Wednesday, June 25

Imperial Justice? 

The American Empire has flexed its mighty muscles, and and won an extradition agreement with the European Union, or should we say the province of Europe? Now the US can try suspected terrorists who have never even entered the US, and can search containers departing from European ports.

And as Talk Left points out, those trials aren't going to be the traditional, judge and jury trials that one associates with the US (or with democracy, for that matter).  As of November 2001,
military tribunals can be used to try non-citizens accused of terrorist acts. Individuals brought before the tribunals would have no right to a jury trial, no right to confront their accusers and no right to judicial review of trial procedures or sentences, which could include death.
Moreover, these military tribunals will be selected by one man -- no, not the Emperor -- the man who will choose the members of the tribunal will be Paul Wolfowitz!  

But wait, it gets worse. 
If commission members cannot resolve matters related to procedures, motions or facts, Wolfowitz will make the final decision.
So, the Empire can now sieze people in foreign countries, send them back to the US, and throw them on the mercy of Wolfowitz.  That's just great.

Unforeseen Costs 

The Roman Empire is famed for its amphitheaters. Not only were they tremendous architectural feats, but the shows that occurred within them are still fodder for many a hollywood film. Of course it is the gladiatorial combats that attract the most attention, but it was probably the animal shows that had a much greater impact on the Roman world, oddly enough. For the Romans had a great interest in seeing exotic animals, and often in setting them to fight, either humans or each other.

Emperor Augustus bragged that in the shows he had offered to the people, a total of 3,500 animals were killed. Given the standards of animal transport one must assume that far more died before ever reaching the amphitheater. Moreover, the numbers increased with time as subsequent emperors struggled to please the inhabitants of Rome (hence the famous quote about bread and circuses). About a century after Augustus, the Emperor Trajan more than tripled the number of animals slaughtered.

The impact of all this was not merely the suffering of many wild animals -- in a society that embraced the use of human slaves the charge of animal cruelty seems rather feeble -- but a wholesale transformation of their ecosystem. The most striking example is the wholesale extinction of the European lion.

And for what? For a bit of fun? Well, not really. The Emperors spent enormous sums importing these creatures and throwing lavish displays, not because it would be fun for them, but rather because it was perceived as a vital means of maintaining power. The population of Rome was huge, and demanded placating. Also the shows were a good way of manifesting the Emperor as kind of patron to his people, and hence corresponded to societal expectations of behaviour. In short, they fulfilled a political function.

But what relevance to lions and amphitheaters have to the present day? Well, you may be unaware of this, but the smog days of summer have arrived. Here in Toronto smog advisories fill the air as the elderly or resperatorally-impaired are warned to stay indoors and to avoid strenuous activity. I (who am neither of the above) can feel a tightness in my throat, and notice that I get winded more easily. It's a problem.

And why do we, along with so many other major cities, suffer smog days? I'm no climatologist, and know that the reasons are many -- yet the big reasons is the amount of pollution in the air, the "particulate matter" that you can see when you look downtown. And why do we have such pollution? Because the government refuses to regulate the industries and individuals who create it. That's why.

The Toronto Star reports:
Ontario's environment minister is urging people to forgo backyard barbecues this week in order to reduce smog, but says coal-fired plants are only a "small part" of the province's pollution problem... Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said that while the province's coal-fired plants produce as much air pollution each year as six million cars, the impact of barbecuing is "so trivial that no one has ever quantified it."

Perhaps the BBQ manufacturers need to do a better job lobbying the government. Seriously, in addition to the coal-fired plants, there is the serious issue of traffic congestion. Why? Could it be that the government doesn't want to threaten the automobile manufacturers by penalizing drivers? Could it be that the government doesn't want to upset drivers who like using their SUV to drive a few block to buy groceries, or pick of the kids, or go to a movie?

Not even I would suggest that the conservative government of Ontario actually wants more smog days, but it is the result of short sighted policies that aim to maintain popularity -- just like the games the emperors offered up to the plebs...

And, for the record, despite attempts to blame the Empire to the south, this is one problem that is not really their fault (although they too are suffering, probably even more thanks to the current emperor's policy of dismantling the EPA's as an effective organization). It is Ontario who lags in compliance to the clean air treaty made with the US.

Monday, June 23

Cappadocian Comparisons 

It is worth remembering the history of Cappadocia, which lay between the kingdom of Galatia and the Parthian Empire in the East (in the Eastern part of modern-day Turkey, and well worth a visit). In order to stabilize the East, the Roman General Pompey backed one of the various claimants to power in the region -- a local dynasty who claimed decent from the original Persian satrap who had opposed Alexander the Great, hundreds of years ago. Pompey's star went into decline, and ultimately he was killed whilst resisting Julius Caesar's rise to power. (Yes, yes, this is a simplification, if you want a more detailed history you could check out Josephus's History).

After Pompey's downfall, Marc Antony rose to prominence and went out East to ensure that the various kingdoms remained loyal to the new powers in Rome.  He killed the king and set up, yet another, dynasty in the 30's BCE.  His candidate had fought against Pompey, as a general for Mithridates, and was named Archelaus.  He was terribly unpopular.  The Cappadocians attempted to remove him several times, but failed.

When Marc Antony was defeated, and Octavian (hitherto called Augustus) solidified his hold on the Empire, Archelaus managed to retain Roman support.  Yet Augustus's successor was not so tolerant.  He invited the monarch to Rome, imprisoned him, and openly seized control of Cappadocia, formally turning it into a province of Rome.  

And this was how the Roman Empire functioned.  As the Republic crumbled in the last decades of the 1st century (BCE) various men rose to power, and tried to ensure that regional powers were supportive.  Augustus's rise to power heralded in the much famed "Pax Romana," largely because he managed to hold on to power for some 45 years, without interruption, and hence lay the foundation for Imperial Rule.

So what relevance does all this have to the present?

The recent arrival of Sherif Ali bin Hussein in Iraq brought all this history back to me.  He's the heir to the (rather defunct) throne.  The Blogosphere's Man-on-the-ground, Salam Pax, reports:
His first stop was the royal cemetery where he was supposed to make a speech and meet “his” people. He got out of the car and immediately he had the traditional lamb-sacrificed-under –your-feet thingy happening to him, after that more sheep got the sacrificial treatment along with a couple of chickens and the meat was being distributed to the “poor”. There was a moment when the crowd gathering to get the meat was bigger than the crowd cheering for him. And there was of course the brave young man who pushed his way thru and snatched a chicken and ran off, everybody was after him “who cares what the king is saying, follow the meat”.
Well, it's all part of the pattern. Various forces are jockying for attention in Iraq, trying to gain the goodwill of the US so that their claims to power will gain support. This particular king wannabe is part of a long line of candidates to power. Who will win out is anyone's guess, but it seems unlikely that the current "Coalition Provisional Authority" will be able to function in the long run.  Not only are they unpopular, but their existence requires a greater US involvement than the current administration has any stomach for. Already the US is paying the soldiers who fought for Saddam to go back to work.  

Yet it is clear that the American Empire has no real desire for the people of Iraq to determine for themselves who will govern them -- since they are not even allowed to vote for their mayor.  No, they will choose someone and place them in power, as they have done in other countries so many times before.  And what will happen to that ruler when another Emperor ascends the throne back in the US?  Look to Cappadocia.

Wednesday, June 18

The Rights of Provincials, part II 

One hopes that, by now, everyone is aware of the controversy of Guantanomo Bay and the plight of the men who are imprisoned there.  Amnesty International (and other human rights organizations) have been attempting to draw attention to it for some time.  The conditions there appear appalling, and may well be in violation of the Geneva Convention.  Suicides are on the rise and one man claimed that he was subjected to truth drugs.  

And their future looks bleak.  The US plans to try them by military tribunal, and may construct permanent prisons and an execution chamber for them all on the island -- a "death camp" according to the Australian press.   Even within the US Legal experts have strongly criticized the Pentagon's plans, calling the proposed justice, "A kangaroo court of the worst kind."  All of which is rather bad news for the folks being held there.

But did you know that some of these detainees are Canadian citizens?  One is a boy who was only fifteen when he was captured and now may be facing the death penalty.  The Globe and Mail reports that, "Ottawa has sought consular access to the teenager, but has been denied."  And why should we be surprised?   This is hardly the first time that the American Empire and its Emperor  have demonstrated how little they respect the rights of Canadians to have access to their own consulate (in accordance with international law).  

Ah the benefits of provincial citizenship!

Tuesday, June 17

Empirical Research 

As I mentioned before, polls can be a lot of fun. Tom Tomorrow (well actually his stand-in Bob Harris) noted what a bizarre picture they paint of the American people. Among other things:
34% think Rock and Roll has had an overall negative impact on America
33% believe a wife should "submit herself graciously" to a husband
30% say the Bible is the "actual word of God" to be taken literally
29% think people will be "more likely" to afford college for their kids in 2020
28% disapprove of labor unions on principle
28% say the government should have the right to control news reports
27% believe divorce is "morally wrong"
26% thought various disasters in 1999 might "foreshadow the wrath of God"
26% think grade-school teachers should be allowed to spank their kids
20% believe that the killing of civilians in Vietnam was "relatively rare"
12% think the United States should have a British-style royal family
11% think "Titanic" was the best American movie of the 20th century
10% say they are "very likely" to become rich someday
8% could not name a single TV network
8% fear they are "very likely" to be shot or badly hurt by a stranger
7% think Elvis is possibly still alive
A propos of the number of Americans who hold completely erroneous beliefs about the situation in Iraq, he goes on to conclude:
Looking at the other opinions floating around 20 percent, I'd say that the extent of lunatic public perception of WMDs is, if anything, surprisingly low, given the constant drumbeat of bullshit coming out of the White House and megaphoned by the press for much of the past year....  

Speaking of social progress, there sure seems to be a remarkably consistent hardcore of about 25-30 percent who seem to be living sometime in the late 19th century at best. Beatings as a form of education? Wives submitting graciously? Vengeful gods screwing with the weather?

This latter point is worth consideration.  Do all societies hold such weird views, at least in such numbers?  I don't think so.  Perhaps I am merely succumbing to the stupid Americans on This Hour has 22 Minutes, but (seriously) the poll I considered a few days ago indicates that there is one major difference between the world-view in the heartland of the Empire, and that from its Northern province -- Religion.

58% of Americans think that it is necessary to believe in God to have good moral values. Only 30% of Canadians agree. Religion is important to Americans, at least a certain kind of religion. 62% of Americans feel that the United States is not religious enough (although only 39% of Canadians share this view of their Southern neighbour), and only 19% feel it is too religious.

But surely religion is a force for good? Without opening a big can of worms consider that Americans define their religion in rather narrow terms. Polls tend to only offer varieties of Christianity (with Judaism thrown in).  So does the CIA factbook -- according to them the religious breakdown of the country is " Protestant 56%, Roman Catholic 28%, Jewish 2%, other 4%, none 10%" What about the Muslims? The Buddhists? Moreover, the aforesaid polls claim that almost half of those surveyed identified themselves as "evangelical or born-again."  

Religion is important because it shapes the ideals of society.  A concrete example -- In the (apparently rather evangelical) US 42% of those polled thought that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.  In Canada only 26% of society agrees.  And since gay people just won the right to legally marry in Ontario, these differences in opinion can lead to real differences in policy and law.  Something worth remembering as the power of the Empire grows.

Monday, June 16

Nobis deceptum est? 

In his recent column, Kristoff concluded that "it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq's nuclear programs." Marshall, in Talking Points Memo, adds:
Kristof at least is on to something. There was an element of self-deception. A strong one. If you simply insist on believing white is black, even when you can see it's white, then when you tell people it's black then, well, maybe you're sort of not really lying, right?
Marshall gets to the crux of what "State Terror" really is here (go read him). It is not merely the little people who practice doublethink in order to keep reality in line with what they are told.  The whole government, the army, the intelligence agencies, the senators, everyone follows the emperor's lead.  Until another emperor comes along at least.

Right now the mendacity of the current administration is beginning to get some air time.  Journalists brazenly assert that, not only do there seem to be no apparent weapons of mass destruction laying about in Iraq, but that there is rather a lot of evidence that the administration made claims it could not substantiate about their existence.  Even congressmen are entering the fray -- Michigan representative John Coyers made a speech in the house in which he expressed his fury that the administration had misled the American people and the congress with deliberate falsehoods, adding:
I shall consult with my colleagues, with legal scholars, political scientists and historians, in order to weigh the appropriate actions necessary to prevent this or any future Administration from usurping the power of Congress and the power of the people to decide public policy on the basis of accurate knowledge.

An accurately informed public is the essence of our democracy. It is most essential on the ultimate question of peace or war. To deceive the Congress and the public about the facts underlying that momentous decision is to transgress one of the president's supreme constitutional responsibilities. I believe the House Committee on the Judiciary should consider whether this situation has reached that dimension.
Could he seriously be hoping to impeach the president?  Perhaps.  But before everyone breathes a great big sigh of relief, remember the Roman Empire.  No emperor lasted forever.  Some only lasted for a few months.  But when one was ousted, another inevitably took his place.  It would be comforting to imagine that the democrat who runs against Bush in the upcoming election would somehow change the system were he able to win.  But while a different man would be different in certain ways, would the nature of the Empire change that much?  I doubt it.

See No Evil... 

Knight Ridder comments that polls show that the US population is woefully misinformed about the reality of WMD in Iraq, since "A third of the American public believes U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq... and 22 percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons in the war."  Inded there seems to be a heavy fog laying upon the US, obscuring the truths.  An earlier poll showed that 83% of Americans appear to imagine that at least some of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi.

The article asks, "How could so many people be so wrong about life-and-death information that has dominated news coverage for almost two years?"  The director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (at the University of Maryland), which directed the poll tried to explain the results:
Given the intensive news coverage and high levels of public attention, this level of misinformation suggests some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive dissonance.
In other words, people must be deliberately filtering out the information that contradicts what the goverment has told them (over and over again).  Americans are viewing their world through an orwellian filter -- wouldn't want to commit a thoughtcrime!  

Seriously, what is really troubling is not that the Empire will swoop down upon citizens who voice skepticism about its policies (at least not yet).  What is upsetting is that there is no need for it to do so.  The people seem quite happy to censor themselves, to internalize the fraudulent views of the administration and cling to them in the face of reason and evidence.  Yet this is not new.  It was the same in Rome.  While they lived the emperors' policies were not challenged, save by usurpers of course.

Addendum: Honestly, I didn't know that all this week "Ideas" on the CBC is airing "Is Big Brother still watching?" But what do you know, they are. I suppose I'm riding a cultural meme or something.

Wednesday, June 11

Haruspicular Insights 

The Romans wanted as much information as they could get before taking important actions, and turned to trained professionals to obtain insight into the situation, the Haruspices. By examining the liver of a sacrificial beast (or studying lightning, or prodigies) a haruspex was able to analyze the situation. From the time of Emperor Claudius, haruspices grew increasingly important for governmental decisions -- assisting in the decision-making processes of emperors.

(It's worth noting that the haruspices weren't actually Roman, rather they were Etruscan. But the Romans were generally loathe to admit their cultural debts. A bit like White America and Black culture really)

Today we still have haruspices -- we just call them pollsters. I'm not at all sure that our modern methods are a great deal more accurate for understanding the world than looking at chopped up livers, but it's always fun to ponder the results! One of the more famous polling agencies, the Pew Center has just released a rather long report (available in PDF format), which is chock full of interesting insights. It claims a margin or error of 3 points for the US and 4 for Canada, but even given that there are a number of things that stand out.

The Empire is watching its borders. Foreigners are worrisome. 43% of Americans think that immigrants exert a bad influence upon society (only 18% of Canadians feel the same), and 64% believe that their way of life needs to be protected from foreign influences (compared with 41% of Canadians). A whopping 81% of the US wants stricter controls on who is allowed to enter the country (only 16% do not, compared to 30% in Canada).

This makes sense since there are lots of scary things on the other side of the border. Like SARS, which Americans are more worried about than Canadians (although we allegedly are harboring the disease).

And those borders might be more flexible than you thought, since 32% of Americans believe that parts of the countries that neighbor the US (i.e. Mexico and Canada) really belong to the US. Gulp! (In all fairness, 52% of Americans disagree, so we probably do not need to brace for an imminent invasion).

The Empire is watching the lands beyond its borders. In response to this question "Do you think that using military force against countries that may seriously threaten our country, but have not attacked us, can be justified?" 22% of Americans said "Often," and 44% said "Sometimes," while only 17% said "Rarely" and 13% "Never." (By way of comparison, 10% of Canadians answered "Often," 41% "Sometimes," 29% "Rarely," and 16% "Never"). Clearly a majority of Americans believe in pre-emptive strikes, in case recent history allowed one room for doubt.

You can see the merits of this brand of foreign policy in their handling of the Middle East, at least according the Americans who were surveyed. 66% of them think that their policies have made the Middle East a more stable place. Only 48% of Canadians feel the same. Yet, of the people who actually live in the Middle East, few agree. In Pakistan 14%, Lebanon 25%, Jordan 4%, Morocco 10%, Palestinian Authority 3% with only Kuwait (at 48%) and Israel (at 70%) bucking the trend. I guess if the Empire takes your side you might be happy for their help.

The Empire knows best. 64% of Americans believe that their culture is superior to all the others. It's worth noting that, the US is not alone in possessing a strong sense of self-worth. Many other countries express similar, and even greater, levels of pride in their native culture, with the highest ratings coming from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Indonesia, South Africa and Uganda. Indeed, the only countries in the study with a majority population that does not believe their own culture to be the best in the world are: Germany, France, Britain, and Jordan. Canada sits on the edge, with an even split between those who believe its culture to be superior and those who do not.

Monday, June 9

News Flash! 

Dissent within the Empire is Immoral! Not that this is news really, since I've said it all before.

Modern Provincials 

The Globe and Mail is running a special series of articles examining how Canada is changing.   I was struck by the following assertion about the youth of Canada :
They are not voting. Just 21 per cent of 20s Canadians marked a ballot in the last federal election — a harbinger, political scientists warn, of the generation's political behaviour as it ages. This is the result not of apathy, experts suggest, but ignorance and alienation: There are those who don't know and don't care how the system works, and those who do know and think it works very badly... Canadians in their 20s do not see traditional political institutions as the route to change or progress.
This is a trend that has already taken hold in the Empire to the south, where the voters comprised a miserable 36 percent of the "Voting Age Population" in the 1998 election. Could it be that provincials are coming to realize that the interests of the Empire do not reflect their own interests? And that their Republic is rapidly becoming something else?

Of course, Augustus was elected. As were a number of his sucessors (technically). So I suppose one could argue that the republic never died. He certainly would have done so.

The article also notes that:
The gap is widening — in life choices and income — between Canadians who make it to university and those who don't. At the same time, some 20s are discovering they've been inappropriately educated for the workforce they're encountering — two many undergraduate degrees, too few electrictions and plumbers. (emphasis mine)
But I will leave the topic of disintigrating standards of literacy and cultural fluency for another day. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 3

The Value of Provincial Citizenship 

The Star reports that:
An internal U.S. government report has officially confirmed the systemic abuse of the rights of hundreds of immigrants from Arab countries who were held in dehumanizing conditions in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
What it does not detail, however, is that at least one of those detainees was a Canadian citizen, innocent of any "acts of terrorism" against the Empire. It seems extremely likely that there were more. In April 60 Minutes reported on one of them:
Of the 1200 men detained after September 11th, the government claims about 130 of them actually did commit crimes.  Shakir Baloch is one of them. Baloch, a Canadian citizen born in Pakistan, admits he entered the U.S. illegally... to take classes at this New York hospital to become an ultrasound technician. He was arrested soon after September 11th.

“One of the officers told me, ‘You did this thing to us, we will kill you here,’” remembers Baloch...  he claims five prison officials smashed him against the prison walls and told him he was a suspected 9/11 terrorist...  

“It sounds extreme, but the fact is I interviewed dozens of people in Shakir's situation, and one after another they told me this story -- that upon entry someone would take their head and smash it into the wall and then make some statement about them being a 9/11 terrorist,” says Goodman. Baloch spent seven months in prison, five of them in solitary confinement. He couldn’t contact his family for five months.  The Justice Department never notified Baloch’s family or the Canadian government that he was in custody. Eventually, he was deported back to Toronto, but Baloch says his ordeal is far from over. He suffers from depression, flashbacks, and he hasn't been able to work.
Although the report is available in PDF format, and makes for disturbing reading, Mr. Beloch does not appear, at least not by name. And it is impossible to deduce from the report how many of these detainees were Canadian citizens. Canada only appears once in the report (ignoring the classified sections, obviously), where it states (p. 64):
A Middle Eastern man in his 20s was arrested on August 30, 2001 – more than a week prior to the terrorist attacks – for illegally crossing the border from Canada into the United States without inspection. After the September 11 attacks, the alien was placed on the New York “special interest” list even though a document in his file, dated September 26, 2001, stated that FBI New York had “no knowledge” of the basis for his detention. FBI Headquarters did not request a CIA name check on the detainee until November 8, 2001. The name check came back negative 13 days later, but the clearance letter was not issued until December 7, 2001. The alien was removed in late February 2002.
Was he a Canadian national, or just coming from Canada? The presence of Canadian nationals amongst the detainees is obscured by two factors.
  1. The report presents the number of detainees from various countries as a bar graph, and Canada is not amongst them.  Fourteen of the twenty categories are states with a majority Muslim population.  Two more have large numbers of Muslims (India and Israel).  The only non-muslim countries from which people were detained were Guyana, France, UK, and "Other." The "Other" is the clincher, since it would appear that Canada falls into that category.  About 70 detainees come from "other" countries, but it is impossible to know how many of them were Canadians.

  2. Canadian detainees would probably appear under other categories anyway, since the most likely to be detained would be those who possessed ties to muslim countries, i.e. dual nationals. Since Canada does not oblige its citizens to forsake foreign citizenship, it is fairly common for immigrants to retain citizenship in the country where they were born. That was certainly true in the case of Maher Aher, whom the US deported, to Syria (where he is still being held).
So we are left wondering about how many Canadians have been illegally siezed and held by the US government, and why the Canadian media has not raised a greater hue and cry over this blatent infringement of the rights of Canadian nationals. Could it be that the realities of imperial power have become so accepted that complaint seems futile?

Or have we, as Canadians, adopted the Empire's values for our own?

Squwaks of Foul from an overseas province 

How heartening that the mainstream media in at least one province dares to defy the Empire and cry foul!  The British media, both on the left and the right, have wholly taken up the Empire's serial mendacity, and are begining to openly question the veracity of its claims justifying its most recent war, the one in Iraq.

But why are these inquiries only hitting the big papers now?

These rumbles are echoed within the Empire's own halls of power.  Indeed, they can be said to eminate from them.  In the US the failure to discover any weapons of mass destruction, and indeed the embarassingly thin nature of the evidence, should not be news.  Nothing about it is new.  One of the main reasons that this story has finally leapt out into public discourse is that in a Vanity Fair interview, Wolfowitz said:
The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason.
In other words, the administration has come out and admitted that they were lying. They are still hesitant to admit it, but KnightRidder reports:
Another senior official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said that Wolfowitz's remark was accurate: CIA and State Department analysts, he said, sharply disputed the Pentagon's claim that Saddam had forged links to al-Qaida... Another top official, who also agreed to speak only without attribution because, he said, "talking out of school is frowned upon at the White House," said White House political director Karl Rove and other officials were displeased by the report of Wolfowitz's remarks because they feared it would undermine public support for the war.
So why admit it now?  Because the lies have served their purpose.  There is no need to maintain them.  The US has gotten into Iraq, and no one is going to make them leave (although the iraqis may try).  

Indeed, as this story washed through the media, the G8 met in France, and there they agreed to allow the US to pursue its foreign policy unopposed.  The Empire is free to start moving in on North Korea, so why should it care if its past lies are hung out for all to see.  So long as no one dares to cry "Liar!" and oppose them there is no need for silence.

The strength of the Roman Empire came, not merely from its military might, but from the cooperation the Romans were able to attain, first from their allies, and then from their provinces. The brutal acts of repression we associate with totalitarian regimes (think Stalin, Mao, Franco) were rarely required in the Roman Empire. The subjects knew better that to openly oppose Roman authority. Looks like our governmental leaders feel the same way.

Provincial Independence 

Ikram reminded me of Michael Adams new book, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Inevitability. I'd read a review of it in the Globe and Mail a week or so ago (unfortunately now off their site) and it made me think.  On the basis of polls, Adams concludes that the US and Canada are actually growing increasingly divergent -- the split growing from the nineties to the present.

Now, polls are tricky things.  The way in which one presents the question has a surprisingly powerful affect.  And I am not a statician, so I really have no idea what kind of numbers would be necessary to obtain an "accurate" sampling.  So, without necessarily endorsing Adams conclusions (although they seem to match my own subjective experience), allow me to posit one possible reason for this divergence.

In the US it has become increaingly unacceptable to express or possess views that are in opposition to those of the administration.  It is a modern version of the "State Terror" the emperors exercised upon the Senators and more humble romans (as I have said before).  Since the administration has grown increasingly conservative (democrats included), for a variety of reasons, the political and social views of the US population have shifted in accordance.  

Yes, this is an oversimplification, but it has truth in it.  Consider (since we are on the subject of polls) how Americans became increasingly convinced that Iraq was directly involved in the attack upon the World Trade Center in the lead up to the US attack on Iraq.  

In a Jan. 7 Knight Ridder/Princeton Research poll, 44% of respondents said they thought "most" or "some" of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were Iraqi citizens. Only 17% of those polled offered the correct answer: none. This was remarkable in light of the fact that, in the weeks after 9/11, few Americans identified Iraqis among the culprits...  In the same sample, 41% said that Iraq already possessed nuclear weapons, which not even the Bush administration claimed...  The same survey found that 57% of those polled believed Saddam Hussein helped terrorists involved with the 9/11 attacks, a claim the Bush team had abandoned. A March 7-9 New York Times/CBS News Poll showed that 45% of interviewees agreed that "Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," and a March 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found this apparently mistaken notion holding firm at 51%.

The significance of this is suggested by the finding, in the same survey, that 32% of those supporting an attack cited Saddam's alleged involvement in supporting terrorists as the "main reason" for endorsing invasion. Another 43% said it was "one reason." Knowing this was a crucial element of his support -- even though he could not prove the 9/11 connection -- the president nevertheless tried to bolster the link. Bush mentioned 9/11 eight times during his March 6 prime-time news conference, linking it with Saddam Hussein "often in the same breath," Linda Feldmann of The Christian Science Monitor observed last week. "Bush never pinned the blame for the [9/11] attacks directly on the Iraqi president," Feldmann wrote. "Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public."
It is as if the US population took the administration's cue, and then ran with it, embellishing as they went, spinning the tales that they were told, refusing to ask difficult questions.  So should Canadians feel superior?  After all, Adams book suggests that Canada is growing apart from the US...

Canadians should feel wary!  Remember, that what applied to Rome, then to Italy, was eventually imposed on the rest of the Roman Empire -- and not by brute force (for the most part).  Already the contenders to succeed Prime Minister Chretien  are arguing that Canada needs to repair her ties to the US.  And that includes muffling those nasty cries of dissent when the Empire does something that Canadians don't like (such as bombing Iraq into the ground, to pick an example).  The provinces can keep their local ways, their laws, their customs, but ultimately they are provinces.  Will Canada go the way of  a Galatia?  A Cyrene? Will Canadians continue to diverge, or will their differences with the Empire grow muffled?

Monday, June 2

Views of Empire 

The Guardian has just reviewed Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson.  He is a star "historian of finance" that the Stern Business school at NYU recently wooed from the ivy halls of Oxford (although he maintains a visiting professorship there), and he has been making regular appearances on the CBC for the past few weeks.  And every time I hear his mellifluous tones my blood pressure starts to rise.

Why?  His main thesis, that the US is an empire, and that by looking at the history of the British Empire we can better understand what is going on today, ought to be appealing.  He argues that:
The United States is the empire that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial, and US denial of this poses a real danger to the world. An empire that doesn't recognise its own power is a dangerous one.
Surely this should be music to my ears -- historical analogies, empire, doom and gloom -- no?

No.  The essential differentce is that he sees the power of empire as a force for good.  Didn't you know that colonialism was a good thing?  Sure, many of those former colonies are going through a bit of a rough patch right now (consider the recent events, in the Congo ), but overall, wasn't the presence of a benificent imperial force ultimately civilizing?  

The problem, as he sees it, is that the US is not exerting its imperial responsibility.  Were it to do so, the Empire would benefit the world.  Like the British Empire did.  (On second thought, perhaps he's right.  I'm sure that the native peoples of Canada are still thanking the benificent English for coming and civilizing them.  After all, they didn't even have flush toilets!).

Update: This has all been said, and said quite well, about a month ago, in Warblogging. But it still bears saying!