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"Five axiomatic propositions of Canadian Nationalism vis-a-vis the Americans:

1. Boy, we hate Americans.

2. We really do.

3. Really.

4. I'm not kidding. We really hate them.

5. So how come they never pay us any attention?"

--Will Ferguson, Why I Hate Canadians, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997, p.105.


Saturday, January 26, 2002

You can't expect a large corporation to provide high-quality, responsive personal service. For that, you need the government. I lost a bet with myself yesterday. Given the furor over Guantanamo Bay and the recent escapades in the Middle East (brave Palestinian freedom fighter courageously guns down 12-year-old girls at bat-mitzvah), I was certain that Rick Salutin's column this week would deal with either Israeli perfidy or the U.S.'s cynical attempt to Manufacture Consent. Oh, who am I kidding -- we could find extraterrestrials living in suburban Toronto, the local teacher's union could declare itself in favor of cannibalism, and I'd still expect Rick Salutin to write about Israel's perfidy or the U.S.'s latest cynical attempt to Manufacture Consent. Anyway, Rick weighs in on the current debate over potential changes to the Canadian health care system. To nobody's suprise, he's against anything as elitist as allowing citizens to spend their own money on health services above and beyond what the government says that they should be entitled to. He then expands on this to philosophize about services in general:

But what is a service anyway? .... A service is something inherently more personal than a commodity. When you buy, say, a fridge, you'd like a nice sales clerk but mostly you want the fridge. With a service, the person delivering it and the item (health, education, breakfast) are more closely tied. Even the "good morning" served with your coffee may feel less satisfying when delivered by the employee of a multinational such as Starbucks than by your local café owner. (Or not.)....

Does this mean all services should be publicly run? Of course not. But it means they fall more naturally to independent individuals and small businesses than corporations.

So services should be provided by small businesses and independent individuals, like the provincial and federal governments? I'm not sure where Rick Salutin spends his time, but I've typically been more satisfied with the service at, say, a corporate-affiliated food joint than at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Or, for a more apples-to-apples comparison, I've had better interactions with the corporate providers of telephone and cable service than I've had with the providers of (publicly-owned and -operated) electricity in Canada. More generally, corporations rely on franchising to motivate precisely the kind of independent individual behavior to which Salutin refers. Governments have no obvious parallel to this.

Halfway through his column, Salutin takes an aside to reveal the chief culprit behind the move to eviscerate Canada's health care system: the U.S. {gasp!}

Fifteen years ago, I recall economist Marjorie Cohen shrewdly eyeing negotiations over the first Canada-U.S. free-trade deal and asking what the U.S. was really after, since it already had most of what it wanted here. "It's services!" she declared. Huge pots of money were being spent in areas such as health and education, which were shielded from U.S. investors. Private services such as banking were also protected, but the big prizes were in the public sector. That quest never ceased. The main item now before the WTO is a U.S. demand for "a general agreement on trade in services, which will facilitate a global market in private health care, welfare, pensions, education and water, supplied -- naturally -- by U.S. companies" (The Guardian).

Sadly, Mr. Salutin's column has been judged ineligible for the next Canadian Sucker-Punching Doofus Award because his attack on the U.S., although unrelated to anything else in his column, is technically not a non-sequitur of the requisite magnitude to qualify (see below for prior winners and for qualification rules). Better luck next time, Rick!

"Those who defend the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are sexual perverts." With an impeccable sense of timing, Heather Mallick has jumped on the anti-Guantanamo prison bandwagon just after her primary evidence of prisoner mistreatment has been shot down. After bravely announcing that she is against torture, Mallick decries the "hooding, shackling, shaving and masking of Afghan prisoners and their incarceration in open-air animal cages under constant bright lights." According to Mallick, this is comparable it to the vicious 1988 attack on two soldiers who were accidently in the wrong place at the wrong time, and who were "beaten, tortured, dragged over a wall, stripped and shot to death by a mob in Ireland." (Oh, did British officials just report that the prisoners at Guantanamo are not being mistreated? Well, what do they know? Is there evidence that the Taliban prisoners still in Afghanistan are truly at risk of being mistreated by their Northern Alliance captors? Not worth harrumphing about.) But as one reads the article, it becomes clear that Mallick's true beef is with Those Who Would Disagree With Her about this:

"I love this cavalier attitude toward the prolonged suffering of other people. These are commentators who loudly complain about the pain of dieting or the cost of hotel room mini-bars or the tedium of reading an actual book. But the pain endured by utterly helpless, despised prisoners arouses a kind of gassy pleasure in them, that same swelling satisfaction I saw on the taxi driver's face. [NB: um, Heather, with the slight difference that the taxi driver was instrumental in the 1988 attack on the soldiers.]

I have always thought that political, as well as personal, cruelty has a sexual element to it. Cruelty, like extreme sexual desire, is a failure of empathy, a grabbing of gratification for oneself that is very difficult to control. When you feel this surge in yourself, always beware. It will end in tears, and depending on how you expressed your contempt for whoever was in your hot, little hands, they will often be your own tears."

Yes, you defenders of the U.S. treatment of Al-Quaeda prisoners. You may think you are just defending the letter of the Geneva Convention, which specifically does not protect combatants who eschew uniforms and hide among civilian populations, but in fact you are perverts. Mallick knows this for certain.

The Canadian Larry King? Canada is a strange, sober land today. Yesterday it was reported that national icon Peter Gzowski died of cancer on Thursday. Today, as the Globe and Mail reports, the nation is in mourning for the "beloved broadcaster." Having almost no knowledge of Gzowski, I asked an acquaintance whether there is any analogue to Gzowski in the U.S. After a pause, he suggested, "Larry King."

Now I'm not exactly looking forward to the day on which Larry King sheds his mortal coil, but I don't think the U.S. will be mourning quite the way Canadians are today. If anyone can provide me with a better sense of what Gzowski means to them, I would really appreciate it.

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