Saturday, June 23, 2018

Truth a casualty in Canadian politics too

The Donald Trump School of Politics (DTSP) - which essentially involves a complete lack of attention to the truth and facts - has come to Canada in a big way.
Arguably, Brad Wall, who just recently stepped down as Premier of Saskatchewan, has been a graduate of DTSP for years, even before it existed, although with Wall it was usually more of a case of refusing to be persuaded by the facts, rather than invention of new alternative facts. Doug Ford, the Premier-Elect of Ontario, is a definite practitioner of the DTSP, as he showed during his election campaign.
And now Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader of the federal oppositon, has realized that, hey, this works, maybe I don't have to be constrained by the facts any more. In recent weeks, Sheer has been posting on Twitter (sound familiar?) all sorts of erroneous and indefensible statements about Liberal taxation policy and wrong and misleading information about the costs of the national carbon tax the Liberals are in the process of bringing in.
Most recently he has been banging on about the swing-set Justin Trudeau has had put in as part of the upgrades at the Prime Minister's summer residence at Harrington Lake for the prime ministerial kids. Scheer insists on using a figure of $7,500 for the swing-set even though it has been repeatedly explained to him that Trudeau actually paid for the swing-set himself, out if his own pocket, and all the taxpayers have been billed for is $900 installation costs. But $7,500 makes a more compelling story at Question Time than $900, so Scheer has been merrily using the $7,500 figure as he uses up valuable Question Time trying to score political points any way he can, regardless of the true figure.
You can already see how the next election debates are going to go, and facts are clearly going to be the first casualty.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Delusional Trump at his "best"

I know I am fixating on Trump again, and I shouldn't give him the satisfaction, but this blog feeds on outrage, and Trump is the biggest single source of outrage out there.
Yesterday, he issued an executive order cancelling his "zero tolerance" policy of this April which called for the separation of the children of illegal immigrants from their parents, a policy that has met with almost universal condemnation across the world, including even within his own Republican Party. The most notable exceptions to this blanket condemnation are members of the White House staff who are doggedly holding onto their jobs, and who appear in public expressing sycophantic paeans along the lines of "I want to thank the President for his leadership on his issue", and members of Trump's own extended family, who are probably in much the same position of having to hold onto their "jobs".
The media show around the signing of this latest executive order, which is in fact a major climb-down for Trump, was a classic of Trumpian doublethink, delusional deception and duplicitous deflection. It's worth watching. He says things like, "I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated", "It's a problem that has gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations", "We're keeping families together, which will solve that problem", "We're going to have a lot of happy people", etc. This, of course, follows on from his repeated defence of the policy, his blaming of Democrats for the law, his insistence that he was not able to change the policy even if he wanted to, and that it is the Democrats are blocking change.
Essentially, Trump attempts to portray the embarrassing about-face as a compassionate correction of a decades old policy that was mainly the fault of the Democrats (in fact it resulted from his own zero-tolerance executive order just a month or so ago). This twist of taking credit for something that is either bad or a belated correction of something that was even worse and his own fault, as well as the ploy of blaming the Democrats for pretty much everything regardless of the facts, is a hallmark of Trump's approach to politics. Whether it can truly be considered delusional depends on whether you consider that Trump actually believes the lies he utters or whether he know they are lies and utters them anyway.
Of course, just cancelling the old policy does not suddenly solve all the problems it has raised, and it remains uncertain what will happen to all the children who have already been separated from their parents by US Customs and Border Security. But fear not, help is at hand - Melania is coming to sort it all out!

UPDATE
Unfortunately, Melania turned up to a tour of an immigrant children's centre near the Mexican border wearing a Zara coat emblazoned with the words "I REALLY DON'T CARE. DO U?" God, what a family!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Japanese cleanliness goes viral

My favourite story from the World Cup so far is that, after Japan's unexpected victory over Colombia yesterday, the fans didn't go crazy and party like there's no tomorrow, but instead set about cleaning up all the garbage in the stadium, using garbage bags they took along for the very purpose.
The Japanese are inveterate neat freaks, and cleanliness is a national trait drilled into them from an early age. So, such an action would seem perfectly normal to them, but absolutely bizarre to much of the rest of the world. Certainly, here in North America, it is considered a God-given right to throw food and other garbage around cinemas, theatres and sports stadiums. Personally, I always take out my own garbage, but I must confess I have never gone to the lengths of clearing up other people's mess.
Anyway, the Japanese fans' public-spiritedness has struck a chord with many people, and created a major PR coup for the country. It has also already generated copycat actions, as Senegal's fans were also seen clearing up their area of the stadium after their own unexpected win (and Senegal is NOT a country known for its cleanliness and public-spritedness). Nice to see how one little positive action can lead to a cascade of goodness.

Mo Salah's soccer skills are nothing to do with his being Muslim

The only player of any note on Egypt's World Cup rather mediocre soccer team, Mo Salah has been riding a crest of popularity and renown after his stellar year with Liverpool in the English Premier League, although his World Cup performance so far has been distinctly sub-par, partly due to a crushing tackle from Barcelona's strong man Sergio Ramos just before the competition.
But the article, in order to make its point, insists on stressing Salah's Muslim religion. Yes, he is a practising Muslim: he offers a little prayer after scoring a goal, he is humble and self-deprecating, he even observes Ramadan fasting during training sessions. He is held up as the ideal of a "good Muslim" (presumably as opposed to a terrorist), although there was quite a media kerfuffle when Salah recently appeared arm in arm with the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who many would argue IS a Muslim terrorist...
But why does his religion have to brought into it at all? After all, when Ramos scythed down Salah the other week, the headlines were not "Christian savages Muslim". Today's article asks, "Does this mean that Muslims must win Golden Boots, Nobel Prizes and Olympic medals in order to be respected?" Er, no, and as far as I am aware no-one (except perhaps the Muslim author of the article) is suggesting that.
A better question might be, "Why does religion have to try to insert itself into everything?" Can a fine soccer player not just be a fine soccer player, and not a fine Muslim soccer player? Must we charactetize most Latin American and many European players as Catholic players, just because they have a tendency to cross themselves whenever they go on the pitch (an action which is closer to an involuntary nervous twitch than evidence of religious devotion anyway)?
Maybe it's no coincidence that I happen to be wearing today a t-shirt that says, "There's probably NO GOD, now stop worrying and enjoy your life". A lot of people could learn an awful lot from such a philosophy.

How America lost the respect of the world

It's difficult to quantify the extent to which Donald Trump has set back the United States. The word "substantially" springs to mind, although it's not particularly illuminating.
It seems pretty clear from reading the international press that, in just a year-and-a-half of Trumpian misrule (yes, that's all it's been!) America has lost most of the respect, influence and credibility that Barack Obama spent 8 years building up. Obama was not a perfect leader (there is no such thing is politics), but his presidency was stable and essentually decent (he was, and is, an essentually decent man). The progressive and responsible measures he brought in after the instability and knee-jerk reactions of the George W. Bush years meant that the United States could finally hold its head up internationally again, and American backpackers did not need to pin Canadian flags on their backpacks to be taken seriously. Don't get me wrong, this is not just a Democrat vs. Republican preference: it is a demonstrable fact that George W. Bush was just out of step with most of the Western world. And Donald Trump is too, but very much more so.
And it is not lost on the rest of the world that it was the American public that (gerrymandering and the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system notwithstanding) voted the man in with a sizeable majority, and that many of those voters, shockingly, STILL support him (his approval rating recently went UP from the mid-30s to 43% - admittedly not high, but still half the American population seems to approve of his shenanigans). So, the responsibility for the current global instability and international resentment on trade, immigration, Middle Eastern relations, climate change, the environment, and many other issues, lies squarely at their door (even if most Americans that we personally speak to tend to be suitably abashed, apologetic and bemused by it all).
So, dust off those Canadian flags, backpackers. Get those alternative back-stories ready again, socialites. The big bad outlaw version of America is back again - in trumps.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Beyoncé's latest video vehicle earns the usual accolades

I often make attempts to appreciate the more popular aspects of popular music - on the basis that billions of people can't all be wrong - but I usually fail miserably.
My musical tastes are pretty catholic and eclectic (from punk to electronica to Irish folk to so-called alternative), but I tend to go more for the strange and slightly off-kilter, for something that shows some originality, whether that be in terms of lyrics, chord progressions, voice, arrangement or just the overall feel. So, it is perhaps not too surprising that I don't get on well with Top 40 style pop music, which mainly means rap, hip-hop, generic dance music and "R&B", largely by black artists, and usually Auto-Tuned to within an inch of its life, so that it all sounds pretty much the same (at least to me). Now, I get it: this is the Zeitgeist, for whatever reason (even if the biggest reason is the marketing/publicity machinery, and not talent as such), and I'm not really resentful, although it does seem a shame that more talented and interesting artists don't get much of a look in. But, thus has it ever been.
Anyway, what I am blathering about at tedious length relates to my recent attempt to understand the hype around Beyoncé/JAY-Z ("The Carters")'s latest video single Apeshit. Like pretty much anything Beyoncé produces (and, to a lesser extent, JAY-Z), the critical press is just salivating over it. It seems that the woman can do no wrong (Rolling Stone's review is just one example among many similar ones). Now, I do have a certain grudging respect for Beyoncé. She's a good dancer with a commanding stage presence. It's hard to tell whether she is actually a good singer in this age of AutoTune, but I think so. I appreciate that she is a powerful woman who uses her position to talk (albeit indirectly) about race and gender in modern America, although she is far from the first or the best at it. And JAY-Z? Well, he's just hanging on her coat-tails, certainly on this song, and just generally.
So, what is all the fuss about? Well, I'm not really sure. The lyrics reveal nothing special: it's mainly just another hip-hop song about how cool it is to be rich and famous. The music is generic and, although Beyoncé probably CAN actually sing, she makes little attempt to do so here, content to do little more than talk into an AutoTune machine. JAY-Z is, well, JAY-Z: gratuitous swearing, cryptic references to the hip-hop in-crowd, clichéd mannerisms, all the usual stuff.
The video itself IS above average, it has to be said, with high production values and a big budget. It is filmed in that cathedral of European white culture, the Louvre, and features some of that museum's most famous pieces, juxtaposing black singers and dancers against the predominantly white subject matter of the paintings (well, go figure: it's a gallery devoted to old masters in a white European country - what do you expect? Jean-Michel Basquiat? Yinka Shonibare?). It appears to suggest, none-too-subtly, that Beyoncé, JAY-Z and all the semi-naked, gyrating black dancers are greater works of art than anything white Western art has ever produced. Yawn... The internet's music reviewers have analyzed and deconstructed the video to death, pointing out every little reference and irony, lest the punters miss them. One other irony: the video was produced by Ricky Saiz, a white guy as far as I can see (possibly Latino, judging by the name) - could they really not find a black guy to do it, if they are so intent on making a point?
Anyhoo... Where does that leave us? Pretty good video + mediocre song = fulsome and extravagant accolades. What's wrong with that picture?

Macedonia? Northern Macedonia? Who cares? Macedonians do

What's in a name? Well, quite a lot if you're Macedonian, apparently.
The Republic of Macedonia is a tiny country, once part of Yugoslavia until that federation split in 1991. But there is also a region of northern Greece, just next door, that is also called Macedonia, and there has been an ongoing dispute over the name for decades now, with Greece blocking Macedonia's membership of the EU and of NATO over it.
The historical region of Macedon covers parts of what are now Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia and Kosovo. For what it's worth, Alexander the Great, perhaps the only Macedonian that history will actually remember, was born in what is now the Greek region of Macedonia. For official international purposes, e.g. in the United Nations, the Republic of Macedonia is known as "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM), which is admittedly a bit of a mouthful.
Anyway, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev have just signed an agreement to rename the Republic of Macedonia as the Republic of Northern Macedonia, in an attempt to break the deadlock, and Greece will then officially lift its political blockade, which will finally allow Macedonia into the EU and NATO.
However, the treaty signed by the two Prime Ministers is only the first step, and it must still be ratified by both parliaments and by a referendum in Macedonia, and all of that is by no means certain. Even the Macedonian President opposes the move, and angry protests continue in both countries over the agreement, with substantial parts of both countries seeing the name change as a sell-out.
It is difficult for us outsiders to get excited about it. Surely a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Well, not if you're Macedonian.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The "thunderwords" of Finnegan's Wake

I have attempted to read James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake at least twice over the decades and, like so many before me, failed miserably. There is no shame in that: the book has defeated many a better mind than mine.
But I did recently come across a collection of the ten so-called "thunderwords" that appear throughout the book, nine of them 100 characters long, and the last one 101 characters. These made-up words are vaguely onomatopoeic, purportedly designed to conjure up the sound of thunder, but as much as anything they are just kind of fun:
  • Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk
  • Perkodhuskurunbarggruauyagokgorlayorgromgremmitghundhurthrumathunaradidillifaititillibumullunukkunun
  • Klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmihsammihnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot
  • Bladyughfoulmoecklenburgwhurawhorascortastrumpapornanennykocksapastippatappatupperstrippuckputtanach
  • Thingcrooklyexineverypasturesixdixlikencehimaroundhersthemaggerbykinkinkankanwithdownmindlookingated
  • Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk
  • Bothallchoractorschumminaroundgansumuminarumdrumstrumtruminahumptadumpwaultopoofoolooderamaunsturnup
  • Pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmacmacmacwhackfalltherdebblenonthedubblandaddydoodled
  • Husstenhasstencaffincoffintussemtossemdamandamnacosaghcusaghhobixhatouxpeswchbechoscashlcarcarcaract
  • Ullhodturdenweirmudgaardgringnirurdrmolnirfenrirlukkilokkibaugimandodrrerinsurtkrinmgernrackinarockar