Monday, November 29, 2004

Why Pierre Trudeau should win the CBC's Greatest Canadian contest - Part II

For we are young, my brothers, and full of doubt,
and we have listened too long to timid men.
- Bruce Hutchison

In my last post, I argued that the only people on the CBC's list of the Ten Greatest Canadians who are actually worthy of consideration for the top spot are Frederick Banting, Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, John A. MacDonald, David Suzuki, and Pierre Trudeau. I shall now proceed to demonstrate why Trudeau is the most worthy of them all - the "Greatest Canadian", if you will.

Pierre Trudeau was a man of public policy unparallelled among any other Western heads of government, let alone Canadian ones. His intellect, tempered with a steely and nearly unshakable resolve, brought Canada some of our most important policies, which are alone enough to give him a spot in the three greatest Canadians of all time. Combine this with his delivery, his style, and his force of personality, and there can be no doubt that no other person has influenced Canada or Canadians as deeply and as positively as him.

In the beginning, there was Trudeau the intellectual. Co-founder of Cité Libre (the magazine that published monthly but had the influence of daily), globetrotter, dabbler in all that interested him (and neglecter of those things, like world wars, that didn't), thorn in the side of the autocratic and demagogic Duplessis régime, Trudeau was among the most important figures in Québec's révolution tranquille. His early writings - among them the essay "Quelques obstacles à la démocratie au Québec" - savaged the pillars of Québec power, be they church, anglo business owner, or roi nègre. As a sage on the front lines of the Révolution, Trudeau took on the establishment.

But the Révolution was eventually won, and the establishment fell into the hands of those who had sought to bring it down. Jean Lesage became Premier of Québec, the radicals became the cabinet ministers, and Trudeau got the University appointment that had hitherto eluded him by reason of his political beliefs. Urban nationalism replaced rural Catholicism as Québec's state religion, and Trudeau found it no less oppressive a creed. Again he took up the pen, and wrote his seminal "La nouvelle trahison des clercs", a searing attack on his province's new Gods, separatism chief among them. In response to poet Jean-Guy Pilon's assertion that "when the day comes that this cultural minority, hitherto only tolerated in this country, becomes a nation unto itself in its own borders, our literature will take a tremendous leap ahead, because the writer, like everyone else in this society will feel free. And a free man is capable of doing great things", Trudeau wrote:

It would seem, too, that Pilon is a good poet. I would like him to tell me - in prose, if he likes - how national sovereignty is going to make him 'a free man' and capable of doing great things'. If he fails to find within himself, in the world about him and in the stars above, the dignity, pride, and other well-springs of poetry, I wonder why and how he will find them in a 'free' Quebec.


I was in Ghana during the first months of her independence. The poets were no better, the chemists were no more numerous, and, on a more tangible level, salaries were no higher. Since the intellectuals were unable to explain to the people why this should be, they distracted their attention to some obscure island in the Gulf of Guinea which needed to be 'reconquered'. To this end a large slice of this economically destitute state's budget was earmarked for the army - which ultimately served to put the parliamentary opposition in jail.

So Trudeau the intellectual became Trudeau the contrarian, and as his contemporaries sought a "free" Québec he decided to take full advantage of the freedoms already available by becoming federal justice minister (the feds didn't want him, of course, but Jean Marchand made Trudeau's acceptance into caucus a condition of his own entry into federal politics), where his intellect proceeded to impress. "Unlike the unreconstructed political dinosaurs of the Liberal party who still occupy most of the positions of power," wrote Peter Newman, "Trudeau is an agent of ferment, a critic of Canadian society, questioning its collected conventional wisdom."

In hindsight, it has the look of inevitability, but Trudeau was a very odd choice to lead the Liberals. For one thing, he was interesting, which in and of itself marked a radical departure from a hundred years of Liberal tradition. For another, he had criticized the Liberals sharply in the past (Mike Pearson was "the defrocked priest of peace" for accepting nuclear warheads on Canadian soil), and there is no value more prized in the Liberal Party than loyalty to label. But choose him the Liberals did, setting the stage for at once the most impressive and the most entertaining (MacKenzie Bowell's excepted) Prime Ministries in Canadian history.

Both the enterainment and the impression stemmed largely from Trudeau's unwillingness to yield on those issue that truly mattered to him. This was captured, visually, by his scowl at bottle-throwing protesters on the eve of the 1968 election, while other dignitaries ducked for cover. Two years later, this resolve manifested itself in his behaviour towards the FLQ crisis, as he refused to negotiate with terrorists (famously, he told his wife that if she or their sons were kidnapped, there would be no negotiation for their release). Make no mistake: Pierre Trudeau was wrong to invoke the War Measures Act, just as previous parliaments were wrong to create it. But at a time when almost everybody, especially Québecois intellectuals, was advocating meaningful concessions to the terrorists, Trudeau, to his enduring credit, didn't make any. Since then, there has never been a politically-motivated terrorist action against the Canadian state.

In 1980, he refused, as Jean Chrétien fifteen years later did not, to grant federation-altering concessions to the nationalists. Then, two years later, he managed to put through a Constitution that attained his major goals - patriation and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms - without any of the decentralization that the Premiers were seeking.

Which leads us to Trudeau's concrete record of policy. Beginning with his reform, as Minister of Justice, of the Criminal Code and of divorce laws that legalized most sexual activity between consenting results and effectively made divorce completely discretionary (reforms he famously defended with the line, not his own, that "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation"), this was a man who was as able to generate ideas as to implement them. Inheriting Pearson's royal commission on bilingualism and biculturalism, Trudeau breathed life into its recommendations. For anglophones in Québec and for francophones elsewhere, this represented one of the most important moves ever made in advancing Trudeau's true passion, the empowerment of the individual in the face of the state.

And then there was multiculturalism, which constituted endorsement by the state of the idea - unique among the family of nations - that multiple cultures could and should exist in one state, without having the interests of the individual in any way subordinated to them. While it has not been articulated as such, multiculturalism amounts to the right for the individual to practise a culture of his/her choice.

The culmination of these trends was the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which entrenched the most important rights in the Canadian Constitution, and which has shaped the law in this country ever since (it's been speculated that a time will come in which all cases heard by the Supreme Court will be Charter cases, on the rights of individuals in the face of the state). Despite two imperfections forced upon him - the removal of property rights insisted upon by the NDP and the notorious Section 33, a sop to provincial premiers - the establishment of the Charter ranks as the greatest accomplishment by any Prime Minister during the twentieth century.

Often overlooked in the (deserved) hullaballoo over the Charter is the issue of patriation itself. For one hundred and fifteen years, Canada existed as a state constitutionally subordinate to the United Kingdom. It was Trudeau, through the 1982 patriation, who granted this country its real independence. And it was Trudeau, even in retirement, who protected it, coming out swining against the entire Canadian political establishment to play a decisive role in the defeat of both the Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accords.

Surely the above is enough for any thinking person to rank him as among the most deserving of the "Greatest Canadian" title, though we've yet to touch the question of the intangible effect he had on Canadians. As Hutchison said, up until 1968 we had truly listened too long to timid men (excepting, of course, John Diefenbaker to whom, to our eternal credit, we fast stopped listening). Mike Pearson's idea of snappy dressing was a bowtie, while MacKenzie King's idea of a sound byte was "Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription". Louis St-Laurant was Prime Minister for a decade, and he's been all but forgotten a scant fifty years later. In 1979, Canadians threw Trudeau from office and discovered, to our horror, that we'd replaced him with Joe Clark, who we turfed at our next opportunity. Canada was through with listening to timid men.

Quite apart from the staged stunts, the somersaulting into swimming pools, the kissing of young women, and the pirouetting behind the Queen's back to protest Buckingham Palace's distinction between heads of government and heads of state, Trudeau had that intangible known as "charisma". Marlon Brando called him "the most intimidating man [he'd] ever met". John Lennon visited in 1969, and it was the Beatle who came away overwhelmed, saying "He is beautiful people." He dated Margot Kidder, Kim Catrell, and Barbara Streisand. And when confrontational - which he often was - he was no less magnificent: telling (partisan P.C.) Tim Ralfe and others who doubted his commitment to beating terrorism to "just watch [him]"; demolishing Renée Levesque's criticism of his "anglo" middle name ("That, my dear friends, is what contempt is. . . it means saying that the Quebecers on the No side are not as good as the others and perhaps they have a drop or two of foreign blood, while the people on the Yes side have pure blood in their veins. . ."); responding to Nixon's label of "that asshole Trudeau" ("I've been called worse things by better men"); wistfully bidding the Parliamentary Press Gallery adieu upon his retirement ("I regret that I won't have you to kick around anymore."). He had style, man. While it's fashionable to discount the importance of style, I defy anybody to look me in the eye and tell me that Canada's national character, to the extent that it exists, was not been shaped by the force of Trudeau's personality as much as by the force of his ideas.

Fidel Castro came to his funeral. So did Jimmy Carter. Helmut Schmidt eulogized him for MacLean's magazine. The world had never bothered to listen to timid men from Canada, but when we produced a Trudeau, watch out.

Not that Trudeau was ever able to cultivate this international respect for the purpose of furthering Canada's foreign policy. Indeed, his record in foreign affairs was matched only be his record in domestic ones for day-to-day futility. Trudeau was, in many ways, a disappointment. But he was a disappointment only because he had heightened our expectations to the point that disappointment was not only a possibility, but an inveitability. Could the same have been said for King, or St-Laurent? Could the same now be said of Paul Martin?

He was wrong on the War Measures Act. He was ineffective of all matters economic. He let the debt get out of control. He approached issues unrelated to the sovereignty of the individual with a disinterest bordering on indifference. But if you can look at the Charter and at bilingualism and tell me that a few extra points of inflation thirty years ago make up the basis on which we should judge this man, well, I'd hate to have your priorities.

To sum up, I'll throw things over to Allan Fotheringham:

And Pierre Trudeau? Since him we have had Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien. They don't make giants anymore.

Or Geoffrey Stevens:

Can you imagine young people today defying their parents to attend a Stockwell Day rally? Pushing and shoving to touch the garments of Joe Clark? Swooning at the sight of Paul Martin? Or girls (and their moms) clawing their way through police lines to plant a big kiss on the lips of Jean Chrétien?

Yes, bring on the historians.

It's okay, Pierre: Canadians didn't always give you your due when you were alive, either. Give us a few decades; we'll come around.

Next post: Trudeau head to head against Banting, Douglas, Fox, MacDonald, and Suzuki.


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Why Pierre Trudeau should win the CBC's Greatest Canadian contest - Part I

First of all, some background reading.

Finished? Good. With that in mind, we can dispense with discussion on the fallacy of even running such a contest and get straight to discussion on why I'm right and those of you who disagree with me are, to put things as delicately as possible, not. Before we get there, though, I'd like to make a point to those of you who do not believe in public broadcasting: find a copy of tonight's greatest Canadian showdown, and cue to the part where Rex Murphy and Daniel Igali are yelling at each other over the relative merits of Pearson and Trudeau. Then tell me that Mothercorp doesn't enrich this country. Beyond that, I would like to express my intense desire for Murphy to enter Canadian politics no matter where he stands on the so-called issues, if only to make televised debates better.

On the question itself, let's start by narrowing the field a little. Cherry? A mildly entertaining and reasonably informed commentator on hockey. Neither the best coach we've produced, the best hockey analyst we've produced, nor the best entertainer we've produced. Whatever category you wish to slot him into, he's exceeded by many others. The contrarian in me would like to back him, after so many others have dismissed him, but sometimes the majority's got it right. Exit, Don.

Wayne Gretzky is *probably* the greatest hockey player of all time (some make the case for Mario, speculating as to what he could have accomplished if not for his early retirement and his cancer, but it is not a contest of potential in which we are engaged), but I am adopting here a definition of "greatness" that requires service unto others. Gretzky entertained people, but nowhere near as effectively aa a number of other, less talented, hockey players. Apart from that, my values do not place hockey on anywhere near the same plane of importance as public policy. If yours do, consider a vote for Gretzky. The Great One's not great enough for me.

Alexander Graham Bell is easy to dismiss on the basis that he is not, by any reasonable definition of the word, a Canadian. That feels like a technicality, though, so I'd like to be firmer: Alexander Graham Bell would not belong on this list even if he was born and raised in Moose Jaw. While he came up with a groundbreaking invention whose importance has only been amplified over the years, an inventor's greatness must not be measured only by the practical applications of his invention but also by the scientific progress required to create the invention, and one this there were dozens more impressive than Bell.

Lester Pearson was a good man - likely the best ("best" being the superlative of "good", rather than of "great") to ever hold the office of Canadian Prime Minister. And his government accomplished a great deal, especially given that he was never able to capture a majority (though his inability to do so ought perhaps to be counted against him). He might even - and this is rather high praise, praise that I'm not sure I'd even apply to Trudeau - qualify as a competent PM. But I see nothing that made him truly Great. He brokered some deals with the Premiers (indeed, brokerage was always his forte), he came up with a meaningless flag, and expanded the role of the federal government in the provision of social programs, but he had no great accomplishment, as the other politicians on the list all did, to make him deserve a spot on the list. As for his Nobel Peace Prize, it pains me to say it but he was one of the least deserving recipients in the award's history. Pearson was a good man who excelled at bland conciliation, but if he was the Greatest Canadian, Canada's in trouble.

That leaves the six who I consider to be genuinely worthy of consideration: Fred Banting, Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, John A. MacDonald, David Suzuki, and Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau clearly has the most eloquent advocate of the six (seriously, Rex: run!), so it seems a little unfair for me to add my own supreme eloquence to his corner, and yet I shall do so. . . in my next post.


Saturday, November 27, 2004

Morale is Low; We're Under Attack by Elephants

So Obnoxious Hack Theatre 3000 made its latest foray into the world of cinema last night, viewing Oliver Stone's Alexander, Hollywood's latest antiquity-based epic. Like Troy's, Alexander's cast features a number of big names: Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins, Val Kilmer, and Angelina Jolie's Nipples. Unlike Troy, Alexander isn't good. In fact, it's just the opposite (bad).

Going into the movie, one of the few things I knew about Alexander the Great was that he died at an early age. After sitting through this monstrosity, I can't help but to feel it wasn't nearly early enough. This movie would have been better if Stone had cut about three hours out of the middle of it.

Yes, it drags on a little - not because it's repetative, but because the things it has to say aren't really very interesting in the first place. As far as I can tell, the movie's moral is that you shouldn't be too obsessed with conquering all of Asia, or you'll die. Or possibly I'm wrong. Maybe the real moral is that if you're a gay man you shouldn't marry a woman, because she'll be jealous of your gay lover and she might kill him, though that angle really won't be very well explored. Or maybe it's that it's a bad idea to listen to crazy women with snakes. At any rate, the message I got out of it was that you shouldn't see this movie.

The acting was bad, the writing was worse. Or possibly the other way around. I did appreciate the way that everybody spoke in a Scottish accent, though (except for Jolie as Olympius, who spoke in a Transylvanian accent). What I didn't appreciate so much was the movie's obsession with eagles, which I suspect were intended to symbolize something, although it was really never very clear what.

Finally, it's a good thing that Roman didn't see this one, since it would have given him additional ammunition for his theory, first elucidated during Troy, that "if you hold a knife to somebody's throat, you'll eventually have sex with him/her" (N.B. "knife" is used literally in this theory).

At any rate, don't see Alexander. And if you do, don't blame me.


Thursday, November 25, 2004

I don't know what is real
I can't touch what I feel
And I hide behind the shield
Of my illusion

Look! New Councillor blogs!

Today's fun question: what does this post have to do with installing a hard drive on a yak?

Answer: Neither one has anything to do with defending my assertion that Pierre Trudeau should win the "Greatest Canadian" thing.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Egomaniacal Musings

So how come, when I'm so back-logged and not posting anything of use, my traffic is through the roof? And who's reading from the Fac residence?

To come (really): "Pierre Trudeau: The Greatest Canadian, or What?"


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Big Story: Smith Shits Bed

Did I see that coming? Nope.

I had predicted 74 Tories, 6 Liberals, and 3 New Democrats getting elected. Boy was I wrong. And boy am I thankful. I feel like dancing in the streets.

Who won this election? Well, Ralph gets to stay as Premier, but not for three and three quarters years - his own party will see to that. I guess you could say that the Tory leadership contenders were winners (well, except Norris - see ya, Mark), since the party is now ripe for a takeover and rebuilding. But to find a silver lining in this for the Tories is a stretch, despite some straw-grasping by some of the party's more devoted cheerleaders. Elections are not run against other candidates but against expectations, and the P.C.s fell short of everybody's.

The Liberals were the big winners. Nobody had given them a chance at seventeen seats. Hell, I said that they'd be lucky to gain on the five they held at dissolution, let alone the seven they won last time. And three Liberals in Calgary? I'd have been less surprised to see three prostitutes in a convent.

The Alliance was also a winner, since few gave them a chance at winning a seat. If Jim Dinning is this province's next Premier, the Alliance will pick up big in rural Alberta. I'm glad of this. Don't get me wrong, I find the party batshit crazy (Roman described the races in some rural ridings as the candidates tripping over themselves to convince the voters that they were the most amenable to allowing the sport hunting of gays with unregistered guns), but anything that introduces new elements into rural Alberta's political monoculture is renowned at this point. Something strikes me as a little weird, though - the Alberta Party only contested four ridings, and it beat the Alliance in half of those. Any explanations?

The New Democrats were winners too, but nowhere near on the scale of the other two parties. They were widely expected to win three or four seats - which they did - but some optimistic observers had them at five. More troublingly, they finished behind the Green Party in Calgary, which bodes ill for their chances of a pan-provincial movement.

On a personal note, it gave me great satisfaction to see my own MLA, Mary O'Neill, lose her seat. Mary, you're a nice lady and very hardworking, but anybody who refuses to directly engage in substantive policy discussion during an election campaign does not deserve to hold elected office. I wish you all the best out of it.

So yes, I, an opponent of the Klein government, am nothing short of thrilled with an election result that gave the Klein government close to three quarters of the seats, and which did not even come close to identifying a party with a reasonable shot at forming a government after the next election, or even the one after that. Only in Alberta, you say?

Shut up, I'm lacing up my dancing shoes, I reply.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Age-old Question Answered

What is the point of this story?
What information pertains?
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.


Friday, November 19, 2004

I am Hermione Granger *and* Samuel L. Jackson

For these facts and more, mosey over the my sidebar and check out the newly updated "Everything You Could Ever Want to Know" link. Thanks be unto Sarah Bidanjiri (née Wilson, to provide a frame of reference to the older school St. Albertans reading this) for providing the links that prevented my GPA from becoming unecessarily high this week.

Along the same vein (with a dose of egomania coursing through it), I am near completion of a "Which Member of Hack Club 7 Are You?" quiz. Does anybody know of a website that will let me publish it?

Klog, indeed.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

My sources tell me. . .

. . . that there's a staffer in the U of A Senate office who, despite never having met me, harbours an intense dislike for me. Apparently I'm "mean-spirited" (if that's suddenly a crime. . .). Rest assured, oh staffer of academic anachronisms, that you shall have a response from me, just as soon as I find a copy of Johnny Cash's legendary Billboard ad on to which to paste my head.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It's the way you look to a distant constellation as it's dying in the corner of the sky

If "blog" comes from "weblog", it seems to me that this space ought to be called a "klog" these days - not the shoe, but as the result of the application of the "weblog/blog" formula to "backlog". I have yet to explain to all of you, in that delightfully patronizing tone of mine, why Trudeau is the worthiest of the ten finalists for the CBC's "Greatest Canadian" series, nor have I recounted my adventures with Premier Ralph (tentatively titled "Clowns, Press Secretaries, and Bullshit"). Then, of course, I've been knee-deep in some pretty self-inflicted angst, which might warrent a cryptic entry or two. Today, though, I will post on none of these things, opting instead to give my impressions on the St. Albert candidates' forum that occurred last night.

The highlight probably occurred before the forum even got going, as I was having "dinner" (the term is used loosely, hence the quotation marks - I am not in the habit of throwing meaningless quotation marks about all willy-nilly, as wildly amusing as that admittedly sounds) with Close Personal Friend of Mine (TM) Gillian Hansen. Since I'm not sure I've mentioned her here before, I should note that Gillian is an old-ish friend of mine whose counsel I've relied on countless times over the course of this life of quiet desparation, despite the fact that she is, as they say, a few seats short of a majority.

Anyhow, Gill (pronounced, but for some reason not spelled, "Jill") and I were sitting in the St. Albert Inn with our respective vittles, when who should walk by but St. Albert provincial Green candidate, and former Edmonton-St. Albert federal Green candidate, Conrad Bitangcol. He alerted me that he was still reading this space (hi, Conrad!), saying that it was probably his best source of political commentary. Now really, how can I vote against somebody who considers my blog to be among the best sources of political commentary out there?

Highlights of the forum itself:

1. Conrad announcing, to my surprise, that after having been born and raised in St. Albert he now resides in Red Deer. He later clarified that he had intended to say "Deer Ridge" which is a St. Albert subdivision.

2. Of the three written questions I'd submitted, only one - "If you were not running, for which of the other four candidates would you vote, and why?" - was actually asked. The most surreal moment of the debate came as NDP candidate Travis Thompson and Alberta Alliance candidate Michaela Meldrum cross-endorsed each other.

3. In response to the same question, incumbent Tory Mary O'Neill endorsed Bitangcol (just as Liberal Jack Flaherty had), but then followed it up with "I am, in all seriousness, here to earn your support and your vote." This lead to a large groan coming up from the crowd, which was quickly drowned out by the cheering section that Ms. O'Neill had seen fit to import.

4. In response to the fact that most of the questions that were being asked seemed to be of the softball variety (sample questions: "Being an MLA is a seven day a week, twenty-four hour a day job. Are you prepared to make the commitment necessary?" "Mr. Flaherty, what is the Liberal Party's commitment to reducing waiting times in Alberta's health care system?"), Gill and I invented a game wherein each question would be reduced to a simple "for or against" proposition. For example "What would your parties do about Crystal Meth addiction?" became "Crystal Meth: for or against?"

5. Not really a highlight, but how come candidates never answer stupid questions sarcastically? For example, if any candidate had responded to the "twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week" question with "No, if you should be so foolish as to elect me, I plan on spending most of my time drunk in a hot tub with attractive members of the opposite sex," I would have immediately decided to vote for them, regardless of the stance they took on any of the so-called "issues".

6. The candidates' syntheses of their platforms: Ms. Meldrum advised us that a vote for her was a vote for us, while Ms. O'Neill stuck with a vote for her being a vote for St. Albert ("St. Albert: for or against?").

7. Conrad following up on Mr. Thompson's assertion that the Tories had unwittingly "woken the giant" with "there's only one giant, and that's the Green one." It doesn't seem that funny until you appreciate how nervous Conrad's appeared on stage in the past, and how uncharacteristic of his past performance an impromptu joke was.

8. My conversation with Ms. O'Neill at the break, which went something from this:

Steve: Hello, Mary.
Mary: Hi Steve, it's good to see you.
Steve: I was wondering about a comment you made during your opening remarks. You said that the present government enacted policy that place limits on tuition fee increases. While this is technically true, given that it only did so after initiating the removal of legislation that placed still-stricter limits on tuition fee levels, wasn't that a little intellectually dishonest?
Mary: Well, the regulations are in place, and they do limit tuition increases.
Steve: I'm not disputing that. What I am saying is that I think your comments, whether deliberately or not, created an impression that was false, and that it might be a good idea to clarify.
Mary: You know, Steve, the government already pays more than two thirds of the cost of your education.
Steve: Yes, I know. I'm not trying to instigate a debate on the merits of the present tuition policy, I'm just suggesting to you that your earlier comments, while tehchnically accurate, were not entirely honest.
Mary: The cost to the government of funding Universities and Colleges is increasing rapidly.
Steve: With respect, Mary, I don't see what that has to do with what I've been saying.
Mary: Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

At this point, a volunteer with a Mary O'Neill button took Ms. O'Neill's place in the conversation so the latter could go off and answer some tough questions from a group of Girl Guides.

Volunteer: Are you a University student yourself, Steve?
Steve: I am.
Volunteer: And are you on the Council? Because a lot of your rhetoric sounds familiar to me.
Steve: What rhetoric? I just asked Mary if she thought her comments were honest.
Volunteer: Well, I think you made your point.
Steve: Then why didn't I get some sort of coherent response to my question?
Volunteer: You know what you should do? You should schedule a meeting with Mary after the election.
Steve: See, the trouble with that is that Mary just made a comment publicly that gave an inaccurate impression. If I get an acknowledgement of this that occurs privately and after the election, this really does very little for the cause of public discourse.
Volunteer: And who are you here to support today?
Steve: I'm an undecided voter.
Volunteer: I'll bet.
Steve: No, I really am. Though I have narrowed the field somewhat.
Volunteer: Well, I do believe that it's good that we have a choice.
Steve: I'm pleased to hear somebody wearing that kind of button say that. Sometimes I have occasion to wonder.

9. The moderator, Ken Jones, attempting to read a question submitted by a member of the audience:

KJ: How would you alienate the hardships faced by seniors?
KJ: I'm sorry, how would you deviate the hardships faced by seniors?
Audience (in one voice): Alleviate!
KJ: Um, right. How would you alleviate the hardships faced by seniors?

My voting decision to follow.


Friday, November 12, 2004

I met Ralph Klein today

But I'm not going to blog about it. At least not right now. Suffice it to say that I now know the answer ("yes") to the age old question of whether Steve West is really the asshole he's purported to be.

What I am going to blog about - a departure from my normal diet of politics, politics, pithy observations, politics, and stories about me appearing nude in public - is football. Eskimos football. Eskimos football and Tom Higgins.

I don't know as much about football as some others I might mention, but I know a certain amount. I even had a playing career of my own once, back in the 1994 season, when, as an offensive lineman for the St. Albert Bengals - and I don't wish to toot my own horn, here - I managed to take illegal procedure calls on two consecutive plays (the Bengals only won one game that year, that being the one I missed. I'm pretty sure that was a coincidence.). Anyway, this interest in football leads me to read the Journal's coverage, including its story on Mr. Higgins' decision to resign his post as head coach. Towards the end of that story, he made reference to a tough conversation around the dinner table, and to how hard this has been on his three University-aged daughters, the oldest of whom, Holly, had been so upset that she was unable to finish a paper for school.

Now, this has a certain amount of resonnance, because I know Holly Higgins - not well, certainly, and I probably haven't seen her in close to a year now, but well enough that if I saw her on campus I'd say hi, a gesture that I daresay would be returned. And she is, by all accounts (including my own) one of the nicest people you're ever likely to meet. Last year, not long after Mr. Higgins had won the CFL'c coach of the year award, Holly, with obvious pride, introduced her father to a crowd of high school students and University-aged volunteers as the keynote speaker for the S.U.'s High School Leadership Conference. The love in her voice and on her face as she did so came back to me whenever I read any quotes from Eskimos fans calling for his head, and I'd wonder why we do this to sports figures.

You could ask why we (and I do mean "we", being far from exempt on this count) do it to politicians, too, but at least there are truly lofty issues - sometimes people's lives - at stake, so it makes sense that emotions should run a little strong. But football coaches? Are they such public figures that it's excusable to demand their dismissal from our armchairs? Isn't there enough dischord in our world without demonizing good men who are trying to be as successful as they can in that life or death field football? I mean, really, what the hell is wrong with us?

And while we're asking the tough questions, what kind of call is a fake punt on third and nineteen late in the first half in your own zone while you're up six nothing?

And then I ate the bowl.

Do you know what there isn't enough of on my blogroll? Blogs of people for whom English isn't their first language, but who still aggressively (and accurately) criticize anglophones' grammar. Enter Catrin Berghoff, who's famous principally for having one of the most enviable voting records on Council (where enviability is a measure of closeness of fit with my own record), losing to me at Monopoly, and making an amusing comment about Germans, Canadians, pot, and oregano that I quoted a few entries down.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Should I be concerned. . .

. . . that the display outside the Peer Health Educators' office misspells "masturbation"?

(That should lead to some good Google hits.)

Once, when I was in junior high school, I rewrote the lyrics to Paul Simon's "The Boxer" to make it "The Politician". Another time, I rewrote "Homeward Bound" as "Hellward Bound". It was pretty awesome.

Question: why do the people who tell us that Edmonton should vote P.C. to have "a voice at the table" generally vote Conservative during federal elections?

Another question: how much would you pay to see Steve Smith shave his head for cancer (thanks Gary)?

A third question: given Ms. Thomas's response to Gary's question, how much would you pay to see Steve Smith *refrain* from shaving his head for cancer? This question might be of particular interest to any readers at whose weddings I am scheduled to be acting as a groomsman in the near future.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I pride myself on my humility

I need somebody to manage my schedule. For free. Any volunteers? Seriously, one of you who's an S.U. employee with access to Meeting Maker should just put my schedule on yours with a different colour.

Big Story: Taft Shits Bed

Observations from the debate:

1. Klein came out a winner because he exceeded expectations, where "exceeded expectations" is code for "did not take off his pants and dance the funky chicken on his podium".

2. Mason came out a winner because he established himself as being more effective than Taft at opposing Klein (never mind this business of "advancing an alternative vision" - both parties are so far from power that I see little reason that either needs one) and because he didn't call handicapped people "heroes".

3. Taft was terrible. Really really terrible. Besides the usual "no vision no plan" refrain, he didn't get any meaningful shots in at Klein, and most of his attempts (surrounding the BSE aid program, for example) were readily brushed aside by Klein. It didn't help that Taft himself appeared not to have any particular plan himself, with regards to the Heritage Trust Fund, for example.

4. I think most people will probably recognize how ludicrous it is that Klein summed the costs of the Liberal and ND campaign promises (and did so incorrectly at that, since a lot of Liberal promises are tied to the size of the surplus - why didn't Taft make that point?). However, Klein *was* successful at portraying both of the opposition parties as big spenders. It remains to be seen how much that will hurt them.

5. What's with Brian Mason's right eyebrow?

6. The exchange between Klein and Mason on flying down to Vulcan was hilarious.

7. Actually, a lot of Klein's performance was hilarious.

8. It boggles the mind, but I think Klein pulled off that "folksy" thing again. How a guy that arrogant (and please note that I do not find arrogance in a politician to be an objectionable trait, generally, and that I do find folksiness to be such a trait), who spends much of the debate talking over the moderator, could still be construed as "folksy" is beyond me. Maybe if Lynda Steele had a beer gut and a John Deere hat. . .

9. Tory campaign worker I know: "I sometimes wonder if Ralph is *trying* to make our lives difficult."

10. ND campaign worker I know: "Our designer thinks we're exaggerating Brian's twitch."

Me: "Nope. I noticed it, and I'm the least observant man alive. A candidate could probably show up pantsless and I'd miss it, but I noticed the twitch."

11. On balance, Klein did a lot to prevent the Alliance from winning any seats, Mason bettered his party's chances of winning at least one additional (either Larry Booi's, Ray Martin's, and/or David Eggan's), and Taft pretty well put the final nail in the coffin of the Liberals' chances at more than the seven seats they won last time. Even that will be a stretch, actually, since they have no chance of holding on to Ken Nicol's seat, and they have only an outside chance at picking up a seat - either Emonton-Castle Downs or Edmonton-Manning - to replace it. This also assumes that the Liberals can win back the seats vacated by Don Massey, Debby Carlson, and Bill Bonner, which is far from assured.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Shovels: the new white meat

Before proceeding further, let's have a little evaluation of my election prediction (am I just excited about the functioning of permalinks? Yes.). I went forty-seven for fifty-one, miscasting only Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin (and, truth be told, by election day I knew I was going to be wrong about Minnesota, but I stuck with it in the interests of consistency). We still don't know what happened with Iowa, so I'm just going to say that I got that one right. None of the states whose outcomes could have led me to drink semen - those being Arkansas, Colorado, and Hawaii - were even close.

Some highlights of election night:

1. Council.

2. Meeting Rachel. I don't actually remember her very well, but she seemed nice and she now links to me (and also to a couple of other blogs to which I contribute, those being POI and DJSR (though she criticizes the latter rather harshly), so you should all head over to her place for moment.

3. Having a conversation with some guy named George who explained to me that
(a) he might be running for S.U. President this year;
(b) despite being a friend of Mat Brechtel's, he voted Steve Smith last time because he thought Print on Demand was stupid and because Steve Smith actually took the time to talk to him in CAB about the important issues; and
(c) that he'd since lost a lot of respect for Steve Smith, because he'd turned into a real asshole.
I obligingly agreed with (c).

4. Hanging with (in alphabetical order) Councillors Berghoff, Lau, Lewis, and Nicol, none of whom I knew very well before but all of whom seem to be extremely cool. In a good way.

Hey, you want something depressing? In four states - Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming - Bush more than doubled Kerry's votes. The reverse did not happen in any states, unless you count the District of Columbia. Which isn't a state, so you shouldn't.

Okay, hopefully that puts an end to American election bloggery for now. More on Alberta's and on the CBC's Greatest Canadian thing later.


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"In Germany, everybody can tell the difference between pot and oregano. In Canada, they're like 'What's oregano?'"
- Catrin Berghoff

Do you know what the best part was? The best part was when Bush lost.

Aw, fuck.

I'm hungover. And I don't think it's from alcohol.


Monday, November 01, 2004

On a (blog) roll

Many of you have written to ask me if former Students' Union Arts Councillor, City Council candidate in Ward 4, ordained minister, reservist Corporal, and all around badass Paul Welke has a blog. I'm pleased to report that yes he does.

You can't spell "Awesome" without S & G

A new Simon & Garfunkel live album is being released November 30. I'm giddy. Combine this with the fact that Simon's rereleased the bulk of his studio albums with bonus material, and it looks like my music-purchasing dollars for the next decade or so are allocated.


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