Monday, October 19, 2015

Campaign 2015: the election night speeches we hope to hear

Here are the speeches we hope the candidates give tonight following the official results.
Tom Mulcair
Good evening, Canada. Bonsoir mesdames et messieurs. [LONG PAUSE] Ah, screw it. You gotta be f*cking kidding me. Seriously, Canada? Are we really living in a country where experience and intelligence is trumped by the ability to smile for a bazillion selfies? That's right, kids! You too can drift from place to place, until you find a wrecked political party that has lost it collective mind and replaces a Rhodes Scholar and former premier NOT with an astronaut... NOT with a constitutional professor... but with an [MUTTERS SOMETHING]. What a great country! I'm outta here. So long, suckers.
Stephen Harper
Look, I knew some Canadians didn't support us. We knew this election would be tough. I didn't realize the hard feelings were so intense that Canadians would elect Zoolander just to get rid of me. I apologize to all Canadians for what has happened. In particular I want to apologize to the Liberal Party and the Liberal caucus who will have to manage an inexperienced, error prone leader. Believe me. I know. I had to deal with Peter MacKay and Maxime Bernier for 10 years. If anyone needs me, I'll be sitting alone in my study muttering "I told you so" as I watch this slow-motion train wreck unravel. If anyone knows where to buy weed in Calgary, please text me.
Justin Trudeau
Friends, this has been an amazing journey from 24 Sussex, to Brébeuf, to meandering around in my 20s and 30s, to trading on my name, and now back to 24 Sussex! Over the next four years we will find modest deficits. We will find the root causes of terrorism. And we will find a way to back out the unrealistic spending promises in our platform. Thank you all. And finally, I want to thank the person behind the scenes who helped make all this possible... I love you, I kiss you, Jojo!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Campaign 2015: Day 1

There was something about Justin Trudeau's speech yesterday (well, all his speeches) that reminded me of those Tom Cruise videos where he's speaking at the Scientology conventions. Always smiling. Giving every speech like it's the most... important... thing... he's ever said. Like an actor in a Canadian TV show playing the part of a politician. I'm sure Trudeau's a nice guy. He just weirds me out in almost the same way as Tom Cruise.

Meanwhile that other Tom looked like he had to poo or maybe hadn't gone in a few days. Not sure which. I always get the vibe that Mulcair would rather be yelling at someone and has to keep his anger contained (and his nostrils un-flared) while making public appearances.

And Harper seems like an introvert who is painfully uncomfortable politicking and meeting people, and who would rather be at home reading.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mayor Caroline St-Hilaire and the debasing of fundamental liberties

Mayor Caroline St-Hilaire
Only in an environment where fundamental liberties like freedom of expression have been so demeaned for so long could the mayor of Longueuil matter-of-factly decry the fact that Bill 101 doesn't prohibit an elected official from speaking English at a public meeting.

Mayor Caroline St-Hilaire says: "The charter [of the French Language] says we have the right to express ourselves in French. It doesn't say he can't express himself in English. That's the rub."

St-Hilaire must look at other areas of the language law and think, 'If Bill 101 prohibits English on commercial billboards or street signs in most Quebec cities, why isn't it also illegal to speak English at a council meeting? The law seems inconsistent.'

The debasing of our Western ideals of human rights must be acknowledged as a legacy of the Charter of the French Language no less important than its purported successes. A society where statements like St-Hilaire's are made without controversy will think it perfectly normal to ban other things like, say, kippahs and hijabs. Let's recall that a majority did support banning these in 2013. The fact that the bill didn't become law was the result of a tactical error by the Parti Québécois -- not because of a surge interest in Quebec in the works of John Stuart Mill.

The intolerance at the core of St-Hilaire's statement may, sadly, be in our past, present, and future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pottery Barn, Jon Stewart, and online shopping from Quebec

When you live in Canada, you sometimes have to wait for the shiny, new products and services launched in the US to come here. 

In the 1970s, Burger King was rare in some parts of Canada, which made Whoppers an exciting treat when travelling with the family in the US. Same with Pizza Hut, Krispy Kreme, Marshall's, and Target. On the food side, there was Dr Pepper, Cookie Crisp cereal, and 100 Grand bars. Eventually, these things come to Canada (except for 100 Grand) and then the thrill is lost.

As more of our lives move online, Canadians are again finding themselves on the boring side of the border. Want to watch a funny Jon Stewart bit? Too bad. You can't watch it on the US website like everyone else. Websites know you're in Canada. Your internet provider is ratting you out.

The problem
In the part of Canada we call Quebec, there's an added layer of aggravation. Online commerce is being stifled by the Quebec language police who are asking online retailers to voluntarily block access to products on their website if it detects you are in Quebec. Here's a CTV News report.

What people in Quebec see when trying to browse at

Pottery Barn will ship items to Quebec, as long as you place your order from somewhere else.
The solution
What's the solution to this villainous impediment to free commerce? Here are two options.

Option 1: Much like the situation in the former Soviet Union when visitors from the West smuggled in blue jeans, ask a friend or relatives in the free parts of North America to order your items online for you. Maybe companies will spring up to place orders on behalf of beleaguered Quebecers.

Option 2: Why rely on the kindness of others when you can use technology to sweep aside the infamy of the language police. Use a VPN service to mask your location. Instead of Pottery Barn thinking you are in Quebec, you can trick them into thinking you are in the free cities of Toronto, New York, London, or Sydney. 

How does the VPN service work? You pay, then download the software to your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and then launch the software. Pick from one of dozens of locations when you want Pottery Barn to think you live somewhere less Quebecish. Now you can browse and buy. No more Soviet-style restrictions.
Which should you use. You can check the recommendations at Lifehacker. But here's what I use: ExpressVPN. The cost is $99.95 US per year.
Stores won't know you are in Quebec. You can shop freely. And as an added bonus, you can watch that Jon Stewart clip too.

ExpressVPN is a service that tricks websites like into believing you are not in Quebec. Now you can shop without being blocked.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Superman II Niagara Falls scene: how long should it have taken the boy to fall

If you grew up watching Superman II (1980) one of your favourite scenes was when Clark changes into Superman and saves the kid from falling into Niagara Falls. What follows is a shocking revelation I have uncovered thanks to the Internet and science. 

First, the science. The force of gravity, g = 9.8 m/s2. That means that gravity accelerates you at 9.8 meters per second per second. So, after one second, you're falling 9.8 m/s. After two seconds, you're falling 19.6 m/s, and so on. Source

The second fact to keep in mind is Niagara Falls has a drop of 51 meters. Source

Finally, in the movie it takes approximately 29 seconds from the time the boy begins to fall to the time Superman catches him near the bottom.

But according to the free fall calculator, it should take 3.23 seconds for the boy to hit the water.

Conclusion: Superman II is based on faulty science.

I'm worried what my investigation into Lex Luthor's Alpha Wave machine with uncover.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Quebec language censors discover Facebook

The OQLF has threatened a small business owner with a fine for violating Quebec's language censorship laws. Her offence? Posting more English than French words on her Facebook page she uses to promote her business.

The problem is not the OQLF. It is the language censorship laws. These laws are intrinsically bad. Censorship is an evil. The application of censorship will always make the censor look foolish by trying to regulate one of our most basic human needs -- the desire to communicate in our own way.

Here is how people respond to the news that the OQLF has discovered Facebook.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Trudeau's 1970 speech about "troubled period in this province" has echoes of 2014

Anthony Housefather (@AHousefather), the mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, has tweeted a front page story in The Gazette from February 8, 1970, that reports on Prime Minister Trudeau's speech at a B'Nai Brith Canada event. Trudeau told the mostly Jewish audience the following:
"I am aware we are passing through a troubled period in this province, and that being a member of a minority in these circumstances can be cause for apprehension. I know that many members of the Jewish community share this feeling and have doubts about their future in Quebec. If I can speak as a member of one minority to another -- stick with it. With all your energies and abilities play your full part in this society, which you have helped to build and insist on your rights as members of it."
The exact same speech could be given today, which is incredibly depressing.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Samuel Moskovitch on the front page of The Gazette, Monday, February 8, 1970

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New York State just showed Quebec's narrow-minded politicians how a confident and tolerant society acts

The New York state assembly passed a bill this week to prohibit discrimination of any worker for the “wearing of any attire, clothing or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion.”

You can read the text here:

This bill would  clarify  that  the wearing of any attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements  of  his  or  her  religion  is protected under the Human Rights Law. [...] 
Section one  of  the  bill  would  clarify  that  it  is  an  unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to require a person to violate or  forego  the wearing attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his  or  her  religion  unless  the  employer demonstrates  that it is unable to reasonably accommodate the person's religious practice without  undue  hardship  on  the  conduct  of  the employer's business. [...] 
This bill is intended to protect the religious rights of all New Yorkers. An example of the need for this bill is a case  in New  York  City where a member of the Sikh religion who worked for the MTA was ordered to remove his turban and wear the  MTA  hat.  When  he objected,  on religious ground, the MTA responded that he may wear the turban if he affixes an MTA badge to the front. This was  unacceptable as  wearing a turban is a solemn religious duty for Sikhs and affixing a badge to it would not be religiously proper. This bill would  ensure that  persons  like  the  gentleman  described above will no longer be discriminated at their places  of  work  because  of  their  religious duties.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Public incitement of hatred?

A newspaper ad I would love to see in response to the PQ ads.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Time to shame the PQ and its leaders

My biggest worry about the Parti Québécois’ Charter of Bigotry--or whatever they euphemistically call it--is anecdotal evidence that liberal-minded Quebecers are now thinking about leaving Quebec.

The PQ hasn’t banned emigration yet, so it is your choice to stay or leave. But before you get too far in your exit strategy, please consider an alternative.

Shame the PQ.

Shame its ministers, and its leaders. Every one of them. Refuse to shake any of their hands. Walk out of restaurants when you see one of them. Don’t participate in events if PQ leaders are present. Cancel your meetings with them. 

Ostracize them in exactly the same way they seek to ostracize so many Quebecers.

Take the lead of Radio-Canada television host Marie-Josée Taillefer, who while at the Gala des Gémeaux on Sunday, September 16, 2013 spoke out against the Charter of Bigotry, with Premier Marois in the audience. Must-see-TV at its finest.

If you must interact with the PQ at all, ask one question over and over: Have you no sense of decency?

As long as the PQ believes it can--without consequence--lob irresponsible and divisive legislative bills into the public sphere, they won’t stop. Only when their leaders feel the red-hot shame, embarrassment and ostracization directed at them by Quebecers will they begin acting like responsible stewards of government.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A new dream for a new Quebec

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the fabric over their head but by the content of their character.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The PQ's newest de-normalization campaign

The goal of anti-smoking laws was to de-normalize cigarette smoking. It worked. Smokers are now frowned upon and non-smokers think it's okay to give them dirty looks, even when they smoke outside on a terrace, near and entrance to a building, or in a park. Why? Because everyone knows that smoking isn't normal and smokers are weirdos the rest of us can bully.

Same deal with Bill 101 and all subsequent updates, like Bill 14. The goal was to de-normalize the use of English and it has mostly worked. Think of the IGA manager who told the employee he couldn't speak English in the lunch room. Or the allergic man assaulted at a hospital cafeteria by a fellow patron for speaking English. Why did average citizens act this way? Because the government sent the message loud and clear that speaking English isn't normal and English speakers are weirdos the rest of us can bully.

The Charter of Quebec Values is more of the same. The goal is to de-normalize people who practice religion. The act of drawing attention to kippahs, hijabs, or turbans has the effect of making wearers self-conscious -- just like smokers and English-speakers. It doesn't matter if the rules don't apply to private companies. The government sent the message loud and clear that religious symbols and those who wear them are weirdos we can bully. I heard a clip on CBC radio today from a doctor who wears a hijab who has received more questions and some negative comments about it in the last few weeks than in the past decade.

The PQ's de-normalization campaign has started. Even if the bill doesn't become law, the PQ has successfully made religious people self-conscious -- just like English-speakers and just like smokers. The doctor said she was thinking of leaving Quebec, by the way.

Quebec has no state religion, except for...

Yes, Mr. Drainville, the Quebec state is secular, unless you count the PQ's cult-like devotion to the holy trinity of sovereignty, language, and "values."

PQ playbook revealed

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bernard Landry and the "but-we-copulated-with-other-peoples-hundreds-of-years-ago" defense against charges of modern xenophobia

Bernard Landry is sooooooo angry by reports from English-language media in the rest of Canada about the possible kippah/turban/hijab ban. He says that they are calling Quebec xenophobic and racist. In fact, they are calling the proposed law and it's proponents xenophobic and racist -- not Quebec as a whole.

But putting that aside, he can't understand why they would call "Quebec" (however defined) xenophobic. Don't they know French settlers knocked up some first nations women 300 years ago? Don't they know they later wooed Irish women?

It's the "but-we-copulated-with-other-peoples-hundreds-of-years-ago" defense against charges of modern xenophobia! No matter what the proposed law, you can mention that you great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather did the nasty with local women not of your colour/race/religion and then your proposed law becomes awesome! Not at all racist!

Here are Landry's comments:
"It's infuriating but it's so pathetic to go and say that Quebec is xenophobic and racist — when from the start of our national adventure we intermingled with Amerindians. The majority of us have Amerindian roots, one-quarter of us have Irish roots, we have had six premiers of Irish origin. What are these people talking about? Why are they so misinformed in the rest of Canada? ... 
He also mentions one African-born member of the PQ. And one Latino member of the BQ. That's great, but, again, this isn't a get out of jail free card, Bernie.
"Do they think our culture minister was born on Ile d'Orleans? It's (Cameroonian native) Maka Kotto. We (the PQ) elected the first black person in the Quebec national assembly. The Bloc Québécois elected the first Latino to the Parliament of Canada. They should open their eyes."
Maybe President Putin will use this strategy in defense of his anti-gay law and reveal that his great-uncle had a same-sex fling with the local Czarist official. If it worked for Bernie, maybe it will work for Vlad.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Charter of Quebec Values: explained

I wish the PQ has the courage to explain it this way. Until then, here is a fake video.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Parti Québécois to table ‘Quebec Charter of Value Meals’

Parti Québécois to table ‘Quebec Charter of Value Meals’
August 25, 2013

Minister Drainville worried about how much
space some foods take on Quebec menus.
(Photo: The Gazette)
QUEBEC CITY—The minority government of Premier Pauline Marois wants to prohibit public employees from eating items such as shish taouk, butter chicken, and some types of pizza as part of a value meal--sometimes called combos, or trios--in a broad ban that could extend from elementary and university teachers to nurses and child-care workers.

The minister responsible for the Quebec Charter of Value Meals, Bernard Drainville, says that in the battle to safeguard French-Quebec culture, previous governments have underestimated the role of reasonably-priced fast food on the minds of the nation.

The PQ is expected to table new rules in the fall, following the passage of the previously announced Quebec Charter of Values.

“It will not only provide clear rules and a framework for which foods public-sector employees are allowed to buy, it will also affirm a number of foods that a vast majority of Quebecers enjoy such as cheese, tourtière, and pouding chômeur,” Drainville said. “I am confident we can have this debate in a respectful manner, in a serene manner.”

Yet just last week, Drainville was among those who sparked a debate on value meals when he opposed a decision by Tim Horton’s to introduce smoked meat at their concessions inside Quebec government institutions. Drainville argued against giving minority foods privileges denied to other foods, like poutine, not on the menu.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard questioned the need to revisit the issue of value meals.

“If the aim explicitly or not is to divide Quebecers again I am not in agreement at all,” Couillard said. “This issue about adding smoked meat to a menu is for the bellies of  Quebecers to decide.”

But Drainville argues the government has a responsibility to ensure the primacy of Quebec foods.

“As a society, we cannot allow our native dishes to be overtaken by those from other parts of the world,” Drainville said. “I have nothing against smoked meat. Indeed, some of my best friends eat smoked meat. I am only concerned by how much space these foods take on our menus.”

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Help give Quebec a proper French name

Join me in forcing the PQ government to change the name of our province, which I have always found too Algonquin-ish. 

Once the language inspectors start poking around the government itself, I trust Premier Marois will take the courageous stand and rename our home something more French. I propose Ici

(If Radio-Canada complains it is too similar to their new name, Premier Marois should explain that [1] Quebec never approved their name change, and [2] Quebec doesn't recognize it.)

Here's my complaint letter to the language inspectors: I am disturbed by the widespread use of the Algonquin word 'Québec'. I have seen it on many signs related to commercial, educational, and healthcare And also on many government offices including: 75 boulevard René-Lévesque Ouest, 125 rue Sherbrooke Ouest . Even in Quebec City at 1045 Rue des Parlementaires. I am a proud language sentinnel, I urge you to protect us from the Algonquin influence.

You can complain too using the OLQF's very advanced Word doc or (non-fillable) PDF.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is Montreal a bilingual city: not the right question to ask mayoral candidates

A few mayoral candidates have been asked by CJAD's Tommy Schnurmacher recently the following: "Is Montreal a bilingual city?"

Their pat answer is something like: "No, Montreal is a French city. But bilingualism is a great benefit and makes Montreal an international city."

The candidates are able to skate around the issue because the question is not precise. Take the term "French city." Montreal could be called a Quebec city, or a Canadian city, or a North American city. But it is not a "French city," France having long ago abandoned its former colony.

Pedantic? A touch. But we're going for clarity here. So, a more accurate version of Tommy's question is: "Is Montreal a French-speaking city."

But even this formulation could be interpreted as a question about demographics, as in: "Is the population of Montreal mostly French speaking." You can check the census data for the answer. It is not a political question. So this cannot be what Tommy meant to ask.

In politics, the question usually should begin with an "ought" not an "is." An ought is about what we want to have happen. An is relates to facts about the universe that can be Googled.

What Tommy meant to ask, then, was: "Ought the municipal government of Montreal provide bilingual services to residents, without them having to ask for it."

The question, asked in this way, leaves no room for misinterpretation and requires a clear yes or no. It's not about demographics but about public policy, which is the business would-be municipal leaders are in.

This is the question Tommy (and voters) should be asking of the mayoral candidates.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A tale of two Ici

Radio-Canada is changing its name. I get that Ici is shorter and easier for people to enter in a web browser. But other than that this is a dumb decision. Ici is too generic.
"The problem with a generic brand is its inability to differentiate the brand from the competition." - Al Ries and Laura Ries, the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.
Also, Ici calls to mind the Office québécoise de la langue française multi-million dollar waste-of-money campaign to convince people to use French in stores rather than, you know, whatever language they damn well want to use.

Separated at birth?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

PQ vows an end to chicken in an independent Quebec

The latest PQ attack on food is outrageous. First pasta. Now chicken. Write to your MNA to express your opinion.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Godwin's law, Pauline Marois, and comparisons gone bad

Godwin's Law
According to this report, the Quebec provincial police are investigating who posted to a website and Facebook a photoshopped image of Quebec premier-elect Pauline Marois in Nazi garb with a Hitler moustache, etc. You can see the image at the link.

I've read the article several time and looked at the picture and I sincerely hope the newspaper got it wrong and that the police are not involved. If they are, we have bigger problems in Quebec than whether one can wear a crucifix or headscarf to work.

I get that the police want to make sure that the premier-elect is safe. But comparing her to Adolf Hitler is stupid, not illegal.

Every politician is compared, eventually, to Adolf Hitler. In arguments, this even has a name: Godwin's law, which states that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches." Critics of President Bush in a supreme act of laziness gave the 43rd president of the United States the nickname "Bushitler" to make their point and posters of Bush with a Hitler moustache were shown at all demonstrations against him. Ever during the student unrest last summer in Quebec, protesters had posters with Premier Jean Charest sporting a hand-drawn Hitler moustache. Some students even raised their hands in mock Nazi salute as a way to compare the police to the Nazis.

So why do people continue to compare modern leaders to the Nazis? Because the Nazis are famous in a way that, say, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (Turkmenistan) or Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) are not. People are lazy so if you oppose violations of civil rights you use the only example you know and/or the only one your audience will know.

I find offensive the statements and proposals made by the Parti Québécois during the campaign to limit who can run for public office and the continuous vilification of the English language--and therefore the people who speak it--as something that needs to be contained and prevented from spreading. This offensive rhetoric has been going on for so long that the people who say it don't realize it is offensive. But while I loathe this kind rhetoric, it is not anywhere close to the things the Nazis said. And more importantly, no one is arrested in Quebec for being English, as the Nazis arrested and murdered people who were gay, Jewish, Gypsie, communist or anything else.

People looking to compare premier-elect Marois might consider former Alabama Governor George Wallace who the Encyclopedia Britannica says was a populist who "seized on issues that appealed to the majority of his white constituents", such as segregation. Replace race politics with language politics and you now have a comparison that is, at least, in the same ballpark.

Wallace didn't murder anyone. He just made a part of his society feel bad, tried to limit access to public schools, and blamed everything on the federal government.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hitchens on September 11, 2001

Excerpt from Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

Very early next morning my wife, Carol, had me lifting the phone before I could quite appreciate the fact. From the East Coast, she had a three-hour time-zone advantage. “If you turn on the TV,” she said with her not-unknown dryness and economy, “you may find that the war-crimes trial of Henry Kissinger has been slightly postponed.” I found a remote-control device, which gave me the Weather Channel as such things always do, but even the Weather Channel had the “breaking” story. 

“Breaking” was about right. I felt myself rending internally as I was forced to watch—that’s how it felt, as with being made to witness a torture or an execution—the scenes I don’t have to describe to you. Or perhaps you will forgive me one exception to that resolution. As I saw the first of the towers begin to dissolve and lose its shape and outline, I was alerted to what was imminent by the abrupt sinking and sagging of the big antenna on the roof. I can only phrase this by saying that I was very suddenly and very overwhelmingly actuated by pity. I know that this is the pathetic fallacy at work and I dare say I knew it then, but it was like watching the mute last moments of a dying elephant, say, or perhaps a whale. At any rate, the next emotion I felt was a rush of protectiveness, as if something vulnerable required my succor. Vulnerable? This commercial behemoth at the heart of an often-callous empire? Well, yes, at the risk of embarrassment. And my protective feelings were further engaged and enlisted as, on this most faultless of September days, the whole southern tip of Manhattan was suddenly engulfed in a rolling, boiling cloud of filth that blotted out the sun. And in that filth was contained the pulverized remnant of many of my fellow creatures. In a first-reaction report I wrote that it was as if Charles Manson had been made god for a day.

More Mansonism was in store. My hometown was under attack as well. The next time Carol called, she wasn’t quite so wry and detached. The Defense Department was on fire. She could not get across town to collect our daughter, who had just been dropped at school. Chaos was official. There were hysterical and false reports of explosions near the White House and the State Department. The wonderful spaces and distances of America feel fractionally less glorious when a husband and father is on the wrong side of the Continental Divide and can’t do a thing. It transpired that, if not for the gallant action of the passengers on United Flight 93, and the traditional tardiness of air-traffic control at Newark Airport, which gave those heroes and heroines their time lag, another plane would have gone sailing through the blue of that day, arrowing right behind the coiffed heads of the TV newscasters, and burst into a gorgeous ball of red and yellow and black against the dome of the Capitol. From an early age, I had dreamed of Manhattan and identified it with breadth of mind, with liberty, with opportunity. Now it seemed that there were those who, from across the sea, had also been fantasizing about my longed-for city. But fantasizing about hurting it, maiming it, disfiguring it, and bringing it crashing to the ground. “Let it come down!” as the first murderer says in Macbeth, expressing in those four words a whole skullful of nihilism and resentment.

Before the close of that day, I had deliberately violated the rule that one ought not to let the sun set on one’s anger, and had sworn a sort of oath to remain coldly furious until these hateful forces had been brought to a most strict and merciless account.

And what of my other adopted city? How often had I laughed or even sneered at Washington, sometimes saying (echoing a smart friend) that it was New York’s nicest suburb, and at other times mocking it in various tones as “provincial” or a “company town.” Should I now also feel protective about that other behemoth, the Pentagon? Well, into its outer walls had been flown a nice acquaintance of mine, a feisty Republican lady named Barbara Olson. She had managed to get her husband on her cellphone to say she had been hijacked, and to him had fallen the task of telling her that she was mistaken about that. She was not a hostage. There were not going to be any “demands.” She was to be murdered in order that others, too, might die. As I tried to picture her reaction, I hit a barrier that my imagination was unable to cross. Also, when you have seen the Pentagon still smoldering across the river, from the roof of your own apartment building, you are liable to undergo an abrupt shift of perspective that qualifies any nostalgia for Norman Mailer’s “Armies of the Night” or Allen Ginsberg’s quixotic attempt to levitate the building. In his book The Company of Critics the Social Democratic intellectual Michael Walzer says that most of his friends and colleagues have never even visited Washington except to protest. I was to find this thought, about the mentality of America’s intellectuals, recurring to me as the days went by, but meanwhile my feeling for the city became distinctly more tender, and I began to value more what I had become used to taking for granted: the openness and greenery, the nexus of friends and contacts, the wonderful museums and galleries and concert halls, the two Shakespeare theaters, and the way that one could walk right up to the railings of the White House.

And then another filthy miasma arrived, this time in the form of anthrax spores stuffed into envelopes. A well-liked mailman on our route was one of the casualties, and our downstairs mailroom was briefly closed. This is the sort of phenomenon that breeds paranoia and hatred and fear, yet I was above all struck, throughout that month, by the calm and dignity with which New Yorkers and Washingtonians were conducting themselves. Every now and then, some nervous official would broadcast an appeal to people NOT to go and launch random attacks on Arab-run groceries or local mosques; these appeals grated on me as being superfluous and patronizing. There were a very few abject morons out in the boondocks who summoned the courage to attack anyone wearing a turban—they usually managed to pick Sikhs or Tibetans—but this was hardly a police-blotter blip.

Two things began to contend for mastery in my head. At first, I was most afraid of an orgiastic flag-waving unanimity, in which the press and media would congeal into an uncritical mass, as if “we” all lived in a one-party consensus. But then a chance encounter crystallized quite another fear. I was still stuck out at Whitman College, waiting for the airports to reopen, and went into a store to buy some overnight supplies. I was approached by a young woman who had been at my Kissinger lecture, and we chatted briefly about it before turning to the inescapable topic. “You know what my friends are saying?” she inquired. “They are saying it’s the chickens coming home to roost.”

I have always had a dislike for that rather fatuous and folkish expression, and this dislike now came welling up in me with an almost tidal force. (What bloody “chickens”? Come to think of it, whose bloody “home”? And, for Christ’s sake, what sort of “roost”?) And I could suddenly visualize, with an awful and sickening certainty, what we were going to be getting by way of comment from Noam Chomsky and his co-thinkers in the coming days. This realization helped me considerably in sorting out the discrepant and even discordant discussions that were taking place in my interior, and I soon enough sat down to write my regular column for The Nation. I titled it “Against Rationalization.” I did not intend to be told, I said, that the people of the United States—who included all those toiling in the Pentagon as well as all those, citizens and non-citizens, who had been immolated in Manhattan—had in any sense deserved this or brought it upon themselves. I also tried to give a name to the mirthless, medieval, death-obsessed barbarism that had so brazenly unmasked itself. It was, I said, “Fascism with an Islamic Face.” In this I attempted to annex Alexander Dub ek’s phrase about Czechoslovakia adopting “Socialism with a Human Face,” and also to echo Susan Sontag’s later ironic re-working, following the military coup in Poland, of the idea of Communism going the other way and degenerating into “Fascism with a Human Face.” Obviously, this concept is too baggy to be used every time, so I am occasionally “credited” with coining the unsatisfactory term “Islamofascism” instead.

Anyway, I didn’t have long to wait for my worst fears about the Left to prove correct. Comparing Al Quaeda’s use of stolen airplanes with President Clinton’s certainly atrocious use of cruise missiles against Sudan three years before (which were at least ostensibly directed at Al Quaeda targets), Noam Chomsky found the moral balance to be approximately even, with the United States at perhaps a slight disadvantage. He also described the potential civilian casualties of an American counterstroke in Afghanistan as amounting to “a silent genocide.”

As time had elapsed, I had gradually been made aware that there was a deep division between Noam and myself. Highly critical as we both were of American foreign policy, the difference came down to this. Regarding almost everything since Columbus as having been one continuous succession of genocides and land-thefts, he did not really believe that the United States of America was a good idea to begin with. Whereas I had slowly come to appreciate that it most certainly was, and was beginning to feel less and less shy about saying so. We commenced a duel, conducted largely in cyberspace, in which I began by pointing out the difference between unmanned cruise missiles on the one hand and crowded civilian airliners rammed into heavily populated buildings on the other. We more or less went on from there. Gore Vidal, also, could hardly wait to go slumming. He took the earliest opportunity of claiming that, while Osama bin Laden had not been proved to be the evil genius of the attacks, it was by no means too early to allege that the Bush administration had played a hidden hand in them. Or at least, if it had not actually instigated the assault, it had (as with Roosevelt at Pearl Harbor!) seen it coming and welcomed it as a pretext for engorging the defense budget and seizing the oilfields of the southern Caucasus. His articles featured half-baked citations from the most dismal, ignorant paranoids. President Bush had evidently forewarned himself of the air piracy in order that he should seize the chance to look like a craven, whey-faced ignoramus on worldwide TV. Vidal’s old antagonist Norman Mailer was largely at one with him on this, jauntily alleging that endless war was the only way to vindicate the drooping virility of the traditional white American male.

Thus did the nation’s intelligentsia, and a part of the mental universe of the New York Review of Books, show its readiness in a crisis. I thought I had to say a word for the fortitude that the rest of society was manifesting. I had another motive that is perhaps plainer to me now than it was then. I could not bear the idea that anything I had written or said myself had contributed to this mood of cynicism and defeatism, not to mention moral imbecility, on the Left. I did not want that young lady at Whitman College to waste her time drawing facile and masochistic conclusions. I had said all I could about American policy in South Africa and Chile (Salvador Allende had been overthrown and murdered on another 11 September twenty-eight years before) but as I asked an audience in Georgetown in a later debate with Tariq Ali, could anyone imagine Mandela or Allende ordering their supporters to use civilian airliners to slaughter more civilians? Any comparison of that kind, or any extension of it to Vietnam, was—quite apart from anything else—vilely insulting to the causes and struggles with which it was being compared. 

The four premises that underly the Parti Québécois' views on language

Rousseau trumps Locke in Quebec
When Pauline Marois matter-of-factly told reporters during the campaign that candidates for municipal or provincial office should be subjected to a language test, she was criticized for such an extreme measure. What was most shocking to me is that she didn't seem to realize that this idea that this might be perceived as offensive. She was probably as shocked by the reaction as people were shocked at her proposal.

When I disagree with some seemingly intelligent adult on some issue, I like to try to understand how they arrived at it. That is, assuming we agree on the same facts in the world, how did we end up at different conclusions.

People's beliefs are supported by basic premises that are not often stated. For instance, people who believe that women should not be restricted from aborting a fetus during pregnancy have as a premise that a fetus a few months old may be alive, but it is not really a baby. Those who oppose abortion have a different underlying premise. This explains the difference of opinion between pro-choice and pro-life supporters.

So what is Pauline Marois' premise? There are at least four. They are the following:
  1. French is the only legitimate common language of Quebec and other languages are illegitimate.
  2. The presence of English speakers in North America (including in Quebec) is a clear and present danger to the use of French as a common language in Quebec.
  3. The government must legislate to ensure that French remains the common language of Quebec.
  4. Collective rights trump individual rights.
French is the only legitimate common language of Quebec and other languages are illegitimate.
Marois and the Parti Québécois believe that French is the only legitimate language of Quebec. In much the same way as the Catholic Church labelled people as illegitimate, Marois believes English not legitimate, in spite of the number of people who speak it. Given its lowly status, it is entirely reasonable to, say, censor English words, give language tests to would-be politicians or people calling a government help line.

The presence of English speakers in North America (including in Quebec) is a clear and present danger to the use of French as a common language in Quebec.
In spite of the fact that more people speak French today in Quebec, including as a second or third language, the threat to French is ongoing. It's like the now discarded terrorist threat level in the United States. It's always set to high or near-high. Even if all parts of the province were entirely French-speaking, the threat would continue.

The government must legislate to ensure that French remains the common language of Quebec. 
Quebec is a nanny-state ("gouvernemaman") so the idea of interfering in the way a business operates is acceptable to many politicians (not just Pauline Marois). However, when the interference has to do with the French language, interference is not just permissible, but required. 

Collective rights trump individual rights. 
Pauline Marois knows the group is the fundamental unit of political society, not the individual. That's why Pauline Marois can so easily support preventing adults from choosing their preferred CEGEP. The collective, represented by the government, knows best and will decide.

Conclusion: If you believe, as does Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois in these four premises, then there is nothing controversial about censoring words from storefronts, violating international agreements on access to public education, or limiting those who can run for public office.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jean Charest's legacy

President Eisenhower's farewell address

Premier Jean Charest said that a new Liberal government would try to convince Ottawa into making French the workplace language for federal institutions and federally regulated businesses in the province.

If you're the type of person who gets off on French-first things, why would you vote Liberal when the PQ is offering the real deal? Who is Charest trying to coax into voting for him?

It's sad that the final days of the Charest government are spent following the herd instead of challenging the premise. Why not go out with a bang and do an Eisenhower-type farewell address? That is, why not warn Quebecers how an over-obsession on language has poisoned Quebec? How the French language is spoken as a first language by more than 80 percent of the population and has never been more secure? How there have never been more people speaking French whose first language is not French?

Why not let that be Charest's legacy?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Too good to be true

I argued yesterday that while the media emphasis has been on a citizen-initiated ballot initiative/referendum on the issue of Quebec secession, they don't all have to be sucky. For instance, opinion polls suggest that French-speaking Quebecers don't like the way the government has restricted their kids from the wrong kinds of public schools (read: English-language ones). Certainly a ballot-initiative on that topic would have widespread appeal and I could imagine such a restriction being voted down.

But not so fast, dear citizens. In an attempt to defuse the criticism that she would let hardcore separatists dictate the timing of a referendum on secession, Pauline Marois now says that the Quebec legislature would decide whether to accept a citizen-initiated ballot initiative.

You can now add arbitrary rule-making to the growing list of anti-liberal, anti-liberty and anti-democratic positions put forward by the Parti Québécois.

What's the point of a citizen-initiated vote if the legislature can arbitrarily quash it? The PQ is like an alcoholic father who drinks too much. The kids know it's wrong, but it's all they know. Quebecers are so used to the PQ's crazy ideas that when a new one is discovered, no one is shocked. What's worse, the candidate expressing the idea gets to carry on in the campaign as if nothing has happened.

Compare Marois' comments about giving a language test to people who want to run for office in Quebec to another crazy comment south of the border. US Senate candidate Todd Akin said that women could not get pregnant from "legitimate rape". For that, his party is throwing him under the bus and he will likely have to drop out of the election. Marois gets to continue her campaign.

How is it that the idea of barring citizens from running for public office made it all the way up to the leader of the party? No one at any of the meetings spoke up and said, "Dude, I think that's pretty f*cked up. Maybe we should scrap it"?

Why, in other words, do politicians in Quebec get away with expressing the kinds of crazy ideas that would destroy their political careers in any other jurisdiction in North America?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bring on the referendums

Ballot initiative
So far the debate over PQ leader Pauline Marois' suggestion to allow citizens to trigger a referendum on secession has been over whether it is wise to allow a small hard-core group of true believers force a referendum on us. But let's consider the overall benefits of citizen-initiated votes.

Yes, a referendum on secession will suck. Passions will be stirred. Whatever the outcome, people will be disappointed and angry. But a citizen-generated referendum on other topics could be what Quebec needs in 2012. Why not let the citizens decide on:

  • Removing restrictions on access to public schools, as French-speaking parents have been demanding, or allow English-speaking immigrants to attend English-language schools.
  • Allowing English-immersion programs in French-language schools, as French-speaking parents have been demanding.
  • Repealing the parts of the French language charter that even the French-speaking population think is overkill.
These are just a few language-related ideas. There is a whole range of finance-related ones that could help strip away some of the nanny-state or "gouvermaman" in French.

In the United States, 24 states allow citizen-initiated referendums. In fact, they distinguish between at least two types of measures:
  1. A ballot initiative is a proposal to change or create a law at a local or state level. Instead of relying on the legislature to make all of the laws, citizens can use the ballot initiative process to implement laws on their own. 
  2. A referendum places a law that has already been passed by the legislature to a popular vote.
Also, there are rules about the clarity of the question, which is not decided by the government but by a bipartisan committee. The timing of the vote coincides with the set election dates, not the day after an election as is the expressed desire of Marois.

In Quebec, we only ever talk about a referendum on one topic. But referendums and ballot initiatives don't have to be about just that. 

So, if the PQ wins, let's flood the government with non-secession ideas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Parti Québécois has jumped the shark

Quebec has jumped the shark
In case you didn't feel that thud on your ass this morning, it was the terminus of the slippery slope that Quebecers have been gingerly moving towards for the last 40 years.

In today's newspapers, there are reports that the Parti Québécois is considering preventing citizens from running for public office--provincial and municipal--if they don't speak French sufficiently well.

Anyone wanting to run for public office in a Quebec led by Pauline Marois will have to prove they can speak French first, the Parti Québécois leader said as she announced her latest language-related campaign promise Tuesday. The PQ leader said anglophones, allophones and aboriginal people will be forbidden from seeking municipal or provincial office unless they have an appropriate knowledge of French. 
Source: Globe and Mail

From 1974 onward, successive Quebec governments have enacted laws, slowly making the use of English abnormal. Like smoking and drunk driving. Always couched in the language of preservation of the French language, the effect of the laws was to limit the use of English in ever-decreasing areas.

The goal was to change the language reality of Quebec. The idea is that by pretending that English wasn't a common language, and passing laws to stop it from being so, the fairy tale would become true, in time.  Parents were prohibited from choosing their preferred school for their kids based on a law that discriminated against people who had the wrong grandparents. Merchants were prevented from communicating on signs with their customers in a language other than French (later amended to allow some English, provided it knew its subordinate place). All outdoor billboards and public transit ads were censored to allow only French words (with the exception of radio and tv stations and other cultural institutions).

At every point, the English-speaking community believed that the new restrictions were stinky, but more-or-less went along with it to humour the French-speaking majority who had been convinced into believing that the language of 82 percent of the population was in danger.

Today, August 22, 2012, in the middle of a Quebec election campaign, the party leading in the opinion polls is recommending---in all seriousness--to thwart the democratic process by barring the wrong kinds of people from seeking political office. Instead of letting voters decide, the PQ thinks it should decide.

It must be said that this is consistent with their policies about prohibiting college-age students from picking a CEGEP or parents from picking a school for their kids. It is consistent with legislating the use of French on commercial signs instead of letting the market penalize merchants who don't offer good services. It is consistent with the sick and unhealthy political society where the freedom of the individual is made subordinate to the dictates of illiberal government.

In Quebec, the government decides for you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Legault as leader of the No side?

If the PQ wins and the CAQ finishes second, does Legault get to be leader of the No side in the eventual referendum campaign? And at what point does he decide what he really believes?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Election slogans

Uninspired slogan, 2012 edition
I'd like for a political party to be honest with voters and use a slogan that doesn't sound like it was written by a committee of very bored eighth graders in a mandatory civics class.

My preference is for something like: "No slogan. Just good government." Or maybe: "Just Google us."

Instead, the new Quebec election campaign has given us:
  • Pour le Québec (For Québec)
  • C'est assez, faut que ca change! (It's enough, it must change!)
  • A nous de choisir (For us to choose)
  • Debout (Stand up)
The first slogan seems superfluous. Does the Quebec Liberal Party believe it is the only Quebec provincial party not secretly working on behalf of, say, the Nova Scotia government? "Enough with Halifax's long hand in our affairs! We are for Quebec, not Nova Scotia!"

The second slogan was brought to you by the political party that chose as its acronym CAQ. So, I'm not expecting great copywriting, and they didn't disappoint. About exclamation points, they must only be used to announce victory after a five year struggle against Nazi Germany or after landing a person on the surface of the moon. Otherwise, be judicious. Exclamation points sound like shouting in the same way as those all-caps e-mails from the older people in your life/Nigerian scam artists.

The third slogan, like the first, is meaningless. Who else will choose but voters anyway? Is the Parti Québécois inferring that the elections are rigged? Or is the emphasis on the word "us", as in old stock French Quebecers? We'll decide! Not you weirdo Montrealers with your weird foreign languages and strange foods.

The Quebec Solidaire slogan, "Debout" doesn't have an exclamation point, but feels like it should. It also seems like something from a Communist Party manifesto. Oh, yeah, Québec Solidaire is a communist party--literally--following the merger over several years of several other loser commie parties. Which just goes to prove that if you change your name often enough, eventually you'll trick people into voting for you. (You can read the details here.) Or just read Comerade Khadir's comments in today's Gazette in which he defended himself against Gilles Duceppe, who was also a communist in his youth, but apparently more secessionist than communist nowadays: “I invite him to concentrate on the real adversaries in our society. I invite him to unite his voice with Québec solidaire, the only party with the courage to stand up to the elite, the one per cent ... that want to dictate the behaviour of our society.” 

Jeeze. Do you get the feeling little Amir was always picked last in dodge ball?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Deconstructing a Quebec Liberal Party ad aimed at the English-speaking community

All political ads are more-or-less bullshit, but the new Quebec Liberal Party ad in today's Suburban seemed insincere.

My focus is on the words in bold on the ad, but let's start with the photo in black and white of a father with a phony smile (no smile lines around the eyes, notice) holding a newborn child. At first, I thought the man was stealing candy from the baby, which sums up the relationship between the Quebec Liberal Party who, every four or five years during an election, scare the leaderless English-speaking community with stories about monsters. Then after the election, the QLP ignore calls for, say, milk and an occasional bedtime hug.

Now, on to the words. Let's compare Quebec Liberal Party claims with things I believe to be true.

Deconstructing a Quebec Library Party ad

Monday, February 27, 2012

Canada needs a minor league system for NDP MPs

Canada needs to develop a minor league system for Members of Parliament who aren't quite ready for The Show. This is particularly true for most of the New Democratic Party (NDP) MPs who were elected in 2011 in Quebec, including Isabelle Morin, MP for NDG-Lachine-Dorval.

Example: Ms. Morin has ads every week in local newspapers, including the West End Times. Whoever is in charge of preparing this ads for her could use some help. The ad states: "Isabelle Morin, Députée de | M.P. of..." In fact, it should read "M.P. for" and not "M.P. of", which is a literal translation from the French.

On the Parliament of Canada website, Ms. Morin's page contains another typo: "Partyl Website". I checked other pages and the mistake is not repeated. I guess she wasn't curious enough to see what her page looks like.

I know, I know. This is not her fault. She has a staff person doing this. Yet, given that she was elected in a riding with a large English-speaking population, and given that she acknowledges that her English is not as good as she would like, she ought to instruct her staff to take better care of how her written materials read in English.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Montreal Gazette digital edition: print subscribers can't sign up

Every 6 months or so, I try to register for the Montreal Gazette digital newspaper. This is the online version of the newspaper that looks like the newspaper. There is a box that says: "Print subscribers register now!" 5/6/7-day print subscribers click here to register for FREE access now." (See screen shot below.)

I'm a print subscribers, so I assume I can get the digital version for free. But that's not what happens. I follow the link and registered, but at no point did it ask me for my mailing address to prove I was a print subscriber. So, when I try to click page 2 of the digital newspaper, I'm prompted for pay for a digital subscription.

Thanks for wasting my time again, The Gazette. After I finish banging my head against the wall, I'll try again in 6 months.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Oh, Julie, not again

In November 2005, I wrote about what I considered to be anti-anglophone comments by Julie Snyder, host of the popular Star Académie singing competition show. While interviewing Irish singer Chris de Burgh who speaks some French, Snyder said, "Wow. Finalement un anglophone qui sait comment parler francais comme-il-faut."

I argued at the time that implicit in her remarks was the view that most/some/all Quebec anglophones don't speak French, or don't speak it properly. Apart from being demonstably false, it was also a disgusting thing to say, no less disgusting than if Jay Leno were to say to Will Smith: "Wow. A black guy who can speak English properly."

I decided to see what would happen if I complained to the broadcast standards bureau. They sent the complaint to TVA to respond. Then I wrote about their response, which amounted to, "No, baby, that's just jokes."

Flash-forward to January 2012. Gazette columnist Don MacPherson wrote about Snyder's latest faux-pas, which went more-or-less unnoticed by the media.
[...] Congratulating one Ontario-born contestant on the live show for speaking French well, showbiz veteran Snyder added, with mock incredulity: 
"How can that be? Us, we have anglophones in Montreal who don't speak a word of French, and they were raised in Quebec! They were born here!" 
In fact, most English speaking Montrealers now are bilingual. And as long as private citizens who still don't speak French aren't forcing Snyder to speak English, what concern is it of hers? 
When Don Cherry brings up a negative stereotype about Quebecers, he's condemned by commentators in English Canada as well as French Quebec. 
But a disparaging remark about Montreal anglophones by a prominent personality in Quebec society, made on a television show watched by 2.3 million viewers and covered by several journalists, somehow went all but unnoticed. I found only one brief reference to it, in a column in La Presse. 
That Snyder would feel free to make such a remark on province wide television, and that it would then go uncriticized, shows that anglo-bashing is socially acceptable in Quebec. 
It's even more acceptable in the ambient anglophobia since recent stories about a few Montreal financial executives who don't speak French set off a witch hunt for unilingual anglos, even in private life. 
Now anglo-bashing is even prime-time entertainment, suitable for the whole Quebec family.

No doubt MacPherson will be attacked in some circles and Julie Snyder will be defended for saying nothing wrong. I'm proud that the New Quebec was a kind of early-warning system about the kinds of vile things that could emanate from Julie Snyder. Last time, nothing happened.

Maybe this time, because of MacPherson's column, she (and others like her) will take the time to understand the degree to which the English-speaking community has changed and stop repeating that kind of bigotry. Yes, bigotry. There is not another term for this.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two days, two horrid drivers

During the past two morning commutes, I approached a major intersection where traffic was stopped because of a red light. I was about eight cars back from the stop line and slowed my car in an incremental way. Given that there was a driveway to access a McDonald's to my right and given that my lane wasn't going anywhere, I always try to leave space so cars on the opposite side of the street can to turn into the restaurant parking lot.

Although it is probably not illegal to block a McDonald's driveway (as opposed to blocking an intersection), it is nonetheless a drivers convention. Also, it would be mean to block the driveway unnecessarily.

So, today and yesterday, I slow down and stop, leaving a car length of space in front of me. The guy on my right did the same. We both noticed the car trying to exit McDonald's and both judged that it would be appropriate to let him out.

Then the driver behind me honked because I left a space in front of me. Note that the traffic light was still red and there were about eight cars ahead of me. We weren't going anywhere. Yet, the driver behind me honked and raised her hands in the air. I pointed to the car exiting McDonald's. I didn't know what else to do.

I wonder if the driver saw the car exiting McDonald's but thought I should have blocked it or if she didn't see it. Evil or stupid?You decide. Either way, a complete douchebag.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The best anti-graffiti initiative of all time

In what is arguably the best anti-graffiti initiative ever developed, an understandably angry property owner posted a sign at 5512 Louis Hebert Avenue in Montreal with the following bilingual text:
Mon ostie de vidange de scribouilleur. Si je te vois encore en train de barbouiller mes mures, je vais te chercher et te trouverai pour t'arracher la tête et te chier dans le corps.
You stupid ass-hole. If I even catch you painting my walls again I will go after you and I will find you to kick your head off and shit all over you !

You can see the Google Maps street view of the sign yourself. I don't know how effective these signs have been and whether it has reduced the amount of graffiti. But maybe the city should plaster the city with threats of violence to vandals who deface stuff that doesn't belong to them. It would be an interesting anti-crime experiment.