Polygonic

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

Who owns socialism?

With a shrug and a sigh, the NDP have delayed a decision on whether they are socialist, or social democratic. I shrugged and sighed too – this decision was to be a fascinating moment, and they kind of let that pass.

Sure, it’s only language, and a single word-change at that. But the biggest question seemed to me to be, who was motivating this change? Who do the NDP believe owns the word socialist? Is it them, and so what they do with it is very much their own decision? Or is it the Conservatives, who have appropriated it like a weapon with which to beat Layton up over the next four years?

I remember the 2004 U.S. election particularly well, not only for its result (I’m reminded of Dubya’s victory in the face of total incompetence whenever I contemplate Harper’s new majority), but also for one of the more effective political grenades the Republicans were able to lob – the word liberal. Every chance George W. Bush got to call John Kerry a liberal, he would. He’d sneer it. Liberal. Nothin’ but a fancy-pants liberal.

Now, any dictionary definition of liberalism will correspond pretty well to the philosophies at the heart of every Western democracy, with fuzzy margins, but that simply doesn’t matter in electoral campaigns that are more blunt bludgery than nuanced debate. By taking the word liberal and infusing it with satanic undertones, proud patriotic American liberals were left reeling. Their identity had become illegitimate. They scrambled for words like progressive to try and claim territory that wasn’t tainted, and that mad scramble suited (and suits) the American right just fine.

I always found that a uniquely American problem, but clearly it’s North American all told. We heard Dimitri Soudas bleating End-Is-Nigh-style “socialists and separatists” warnings for the best part of two years as Harperian Ottawa set about its root-to-tip demonisation of all opposition. And so, it’s understandable that the New Democrats may want to adjust to the new reality: the word socialist is passé, problematic, and out of their control any longer. The word belongs to Harper, so just let him have it.

In defense of socialism, though, look to Europe. Socialism isn’t just a single word buried in left-wing party constitutions, it is a word worn proudly, out in front, on campaign buttons and ballot papers. The main French Opposition is the Socialist Party. The Germans pre-Merkel were governed by the Socialist Party. Spain is governed by the Socialist Party, as is Greece and, till lately, lately Portugal. The second largest bloc of European MEPs in Brussels is the Socialist bloc. Even Tony Blair called himself a socialist, and he wasn’t an angstrom further to the left of Michael Bloomin’ Ignatieff.

The right may point to Europe’s woes as the product of all this damn socialism, which is mostly wrong and also besides the point. Modern European “socialism” is really no more radical than anything advocated by Canada’s Liberal Party, or Obamaesque wings of the American Democratic Party. The word doesn’t need cotton padding, because Europeans aren’t cowed by dark nightmares of Young Pioneers, or snooping Stasi, or state management of love lives and sugar intake, every time a socialist takes to the stump. The scare-mongering doesn’t work as well, perhaps because Europeans know what actual authoritarianism looks like – and Ségolène Royal ain’t it.

North America’s left has a greater challenge to manage its identity in the face of a more broadly suspicious media and a more brutalist political class. That’s a reality, and it leaves me torn on the NDP’s big question. I am all for New Democrats doing what they can to get MPs in seats and to encourage steady fundraising, and cleaning up their constitution can be a part of that.

But they must be careful to ensure it is they who define those changes, and they who define their language. Reclaiming language from those who use it negatively may demonstrate greater confidence than reaching for the Thesaurus of Friendly Words. It’s sensible to do what you can to beat back a Right which will inevitably come snarling with accusations of radicalism. But perhaps a reclamation of socialist virtue is still a way to do that.“Socialists? Maybe we are. And here’s what it means.”

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

Happy bloggoversary

Cor, I forgot my own birthday! Turns out that the Polygonic blog has been going for one whole year (and a day). What better excuse to start drinking at work?

Woooooooooo

Thanks to all readers and commenters for a year of memorable memories. In the coming days (once I find the time to cook something!) I’ll post a celebratory photo of my dinner, as I am wont to do when I feel warm inside.

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

What’s so wrong with the rough and tumble?

From Canada’s blushing outrage at Brigette DePape’s stop sign, to the House of Commons’ brand-new heckle-bans, it seems there’s little more important these days than the skin of respectful politesse. Any concern, though, for the health of the deeper corpus?

The British House of Commons, for example, is not a place characterised by decorum, but most would say it works well. It is indeed a raucous chamber of loud hoots and heckles, brazen browbeatings, laddish one-liners, and disparaging quips. Teasing “yeas!” and “whoas!” are bellowed from the backbenches, in support or in attack, of leaders’ proclamations. Each session of Prime Minister’s Questions truly feels like trial by drunken fraternity, and both Labour Leader Ed Miliband and PM David Cameron dish out, and receive, the kinds of bruising blows that would absolutely liquify Stephen Harper et al.

Watch yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions for a sample.

But what’s telling, and it came up in yesterday’s session, is that, in both the Canadian and British Parliaments, one thing you cannot do is accuse another member of lying. Because that’s impolite. Cameron made the mistake of accusing Miliband of “misleading the House,” which led the Speaker to demand a retraction.

Cameron said median (hospital) waiting times had gone down and claimed Miliband had misled the house about the issue two weeks ago, prompting an intervention from the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who urged him to withdraw the remark in line with protocol.

Cameron said: “What I meant, of course … he gave an interesting use of facts in terms of waiting times, which are down in the NHS (National Health Service).”

Miliband responded: “The whole house will notice he didn’t withdraw that, and obviously he is rattled about the health service.”

“After a year, he’s proved the oldest truth in politics – you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS.”

Such protocol is one component of a broad effort to maintain a some semblance of dignified decorum in the House, and fine. But I do find it a cruel irony that, while a Parliamentarian can be admonished by the Speaker for accusing another of lying, they are not similarly admonished for doing the actual lying.

John Baird earlier this year claimed, in the House of Commons, that allowing Emirates Airlines three more landing slots at Canadian airports would cost “tens of thousands” of Canadian jobs. Remember that? Tens of thousands! Jeez Louise, John. There really aren’t more than 90,000 Canadians employed in the Canadian aviation industry all told, so far as I can figure, so any labourers counted in the plural units of 10,000 implies up to a quarter of the sector. They were all at risk of unemployment? Because of Emirates? Three landing spaces? If our aviation industry is so imperilled, then let’s get talking about that!

Decorum, deschmorum, Baird deserved a routing for peddling patently vacuous lies in the House of Commons, but even in the 40th Parliament, for all it’s “roughness,” he didn’t get one. He should have been mocked and hollered at, torn a new one, politically discredited and accused – indeed – of lying. Because that’s what he did, and that ought to be considered the greatest affront to good government.

The self-policed Parliamentary politesse that everyone seems interested in is a skin-deep solution that does not cure the rot in politics. It’s never been the roughhousing that turn citizens off politics – we’re hockey fans, remember? No, it’s the lies. Brazen dishonesty, without reprimand or consequence, is the real sin that’s ailing our politics.

Civility is nice, and there is nothing to admire in personal attacks or irrelevant insults. But the tone of Parliamentary debate is a secondary concern to the substance of it. The real game misconducts should be reserved for outright lies.

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

Libya exists. Is that our policy?

I’ve been very keen to see how John Baird handles his massive new brief (I did not say massive briefs) and, with the 41st Parliament’s first Question Period now behind us, I’ve already got a question. Enter this short exchange:


Hon. Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, France and Italy have recognized the Libyan National Council as that country’s legitimate government. Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs clarify Canada’s position on this?

Hon. John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, in Canada we recognize states, not particular governments.



Uhhhhh….. I may not have ascended to Bairdist thinking on the concept of sovereignty, but I worry that he’s talking borderline impossible here. It’s akin to saying “In Canada, we recognize marriage, not husbands or wives.” Sorry, but unless you recognise the role of husband or the wife, then where in the world is the marriage?

When Canada refused to recognise the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast, after challenger Alassane Ouattara had won the election, we were taking a position on legitimacy. It wasn’t saying “We think the Ivory Coast exists.” It was saying “We think the responsibility for running this territory falls to Government X.” Making those decisions and determinations is at the heart of what Foreign Policy is.

It’s not easy. States are not like the Canadian Shield, or the Moon, which exist whether you like them or not, and which exist outside human institutions and imagination. States explicitly require government, and this means the entire establishment of governance. The civil service, the armed forces, the whole elaborate apparatus of collective control. When two separate sets of this apparatus vye for overall control of a recognised territory, it does not do for us to suggest that we “recognise Libya to exist.” Eh? So what?

States require governance, and legitimate statehood requires both the consent of the governed, and the assent of other, peer governments, such as our own. Sometimes the balance there isn’t fair – often it’s not realistic. But that’s the big question Dominic LeBlanc was asking, and Baird fluffed it.

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

Glimpse this impossible future!

Brazil will not win another World Cup trophy until at least the year 2264. This is perhaps one of the lesser known predictions coming out of the Fifth Element, that much-heralded sci-fi cinematic setpiece which closed off the last century with a harrowing vision of our own distant future.

Hmm, you ask? Whuh?

I watched the film last night, for the first time in years and years. And I actually really enjoyed it this time, which I didn’t originally…. you obviously have to throw yourself fully into its mad kitsch and mindlessness. I even laughed at Chris Tucker, which makes me feel incredibly zen about the world.

And there I noticed it – a small detail that struck me as an attempted high-five to Brazilian football (soccer) gone horrifically wrong.

Bruce Willis does not keep a very tidy home. His one-bed flat in South Brooklyn is crowded out with an array of post-it notes, dirty clothes, magazines, Chinese food containers, rubbish and random photographs. And during one scene while he’s on the phone (to his taxi mechanic, or his mom, or someone he doesn’t much want to talk to), you can see a small Brazil football pennant hanging behind him. It looked rather like this:

My first thought being, wow, so the writers’ of the film like Brazil, and thought it would be cool if Bruce Willis’ hero character liked them too. Nice.

But then you notice that there are only four stars on the pennant. The example I posted above has five, as Brazil have now won five World Cups, their most recent in 2002. As of 1997, when Fifth Element came out, they’d won four.

So, what the Fifth Element is kind of suggesting is that, between 1997 and 2263, Brazil won’t have won another Cup, ever, at all, not one. That is Mega. Film. Madness.

Hum. Why am I blogging about this? Only because I scoured my Google application across the intraweb, and found not a single reference to this quirky anomaly. Considering how deeply interesting it is, that surprised me greatly.

That is all.

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

Blasphemy, paper tigers, and the Senate

Traditions of civil disobedience are responsible for democracy’s every last advance. This isn’t to overblow the consequence of Brigette DePape’s Senate protest, but it is to congratulate it. Canada’s going nowhere without the kind of gutsiness and strength-in-conviction she showed by stepping out like that.

I’ve been a bit amazed by some of the discourse I’ve read about it, leading me to realise that Sarah Palin and I agree profoundly on at least two things: 1) the mainstream media is, well, lame, and 2) it’s fun to ride in helicopters. Though I’ve never shot anything from one before.

Evan Solomon got the chance to interview Brigette DePape, and I found him extraordinarily defensive of the inviolable holiness of Senate and of Parliament. Democracy, that most ethereal and ungraspable of human endeavours, made real in towers of Parliamentary stone! Do not sully its grandeur with petty pranks, little Brigette! How dare you blaspheme in the very crucible of our sovereign liberty! Horrible girl!

Indeed, yes, quite. I’m less concerned about Senate having been violated by a 21-year old page with a paper stop sign, and rather more concerned about the abuses to our democratic institutions meted out by the Prime Minister himself. To use the Red Chamber, as he does, as a personal Infantry of Losers, failed MPs, sycophant journalists and barons of friendly enterprise, is to truly piss on the rug of our democracy. To politicise independent commissions, to rubbish their findings, to fire the civil servants who head them because they do not conform to the political agenda of the government – that is the proverbial Bird-Flipping in the face of institutional democracy that worries me more.

Even Elizabeth May tutted DePape, saying it was a protest in the wrong place and time. This is Elizabeth May we’re talking about, whose Green Party only ever achieved anything like mainstream status by standing on the shoulders of unpopular and untactful movements that came before it, which helped to slowly raise and then normalise public discussion around the environment, which slowly led to where they are today. Ordinary people, no matter how subservient they “ought” to be, speaking truth to power, fully cognizant of the personal sacrifice that involves. And the Green Party is tutting?

Anyone tutting and complaining that DePape showed a tactless contempt for Senate should slap themselves (with my eager assistance) until they sort out the none-too-subtle difference between contempt, and CONTEMPT.

Tragedy being, while she got fired for her “contemptuous” display, Harper got an expanded mandate and more power over our democratic institutions after his.

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

Arithmetic shocker: Majority oppose Conservatives

Smack my gob. A revealing CBC investigation has exposed an electoral arithmetical travesty, hitherto unseen. Apparently, only two-fifths of Canadians support key CPC policies, whilst a clear majority of people oppose them and don’t want them implemented.

Key Conservative policies lack clear support

A majority of Canadians don’t support corporate tax cuts and are opposed to buying the F-35 fighter jets, two major pieces of the Conservative government’s plan for the country, a new poll suggests.

In a new poll conducted for CBC News following the May 2 federal election, 53 per cent of people surveyed said they were opposed to dropping the corporate tax rate from 16.5 per cent to 15 per cent. About two-fifths — 39 per cent — agreed with the cut and eight per cent weren’t sure.

Just more than half — 52 per cent — said Canada should not go ahead with the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets, while 37 per cent polled said the government should buy the planes. Twelve per cent said they didn’t know.

So, roughly the same number of people who voted Conservative support Conservative policies. While roughly the same number of people who didn’t vote Conservative don’t support Conservative policies.

The mystery clearly doesn’t lie here. Indeed, there’s a weird relief in seeing that, in the absence of a sitting parliament, voters’ views haven’t done a lot of capricious shifting.

No, the mystery is why we tolerate a voting system that generates majority governments with less than 2/5 popular support.

I’d like to “blame Canada” and say, well, you got what you voted for. But you didn’t, did you?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

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