Archive for June, 2008

Frank Magazine’s frummery foray

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

In a previous post we made a mysterious reference to David Frum, using the term “frum-like” to describe the weak, slippery grip the feral [shurely you mean federal? –ed.] Conservatives have on power in this country. Frum, to many, needs no further analysis or explanation. Frum is as frum does. Frum is frummish by nature, and those who feel frummy, well, there’s no hiding from that truth.

But David Frum, who arguably has even more power and influence than our colleague Francis Wilkinson, is not as well known as we thought. Yes, Frum is a frekwent kontributor to Kommentary and Nazional Review (two neokonservative [four Ks in one sentence? You’ve gone too far –ed.] car advertising magazines out of the U.S.A.). Yes, as a former speechwriter to George Bush Junior, he coined the phrase “axis of evil” to describe Stevie Harper, Bush and Danielle Crittendon. Yes, the New York Times has an archive of references to him. But is he famous? Would he be recognized by your typical angry bikeshop owner?

Actually, not necessarily. Frank Magazine, whose editor often turns to our pages for insight and editorial wherewithal [Arr –ed.], brought this home to us in a recent article in their print edition:

Headline: “Axis of Weasels”
“David Frum, vacationing in southwestern Ontario, goes into a bike shop to get work done on his bike. The shop owner, formerly American, doesn’t recognize his Frumness and David is thoroughly pissed that his exalted status didn’t get him front of the line treatment. Later, someone tells the bike shop owner who this guy is. After the work is done, the bike shop owner adds $1,000 to the bill, calling it a homeland security charge. Much huffing and puffing over the bill, the owner holds his ground and Frum storms out, leaving his bike behind.”

(Frank magazine, July 2 ’08, p. 19)

Perhaps we need to tell our readers more about him if in future we are to apply “frum” as an adjective.

David Frum is a writer. Like two other writers we know well, Leah McLaren and Jacob Richler, David Frum is truly hilarious while rarely intending to be so. Is this a genetic trait? It is possible, for like the other two, Frum’s writer’s instincts are bred in the bone–which is a kinder way of saying he’s a momma’s coattail-riding hack (his mother was Barbara Frum, a renowned CBC television journalist). Unlike McLaren and Richler however, David Frum is not someone his mother would be proud of. A favourite image for us is Mary Walsh, the Newfoundland actor of Codco fame, telling Frum his mother must be “spinning in her grave” in reaction to his neoconservative politics (Frum’s politics would see the CBC eliminated or bizarrely altered. His mother would never have stood a chance if Frum had been in charge).

Frum on a bicycle is nonetheless an image that brings gladness to the ALLDERBLOB’s too-small heart. Should he continue as a writer, we have some suggestions for him. Read Henry Miller, in particular My Bike and Other Friends. Read Daniel Behrman, in particular The Man who Loved Bicycles. And read Glen Norcliffe’s The Ride to Modernity: the Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900.

We can’t say reading these books will help Frum’s stagnant writing career (don’t let the fact you don’t see remaindered copies of his books at the discount stores fool you; it’s just that they go straight to the pulper). However, it’s just possible that reading a book on bicycle culture will deliver Frum of the delusion that his opinion and words matter in this world [it certainly worked for us. –ed.].

The “Long” Emergency

Friday, June 20th, 2008

James Howard Kunstler, that beacon of optimism and faith in humanity who writes from his home south of the border in Saratoga Springs, a “small town” in upper New York State, has a “blog” which we at the ALLDERBLOB read each Monday. It’s got the unsavoury name “Clusterfuck Nation,” which derives, as near as we can tell, from tough-guy army talk related to “SNAFU” (“situation normal, all fucked-up”) and “FUBAR” (“fucked up beyond all recognition”). In the military, apparently, to “fuck” is not a good thing.

As a tangent, one could look at related language, such as Canadian Prime Minister Stevie Harper today saying the recently released Liberal carbon tax plan will “screw everybody.” It’s quite likely that someone like Harper believes screwing is a bad thing, something you “do” to someone in order to hurt them. It’s possible his wife would agree with him.

We could also talk about the descriptive phrase “that sucks,” which means something is lousy, crappy, stupid or terrible in some way. But what is it to suck? If it’s sexual, it’s about giving or receiving pleasure. And if it’s what a baby does, it’s the second most elemental conduit of nourishment, growth, and love from mother caregiver to child.

But back to “fucking,” which has its roots (so to speak) in an ancient word meaning to till the land: to plant seed, to fertilize or inseminate.

Insemination, however, is for the military another cup of tea entirely. So today, we had U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the news, at the U.N. denouncing the use of rape as a weapon of war (good for her for bringing it up, but why now we wonder? –apparently 16 million men have the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan, which is to say rape a fairly old weapon).

Fucking, for military types, is a weapon. So a clusterfuck would be a cluster of weapons. Was Kunstler in the military? He’s on record as decrying the tough-guys (“thuggos and sluggos”) he sees across America with their tattoo fashion and jailhouse attitude. We’re with him on that one, but what’s with the unsavoury name for his blog?

“Clusterfuck Nation” is not something we’d forward to mom, even though occasionally we might want her to read something Kunstler wrote there.

Fortunately, Kunstler is also the author of some books, many still in print, which convey much of the spiirit, if not the day-to-day drama of his blog. We’ve read two of his books: Geography of Nowhere (1994) and Home From Nowhere (1996), and we would recommend Home over Geography because it has more substance. We particularly liked the chapter in Home From Nowhere on the economic theories of Henry George.

On a recent train trip from Halifax to Toronto we found ourselves with a more recent book by Kunstler, his Long Emergency (2005). What we were doing on a train from Halifax is another story, and one that relates to Kunstler very well (he has often claimed the U.S. railway system would be the laughing-stock of Bulgaria, and he would not be impressed by Canada’s railway any better), but we will leave it for another time.

We’re back, as they say. Back in Toronto. it’s been a few weeks and we have not yet made it through the Long Emergency. This isn’t to say it’s a dull book, or a poorly written one. On the contrary, while Kunstler occasionally annoys us with his sense of certitude and his dismissal of the facts, as we see them, about the collapse of WTC Building 7 (for example), we are nonetheless greatly entertained by him. If anything, it’s a reflection on our own malaise: things unfinished, things newly started, things in flux.

One thing that impresses us about the Long Emergency, and it may have something to do with why we are not speedily devouring it: the book, published some three years ago now (which means it was written four or more years ago), in an attempt at prognostication and explanation of the slowly unfolding disaster Kunstler foretold for the years to come, reads today as if it’s ripped from the daily papers. Sadly, just four years later, it reads like a history of our times.

Can our society really be the SNAFU that Kunstler describes?

We will get back to the Long Emergency.