Must-reads: David Olive on U.S. election coverage; Lawrence Martin on the tyranny of the minority; Scott Taylor on our helicopter mess; Graham Thomson in Afghanistan; Dan Gardner on chemophobia.
In Beijing, in Edmonton and, uh, in jail, all pundits’ eyes are turned to the Games.
The Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford was, predictably, “moved to tears” at various stages of the Olympic opening ceremonies, but was able to snap herself out of it by thinking how many of the participants were “voluntold” to show up by their oppressive Communist overlords. “It cannot be considered unmannerly,” she writes, “to note that as good as the show was, as smashing as the facilities are and as super-successful as the Games themselves probably will be, it all happened like this not only because of Chinese ingenuity, but also because the government could bulldoze homes when it needed land, … spend like a drunken sailor, … [and] detain or ‘re-educate’ anyone who dared whisper the mildest complaint.” It’s a weird column, not least because she quotes anonymous friends back home as if they were informed sources—one of whom suggests, bizarrely, that the Roman Empire was “built on freedom.”
The modern, outward-looking, friendly China “is not a false front,” Lorne Gunter writes in the National Post. “It’s more a sort of parallel China to the old, bellicose, goose-stepping one.” But goose-stepping China still exists, he says, and it’s desperate to keep the “New China bubble” from bursting while the world is watching. By focusing only on that new China, Gunter alleges, the IOC—and the CBC, naturally; can’t forget them!—are propping up the old, crueller version.
Still in the Post, Conrad Black provides an oddly flat history of Olympic geopolitics, suggesting that while past games have been awarded to celebrate the economic emergence of a nation (Seoul in 1988) or reconcile with old enemies (Tokyo in 1960), “with China, everything is more complicated.” The country “oscillates between blustering confidence and acute self-consciousness,” he writes, “and between admiration of the West and seething resentment.” Thus, he concludes, the success of these enormously expensive games will depend in large part “on the effect they have on the world’s perception of its host.”
The Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno detects in Michael Phelps a “gluttony for hyper-success” that’s typical of star American athletes. It’s “as if they are intrinsically made of superlative stuff, biting off more than anyone should be able to chew,” she writes. “And if they choke on it, the world takes pleasure.” In another piece, DiManno reports on the U.S. men’s volleyball team’s struggle to carry on after their coach’s parents-in-law were randomly attacked—the father-in-law fatally—by a Chinese man who later committed suicide.
Especially since Stephen Harper has recently been softening his stance on China, having found it neither diplomatically nor electorally advantageous, the Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson suggests the he might have considered showing up for the opening ceremonies. It “would have been appreciated as a gesture by Canada, if nothing else,” he writes, and gestures—by Simpson’s analysis anyway—play a huge role in China’s bilateral relations.
On the ground in Afghanistan
Tagging along on a “friendly outreach patrol” in Kandahar, the Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson witnesses “first-hand how little time soldiers have to react when they realize a vehicle speeding at them is not going to stop”—three times in 30 minutes, mind you! None of the three were in fact suicide bombers, he notes; they all “apologized to soldiers for not paying attention” and were allowed to go on their way. In another piece, Thomson reports on an until-now secret—and apparently highly successful—foray by NATO troops into the Maywand district, a key Taliban redoubt that “lies between Canadian troops in Kandahar province and British troops in Helmand province.”
Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, says the recently-struck deal to buy six used American Chinook helicopters, and the various “horse trading” of Soviet-era whirlybirds that preceded it, “remind us just what a lightweight nation we are militarily.” We can beat our chests all we want over our supposedly outsized commitment to the Afghan mission, he writes, but “a G8 country and founding member of the NATO alliance should not be in a predicament in which six years into an operational deployment we are begging for loaners from allies and leasing used Soviet aircraft from private businessmen.”
If we ran a newspaper, we’d ban our columnists from declaring things “politically awkward” when the awkwardness in question stems largely or entirely from the media’s willingness to pitch a fit over the political awkwardness in question. Alas, we don’t run a newspaper, and probably never will, so here’s Thomas Walkom‘s column in the Star about how the United States’ strategically advantageous plan to bring coalition soldiers under a single command is politically awkward for Stephen Harper because that command happens to be American. (As one commenter dryly remarks, “This article fails to provide any definitive information on its thesis, right up until its end.”)
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui lays out his Afghanistan solution, which is “a series of political compromises: internally, along the same lines as the deals in Iraq with Sunni insurgent groups; with Pakistan; and a regional understanding with India and Pakistan.” To facilitate such a development, Washington should broker a settlement between Pakistan and India on Kashmir, and offer “guarantees of military non-intervention” to Tehran in return for Iran abandoning uranium enrichment. Behold: peace! Ta-da!
The opposite of the Olympics: Canadian politics
If Tony Clement wants to continue his embarrassingly counterfactual campaign against Insite, the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe says the least he could do is fund drug treatment centres in the affected communities. Instead, she argues, he seems to ignore the problem entirely except to bash harm reduction on ideological grounds—which, apart from being ridiculous, is a political move that “does little for the Harperites beyond playing to their political base, likely to vote for them anyway.” We can almost see Clement shrugging, yawning, and walking away.
Minority governments suck, Lawrence Martin declares in the Globe (though more eloquently). They accomplish little, elevate “misdemeanours” to “scandal status,” and reduce the media to endless election speculation and discussing issues “not in terms of their merit, but their political impact”—more so than usual, even. And before you “point dreamily to the Lester Pearson era,” Martin will remind you of that era’s “run of cheap scandals – Gerda Munsinger, Hal Banks, Lucien Rivard etc. – and low-grade politics that left the public in despair, waiting for a saviour to lift the country from the slumber.”
In the Montreal Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald dismisses the media’s obsession with Dion’s will-he-or-won’t-he act on triggering an election as a non-story—or he would, but for all the “other elements in the mix.” Those elements, as far as we can see, are Gary Oledzki and Robert Morrissey, the Liberal candidates in Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, respectively, who recently stepped down for reasons unknown. MacDonald, however, takes it on faith that Dion’s Green Shift was a large part of their decision. Cue the ominous music.
In the Ottawa Citizen, Richard Bercuson launches a blistering attack on Via Rail’s service (from actually getting you from A to B to the “consistently wonky” on-board Wi-Fi), employees, trains, stations… well, pretty much everything except the colour scheme, and that might just have been a space consideration. There are many well-taken points, and a few gratuitous ones thrown in for flavour.
Provincial and municipal affairs
While the Quebec Young Liberals’ ideas are usually laughed at and dismissed, the Gazette‘s Don MacPherson argues this year’s crop of proposals addressed some real issues: the quality of English instruction in French schools and the underfunding of Quebec’s universities. Their proposed solutions—mandating “English immersion” in elementary schools and doubling tuition fees—were deeply “flawed” and unpractical however, just like normal, and MacPherson believes they’ll meet their usual fate, just with less laughter.
Five years after Victoria announced its intention to farm off certain B.C. Ferries routes to private operators, the Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer surveys the results: one “tiny,” passenger-only route privatized, “one possibility rejected outright, two terminated in unexplained fashion, four back-burnered for more than two years, [and] another two awaiting the next move from Victoria after almost three years.”
In the Journal, Lorne Gunter insists he’s not opposed in principle to building a new hockey arena for the Oilers, or “a spiderweb of bicycle paths” through the city, or “vaulting glass-and-light pyramids over the eastern and western highway approaches to the city.” He just suspects the visionaries aren’t letting citizens in on the price tag. Where is the city going to find $300-odd million for the arena, he asks, if it doesn’t raise taxes—which it has promised not to do?
Solzhenitsyn and human rights
We quite agree with Rex Murphy that your average Canadian, and likely even your average Canadian human rights commissioner, has a distorted concept of what a true human rights violation is. But we wonder if Alexander Solzhenitsyn might look askance at his attempts in the Globe to use his life under totalitarianism’s thumb to score points against “Canadian bureaucrats” deciding whether “insults in some comedy store” or “washing or not washing one’s hands in a fast-food outlet” are human rights violations. If comparing Michael Moore to Solzhenitsyn (because both are said to “speak truth to power”) makes Murphy “cringe,” as he says it does, then why did he make the bloody comparison?
George Jonas, writing in the Post, attempts to argue against our human rights commissions’ authority and expertise to discern hate speech from merely vituperative speech using the following sentence: “We, by the Grace of Progress, the Referees of Democracy, the Linespersons of Constitutional Rights, the Arbitrators of the Limits of Free Speech, the Omnipotent State, Greetings: Know by this Present that Chief Human Rights Commissioner Jennifer Lynch, Q. C., being able to Smell Odium from Two Miles Upwind, has been Admitted to the Order of Big Nurses and is Qualified and Authorized to Draw A Line for Writers, Dead or Alive, Including but Without Being Limited to, Homer, Aristophanes, Mark Steyn, Stephen Leacock, Alexander Solzhenityn.” Not much we can really say about that.
Peter Worthington files his appreciation of Solzhenitsyn in the Toronto Sun, arguing that while the horrors of Stalinism had been well-documented before him, his insight and unique personality elevated him almost to the status of “a Biblical prophet — impossible to satisfy, never content, ever critical, always pure, incapable of hypocrisy or self-delusion.”
Issues are for losers
Thus far in the election campaign, the Star‘s David Olive says the American mainstream media “refuses to eat its vegetables and prefers the junk food of cheeky ads irrelevant to the tough choices ahead”—and in the process, he says, has validated the image of Barack Obama as “not up to the job.” You could be forgiven if you thought there wasn’t “much at stake in this contest,” he argues, given the appalling level of debate. But he says “the winner will face more daunting challenges than any U.S. president since Franklin Roosevelt.”
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson doesn’t have anything bad to say about Obama, but he does have some pretty bog-standard vice-presidential prognostication, if you’re interested.
The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner speaks with McGill University chemist and writer Joe Schwarcz about the fact that, according to a major American environmental group, peaches have 100 times the “pesticide load” as onions. “A very, very small number times 100 is still a very small number,” Schwarcz says—and indeed, the amount of pesticide residue on any piece of fruit is going to be infinitesimally small. The fact that environmentalists never mention that is a classic “chemophobic” tactic, Gardner argues.
Business meets pleasure for the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington as he follows up on his story about the Ontario SPCA targeting an exotic animal sanctuary near Picton—viewing a second inspection in person and asking all sorts of uncomfortable media-type questions… in the company of his grandchildren! All allegations of mistreatment have been rectified or dropped, he reports.