Friday, October 27, 2006

American to address McGuintyites this weekend

In the dying days of the kerfuffle over whether or not the dog barked, so to speak, comes a helpful reminder from the Ontario Liberal Party about their convention in Toronto this weekend, which will no doubt be abuzz with federal leadership politicking. The official star attraction, however, is American political consultant, author and bomb maker (e.g. exec producing “All the King’s Men”) James Carville.

Carville once said of Paula Jones – who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment she alleged occurred when Clinton was Arkansas governor – that “If you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you'll find.” Now I guess there is no objective measure of these things, but that strikes me as a tad harsher than being compared to a dog.

It was Clinton’s shading of the truth in his deposition given in the Paula Jones lawsuit that led to the Lewinsky revelations and his eventual impeachment, which he survived. Jones ultimately collected $850,000 from Clinton in settlement of her sexual harassment lawsuit. That’s about half the $1.6 million “All the King’s Men” made in its second week of release, having earned $3.7 and finishing number 7 in its opening week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Liberals, timing and fair play

Liberals are howling* that the Prime Minister has called two by-elections to be held on the eve of the Liberals’ leadership convention.

For the record, and as a handy reminder, here are a few examples of the Liberals’ sensitive timing when it came to general elections. Not by-elections – general elections.

April, 1997: Jean Chrétien drops writ for June general election on April 27th – Orthodox Easter Sunday.

October, 2000: Jean Chrétien drops writ for November general election – four months after Stockwell Day was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance (yes, Day dared Chrétien to drop the writ, but that's not why they did it).

May, 2004: Paul Martin drops writ for June general election – two months after Stephen Harper was elected leader of the new Conservative Party (Team Martin was actually hoping to do it even earlier, but pesky sponsorship revelations kept forcing them to push the date back).

It's called the Golden Rule, boys and girls. Sucks, doesn’t it? So suck it. Hard.

Kitchener Conservative has also posted on this topic.

*Liberal party president Mike Eizinga calls it "a conniving, tactical play." Isn't Eizinga the guy for whom Team Martin booted Akash Maharaj out of the way for the party presidency? Well, I guess he would know from conniving.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What I might have written about the Pope’s Regensburg speech (if I were smart enough)

I recommend this column by Father Raymond J. De Souza in the September 29th edition of Maclean’s. Some excerpts:

The main point of the Regensburg address was that faith and reason need each other as paths to truth. Benedict defended this as an essential part of Christian belief because the God who reveals himself (faith) is also the author of the natural order and the human capacity to understand it (reason). The Pope highlighted that the prologue of John's Gospel begins, "In the beginning was the word (logos)," and logos is the Greek word for reason. God is reasonable, and so to act contrary to reason is to act contrary to God.

Faith without reason gives rises to fundamentalism. Reason without faith produces a secularism that cannot address the most fundamental of human questions about origin, destiny and meaning. The bulk of Benedict's address was directed against the latter phenomenon, criticizing a modern secularism that has nothing to say to people of faith, and nothing to say about the foundations of human culture. In criticizing the neglect of reason in favour of faith alone, Benedict criticized a major figure in the history of Christian philosophy (John Duns Scotus), who he considered to have made this mistake.

So why, if that was Benedict's main point, get into Islam at all? Why the incendiary quotation from Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus on the evil of Islam, spreading faith by the sword?

One of the potential consequences of a faith-only fundamentalism is violence. Violent force -- which by its nature does not seek to persuade -- can grow out of a zeal to convert without recourse to reason. It is simply a fact that Islamic violence is a growing problem around the world. Muslims themselves are the first victims of it, but Christians in Islamic countries regularly face harassment and persecution. Benedict wants to clarify that the roots of this violence lie in a perversion of Islam, not its authentic theology. That's a task only Muslims can accomplish, but the Pope has a pulpit sufficient to draw attention to the issue.

When the controversy first broke, I read the Pope’s speech several times. I was tampted to post about it but hesitated, given my lack of knowledge about the issues the Pope addressed. In the interim, I have come across several columnists who shared some of the same impressions I drew from the speech: that violence is incompatible with faith, that faith without reason is dangerous, and that it is not immediately apparent why the Pope mentions Islam at all in a speech that is largely about the reconciliation of faith and reason within Christianity.

As for the Pope quoting the 600-year-old observation of a Byzantine (i.e. Orthodox, not Catholic) emperor about Mohammad’s “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” at the time of the speech I happened to be reading John Keegan’s A History of Warfare, which includes the following:

Christians, indeed, have never found unanimity in the belief that the man of war may also be a man of religion; the ideal of martyrdom has always been as strong as that of the justified struggle and remains strong to this day. The Arabs of the conquest years were not caught on that crux. Their new religion, Islam, was a creed of conflict, that taught the necessity of submission to its revealed teachings and the right of its believers to take arms against those who opposed them. It was Islam that inspired the Arab conquests, the ideas of Islam that made the Arabs a military people and the example of its founder, Muhammad, that taught them to become warriors.

Muhammad was not only a warrior himself, who had been wounded in a battle at Medina against the men of Mecca in 625. He preached as well as practiced war. In his last visit to Mecca in 632 he laid down that, though all Muslims were brethren and should not fight each other, they should fight all other men until they said ‘There is no god but God.’ The Koran, which Muslims believe to have been taken down from his words by disciples, elaborates this command extensively. Even more specifically than Christ had done, Muhammad insisted that those who accepted the word of God thereby formed a community (umma) whose members owed each other responsibilities; thus it was not enough simply to avoid fratricide: Muslims were under an obligation to do positive good to less fortunate Muslims by assigning a certain portion of their income to charity; they also had a duty to care for each other’s consciences. Beyond the umma, however, the obligation was reversed: ‘O you who believe, fight the unbelievers who are near to you.’ This was not a call to forcible conversion. Non-believers who were prepared to live under Koranic authority were positively entitled to protection and, in strict theory, those outside the umma who kept the peace ought not to be attacked. In practice, however, the bounds of the umma came to coincide with the House of Submission (Dar al-Islam), while outside inevitably lay the House of War (Dar-el-Harb). Against the House of War, Islam fell into conflict from the moment of the prophet Muhammad’s death in 632.

Another factor greatly assisted the Arabs who, in the last years of Muhammad’s life, set out to extend the boundaries of Islam: the kingdoms on which their force fell were in decline. . . .

When, therefore, in 633 an Arab army invaded northern Mesopotamia, the Persian army was not what it had been; neither was the Byzantine. Audaciously, the Arabs chose to operate against both simultaneously and, though compelled to transfer forces between the two fronts, they succeeded in holding their own; in 637 at Qadisiyah, near modern Baghdad, they won a victory that ensured the triumph of Islam in Persia; the significance of that victory remains so great in the Arab world that in the 1980s it was constantly evoked by Saddam Hussein during his war of attrition with Iran. Meanwhile other Arab armies were conquering Syria (636), Egypt (642) and pressing westward along the Mediterranean coast toward the Byzantine provinces in North Africa. In 674 Mu’awiya, the fifth caliph or ‘successor’ to Muhammad, decided to lay siege directly to Constantinople, and though the Arabs gave up the effort in 677, they returned in 717. By that year, they had taken the whole of North Africa (705), crossed to Spain (711) and reached the Pyrenees, over which they shortly invaded France. In the east they conquered Afghanistan, raided into north-west India, annexed part of Anatolia (modern Turkey), pushed their northernmost boundary to the line of the Caucasus mountains and crossed the Oxus into Transoxiana where, at the Talas River in 751, they fought a decisive battle with the Chinese for dominance over the great cities of Bokhara and Samarkand, on the Silk Road which led to the Great Wall.
--from A History of Warfare, pp. 193-195

Footnote: The Associated Press reported yesterday today that jihadists have beheaded an Orthodox priest in Iraq.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Peter Naglik, 1967-2006

I worked with Peter Naglik between 1997 and 2001 at Queen’s Park in what was then called Government Members’ Services, in the research and communications shop.

Though our team included people who had worked in the Premier’s Office, in ministers’ offices, and the former top civil servant in an Atlantic province, we suspected that we were looked upon with a mixture of pity and derision by many of our colleagues who got paid by the Government of Ontario, and not by the Legislative Assembly.


In opposition, caucus service bureaus face huge demands and are relied upon heavily by leaders and members. But in government -- free of the inertia of the bureaucracy, and largely ignored by the media -- they are able to devote much of their resources to pure, unadulterated politics, i.e. F-U-N. Opposition research. Attack releases. Recording, transcribing and regurgitating the careless bluster of hapless critics and MPPs.

Prudence and modesty preclude me from detailing our exploits more fully. Suffice to say our boss liked to inspire us with this quote from “Conan the Barbarian:”

Mongol General: Conan, what is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!

With Conan’s bloodlust as our credo, we hardly missed the turgid briefing notes, endless meetings, Question Period, or angry calls from the Premier’s Office (though they knew they could count on us when needed) – the quicksand that pushed at both ends of every government staffer’s day. Why would we?

One of Peter’s moments of glory came during the 1999 general election, when he was doing media monitoring late one night. He spotted a new Liberal ad, one featuring a clip of the Premier describing himself as “mean, mad Mike Harris.” Peter thought he recognized it from an old Focus Ontario broadcast. By morning, the tape had been located, reviewed and our war room was all over the fact that the Liberals had taken Harris’s quote wildly out of context. Harris had in fact been hypothesizing about what his reaction would be if the federal Liberals were to waste the money they cut from transfer payments to the provinces on a new program, instead of balancing the budget. (As history and Gomery have recorded, they ended up doing both.)

There are few bigger coups during an election than having your opponent’s paid media blow up in his face. Peter could have bragged about having bagged that rarest of election game, but didn’t. The thrill of nailing the Liberals was reward enough.

Peter not only had a sharp eye, and an even sharper pen, but a gift for the invented word and pointed phrase. Caribbana was, in his view, “Scary-bana.” He referred to gay conservatives – some of whom were genuine friends – as “homo-cons.” The PC-DRC alliance was the “Tory Dorks.” Commenting on the personal hygiene of a certain member of the Queen’s Park Press Gallery, he remarked that said reporter always looked like a “glazed donut.” He occasionally referred to one of our MPPs, Carl De Faria, as “Count Chocula.” There was no malice in any of this – it was merely Peter’s mischievous yet accurate shorthand.

Peter was an exacting writer, but it amused him to see others hammer perfectly innocent words into ungainly shapes to fit their political ends. He particularly enjoyed the way the word “community” was seized upon by any group grasping for political, societal or professional legitimacy, such as the “actuarial community” – a real example. He would have been tickled that the Ottawa Citizen report of his death included not one, but two quotes featuring the phrase “political community.”

Peter’s and my time at GMS was concurrent with a turbulent yet seemingly hopeless era in federal politics. How far away now seem the passions that surrounded Reform’s reinvention as the Canadian Alliance, the leadership of Stockwell Day, and the futile attempts to merge with the broke-but-proud PCs. Peter had respect for many of us PCs, even the ones who opposed merger – though he did try to rile me with offhand remarks about how the PC party was really being run by David Orchard.

Working on the CA’s 2000 election campaign left him slightly bruised, but unbowed. When he went to work in the leader’s office for Day in 2001, I told him I thought what he was doing was honourable, though the truth unacknowledged between us was that it was probably a lost cause. Day, already wounded by his own mistakes, was besieged by a cabal that had never accepted his wresting of the leadership from Preston Manning.

But Peter went anyway. For all of his respect for strategy and tactics, focus and discipline, Peter still believed that substance matters. That politics is about more than being with the winner, or a $25,000 cheque for two months’ work on a leadership campaign. Sometimes it’s about helping a friend who’s in a tougher race than he expected. Sometimes it’s helping someone track down a report or quote they can’t remember the title or date of. To turn Vince Lombardi on his head: in politics, winning may be everything, but to Peter it wasn’t the only thing.

When I took Peter for a farewell lunch at the Hart House Gallery Club, then councillor Tom Jakobek and former councillor Dennis Fotinos recognized him and greeted him warmly. That was typical of the “Naglik knows” myth that was 5 per cent myth and 95 per cent reality. Once he participated in a “dead pool” at Queen’s Park and predicted that then Globe and Mail editor William Thorsell would meet his maker sometime in the following year. A Queen’s Park columnist immediately e-mailed Peter, demanding “What do you know?” Nothing, as it turned out. But Peter relished having set the cat among the pigeons.

Peter had a strong faith, which I envied desperately. He respected most religions, but scoffed at those that seemed determined to sand down all their surfaces until only a toothpick remained. When we attended a Canadian Club luncheon, he expressed sarcastic astonishment that the United Church minister who said grace actually uttered the word “Jesus.”

I have no doubt that Peter’s faith was the soil from which his general cheer and equanimity grew. Once during a conversation we were having about the state of the world, he said that he believed we were living in the “end times” (I wasn’t always sure when he was pulling my leg). I responded with something forgettable – which I have forgotten – to which he chuckled, threw up his hands and replied, “I gotta go sometime.”

That his sometime has come now, has broken my heart in a way that I thought it could never be broken again. But I will not begrudge him the break. He deserves that and more.

Rest in peace, unique one. Or as you would say, “Bye for now.”