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.

On the Geneva Deal with Iran, Radical Islam, and the Fashionable Left

I remember the first time I met an Irishman. I was 16 and stupid, and after we’d talked for about five minutes, I immediately steered the conversation to the Troubles, assuming that he would find the subject as fascinating as I did. I think I mentioned how Ireland was a model for solving intractable conflicts, and praised the Good Friday Accords as a historic breakthrough, but don’t remember the details.

It’s the answer he gave me, rather, that I remember to this day, and which immediately came to mind when I read about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. It was a laconic, sceptical ‘we’ll see;’ Nothing more.

We’ve been down this road many, many times before with Iran. And doubtless we will continue down it for some time. The chasms of disagreement still yawn fairly wide, and won’t be bridged because a paper has been signed in Geneva. Time will tell if President Rouhani’s new tone of dignity and respect is a genuine shift in attitudes within the Iranian establishment, or merely posturing to distract a credulous western public.

Though I will say that the pro-Iran lobby has been telling us for years that ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s senile blathering about Israel and the demon West was nothing to be concerned with. He didn’t speak for the Mullahs. He was a harmless figurehead. Cooler heads than the President’s prevailed in Iran. He was primarily a spokesperson to foreign nations, and shouldn’t be taken seriously, I remember being told.

It’s difficult now, after hearing so much of that, to believe that Rouhani’s tone of warmth is sincere. That the Mullahs who decide who wins Iranian elections haven’t just decided on a different tack in gulling the West, and that the olive branch Rouhani is extending doesn’t conceal a sword, which he is happy to use.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope it’s the real deal. Nothing would make me happier than a rapprochement with this ancient and beautiful civilization. It’s always been difficult to imagine a nation that has produced such treasures as Marjane Satrapi, Rumi, and Jian Ghomeshi, to range wildly over time and space, being quite what we’re told it is by Neo-Con hawks like Binyamin Netanyahu. This is an urbane, sophisticated society that actually has a few thousand years on the west in terms of its collective existence. It’s not to be infantilized. Edward Said is impossible to ignore.

But simply put, we don’t know who wields the levers of power in Tehran. If the political dynamic often seems opaque to Iranians who actually live there, how much more so must it be to us westerners, who glimpse it only through the filters of mainstream media propaganda, from both sides, and the blinkers imposed by our respective security establishments?

It’s most likely Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious leader, who is making the final decisions. But in that event, why isn’t he the one reaching out to the west convincing us of the need for peace between us? Why is that task being delegated to the ceremonial office of the President? Are they just playing on our gullibility and ignorance?

It’s important to remember that Iran’s Mullahs are playing a much longer game than we in the West are. Fundamentally secure in their positions of power, they aren’t thinking in terms of the next election cycle; they’re thinking in terms of the next hundred, even thousand years. They’re content to wait for what they want, which is the global triumph of their cruel, hateful brand of Islam, and feel no great rush to make it happen by tomorrow.

With that in mind, what’s more likely; that a set of committed religious fanatics have magically decided to stop hating Western values of individual liberty and separation between religion and the state? Or that they’re willing to don false smiles to get the boot of crippling sanctions off their necks, revive their economy, relieve the domestic pressure on their authoritarian rule, and get ready for their next bout with the Great Satan?

I don’t know. Only time will tell. But I do know that if we’re making the wrong call here, all we’re doing is punting the football of Iran’s nuclear ambitions down the field for another generation to deal with, as so many politicians are wont to do in lieu of actually taking a risk.

I consider myself a man of the left. Not a doctrinaire socialist, not a conventional liberal, but definitely on the side of progress, change, and social justice rather than that of tradition, hierarchy, and deference to established norms and elites.

But I often find myself lamenting the strange, Faustian, and ultimately suicidal pact that quite a few sections of the western left seem to have made with a radical, hateful current of Islamic thought; A strain of thinking, exemplified by Hamas in Gaza and the Mullahs in Iran, that is content to use the unthinking, credulous support of fashionably leftist western kids while it is useful to them, but ultimately wants to destroy the very freedoms that make it possible for those kids to ironically wear pink keffiyehs at peace raves while making out with their gay lovers and quaffing illegal substances like candy. Hamas, ISIS, the Islamic Republic and their ilk have seemingly become edgy, provocative, and hip. The sort of people whose smouldering good looks you can put on the cover of Adbusters.

But they’re not our friends, nor are they our partners in the war against colonial western imperialism. They’re the vanguard of an ideological tyranny that, were it ever to succeed in its wildest dreams of world domination, would make the old colonial empires of the West look like utopias of brotherly love and tolerance. And Iran is where they first assumed real political power. Try going to a peace rave in Tehran.

The members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, to name just one organizational example of the strange psychosis gripping the western left, would have been among the first to hang from cranes had they the bad fortune to have formed in pre-1979 Tehran.

Yet the truth is that most of us are not ideological zealots bent on ordering other people’s lives for them. Most of us, no matter where in the world we come from, are capable of treating other people as individuals, entitled to basic human decency, and not as products of our complicated cultures and pasts. There is hope for peace, and hope for a better world. A bunch of old men in Switzerland, however, do not represent that hope. And we shouldn’t pretend they do.

It was probably best said by the aforementioned Marjane Satrapi, so I’ll leave you with a thought from her.

Wise words, and true.

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.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Rolling Stone, and false simplicity.

I was horrified by the Boston Marathon. As was the civilized world. Slaughtering innocent people is always wrong. Period. And Dzokhar Tsarnaev will justly rot in jail.

But the only way to defeat this kind of terrorism, as the British, French, Israelis, and other countries that have known real terror know, is to ignore it. To call around, make sure your friends are OK, and then go to the pub and get on with your day. And to talk about it rationally.

But America, and much more so Canada, are very new to this game. Our generation has never known war, with a very few atypical exceptions. Neither has our parents. Our grandparents remembered the last one, but even then it was something that was happening elsewhere. To other people.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev is not other people. He was an American, and people who deny that deny that the word has any meaning at all. He looks like someone you know. Someone you could have grown up with. Someone familiar.

That’s what horrifies America about him. That’s what shakes a certain type of person to their very core.

And to see him on the cover of Rolling Stone, beneath letters that have framed all the young idols of a generation, from John Lennon to Bob Marley to Deadmau5, is deeply, deeply unsettling.

But the fault doesn’t lie with Rolling Stone for being good journalists after all, or for capitalizing on it. The fault lies with the racism of the public narrative that Rolling Stone is challenging. We’re being confronted with the ugly truth that ideology doesn’t have borders anymore, and that good little white kids can be just as monstrous as brown ones.

There have been literally thousands of suicide bombers across the Middle East. The walls and floors of Gaza are covered with posters and flyers with the faces of martyrs on them. I’m willing to bet good money that he’s not the first terrorist to have gotten this treatment. He’s not even the first American, if you think back to Dillinger, Manson, hell, even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He is, however, the first American Muslim.

But there are people, and plenty of them, who will never be comfortable with that idea. There’s a deep, vicious streak of bigotry in America. The same people who think Trayvon Martin was just one of ‘those people’ don’t know what to do with Dzokhar Tsarnaev. He doesn’t really compute.

I emphatically don’t extend the blame for this bigotry to the people of Boston, who are justifiably upset at having their emotions played with like this. I know my emotional response would be different if it was my home town, and my friends in the firing line.

I don’t even really blame the bigots. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to believe easy narratives. It’s so much simpler to live in a black-and-white, Manichean world where the bad guys are always hideous orcs and the goodies invariably win the day. Everything takes on a kind of false clarity.

But the world isn’t that simple. People are good, and people are bad. Ideology, which we’ve pretended for twenty long, dull years of neo-liberalism is a spent force, never goes away, and it makes people kill.

It’s the same reason that the parents of the children killed at Utoya by Anders Behring Breivik were so relieved that the court found him sane. They didn’t want him to have that excuse. His Manifesto was rambling, it was thick-headed, it was barbaric, and it was hateful. It wasn’t lunatic. No matter what people tell themselves.

It’s the same reason it rankles with some people that Michael Adebolajo, who brutally hacked Drummer Rigby to death in the street outside Woolwich Barracks, is being given a civilian trial. Soldiers are somehow different. In foreign countries, they’re legitimate military targets. And i wonder what Michael Adebolajo genuinely thinks about his British passport.

People are not hateful. People are not evil. Ideologies are. There are good ones, and there are evil ones, yes. But to imagine that the choices between them will always be simple and obvious is a comforting delusion.

Lots of people

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.

An open letter to Vladimir Putin.

Mr. President.

Your Duma is about to present you with a bill to ban homosexual propaganda. Or, as it’s rather more euphemistically termed in the bill, ‘non-traditional sexual relations.’

88 percent of your public supports this bill. An unheard of number. Even in the west, I wouldn’t bet the farm on a politician to stand up to those kinds of odds. It would require a bravery I suspect you probably lack.

Of course, you know that number already. You’ve massaged it into being. You own the television stations, you own the radio, you own the social networks. People increasingly think what you want them to think.

Indeed, you probably had a hand in the drafting of this legislation, didn’t you? I can’t help but suspect that you at least know what it contains.

You don’t know me, and will probably never read this. But on the off-chance you ever do, from the bottom of my heart, I want you to know something.

You will never be rid of us.

The people whose very existence you are on the edge of criminalizing with this legislation? The people you’ve denied the right even to be spoken of? The right to be acknowledged in conversation?

We”ll always be there.

You can kill us all, sure. You can take every single one of the wonderful, courageous people who disrupted today’s proceedings outside your pathetic excuse for a parliament and kill them yourself, if you like. You can trawl through the internet for us and find us, one by one, and kill us all. You can kill everyone we’ve ever loved, and millions more who we’ll never meet. Camps, shootings, whatever you like.

We will still be there. We’ll be all around you.

We’ll be your friends, your neighbors, your staff, your ministers, your flunkeys, your supporters, even your tame priests. We’ll be smiling seraphically at you from the front row of every throng of adoring fans. We’ll be glaring at you with hatred from the protests outside your walls.

You will never escape us. Not you, nor any of your supporters who genuinely think this is an excellent law, and want you to pass it, will ever escape us.

We’ll haunt you from behind the eyes of your children.

But we’ll do it in silence. We’ll retreat into ourselves. You’ll never know what we’re thinking, or how we feel. We’ll live in a realm of unspoken longings and secrets. We’ll have our dreams, our hopes, our friends. Some of us may even get to love.

But we’ll know our dreams can never come true. We’ll see all our hopes crumble to ashes. We’ll never truly know if we’ve ever had a real friend. And most of us will never know love as anything other than a bitter charade. And those lucky few who learn differently will live in fear and persecution until the end of their days. We’ll never get to hold someone’s hand and walk down a street. We’ll never get to introduce anyone to our parents. We’ll never get married. Not for real, anyway.

And we’ll be your children. And there’ll be nothing you can do to help us, no way to ease the hell of our lives. Because we’ll live in such fear of you that you’ll never once even know who we really were.

This is all by way of warning. You could still not sign the law.

But by the time you read this, I suspect it will be too late.

Yours,

Nicholas Pullen

The Red Wedding and other harsh realities.

The Red WeddingMaybe this is all just part of growing up.

Maybe this is just our generation’s way of discovering that life isn’t fair, and that the bad guys can win. There’s nothing, in the end, to stop them except other people. And other people have failed before.

It’s not like that many of us have known true despair or loss. Some of us undoubtedly have, and are stronger for it. And I imagine if you have, you’ll know who you are.

But if you, like me, have had the good fortune to grow up safe and affluent in the Western world, sheltered, secure, and alive at the end of one of the longest periods of peace in our history, you, like me, probably don’t know what real despair means yet.

Odds are you, like me, have to confess that something like the death of Robb and Catelyn Stark can cut like a knife.

Other generations had essentially anecdotal evidence for their fixations and collective experiences. They were real, and are easily remembered, but It was hard to tell what the collective mood on any given subject was with any certainty. Not in the detail we can now.

But Game of Thrones has wounded the collective psyche. We have empirical evidence that it has. Real data documenting the visceral gut reactions of people across the world to a fictional event.

And it would seem that we don’t know what to think of a world where that kind of brutality, savagery, and cruelty is possible. There is a worry at HBO that the series will suffer in the ratings from this. That people will simply withdraw from the series to take away the emotional pain it seems to have genuinely caused.

Because there are no certainties now. No way out of the despair and bleak cruelty of the world Martin has created. (One that is powerful because it is devoid of all traces of the sentiment that cloys a lot of fantasy, and fearlessly holds a distorted mirror to our broken world.)  As it was succinctly put by Tasha Robinson, “Robb and Catelyn were the last appeal to adult authority, the last illusion that someone sensible and severe could come in and take charge.” It’s as though Jack butchered Ralph, and the naval officer never came because the world outside had descended into nuclear war.

I remembered that feeling last night. That sinking, vertigo feeling I’d had before Golding’s Deus ex Machina in Grade 10, the suspicion that Ralph was a goner, and that there was a beast at the heart of human nature, waiting to claim us all. And I remembered how it had lingered for days afterwards. The suspicion that I had learned something fundamental and cruel about human nature, that no amount of authority was going to dispel. Then, it faded from my mind, and life went on.

Now, I’m not so sure it will, or that I even want it to. Not in the same way, anyway.

Because that beast IS out there. Tearing at the eviscerated streets of Aleppo and Qusair, stalking the mountains of Afghanistan, patrolling the halls at Guantanamo Bay or staring balefully out over Tienanmen Square. Mao, Stalin, Franco, Kim-Il Sung, Kissinger, Assad, Putin, Chavez or Cheney; sometimes we forget that some despots die in their beds, and that some evil goes unpunished, and even celebrated.

Adulthood so far seems to consist of hard truths learned. Harsh, brutal truths that no one can possibly tell you, because no one can explain them to you in a way that you’ll understand.

This particular entry is as much for me as it is for you. It’s a call to future me to realize that life isn’t going to get any easier, and problems infinitely bigger than the death of the Stark family are coming, and there’s no certainty at all that any of them are going to end well.

Because in the end, there’s no one to save us from ourselves except ourselves. And we should probably get on with it.