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.