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chowcartoon

On Sunday, the Toronto Sun ran the above cartoon (by Anthony Donato) on this cartoon of Olivia Chow. Chow denounced the cartoon as “racist” and “sexist” (two characterizations I agree with). I thought it would be productive to find out what Paul Godfrey, who runs the large media outfit that is about to buy the Toronto Sun (and who ran the Sun years ago) thought about this. Our conversation from last night and today, carried out on email, is pasted below.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

My name is Jeet Heer. I’m a freelance writer — I’ve written for many publications including The New Yorker, The Guardian, the Globe and Mail. Many moons ago I used to work for the National Post, where I was a columnist.
I’m writing to you about a controversy over a cartoon that ran in the Toronto Sun, featuring Olivia Chow in a Mao Suit. You can see the cartoon here:
As you will see, the cartoon depicts Ms. Chow rather in the manner of a Kim Il-Jung, as a malevolent dwarf. The imagery calls to mind the depiction of Asians in “Yellow Peril” cartoons of the early 20th century.
Many people, including Chow herself, called this cartoon racist and sexist.
The Toronto Sun, which I understand you are in the process of purchasing, denies this charge. See here: https://twitter.com/GraphicMatt/status/526953920476626944
As the prospective owner of the Toronto Sun, I want to know whether you think this cartoon is, as the paper you are purchasing insists, not racist and not sexist?
Can you please answer this question. I will be happy to quote your answer (or non-answer) the article I am working on.
Best, Jeet Heer
Godfrey’s response:
Jeet, I did not see the cartoon in question so for that reason it is difficult to give you an opinion on it.
Secondly as a person who has been the the subject of jokes/ridicule etc in cartoons in many publications over the years I fully realize that newspaper cartoons poke fun at public figures surrounding serious topics. All you have to do is take a look at today’s newspapers.
I have learned from personal experience to smile and move on. The public usually do the same thing.
Pvg
My response:
Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you very much for your prompt and extended response. In terms of seeing the cartoon, it is widely available on the internet. I provided a link in my original email. Here is another: http://o.canada.com/news/olivia-chow-andy-donato-toronto-sun-racist-sexist-cartoon-535578
Since Mr. Donato will soon be in your employ and he’s the person most closely associated in the public mind with the Sun Media (having been at the Toronto Sun since its inception in 1971), perhaps you can look at the cartoon and offer an opinion.
Best,
[Jeet Heer]
Godfrey’s response:
I have now seen Andy Donato’s cartoon. I have always thought Donato to be one of the finest cartoonist in Canada. In fact, I continually refer to him as the Franchise of the Sun chain..
Having said that I repeat what I stated in my previous email to you. Cartoons in newspapers often poke fun at serious news items and that was what he is doing here. Donato is neither racist or sexist. I know that because I worked with him for almost 16 years,  He has often poked fun at me in cartoons for years making fun of my surgically corrected jaw.
People who enter all forms of public life may from time to time not like what a cartoonist produces. I do not believe he crossed the line of good taste on this cartoon.
[Paul Godfrey]
My response:
Thank you.
[Jeet Heer]
Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

 

 

I reviewed the late William Patterson’s new biography of the writer Robert Heinlein for the New Republic. Because the New Republic is a general interest magazine, I focused my review on only one of major complaints against Patterson (that he lacked critical distance from Heinlein). But I had many more problems with Patterson which I thought wouldn’t be of interest to a New Republic readership but should be noted for the record. In general, these complaints grow from the initial problem noted in the New Republic article (lack of critical distance) but are more detailed.

In no particular order, the problems with the book are:

1. Lack of curiosity about Heinlein’s ties to the far right. Heinlein wrote an article for the October 1960 issue of The American Mercury titled “’Pravada’ Means ‘Truth’”. The interesting thing about this anti-communist article is the venue: by 1960 the American Mercury, once edited by H.L. Mencken but fallen on hard times, was an anti-Semitic far right journal. People who were otherwise very conservative – notably William F. Buckley and William Rusher, both of National Review – warned their fellow right-wingers not to publish in it. In fact, National Review had a policy that anyone who published in the American Mercury could not publish in the National Review. When you consider how racist National Review was in the 1950s, the embargo on the American Mercury is astonishing.  Heinlein had a very good record on anti-Semitism, having denounced it since the 1930s and even breaking friendships with anti-Semites. So what was he doing writing for the American Mercury (which had a jibe against Jews in the very issue Heinlein published in)? Patterson doesn’t ask.

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1. A few thoughts, recycled from twitter, about Rob Ford and gangsterism. 2. This Josh Marshall post gives good summary of where things stand in Ford case: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/mystery-phone-call-emerges-in-rob-scandal. 3. Based on Josh Marshall post & Toronto Star reporting, it looks like there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Ford unleashed Lisi. 4. Evidence is circumstantial, so it’s entirely possible that Ford won’t face criminal charges. 5. But if we look at evidence we already have, Ford is best understood as a gangster (rather than just a buffoon). 6. Ford-as-gangster helps explain not just his behavior in trying to find crack video but also his political support. 7. Think of the Godfather: his power is not just based on violence but also in providing services to local community. 8. The mafia boss is the padrone. He looks after the little people. He helps you and when the time comes you support him against his enemies 9. Mafia-style governance flourishes in marginalized (often immigrant) communities where centralized state is distrusted or distant. 10. The mafia boss both provides services (in good times) but can also threaten violence (when things get rough). 11. Ford-as-gangster explains both his style of governance (small favors for those who call), his base (in marginal communities) & loyalty he expects and gets from follower. 12. Loyalty is key to the mafia boss system: you have to stick with the padrone no matter what. 13. “You can’t teach loyalty” — Doug Ford. The Godfather would understand. 14. Rumors about “dirty cops” who did Ford’s bidding are the most troubling thing about Ford story. 15. Mafia governance flourishes where people don’t trust the state — so “dirty cops” have a double function in Ford story. 16. If we take Ford-as-gangster model seriously, then Rob Ford represents much more serious crisis in Canadian politics than people realize 17. The mafia boss stands for “family values” despite his criminality — hence Ford’s strain of social conservatism. The family is all. 17. Ford doesn’t exist in isolation. His family are part of fabric of Canadian conservatism, both provincially and nationally. 18. We have a mafia mayor whose dad was a member of the provincial parliament, whose family friend was until recently cabinet minister. 19. Are we willing to think seriously about the unanswered questions? 20. To what degree has Ford family been shielded over the decades from consequences of their criminality by family connections? 21. How many “dirty cops” does Rob Ford know, and what have they done for him? 22. To what degree has investigation into Ford been hampered by possible “dirty cops” in Toronto Police Department? 23. Will any of the elite political figures who participated in rise of Rob Ford (everyone from John Tory to Harper) be held accountable? 24. We criticize immigrant communities for “no snitching” ethos. What about “no snitching” among the Canadian elite?

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)

 

I did a series of tweets about Leo Strauss, homosociality and homoeroticism. Because people expressed interest in seeing them in one place, I’ve reprinted them (in slightly edited form) below:

1. Trigger warning. I’m starting a twitter-essay on the sexual politics of Leo Strauss.

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Wajeha Al-Howaider

Wajeha Al-Howaider

The Saudi human rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider and her colleague Fawzia Al-Oyouni, who have fought for such causes as the right of women in her country to drive, have been sentenced to 10-months in prison along with a two-year travel ban forbidding them from leaving the country. Their case should be of particular interest to Canadians because their supposed offense was trying to help an Canadian woman Nathalie Morin, who has repeatedly complained about being trapped in abusive marriage in Saudi Arabia.

Katha Pollitt explains the details:

They were accused of kidnapping and trying to help Nathalie Morin, a Canadian woman married to a Saudi, flee the country in June 2011. Morin, who has said her husband locks her in the house and is abusive, has been trying for eight years to leave Saudi Arabia with her three children. (There’s a so-far-unsuccessful campaign, spearheaded by her mother, to get the Canadian government to intervene.) Al-Huwaider says they were responding to a frantic text message from Morin, who said her husband had gone away for a week and left her locked in the house without enough food or drinkable water. When they arrived at the house with groceries, they were arrested.

Both the Morin case and the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case are clear examples of human rights transcending national borders. The group Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) has been doing excellent activism on these cases, pressing the Canadian government to stand up for human rights. Here is the MPV  statement on the Morin case and here is their comments on the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case. Both statements contain a helpful list of government officials to contact. The Pollitt column should also be read in full, as an extremely valuable background report. I’m writing to Thomas MacDonald, Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, about these cases, and would encourage readers of this blog to do the same.
Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he'll accept swarthy grand-kids but won't be happy about it.

Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he’ll accept swarthy grand-kids but won’t be happy about it.

Fifty years ago, Norman Podhoretz wrote a profoundly stupid article called “My Negro Problem – and Ours.” The article was published in Commentary magazine, which is marking the anniversary.

I say “profoundly stupid” advisedly because Podhoretz himself, despite his reprehensible politics, is not a dumb guy. In fact, he’s a gifted editor and polemicist. The article itself is sometimes praised for being an honest attempt to describe the seriousness of racism.

Yet, what other phrase than profoundly stupid can apply to an article that argues that the best solution to racism is miscegenation. At the end of the essay Podhoretz writes:  “I cannot see how [the dream of erasing color consciousness] will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation…. in my opinion the Negro problem can be solved in this country in no other way.”

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The Ezra Klein Generation

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Ezra Klein.

Brian Morton, a fine novelist and engaging public intellectual, recently tweeted: “Leftists should stop sneering at @ezraklein. If we’d had liberal policy wonks as solid as Klein in the 1970s neoconservatism would never have attained the stature that it did. It would have been intellectually checkmated.” These tweets elicited some responses from me and a few other interested parties but my thoughts on this are a bit more complex than can easily be fitted into 140 characters, so I’m posting a longer argument here.

I understand the impulse behind Brian’s tweets. One of the most heartening developments in recent American politics is the emergence of a generation of passionate young left and liberal writers who have been very effective in challenging the lazy hegemony of conservatism that has dominated elite opinion since the 1970s. Ezra Klein is a convenient synecdoche for this generation. To see him go after blowhards like David Brooks or Bob Woodward is a rare example of a witnessing a salutary public service that is also bracing and delightful.

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