Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Books, not donuts

Since moving to Newfoundland, I have looked back at Toronto, my city of origin, with increasing dismay. Every time I am home and happen to wander downtown, it feels like the city has eroded … and while I’m perfectly willing to entertain the idea that part of that stems from nostalgia for the days I lived in the Annex, it’s not entirely my imagination. I find it hard to believe that for decades, literally decades, Jane Jacobs made TO her home and the city so consistently ignored her suggestions and arguments for how to improve urban life.

Well, maybe not THAT hard to believe.

Lately of course, the election of Rob Ford as mayor has me more worried about my old home than usual, mainly because he and his brother Doug have promised to outsource and privatize everything that isn’t nailed down. And most recently I encountered this petition protesting plans to privatize community libraries.

Big sigh. This more than anything I have lately encountered is emblematic of the failure of conservative imagination. I understand the arguments behind privatization and cost-cutting; I don’t agree with many of them, but I understand them. I also understand the conservative fantasy of the self-made man or woman, who pulls him/herself up by the bootstraps. It’s a lovely idea and extremely commendable when it does happen, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Community libraries are already impoverished, but even in their most rudimentary form they provide invaluable services in terms of simply providing for those who can’t otherwise afford internet access or books or any of the other dozens of information resources they make available. Community libraries have, in many cases, become employment centers, clearing-houses for job advertisements and providing assistance with creating resumes.

Privatizing libraries would essentially eliminate this resource—first by levying user fees, but more significantly by closing down when it becomes obvious that libraries are, quite simply, not profitable enterprises.

And I really need to ask Doug Ford: if in fact there are more libraries in your neighbourhood than Tim Hortons, why is that a bad thing? If anything, it reflects well on your neighbourhood. And, to perhaps put it in terms you understand, do you not think that reversing that would adversely affect your property values?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Six years

I think part of the project of being a better blogger will mean not feeling compelled to write only weighty and/or lengthy posts. There was a time when I did not suffer this compunction, but then Facebook came along and it effectively became my default forum for my briefer rants, philosophical maunderings, and (hopefully) witty observances about life.

I will change that, even though my audience here is considerably smaller than my list of friends on Facebook. That being said, I notice as I look at my list of “followers” that three more people have joined this humble blog since last I looked. Considering that I haven’t posted in over a month, what drew you? By which I mean: welcome!

I’ve been working on a few posts that have, in the way of my posts, gotten a bit longer than I had planned. I had hoped to put up my it’s-been-six-weeks-since-GoT-ended jittery withdrawal symptoms / thoughtful retrospective post, but it’s busy getting nice and long and verbose. Hopefully tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I am ashamed to say I have missed two milestones. The first was this humble blog’s six-year anniversary. For those who have picked up my online maunderings midstream (and/or haven’t read my little “About Me” blurb to the right), I started this blog as a means to keep friends and family informed about my move to Newfoundland, and how life was unfolding here. Somewhere along the line as St. John’s morphed from extended tourist experience to home, I had less to say about life here and more to say about … well, really anything I was excited, perplexed, or angry about.

This blog’s birthday is July 20th, incidentally; I still remember writing the very brief first post in my newly-empty office at the University of Western Ontario. Less than a week later, I was on the road, heading for my new job at Memorial University and new life in Newfoundland.

The day before hitting the road, however, I became an uncle. My niece Morgan was born on July 25th, and yesterday she turned six years old.

Six years. So long and yet so short. Happy birthday, Miss Morgan!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Thoughts on Norway

I’ve got about three new blog posts in process, in an effort to get myself back into a respectable blogging schedule, but I feel quite compelled to post a brief comment about what has happened in Norway … first, because it is a tragedy that needs to be recognized; second, because it so terrifyingly embodies the most prevalent fear in the developed world; but third, because it strikes me that the political commentary apparatus currently in place is so ill-equipped to respond to these brutal attacks in any reasonable or nuanced manner.

There are two strains of response amongst western commentators that disgust me rather a lot. The first was the knee-jerk response from the right that immediately assumed the attacks were carried out by Islamic jihadists. But just as nauseating was the schadenfreude on the left decrying the right’s response when it became evident that the perpetrator was in fact an anti-Islam, vaguely neo-Nazi radical. I say “vaguely,” because it emerges that, though he was affiliated with various white supremacist websites, he is also apparently a staunch Zionist. Which itself has given ammunition to right-wing commentators, and back and forth the argument has gone.

If this horrendous act shows us anything, it is that those driven to such violence are of a piece; as Christopher Hitchens observes, the jihadist groups actually at work in Norway gleefully took credit at first, assuming it to be one of their own … making the same assumption, ironically, as right-wing commentators in the U.S. did. Anyone who tries to delineate the “capability” or “willingness” or “likelihood” of people to perpetrate such horrors based solely on straightforward ideological or religious affiliations is being dangerously, willfully ignorant. A case in point was what has widely been considered the stupidest comment on the massacre, courtesy of Erik Eriksson of Red State, writing for CNN: “With Christians, it is rather rare to see a self-described Christian engage in heinous terrorist acts.” Which is a ludicrous statement I could spend all day taking down, but will simply say instead: Northern Ireland.

Anders Behring Breivik, the vile architect of these killings, doesn’t fit into a simple mold, any more than Jared Loughner or Timothy McVeigh did; or for that matter, any more than one can unproblematically call the late-not-lamented Osama bin Laden “Muslim.” Bin Laden, after all, was just as antagonistic to Shiites as he was Americans, and had even more loathing for Sunni Muslims he saw as abandoning his rather narrow interpretation of the Koran. Apostates were worse, in his mind, than infidels; and it’s worth noting on that front that Breivik’s target was not Muslims, but Norwegians he saw as traitors to Norway’s heritage. His attack was actually of a piece with all of the sectarian violence we saw in Iraq after the fall of Saddam—not violence against the outsider, but the countryman who does not live up to one’s absolutist ideology.

When it comes to such violence, it really ceases to be left versus right. It’s about human versus inhuman.