America in 101 euphemisms

January 8th, 2013

  1. Friendly Fire
  2. Person held to service or labor
  3. Enhanced interrogation techniques
  4. Intelligent design
  5. To misspeak
  6. A misstatement
  7. Restroom
  8. I’m washing my hair that day
  9. Adult entertainment
  10. Gentlemen’s club
  11. To take someone for a ride
  12. Curvy
  13. Full-figured
  14. Wardrobe malfunction
  15. Air support missions
  16. Senior citizen
  17. To kick the bucket
  18. Heavy casualties were sustained
  19. Engage the enemy
  20. To see a man about a dog
  21. Reaching second and third base
  22. Aisle manager
  23. Loan office
  24. Nuptial ceremony
  25. Trying for a baby
  26. Shock and awe
  27. Pro-life
  28. Pro-choice
  29. Trail of tears
  30. Pre-owned
  31. Fun-loving
  32. The Plan B pill
  33. “The birth pangs of a new Middle East”
  34. Pacification
  35. Transfer of population
  36. War on Terror
  37. “Smoke him out”
  38. The peculiar institution
  39. Mission Accomplished
  40. The Surge
  41. Security contractor
  42. Waterboarding
  43. Collateral damage
  44. African American
  45. To freshen up
  46. To powder one’s nose
  47. To sleep with
  48. Freaking gosh darn heck
  49. Freedom isn’t free
  50. Institutionalized
  51. Doing time
  52. Sanitation engineer
  53. Differently abled
  54. Coalition of the willing
  55. Insurgency
  56. Neutralized
  57. Bootlegging
  58. Dental appliances
  59. A negative cash-flow position
  60. Sunshine units
  61. Hearing impaired
  62. Visually impaired
  63. Lost their lives
  64. A negative patient care outcome
  65. Torn between two lovers
  66. To defecate
  67. To copulate
  68. Rocky Mountain oysters
  69. Drumstick or white meat, madam?
  70. Water closet
  71. Downsize
  72. Outsource
  73. Area denial artillery munitions
  74. Securing the area
  75. Surgical strike
  76. Protective custody
  77. Executive action
  78. Family values
  79. Undocumented alien
  80. Urban contemporary music
  81. Substance abuse
  82. Special renditions
  83. The birds and the bees
  84. Sanctioning
  85. Harvesting whales
  86. Kinetic military action
  87. Post-kinetic development
  88. Prolonged detention
  89. Nation-building
  90. Reaching across the aisle
  91. Separate but equal
  92. A credibility gap
  93. Hiking the Appalachian Trail
  94. Pro-marriage
  95. Overseas contingency operations
  96. Denied area
  97. 85% fat free
  98. Till the fat lady sings
  99. Dry counties
  100. Tennessee white whiskey
  101. The Noble Experiment

Occupiers’ Garden: OWS goes to Washington, D.C.

January 30th, 2012

“You know what? They never even fucking told me. They never told me what they arrested me for,” shrieks Athena, a New Yorker whose voice is anything but that of a goddess. I was first drawn towards her because she was walking around the West lawn of Capitol Hill like someone who had been told that there was a nickel for every blade of grass she stepped on. Stomp stomp stomp. It was an unseasonably warm but soggy day, making for progressively squelchy stomps as the day wore on. She was simultaneously singing. Let it shine, let it shine. I’m gonna let it shine. All over the West lawn, I’m gonna let it shine.

It was like Marian Finnucane doing a Shakira impression, with a hint of Sarah Palin for good measure. Well, at least she wasn’t just standing there looking miserable with a ‘Down with capitalism’ sign. She was also taking dozens of photographs of people holding up a banner she had made with two simple words: ‘Occupy United’.

“New Year’s morning, I was arrested. In 2012 I started off my new year in jail,” she says, reliving memories of the NYPD slapping the cuffs on her slender wrists in Zuccotti Park. No fireworks, no midnight kiss, so not such a great way to enter a New Year, one would think.

“It went great. I was held till about 7am, but it was actually really fun because I was in the Paddy Wagon for a couple of hours with a bunch of other Occupy women and, with teamwork, we were able to hook up our live stream to text message whoever the hell we wanted to and we just did not feel limited. So actually it was a lot of fun.”

Athena spoke while snapping away, then abruptly asked for my card. My card? I’ve been in America for one day and have had a phone for about an hour. I made my apologies on the card front and made a mental note that calling yourself a journalist in this country and not having a wad of shiny cardboard slips on your person is akin to calling yourself a snow remover who carries only a miniature bucket and spade. You may as well not turn up. Even people with McJobs probably have cards. Junior vice-burger flipper supervisor.

This is Occupy Congress, a one-day extension of the Occupy movement whose focal point is Occupy Wall Street. That’s three Occupies in one sentence, and why not? The word is everywhere here, just a couple of hundred feet from one of the most iconic buildings in the world on the day Congress reconvenes. Congress, with its 11 per cent approval rating; that’s like if the population of California all said ‘they’re doing an okay job’ and every single other person across the other 49 states said ‘they’re doing a terrible job.’

So does Occupy have a political aim? “Oh it has a political aim,” states Athena, emphatically.

“I don’t think the Occupy movement should have any political aim and in itself will never support any political candidate,” states Mike, with equal fervour. He’s a fresh-faced man, no more than maybe 23 years old, who sat on a train for 60 hours to get here from Reno, Nevada. I didn’t seek him out, he just came up to me and said “you’re awesome.”

The disparity between Mike and Athena, between East and West, between urban and rural, perhaps even between male and female, reveals what many commentators believe to be the fundamental weakness of the movement – it doesn’t know what it is. But that could also be its strength. It’s an open shop as long as you obey one commandment – the perceived cuddliness of politicians and corporations is fundamentally wrong and needs to be done away with. If you agree with that, you’re in.

Wildebeest, a Bostonian, is one of those loud, serial high-fiving types who could only be from this continent. At first I assumed he was using a pseudonym, but then remembered that this is a place where two men called Mitt and Newt are vying to becoming President. “Mama took one look and said this boy is gonna be trouble,” he declared when asked about his name.

As Wildebeest roamed across the lawn, his large Stars and Stripes flag waving upside-down from a pole, he started shouting and pointing “party on that lawn right there.” Why there? “The cop told me to get off the sidewalk and on the lawn so that’s exactly where I’m going.” Touché.

He did have one relevant question to raise though: “You know what I’m distressed about with the police? It’s that they’re gonna die in the same tax bracket as all of us. And the fact that they don’t believe that is a joke. They need to wake up.” This is a far more salient point than merely having a party. If American history has revealed anything, it’s the consistent use of police by lawmakers within divide and conquer politics. The paradox of how Occupy is developing is that the police seem to be helping to wind it down while also providing the fuel that keeps people angry enough to continue turning up.

Sam, a Floridian living in South Carolina, is one of those who has loitered within the movement in spite of a lack interest where he lives. Occupy Columbia, the capital of the Palmetto state, has had – at most – 12 people. They could have just had a game of six-a-side, but instead got the bus up to Washington for this rally, so commitment is not an issue here. He was not here to party, but to make some rather strident points: “You look at all these laws that are being put into effect – the only ones that are being put in effect are the ones being paid for by the corporations. You look at any other bills, they get lost for months at a time in limbo because nobody’s paying the congressmen to bother voting on them.

“There’s so many things that I just can’t understand why people didn’t even just look at it for a second and go ‘wait, no! No! That’s not how it’s supposed to be!’” What Sam exposes here is that the issues are probably far too big to be resolved by simply occupying public spaces. What he said also happens to be the basic mantra of the Tea Party movement, Occupy’s supposed ideological opposite.

After sunset, Athena, Sam, Wildebeest, and Mike joined about 1,000 others around a stage in front of the Congress building. A rather terrible comedian somehow managed to lose the crowd as a chorus of “March! March March!” rang out. And so they did march, some to the Supreme Court, some to the White House, some to the Capitol – all to reconvene later back where they started. This could be seen as speaking volumes about Occupy in general; people meet, people splinter off, people meet again back at the starting point. Movements ought to move, but this one is close to walking, quite literally, around in circles.


Reflections on the GOP debate

January 17th, 2012

Things that were cheered at tonight’s GOP debate in Myrtle Beach, SC: urinating on dead people, execution without trial, killing native indians (implied), making 9 year-olds scrub urinals for one-thirtieth of the average industrial wage instead of being in school (opportunity cost).

Things that were booed: “Golden Rule” ethics, the fact that a candidate’s father was born in Mexico.

Michelle, my belle (and Romney, Paul, Gingrich, Perry . . .)

January 4th, 2012

It looks like Michelle Bachmann is about to leave the Republican race, and with it goes the final – the only – female candidate. Like Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin four years ago, Bachmann is viewed by an overwhelmingly male media as a female politician, rather than just as a politician who happens to be female. Her nails, her hair, the amount of cleavage on show, her eyes, her build – all of these are often deemed more important than offshore drilling or income tax brackets when it comes to profiling female candidates.

So let’s look at the men in the same way. It’s only fair, no?

It is said, and very often believed, that Mitt Romney is 64 years old. Of course, this is ridiculous; how could a man look so . . . clean? He looks like he has been made out of plasticine or carved from marble. I want to see his birth certificate, and not just the short form one but the big long one. Until then I will continue to believe that Mitt Romney was made from a bunch of cells in a Petri dish by RINOs to piss off uber-conservatives. When we saw Romney make his stump speech in Iowa this week, he was flanked by a small army of sons (who may or may not have also come from Petri dishes) who look so like him it’s scary. I’m convinced that he keeps them with him on the road for spare parts.

And Newt Gingrich looks so like a teddy bear that this ‘Newt 12’ teddy bear won a Newt Gingrich lookalike competition in his hometown of Hummelstown, PA. The bear beat off stiff competition from Ted Kennedy, Wade Phillips, and the grey-haired Lego man. Newt himself came in fifth place.

They grey-haired Lego man, however, does not win the award for Lego person who looks most like a Presidential candidate. That coveted prize was won by this guy, who looks just like January flavour of the month Rick Santorum, who himself won the award for funniest surname to look up on Google.

If ever a candidate appeared more and more every day like a caricature of himself, then that person must be Rick Perry. The gun-toting, agency-forgetting, electric chair-loving man who accidentally became Governor of Texas is so completely ridiculous that to make stuff up about him would make him seem less ridiculous.

Then there’s Ron Paul, who looks like he might fall over at any moment. If you put Ron Paul in an empty room and locked the door, he would still rant for hours about everything. Scientists, after years of research, now believe that college-aged capitalists and users of illegal drugs are attracted to Ron Paul’s voice in much the same way as whales and dolphins call each other during mating season. Unfortunately for Paul, the voice that proves so irresistible for some is also a major turn-off for everyone else.

Fair thee well, Mrs Bachmann.


Feminism and women in the GOP and CNN

December 31st, 2011

‘As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slip-cover  material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night – she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question – “Is this all?”The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan (1963)

It is now four decades since Betty Friedan wrote these simple words. Since then there have been 12 Presidential elections — we are now on number 13 — and as a cast of relatively well-to-do, senior, white men (Michele Bachman aside) line up to present their candidacy, we must ask ourselves: what has changed?

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed Republican front-runner Mitt Romney and his wife Ann this week (the US is surely the only place where men called Wolf and Mitt can have a conversation and nobody questions how ridiculous their names are). This is what Ann had to say (skip to 8.00 in that link);

“It was also Mitt that got me through those really tough years raising five really quite rambunctious and at times quite naughty boys, where he would call home and remind me when I was quite exasperated while he was travelling that what I was doing was more important than what he was doing. My job, in his eyes, was more valuable than his.”

The first three questions asked of Ann by Wolf were:

‘Do you ever think about being First Lady of the United States?’

‘You haven’t said I’d like to be like X or Y, like Hilary Clinton or Laura Bush?’

‘Did you like being First Lady of Massachusetts?’

With opening questions such as these, we are not far beyond Cindarella- or Jane Eyre-esque aspirations whereby a woman’s goals cannot be much more than to find the right man. The training of passivity in women is a continuing process, one in which acquiescence to male domination is often done unconsciously. For Michele Bachmann, such submission is both conscious and good:

“My husband said, now you need to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law. Tax law? I hate taxes. Why should I go and do something like that?

But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives you are to be submissive to your husband.’ And so we moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and I went to William and Mary Law School there, for a post-doctorate degree in tax law. And I pursued this course of study.

“Never had a tax course in my background, never had a desire for it, but by faith, I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband.”

The image of the woman as mother, as wife, living through her husband and their offspring, through her children, possibly even giving up her own dreams for that – is something that is often portrayed as a noble act. Blind selflessness is seen as a virtue. A strong independent streak is also lauded, but only because the woman is independent yet female, instead of independent and female, or just independent. The independent woman who does not also conform to societal expectations is viewed as dangerous.

The most obvious extreme example of this, at least in the popular imagination, must be Diana, whose efforts to feign a real loving interest in her husband were ultimately abandoned. Jackie Kennedy described her own marriage to JFK as “Victorian or Asiatic”, meaning that independence was neither expected nor sought.

There is no overt anti-feminism in society, not because sex equality has been achieved, but because there is practically no feminist spark left, at least not in the mainstream. Of course, if it ever happens that we have a potential First Man in the White House, he’ll no doubt have to be portrayed as uber-masculine with a sort of comic book macho quality. On the campaign he will be shown going rock climbing and lifting heavy things for no apparent reason before kicking back with a bottle of beer and playing catch with his son. There’s a sort of inevitability about it.


Why America? (Turn Left at Greenland)

December 2nd, 2011

Why would someone move to a place that doesn’t know how to make tea? In the United States, one is usually presented with a cup, pot or glass of tepid water with a tea bag lying apologetically on a cold side plate. Then comes the ludicrous business of pouring the water, squeezing the bag to within an inch of its life while waiting for some change in colour before discarding the lifeless tampon surrogate. Why would someone do this to themselves? Why would I, a near addict, do this to myself?

The tea ritual shows, in one instance, America’s stubbornness and artistry. ‘You want tea? You’ll drink it our way!’ It’s like a child coming home from school with a painting of a “tree” that closer resembles a wall, but the family sticks it on the wall for years anyway because it was how the child interpreted the tree. The painting then remains on the wall for so long that to take it down would be to remove a tiny piece of the family.

What else is America? At one moment in time, it is one, some or all of the following: charming, outrageous, lovable, free, sickening, ostentatious, confident, scared, daring, conservative, revolutionary, dynamic, proud, ingenious, stupid, showy, private, avaricious, charitable, humane, merciless, stubborn, revisionist, religious, secular, heroic, cowardly, affluent, indebted, lazy, energetic, sexy, prudish, popular, disliked, focused, flamboyant, imaginative and frustrating.

It is a country with an address in the new world but with a founding population largely drawn from the old one, a sort of perfect storm for paranoia. It is a country of seemingly incongruous contradictions. It contains some of the most religious people in the world living under a stridently secular constitution. It is a country that has managed to make two close political cousins – liberalism and conservatism – appear as opposites in the popular imagination. It is the land that brought the world much technological advancement over the past century but simultaneously had to be dragged kicking and screaming into granting much of its own population some of the most basic human rights.

America displays, and often celebrates, a certain fuzziness about the world outside. It is as if the nation was in a contemporary pre-Galileo state of existence, only it is not the Earth that is the at centre of the Universe, but America that is at the centre of the Earth and, in order to prove this point, America strives to make it so.

America is the three or four year-old with the short attention span who ends up impressing everyone at the family gathering with some adorable party piece. It is the cocky adolescent doing one handed push-ups. It is the perpetual beauty pageant contestant, doing herself up differently as years and competitions go by. It is the partner that cheats and yet you always want to go back because it holds something irresistible. And I’m going back.


What happened to the American Dream? It moved North.

September 29th, 2011

(This article was published recently in Trinity News –


There are two prerequisites that must be met in order to have some career success in American political life. Firstly, you must profess, over and over, that the United States is the greatest and most exceptional country ever to have been conceived; secondly, you must regularly express your faith in a higher, celestial power.

What is remarkable about this double expression is that the former – an absolute, unquestioned loyalty to the American Dream – is far more faith-based than the latter – the public expression of religiosity, often for political gain. The nominally secular notion of the American Dream has millions of devotees, all trying to find heaven on Earth. Thus, to knock it is to sign your own political death warrant. The American Dream is a religion for theists and atheists alike.

Look around you. Where is the new wave of Irish emigrants heading? Most of the usual suspects (Australia, Britain, Canada) have lined up at their airports to stamp Irish passports and working visas, but in this recession – our first since the 1980s – the United States has taken more of a back role. More Irish graduates and unemployed persons are moving to Canada and, fortunately for them, they are the ones who will get a real chance of enjoying the American Dream.

The numbers support this claim. Compared to the U.S., Canadians work less, live longer and enjoy better health. With a lower unemployment rate, a stronger dollar (from a position in the 1980s when the Canadian dollar was worth 69 American cents) and less sovereign and individual debt, Canada is now a better place to make money. Canadians – traditionally seen as deferential to their southern neighbours as they sloshed around in deep pools of capital in an entrepreneurial paradise –now view that same land, with its tattered economy, bloated debt and paralysed political system, more with pity than in awe. In a recent Nanos research poll of Canadians, 86 per cent said that their country holds more promise for prosperity.

That prosperity has come with shorter working hours and more time off, allowing Canadians to enjoy themselves more. The Canadian news weekly magazine Macleans has found that in recent years as Americans toil away, working to pay mounting bills, Canadians are spending more time with friends or travelling. Canadians play more golf than any other nationality in the world and have more sex but fewer teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and divorces than their American counterparts. They also drink more but have fewer illnesses and live longer.

Median income for Americans and Canadians is almost exactly the same, but in 2005 it was found that in Canada the average amount of personal debt per person was US$23,460, as opposed to a whopping US$40,250 for Americans. This means that, although they may have slightly smaller homes, Canadians have a lot more real wealth. Those figures are from before the American housing market descended into chaos, likely making for an even greater disparity in per capita debt just half a decade later. Canadians have a different definition of freedom.

Meanwhile in the U.S., debate within the Republican Party in recent weeks has focused on immigration as potential presidential candidates fall over one another in a race to see who can build the biggest wall in the shortest amount of time across one of its two land borders. Green cards, once handed out like confetti to immigrants, many Irishmen and women among them, are now far harder to obtain. The post-9/11 decade has seen American politicians tending to view immigration through the lens of terrorism or national sovereignty rather than as an opportunity to add dynamism and flexibility to the labour market. The popular image of the penniless immigrant arriving on American shore and “making it” through hard work and bright ideas is redundant if the system won’t allow it. On the other hand, Canada now accepts more immigrants per capita than any other developed country.

During one of those aforementioned debates in Florida, fanatics in the audience shouted ‘let him die’ as Republican Senator Ron Paul of Texas attempted to justify his belief that a hypothetical 30 year-old patient with life-threatening injuries or disease should not receive care unless he was wealthy enough to pay hundreds of dollars per month for private insurance. This is the not-so-small print of the modern American Dream.

Look the headline above and note the capital ‘D’ in ‘American Dream’. Why is it so? More than anything, it is now a brand – an idea that can be sold to men, women and children; something into which they can invest their money and emotions, even if the winners are almost always those already at the top. Canada, meanwhile, is no longer a blander, watered-down version of the U.S., though that reputation will take longer to change than the reality. While Americans have been busy pursuing happiness, Canadians have been living it. If anything, it is the true land of opportunity in North America.

Walls and Bridges: the Importance of Washington and Ottawa

September 3rd, 2011

Since human beings first spread themselves across the earth, they have encountered obstacles: rivers, mountains, scarcity of food, extreme heat, biting cold, warlike peoples and diseases – physical barriers to progress. Because of difficulties such as these, the vast majority of human history has been lived in fear.

Some individuals and civilisations embrace that fear and use it as a catalyst to attempt great feats. Ever since our species has sought new lands, one of the devices used to overcome obstacles to movement is the bridge. Bridges allowed us to eat today and build tomorrow while not drowning in the attempt. Julius Caesar made use of huge temporary bridges in order to subdue (or more often, massacre) Germanic tribes over 2,000 years ago. We use them to carry water and to drive further.

Retrospectively, however, bridges can carry more than water or cargo; they carry a lot of history. Of the three colossal countries that comprise continental North America, two of them – Canada and the United States – have capital cities that are located in parts of their respective countries in such a way that part of the cities almost became part of another country, and what links these would-be sister states are bridges. Ottawa and Washington, the respective capitals, were both capital cities by the time of the Quebec referendums and the US Civil War, which makes their capital status before these historic events all the more important and extraordinary.

When you walk, as I did two weeks ago, from Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River on Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, you are walking from the state of Virginia to the District of Columbia. You are also walking from the old Confederate States of America to what was then and is now the United States of America; in another history, you could have been walking from one nation to another. The unity that Washington brings to such a vast country can be seen in concentrated form right there on that small plot of land. The bridges are stitches on an old wound.

Earlier this summer, I also walked from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario across the Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Quebec. Just as in Washington, bridges link what might have become (and might yet become) an entirely separate country within the capital city. I cannot think of any other cities in the world where this is the case.

Of course, the ways that Quebec and the Confederacy went about trying to gain independence were entirely different. For the former, two referendums ended with Quebec remaining within Canada – nobody died, at least not directly. In contrast, more than 600,000 people died during the American Civil War.

Washington is a far more grandiose city. It is larger and more monolithic with more tourists and bigger things. When one takes that walk from the old Confederacy to the modern American capital – from the South to the North – the air oozes the salient sense that this is a very important place. In that respect, the city is quite beautiful because it is a beautiful thing to be there. Physically and politically, Washington itself is a monument of monuments.

Ottawa’s beauty is more understated, built as much by the hand of nature as by the hand of humanity. Taking into account how recently the city was almost split between two countries (1980 and 1995), its status becomes a significant factor in the viability of Canada remaining one country.

Both Ottawa and Washington are metropolises that could have been permanently split by rivers, politics and war. As it is, they are held together by the will of the majority of the people and by bridges, bridges that have a modern resonance far beyond their original function.

Bin Laden and Hannibal

May 10th, 2011

Did you ever hear the one about the man who smashed a herd of elephants into two skyscrapers? Or the one about the man who flew a fleet of aircraft through the Alps over two millennia ago?

Of course you didn’t, because these are two impossible actions. If we do a little switch around though and talk about the man who flew commercial aircraft into some of the most iconic buildings in history and the man who marched a herd of elephants across a huge frozen mountain range, one immediately knows what and who we are discussing.

The people of Rome and the United States had not considered these feats in advance, as daring, destructive and outrageous as they were. The hours upon hours of amateur video footage from downtown Manhattan on the morning of 9/11 shows people – most of them suited up and commuting to work – standing there watching, trying to figure out the fleetness of events in the world that was now surrounding them; trying to get information while trying to avoid getting information, simply because the reality was so utterly shocking. The most natural reaction – standing with a gaping open mouth – was the most telling.

Bringing elephants over the Alps was not so much a military manoeuvre as it was a propaganda one; it is often forgotten that most of the animals perished on the journey. It did, however, create an aura of invincibility around the man who made it happen and, perhaps for the first time, a national feeling of weakness in Rome. What Hannibal and Osama Bin Laden did was find their enemy’s kryptonite, but that is just the beginning of the extraordinary similarity in their stories.

The Roman Senate rallied after the disastrous battle of Cannae and appointed a dictator (under the Republican constitution, temporary dictators could be appointed in times of national emergency), Fabius Maximus, while the American public gave a massive boost to President George W. Bush’s approval ratings and a renewed mandate in 2004. Both of these mandates were given largely for those leaders to go after public enemy number one: for the Romans, Hannibal; for the Americans, Bin Laden.

Hannibal was in Italy for 15 years. After a series of early victories – leaving parts of the peninsula mass graves of Roman bodies – his campaign stagnated, resulting in retreat. Bin Laden did not personally invade U.S. territory so much as occupy the public consciousness and define American foreign policy around him for a decade. Both men loved being wanted, perhaps even hated, and both became not just political and military leaders, but also brand names.

Death was always so close. Imagine knowing that, of all the people in the world, you are most likely the person who most people would wish departed. The remarkable thing was how they managed to hang around for so long and, perhaps more astonishingly, how surprised people were when news got to them that their nemesis or hero was no more.

Rome believed that the war against Hannibal and the war against Carthage were one and the same thing – kill the man and you kill his quest – and in the early months of the Bush administration, the public relations campaign focused on that same idea. “We’re gonna smoke him out,” said the President. After Hannibal’s death it took half a century for Rome to finally win the war against Carthage, and any U.S. government, present or future, should note that.

Two men from the other side of the (known) world, living over two millennia apart, attacked a rising superpower where it did not think it might be attacked, in doing so creating a new kind of nationalism whereby the enemy united around their government and retaliated by going to the other side of the world to wage war. A bounty on both their heads and their faces and names etched into the consciousness of one and all. The assignment of blame for complex organised actions ultimately was placed upon one individual, and the initial aim of war was to get that individual, dead or alive. When they were found, it was someplace in the East and they were shown to be vain, paranoid, and ultimately human.

He was a working man, Great White North way, now he’s hit the big time in the USA

April 11th, 2011

“You’re it!”

“No, you’re it!”

I’m certain you remember playing tag or chasing back in the day, though these days I’m sure they have tag on Xbox. Adults can play too; you only have to see the accusations between Harper and Ignatieff that one and the other are “un-Canadian”. Conservative blogger ‘BC Blue’ gives the standard party line that Ignatieff ”lived the previous 34 years out of Canada before coming back just to be Prime Minister,” with the Liberal leader seen by many as some sort of Anglo-American rather than a pure Canadian. (And these slurs are often made by the same people who berate pure laine québécois for being ethnocentric and small-minded . . . pot, meet kettle).

A few days ago, Ignatieff himself accused the Harper/Conservative team of being “un-Canadian” following the removal of a woman from a Conservative rally in London, Ontario because she was found to have ‘liked’ the Liberal Party on Facebook.

All of this has triggered some thoughts and questions for me. Firstly, if I am an Irishman living in Canada, am I less Irish than if I spent these months and years in Ireland? This had never occured to me before. I don’t believe so, but perhaps in the eyes of others I have become less Irish. I find that kind of spooky. In case the insinuation here was not obvious enough, I don’t believe that Mr Ignatieff is any less or any more Canadian for having lived about half his life abroad.

Secondly, and slightly off topic, the whole issue has made me a realise a certain paradox going on south of the border. More conspicuous than charges of un-Canadianness (or maybe it’s because they say it louder), slurs of so-and-so being “un-American” are made so often it hurts, usually, but not always, spoken or written by those on the right against big government-progressive-liberal-commie-nazis, or whatever label they wish to throw up. The United States, land of the first amendment and Tom Paine. If someone says something “un-American”, this is by definition a contradiction in terms. In fact — and here’s your paradox — the only un-American thing that one can do is to accuse another of being un-American! It’s millions of Oedipuses all running amok with loudspeakers.

Moving back up North now, and Ignatieff would do well not to engage in charges of Harper, the Conservatives or anyone else being un-Canadian. It cheapens debate and brings him down to their level. It’s not un-Canadian, it’s just uncool.