A friend of mine recently suggested to me that I write a post detailing what I think about North Korea.
In fairness, I have no idea what to say.
This is a country like no other on earth. One that lives through unimaginable brutalities every day, and which we in the west are content to let linger in a long, horrible nightmare that has, for the people of this hermit kingdom, lasted over 50 years. See the movie Kimjongilia if you want to know what life is like in this benighted country. It will horrify you. My brother in law, who’s a film director, once interviewed a survivor, which seems the only appropriate word to use, of North Korea. He asked the man’s South Korean handler if his story was particularly terrifying.
He said no. They’re all like that.
We turn a blind eye because…I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest. I imagine it has a lot to do with not wanting to antagonize China, given what happened last time the west tried to extirpate this vicious bunch of thugs. Read Kissinger’s Nixon in China for an account of how Mao’s China went to war to defend this stupid little republic.
And because they have nuclear weapons.
It seems pretty clear now that this is the case. North Korea now has a small nuclear bomb that it is capable of putting in a missile. A missile that could potentially eradicate part of Japan, South Korea, US Bases in the Pacific Ocean, or even, and this is the ultimate nightmare scenario, if unlikely, the continental United States itself.
We all woke up a little less safe this morning. But my first thought goes to the people of Japan. How unfair that one country should have such a sordid nuclear history to begin with, and now have to live with the almost daily threat of annihilation.
And needless to say, the people of North Korea have a lot less reason to be hopeful now. No one will be coming to liberate them from this hyper-repressive regime anytime soon. The risk is now too great.
The ultimate outcome depends a lot on what China decides to do. China remains the DPRK’s biggest supporter. Indeed, without Chinese aid, it’s doubtful the people of the country could survive at all, let alone that the regime could possibly survive.
But of course, China likes this. China enjoys having a client state under it’s control. It feels that this is natural. And as such, is unlikely to do more than slap the young Kim-Jong Un on the wrist.
But in the end, today’s developments signal the likely freezing of the status quo on the Korean peninsula. I’m not really listening to the threats. I tune them out. This is such a ludicrous regime that it actively benefits from racheting up the international tension like this. I imagine they’re bluffing. I don’t think they’d do it. Bomb a nearby country, I mean. I don’t believe that even they are that twisted.
And if they are? If I’m wrong? Well, to quote probably the greatest president the United States never had, they should prepare to be ‘blown off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.’
It occurs to me that it may have been rather rude of me not to mention the other candidates in my blog a few days ago. I chose not to on the principle that if I was just going to rubbish them with my reasons for not voting for them, it was better to say nothing at all.
The truth is, I have nothing but respect for all of them. They’re liberals who have put their lives on hold because they want to serve this country. And they should be honoured on that basis alone. Martha Hall Findlay put it best in the first debate. This is one hell of a shadow cabinet.
Having said that, I’m not going to get all valedictory and praise each candidate’s merits in turn. They know that they’re in this for real. They don’t need my praise. I certainly hope that George Takach is going to run as an MP, because we could really use him in parliament, and the same goes for Bertschi, MacCrimmon and Coyne.
Indeed, I’ll point out that most of my favorite candidates in this race have not been sitting MPS. That’s a testament to what’s been happening. It turns out the race really did revitalize the party. It turns out we really did have an honest, strong discussion about what our future is as a party. It turns out the old establishment have been overturned for good, and the party is back in the hands of ordinary Canadians. It turns out that large portions of the Canadian media are looking a little stupid today.
I’m not going to write sweet nothings to the sitting MPs in the race. They’re all far more substantial than I, and don’t need my praise anyway.
I am, however, going to outline why Joyce Murray was at the bottom of my list. And why she’s now third.
Joyce Murray I was afraid I just in good conscience couldn’t vote for. I thought, and still suspect, that the Cullen/Murray cooperation plan was cynical, divisive, and just bad politics. I thought it reeked of the kind of self-righteous entitlement that lost us the trust of Canadians in the first place. It smacks of the same flawed logic that made people honestly believe that a coalition with the NDP and Greens was somehow a good thing. That it wouldn’t have been annhilated in the election that probably would have happened within weeks.
You can rage all you want about the fripperies of first past the post, which I’ll admit are absurd, but if you truly loathe Stephen Harper and all he stands for, as I feel many Liberals rightly do, you have to beat him. You have to stand up, and you have to beat him. You can’t just fiddle with the rules to try and finagle yourself the power you feel you rightly deserve.
You have to earn it. And you have to earn it from the new Canadians, and the workers in Alberta who fear for their jobs, and the population of Quebec, and all those who have begun to feel either that perhaps Harper isn’t so bad after all, or that someone else is better equipped to beat him than we are.
Because, and this is the truth that the Murray campaign recognizes, we’re not the only ones who want him gone. We know what he is. We’ve been following his insidious demolition of everything we love about our own country. We know how it feels now, to hang our heads in shame on the world stage.
And though blowing smoke about his ‘hidden agenda’ has become tiresome, as he’s quiet, and bides his time, and certainly doesn’t appear to be dismantling the liberal state, but the fact remains that there is something deeply sinister happening in Ottawa today. A secretive, clubby, repressive, and authoritarian clique increasingly dominate the city, and Canada is being ruled as a series of fiefdoms by a federal government that is completely disengaged from the broader life of the nation.
and Joyce Murray, to her credit, cares about that.
Perhaps I could vote for Ms. Murray, if I truly understood the logic behind the cooperation plan. Perhaps I’m painting it in too negative a light. Perhaps the truth is that definitions like Liberal and Socialist and Conservative have ceased to have the meaning they once did. I should confess that calling myself a liberal these days has increasingly begun to feel like I’m calling myself a Chartist, or a Bonapartist, even. It feels somehow outdated. As though that fight is over, and a new one has begun.
Perhaps the nature of the game has changed, and we need to acknowledge that we’re facing a different, far more sinister opponent than just the Tories. Perhaps we’re facing the organized power of a particular segment of private enterprise, that is seeking to unfairly influence and dominate the rest of the country. And without being coy, I’m talking about the tar sands.
Yes, the tar sands. It’s what the rest of the world calls them. Because it’s what they are. You’ll just notice the media doesn’t call them that here.
Perhaps the trouble really is that the country is being run with one interest in mind; that of the oil barons of Calgary. Perhaps ‘screw the west, we’ll keep the rest’ has finally come back to haunt the ‘Laurentian Establishment,’ as John Ibbitson calls them, and it really is Alberta calling the shots now. Perhaps social conservatism, heavy-handed, authoritarian government, and a crueller society all around are our future. Perhaps, as Thomas Homer-Dixon recently pointed out in an article in the New York Times, we really are beginning to exhibit the warning signs of being a ‘petro state.’ Perhaps Harper is just our vicious right-wing version of Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A petty despot living on oil revenue and using it to impose his will on a country that for the most part hates him.
The thirty percent of voters who are consistently in lockstep for Harper’s Tories represent a tiny fragment of the population. One that you can be sure does, in large part, well out of them, or they wouldn’t be voting for him. To continue with the petro-state analogy, so does the Saudi Royal family and those close to them. So do the people who fell in line with Chavez’ United Socialist Party. So do those Russians who toe the line and vote for United Russia and praise Putin to the skies. So do the clique of clerics and their friends who currently run Iran.
It doesn’t matter what twisted ideology you import to justify your slow seizure of the country’s resources, as the above list demonstrates. Harper’s is a hodgepodge of the dumbest kind of US republicanism, the slightly nutty fixations of the old Socreds, the straight-up bigotry of the old Canadian Alliance, and the crumbling relic of what was once the Progressive Conservative party.
John Duffy once wrote, in a book I no longer own, which I thus can unfortunately not source, called Fights of our Lives, that historically, western Canadian fringe parties generally get gradually absorbed back into the eastern mother party.
But for the first time in our history, that hasn’t happened. The Canadian Alliance staged a coup in the conservative movement. They took it over. The eastern establishment PCS fell in line because they were promised the fruits of power. The Albertan nutbars like Stockwell Day we spent the 90s laughing at are at the controls. Because one of them, it turns out, is a calculating, devious, and ferociously brilliant sociopath. And he’s ruining everything.
He’s building thousands of new prisons to incarcerate a population he barely cares about. He has no trouble watching his own population be viciously beaten in the streets of Toronto by testosterone-crazed loonies from out of town. He doesn’t give a damn about how Israel treats the Palestinians because he knows he can lock up a series of Toronto ridings by slavishly supporting a right-wing kleptocracy that has taken the dream of Israel hostage, and used it to savagely oppress another people.
He’s shutting down government sponsored science. Mainly because it keeps coming to inconvenient conclusions about global warming. But also because he just doesn’t care. About science, or global warming. Neither fit in his monomaniacal vision.
He’s lulling Canadians to sleep. One day we’ll wake up to find the country we loved gone. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Unless we beat him now.
Perhaps Joyce Murray and Nathan Cullen are the candidates who acknowledge that stopping Canada’s Republicanization is more important than any petty rivalry the NDP and the Liberals may have had in the past. Perhaps they acknowledge that what is now being undertaken by the Harper government is so fundamentally abhorrent to Canadian values that it needs to be stopped at any cost. Perhaps they are the new left. The bold left. The visionary left that will stem the tide of corporate influence in Ottawa, restore reason and sanity as the bases of pariamentary policy, and banish the reactionary ideology of the Canadian Alliance to it’s long deserved electoral grave.
Or perhaps it’s that cooperation is the shortest route to power. I don’t know. I’m curious to find out. So I’m going to put Joyce third on my ballot. Just to make it interesting.
Britain is marking the passing of one of the most provocative and divisive leaders it has ever had this week. For reasons I’ve outlined below in another post, I was unable to weigh in on Facebook with my initial reaction. My instinct was just to say farewell, you old Battleaxe, and leave it at that. But of course, it wouldn’t have been that simple.
Whatever one has to say about Thatcher’s political legacy; her dismantling of the pre-1979 British state, her bellicosity on the world stage, her demolition of the societal bonds that once held Britain together, it would be churlish to deny that her passing is a milestone in British history. A moment where the nation can take stock of itself, reflect on how its place in the world has changed, and honestly ask itself whether the changes of the Thatcher years were for the better.
And say what you like about the Brits, at least that’s exactly what they’re doing. Compare their national discourse on the subject so far to that which followed the death of Thatcher’s good friend President Reagan a few years ago. The American media, left, right and center, lined up to deliver weepy eulogies on the passing of the great man, close in on the stoic suffering of his widow Nancy, and cover every second of his gaudy state funeral. And heaven help anyone who didn’t toe the media line. Any criticism of his years in power, and his effect on his society were subject to the most vitriolic dismissal. The man just died! Show some respect! Have you no decency, you evil liberals? Is there no end to your depravity?
(Then, of course, Osama bin Laden and his family were brutally murdered by Navy Seals, and they poured into the streets shouting ‘USA! USA!)
Thankfully, no one cared what I thought at the time of Reagan’s death, so I was free to call him, being a slightly flippant seventeen at the time, a disastrous president, a disgusting human being, and the worst thing that would ever happen to the United States until the election of Dubya twenty years later. Being out of earshot of Bill O’Reilly, I felt able to say that with some comfort. Certainly no one in the supposedly liberal media felt the same freedom I did.
But you know what I love about the Brits? They feel that freedom. They feel it pretty deeply. I love these guys in the photo. Fuck the emotional straitjacket of politically correct mourning. Fuck, as Stuart Lee once eloquently put it in the context of Princess Diana’s death, ‘the hysterical shrieking grief of twats.’ The people going to street parties in Glasgow and Brixton know exactly what they think about Maggie, and they’re glad she’s dead. They’re allowed to feel that way, and people like Nick Clegg should stop falling over themselves to call them puerile and childish. At least they’re emotionally honest.
I will also point out that the right-wing Brits and Americans who angrily demand the sympathies of their nations when their heroes die were among the most disrespectful assholes on social media when Hugo Chavez died. And the same goes for plenty of left-wingers who all but wept into their keyboards for the great Bolivarian socialist, but don’t see the irony when they go to a street party celebrating Thatcher’s death. The worst sort of double standard is at work here. When people you agree with die, it’s a tragedy. When your enemies die, it’s cause for celebration.
That feels pretty barbaric.
But then again, maybe it’s just human nature.
As for me, If I knew Thatcher’s children, or had a deep personal relationship with Nancy Reagan, perhaps I’d mourn the passing of these two twisted, vicious ideologues. As it is, I feel mainly indifference.
(PS: It was Russell Brand, of all people, who wrote the most thoughtful and interesting commentary I’ve read so far on the subject. I recommend you give it a read. I gained a new respect for him after reading it.)
So it’s come to this. After months of struggle, schmoozing, debates, meet and greets, and snide remarks from the media, Liberals across the country are choosing their next leader.
Not some cloistered stadium full of delegates and hacks, but real people, across the country, with an interest in restoring Canada’s promise after the long years of Tory skulduggery, small-mindedness, and venality.
And you know what? More people have just voted for one of the six Liberal candidates than voted for the NDP in 2011.
The party is back.
I’m currently trying to cast my vote, but am experiencing difficulties. Mainly because I can’t access the help phone lines because they’re completely jammed.
I’m happy to wait. They’re busy, and they deserve to be. But in the meantime I’m going to explain publicly who I’m voting for, and why.
Some people like to keep this a secret. Others find it rude to even be asked about it. Personally, I’ve never understood that mind set. Of course, a secret ballot is integral to democracy, and it’s something people are perfectly entitled to keep to themselves, or not, as they choose.
And I choose to tell people what I stand for. Because I’m not ashamed of it whatsoever.
So I’m going to explain, partly for my own purposes, to clarify my thinking, and partly because I don’t care who knows it, who I’ll be voting for in the preferential ballot I’m about to fill out.
A word on preferential ballots: They’re an absolutely brilliant way of ensuring that the majority of voters’ preferences are registered, and the candidate who has the broadest base of consensus support takes the cake at the end of the day. No chicanery, no absurdities like the ones that we all know first-past-the-post can create. Just the will of the people. Clearly stated.
What I’ll be doing in a few minutes is ranking the six remaining candidates by order of preference. My first preference vote will be noted, applied to my chosen candidate, and so on down the line. Candidates will gradually be knocked out of contention, and the ballots they collected passed on down their lists of preferences until eventually a winner receives a majority of the ballots cast.
In case you’re interested, for whatever reason, here’s how I’ll be voting.
My first preference vote will be going to Deborah Coyne, and my second will be going to Justin Trudeau. Bronze medal goes to Martha Hall Findlay, fourth to Karen MacCrimmon, with Martin Cauchon and Joyce Murray bringing up the rear.
To some, that may require explanation, or even justification.
I worked on Deborah’s campaign. Admittedly not as hard as I should have, for a number of personal reasons, and perhaps not with the greatest deal of expertise, but with a certain raw enthusiasm for her and her ideas. She’s a wonderful woman.
I came back to Canada recently from several years abroad, and found myself in a bit of a political vacuum. I had viewed Canadian politics through the prism of the foreign media for four years, and while glad to be back, was a little under informed. But I bought my Liberal party membership, which I had been meaning to do for some time, and set about learning about the candidates.
I had little to go on but their websites, and so started there. Being interested in public policy myself, I scoured the various candidate pages for evidence of the new ideas and new thinking that I was convinced the party needed.
Which, in fact, we desperately still need. We’ve effectively lost our way in the years since the death of Pierre Trudeau. Since the waning days of the Chretien administration we have offered little but economic competence and federalism to Canadians as a justification for the right to govern we seemed to simply claim, with some arrogance. I won’t comment in detail here about past mistakes, as it isn’t the place, but a number of them were made, and Canadians turned away from us. Which we deserved.
So I was particularly hungry for policy that day as I searched for the person I thought would do the best job as leader. And Deborah’s website was a revelation.
There were ideas. There was vision. There was a comprehensive approach. There was a blueprint for the country’s future that I could get on board with, and which I’d still really like to see happen. You can still find it on her website. It remains incredible.
She’s spent her life thinking about this country, and how it could be better. She’s Pierre Trudeau’s intellectual heir. The muscular federalism, the concern with social justice, the belief that Canada is at its best as one country, and not as a ragtag collection of interest groups and disparate provinces, it’s all there. If you believe in the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, and love the country he gave us, Deborah Coyne is the one who understands where it goes from here.
She’s one of the brightest minds in the Liberal Party. And would give Harper a run for his money in any election. So she gets my first choice. We’d be lucky to have her as PM.
But the majority of the party wants Justin. And frankly, I understand why.
He’s young, he’s personable, he’s articulate, he’s effortlessly bilingual, and his hair is perfect. Just perfect. He may also have what it takes to be a truly great Prime Minister.
I should concede that I have my criticisms of him, and have been far from uncritical in my assessment of him. I’ve called him a featherweight. A hairdo. Someone who can’t be trusted with the leadership of the party.
But I’ve said a lot of stupid things in my time, and most likely will continue to.
The fact of the matter is, he’s not a bad guy. In fact, he seems like a really good one. And he’s built the sort of grassroots, modern campaign architecture that the party needs to be competitive today. To say nothing of the fact that his ascendancy, and that of the bright young turks around him, spells doom for the old fuddy-duddies who have brought the party to the brink of ruin since the Chretien-Martin years. This is a new party now. And it’s Justin’s.
The Tories are calling him the Liberal’s ‘pretty pony.’ Let them. A pony looks a lot less pretty when it’s kicking you in the face.
Last week, I disconnected from social media. Today is the day I was supposed to disconnect from e-mail. Next week, I was supposed to disconnect from the internet completely.
I reconnected last night.
I feel compelled to set out my reasons for having done this, as well as for going back on my public declaration last week. Partly I feel a need to justify myself, partly I feel a need to tell you some things you should probably be aware of that the experience has taught me.
I should begin by saying that I never felt the internet to be evil in any way. I consider it a tool. An immensely large and sophisticated tool, to be sure, and one that makes things possible that simply can’t be achieved without it, but a tool nonetheless. There to be used, or not, by people.
I made the decision to abstain for a number of reasons, some entirely personal, others academic. The personal issues I shall set down elsewhere, privately, as they’re really no one’s concern but mine. The academic ones I here briefly outline. And in the spirit of doing things academically, even though you can hardly call this an academic piece of writing, I can tell you that I disconnected because I was beginning to find Social Media degrading, dehumanizing, and exploitative. Because I disagreed with some of the fundamental premises at its heart. And I’m only back because I quite simply have no choice but to be so.
And neither do you.
I am a member of the last human generation with any knowledge of what life was like before the internet. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you too are one of the last humans who will ever remember what that was like.
When I was four years old, my parents, being good and insightful people, signed me up for a program called Future Kids. I don’t think it exists any longer, but I have happy memories of being sent for lessons on the huge, yet somehow friendly behemoths that we were being told how to use at the time. Remember that this is in the age of the floppy disk.
Thanks to Moore’s law, a great many of the things that those computers could do, and a great deal more they could never possibly have attempted, are now possible through the handheld devices most of us own. I mention this simply to illustrate that that shift has occurred in much less than one human lifetime.
We don’t think about what this means, for the simple reason that we can’t really comprehend it. Nothing like this has ever happened before. To anyone.
Seriously. There is no parallel for this in all of human history. And I’ve looked.
There is a useful distinction to be made, and I can’t seem to be able to search who initially made it, between cyberspace and ‘meatspace’. The former representing the internet, and the latter being a somewhat pejorative sounding word for the real world. For existence as it happens to you. For life as God gave it to us.
Our lives now occur in both places. We exist in both the physical realm, and in this new one we’ve created for ourselves. We have our lives in the real world, and we have the lives that we’ve projected onto webpages and websites around the world.
Our physical life happens to us whether we like it or not, but to maintain our existence in cyberspace, at least a portion of our day in the physical world has to be spent in obesiance to our machines. Heads bowed over mobile phones or laptops, we service the new versions of ourselves that we’ve created, not, I once thought, because we want to, but because on a very fundamental level we feel compelled to. And indeed, because we have very few choices left open to us if we don’t.
This is because ultimately the internet is nothing but an extension of space. We feel obliged to fill it because we are each unique beings that occupy space, and space needs to be filled.
You generate millions of lines of programmable data every day. We all do. And that data is unique. No one else’s is like yours. It is not possible for another person to have your exact web history.
By data, throughout this article, you should read you.
And you are being bought and sold.
Your data is used, bought, sold, resold, and then repackaged to you in exchange for money, probably thousands of times a second.
This struck me as fundamentally dehumanizing. Because it is. A lot of the assumptions embedded at the heart of privacy policies are more than a little degrading.
Take Facebook’s, for instance. And here, I cut and paste, because the following principle is at the heart of their entire approach to how they use your data. You can find this yourself unless they radically change their terms of service between now and the moment you read this, which I suspect they won’t.
“We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).”
By feedback or suggestions read data. Because the principle applies throughout everything they do. They are not obliged to compensate you for anything you give them voluntarily.
I find this a fundamentally unsettling principle to have embedded at the heart of what is, at the moment, one of the most important legal documents in the world. Up there with most written constitutions. If for no other reason than over one billion people have clicked a button saying they’ve read it. Most of the time, I suspect, they haven’t.
Similar principles are at the heart of many, but not all, terms of service and use. Of which there are a great deal. There are sites that treat your data with respect and consideration. Many, and I suspect most, though I have no way of knowing for sure, do not.
If you take anything away from this blog, if you’ve read this far, I want you to remember that you are being exploited. In a very real way. The people doing the exploiting are, for the most part, people you’ve never met, and many of them may be infinitely smarter than you.
We live in a capitalist, aggressively meritocratic world. In life, one either exploits or is exploited.
I can accept that this is a fact of life. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, nor does that mean that people should have the right to decide how it’s done privately. And by this I mean we no longer force six year-olds to push barrels of coal for pennies a day. Somebody stops that. Somebody made sure you didn’t have to do that. Because you have rights.
But in the cold, mechanistic, digital world we’ve created, you don’t yet have any rights. Not really. No one has specifically said that you do with any clarity. Indeed, the terms of service we blindly click through every day are going to be a large part of the precedent that lawyers are going to have to work with when these issues start coming up.
Lawyers work from precedent, but when it comes to the law, at this moment, to quote Aldous Huxley, history is bunk. There are simply no precedents for this kind of thing in the human past. People are just going to have to make it up as they go along.
It’ll be interesting to see what states do. As far as I’m concerned, the state exists for one purpose and one purpose only. And that is to guarantee its citizens rights, liberties, and responsibilities. If it doesn’t do that. If we delegate that power to the extent that we’re increasingly doing, there is really no reason for it to exist at all.
Some of the most exciting places in the world in these coming years are going to be legal faculties and courtrooms. People will wrestle with these problems in a wold in which everything that happens online, and everything that people are online, can be bought and sold.
Though I hesitate to quote the trailer for a video game, I’m afraid I will anyway. “You are no longer an individual. You are a data cluster on a vast global network.” A network that you had no hand in building, don’t really understand, but yet are expected to use daily.
Because if you really do want to know why I reconnected to social media, it was because I had no choice. It is simply not professionally possible. People will give you funny looks, and you will be fit for manual labor or academia.
I disconnected because I didn’t want to be ensnared in other people’s webs anymore. Because I wanted my freedom. My freedom from the Pavlovian compulsion to use a service that, apparently, I’m under no obligation to use.
I disconnected because I wanted to disengage from a process I didn’t yet fully understand. Because I wanted to stop feeding the machines that are busily churning away in Silicon Valley and countless other places around the word, driving the global economy. Reducing humanity to strings of code, there for computers to churn into dollars.
An academic I spoke to at the university of Toronto likened the project to something that might have come from the mind of Ted Kaczynski, more popularly known as the Unabomber. Naturally, I found this comparison rather unsettling and unflattering
I had preferred the analogy to Thoreau. I wanted to disconnect in the spirit of social and civil disobedience. I didn’t want to participate in a system I couldn’t fully understand or support. I wanted to be true to my own moral self
I’m reconnecting in large part because I have no choice. Because I can’t uninvent the internet. It isn’t going to go away. It is, in a very real sense, an extension of the world. An undiscovered continent. I can’t make it go away, or pretend it isn’t there. I can only do my part to make it better.
And I am more than the sum of my data. So are you. The truly amazing thing about the vast, global, dehumanizing network we all now inhabit, is that every single one of those data clusters remains unique. They have their own needs, their own desires, and their own rights.
We shouldn’t forget that. To paraphrase one of the best shows ever broadcast, we shouldn’t be distracted by what’s fashionable.