Country Topics II: Bullsh*t On Parade

Of Twitter, tourism, parades, and an apparent savaging

We have, somehow, made it to the second newsletter. A new one will come out every Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST, unless I am assassinated. Summer is ten days away but there is little evidence of it here. As I write these words, there is more fog than anything else. My corn is under constant attack by rabbits and the robins are torturing worms to pass the time. Beyond the garden, things aren’t much better.

Twitter, Blocked?

If I should suddenly disappear from Twitter, it is not that I’ve died, but because my government has blocked access to the website. Where do I live, you ask? China? Iran? North Korea? Russia? No, I live in Canada. Yes, that Canada, America’s seemingly inoffensive hat.

Our country is at its worst when it pretends to be America-lite, embracing our southern neighbour’s ills for attention and political gain. When we heard the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election, our Liberal government felt left out. How dare the Russians not interfere in our elections, too. Are we not important enough? In response to this snub, the Liberals unveiled the Declaration on Online Electoral Integrity. The declaration aims to ensure:

Social media and other online platforms and the Government of Canada recognize their respective responsibilities to help safeguard this fall’s election and to support healthy political discourse, open public debate and the importance of working together to address these challenges head-on.

Those who have signed the declaration have pledged, among other things, to “[i]ntensify efforts to combat disinformation, to promote transparency and understanding and inform Canadians about efforts to safeguard the Internet ecosystem,” ensure that political advertising is “transparent,” and “remove fake accounts and inauthentic content on their platforms.” While the Russians are not named in the declaration, we all know it was written with them in mind.

Twitter has refused to sign on to this declaration. When asked what the government will do about such websites, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, warned they may be “temporarily” closed down.

Gould, sounding like a mafia enforcer, said shutting down websites was not the “preferred path for now.”

At the moment, Canada’s preferred path is to answer a question no one asked, to admit that democracy can only be saved by ending it, that its citizenry is too stupid to discern the fake news from the real. With our newspapers about to be bailed out by the government and unapproved websites threatened with closure, the government seems to think that the only way to keep Russia out of our internal affairs is to be more like them, to trick Putin into believing we are already his vassal.

When the election comes and the Russians don’t give a fig, there will be many disappointed people. We will just have to try harder next time.

Pride (In The Name of Doug)

June is Pride Month, where people celebrate all things LGBTQ. I suspect this event will go unacknowledged in the country. It’s not that people here are bigoted. It’s just, statistically speaking, there cannot be more than one or two LGBTQists around. If the two of them were to take to the streets waving multi-coloured flags and shouting slogans, we’d be scouring the fields searching for the wreckage of an alien craft.

As such, the controversies around Pride do not reach us. Take Premier Doug Ford’s decision to skip the Toronto Pride Parade over their policy forbidding uniformed police officers from participating. This is certainly a queer position for Ford to take. Any event where the police are not welcomed is almost guaranteed to be a good time. No one worries about being arrested on some frivolous charge and the odds of violence decrease drastically. To each’s own, I suppose.

Critics of Ford’s decision must ask themselves if they really want him there. Is Doug Ford in a tight, tie-dye shirt, basted in water from a Super Soaker the only stumbling block for global LGBTQ rights? Will the Saudis cease beheading people for homosexuality if Ford took a few “selfies” with men in assless chaps? Some will say it’s important Ford show up merely as a sign of solidarity, but there again, that suggests he’s some sort of missing link between our fallen world and equality.

If Ford ever does turn up at a Pride Parade, he will be booed, heckled, and have a few milkshakes thrown his way. Someone will write a “think piece” arguing Ford’s appearance did more harm to the rights of sexual minorities than Leviticus 18:22. No one will benefit.

There is nothing worse than turning up at an event to find a politician explaining how they’ve always been “down with the struggle.” Just look at Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York senator felt the need to bother some people at an Iowa gay bar with this obscenity:

Whatever Ford’s motivations for skipping Pride, we should thank him for his absence, and pray he extends this policy to other events. He has set a wonderful precedent.

The War on Tourism

The Atlantic reports that too many people want to travel. Tourism, they say, results in “environmental degradation, dangerous conditions, and the immiseration and pricing-out of locals in many places.” Unsurprisingly, the middle class is to blame for this surge of “overtourism,” with greater disposable income allowing more people to travel than ever before. The New York Times makes a similar point, arguing that all this travelling is making climate change worse by increasing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

I confess, I am largely sympathetic to the anti-tourism crowd and have little to add to what’s already been said. Though, as Alan Cornett notes, the people who rail against tourism are the same people who accuse us rural folk of being uncultured philistines who would benefit from indulging in a little overtourism.

The countryside is dotted with illiterate, know-nothing, pot-bellied cretins, but no more so than in the city. It is a great myth that being around people and experiencing new cultures will make one more “worldly.” If anything, it will just give someone who is already predisposed to bigotry more inspiration to tease out the darkness that lurks within their soul. It is a terrible imposition on other countries to deposit our racists and malcontents there, and say, “Here, see what you can do with them.” We might as well be honest and send a few bombs while we’re at it.

A final thought: While most blame the Brexit impasse for Theresa May’s resignation, I believe it was Britain’s failure to lead the world in preventing tourism that did her in.

Some Esoteric Wauvia

If one is of the opinion we live in an unjust world, they need only cite the fact that there is no Auberon Waugh Society. It is my contention that Waugh is not only an excellent writer, an underrated novelist, and one of the most important journalists of the twentieth century, but also one of history’s great minds. Peter Cook, in the introduction to his excellent anthology Kiss Me Chudleigh: The World According to Auberon Waugh, describes him as a “philosopher - savage, eccentric, but a philosopher nonetheless.” It is for that reason that Waugh should be taught alongside Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and all the other shoulder pad wearing shysters that constitute the freak show known as the “Western Philosophical Tradition.”

With no Auberon Waugh Society to keep watch, I’ve decided that I will periodically highlight instances where Waugh appears in the news. So, allow me to indulge in a little of what Borges called the “lazy pleasure [of] useless and out-of-the-way erudition."

Late last week, I happened upon the obituary of one Andrew Sinclair, an English novelist of some repute. What caught the attention of my gentle blue eyes was the claim that he received a “savaging” in The Spectator from one Auberon Waugh. The mulling was so bad that Sinclair “proclaimed himself a loner who would not engage in literary wars or publicity exercises.” Leaving aside for a moment that Sinclair was engaging in a publicity exercise when he declared himself a “loner,” I decided it was worth wasting a little time to find the “savaging” in question.

A review of The Spectator’s archives reveals five separate occasions where Waugh makes reference to Sinclair, all of them from 1972. Here’s what they say:

May 6, 1972: Waugh reviews Sinclair’s novel Magog. He dismisses Sinclair as a “throughly bad egg” with a “conceited, second-rate mind” who has mistaken himself for Jesus Christ.

VERDICT: NOT A SAVAGING

Yes, Waugh did not like Magog, arguing that much of the novel was filled with cheap attempts to wind up in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as a dime store Christ, but a proper savaging should be a little harsher than that.

May 27, 1972: Waugh contends that Jon Cleary’s thriller, Man’s Estate, suffered from the “Andrew Sinclair/Bryan Forbes Syndrome,” where an author tends to “pontificate sententiously on modern history.” This, no doubt, is a reference to Waugh’s review of Magog and Sinclair’s attempt to get in the ODQ.

VERDICT: NOT A SAVAGING

This is not a “cheap shot,” per se, though it is inexpensive. A fun little rejoinder to a review only a couple weeks old, but hardly a “savaging” in any real sense.

August 5, 1972: In a review of George Garnett’s Death of a Fox, Waugh accuses the author of adopting a “slightly bogus, archaic style to which he adds long passages in iambic metre flights of Churchillian bombast and occasionally swoops into contemporary idiom to produce something which is a mixture between Daily Mirror horrors-of-Bangladesh florid and Andrew Sinclair Old-Testament prophetic.”

VERDICT: NOT EVEN A FLESH WOUND

This blow is so glancing that it can hardly be considered one at all.

October 21, 1972: Waugh likens the form of The Erl King by Michel Tournier to one “used to ghastly effect by Andrew Sinclair and many others: the hero as prophet, half divine, half mad, seen against the landscape of his times.”

VERDICT: ONLY A SAVAGING IF YOUR MOOD IS CONTINGENT ON THE COLOUR OF STARBUCKS CUPS

This passing reference to poor old Sinclair is hardly noticeable to anyone who isn’t wasting their time looking for it like I was.

December 16, 1972: In his review of Storm Jameson’s novel, There Will be a Short Interval, Waugh expresses dissatisfaction with the opening pages: “[The] Pseuds Corner introduction about London on the first page makes one fear one has wandered by mistake into a puddle of Andrew Sinclair.”

A different reviewer dismissed the novel as a “mosaic of clichés,” but Waugh says he prefers to describe is as “‘Andrew Sinclair-apocalyptic’ after the important young writer who pioneered it in the ‘fifties.”

VERDICT: NOT EVEN A SNOWFLAKE WOULD MELT

One of Waugh’s great charms was his ability to squeeze every last drop out of his feuds. Magog gave him enough ammunition to condemn Sinclair for an entire year, capping it off “Andrew Sinclair-apocalyptic.” So far as I can tell, Waugh never mentioned Sinclair’s name in The Spectator after 1972. Perhaps he chose to respect Sinclair’s “loner” status.

None of these instances constitute anything remotely approaching a “savaging.” Taken collectively, they add up to little more than a gentle scolding from a discerning mind. If this was enough to force Sinclair into exile, I cannot see how he will enjoy the afterlife.

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