Archive

culture

Ok so technically one can only jump the shark once–it’s supposed to be the moment in which things irrevocably go from good to bad, as in the show Happy Days, when Fonzi jumps over a shark wearing a pair of waterskis in a desperate ploy to keep the show relevant. How, then, does John Kerry keep on jumping that shark, always managing to recover only to jump it again?

As US Secretary of State, Kerry arguably has one of the most rhetorically demanding jobs in the world. One false word out of his mouth could literally blow up the world. So it’s more than a little mind-blowing to me the way Kerry often seems to think out loud, say his actual opinion, and stand up for something about which he feels strongly. His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, was the opposite–she flew under the radar for the most part.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Kerry, on the other hand, has been making headlines since his 1971 Senate testimony that helped end the Vietnam war. Even back then he didn’t mince words; as msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell observes, “John Kerry didn’t play it safe when he testified against the war,” and called him “the most valuable kind of war hero, the hero who helps end the war.” Kerry’s bold speech called out several Democrats by name and could have spelled the end of his political career. Instead it earned him a place in the hearts of many Americans who had begun to feel like pawns in their country’s proxy wars against the USSR.

And actually Kerry’s display did come back to haunt him during his 2004 presidential campaign. A closer examination of his war record and his history of opposition to the Vietnam war ultimately culminated in a shark-jumping moment for his campaign. (It didn’t help that America was then embroiled in multiple wars as a result of the September 11th attacks.)

“I actually did vote for the $87 billion…before I voted against it”

But he rose again, like a Fonzi-phoenix from the shark-ashes…only to jump the shark again in 2006, when he was caught making a joke about soldiers serving in Iraq. (Kerry maintains that it was a misunderstanding.) But perhaps most damaging was his change of heart about the war in Iraq. He had initially voted in favor, but later changed his position, leading Republicans to ridicule his perceived lack of resolve. His awkward and contradictory attempts to explain his new position produced a bonanza for Republicans and a headache for Democrats, though I find it admirable that he had the courage to change his mind after receiving more information. Nevertheless, he jumped the shark with these explanations and lost all Democratic support for a 2008 presidential run.

Not quite BFF’s

“Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community”

Kerry learned an important lesson in diplomacy in September, when an offhand remark he made about how Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, could avert a US-led attack was taken as a serious proposal. Within a few hours of Kerry making this comment, Russia and Syria were already making plans to turn over Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to international control. A blindsided and bewildered Kerry tried to backtrack, but the wheels were already in motion, and by the time UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon threw his support behind the proposal/”rhetorical argument,” there was no turning back. This led to headlines such as “Did John Kerry just accidentally find a workable solution for Syria?” I wish my mistakes worked out that well…

…and then it got stolen by the one single most organized entity in the state, which was the Brotherhood.

Kerry’s recent comments about Egypt don’t seem destined to have the same miraculous effect that his Syria arguments did. In an effort to make nice with Egypt’s army-backed administration, Kerry has been busy lambasting the Muslim Brotherhood for stealing the 2011 revolution from young, secular-minded Egyptians. His comments are a pretty obvious ploy to show that the US is not in cahoots with the Brotherhood, but they appear to have emboldened Egypt’s rulers to impose new restrictions on freedom of assembly. Now secular activists are being arrested–79 on Tuesday–and the embattled nation seems poised for another bout of devastating civil strife. By no means is Kerry responsible for all of this, but it is worth wondering if these events are in part a result of Egypt’s leaders feeling supported by the US. I’d say this is another shark-jumping moment for Kerry, though his comments aren’t the usual off-the-cuff Kerry accidents, but seem more like a change in the official stance of the US administration.

John Kerry will go down in history as an ambitious and impassioned Secretary of State. His major undertakings include the resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict, helping broker a deal to end the Syrian civil war, and a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran; given his reputation as the Energizer Bunny of international relations, he just might achieve these goals. Luckily for us, it seems that jumping the shark agrees with John Kerry.

Inspired by a post in The Economist‘s Johnson blog entitled “Portuguese for the perplexed,” which was in turn inspired by a 2011 post in the same blog to help foreigners understand British English, I have decided to put together a short guide to Canadian English. Because underneath our polite demeanor, we’re actually sort of mean.

What Canadians say: Hi! How are you?
What foreigners hear: I want to know how you are doing.
What Canadians mean: Hi! Please do not tell me anything about your life unless you want this conversation to end swiftly–that was only meant as a polite and insincere greeting.

What Canadians say: Sorry! (After you’ve bumped into them.)
What foreigners hear: I apologize for getting in your way.
What Canadians mean: I’m sorry that you’re too stupid to look where you’re going.

What Canadians say: Absolutely!
What foreigners hear: Yes! Most definitely!
What Canadians mean: No, not a chance, never in a million years!

What Canadians say: What makes you say that?
What foreigners hear: What is your motivation for making that statement? Please explain yourself so I can see it from your point of view.
What Canadians mean: You are completely wrong and nothing you say next will change my mind.

What Canadians say: You’re hilarious!
What foreigners hear: You are very humorous.
What Canadians mean: I fear for my safety when you are near.

What Canadians say: It’s not a big deal/don’t worry about it.
What foreigners hear: It’s not that important, it won’t be a problem.
What Canadians mean: It is a big deal and I’m pissed.

What Canadians say: That’s really interesting.
What foreigners hear: I am fascinated by what you’ve told me.
What Canadians mean: That’s weird/stupid/annoying/messed up/boring/insert any adjective with a negative connotation here.

What Canadians say: He had one too many.
What foreigners hear: He drank a little bit too much.
What Canadians mean: He had to go to the hospital to get his stomach pumped.

What Canadians say: That’s understandable; not everyone follows hockey.
What foreigners hear: To each his own; we can totally be friends even if you do not like hockey.
What Canadians mean: Get away from me immediately, you piece of human garbage.

What Canadians say: Yup.
What foreigners hear: You have made a statement with which I agree.
What Canadians mean: No shit, dummy. (You have made a painfully obvious statement or you have said something I wish weren’t true.)

What Canadians say: I’ll call you.
What foreigners hear: I will make an effort to speak with you on the phone soon.
What Canadians mean: I probably won’t talk to you ever again. In Canada phones have not been used for speaking with others since 2005.

What Canadians say: I feel like there’s something you’re not telling me.
What foreigners hear: I am gently asking you if perhaps there is something you’ve left out to spare my feelings.
What Canadians mean: You are a liar. (You’ve really made him/her angry–it doesn’t get more confrontational than this for most Canadians!)

What Canadians say: I’m disappointed that…, It’s disappointing that…
What foreigners hear: I have been let down in some way.
What Canadians mean: I’m mad as hell that…(You better hope the disappointment was not caused by you. If it was, the Canadian will assure you it’s not a big deal then promise to call you. You’ve just lost the politest friend you could ever hope to have.)

What Canadians say: No worries, no problem (usually after they have done some favor for you).
What foreigners hear: I was happy to do it.
What Canadians mean: It was a huge inconvenience and I won’t be doing you a favor again after the scant gratitude you’ve shown.

What Canadians say: It’s so cold out today!
What foreigners hear: The weather is very cold.
What Canadians mean: I am attempting to engage in a cultural bonding ritual with you. If you do not agree wholeheartedly and enthusiastically with my statement about the weather, I will feel betrayed and disengage myself from this social situation. (At this juncture it is usually a good idea to mention something about how the wind or humidity makes the cold even worse. Don’t screw this up–a bungled weather conversation is a hard thing from which to recover. The Canadian will love you forever if you casually mention that you’ve been to Siberia and it was like Hawaii compared to Canada.)

Canadians are simple creatures–we bond over weather, and hide our rage behind a thin veneer of politeness. It may not be healthy, but it’s very civil and quiet. In fact, the loudest thing in Canada is probably Don Cherry’s suit.

Spain has officially left the EU bailout fund this week, and we are getting reports that it is officially “out of recession.” So what does a country “out of recession” look like?

image: Associated Press

Hm. Maybe by “out of recession,” people mean that Spain has doled out so much recession in the past few years that it has no more to give. It’s fresh out of recession and has now replaced it with garbage. I don’t care what the official parameters defining a recession are–strikes by students and garbage collectors, an unemployment rate of over 26%, and a GDP growth rate of -1.4% last year don’t seem like evidence of Spain’s emergence from recession.

In fact, Spain’s youth unemployment rate reached an abysmal landmark in late August when it hit 56.1%. So if anyone is curious why Spaniards aren’t busting out the rioja to celebrate the end of their recession, this could have something to do with it. There have been mentions of disincentives to work, but Spain has been busy for the past two years dismantling its welfare state, and the recent protests are a reaction to this. People also have to realize that Spain is the proud inventor of “machismo,” a charming little spin on patriarchy. I cannot imagine that Spanish men are happy about not being able to fulfill their traditional role as providers for their families. It’s hard to fathom that a country that holds the matador up as an example for men would be very accepting of the dude who sits on the couch watching Betty la fea and drinking…whatever it is that Spaniards drink. Rioja?

Foto: EL PERIÓDICO.

The high expectations placed on men as fearless providers is partly responsible for the awful way unemployment is affecting Spanish society. The current generation of young people is now called the “lost generation,” and there has been a rise in cases of “youth machismo,” young Spanish men’s reaction to feeling professionally impotent.

The New York Times had a great piece on Spain yesterday that draws attention to the way youth unemployment is pulling at the fabric of Spanish society. The quote that really got to me was one from a young, educated girl who had to leave Spain to work in a stockroom in the Netherlands:

“Leaving your country should be a decision, not an obligation.”

Does this sound like someone who is taking advantage of disincentives? The next person to say that word to me is getting smacked. That article is full of highly educated youth searching frantically for a job, even if it’s as a clerk in a grocery store. This clearly illustrates that the issue is not that no one is trying to find a job–the issue is that there are no jobs.

I am extremely confused. Who decided that Spain was out of recession? A recession is defined as “a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.” Spain’s GDP has been falling for eleventy-million consecutive quarters (also known as since the beginning of 2012).

As this chart illustrates, Spain’s GDP had taken such a beating since 2008 that a recovery will take many years. But since its GDP is projected to increase by 0.1% in Q4, it is apparently out of recession now? Tell that to the PhD-holding Spaniard wading through trash to get to her job interview for a temporary position at the grocery store.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is the sort of figure that Western liberal foreign affairs addicts like myself love. He’s a perennial whistleblower and Russia’s best hope for ousting Putin–a self-styled voice of the oppressed. He was practically the inspiration for my last blog on politicians who are fighting the good fight. However, my research pulled up such freaky shit that I decided not to include him. What really did it for me was his involvement with a nationalist movement that puts on a nifty little parade each year complete with swastikas and xenophobic rhetoric. Navalny was speaker at this event from 2008 to 2011. He also supports cutting off funding to Chechnya and wants to make it harder for citizens of former Soviet satellites to work in Russia. Check out this interesting rant from his blog. He makes some good points in it, mainly that police resources are being misused and that corruption–not lack of resources–is the main cause of ineffectual policing in Russia. But I`m never a fan of calls for the deportation of immigrants who had it bad enough at home that they came to Russia to work in squalid conditions. Come on.

And though I don’t pretend to know the finer points of Russia`s territorial issues, cutting off support to Russia’s vulnerable and dangerous North Caucasus region seems harmful and wrong. This is the region that brought us the Boston Marathon bombers; if anything, more needs to be done there.

Speaking with my Russian friend brought an interesting question to light: why isn’t Navalny dead? Putin has know about him for years, and people who cross the Kremlin inevitably end up looking like this:

Alexander Litvinenko

Natasja Weitsz/Getty images

That is a photo of Alexander Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who died weeks after having his drink spiked with a radioactive poison by two KGB officers. Or there was the death of Alexander Perepilichny in 2012, a whistle-blower who fled Russia– he collapsed and died while jogging. No cause of death has been established. Or fellow whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who also died under mysterious circumstances. I am sure there are many more examples, but I think I’ve made my point: don’t mess with the Kremlin. In case anyone didn’t already know. This is terrifying shit.

So why has Navalny managed to come through relatively unscathed? The Kremlin controls the media in Russia, so I’d imagine that Putin can silence critics with relative impunity within Russian borders. The members of Pussy Riot are an exception, says my friend, because they took Putin by surprise, as did the subsequent international uproar. Navalny has been in jail before for protesting, and narrowly escaped more jail time recently for the theft of $515,000 worth of timber. Really? Only in Russia….

Spencer Irvine

Navalny was actually sentenced to five years for this nefarious wood-theft, but someone in Moscow reportedly made a call and the next day he was released–just in time to participate in the mayoral elections in Moscow. He ended up with 27% of the vote, which is unprecedented for a non-Kremlin candidate (in itself almost an oxymoron).

Perhaps this is less ominous than I am making it sound. Putin knows that young urban Russians are deeply unhappy with his presidency, and allowing Navalny’s candidacy was a way of appeasing the protest movement that sprung up after his 2012 election. Navalny is now facing more charges and has been banned from running for office for years to come. Navalny is most certainly a pawn in Putin’s game. But is he a willing one? The possibility had never occurred to me until my Russian friend voiced the suspicion that he was a co-conspirator of Putin’s. This certainly seems far-fetched and dramatic, but in a country whose ballet dancers mastermind acid attacks, it seems about right.

Wherever his loyalties lie, Navalny is the perfect Dostoevsky character. He possesses that characteristic Russian pride and passion for acting in the name of noble causes (loudly!). Efforts to categorize him will inevitably be frustrated, as I discovered. He also has a way with words and a dramatic flair. He had this to say about his suspended sentence:

But I shall not lie, the prospect of finishing this post and going to dine using a fork and not aluminium ware is far more pleasing than the prospect of finding myself in the iron tomb of a paddy wagon and then ‘at assembly’ again to give out sweets and teabags, later planning a war on mosquitoes in a cell.

That sounds straight out of From the House of the Dead, the novel Dostoevsky based on his four years in prison. But perhaps the most relevant Dostoevsky novel here is The Grand Inquisitor, Ivan Karamazov`s feverish parable about Jesus, Satan, and the nature of humanity. The Inquisitor chastises Jesus for giving humanity too much freedom: given the choice between sin and redemption, people will usually act unwisely and suffer greatly in the process. Putin is Russia`s Inquisitor, taking away basic freedoms because he doesn’t think people can handle them. It now remains to be seen if Navalny will succumb to the temptation to turn stones into bread.

The most badass Russian to have ever lived

I have a feeling of impending doom and I can’t concentrate on anything. And no wonder: the headlines today ranged from mildly idiotic to fucking ridiculous! Here are the best.

image: AP

“Boehner sees his control of House Republicans slip away”

Slip away? That implies that he actually had control at some point. When was that, I wonder? When his party revolted on everything from Hurricane Sandy to the Fiscal Cliff?  If I were him, I’d be feeling like a bystander watching a gruesome car accident…except it’s not a car accident,  but rather Ted Cruz talking about stuff for 21 hours. It’s hard to say which is worse. Boehner’s leadership has been characterized by a series of failures to tame his unruly party, but I don’t blame the guy one bit. There are fools in his party that actually want to hit the debt ceiling so that government’s irresponsible spending spree can be put to an end. Looks to me like the GOP is in danger of coming apart. Which brings me to a much better headline from the New York Times:

With GOP Badly Divided, Boehner Is Left ‘Herding Cats’

Word.

Frank Gunn / Canadian Press

But some publications aren’t one bit worried about a potential global recession. Check out Huffington Post Canada’s big headline of the day:

Cable TV Bundling: Harper Throne Speech To Outline Pick-and-pay Mandate

Seriously? There are too many things wrong with this to count. First of all, who cares? And second, who cares??!! Why is this the top story in Canada when so many other important things are happening? Even if you don’t care about the US, a default will have real and severe repercussions for EVERYONE IN CANADA. And actually I do care about telecoms in Canada and I am grateful that an attempt is being made to remedy the situation, both in terms of cable and wireless providers. So why is Huffington Post jumping to the defense of big business? A TV executive declares that “we are very worried.” Shame on dastardly Harper for scaring that poor executive! HuffPost: please stop giving into the impulse to trash Harper even if he does something you would otherwise applaud. That being said, why is “consumer protection” the topic of Harper’s throne speech? Is that really the biggest concern we have right now? What crap–we still don’t know how to make our country safe for aboriginal women, yet “the consumer” needs protection. Let’s ask the UN official investigating Canada’s human rights record at the behest of Russia, Cuba, and Iran what he thinks about that–oh wait, no one will ask him because we’re politely ignoring him instead!

Bay Street millionaire sued after drunken escapade in Arkansas hotel

Here’s a nice local story from the Star. It provided me with the happiest moments I’ve had today. This gentleman is accused of exposing himself, licking a woman’s foot, and attempting to flip a doorman over his shoulder in a pleasant evening out over three years ago. My initial response was “duh! What else would he do in Arkansas?!” Upon further reflection, I would also like to point out that this is a typical Tuesday morning for Rob Ford (not to mention the gist of a typical Friday night for me), and I also wonder again if there is really nothing more relevant to report. I guess we need this stuff to lighten the mood, especially when crap like this exists:

Criticizing Obama: Does it really get you blacklisted in Hollywood?

Whatever!

So I cheated and went somewhere I normally avoid: Fox News’ website. This article is accompanied by photos of Kelsey Grammar, James Woods, and Stacey Dash, and claims that Republicans in Hollywood are discriminated against. Again, my first reaction is who cares? But I actually think they have a point. Hollywood is a heavily networking-based industry, and tends to attract liberals–in fact, I bet there are still some residual communists from the 1950s! Though I may not share these actors’ views, I also don’t appreciate when liberals are intolerant of them when one of the fundamental tenets of liberalism is tolerance. Just everybody chill. However, if you are an actor famous enough to complain about this, you should probably shut up. And blame your failures on shitty acting instead of some deep-seated conspiracy. Especially if you are Stacey Dash. You don’t hear Rachel Blanchard saying that shit, after all….

And, just to preserve a sense of continuity, we have this gem from Slate.com:

Can Paul Ryan save the GOP from Ted Cruz’s rolling disaster?

Oh no. Why is this a thing? But actually, compared to his fellow Republicans’ recent behavior, he does seem like their best bet, despite his crappy accounting and brief agreement with Todd Akin’s famous comment about rape. What has become of our world?! And, more importantly, who cares?

In general, the world has become a three-ring circus and it’s making me want to take a long, long nap. If I sleep long enough, I might just wake up to the economic apocalypse and a Republican Hollywood. And that would be fine with me, as long as my rights as a consumer are protected.