Monday, July 19, 2010

American Conservatives

SANTA MONICA, CA - APRIL 15:  Juan Bedoya, an ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
I think I just have to face the simple fact that I'm never going to understand American conservatism. It just seems to me that there's an underlying dichotomy - I'm trying hard not to use the word 'hypocrisy' - that just doesn't make any sense.

I'm referring, at the moment, to the Tea Party. It appears to try to present itself as a movement in favour of small government, in favour of lower taxes, and, of course, in favour of freedomfreedomfreedom, that oh-so-powerful word the American Right bandy about at every given opportunity.

If it were just that, the Tea Party wouldn't deserve the derision it often recieves. When elements of the Tea Party made an effort to distance themselves from the Bush years, when they've said that overspending is a bad thing whichever party does it... well, they may not have a policy I agree with, but at least they seem to have one.

But where the American Right mystifies me is where fiscal conservatism meets social conservatism: I'm not so clear on what the two have to do with each other. Social conservatism is a frankly scary concept to me: based, as far as I can tell, on the notion that one's personal morals and values should be the law of the land. You needn't really look for a coherent moral vision from a social conservative: whatever bits of morality they cleave to are hardened into 'principle' and turned into the subject matter of theoretical laws.

Laws. The government using its power. This is where is all falls apart for me. If you're comfortable deriding as 'socialism' the idea that the government could, say, put environmental regulations on free enterprise or limit access to weapons, why are you suddenly comfortable entrusting the government to make laws forbidding, say, gay marriage? I know they'll claim that they're just trying to preserve the existing laws, but surely in one's quest for freedomfreedomfreedom, the current state of laws should be of no significance, right? After all, I don't think they'll stop calling for the repeal of Obamacare based on the notion that it's now the status quo.

This is where their position to me becomes untenable. Giving the police power to demand ID of foreign nationals is a policy that Tea Party supporters as a whole tend to embrace, but the simple fact is it ought to be anathema to everything they claim to stand for. They ought to deride it as the 'Big Brother' government impinging on the rights of ordinary people. Yet they don't. I sometimes get the feeling that Tea Party members practically beg people to label them as racist and/or xenophobic, so I'm trying to avoid doing so. But it's tough not to feel that the Tea Party would feel differently toward the laws in Arizona if they actually thought that they themselves might be stopped by police there. But clearly they don't feel that they have to worry about that.

The freedoms that appear to be important to the American right are, in fact, only a scant few freedoms. It would seem that what really gets them upset is the idea that the government would attempt to interfere with the free market. Freedom is an economic term, it would appear - though obviously the right to bear arms is also a big one with them. I don't know if I'd consider that a social freedom. But the idea that people ought to live the lifestyle of their own choosing has no resonance within the American right. Certainly 'flying the freak flag' is anathema to the American right. These are the people that have no problem closing down a high school prom rather than letting a same-sex couple attend.  If somebody attended a Tea Party demonstration wearing, say, a leather bondage outfit, it's tough to imagine the people there saying, "Now here's someone embracing their God-given freedom!" Freedom would suddenly seem like licentiousness, and would scandalise and anger them. They might even say "there ought to be a law."

Because when it comes right down to it, the American right are not anarchists. They believe in the government and in its ability to make laws that affect society. Ultimately what it means to be an American conservative is to embrace laws, and aspects of the government, that fit with your way of thinking, and to decry as a socialist affront to freedom whichever ones don't.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Congratulations Argentina

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...Image via Wikipedia
Three countries in little more than one month, and we can feel that momentum building again. It's now ten countries on four continents where marriage equality is legal. Congratulations, Argentina. It's a great step forward.

Funny, though. Four continents sounds wonderful, but it's seven countries in Europe, and then one each in North America, South America and Africa. If you were in, say, India, you'd be thousands and thousands of miles, encompassing the vast majority of the population of the world, removed from a country with legal gay marriage (though there was recently momentum in India's neighbour Nepal, which still might break ground as the first Asian country with marriage equality).

How imbalanced is it? If you're in Brazil, you have one neighbour, Argentina, where same-sex marriage is legal. But you have another neighbour, Guyana, where homosexuality is illegal. Unenforced, apparently, but still on the books. Think about that for a second: rights of LGBT people worldwide are so subject to political whims that within a single continent you can have the full range from homosexuality being illegal to gay marriage being legal. (In fact, all of South Africa's neighbours, including its two enclaves, prohibit homosexual activity, while South Africa itself has marriage equality). The haphazard process going on in the United States is another example of people touting the concept 'democracy' as a veiled excuse to deny people rights.

I get bothered by the slow progress and occasional regress (California, Burundi). But it's tough not to notice the overall momentum: marriage equality will be a globally-accepted phenomenon sooner or later - perhaps even within our lifetime. In the meantime, a heartfelt congratulations to Argentina. May your country be an inspiration to its neighbours, and the whole world.
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Monday, July 12, 2010

The First Lady of Iceland

I think one of the things that bugged me most in the orgy of the G20 is something that all in all grates me more than it appears to grate a lot of people coverage of 'first ladies', as they accomanied their husbands on a trip to Toronto.

What bugs me? If nothing else, the phrase 'first lady', which is cheesy and of an old-fashioned male-dominated era. It keeps up silly 'behind every great man, there's a great woman' conventions, and it certainly brought home the point of just how male-dominated the G20 continues to be: of the 20 national bigwigs on hand, only Angela Merkel of Germany and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina were female (Australia would undoubtedly have sent Julia Gillard had she been prime minister for more than a few hours before the G20 began). So the 'significant others' were overwhelmingly female, and their presence reduced to discussion of what dresses they wore and ridiculous arcana like that. This despite the fact that many of these women are accomplished professionals in diverse lines of work, who have been reduced to mere accessories while their husbands get down to the business of ruling the world.

But then there's Iceland. Iceland is so wonderfully different that it's always nice to take a look at this flight-stopping country. If you were curious about the 'First Lady of Iceland'... well, you'd need to specify. I've often wondered if "First Lady" is meant to refer to the wife of the president or of the prime minister in countries that have both. In either case, the wife of the President of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, is quite interesting. In a world where people often scream at the notion of foreign-born heads of states or wives thereof, Iceland has a president with an Israeli-British wife. If that's not enough, her family is from Uzbekistan, with well-connected ties going back to Genghis Khan.

Such international heritage is, of course, interesting, as is her being an observant Jew in a country with perhaps as few as 100 Jews. She designs jewellery and writes for a British socialite magazine.

While Ms. Moussaieff is interesting, to me the more interesting First Lady is Jónína Leósdóttir, who became the wife of the Prime Minister on the very day of the G20. Ms. Leósdóttir is a journalist and playwright, with a long history of published works behind her. The relative newness of her marriage belies the fact that she and the Prime Minister have been together for years, having spent eight years in a civil union. The reason they changed their status in June of 2010 is that only then did it become legal in Iceland for them to marry. When Iceland became the ninth country in the world to fully legalise same-sex marriages, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir,the first openly gay head of government in modern history, took the opportunity to make her partner of eight years her wife.

One day, there will be nothing so banal as talking about a gay Prime Minister and her wife. But that day is not yet here: in the meantime, this is exciting progress. And to think that at the same time as the eyes of the world were focused on Toronto and flashbulbs lit as the overwhelmingly male leaders of the élite countries paraded in a traditional, outdated ritual, with their wives in tow, up in often-forgotten Iceland, a different kind of First Lady was taking her vows. While the tacky excesses of the past appear on the front pages, progress happens in the dark, away from the cameras and flashbulbs.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I've Been Working on the Railroad

A 5-string BanjoImage via Wikipedia
So how awesome a song is "I've Been Working on the Railroad"? Like, seriously - as nursery rhymes or old folk songs go, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" just rocks. It doesn't make a lick of sense, really, and is clearly just a medley of different bits of songs with vague connections between them (Hey! these two songs have the name 'Dinah' in them! Let's stick them together!). But, like "Happiness is a Warm Gun" (and that's the first time in the history of human speech that those two songs have been compared), the song works because of, not just despite, its disparate bits. It's like somehow it's trying to tell a larger story - one that in some way involves railroads, horns, kitchens and banjos... but you don't have all the details, so the full story remains elusive...

Or perhaps not. It might just be a silly little kids' ditty.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

I Hate Weather

Skyline of TorontoImage via Wikipedia
I hate weather. I just hate it. Weather in Toronto, in particular, is just ridiculous. If it's not freezing cold, it's stinking hot, except for like a week in spring and a week in fall. Apart from that, it's "the weather will make you uncomfortable!"

Stinking hot right now. Like stupidly stinking hot, makes me not able to do anything more than sit here like a lump. Why can't the weather just be, like, a constant 25 degrees with a nice breeze? Wouldn't that be enough? And humidity... who invented that? Water belongs in seas and up in clouds, not just floating in the air we're trying to breathe. Damn that water.

Er, okay. Perhaps that's enough now. From the man with the melting brain...
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

A foreign monarch in Canada

Haven't been near the internet in too long. Too much going on, I guess. Lots that I'd like to write about, though.

Anyway, I just wanted, in passing, to mention a clip I saw on the news a few days ago when the Queen was in Halifax. They were interviewing various people fawning over the Queen (how one-sided is the media while they Queen's here in Canada?) and they interviewed some oldie. She said she was absolutely delighted to have the Queen in town. "I'm British," she said, "so it's especially important for me."

I've been mulling that over in my head for the past few days. I think it really exposes the lie inherent in Canada's continuing embrace of a foreign monarch: that in some way she is of Canada or in some way belongs to Canada. This retired old lady, certainly Canadian but of foreign origin as a massive amount of Canadians are, makes no attempt to say that 'being Canadian, the Queen is important to me'. Even this British-Canadian sees the Queen as a British phenomenon, not a Canadian one.

And... well, duh. Yes, she's the Queen of Canada. But that phrase just sounds ridiculous even when I say it right now. I'd love to walk around the streets of a Canadian city with a picture of the Queen asking people who she is. A good number would say 'the Queen' (as I guess they might in the States too). I'd love then to say, 'yes but the queen of which country', in order to see how many people say 'the Queen of England'.

After all, that's what she is. It makes a lot more sense to call her the Queen of England than to call her the Queen of a country she's visited only twenty-some-odd times in her whole, lengthy, life. She complimented the Canadian people by calling Canada a 'home away from home' or a 'second home'. But that again is the point: the Queen is British first, whatever else second. I'm reminded of the time Prince Charles went to Mexico, one of Canada's main trading partners, as an envoy to increase economic ties with the UK. On the one hand, it's shocking to think that the future Head of State of Canada would negotiate against the interests of one of his future realms with one of that realm's closes economic partners. But on the other hand, of course he would. He's British, not Canadian.

Royal visits to Canada lengthen and strengthen out irrational commitment to the monarchy. From a point of view of self-preservation, it makes sense for them to come every now and then. But it would be nice if we took these trips as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the peculiar status we have: being subjects of a foreign monarch. You'd figure we'd ask ourselves every now and then why that is.
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