Thursday, April 23, 2009

De Stultitiis

Well now...

The Government of Alberta recently embarked upon the project of finding a new slogan for the province. It duly settled upon "Alberta: Freedom to create. Spirit to achieve," which is probably decent enough as provincial slogans go, since it creates warm cuddly feelings without conveying any information whatsoever beyond the name of the place. This slogan has duly been plastered all over pictures of charming-looking scenery, such as this one (click it to see larger version):

Lovely, no? The problem, of course, is that the scenery in that picture isn't in Alberta. Nor is it in Canada. In fact, it's not even on this particular continent. In fact, that's the coast of the North Sea, in Northumberland, England. It's not far from Bamburgh Castle, as shown on the map below.

Now, what makes this particularly funny is that the government PR types, when queried about this little problem, chose not to simply say "Oops, our bad." Instead, they trotted out the "I meant to do that" defense. From Paula Simon's column about it in the Edmonton Journal:

"'This slide represents Albertans' concern for the future of the world,' Olga Guthrie, manager of the brand initiative for Alberta's public affairs bureau, wrote..."

and later:

"'There's no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta,' says Tom Olsen, the premier's director of media relations. 'There's no attempt to mislead. That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do.'"

Yeesh. Yeah, slapping the province's shiny new slogan onto a picture of some countryside has no chance at all of making the casual viewer believe that it's a picture of Alberta. I say again, "Yeesh."

However, it occurs to me that we could have some fun with this. So, kiddies, get out your crayons, and let's make some Alberta tourism posters! Like this one, which subtly reminds the viewer of the vastness of the Alberta prairie:

Or how about this one, which takes us a bit further afield?:

Or this?:

So go to it, and have fun!

UPDATE: The Alberta government has now in fact issued a straightforward apology for the mix-up.

Now then, turning our attention to a much more malignant and serious bit of stupidity. Warning!: This next section deals with a Michael Coren column! Once you've read it, you won't be able to un-read it. For those of you unfamiliar with Michael Coren, he's a columnist for the Sun Media chain, and also hosts some sort of talk show. In terms of his political beliefs, he resides within easy hailing distance of the folks who get together every April 20th to sing the "Horst-Wessel-Lied." Prior to what we're about to examine, my "favourite" Michael Coren piece was the one in which he pitched a whiny, passive-aggressive, fit because the Muslims portrayed in Little Mosque on the Prairie weren't murderous enough for him.

We're a bit late to the dance with this one, as it's already been pounded on here, here, and here, to name but three examples. Anyway, here's what Mr. Coren vomited forth in his Sun column last Saturday, about the death due to enemy action in Afghanistan of Trooper Karine Blais, 12e Régiment Blindé du Canada (Coren's words are in italics, with my comments in normal script):

So Canada sacrifices another victim on the altar of equality.

Last week a young girl dressed up as a soldier died in the increasingly futile and pointless war in Afghanistan. She was 21 years old, had been in the country for two weeks on her first tour of duty and probably weighed a little over 100 pounds.

"Dressed up as a soldier," hmmm? Methinks, after that crack, that Mr. Coren should keep his head up the next time he's in Valcartier.

Please know that I mean no disrespect to Karine Blais or to her family and I grieve for her and them. But what on earth was she doing in such a place and in such a job?

What she was doing was serving her country. And the notion that Coren "mean[s] no disrespect" is, as we say, stercus equinum. The entire thesis and purpose of this column is explicit disrespect for Trooper Blais, and every other female Canadian soldier.

Look at the photograph of this beautiful girl. Look at the innocence, the gentleness, the grace. All of them precious aspects to the human character. So when I say that she was "dressed up as a soldier" I mean it as a compliment. I've known soldiers all of my life and I have an invincible respect for them. I've seen their courage, integrity and sheer decency.

And with that we pass through some sort of event horizon of assholery. Having sneered about "a young girl dressed up as a soldier," Coren now tries to cover his rear end by claiming that he meant it in a good way.

I've also seen their capacity for controlled and righteous violence, which is absolutely essential for any fighting man. Yes, man. Because there are few if any women who have the skills required to serve as a front-line combat trooper.

This is true, but only because there are very few people of any gender who have the skills required for combat.

Yes, yes, yes, I know it's fundamentally anti-Canadian to say this but I'd prefer to articulate the views of the silent majority than hide behind some modernist fetish that places more importance on the myth of absolute equality than the safety of a girl who should be laughing with college friends rather than fighting theocratic madmen.

For those of us familiar with Coren' oeuvre, the thought of him calling anybody a "theocratic madman" is more than just a little bit ironic. Oh, and if you believe for one second that Michael Coren thinks women should have the right to attend college, then I've got a stretch of North Sea coast in Alberta that I'd like to sell you.

Can we really imagine for a moment that if a group of Taliban tribesmen rushed a trench or an encampment this poor young woman could fight them off, could deal with the thrusts of their long knives and heavy clubs? Do we seriously think that the men in the unit would not risk their own lives to protect a pretty young girl who was inevitably being beaten to the ground by salivating killers?

This is the stupidest paragraph in the entire column, and that's saying something. First of all, yes, the men, and women, of the unit would certainly come to the aid of one of their own, male or female, who was in difficulty. They would do this thing because they are soldiers. Secondly, I do rather think that Trooper Blais could have dealt with knife- and/or club-wielding attackers (salivating or otherwise), probably by using one of these:

That is a C7A1 Assault Rifle. It is capable of emptying a 30-round magazine in a little over two seconds, and is going to represent a serious obstacle for anyone who attacks the wielder with medieval weaponry, whether or not said wielder is female. What killed Trooper Blais (and has, I believe, accounted for the majority of the Canadian casualties in Afghanistan) was a roadside bomb, and those don't generally discriminate on the basis of gender.

The very reason we have various weight categories for all forms of organized fighting is that whatever the training, a pugilist's weight and muscle bulk give an advantage to the heavier combatant.

Once again, NATO forces in Afghanistan have guns. So do the Taliban. If you're strong enough to pick a gun up and point it somebody, then it doesn't matter if you're Charles Atlas. And why is Coren so obsessed with the idea that the fighting in Afghanistan is mostly hand-to-hand? Does he think this is a repeat of the Third Crusade? On second thought, don't answer that...

More than this, even contrived cultural denial should not prevent us from admitting that the death of a daughter or a wife is different from that of a son or a husband. Women nurture, give birth, care in a way that is unique. Quite simply, they are different from men.

And here we have the ago-old little paternalistic argument against women taking part in such strenuous pursuits as soldiering, policing, fire-fighting, sports, and voting. It's an argument that is still sadly trotted out by people like Michael Coren and, well, the Taliban.

If captured, of course, such a woman would be repeatedly raped. And tortured. Again, I'm not meant to say this. Not Canadian, not CBC, not Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not the sort of thing we're supposed to feel, so we pretend that men and women in the army, police and fire service are given the same tests and have to fulfil the same requirements. Yet truth still breaks through.

Yes. And the truth that has broken out of this situation is this: Trooper Karine Blais, a competent, brave, qualified, and capable soldier, died in the service of her country. Period. I'm not going to get into debate about the worthiness or lack thereof of the Afghanistan mission here, as I think it's a moot point for the purpose of dissecting Coren's column. And, by the way, it wouldn't be a Michael Coren column without some gratuitous sniping at the CBC.

We rightly condemn Islamic extremists in Afghanistan because they treat women so badly. Then we allow one of our own to give her life so that we can congratulate ourselves on how liberal and egalitarian we are, lie about how gender difference don't [sic] matter and then encourage our generals and politicians to obscure the truth on television about soldiers and causes.

What hypocrites we have become. Poor, poor Karine -- this is not the way it should have been.

You and your country deserved better.

And, in closing, Coren turns the "Sanctimony" knob up to 11. He really is a world-class twerp.

Our deepest sincere condolences to the family and friends of Trooper Blais, and of the other 116 Canadians who have died in Afghanistan to date.


Chorus said...


You're absolutely right; what has been read cannot be un-read.


But actually, I can understand the picture choice for the Alberta slogan. I mean, after all, it's not like we live in a province that has any... beautiful... choose... from.... AAAAAAARGH.

Stealthy Dachshund said...

And I do hope they got the releases signed by the parents of those two children in the picture... unless it's a 'shop.

Crimson Rambler said...

with regard to the Michael Coren section ... you are incomparable, I've always thought so ;-)

Chunklets said...

Hurrah! The "Alberta picture" story has made the BBC!