On World War Three, the Uses of History, and the Greatest Generation

Calvin and his Duplicate

Calvin and his Duplicate

Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, is fond of moving from the particular to the general, or vice versa, to see if something is true. If an ethical or moral maxim holds true as a good thing for one person, it stands to reason that it might hold true for society at large as well. Likewise, if something can be said with truth about society, it probably can be said about an individual person as well. This isn’t uncontentious, and as a method it may not always stand up to close scrutiny, but it’s a tendency in classical Greek thought, and Kant’s famous categorical imperative has always struck be as being a kindred maxim.

For my own part, I find that the most dangerous times in my life are usually those when there isn’t really anything pressing that I have to do. Often in these periods there are plenty of things I should do, plenty of things I probably could do, and any number of things that I should probably get around to doing at some point. But never anything that I immediately need to do. Or more accurately still, nothing that can’t be easily put off as a task for future Nick to worry about. I often enjoy these days thoroughly, relaxing and frittering my time away on unimportant pleasures.

The reason these times are so dangerous is that all of those things I avoid during them have an alarming way of turning into things that I absolutely, no bones about it have to do. And when future Nick turns into present Nick, and that life-changing essay needs to be handed in tomorrow, and I’ve done no reading, or that critical presentation needs to be delivered and I’m going to have to just wing it, or more often than any other, there’s no more money left and no reasonable prospect of more appearing anytime soon, so no more cigarettes for a while, present Nick tends to loathe past Nick with the fire of a thousand suns. If my temporal selves ever met in the real world, present and future Nick would quickly agree that past Nick needed to be immediately lynched, and all three of us would immediately vanish in a puff of smoke like Calvin’s perfect version of himself when he had an evil thought.

If this is true of me, and long, painful experience has shown me that it is, then there’s a chance it’s true of society at large as well.

Climate change is the most obvious example here. We could rearrange our entire society to save our planet from ecological destruction. We could cease burning carbon based fuels, put serious effort into researching alternative sources of energy, and actually work at putting them into practice. We could spare a moment’s thought for the populations of Sub-Saharan Africa or the Indian subcontinent, or the denizens of New Orleans or Miami or Venice when we fill up at the Esso. But that sounds like a lot of work, and fracking means we’re never going to hit peak oil anyway, and I have to get home because there’s something really good up on Netflix.

But exactly the same logic applies to Syria, Iraq, and the broader unfolding crisis in the Middle East. A crisis which the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian recently  announced in its editorial  was a conflict on the scale of the Second World War; one that justifiably could be referred to, from the moment they deigned to enlighten us about it, as World War Three.

The headline was risible to me, as someone who’s been following events in the Middle East as avidly and as closely as a westerner who doesn’t read Arabic and isn’t being paid is capable of doing since the Egyptian Revolution of January 2011. I can only imagine how much more risible it must have been to a citizen of Syria since 2011, or of Iraq since 2003. How pleasant that the white liberal media has finally woken up to the scale of the events it has been trivializing, cheer-leading, downplaying, condemning or ignoring since they began, I can imagine them thinking. I can’t wait till it’s Lyons, Sheffield, Atlanta or Montreal that’s a smoldering pile of rubble, littered with the spent cases of depleted uranium shells. The editorial itself is perfectly sophisticated, and makes in essence the same point that I’m making here. It is, however, still a bit risible that people don’t seem to have understood what they meant.

It’s not even a very good historical analogy. Yes, the Second World War is the last time Europe was pounded into the primordial dust by the malevolence of its own sons and daughters on a scale like we’re witnessing in the Middle East of today. But the last time anywhere in North America ever had that experience was the end of the US Civil War and Sherman’s march to the sea. And the last time what you might call ‘Western Civilization’ (a useful shorthand for Europe and her contemporary colonial outgrowths around the world) experienced a war as savage, unending, and as religiously malevolent as the poisonous death-struggle now enveloping the Middle East was the agglomeration of savage, deadly conflicts in the seventeenth century that historians traditionally lump together as the Thirty Years War, when Protestant and Catholic butchered each other for possession of the heritage of Christ.

So when I read simplistic opinions about conflict in the Middle East, either opposing or defending western intervention in it, I find them at times a little difficult to take seriously. Because both proponents and opponents of Western intervention seem to miss the most important point of what is happening there, which is that it is happening, and will continue to happen,  in spite of anything we do about it. We have missed our chance to intervene in any meaningful way. From now on, and since at least two years ago, events in the Middle East control us here in the West, and not the other way around. If you’re curious, the only moment where Europe and the Anglosphere could have meaningfully intervened, and many people would disagree with me even in thinking it was possible then, was a brief moment in 2011.

This is the third world war. Right here, right now. We in the west are completely peripheral to it, and no decision we make or any intervention, military or humanitarian, that we undertake will make the slightest difference to its continuing, or even, if I’m completely honest, to its eventual outcome. We will be merely an additional complication for both sides to recognize and deal with. The bombs we drop, or God forbid any troops we deploy, will be pawns in a game that not even the governments they serve are actually playing. Their usefulness will be relative, and impossible to predict. What is bad for ISIS may be good for Iran and its puppet Assad regime. What is bad for Iran and Assad may be good for the sheikhs of Dubai and Saudi Arabia. It will make absolutely no difference to the outcome of the conflict itself. We aren’t directly involved in this war yet, but we can’t rule out that it won’t come home to us someday soon, as a different war did to America on December 7th, 1941. We have that day fresh enough in our minds to remind us of how thoroughly events can rule the powerful, rather than the other way around, but we have to go a little further back for a better analogy to what might be happening right now to the United States and the world order it’s presiding over.

Before Christianity or Islam existed, in the Middle East of the second century BC, then chafing at the clumsy, brutal attentions of the rising Roman superpower, there was a prophecy floating around attributed to the ancient Greek Sibyl. It informed the Romans that

Not foreign invaders, Italy, but your own sons will rape you, a brutal interminable gang-rape, punishing you, famous country, for all your many depravities, leaving you prostrated, stretched out among the burning ashes. Self-slaughterer! No longer the mother of upstanding men, but rather the nurse of savage, ravening beasts!”

This was mostly wishful thinking. Rome’s mastery of the Mediterranean was unquestioned, and would remain so for centuries to come. It wasn’t even a prophecy that required supernatural explanations. A reasonably keen observer of the Roman political situation in 140 BC could well have spotted the tensions that would eventually culminate in the bloody civil war that would bring down the curtain on the Roman Republic, and usher in the age of the Augustan Emperors. The Sibyl was probably just a very convenient pen name for a keen geopolitical analyst who knew his/her prognostications would be much more widely read if they came from the mythical Sibyl. But this was known from Egypt to Asia Minor as the preordained destiny of the Roman people. The Romans knew it too, and while they alternately scoffed, grew fearful, excoriated each other for their depravity, and tried to put their own house in order, they were haunted even in the moment of their world-spanning triumph by the suspicion of their impending doom. Every European empire that has followed them, from that of Spain to that of Britain to that of the United States, has been plagued by similar Cassandras and rumours of Cassandras.

But it came true. The history of Rome from Marius and Sulla to Romulus Augustulus is the history of Roman butchering Roman, and of the gradual ruination of the Italian peninsula. By the age of Justinian, Rome was a provincial backwater with a famous name and a lot of crumbling ruins. The Barbarians never invaded. That’s one of history’s great myths. For the most part they were invited in when there weren’t enough Romans left in the world to fill an army. The Goths, the Vandals and even the Huns served as foederati in the armies of the various rulers of the late Empire so they could go on killing each other and their fellow Romans, until eventually they were all that remained, and only the idea of Rome had survived. It is one of history’s little ironies that many of the near-eastern peoples they fought, and occasionally that they conquered and dispersed, like the Jews, the Armenians and the Persians, have endured where they did not.

Now, in the Twenty First Century AD, or CE, as we’ve arrogantly begun to call it, the superpower bluntly trying to shape the Middle East to its liking is the United States of America, and its capital is even more removed and distant from the fighting and chaos it tries desperately to control. Unlike Rome, America is unwilling or unable to summon the cold brutality needed to truly put an end to the strife that so worries it. When the Jews revolted against Roman rule three times in two hundred years, Rome eventually razed Jerusalem to the ground, renamed it Aelia Capitolina, butchered the Jews and their leaders and statesmen, and obliterated the very idea of an independent Jewish state. It won them peace and quiet, for a time.

America, for very good reasons, is unwilling to truly unleash the full fury of its military arsenal on the Middle East. They certainly could bring peace to the region if they did, but only if they were willing to leave it a radioactive wasteland devoid of all life, human or animal, and to live with a faint green glow in the eastern sky for the next few thousand years to remind them of what they did. They are willing, instead, only to deploy short-term solutions; supporting this state against another, bombing this group of Islamists, supporting that one, and cracking down on another through a proxy. I’m glad they’re only going that far, I suppose, because all of humanity might be wiped out by the nuclear option, But the measures they’re taking will only, perhaps, buy time. And in the end they will likely only spawn more hatred and engender still deeper chaos.

The barbarian invasions of Europe may be one of history’s greatest myths; Rome’s decline was entirely its own fault, and wasn’t imposed by any kind of external force. The insistence that every great empire’s decline will unfold exactly like Rome’s might be another, but far and away the greatest myth of them all is that the study of history will teach us lessons about how to avoid making the same mistakes our ancestors did. Even when this is true, which it rarely is, it doesn’t prevent us from making fifty new mistakes to make up for the old ones we successfully avoid.

Why study it then? I’m honestly not sure, and I ask myself almost every day. The best answer I’ve come up with so far is that, like poetry, you may not see why it’s relevant when you first read it, but five, ten, twenty years down the line, as your life unfolds and good and bad things start happening to you, something might come to you and you’ll remember, in a flash of insight and understanding, that line you read that made no sense at the time, and you’ll be glad you took the trouble to read Auden, or Whitman, or whoever else floats your boat.

As an example of what I mean, something from my knowledge of history that keeps coming to me recently, and giving me a little bit of hope as I look at a world stage that only seems to get bleaker, darker and still more terrifying, is a line from John Adams. In 1773, as tensions between Britain and its thirteen American colonies kept rising higher and higher, and compromise and moderation became less and less possible, or even desirable, he wrote to his wife Abigail that he despaired of his fellow Americans. He called the problems they faced ‘too grand and multifarious for my comprehension,’ and of his generation of Americans, he wrote  that ‘We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in Genius, in Education, in Travel, in Fortune, in every Thing. I feel unutterable anxiety.’ John Adams went on to be the second President of the new United States, and that generation of feckless losers he’s describing went on to be the Founding Fathers of the United States, reverentially cited by their descendants as the ultimate arbiters of political wisdom. Even when they weren’t. Even when the person speaking knows nothing about them at all, and is massively distorting who they were and what they intended. They’re who he thinks of when he things of the perfect generation of Americans; the ones whose example this contemporary one is so spectacularly failing to emulate.

I may not know much about the future, or whether there’s any truth to these claims about History, but I do know that I can relate exactly to how he felt when he wrote that. In this narcissistic, shallow age of selfies and lattes and hashtags and textspeak, it’s really hard to believe that any of us, let alone most of us, like our grandparents in the so-called ‘Greatest Generation’ will prove more than we appear, and rise to the really insurmountable challenges we’re facing on pretty much every front of our collective existence. And maybe we won’t. Maybe we’re totally doomed. Worst of all, maybe we totally deserve to be.

I obviously don’t know that, and I have no way of knowing. But if history has any lesson at all here, it’s that my opinions on the subject are irrelevant one way or another, and we very well might be all right in the end. So let’s be prepared, and do the best we can with what we’ve got, because if we pull it off, then we, not our grandparents, will end up being the Greatest Generation.

On Letting Western Jihadists Come Home

A few years ago, a British comedian made a brilliant video entitled Gap Yah, viciously satirizing privileged British teenagers and young adults taking a year between school and university to go find themselves, or save the world, or whatever it is they go to do. Tarquin and his friend were British, but they could have been from Canada, France or the United States. It’s pretty standard for young westerners to go do community service or something similar in the ‘third world’ or ‘developing countries’ for a little while in their young years before they get bogged down by adult responsibilities. Yes, I did it too. I laid water pipes, planted trees and built stoves in Peru, and I felt incredibly weird the whole time. Did I do some good? Yeah, maybe. Should I have been doing it? I’m really not sure at all.

There’s something totally insufferable about the whole idea. For the most part, and I can’t imagine this has changed much since I did it in 2006, it’s a matter of taking selfies and feeling good about oneself, then eventually getting bored, or realizing that one isn’t actually making that big a dent in the problem, and then going home.

That’s what’s insufferable. We go on vacation, help the poor brown, black or purple people deal with their poverty, and then we go home, to Starbucks Lattes and IPhones and clean water and comfortable beds.

The thing is, this is exactly the same thing that young British, French, American or Canadian Muslims are doing right now in Syria and Iraq. Only the circumstances and the reasons are different, and those differences are kind of cosmetic. In many important ways, they’re doing the same thing for a lot of the same reasons; teenage angst, alienation, anger, and boredom all play big roles, as does a sense of guilt at their comfortable lives and desire to do good for the poor benighted people of some faraway land. In their case, however, they’re going to kill and be killed, not to build schools or plant trees. And recently, like a lot of us eventually do after our service junkets, some of them have begun to realize just how stupid an idea it was the whole time.

Their IPods don’t work anymore. Most of the time they’re not really doing anything glamorous or exciting. The bathrooms are dirty and they’re uncomfortable most of the time. Rapine, murder and butchery aren’t quite as fulfilling as they were led to believe they would be.They want to come home and see their families and go back to the lives they knew. They’re seeing that maybe those Kufar aren’t so evil after all. At least back in the land of Jahiliyya they have regular access to toilet paper.

But out of fear, anger and a little bit of racism, we won’t let them. We should. We should even encourage it, and set up a process by which it is gradually, and very eventually possible. In a way that acknowledges the gravity of their mistake, makes damn sure they’re being sincere in their remorse, and punishes them justly for what they’ve done, but also in a way that leaves them a path open back to a normal life. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also in our interests, as well as the interests of the people of Syria, Iraq and wherever else these people are wreaking havoc.

When young, stupid white kids from western countries go gallivanting off to save the world, not even the people who think they’re being silly think they also deserve to die. Even if they get into serious trouble in one of the places they go to, nobody seriously suggests that they aren’t worthy of consular protection and assistance, and nobody says that their parents are wrong to be glad they’re back, and to let them back under their roof. I imagine Gap Yah’s parents and the British government did eventually get him out of that Burmese prison. Yes, he was an idiot, but stupidity isn’t a capital offense.

Except, it would appear, when you and your parents are Muslim. Then rich, white politicians are apparently perfectly free to brag about how they will burn your passport and never let you come home. Then your parents will receive verbal abuse and even threats because of your stupid decision, and have their motives and loyalties questioned if they worry about the fate of their children. After your government refuses to help you, and you die, your parents will be forced to become political props as well as suffer unspeakable grief. And, by the way, even your mistake will be angry with you, and publicly seek to kill you even if you do come safe back home. Which is tragic, because you could, and still can, do a lot of good there.

When young, often disadvantaged and justifiably angry Muslims in western countries are mulling over the idea of flying to Syria, who do you think is going to have more moral authority telling them that it’s a stupid idea, completely unIslamic, and that they shouldn’t do it. An ex-Jihadi? Or some western politician like Boris Johnson, whose biggest passport problems involve how much tax he’s able to avoid paying out of his ludicrous, undeserved wealth? The ex-head of MI6, Richard Barrett, who has probably had more experience with problems like this than armchair right wing experts around the world (or, for that matter, armchair left wing experts like me) is explaining in the British press that “many of the people who have been most successful in undermining the terrorist narrative are themselves ex-extremists.” It’s terrifying when young westerners decide that ISIS has a more fulfilling narrative of life to offer than we do. It has to make you wonder a little bit how bad ours actually is.  It’s completely in our interests to let these people back to help make sure that that doesn’t happen. They have a chance to do good, and to atone for their mistakes, and since we and our fellow citizens are the ones who stand to benefit from it, it would be suicidal of us to let them die alone and unloved in a foreign country for no good reason.

But what’s good for us or for our ex-jihadi citizens isn’t really the biggest issue here. What is is what’s good for the citizens of the Middle East, for whom this isn’t a theoretical problem, and for whom the tyranny of the Islamic State and the constant threat of violent death aren’t problems happening on the internet or in the papers. It’s right outside their door. This isn’t a hypothetical war, and these aren’t hypothetical issues for them. They are the ones dying, and they can’t just switch off the computer to make it go away. It’s a paralyzingly awful situation, for which there is no easy or obvious solution. Western intervention isn’t going to make it stop, military or otherwise. This is a war that isn’t going to end anytime soon, no matter what anybody says or does. It’s a horror from which there is no escape. It’s not a place people should be jaunting to lightly. And that goes for the people going to join the Kurds, too. The last people in the world whose help the Middle East needs right now are crazed German bikers, and the Western right should stop cheering them on, because they’re not even a tiny bit morally superior to the western jihadists.

One thing I want to make absolutely clear is that these people aren’t just idiots. They are, but many of them are very likely rapists, murderers, and traitors to the countries they’ve come from as well, by any sane person’s definition of the word. The penalty for treason has historically been death, but it isn’t anymore. When they do come home, they should be prepared to do time in prison for any crimes they’ve committed, and probably also to lose any and all privacy they’ve enjoyed in the past, at least for a good long while. In a situation like this, where so much rides on a person’s sincerity, society actually is entitled to know what you’re saying in private, and to see what you’re doing in private. You can’t be speaking out of both sides of your mouth about your repentance, and in a situation like this it’s only prudent that you’re being monitored around the clock, for your own safety, and that of the people around you. This is probably one of the only circumstances in which the sort of dragnet, total surveillance that our security services are subjecting all of us to right now (Hi guys!) is actually justified. Which, by the way, is why they should deploy their resources to that end, and not to collecting the dick pics of innocent strangers.

I do support western military efforts against ISIS, and am glad that we’re helping their enemies in the region to kill them as quickly and efficiently as possible. The closest analogy in the European cultural experience to ISIS for stupidity, viciousness, brutality and unadulterated evil are the Nazis. And if Godwin’s law is in your head, get it out. The reason it’s so irritating when stupid people make stupid comparisons to the Nazis is that it trivializes the analogy when it’s perfectly, completely accurate. And in this case it is. That’s who you should have in your head. That’s the mature, intelligent comparison you should be making. So if these westerners really do believe in the divine mission of Caliph Abu-Bakr and are willing to die in service to a demon in human form, they should rest assured that they will.

But they don’t have to. Because they can also come home. And we should make sure that they can. Were they idiots? Yes. Could they have known what it was they were getting into? Yes. Are they the first young people in history to make a dumb ass decision that they later came to regret? Not a chance. Has their decision put them completely beyond the pale of human consideration forever? No.

The thing about ISIS and their twisted, lying ideology is that at its kernel there’s a small scrap of truth. But only in the same way that the Nazis had one was well when they said that the Treaty of Versailles had punished Germany unfairly. It had, but that in no way justified Nazism or the things people did in its name. In ISIS’ case it’s that there really are a lot of things about Western civilization that are deeply, deeply wrong, and which will destroy us in the end if we don’t figure out a way to fix them. Our society, with its dehumanizing greed, its horrific structural inequalities, and its vacuous inability to give us, its citizens, much in the way of meaning and purpose in our lives beyond waiting for the IPhone 7, is in serious, serious trouble. Going to Syria to wage jihad may be a stupid person’s response to that fact, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. This is a test of our situation and our way of life. If we can forgive this, and reintegrate people into our society even after doing something like this, then we’re probably going to be all right in the end.

But if we can’t, we’re probably on the road to becoming history. We’re often told that at the core of ISIS is a festering, maggoty heart of pure evil. I think that’s exactly right. But all the evil ever done in this world has been done with the best and highest of intentions. People always think, by their own lights, that they’re doing good, even when they’re doing unfathomable evil. And one thing that does need to be said about these kids? They thought this was the right thing to do. And no, the Gap Year analogy isn’t the best one available here. Western students and young people aren’t willingly or knowingly risking their lives for anything these days. But they used to. We actually have been here before. It was the late nineteen thirties, and the problem then was young Americans, Brits and Frenchmen going to join the international brigades to make sure Franco didn’t win the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell, Ernst Hemingway, and countless other much less famous names were so convinced that a better world was possible that they left behind everything they knew to fight for it. Was it their fault that Stalin and the communists betrayed those hopes, and the governments of their own countries decided Franco was the lesser of two evils?

These kids wanted to fight for something. They thought they were willing to die for something. Even that thought is a rare commodity these days. Maybe we should make sure we’re keeping it close to home.

The White Trash Oedipus: Rob Ford and Toronto’s Long, Slow Descent into Madness

“The genius of comedy is the same as the genius of tragedy, and the writer of tragedy ought to be a writer of comedy also.”

So says the character of Socrates towards the end of Plato’s classic work Symposium. On the one hand, this is exactly the kind of pretentious crap aristocrats say to each other at parties as the waiters are clearing away the champagne flutes at two in the morning. But on the other hand, it’s something the Ancient Greeks were acutely conscious of, and the reason that a well-staged production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex still has the power to chill the soul thousands of years later, and a badly-staged one can have you rolling in the aisles long before Eddy claws out his own eyes to atone for unwittingly banging his mother.

Rob Ford has probably never read Oedipus Rex. Even if he heard the name bandied during his two terms at Carlton, I’d still bet good money that he’s totally unable to spell it. And yes, this is a good encapsulation of why he makes a lot of snooty pricks like me so very, very angry. But it’s also a fairly good parable about why he’s totally unfit to be mayor of Canada’s largest city. And yet so far, despite the crack scandal, despite rehab, despite the goddamn cancer he’s being diagnosed with as I write these words, he’s still running for public office. And there are an awful lot of people who are going to vote for him no matter what else happens. At this point he could publicly sodomize a puppy and still probably garner a respectable ten to fifteen percent of the vote.

Welcome to Toronto’s municipal politics in the waning days of the Ford era: a masterclass in insane contradictions more infuriating than the most impenetrable zen koans.

It hasn’t all been a joke. As he’s been barreling his way back and forth across the invisible line between tragedy and comedy, leaving it bleeding under his hooves like Pam McConnell on the floor of city council chambers, he’s been exposing some dark stuff about Toronto that we don’t often tell the rest of the world about, because we don’t necessarily always see it ourselves.

He’s completely blown the lid off of Canada’s strange, invisible class system, for one. I spent five years of my life in Britain, where class infuses everything people do, and they’re all acutely aware of it, conscious of their place in its intricate hierarchy, and don’t have to think very hard about how in any given situation they should relate to other people within its parameters. By the end of my first year there I was obsessively, unhealthily obsessed with the whole concept. Both because I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, and because my own place as a colonial within it was totally uncertain, oscillating wildly between its upper reaches and its nether depths. Coming back to Canada, I did start to dimly perceive that we have one too, even if we don’t often think about it. But it took the blazing white light of Rob Ford’s spectacular self-immolation to really bring its contradictions into stark, glaring light.

His blue collar fans think he’s one of them, and his wealthy detractors find this risible because he’s never had to work a day in his life. But he’s also relatively new money, and the grit of industrial Etobicoke hasn’t yet rubbed off the family name. So he’s got a foot in both worlds, but somehow belongs to neither. He’s exposed some of the worst elements of both camps. Their unwavering support perfectly illustrates the crass, boorish pettiness and self-perpetuating proud ignorance of the working suburban poor. And the undying hatred of the chattering downtown elite illustrates both their totally unbearable snobbery and their nauseating but completely shallow pretensions and compexes about Toronto’s emerging status as a genuine world city. We’re growing up, sure. But we’re also starting to turn into the Eloi and the Morlocks from H.G Wells’ time machine, and it’s getting super creepy.

He’s also blown the lid off some simmering, perhaps even really dangerous ethnic tensions that are too often obscured by the downtown elite’s pious cooing about the glories of multiculturalism. The fact that Ford Nation almost certainly contains at least one urbane, well-educated Pakistani doctor who’s been driving a taxi for the last thirty years because of Ontario’s byzantine, unexaminedly racist system of credential recognition, and who is totally getting off watching the WASPy journalistic elite completely lose their minds is terrifying, if you stop and think about it. That there are people who rude people can call any number of horrifying ethnic slurs, who cheerfully going to vote this October for a person who calls them stuff like that to their faces isn’t just weird, it’s totally fucking insane.

The masks are falling to the floor. The elephant in the room is trumpeting in heat, and shitting all over grandma’s Persian carpet. There is a great disturbance in the force. Our noses are a bit out of joint. The old joke about Toronto being New York run by the Swiss is getting both more and less true. Less because the Swiss wouldn’t put up with this shit for two seconds, and more because the Swiss are also nowhere near as perfect as the rest of the world sometimes thinks they are. There’s still a lot of Nazi loot in the vaults of Zurich.

Honestly? I can’t. I can’t even. I just. Can’t. Even. Deal. Anymore. And while there’s a slim chance that the end is in sight, and this is the last time I’ll ever feel compelled to write something about Rob Ford? Two things are true:

First, how I feel about that reminds me of the scene in the Dark Knight where Batman asks the Joker why he wants to kill him, and Heath Ledger laughs and says “I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? You complete me.” And when you start seeing where the Joker was coming from, it’s possible you went round the twist a long time ago and just don’t know it yet. So that thought is festering.

Second, I honestly don’t know anymore. This is 21st century Toronto. Not Rome during a Borgia papacy. But suddenly, and I’m still not totally sure how it happened, municipal politics in my hometown has become better TV than Game of Thrones. And while it’s possible that John Tory or Olivia Chow will win in October, and everything will start to go back to normal, it’s also possible that Doug Ford will pull off an upset victory, and then Rob Ford will burst out of his stomach like Alien and declare himself King of the Andals, the Royhnar and the First Men. And if that happens, and it’s then followed by former mayor Barbara Hall bursting out of the sky riding a dragon and reducing City Hall and the financial district to a smoking ruin in vengeance for our repealing the plastic bag tax, then the truly weird thing about all of it will be this:

I will be completely unfazed. And Jon Stewart will put it in a segment, and the world will move on. Because no one, anywhere, can even deal with this shit anymore. Jihadis in Syria will see it today on the internet, and feel bad for two seconds about OUR problems.

I’m both totally losing my shit about this, and so bored with it that I could yawn. At exactly the same time. It’s either an earth-shattering drama with world-historical significance, or it’s of less importance than Kim and Kanye’s pillow talk. Or both. Or neither.

I need a muffin. And a hot towel. And possibly a nap.

Somewhere in Robyn Dolittle’s book Crazy Town, which to my shame I still haven’t found the time to read, she points out that Rob Ford and his family really do think of themselves as Toronto’s Kennedys. This is funny not because it’s a lot easier to picture Doug Ford on the set of Jerry Springer than it is Bobby Kennedy, nor because JFK’s supposed breeding was a total sham, and actual Boston Brahmin society loathed Joe Kennedy as a parvenu, new-money Nazi-sympathizer without a shred of basic human decency. This is funny because it is totally, completely, one hundred percent true.

They are the trailer park Kennedys. The blue collar Medicis. And Rob Ford is the white trash Oedipus. By wishing it, they have made it so.

I’ve never met Diane Ford, nor do I particularly want to, but I can’t shake the terrifying suspicion that I would much rather hang out with Jocasta. By comparison, the suicidal mother of Oedipus seems generally much more grounded and sensible, and we’d probably get along better. RoFo and DoFo may be schoolyard bullies writ large, but I don’t doubt for a second that they come by their demons honestly.

As Rob Ford copes with his cancer diagnosis, and Doug Ford rushes to city hall to file papers to register in his place, and the extraneous tabloid bullshit piles higher and higher around them both, maybe this is as good a time as any to try and take sensible stock about what exactly this all means. And we can’t do that until we stop indulging the narcissistic wankfest that is Furd Nayshun.

This became spectacularly clear to me yesterday when I realized that the health and sanity of some fatass rotarian gasbag who doesn’t even know my name had the power to totally ruin my whole day. That’s completely insane.

Seriously, it’s been spectacular to watch. It’s not every day you get to watch a world city completely lose it’s collective mind, and have a four year nervous breakdown live on late-night TV. But it’s jumping the shark now. It’s time for us all to stop indulging the lunatic pretensions of a gang of feral children, and let the grown-ups start cleaning up the mess they’ve made.

That’s really all. Let’s all go home.

Rob Ford and the Shaming of the Town Drunk

Well, shockingly enough, he’s off the wagon.

The latest video, of His Worship the Mayor of Toronto drunkenly ranting in Jamaican patois (impressive, at least) in a Rexdale fast food joint, lacks the mysterious allure of the infamous, and as yet unseen, crack video. It doesn’t have the voyeuristic, dangerous thrill of the rage-fuelled rant the Star unearthed for public consumption in December. It doesn’t even have the cringe value of the third, and least discussed, video that Toronto police continue to quietly hold in their evidence locker. (Which I have on good journalistic authority is a sex tape. Sorry for putting that image out there.)

It’s just plain sad.

I know I should be filled with righteous indignation. I’ve torn numerous strips off the guy in posts past. I’ve ranted, I’ve raved, I’ve torn my hair at the indignity of it all. I’ve demanded his head on a spike for violating all my bourgeois notions about how politicians should think, speak and behave. My most puerile rant, which is also sadly among my all-time most viewed posts, piously denounced him as a ‘complete sociopath…a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals.’

Strong Stuff.

He may be these things. He may be all of them and more. But at bottom, all he really is is your garden variety drunk. An addict and an alcoholic in the deepest, darkest funk of denial you ever did see. He’s slowly unraveling before our very eyes.

He’s not the first, nor will he be the last person to discover he has a problem with drugs and alcohol. The poor guy has just put himself in a position where he can’t work through this issue in private. Every lapse in judgement, every stupid decision is immediately posted to the internet for the mockery of the masses. Every slip is front page news from coast to coast. He’s late night comedy gold, and will continue to be so for as long as he remains in denial about himself and his issues.

And though the Toronto Star has simply been doing their job in exposing his weaknesses, frailties, and criminal behavior, there comes a point where they’re hurting, rather than helping their cause by publicly shaming the town drunk for weeks, months and years on end.

I oppose Ford politically, and look forward to his electoral destruction in October. But I also feel for the guy. He’s a sick, sick puppy, who’s refusing all help and continuing down a path that leads, in the end, only to jails, institutions and death. I feel no schadenfreude anymore. I just wish he’d take responsibility for himself and become a legitimate opponent once more.

Everywhere I go, I’m assured that there’s still a very good chance he can win in October. That the ravening hordes of Ford Nation will descend upon the ballot box and once again foist their man upon the rest of us, with all his powers reinstated.

I’m frankly not worried. Ford Nation aren’t stupid, no matter what the downtown glitterati believe. They know a train wreck when they see one. On the path he’s on, this can only get sadder and more pathetic. And a pathetic politician is a politician who’s career is over.

If he admits he has an unmanageable problem and seeks the help that is available? Then I’ll be worried. Because the guy has massive political strengths when he’s at the top of his game. He’s personable, he connects with blue collar voters, and he’s a true multiculturalist; capable of relating naturally and honestly with people that most of the downtown elite don’t even know exist.

When he’s drunk, he’s just another sad lunatic raving on a street corner. He just happens to be a famous one as well. And that won’t last forever.

Rob Ford and Stephen Harper

In conservative media outlets in what is now many countries, Rob Ford has been receiving kid-glove treatment.

Sun News are not only going to continue airing the mayor and his brother’s hateful opinions to what they increasingly imagine is an adoring faithful, they’re going to pull out the big guns, like Ezra himself, to defend him. Fox News and CNN have sat him down in a chair and given him the cooing, Barbara Walters treatment. As I’ll note they have done for Hermain Cain, Bashar al Assad, Muammar Quadaffi, and other lunatics.

I’ve personally seen this spoken of on Facebook as far away as Israel. Total strangers in Britain, where I’ve lived on and off for years, people who have no earthly reason to know who Rob Ford is, have been asking me since last year about our national crack habits. Everyone’s following it. It’s the best thing going. Pure comedy.

There’s an extent to which this has gotten out of control. And I don’t think any of what has been going on is just about him. To be honest, now that he’s literally been sat in the corner with a dunce cap and told to get out of the way and let serious business resume, I’m tempted to forget about him completely and decide who we should have next.

But he’s not gone yet.

A little story has been doing the rounds in the Toronto media world. Apparently, years ago, during John Tory’s campaign against David Miller, Tory was convinced by his advisers that he simply had no choice but to talk to the Fords. Mother Diane, widow of the late Doug Ford Sr., founder of Deco Labels, and brothers Robbie and Doug. They were councillors at this point. Presumably positions in Mrs. Ford’s gift.

Tory wasn’t happy to be going to see them. I don’t entirely remember why. But his advisers apparently convinced him it was necessary. Presumably it’s very difficult to get anywhere in Etobicoke politically if you don’t have the Fords on side. They are, after all, one of the richest families in the area.

It went well. Tory turned on the charm, and won an endorsement. Apparently, the conversation ended with Diane exlaiming, ‘OK, you can have it this year, but next year it’s Robbie’s turn.’

Robbie’s turn has been ongoing since 2010. Really since he was first elected to city council. It hasn’t been going well, in case you’d noticed.

I wonder if I should be, but I’m massively insulted that they decided Toronto deserved this. That Rob Ford could possibly be worthy of this job.

Yet amid all the theatrics, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there are powerful interests in this country that do not want him gone. And we’re being asked to assent to the fiction that they’re legion by people like the good citizens of the Sun News Network. I wonder if they even release their ratings.

There are no more people slavering over Sun News egging him on against those snooty, downtown, latte sipping types. No one actually thinks like that in this country. We’re actually decent people, for the most part. And fiscal conservatives en masse are not to blame for him. None of them saw this coming. Personally I don’t think they were looking hard enough, but then again, neither was anyone else really. Municipal politics are dull. Important, but dull. So people’s ears only really perked up when they heard about the crack.

He’s let his supporters down massively. They deserved better. Someone fit for purpose, at any rate. A mature, responsible adult. Surely we can set the bar at least that high, as a society?

The only people left in the country pretending that Rob Ford is still fit to be Mayor of Toronto are the people who stand far too much to benefit from him keeping the chair.

He’s not. Still fit to lead. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that he’s still in office is farcically stupid., and every paper in the city now agrees he has to go. That he hasn’t been physically dragged from the building and run out of town on a rail is a testament to the fact that none of us seem to care. It’s an amusing side show. No more.

I don’t really exempt anyone from the blame for this, including myself. Toronto has gotten, in some ways, the leader it deserved. Things only get this bad if we let them.

But I don’t think that means we should lose sight of what we’re dealing with when we talk about the people who have kept Robbie perched, wobbling, in his chair for three long years. By that I mean the Big Blue Machine. The Conservative Party of Canada.

Robbie is the stupid cousin of the clique of powerful Conservative interests that this country increasingly functions for the benefit of. He had to have something. Had to keep Mrs. Ford happy. So why not have him be mayor of Toronto, and watch all those downtown lefties choke on it. It’s hard not to imagine smug grins in a quiet, warm room somewhere in Ottawa, and certainly in Calgary, when Ford donned the chain of office. Especially as, I’ll note, they did just fine with their progressive, generous mayor. We dealt with this buffoon. A man who shouts at his people when he doesn’t immediately get his way. Like a spoilt child. A feral 16 year old boy.

NDP or liberal types at City Hall, I’ll note, won’t tell you who they work for there. They take the independence of municipal government seriously.

I won’t forget who took Rob Ford fishing, repeatedly, at Harrington Lake. And neither should you. THAT’s what he thinks of you.

No pity for Rob Ford

Now that it’s over, people are making truly gargantuan efforts to summon some compassion for Rob Ford.

And it is over. Make no mistake about that. He will have to resign before next week. And the likelihood at this point is that he should go to rehab, if not jail.

Compassion is not misplaced here. He has an unmanageable personal problem that will eventually destroy him. He is descending into madness, live on international television. There’s nothing funny about him anymore, to be frank. The line between farce and tragedy has been crossed. I do feel for the guy.

But it’s a bit early for that.

If he had bowed out when the video was first discovered with a good grace, if he had acknowledged that his personal life was actively affecting his ability to govern the city, bringing disrepute upon all of us, and paralyzing the business of government, and if he had gone to rehab months ago, perhaps he could still reasonably have been spared the ordeal he now faces. If he had done so, he would be entitled not just to our compassion and to our forgiveness, but even to our respect.

But he hasn’t yet. And I’m beginning to suspect he never will. As a result, it’s premature to be feeling pity for this pathetic excuse for a public official, who as of my writing this, is still clinging to his job.

Because he’s a complete sociopath. Our media, with a few notable and laudable exceptions, have been subservient to the point of cowardice. Our Tory friends have been indulgent to the point of blindness. Ordinary citizens who happen to agree with Ford’s small, petty vision of City Hall, have been smug and obstreperous to the point of denial.

But he’s a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals

King of the Douchebags

Rob Ford, yesterday.

and who when he puts his arm around you, there’s a chance you’ll end up dead.

Too far, you may be saying. And no, I don’t know if Ford had the slightest thing to do with the cruel slaying of Anthony Smith.

But I’ll say this: the true depths to which our Mayor has sunk will only start to become clear in the coming weeks and months, as the evidence the Police have been building against him comes to light. I’m not ruling anything out. And neither should you. All the dirty laundry is about to come out. And it’s naive to think it’s going to be pretty.

And since we haven’t woken up this morning to a statement of resignation from the man himself, an announcement from the city or the province that he has been removed from office, or the sight of the Mayor of one of North America’s largest cities being led away in handcuffs, then we have a duty to go down to Nathan Philips Square and demand that we get it. This has gone far enough.

And frankly, Ford Nation, stripped as it now will be of all decent, right thinking people, should acknowledge that gracefully.

I think nothing less of people for having voted for Rob Ford. I genuinely don’t. There’s no way they could have seen this coming, and though I may disagree with some of them on how this city could best be run, I don’t in any way hold them personally accountable for what has happened at City Hall since 2010.

I do think less of anyone who still supports him now.

And to those of you who do? Who still want him to stick it to those downtown latte-sipping nancy boys? You know who Ford is? You know who the closest historical analogy I can think of to this shameless buffoon you seem to think it’s funny to impose on the rest of us? Benito Mussolini. With all that that implies about you.

You may hate the Toronto Star, and the people who read it, but they hate you right back, and with some justification. You called them liars, you called them maggots, and questioned their right to do their jobs and live their lives. You put not having to pay your fucking taxes over the good governance of the city, and you’ve turned a blind eye to the antics of a crackhead and a thug because you think he cares about people like you.

He doesn’t. But you know what? No one else does either. You’ve gotten the leader you deserve. It’s up to the rest of us now to clean up the mess you’ve made.

There should be no pity for Rob Ford, or his ‘nation.’ Not while he is still actively besmirching our city. He has brought this upon himself. When he has left office, apologized for crippling our municipal government, and begun taking responsibility for his life, then we can begin to forgive. Then we can begin to find compassion.

But not yet. This fight isn’t over. In some ways it’s just getting started.

Canada should Boycott the Sochi Olympics.

The world will converge on the Black Sea resort of Sochi; site of Vladimir Putin’s summer residence, for the Winter Olympics in 2014. The spectacle will be tremendous, and the coverage breathless.

I won’t be watching. None of us should. We shouldn’t send a single team. Neither should any other civilized country.

Canada’s absence would be noted. By more than one nation. Indeed, many countries might feel that we’ve set an example. These are our games. The ones in which we stand a decent shot at a medal count that more than rivals that of China and the United States. We expect the hockey gold as our right, and our failure to achieve it triggers bursts of national soul searching like that which followed the 1998 Nagano Olympic loss.

We shouldn’t compete for it next year.

Because what is happening in Russia to the LGBT community is barbaric. It is twisted, it is evil, and we have seen it before. The IOC feels obliged to reassure gay athletes attending the games that they will be safe. Which is a pretty good indication that they won’t be.

When 50 members of Russia’s LGBT community attempted to celebrate pride this year, they were attacked in the street with rocks, and then carted away by police. I honestly don’t know if they’ve been seen since.

Gay tourists have been told, quite frankly, that they face criminal prosecution if they show any affection, have any meetings, or even so much as display a pride flag.

Let me put it this way. Bryan Burke’s son would never have played hockey again after that became public knowledge. He would have been openly hounded in the street, and probably arrested.

Not a single gay NHLer, and I suspect there are more than one even now, should attend this. They will not be safe. If they want a precedent, they should think of 1936, when the civilized world should probably have not sent teams to the Berlin olympics. If you think this is an exaggerated comparison, I remind you that it wasn’t for any German Jew, Gay, Gypsy, dissident, or other minority. They probably watched those Olympics. And most of them were dead before there was ever another games.

No, I don’t make that comparison lightly, and yes, I think that Vladimir Putin is that evil.

No one is safe while this is happening. No one is ever safe while this is happening. If you think you are, I assure you, they will come for you too in the end.

Russians love hockey. They live for it as much as we do. They’ll feel cheated if we’re not there to beat. Like they haven’t really won.

We can make a difference by doing this. We can be proud of our country.

In fact, there’s already a petition. Please sign it. It’s the right thing to do.

#IdleNoMore: A White Man’s Conversion

I was born and raised in Canada. I love it viscerally. I have travelled widely, but life would not be worth living if I could never go home.

It is a beautiful land. Few places on earth compare. And the incomparable beauty of the land is matched, by and large, by the spirit of the people who live in it. Kind-hearted, generous, fair minded and decent. We have our share of clowns and shits, just like any nation. But our instincts are good. We want to believe the best in human nature, and we’ve been brought up to aspire to it.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m a WASP from Toronto; born into privilege and luxury, and the heart of the Canadian establishment. I try and excuse myself this through the fact of my rampant homosexuality, but the fact remains that by background and upbringing I am the quintessence of white.

And that whiteness has come with certain privileges. I grew up in a beautiful, upper-middle class part of North Toronto, attended elite private schools, and graduated from Oxford University not long ago; a place which, despite its best intentions to change, remains at bottom a proving ground for young members of the global establishment.

I have to face up to that. And writing this is, in part, an exercise in doing so. But while I’m perhaps an extreme example of white privilege, I don’t think I’m alone in needing to face up to the fact that my economic comfort and security comes from my background. I think a lot of us have a lot of hard truths to face, and a lot of serious thinking to do about the unique privilege of being Canadian.

A privilege for which we owe indigenous Canadians quite a lot.

Canada is the most perfectly realized colonial state in the world. Some may rankle at the use of the word, but it remains the accurate one. We are a settler colony of the former British Empire, whose founding, which we celebrated just the other day, dates from an uneasy accommodation of the interests of two different ethnic European groups; the French and the British. It was a celebrated bit of deal making, and it laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Our political instincts run to consensus and compromise. Indeed, those two things are necessary in order for us to get anything done in the system we’ve built. We have never succumbed to chauvinism, or denied our origins as a nation of migrants. We have kept the door open, and build a strong, multicultural community. And as a result, our immigrant society is peaceful, ordered, tranquil, and prosperous.

But it has never included aboriginal Canadians.

It’s patronizing to pretend otherwise. It’s our dirty little secret as a country. The thing we don’t often advertise, but the simple truth. The outright contempt for indigenous peoples that is rampant in the Conservative Party notwithstanding, the pious bleating of our two opposition political parties, which represent between them the decent majority of Canadians, can give a false impression of respect and deference for aboriginal peoples. and stunts like the appropriation of symbols like the Inukshuk for the Vancouver Olympic games, ridiculously inappropriate as it was, can give us the impression that we respect and value aboriginal culture. That we have atoned for the sins of our ancestors, and that our government essentially treats the indigenous population with dignity. The truth is rather different.

The truth is that, as Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox points out on the #IdleNoMore website, ‘for the most part, settlers simply have no clue, are not engaged in a relationship with Indigenous peoples, and assume that the government is following the rule of law and doing right by Indigenous peoples.’

The truth is that for most Canadians, the plight of aboriginal peoples in this country only becomes truly visible when they stand up and take action to shake us out of our indifference, like they did at Oka, or like they’re doing now with #IdleNoMore. Or when the mainstream media deigns to notice the plight of communities like Attawapiskat, and the scandalous deprivation that is their normal. And when they do intrude on our consciousness, the backlash of racism, contempt, and sanctimony that inevitably follows is as disheartening as it is insidious.

The truth is that Canada has a long way to go as a society before it can truly be said to include everyone who lives within its borders.

This is partly because of the fact that aboriginal Canadians make up a very small (albeit rapidly growing) portion of our national demographic. On the streets of our major cities you are unlikely to hear Cree, Ojibwe or Mohawk amid the babel of languages from every corner of the earth you can otherwise hear. Nor are our children likely to know their fellow indigenous Canadians in their classes and in their schools. I think few in urban, middle class Canadian life can claim that they have many native friends and neighbours in the big cities of Canada. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, as there are to any, but I doubt they are legion.

So I’m going to commit here to try and make myself an exception. I’m going to consciously make myself an ally of the First Nations, because we’re going to need more of them in the months and years ahead. Harper’s reign will continue at least until 2015. There is still room for him to do incalculable amounts of damage to our country. It is up to us to stand up to him.

This post represents my personal rejection of much of the conventional wisdom and easy complacency of Canadian life.

Indeed, when I first heard the words Idle No More, I thrilled a little. It was such a direct challenge. Such an inescapable truth.

We have been idle, as a nation. We’ve been bought with comfort and easy living. We acquiesce in the destruction of our environment, the emasculation of our social programs, and the assault on our very democratic heritage by the neo-conservative Harper Government because we’re very well sedated by the pleasures of a fully developed and peaceful capitalist society.

#IdleNoMore represents a challenge to that society. A clarion call to all of us to rise from our apathetic slumber and do something to protect the land we love from those who seek to rape it.

Native Canadians are challenging the rest of us to live up to our own best instincts. To change the way we think. To acknowledge that there are some truths older than capitalism; firmer foundations for society than endless resource extraction; better ways to live than mad, unthinking consumerism, and that we ignore them at our peril

As Martin Lukacs put it succintly in the eminent British newspaper The Guardian, ‘finally honouring Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous legal debt to First Nations: it is also our best chance to save entire territories from endless extraction and destruction. In no small way, the actions of Indigenous peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet.’

I for one, accept that challenge. I refuse to be passive any longer. I refuse to wait on larger forces to get their act together. And above all, I refuse to be complicit in the crimes of my government against the environment, against society, and against democracy. I am Idle No More. From this day, until my last day.

The Surreal Survival of Rob Ford

Can this really be happening?

Not the mayor smoking crack. I accept that. He clearly lacks even basic amounts of self-control, and would smoke whatever was put in front of his fat face if he knew it would earn him a vote. (It’s the second-to-last quote, but read them all. And know that this man still holds high public office.)

Not the insane international attention Toronto has been receiving. Insanity, crude farce, and spectacular governmental collapse are intrinsically interesting everywhere, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the world is smugly laughing behind their hands at us.

Not the fact that His Worship Rob Ford’s response to the circus he’s inflicted on all of us is some sort of wounded spite, as though we’re the ones responsible for this situation.

No, none of this fazes me. Let alone shocks me.

What shocks me is that we’re moving on from this. Without his resignation. Hell, screw his resignation. Without his immediate removal from office.

Admittedly, I’ve been watching this whole spectacle unfold from across the ocean in London. Which in some ways makes it a doubly surreal experience. (Total strangers, who have no reason on earth to know who the Mayor of Toronto is, laugh at me when I say I’m from Toronto, and ask me if I want some crack.)

But now inertia seems to have finally set in. The media attention has gradually drained away as nothing new emerges, and even the Toronto Star have been forced to move on to other things. The pundits, the public, and the world at large have gradually ceased to care.

And Rob Ford remains.

Toronto will linger on in a state of inertia and despair. And there’s not a damn thing we’ll be able to do about it until next year, when after he’s trounced in the election, I suspect that he’ll have to be physically dragged from his office.

Guess I’d better find some crack. It would appear to be a wonderfully effective way to kill my sense of shame.

Sellout: Stephen Harper and the Canada-China FIPA

The imperial Chinese government, as Dr. Henry Kissinger lovingly relates in his recent On China, was in the habit of giving Panda bears, among other things, as gifts to barbarian states and tribes, in the belief that barbarians were easily distracted and susceptible to flattery.

It seems the modern Communist Party have not abandoned that particular policy. And alas, it seems it still works.

Stephen Harper came back from a visit to China last fall, which received really quite sparse coverage in the Canadian media, with two panda bears. He presented them to the Toronto Zoo, where fawning crowds were waiting to watch them eat.

I can only guess as to his motives.

Because what he didn’t make anywhere near as clear, upon his arrival back in the country, was that he had signed a massive trade deal with China. It’s only really been prominent in the news for the past week, when it’s almost imminently going to pass. Here it is.

Did you click the link? Did you attempt to read it? Did you give up in despair before you’d even really scrolled through the first articles?

Don’t worry. So did I. That’s what you were supposed to do. You weren’t actually supposed to read it. You’re not supposed to be able to understand it.

The thing about this treaty is that it’s actually impossible to read without legal training, as a good friend of mine going into her second year of law school informed me when I showed it to her. It’s such an impenetrable thicket of legalese that the layperson is simply unable to read it. It’s likely that not that many MPs have read it. Not all of them are lawyers.

Why?

Because it’s quite literally selling the ground out from beneath you.

If you knew that, you’d probably kick up a fuss. Which would be inconvenient, to say the least. So Harper hid it in plain sight.

It’s got some truly horrifying implications for Canadian law, which neither I, nor my friend, claim to understand fully, not having spent several years studying international trade law.

But we’ve at least read the damn thing. And we’ve found some terrifying things buried in there. Buried at the back. Long after the point any sensible human being has given up reading.

But not a law student. Like my friend Kylie Thomas. Or Osgoode Law School constitutional scholar Gus van Harten, who thinks it’s unconstitutional, for what it’s worth. And even from our cursory, fumbling reading of the bill, the evil comes through pretty palpably.

Article 11, for example, which obliges both governments to recoup losses that companies suffer due to ‘war, a state of national emergency, insurrection, [a] riot, or [an]other similar event.’ This effectively gives the Canadian government justification to deem a protest a riot, and break it up citing its need to protect Chinese investments under this FIPA.

Or Article 17, in which both parties are ‘encouraged’ to ‘publish in advance any measure that it proposes to adopt’, and ‘provide interested persons and the other Contracting party [with] a reasonable opportunity to comment on the proposed measure.’

Encouraged. Not obliged in any way.

Or Article 18, in which it is deemed ‘inappropriate’ for either party to encourage investment by waiving, relaxing, or otherwise derogating from domestic health, safety or environmental measures.’

Inappropriate. To override almost all provincial law regarding our health care system, our police forces, and our environmental regulations.

But the real kicker is this one. Article 21. While observance of most Canadian laws are merely ‘encouraged’, and the overriding of almost all provincial legislation is merely ‘inappropriate’, both parties ‘shall,’ the strongest binding legal term used in this document, ‘first hold consultations in an attempt to settle a claim amicably’ when there is a treaty dispute.

Those claims will be settled by a three-person tribunal. One Canadian, one Chinese citizen, and one foreign national, whose identity will be mutually agreed. That’s in article 24.

So basically, the tie breaking vote on this tribunal will always be a citizen of a country who is infinitely more interested in currying China’s favor than in protecting Canadian citizens.

This tribunal ‘shall’ have its findings made publicly available, ‘subject to the redaction of confidential information.’ But only when it’s ‘in the public interest.’ Which is straight out of Yes, Minister.

But the contracting governments ‘may share with their officials of their respective federal and sub-national governments.’ May. They don’t have to.

And if a third party is affected by a dispute? Like a first nations band? Or a provincial government that is about to see its environmental protections gutted? They can submit to this tribunal.

But their submissions cannot be more than twenty pages long. Their application can only be five. Essentially meaning that the exercise of trying to protest this tribunal’s decisions would be ultimately pointless and unrewarding. That part’s buried in Annex C-29. Literally at the end of the document.

In the idiotic preamble on the Harper clique’s website explaining what FIPA’s actually are, it gets pointed out that Canada has signed FIPA’s in the past with countries including Hungary, Latvia, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Venezuela.

But of course, none of these countries remotely compare to China in size and power. We are the junior partner in this agreement. The one who can be safely ignored.

Much as we were with NAFTA. The last trade treaty Canada signed that had this kind of scope and significance. Of course, we fought a bloody election over it, and freely chose as a people to sign it when we voted for Brian Mulroney. We didn’t have it snuck through the legislative backdoor by a vicious and corrupt petty despot and his henchmen.

Because that’s what’s happening. Right now. In your country.

If you’re angry, you should be. And you should tell people so. That’s the only chance we have of stopping this from happening. I’ll be publishing Kylie Thomas’ more detailed dissection of the treaty later next week.

In the meantime, I would ask that you share this. People should really know.