State of Affairs 2009 Blog Wrap-Up

31 Dec

December 31st; according to our widely-accepted calendar, in twelve short hours we will see 2009 out the door and into the annals of history, where it will join the countless other years in our culture’s past that weren’t really all that important. Of course that’s not true – every year is important to somebody, regardless whether anything particularly noteworthy went on in the grand scale. For example: 2009 will always hold a special place in my heart as the year my literary genius was finally recognized – on June 15th of this year I started writing for State of Affairs, and by July 23rd, Jim stepped down as head writer and handed me the reins. Since then our readership has grown into the hundreds and even thousands per day, and the success of the blog has allowed me to make inroads into new and exciting projects for the coming year.

But you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from, and with that in mind, I’m doing something a little different for the State of Affairs “Goodbye 2009” post: I’d like to take a look back over the biggest stories I’ve covered this year and see how they turned out by year’s end. Some call it a blog round-up: I call it nostalgia. Some might argue that nostalgia for something that happened six months ago is kind of misnamed: I answer that my short-term memory is as efficient as that of your average goldfish, and therefore I’m nostalgic for last week.

But I digress. Without further ado, the official State of Affairs 2009 Blog Wrap-Up:

Jasmine MacDonnell: Where Is She Now?

Ah, my first SoA article. For those who’ve forgotten, government aide Jasmine MacDonnell was fired from her position after losing some critical paperwork entrusted to her by her boss, Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt. Not just critical paperwork, mind, but also a taped conversation in which Raitt audibly disparages another Minister. And MacDonnell didn’t just leave it anywhere: she left it at CTV headquarters. Man, even after all this time the sheer spectacularly stupidity of that move makes me laugh.

But you know what’s even funnier? Hot on the heels of her dismissal for gross negligence, she was snapped up by Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien. Her new job? Communications director.

You know, my intent was to make witty and insightful comments about each of these stories as I went along, but this one I’m going to leave alone – there is literally nothing I could say to make you connect your palms squarely with your foreheads any faster or with any more gape-mouthed disbelief than this story already does. Politics: Fail Upward.

And speaking of failing upwards…

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Where Is He Now?

Still in Iran, unfortunately, and still riling feathers in the international community. The President “Elect”, who has been in power since 2005, was “reelected” by “popular vote” in June of 2009. You’ll notice my use of quotation marks to denote my extreme sarcasm. Fact is there’s little doubt that the runner-up, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would likely have won the election if it had been remotely fair. The constant protests in the Iranian community both in Iran proper and the world over (including here in Toronto) suggests that old Ahmadinejad isn’t as popular as his handlers would have us believe. In fact, he’s kind of a dick.

Case in point: when Mousavi lost the election, he went back to his old job as Director of the Iranian Academy of Arts, a position he’s held since 1998. Not good enough for Our Man Mahmoud, though – he modified the IAA charter to allow the president (also known as himself) to personally choose who would fill the role of Director. As soon as the charter change passed, Mousavi was out on his ass, replaced by a well-known Iranian writer who likes to wax poetic on the greatness of Iran as represented by the so-called Sacred Defense (or the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war).

Oh, and if that weren’t enough, there’s the whole Nuclear Thing. Operating under extreme international suspicion, Ahmadinejad has consistently lobbied for Iran’s rights to nuclear energy, proclaiming over and over that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful, while at the same time making bold statements about Iran’s refusal to bow to American “threats of aggression” and pretty much making it clear to the world at large that he’ll do what he good and damn well pleases with his uranium. The international community can, quite politely, go fuck itself.

Yeah, because that’s the right way to win friends, Mahmoud. Rig elections, piss off the Americans, and threaten everybody with thinly-veiled promises of war and weaponized uranium. In case you’ve forgotten, you might want to check out this wiki to remind yourself what happened to the last guy who followed your line of thinking. I’m no supporter of war, but before you call down the thunder with your blustering and your bullshit, you really ought to think of your people first – the people you claim to represent. You’re not the one who’s going to have American bombs dropping on your head – they are. So before you start strutting around the international sandbox like you’re Cock of the Walk, give your head a shake and think about what’s going to happen to the average Iranian if the Americans decide you have Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden up your ass. Just sayin’.

And speaking of controversial politicians…

Nicolas Sarkozy: Where Is He Now?

I never got so much hate mail and flak as I did for the original burqa post. Seriously, it was a step away from death threats, just because I purported to put women’s rights higher in the pecking order than religious freedom, and because I expressed some support towards French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s desire to ban the stupid things from France entirely. Now, after conversing with some of my Correspondents, I decided to write a partial retraction – something I’ve never done before – because I realized banning burqas outright was just as much a defamation of women’s rights as making everyone wear them. Rights and freedoms are about choice, and if you take away a choice in the name of freedom, You’re Doing It Wrong.

Well, unfortunately, old Nic didn’t learn the same lesson I did from the original debacle. Speaking for Sarkozy’s party, leader Jean Francois Cope laid out the preliminary legislation that will outlaw the full burqa from France entirely: they justify this move by calling it “a law of liberation and not a ban”.

Eek. Look guys. Your people have been through enough in history to know better than to start using rhetoric like “law of liberation”. The argument could be made that a “law of liberation” was the impetus behind the blitzkrieg and subsequent occupation of France by the Nazis. Any law that says “you’re going to live this way because we say so” doesn’t liberate shit. In fact, it’s directly contrary to the etymology of the word.
Let me be completely clear: I disagree fundamentally with the elements of any culture that actively promote marginalization of any group. To me, as an outsider, the burqa is an expression of female subservience, and I find it repugnant in a modern culture. However. It is not my place to go out into the world and tell people how to live their lives, nor is it the place of a government to dictate those terms either, no matter how much we might want to. So to the Sarkozy government I say: watch where you tread, because you’re standing at the cusp of a very slippery slope. If burqas are successfully banned, how long before you stop allowing religion? And what happens after that? I know it sounds a little tinfoil-hat, but you have to consider the implications of your actions today, or you might find yourself ass-deep in crocodiles tomorrow.

See, guys like Sarkozy and Ahmadinejad are controversial for all the wrong reasons. If you absolutely must be controversial, why not do it in a fun, entertaining, “I-can’t-believe-he-did-that” kind of way? That way, you might someday aspire to being as cool as…

Silvio Berlusconi: Where Is He Now?

Still running Italy, and still being a Goddamned rock star while he’s at it.

I can’t help but love this man, folks. I know he’s probably a criminal (almost definitely), I know he’s a shameless philanderer, and I know he’s got all the social graces of a drunk ape from Marrakesh. But he’s single-handedly given me more blogging material this year than any other political figure, up to and including Barack Obama (though the American president is peripherally involved in my favourite Berlusconi story of the year). The first time I took notice of old Silvio was when he was charged by his own government for failing to report the presence of millennia-old catacombs under his estate (oh, and he was cheating on his wife with a prostitute around the same time). His name came up again when he made headlines for openly hitting on every woman at the G8 conference, up to and including First Lady Michelle Obama (which is where Barack comes in – go look at the picture in that article, it’s gold). Throughout all of this, his approval rating started to waver in Italy’s more conservative neighbourhoods, but when he was recently assaulted by a crazy person wielding a big statue (yeah, a statue) his get-up-and-go attitude (he was back to work in no time) shot his approval ratings right back into the stratosphere again.

It may have helped that he recently decided to change the lyrics to his party’s anthem. First of all, how cool is it that political parties in Italy have their own theme songs? And second of all, how indescribably awesome is it that Berlusconi’s anthem featured the refrain “Thank God Silvio Exists”? I’m not making that up. In light of his wavering support, he decided to alter the lyrics to “Thank God We [the Freedom Party] Exist”, which isn’t nearly as hilarious as the first refrain, but probably makes a little more sense from a political standpoint – believe me when I tell you that nobody likes an egotist (except, apparently, my readers).

I still haven’t heard from any of my Italian readers regarding their honest thoughts on Silvio, but I’d really like to hear them. I can’t get enough of this guy, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll be seeing him in this blog again before his term is out.

Second only to Uncle Berlu in terms of blog material this year was the much-maligned…

TTC: What Is It This Time?

My city’s transit commission has come under serious fire this year, most notably for hiking their fares in response to a huge deficit for the 2009 fiscal year. The fare hike was undecided at the time I wrote my original article, but it’s since been approved and will be pushed through come January. In the meantime, all TTC installations have limited the sale of tokens and tickets down to almost nothing to prevent people from stockpiling before the hike goes into effect tomorrow, and despite the decision to drop student metropass prices and lower the originally-drafted hike on adult passes, Torontonians have yet to forgive and forget.

Case in point: I came across this blog today – based on the tone the writer took and the vast majority of comments left on his article, I think it’s safe to say my community has yet to understand where our money is going when we shell out monthly for our transit needs. While I tend to agree with one of the commenters who accused Toronto residents of having “train envy” (it’s not fair to compare the TTC to the New York transit system due to the disparity in government funding between the two cities), I’m still pretty jacked up about the whole thing. My livelihood depends on my ability to get back and forth to the Compound every day, and when I can’t rely on the city’s transit to get me where I need to go in a relatively timely manner, it sticks in my craw when they charge me more money for the same sub-par service year in and year out. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see whether the price increase in 2010 will help address the crippling issues of an outdated transit system, or whether we’ll just be fed the same shit with a different spoon, but frankly I’m not holding out a great deal of hope. Much as a New Year is representative of a fresh start, it’s still just numbers on a calendar, and the more things change, the more things tend to stay the same.

I’ve got to give the TTC a bit of credit, though; just hours after I posted my blog about the controversy surrounding the possible advertising partnership with adulterous dating site Ashley Madison, the proposal was unilaterally turned down by the TTC’s governing body. To be honest, I don’t mind paying a little more each month if it means we don’t have to sell our souls to morally reprehensible organizations in the interest of garnering advertising revenue – I might be a son-of-a-bitch sometimes, but even I have limits as to how far my pragmatism extends, and that would have been beyond the pale even for me. You have to take the good with the bad, I guess.

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like the bad outweighs the good.

Christopher Skinner: Murder Still Unsolved

A few months ago I posted what I can only describe as a public service announcement. I urged my readers to support a police initiative to find and apprehend the men who assaulted Toronto resident Christopher Skinner and then ran him down with their SUV. As of that writing the case was unsolved, and nobody seemed to be coming forward. Unfortunately very little headway has been made in the case, prompting Skinner’s friends and family to offer a $50,000 reward to anyone providing information to police that leads to the apprehension of his killers. There’s more to this blog, I like to think, than dick and fart jokes – this issue is near and dear to my heart, and once again I’ll go on record asking any of my readers with any information to come forward and help these poor people get the justice Skinner deserves. A man is dead for no good reason, and his killers walk the streets to this day. That is inexcusable. I will continue to follow this story to its conclusion: a conclusion I sincerely hope involves these men facing a court of law and spending the rest of their days ruminating on their crime in a penitentiary. I don’t normally take this serious a stance on anything, but this one hits home for me, my friends – and I hope it hits home for you too.

On the topic of injustice…

Dan Choi: Jury’s Still Out

I wrote an extensive article some time ago about the plight of American Army lieutenant Dan Choi, an Arabic-language specialist and Iraq veteran ousted from his job with the National Guard thanks to the Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Simply put, Lt. Choi made the “mistake” of publicly coming out of the closet as a gay man, and despite his exemplary service record and the efforts of thousands of military servicemen and civilians, the Guard suspended him from duty. Unfortunately, the political climate in the United States still leans towards the archaic idea that gay people aren’t really people and therefore should be denied certain “inalienable rights” – one of which, apparently, is the opportunity to serve and quite possibly die for their country.

I’ve got a really big stick up my ass about this issue, friends, and in the interest of making this blog more than just the aforementioned vehicle for dick and fart jokes, I brought as much publicity to this issue as I was able, because to be completely frank – it’s bullshit, the whole thing. I said at the time and it bears repeating now: Lt. Choi’s fellow soldiers didn’t give a rat’s ass about who he goes to bed with, and neither should we. It’s hard enough for the American military machine to keep up appearances in the Middle East – it’s widely accepted the war in Iraq is unconscionable, if not downright illegal, and yet these brave men and women are still signing up to go fight for the red, white and blue – and the military has the unmitigated gall to say “yes, we need people to go support our war, but not if they’re shifty faggots”? Get your goddamn priorities straight.

The jury is still out on whether or not Lt. Choi will maintain his position in the Guard, and the good people over at the Courage Campaign are doing everything they can to raise awareness about this and related cases the nation over. If you feel as strongly as I do about this, I’d urge you to go take a look at their website and sign up for their mailing list – even if you aren’t an American citizen, every petition you sign and every positive move forward you support will indicate to the U.S. military that perhaps it’s time to join the rest of us in the 21st century. At the end of that century’s first decade, I’d say it’s well past due for that to happen.

Unfortunately, this decade has been defined largely by war, but even more unfortunate is the fact that our international media tends to deliver news to us in such a way as we’re inclined to forget that war is more than just policy and troop movements and dictatorial replacements: it’s extremely personal and it affects almost everyone through six degrees of separation. Nothing brings that point home more clearly than this:

Veterans: Why We Should Care

The day after Veteran’s Day, I came across an infuriating article in which key members of the American Veteran’s Association poo-hoo’d Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Iraq veterans as fiction. Their reasoning, as I mentioned in my article, essentially boiled down to two constituent elements: one, the veterans returning from the Middle East were simply too young and too green to have legitimate claim to PTSD; and two, if only the troops had more faith in God and America, they wouldn’t be suffering from the disorder in the first place. As you might imagine, I was a little put off by the tone of those statements (if by “put out” I mean “homicidally enraged”, which I do). I wrote a scathing retributive piece railing against these sentiments, and was shortly after contacted by Paul Sullivan, former analyst for the Veteran’s Benefits Administration, who quit his job in 2006 to form Veterans for Common Sense, a civilian organization based in Washington, dedicated to exposing the poor treatment of Iraq vets under the previous administration. Mr. Sullivan sent me considerable information on VCS and their mission, and informed me of an upcoming nationally-televised interview hosted by CBS which will delve deeply into the issues VCS is trying to address. I’m going to be watching it, and you should too.

To Finish (Finally)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last seven months writing for SoA, it’s about responsibility. It’s all well and good for me to sit on my little laptop at the Compound writing clever repartee about world events or social trends and editing cute pictures with borderline-offensive captions, but sooner or later I have to realize that by writing about these issues, I’m taking a stand. I’m marrying myself to a certain journalistic integrity I didn’t expect when I started this project. I figured it would be enough to be funny and entertaining to my precious few readers.

Well, apparently, it’s not.

Over the last seven months, I’ve received critical commentary and reader feedback on almost everything I’ve written. Often they’ve agreed with me, but just as often they’ve taken issue with one or more of the arguments I’ve made, either due to a lack of research on my part, or else a simple case of disagreement with the fundamental standpoint. And suddenly, just like that, I’m responsible to my readership – responsible for making sure I’ve got my facts straight, for sticking to my principles in the face of public opinion, and yes – for maintaining writing and illustrations that are enjoyable and immersive. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that a lot more people are coming to see me day-to-day than I ever thought possible, and with that increased publicity comes an increased sense that what I’m doing is a hell of a lot more serious than I thought it was.

So as we leave behind the first decade of the 2000s, this blog will continue to grow, expand and develop – not only as a platform for entertainment, but hopefully as a bastion of reason and principle in an increasingly-saturated medium. I said it on Christmas and I’ll say it again: thank you all for reading. I consider your interest an honour, and I will do everything in my power to live up to the high expectations you’ve come to attribute to State of Affairs. Keep coming back; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Well, that was pretty heavy-handed for New Years Eve, wasn’t it? Here, let me try to lighten the mood.

Dick, fart, bums, breasts, people falling down.

Okay, that’s better.

Now go have a drink and ring in the best decade yet. Make sure you have one for me; best believe I’ll have one for you.

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