(started 04.24.02 | 05:28pm EST) THEY BURIED AINSWORTH DYER yesterday from a Mormon church over in Riverdale, just across the Don River. It was a full military service, with honour guard and volleys fired over the casket and I hope to God it was some comfort to his family. So far, the reaction here has been adamant but within reason - we were shocked, then mad, and now the dominant mood is grim, stoically anticipating the inquiries and probes, relieved so far that the U.S. has been admirably straightforward and inclusive, appointing Canadian officers to key roles, apparently pursuing the truth with every intention of transparency. So far, so good.
If anything good comes of this, it might at least be a critical mass of demonstrable public sympathy for our underfunded military that might force the federal government here to loosen the purse strings and, if only for awhile, stop using it like they use everything else - as a political football. The current defense minister, Art Eggleton, is a former mayor of Toronto; a career politician of the worst kind, he was mayor here during the Eighties boomtime, and accelerated the policy of approving development of any kind, regardless of its economic or municipal logic.
Downtown, just south of the old Simpsons store, between Richmond and Adelaide, there's a massive concrete stump, the unfinished elevator core of an office tower that halted construction when the money evaporated after 1987's "Black Monday" market crash. It's unofficially known around here as the Eggleton Memorial. Eggleton left the mayor's office in '91, won a seat in parliament in '93, and took over the defense portfolio in '97. Like any political survivor, he's managed to thrive in the corrosive air of the federal Liberal regime by leaning in whatever direction the policy wind has blown. Since 9/11, the prevailing wind has been to support the U.S. without making any significant changes in the way our military is funded or run.
Canada runs its military on a budget of about seven to eight billion dollars. American military types can pause here to process that figure. You read it right. And it's in Canadian dollars. That's 1.12% of our GDP, by some counts, and it's been shrinking steadily during the course of the Chretien governments apparenly endless tenure in office. It's the reason why our troops are fighting in a desert country wearing forest camo, and why jokes about our procurement process are a staple in the media here - we've spent almost a decade debating the purchase of new marine helicopters while the current fleet shrinks yearly through crashes or breakdowns.
Eggleton's party, like most longtime incumbents, runs on patronage, and the burn about patronage is that it gets more expensive every year you stay in power. As a result, the government runs itself based on 1991 realities, relying on an extinct "peace dividend" as the basis for short-sheeting defense budgets. They've also rescinded a campaign promise to scrap an unpopular tax, among other things, and relied on boomtime economics and fashionable conservative cutback policies to keep their boat afloat.
And so we pursue foreign policy we can ill afford, just to make the right impression in the polls - Canadians support a partnership with the U.S. against terrorism, but a warmaking force is more expensive to field than a peacekeeping one, and we're barely able to afford the latter. The federal Liberals are focused on staying in power, more than anything else, and they'll do or sat anything to pull the right kind of numbers, even if their policies run in the opposite direction. It's become time for a change - any kind of change - just to set the meter to zero again.
In a sense, the tight-lipped outrage that's dominated the response to last week's accident is a gift to the Liberals, another example of circumstances being exploited by the government do keep the spotlight away from the real effects of outrageously corrupt policy. And Ainsworth Dyer, Marc Leger, Richard Green and Nathan Smith become extras - or worse, props - in a cynical national drama that's gone on too, too long. (finished 07:36pm EST | 04.24.02)
(started 04.24.02 | 08:50pm EST) ALL TOO BLOG-LIKE: Jeff Jarvis of WarLog: WW3 thinks building a wall between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a bad idea. I tend to agree. To prove his point, he reminisces about the Berlin Wall, and recalls an eye-opening journey in and out of East Berlin, and the revelation he had on his way back to the west: "I can't tell you how happy I was to see the first Coke sign on our side; I celebrated all the choice we had."
Choice is nice, of course, but sometimes choice is overrated; in the hands of Coca Cola Inc., it can actually seem like something you might want to avoid. Click here to listen to Charlie Rose chairing the Coke annual shareholders' meeting. (Courtesy Harry Shearer's radio show, and via Marc Weisblott.) Listen to it all: the excruciating musical revue - sort of like "Up with People" re-imagined by David Foster Wallace - will make you long for the days when it was either Coke or ginger ale. (finished 09:09pm EST | 04.24.02)
(started 04.24.02 | 09:50pm EST) I SUPPOSE IF I ACTUALLY BELIEVED in the inherent goodness of people, I'd be a lot more disappointed by Israel and Palestine, or by the scandal in the Catholic church, or by the new Star Wars movies. As writer John Mallon says on Petersvoice.com, a Vatican website (link courtesy Kathy Shaidle): "If my faith depended on the sinlessness of priests I'd be in big trouble. I have known cruel and vicious priests as well as men of great kindnesses."
If you've read my entries from a couple of weeks ago, on my years at St. Mike's and the decidedly unnerving experience I had there, you'll know that I've known my share of, if not cruel, then notably unpleasant, uninspiring and errant priests. I needed an excuse at the time to reject the faith I'd been raised in, and they gave it to me. It seemed logical enough at the time, but if I'd taken my nihilism to its logical extreme, I'd have to have found a way to devolve, if only to escape the tragedy of being part of the human race; in any case, I was raised impeccably Catholic and, as I would later discover, that would prove much harder to leave behind. What can I say - I had a bad adolescence; it took much less time for my acne to clear up than my thinking.
Since K.'s return to the church, I've had the good fortune to meet some very nice priests over at the Oratory of St. Phillip Neri, next to Holy Family, the church where we were married. They're a fairly intellectual bunch, and decidedly conservative in an age when "rocks and trees" and "sign of peace" post-Vatican II practice still dominates most diocesan ritual; they put the communion rail back in Holy Family when they re-built the church after a fire, and they do the Tridentine rite every week over at St. Vincent de Paul, the other local church under their bailiwick. For most people, this might actually be the church they're trying to escape; for me, who only makes it to about a handful of services a year, it's precisely the kind of rite I never knew but always missed in the era of the folk mass and the felt banner.
It's not too hard to see that a lot of people are using the current crisis in the church as a chance to advance other agendas. I think it's safe to say that, regardless of whether they get their way or not, the church will find the next few years difficult, and there will be some incidence of defections and outright rejections. It's a shame, but I tend to think that there are people who are looking for a reason to reject the church without appearing impious, or guilty of "new age" tendencies. I'm still not sure I understand how married or female clergy will somehow make the current crisis unlikely to occur again, since the secular world is distinctly abundant in female or married abusers.
Which brings me to the organizing principle of my life, summed up in a short phrase: People are shit. (Sorry Fr. Dan, if you're reading this, but I must have said this - or something like it - to you by now. I do actually believe it, with some reservations, which follow.)
People are shit. People are evil. People are mean and thuggish. People are ignorant, unfair, selfish and cruel. People are spiteful, wicked, capricious and rude. People are perverse, hateful, bigoted and unreasonable. People are cretinous, beastly, crapulent, dismal, wanton, barbaric, heartless, wretched and hopeless. People are utterly lacking in empathy, reason, discipline, sense, decency, respect, discernment, or any sense of self-preservation. People are awful. People are shit. Except when they're not.
People, on the whole, have the potential to be a whole lot better than they are, and every now and then, they show that potential on fleeting, often utterly unexpected occasions. Generally, though, people exist at a level indistinguishable from moral torpor, which often seems to serve as a mere recuperative lull between outbursts of mayhem. I think we're living through one of those periods now, or at least a time where several carefully imagined, lovingly anticipated outbursts of mayhem overlap.
But if my survival - or my faith - depended on the sinlessness of human beings, I'd have left the human race a long time ago. Feet first. (finished 11:03pm EST | 04.24.02)
(started 04.25.02 | 09:30pm EST) IN A WEEK OR SO, the bulk of the French left will go to the polls and vote for Jacques Chirac, the incumbent conservative candidate for the presidency of the Fifth Republic. In what has to understood as a cataclysmic crisis of leftist politics, the candidacy of Lionel Jospin, the socialist prime minister, saw support for his regime dissolve in a mess of either voter apathy or protest votes for far-left parties. As a result, French lefties will go to the polls forced to choose the lesser of what they consider two evils. It's a situation that Canadians like myself, somewhere a faint shade to the left, dismayed by centrist parties like the federal Liberals and painfully aware the the "socialist" NDP haven't a chance in hell of gaining power, never mind discarding obsolete rhetoric (among other things), find themselves facing every time they call an election up here.
Le Pen and the Front National are masters at the politics of fear that generally thrives on the far right, but can also find a home on the post-communist left in the once Soviet-dominated world, a pretty good indicator of how little coherent policy or traditional consensus matters in the world of Le Pen, Joerg Haider, Gianfranco Fini, Carl Hagen, Pauline Hanson, Christof Blocher, Zyuganov, Zhirinovski or Mira Markovic. Their platform is simple enough: the world is going to hell, and the only hope lies in the past or, rather, a selective and idealized vision of the past. For anyone feeling vulnerable to the pace of change - farmers, labourers, pensioners, bureaucrats afraid of shrinking government or that vast but demographically vague segment of an ethnic majority that sees itself threatened by immigration - the appeal is as obvious as the solution: put on the brakes, close the gates, isolate ourselves from contamination and cater to one's constituency above all others. It's a tribal, nostalgist, basically luddite worldview that's more than a little familiar these days.
Of course, it's close kin to the fundamentalist Islam it professes to hate as much, if not more, than its centrist political adversaries. Fear is a powerful motivator, and it's possible to make a frightened person believe that truly awful measures - mass deportations, trade deficits or sacrificing a whole generation to "martyrdom" - are necessary to preserve or create a better world. The French voters who've resigned themselves to holding their noses and voting for what would, in a different situation, be their political nemesis, don't know just how easy - sane, even - their "unimaginable" sacrifice of principles truly is. (finished 10:48pm EST | 04.25.02)
(started 04.25.02 | 10:50pm EST) MY NEXT SUMMER CLOTHING PURCHASE is probably going to be an Expos jersey. I'm probably going to forgo the "classic" Expos logo in favour of the awful "soft-serv gallic tricolour swirl" 70s logo above, just to make a point - a doomed, quixotic point, but a point nonetheless.
It's a foregone conclusion that the Expos are a doomed team, attendance in the low four figures, and set to disappear with league "contraction" at the end of a season they'll doubtless finish at the bottom of the standings. I've never been an Expos fan - hell, I'm not even a baseball fan - but I've found myself overcome with a real surge of sympathy for this hopeless underdog of a team.
Twenty years ago they were stars; the mid-Nineties strike cut short another promising run - or at least that's what the sports editor at work tells me - and they've never recovered. Other clubs have endured worse, but Montreal is a decade or two past being a baseball town, and in they've had to endure the most heartbreaking of all fates: an unloved team in a town that doesn't care anymore, leaving the dugout every inning in dead men's spikes.
There's a real, if slightly cheap, pathos about these waning days of the Expos. If this was a movie, they'd take on a broken-down manager at the end of his career who, inspired by a woman or a ghost or the possibility of redemption, would fight the indifference of the fans and the loss-cutting fatalism of management and take the team to the pennant and, maybe, the world series. There would be a death, and a loss of nerve, and maybe even a last-minute loss that strikes the fans in the bleachers into tragic silence, but the ending would be imbued with an almost spiritual lunge at hope and grace.
That probably isn't going to happen. The Expos will finish out the last year of their life, and I'll be left with a shirt and a story I can tell when my friends ask me just why the hell I'm wearing a baseball jersey, and a damn Expos jersey at that. (finished 11:05pm EST | 04.25.02)
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