thus communicates its old-fashioned Progressive Conservative bias in stealth, and falsely implies a reflection of the mainstream.

If you want to buy local city papers instead, you are no better. In Vancouver, you can buy three different newspapers – the Province, the Sun, and the NP – and you’ll have put your cash into the very same conglomerate.

This is what makes the MSM more insidious in Canada than elsewhere, and when we talk about press freedom, Canada is at one highly controlled and unvaried extreme, whilst organisations like WikiLeaks take you to the opposite view. As is appropriate, maybe, the UK sits in the middle. Britain’s MSM is the porridge that Goldilocks chose (when she didn’t have access to WordPress, of course).

So, here’s to controversially provocative investigative journalism and here’s to pushing the boundaries of press freedom towards the absolute. But let’s recognise as well that this battle is perhaps easier in some places than others. Sorry, Canada.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , ,

The ‘cautious nod’ of leadership

Showing up a bit late to the Grand Lodge of the Bleeding Obvious, PM Stephen Harper has given what the G&M calls a cautious nod to the Afghan government entering into some form of negotiation with Taliban forces to end the decade-old anarchic bloodbath over which we help to preside.

Oh, they’ll be relieved.

Even a cautious nod is coming some distance towards acknowledging reality. But is being a latecomer to reality anything we should be proud of? There is no longer any obvious foreign policymaker behind which Harper can hide anymore, thus he’s been dragged kicking and screaming (or cautiously nodding) into the daylight of the contemporary global consensus and the full toll of a decade of fruitless warfare. That’s the style of leadership that got us ignored at the UN last week.

Maybe Taliban Jack ought to have a crack at foreign policy after all?

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , ,

The rent is too damn high

Here’s a bit of a must-see. It’s an, errrrr, encouraging sign for American politics – for every Tea Party O’Donnell out there, there’s a Jimmy McMillan, telling it like it is.

And don’t argue – he’s a karate expert.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , ,

Soul-swapping cities?

Here in the Twilight Zone, it seems that Calgary has elected a young, Muslim, centre-left, Facebook-savvy immigrant’s son as its new mayor, while Toronto leans heavily towards electing a right-wing, red-faced, “crass, hot-tempered straight-talker” pulpit-bully for its mayor. As Marvin Gaye once asked through the medium of song: What’s goin’ on?

Who frankly knows, but I’ve got a couple of thoughts. One concerns demographics. Calgary’s decade-old boom has meant a burgeoning metamorphosis, and a flooding of new labour from small-l liberal regions including the west coast and Ontario. The idea that sustained and significant growth in Calgary’s population would mean a growth in the number of conservative voters was always based in a premise that there’s something in Calgary’s water that makes people fall into the right-wing. But no, Calgary’s new arrivals seem to be capable of retaining their very “non-Albertan” approach to politics, and it’s evidenced in part by Naheed Nenshi’s victory.

Similarly, I suppose suburban T-Dot is inhabited by a goodly number of cautious middle-agers who have drifted lazily into conservatism, lockstep with their rising insecurity over mortgages.

My other thought is that this is not a picture of right-wing or left-wing trends in either city, but a shared anti-incumbency in both. Disestablishmentarianism isn’t just a fun word to say – it’s an anarchic condition that can rise up from the doldrums at scarcely a moment’s notice. To advantage from disestablishmentarianist (fun!) mood, all you really need is bang-on charisma and an exceptionally well-run campaign – the left vs right elements of the campaign become less important than the watertight message for “change.”

Surely someone out there is going to describe Nenshi’s Calgary win as an “Obama-esque” triumph, which is, I suppose, fair enough. Thing is, while it makes me get a bit sick in my mouth just to think it, perhaps Toronto’s affection for Rob Ford is also Obama-esque in its way.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

Identity and patriotism

I was thinking something fun today about identity and patriotism, as the title suggests.

I’m a British Columbian who spent a good few years living in Quebec before moving to the UK for work at an international development agency (which shall remain undisclosed). We know what Stephen Harper (and, frankly, Stompin’ Tom Connors) thinks of dirty rotten expatriates, but of course I’ve never thought of myself as an expatriate. I avoid London’s Canadian ex-pats generally, considering they are, in the main, Leafs’ fans. In any case, as this blog maybe reflects, I still stay pretty engaged with what’s going on back home.

Thus the big question of home and identity. Do I call myself a British-Canadian? Or the inverse? I don’t like nationalising identity at the best of times, but these terms ring hollower than other hyphenated demonyms like “African-American.” That’s a term that links an ethnic identity and a civic identity, keeping each intact and enforcing two different concepts of identity. For me, though, I consider both Britishness and Canadianness alike to be civic identities. I have no time for ethnic identities, I’m afraid (and anyway, who wants to shoot the breeze with someone who fancies himself an Irish-Welsh-Anglo-Scots-Canadian-Brit?).

But sometimes these questions are thrust upon you. I remember at university in Montreal, talking to a Québécois friend about terms of origin. “Someone from Ontario is an Ontarian, someone from Alberta is an Albertan, and in English at least, someone from Quebec is a Quebecer,” I said, profoundly.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“What’s the term in French for a British Columbian? Is is Colombie-Brittaniquois? Colombien-Bretagne?”

He paused and smiled. He wasn’t sure.

It seemed a fascinating point to me because, I realised in my often-difficult battle to acquire the French language, I had no demonym for “who I was.” I could say where I was from – “je suis de Colombie-Brittanique.” But saying where you are from is quite different from saying who you are.

I realised that I didn’t mind, I was just curious. I wasn’t lost at sea without being able to incorporate my homeland into the very fabric of my being since, as is the case with all of us, our identities and our common communities are now as geographically dispersed and ethnically variant as to render point of origin quaint. When your parents have retired to another town besides the one you’re familiar with, when your old friends and exes live in different countries, when your favourite music, film, and literature is global in origin, the best you can say is that you retain a strong affection for where you’re from – not that it continues to ultimately shape you. Unless of course, you’re a total momma’s boy, or an ethnocentric nazi.

I’ve since learned that the term for British Columbian is Brittano-Colombien, which I admit I quite like. But again, it’s strange. What’s “British” (or “Britanno-“) about your average British Columbian? What association do they have with the Columbia River, or further back, with Christopher Columbus of boating fame? Is it implying that I’m a follower of Chris Columbus, and that I have predominantly British blood? And which part of Britain does the blood come from? Even in 2010, that’s still a ridiculously fraught question.

Michael Ignatieff would call people who ask these questions “cosmopolitans,” which seems to suggest I like drinking them, and only at very specific temperatures darling. I’d prefer to think that this supposed cosmopolitanism should be natural state of anyone in the 21st Century, and if only in selected places, then certainly in Canada. There has never been an “ethnic Canadian” (some might consider aboriginal peoples as ethnically Canadian, but they draw their ethnicity to something outside the nation-state of Canada in the first place, so I don’t think that applies). There’s always been a (kind of contradictory) pride in how little pride we brandish in front of others, and how much internal difference (and even discord) we celebrate. Almost as though Canadian citizenship were a generous licence to rights and freedoms, rather than a rigid code of conduct or legitimisation of a particular ancestry, or indeed, a recipe for identity.

That is the way I like it. I’m more of a Charter fan than I am a teary-eyed patriot. Nevertheless, it still makes for longer-than-necessary introductions when, instead of asserting a single demonym to people, I just list the places I’ve lived and loved.

Filed under: Canada, International, Travel, UK, Uncategorized, , , ,

World asks Canada to talk to hand

And, Canada lost the vote. Or, in Michael Johnson sprinting style, we pulled out before we had the chance to lose.

As I say in the last post, this isn’t so much a lost opportunity to showboat our diplomatic finesse, or compel the Permanent 5 to take our priorities on board. Instead, it’s a reflection of the losses we’ve already chalked up in the past few years.

We don’t have international priorities of any coherence to impress on the Council. We don’t have a recent record of diplomatic finesse. I can’t help but wonder whether cocking-up relations with the UAE so spectacularly on the eve of the vote might have been a straw on the camel’s back here. “Canada can’t hold good faith negotiations with a Gulf State? Canada’s Afghan logistics are what now?” It demonstrated our incapacity to manage a relationship, and it certainly won’t have helped us to retain Arab League votes in the General Assembly today.

I’m a fan of the old Pearsonian Legacy. I’d wear Pearson’s face on a t-shirt, Che Guevara style, if someone would only print them. But for Canada to waltz into the UN today and trot out the long-standing legacy as evidence of our international merit in the year 2010, sorry, it’s just coasting on fumes. We need a new and rejuvenated internationalist legacy, and it’s got to begin before we reach for the status symbols.

Anyhoo. Any bets who Harper will pass the buck to? Because it certainly doesn’t stop with him.

1) Ignatieff bad-mouthing Canada. I guarantee we’ll hear that pop out. Which suggests a) that nations of the world listen more carefully to Michael Ignatieff than they do to the Canadian PM, but mostly b) that Harper cannot accept responsibility for his government. Blame the Liberals, blame the newspapers, blame the alignment of the stars.

2) China and Russia. They didn’t bring their friends to the vote they way we thought they would. But they’re unpredictable and malevolent powers anyway, which is why we’re buying these jets, see?

3) Liberals. Not just Canada’s Liberals, you understand, but the whole concept of liberalism. Those European liberals who epitomise it, with their dope-smoking elitist ways, and their opposition to seal clubbing. Europe is elitist and liberal, and it’s clearly anti-Canadian. Just like Toronto.

Any other possibilities?

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , ,


October 2010

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