We’ve neglected Somalia

September 17th, 2011

The following article will be published in next week’s Trinity News

At the precise moment that I sat down to write this article, there was no article on The Irish Times website homepage or world news page of that same site about the escalating famine in the Horn of Africa, primarily Southern Somalia.

There was, however, a Somalia-based news item that concerned itself with a Danish family being freed by Somali pirates having been held since February of this year. The New York Times website on the same day was the same – no homepage or world news page article about the famine, but a story on the freed Danes made the editorial cut.

Let there be no mistake about it – the story of the freed hostages is worthy and of great importance, but what is clear is this: the non-death of seven Danish people is more important to us than the real deaths of thousands upon thousands of Somalis every day, most of them children.

One of the ways in which we – potential donors to international aid organisations – manage to convince ourselves that we are powerless to help is by believing the myth that drought is the cause of this famine. This is a falsehood. The causes are almost entirely anthropogenic, caused by human factors such as war, corruption and religious fundamentalism. Drought, flooding or a bad harvest are the causes of famine and its associated starvation and mortality, or so we are told. But that is rarely, if ever, the case.

Media coverage and political responses to famine – and Somalia is no different – usually portrays famine as a natural disaster, but natural events are not so much a cause as a catalyst of famine. Al-Shabab, the Islamist fundamentalist group that governs – or more correctly, oppresses through a deliberate policy of mass death – large swathes of Somalia, is now blocking the attempts of secular NGOs who are trying to get food and medical supplies to millions of people who are presently at the point of no return.

Al-Shabab has reached an unsurpassable level of callousness by actually becoming an agent in bringing about famine. While Western donors give aid, as well they should, they ought to know that without dealing with the political and religious problems that have exacerbated or caused this present famine, they will be asked to give more again when the next one comes around, as it inevitably will. Until we care enough to try and understand what is going on, this is as sure as the sun rising in the morning.

When one considers that the escalating levels of starvation are almost entirely caused by humans and not by nature, as well as being perpetrated by one group upon others, the situation becomes more like Rwanda in 1994 all over again, with a slow wasting death awaiting victims instead of the point of a machete. This time, however, we do know what is going on and we do have the resources to tackle it, but we just choose not to. We may want to help Somalia and Africa, but we can’t do so without learning about it. We can’t learn about it without demanding news about it. News won’t be published unless we demand it.

What makes Somalia particularly unique is that the West has close to absolutely no economic or strategic use for it. There is no commodity to extract or even a central government to coax, nor is there much of a formal economy to speak of. If Africa is the continent that the rest of the world doesn’t care much for, then Somalia is the country within Africa that nobody cares for. The traditionally great powers have no further use for the place. It can be left to rot and crash.

It must be noted that we cannot blame newspapers, news websites and other media outlets entirely for their lack of coverage. Editorial decisions are usually arrived at after two questions are asked: will I get sued, and will running this story make money? We, the people, are the ones primarily to blame. When a story about a handful of alive Danes is far more important to us than a story about potentially millions of acutely malnourished Somalis, we have reached a very sad and potentially dangerous place.

It should not go unmentioned that, contrary to The Irish Times and New York Times, The Globe and Mail – Canada’ national newspaper of record – had an entire section on the famine linked from the homepage on the same day that the other newspapers carried no news at all on the issue. This meant that after one click, no less than ten articles directly related to the famine were available to readers of that site. There is hope.

God is deciding who to pick as President of Ireland . . .

September 7th, 2011

Place:    Earth Politics Committee Boardroom, Heaven

God:      Order! Okay, thanks for coming everyone. I’ll cut to the chase – I have to choose a new Irish President. Suggestions?

Moses (wistfully):          How long has it been since we did this?

Jesus:    14 years.

God:      14 years without a Presidential election? Ha! They call themselves a democracy, you know.

Everyone laughs

Jesus:    I suppose you want us to throw out some names, yeah?

God:      That would help. I can’t remember any decent candidates.

Moses:      You’re supposed to know everything!

God:      Ah Moses, give it a rest. My reputation precedes me and I’ve had a long day. So, any names for me?

Jesus (looking at a laptop screen):            I’m just looking at the odds here and they reckon this lad Higgins is going to get it. He’s got the right attributes – he’s got that dodgy Irish haircut going on and sounds awful strange. They’ll like him. He’s getting on a bit though, so you’d have to ask St. Peter how long he might stick around for.

God:      Hmmm . . . Anyone else?

St. Peter:        A Senator by the name of Norris has been mentioned. But you’ll be happy to hear he’s pulled out of the race.

God:      Why should I be happy about that?

Moses coughs and fidgets nervously, then looks at St. Peter

Moses:     Well, are you going to tell him?

St. Peter:      Never mind.

God:      Never mind what? What’s wrong with this Norris fella?

Jesus (sighing):     You know . . . he kicks with the other foot.

God stares back blankly

St. Peter:       He’s very effervescent . . .  joyous, frivolous, fabulous, Sapphic . . . Do you know what I mean?

God continues to stare back blankly

Jesus:    He bats for the other team.

God is still staring back blankly

Moses:       God, he’s gay. Do you understand?

God:      Oh right. Do the Irish people know this?

Jesus, Moses and St. Peter:        Yes.

God:      Hmmm . . . well we can’t be having an openly gay President just yet. This is a very weak field. Maybe we should somehow tell them to shape up a bit?

Noah (eagerly):        Can we have flooding?

God:      You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Okay, throw in some flooding, but nothing too drastic. Limit it to basements and ground floors in the more pointless counties – Tipperary, Laois and Offaly in particular. Oh! And Kildare. That will teach them for building too many houses on floodplains.

Moses:      That’s a bit Old Testament, isn’t it?

God:      Maybe a little, but a leopard doesn’t change its spots. I don’t mean go Pakistan on them, just have a few rural folk crying on the evening news while an RTE reporter wearing overalls stands waist deep in water, okay? The usual scenario, like last time.

Noah:    How about some fear thrown in too? Maybe have the insurance folks say they won’t pay out?

Jesus:    Not enough sandbags is always a good one!

God:      Erm, okay. But no deaths, you got that? Let’s keep our eye on the ball here – we’re trying to get a half-decent president for these people, not kill them.

Moses:      They had this man called Lenihan who would have been a solid president, but St. Peter only had to go and let him in early.

God (to St. Peter):           Did I ever tell you that you’re a fucking idiot sometimes?

St. Peter:       Sorry God, my bad. I didn’t realise how popular he was; I don’t even have the excuse that I was on holiday and forgot to leave someone in charge.

Moses:        What happened the last time you forgot to leave someone at the gate while you were gone again?

Jesus (interrupting):       JFK was assassinated!

Recalling his past errors, St. Peter looks at the ground and lets out a deep breath

Moses (to St. Peter):       Man, you really are an imbecile sometimes.

God:      Okay gentlemen, let’s leave him alone for a minute. Any other options for Ireland then?

Moses:       How about a joke candidate, like your man from Libertas or one of the Jedward twins?

Jesus:    Wasn’t Jedward punishment for Bertie Ahern sticking around so long?

Moses:        No, I’m thinking Jedward was punishment for taking the Eurovision song contest seriously for so long. Steve Staunton managing the football team was punishment for Bertie Ahern.

Jesus:    Then what was Bertie Ahern punishment for?

Moses:      Nothing. That just happened. They kept electing him without our help.

Jesus:      Are you serious?!

Moses:      Deadly serious.

Jesus:    I find that hard to believe, the gobshites. Anyway, doesn’t Bertie have a daughter who writes books? What about throwing her in as president?

God:      And why should I do that?

Jesus:    Well, last time you sent someone’s kid – your own – to do an important job, it worked out alright. Just a thought . . .

God:      Two points here, son. Are you comparing me with Bertie Ahern, and are you calling the Presidency of Ireland an important job? Because if you are, you’re off your rocker.

Jesus:    I was just sayin’

God:      And now you’ll just shut up, okay?

St. Peter (clicking his fingers, hip hop style):        Ohhhhh did you just go there?

God:      I went there.

St. Peter:       Hi-ohhhh!!!

Moses:      This meeting is getting out of hand. Might I suggest a parting of the ways and we can reconvene later?

Jesus:    You’re always suggesting a parting of the ways, Moses. It’s your solution to everything. Get a new trick already.

Moses:      And I suppose you’ve got loads of tricks, yeah? Oh look at me! Look at me turn this water into delicious wine! Prick.

Jesus:    You’re a prick.

God:      You’re both pricks and if you don’t shut it I’ll cancel the holiday and send you two to Satan for a week! Do I make myself clear?

Jesus and Moses (sheepishly):     Yes, God.

God:      This meeting is over. We’ll reconvene tomorrow. Moses, you bring the morning’s Irish Times and Jesus, you get me the latest paddypower odds. St. Peter, stop taking the few decent candidates and Noah, get things ready for the flood. We’re going to get these clowns a decent president.

Say the word I’m thinking of: Headline writing in USA Today

August 26th, 2011

Headline writing can be an onerous task. How does one draw the reader or passer-by into reading even the first line of an article while staying within the parameters of space, line decks and characters? Sub-editing is easier said than performed.

But at least get the grammar correct. Today I was walking to my departure gate at Charlotte-Douglas airport in North Carolina and saw a copy of USA Today. The headline above the page fold read: ‘Libya oil industry may fast recover.’ That’s bad. It reminded me of a friend in Ireland who used to ring and ask “do you want to go for a fast swim.” I honestly thought he meant that we would swim quite quickly and not that the activity would not take up too much of our day.

Would it have been too difficult for the sub-editing team at USA Today to write ‘. . . may make fast recovery’ or ‘. . . may recover quickly’? Additionally, would one write ‘Britain fish industry’ or ‘France wine industry’? Of course not; one would write ‘British’ or ‘French’, so why ‘Libya oil industry’ in today’s USA Today? Here we have three nouns coming together, so let’s get an adjective (I suggest ‘Libyan’) in there.

On the Cloyne Report, Somalia, and Anders Behring Breivik

July 26th, 2011

A rebuke, a hidden cause, a massacre – it has been a tough week for God. Or more specifically, for the parties of God.

Ireland

By admonishing the Vatican in a Dáil speech last Wednesday in the wake of the Cloyne Report, Taoiseach Enda Kenny – a relatively conservative-minded Catholic – has effectively pressed the reset button on the Irish state and its relationship with the Church. The unfathomable master-slave relationship that has existed is now seemingly confined to the dustbin of history and, more importantly, Kenny and the wider Irish body politic do not appear to be seeking a reversal of that relationship, where the state would become master, but rather a separation or divorce. Ireland is dragging itself, kicking and screaming (and I choose this metaphor because that is what the pre-pubescent victims of rape at the hands of priests were no doubt doing), into the twenty-first century. While the state is rapidly losing its economic sovereignty, it is at least finally asserting its social and cultural independence from the vapid, corrupt and at times sadistic institution that is the Holy See.

What is particularly significant about this week’s events in Ireland and the Church is that, like the leaders that went before him, Kenny is aligning himself with middle Ireland – the mass of slightly conservative Catholics that make up a huge proportion of the electorate. The tipping point that made this speech possible is tripartite: firstly, gross crimes had to be undertaken and covered up by the Church; secondly, these had to be disclosed by a non-ecclesiastical party or parties; lastly, and most importantly from a political point of view, it had to be clear that at least half of the voting age Irish people had to be publicly affronted and sickened by what was disclosed. It is a sobering reflection to note that without that last part, it is unlikely that Mr Kenny would have delivered the speech, at least not in such bold language, no matter what his private feelings on the issue. It was not so much that Mr Kenny was being courageous – and we should not doubt that his feelings are sincere – but rather that the Irish people have finally given a government the opportunity to scorn the Vatican without negative opportunity cost.

A final thought; given what has come to light in recent days, months and years, one can only shudder to think what was happening during the centuries where the Church was above all criticism. How many Cloyne Reports were never written? We should not delude ourselves into believing that the Church’s rape-and-torture policy towards children (and, given the protection afforded to rapists, calling it a “policy” is quite legitimate terminology) was solely a twentieth-century phenomenon.

Somalia

The United Nations has now declared famine in parts of South Somalia, a tardy declaration that has already cost lives. But what is famine? Its effects are more obvious that its causes – the most chilling being children with oversized heads sitting on wasted bodies, waiting to die. But famine is not something that suddenly comes upon a community, nation or region; rather, it is often as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning.

Media coverage and political responses to famine – and Somalia is no different – usually portrays famine as a natural disaster, but natural events are not so much a cause but a catalyst of famine. Drought, flooding or a bad harvest cause famine and its associated starvation and mortality, or so we are told. But that is rarely, if ever, the case. Al-Shabab, the Islamist fundamentalist group that governs – or more correctly, oppresses through a deliberate policy of mass death – large swathes of Somalia, is now blocking the attempts of secular NGOs who are trying to get food and medical supplies to millions of people who are presently at the point of no return.

About two-thirds of the starving are thought to be unreachable due to the presence of Al-Shabab, a theocratic party of God that is now launching a strategy of mass killing by starvation; starving people to death in the name of religion. (Note how much easier it is to kill innocent people when you believe you have God on your side, as the third and final segment of this article will further show). Previous famines also had political as well as natural causes, notably in Ireland, where the British government initiated a policy of negligence as part of its then Empire wasted and fled, but Al-Shabab has exceeded that level of callousness by actually becoming an agent in bringing about famine. While Western donors give aid, as well they should, they ought to know that without dealing with the political and religious problems that have exacerbated or caused this present famine, they will be asked to give more again when the next one comes around, as it inevitably will. The West may want to help Somalia and Africa, but it can’t do so without learning about it. The traditionally great powers have no further use for the continent. It can be left to rot and crash.

A final thought; during all your years of education, from pre-school through to third level, how much time was spent in the classroom or lecture theatre on African matters, save for the imperial scramble of the late nineteenth century? Answer: probably none.

Norway

Media coverage of the Utoya massacre in Norway is now four days hence, but few outlets and commentators are addressing one of the most unpalatable truths – Anders Behring Breivik is a Christian and a very conservative one at that. For Christians to disown him is moral cowardice and reveals a glaring double standard: if the 9/11 hijackers represent, at least in some part, a strand of Islam, then why does Mr Breivik not represent Christianity in some form?

It is clear from police and eyewitness statements given by survivors of the ordeal that Mr Breivik would not have stopped shooting at unarmed adolescents with the intention of killing them until police arrived on the island. He would have killed 3,000 people, given the opportunity. Why can it be said, as it has been repeatedly, that Mr Breivik is not a Christian, yet the 9/11 hijackers and their ilk are not only representative of a certain type of Islam – the fundamentalist fascistic type – but representative of Islam as a whole?

A final thought; if Mr Breivik has accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, do Christians by and large believe that he will go to heaven regardless of his actions on Earth? I often think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for people like him to go to.

Given the events of the past week, it is clear that one of the defining arguments of the twenty-first century will be between secularism and the separation of church and state on the one hand and theocracy and fanaticism on the other. One should never miss an opportunity to celebrate the Enlightenment and admonish those who believe that they may do as they wish because a deity commanded them to do so. That is the solace that we may take from the events of the past week.

The Women’s World Cup is Wonderful

July 15th, 2011

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone.

In one of my favourite Simpsons scenes, Lisa is having her future told by a Native American. Her future husband, an over-the-top Hugh Grant-coiffured opulent Englishman, says in reference to Lisa’s position within the Simpson family, “you’re like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.” Lisa is the flower, her family the pot of dirt.

This Sunday will see the United States play Japan in the final of the World Cup of Association Football. Sorry, I should write the women’s World Cup, but that prefix is becoming more and more of an afterthought. High crowds – more than 73,000 at the opening game and an average of more than 25,000 for the tournament – have watched good quality football, played with skill and a degree of endeavour and honesty that makes a mockery of much of what is going on in the men’s game. The tournament has shown us again that football, at its most basic level, is a means to distinguish extraordinary human beings from ordinary ones, and this three-week contest has contained both. It reminds us that even among the fickleness and corruption of FIFA in the twenty-first century, football still retains the ability to release from us our most extreme emotions. Yes, this current World Cup is like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt.

Canada lost all three games in the group stage of the tournament, yet one Canadian, captain Christine Sinclair, was still justifiably lauded for one simple act – she broke her nose in the opening 2-1 loss to Germany, but continued to play and scored a superb 25-yard free kick while experiencing immense pain. There are very few players, male or female, who would willingly carry on playing in such circumstances.

Sinclair is one player who managed to succeed immediately after suffering an injury, but an arguably bigger story is that of Japan, a team hoping to bring joy and relief to a nation recently devastated by the double-whammy of an earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese winning goal against Germany and the ensuing ecstasy might do more than any monetary donation or government initiative to help the people of that land recover from desolation.

Media coverage of women’s sport has traditionally focused on femininity, proving time and again that male writers are generally inept at profiling women, particularly successful women. References to how many children they have or lengthy descriptions of their appearance abound, and subjects are described with words that contrast their femaleness with their careers; successful yet female, rather than successful and female. Or just successful. They are portrayed as a curiosity, a tangent to normality, a tributary to the gushing river of “real” news and coverage. There is no reason why we should not notice a subject’s hairstyle, young children or distaste for makeup. The problem starts when we get snaggled on these details, stuck to their femaleness like bubble gum in long hair.

What has been refreshing over the last few weeks is that players and coaches were, to most media outlets, first and foremost just athletes. Japan or the US would both be worthy winners in Frankfurt this Sunday, but – and excuse the litany of clichés that is about to follow – tears of joy and tears of sorrow will be shed, fingernails will be chewed to the quick and heart rates will go up exponentially. There will be winners and losers, but only in one sense. In reality, the real winners are those who took the time to follow the tournament in stadiums, sitting rooms, bars and newspapers or while listening to games on the radio. The tournament has reminded those for whom football is something beyond 22 individuals trying to move a ball into a net that for every Blatter-esque autocrat or ridiculous dive or feigned injury, there are many more moments of honesty and, dare I say it, beauty that are worth celebrating.

The Vancouver Riots

June 17th, 2011

Last night witnessed rioting in downtown Vancouver — admittedly, a city far away from where I write — following that city’s hockey team’s loss to Boston in the final game of the Stanley Cup final. The last time that Vancouver lost the final game of the Stanley Cup series was in 1994, whereupon the city centre was also ravaged with rioting. In the interim, the city has successfully hosted a winter Olympic games in peace. So, a few questions:

The Mayor and Police force have blamed “hooligans and hoodlums” for the events. Why?

The predictable answer might well be that this is because hooligans and hoodlums — whatever, whoever and whoever they may be — are to blame. The advantage of this for the municipal administration is that it absolves them of almost all blame, and the hidden premise is that it was not hockey fans who engaged in rioting, but rather people masquerading (where would these people have been for 17 years then?). Thus, the city and its team cannot be to blame in any way. Today’s powerful and bold Globe and Mail editorial, however, smashes that myth to pieces. It is extremely obvious that there were more than a handful of people rioting, looting and committing arson, and many of those who were not were glad to goad them on. Would “hooligans and hoodlums” break into a verse of O Canada while rioting? Many if not most of those responsible seem to have been Vancouver Canucks fans — real ones, with an emotional connection to the team. If municipal authorities want to pretend this is not the case, they become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If the event was a “disgrace”, then whose disgrace was it?

Describing an event as a “disgrace”, as, for example, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae has done, gives it a certain human root. One cannot describe an earthquake or tsunami, for example, as a disgrace because they don’t have a human root. So, if it was a disgrace, then who was disgraceful? The rioters? The city of Vancouver? The people of Vancouver? The police? The Mayor? The sport of hockey? The great nation of Canada? All of the above? None of the above?

Conditions were created, or were allowed to create themselves, for this event to happen. The fact that Vancouver lost 4-0 on the night did not help. The deployment of a police force in the three figures to manage a group of people in the six figures may not have helped. So, who is the disgrace? It is too easy for people like Rae to assign blame in a monolithic, linear fashion solely upon those who committed the acts of violence. The reality is surely more nuanced than that.

Why are media outlets tripping over themselves to compare this with soccer?

Most Canadian newspapers have mentioned soccer at least once in their editorial coverage today, the underlying theme of which is that the beautiful game is a malign influence upon hockey and Canada. However, taking into consideration the amount of professional soccer played throughout the globe — which dwarfs the amount played of any other field sport — is attending a soccer game really than dangerous? Is this comparison not a bit cheap and beside the point?

Lastly, is this not a wonderful photograph?

This photo (story here) has gone viral today, and well it should.

Why Obama went to Ireland

May 27th, 2011

Between the 19th of May and the 26th, US President Barack Obama went from a rather public falling out with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to toasting Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster. In between, he managed a quick visit to Ireland. It is time to reflect.

sober (adj.):  1. not affected by alcohol; not drunk. 2. serious, sensible, and solemn.

It is unlikely that, in the history of Ireland, the presence of one person on the island for half a day created so many column inches, and Barack Obama’s visit this week – arriving after sunrise and leaving before sunset – went as close to perfectly as both nations’ governments could have hoped. But there was a corporate bounce to boot, most notably for Guinness and the company that owns the black stuff, Diageo, who could not have dreamed of the kind of PR that Obama gave them through images like this one.

The most popular and iconic political leader across the globe was in Ireland drinking with his wife while cracking jokes and seemingly genuinely enjoying himself. For the Irish, this was an almost drug-like occurrence. A natural high, an unpolished euphoria, and maybe even some jobs, somehow, somewhere, would come out of it.

Within a matter of hours, the news arrived that Guinness and Diageo are going to cut jobs in Ireland. People had every right to be ecstatic while President Obama was in town, but only while he was in town. If they still felt high after he left, they ought to notice now that most of it was hallucinogenic. Jobs continue to be lost, notwithstanding the mother of all PR boosts.

And was it not slightly odd, ironic even, that Obama delivered his magnificent speech in Dublin in front of the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland, a bank to which most people in attendance share in having given billions of euro in rescue packages? Was this message of hope not delivered before a symbol of Ireland’s recent failures?

offset (v): 1. counteract (something) by having an equal and opposite force or effect.

It is pretty much accepted by all in the know that President Obama did not just have an Irish audience in mind as he was in Ireland. Rather, his primary concern was likely how the visit was perceived by voters back home in the States. All politics is local, and if it isn’t, most of it is.

A few days previously, Obama had mentioned “1967”, “borders” and “Israel” in the same speech. This was bold. Not ‘go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done’ bold, but more ‘put on your seatbelt, I’m about to go over the speed limit’ bold. In doing so, however, he managed to annoy a large swathe of American voters and the influential AIPAC group.

There will be an election next year, a contest in which Obama has already declared he will run. Obama’s folksy persona in Ireland may stand him in good stead with a fraction of voters. The dots are easy to connect.

Her Majesty

May 20th, 2011

Today brought the news that Dr Garret FitzGerald, the former Taoiseach of Ireland, died peacefully after a short illness at the age of 85. 85? That’s the same ages as Queen Elizabeth who, at the time of writing, is in Ireland.

RTE Television showed a documentary on FitzGerald within one day of his death (available here until June 9). Did the editors get into a frenzy and magically produce 70 minutes of good material within a matter of hours? Of course not. Like any good news team, they had it in the can and ready to go. If there is one certainty, it is that people die.

Imagine, for a second, that the Queen was to suddenly prove her mortality in the coming days. Every newspaper and television studio probably has more material on this guaranteed story than any other before. So, when I first get news that she has become an ex-Queen, I will ignore the media orgy and do one of the following: take a canoe and go down a beautiful river, ride a bike in a given direction until I reach an ocean, or climb some mountains. I think that I will genuinely fear for journalism and newspapers and their collective race to the bottom on that day, and I would rather stay away.

If I was an editor though, I know I would have my front page and headline ready.

First Article in The Irish Times

April 25th, 2011

You may remember that a couple of the earliest posts on this site referred to an article I was asked to write by the Irish Times. Well, that article is in today’s Irish Times and also online here. It’s the first time I have been published in what I would consider to be a mass-selling newspaper or a paper “of record”. Given that it is now two-and-a-half months since submission, I am pleasantly surprised that this article saw light of day. They even used a snazzy photo of downtown Montreal taken from what I think is the south-facing slope of the mountain. Enjoy!

Here comes the Sun King. Everybody’s laughing. Everybody’s happy.

April 21st, 2011

A CTV news segment this evening focused on ‘The Royal Wedding’. “How to get those extra style points on the perfect hat,” said the newsreader before the report. The previous item on the news was an exclusive interview with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, two weeks before a federal election. The wedding segment was longer than the interview.

Wake up Canada. You have been doing this for over 150 years now. You are more important and more intelligent than this.

Let’s go back to mid-1800s. If you ask Canadians today how Ottawa became the national capital, they would likely say that Queen Victoria chose it. The fact that she did not seems to be irrelevant. There is a part of Canadians — an otherwise largely bright and creative bunch — that is happily wrapped up in these falsehoods. In reality, Ottawa had been chosen as capital as much as a decade before Confederation. Montreal, Quebec, Kingston and Toronto were either too Protestant, too Catholic, too geographically peripheral or too fractious, respectively. Ottawa, on the cusp of anglo- and francophone Canada, seemed a good compromise. Macdonald and Cartier had settled on it and, after some domestic political dancing in the early 1860s, advised Queen Victoria to pick Ottawa in what was essentially a rigged competition. For advised, read instructed.

But Canadian history prefers the benign, servile version. Artificial nations — and by that I mean nations that are not formed out of a long-standing resident ethnicity in the area but rather by people (or rather peoples) from all over the place — seem to need a creation myth in order to justify their own existence. Rome had Aeneas. Much of the population of Israel believes itself to be God’s chosen people. The Tea Party, among other groups, in the United States is trying to accentuate the creation myth that that country was founded as a Judeo-Christian refuge or utopia. Canada’s creation myth, with the emphasis on mythical here, is a Royal one. But it needn’t be. As is often the case, the truth — the story of a democracy defining itself upon a series of compromises — is far more interesting.

And of course the wedding of William and Kate Middleton is being pre-packaged as a “fairy tale”. They really do love each other, we are constantly being told. This is stated over and over in order to banish the monarchists’ great fear: another Royal wedding where the words ‘love’ and ‘respect’ for the bride seem to be an afterthought on the part of the Prince. Actually no, Charles didn’t seem to give any thought at all to those supposed prerequisities for marriage.

I hope that the upcoming wedding is indeed based on love and respect, but that would make it the exception rather than the rule. The Royal/Windsor family detests marriage in any loving sense of the word. Remember that it was the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II — a woman to whom even convinced republicans seem determined to fawn over — who forced her younger sister to give up the man she loved because he happened to be divorced, even though he was a war hero. “Mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others,” she stated. If you believe the following statement that she “reached this decision entirely alone,” you will believe anything. In fact, it’s a contradiction of the preceeding statement because, as she says, she reached the decision via religious edict.

And so Canada, beautiful Canada, you can do better than this. You can start by amending the story of the birth of your nation and its capital as a story of democracy, intelligence, leadership and compromise, or you can stick with servitude and the colonial mindset. Then you can arrange your newscasts in a way that gives more airtime to exclusive interviews with potential prime ministers and not to segments about hats. Aptly, the subject of Ignatieff’s interview was the potential of him and his party to compromise with others. It could have been fifteen decades ago and a discussion about potential capital cities. Alas, the story of the next couple of weeks will probably be the wedding, much like the myth-history of a Royal choice of capital.

For some reason, Canada is embarrassed by its democratic process. Canada can do better.