Politics is pictures

Conservatives don’t like Justin Trudeau.  They really, really don’t like him.

This writer is a regular on Evan Solomon’s CFRA radio show with Alise Mills and Karl Belanger.  My friends Alise and Karl are articulate and thoughtful advocates (unlike me), and they are prepared to criticize their own political party when it is warranted (like me).

Evan invites us onto his much-listened-to show, we are told, because we don’t just parrot partisan talking points.  There’s too much of that on the airwaves – particularly over at CBC – and Solomon prefers panellists who are prepared to offer the occasional mea culpa.

Alise is (notionally) the Conservative strategist, Karl is (usually) the New Democrat strategist, and I am cast in the role of Liberal strategist (mostly).  One topic, last week: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit with the Philippines’ madman,  Rodrigo Duterte, and whether Trudeau would raise Duterte’s human rights violations.

I vigorously defended Trudeau, and insisted that he would do so (and he did).  On every international excursion, I said, Trudeau has never hesitated to press human rights issues.

Alise, however, was having none of it.  And she was intently focussed on one part of Trudeau’s Philippines visit in particular: the part where Trudeau popped by a fried chicken place in Manila to get something to eat.  He had a lot of cameras in tow, as Prime Ministers usually do.

Trudeau charmed the locals, ordered the chicken, and left.

Alise, however, was mightily unimpressed.  And, if you were to eyeball the offerings of the conservative commentariat – and, inter alia, conservative commenters online – you’ll see she is not alone.  They went bananas about something that seemed quite innocent.

I have pondered all this, and come up with a theory.  Here it is: conservatives know that Justin Trudeau is arguably the best retail politician Canada has had since my former boss, Jean Chretien.  When it comes to glad-handing and baby-balancing, Trudeau is without equal.  When you think about it, you might agree that there isn’t an elected politician alive who is as good at this mano-a-mano stuff as Justin Trudeau.

Now, of course, he overdoes it sometimes.  His Superman stunt on Halloween was, as Mashable noted, “a little bit too self-aware.”  Sniffed Mashable’s guy: “Trudeau is clearly fishing for more media attention, a tactic his administration has used for some time now. While Trudeau may be the darling politician to some, his obvious PR moves are getting old real quick.”

Maybe.  Perhaps.

But if we’re being fair, we have to acknowledge that every politician, everywhere, fishes for media attention.  They all do stunts.  The aforementioned Chretien, for  instance, rode on scooters and water skis.  Trudeau’s Dad did pirouettes.  Bill Clinton donned sunglasses and played the saxophone.  Barack Obama went kitesurfing, mugged with countless kids, and openly loved his wife.

Wait: that’s not “every politician.”  That’s just progressive politicians.

And therein lies the best explanation for Alise’s pique: conservative partisans detest Justin Trudeau because he (like Messrs. Chretien, Clinton, Obama, et al.) is really good at visuals.  And conservative politicians generally aren’t.

Stephen Harper at the Calgary Stampede, dressed up like a wretched Woody in Toy Story.  Robert Stanfield famously fumbling a football.  Joe Clark losing his luggage and walking into a soldier’s bayonet.  And Blandy Scheer, who just last week released a commercial – innovatively titled “I’m Andrew Scheer” – that was so bad, and so fundamentally weird, you half expect David Lynch to appear in it, too, holding an owl and a log and talking backwards.

Conservatives aren’t very good at photo ops.  They just aren’t.  Watch Donald Trump, the Mango Mussolini, the next time he is compelled to shake someone’s extended hand in the Rose Garden.  He usually looks at it like it is a wet dog turd – or, conversely, he latches onto it like a barnacle on the underside of a barge.  It makes for fun television.

Conservatives, in their tiny black hearts, know this about themselves. Distilled down to its base elements, their ideology is misanthropy.  So, they avoid interactions with other humans wherever and whenever possible.

Trudeau, meanwhile, doesn’t.  It’s the one thing he’s really good at.

And that’s why conservatives hate him when he does selfies and baby-balancing and cheery photo ops.

They wish they could do that stuff, too, and they’re jealous.

Apple iBooks calls Recipe For Hate one of the “best books” of the month!


Apple iBooks has called Recipe For Hate one of the top books of November 2017 – and offered up this review:

It’s the late ’70s and the Ramones are defining a new kind of American rock. In Portland’s underground punk scene, a group of teens experience a defining moment of their own when two of their friends are murdered by Nazis. Recipe for Hate throws readers right into the moshpit of it all. Though the book’s themes are heavy, it’s a fast-paced read with well-drawn characters. This incredibly timely novel–inspired by real-life events–trains a keen eye on the hidden dynamics within subcultures and ask big questions about the nature of justice.

First Quill and Quire, then Publisher’s Weekly, then School Library Journal, now this.  I am somewhat stunned (Lisa will tell you I’m always stunned) and immensely grateful.

Like, wow.

Henry Rollins worked with Charles Manson

That headline isn’t clickbait.  It’s the truth.

This revelation first came out about seven years ago, but I missed it.  In the wake of Manson’s (deserved, overdue) death, it has come out again: Henry Rollins produced an album with Charles Manson.

In the punk scene, there were always some idiots around who idolized murderers.  Sid Vicious, for example, stabbed his girlfriend to death, but he still has a big following.  The Subhumans’ Gerry Useless served time for being part of a gang that bombed people, but some punks think that’s a-okay.  And don’t get me started on the punks – like Johnny Rotten – who thought it was fine to wear swastikas, the very symbol of mass murder.

As the guy who first brought (pre-Rollins) Black Flag to Calgary, I cannot tell you how disappointed and revulsed I am by the news that Henry Rollins – someone I always considered thoughtful – would collaborate on anything with Charles Manson.  But he did.

As I always tell my kids: never have heroes.  They always fucking let you down.


The launch launched!

And it was a fun one. The Mayor and his amazing wife came, media luminaries like Stephen Maher were in attendance, and political stars – like former MP Paul Zed and York Region’s Loralea Carruthers – partied it up.

Lots of copies of Recipe For Hate and SFH Kinda Suck were sold, and Lisa even came onstage to provide backing vocals. Wish I had a photo of that.

Dundurn’s Kendra Martin told me the book had been written up in Postmedia, and it had been, below.

A fun night until BJORN’s arm checked out during Vomit. Wish you’d been there!

“The names have been changed to protect the guilty.”

Warren Kinsella mentions this more than once when discussing his first novel, Recipe for Hate, revealing its existence in a strange literary zone between fact and fiction.

Based in Portland, Maine, during the late 1970s, the YA murder-mystery tells the story of a group of young punk rockers who find themselves at risk after two friends are brutally murdered. It exposes a ring of neo-Nazis and the early rumblings of a hate movement that began to appear in fledging punk scenes across North America during that period.

So, yes, it’s fiction. But there’s plenty of truth running throughout. Kinsella, a Toronto-based lawyer, musician and political commentator once known as the “Prince of Darkness” for his days as an aggressive strategist in Liberal war rooms, has also carved out a reputation in the past few decades as one of Canada’s foremost experts on Canada’s far-right hate groups.

He was also a punk rocker in the late 1970s, having played in the pioneering Calgary punk band The Hot Nasties in a music scene that was very reminiscent of the Portland backdrop he has created for Recipe of Hate.

And finally, he was a summer student at the Calgary Herald in the mid-1980s, which is where he came across the inspiration for a shadowy figure who becomes central to Recipe of Hate.

Kinsella doesn’t reveal much more about this real-life character, only to say that he was not able to write about him for various reasons while a summer student. To reveal much more would be a spoiler for his novel.

“It stuck in my craw for the succeeding 30 years and it became the centre of Recipe of Hate,” says Kinsella, in an interview from his office in Toronto. “Recipe of Hate really got it start in the Herald newsroom.”

The author is a little more specific when it comes to other real-life events or characters that inspired the novel. Kinsella’s 1994 national bestseller, Web of Hate: Inside Canada’s Far Right Network, was a wake-up call for Canadians that charted a growing and highly organized hate movement in this country. It was based, at least partially, on work that Kinsella began as a young reporter at the Herald and, later, the Ottawa Citizen.

In Recipe for Hate, there are acts of violence based on real events Kinsella researched for his non-fiction work. The killing of a talk-show host is based on the 1984 murder of Alan Berg, who was assassinated by members of the white nationalist group The Order in Denver. Another passage in Recipe of Hate was based on a 1990 incident in Edmonton involving members of the Aryan Nation attacking broadcaster Keith Rutherford on his front lawn.

“There’s a whole series of events within the book that was based upon things that really happened,” he says.

That includes details about Calgary’s punk scene, even if they are transported to Portland. He even uses the names of actual bands from Cowtown’s early punk scene, including The Social Blemishes and Hot Nasties, two bands that Kinsella played in back in the 1970s.

A passage where protagonist Kurt Blank meets the Clash’s Joe Strummer also came from a real-life meeting between the legendary punk-rocker and Kinsella in Vancouver. Gary’s, an old biker bar that is central to the book’s plot, is based on the early punk-rock bar The Calgarian; while the high school in the novel is based on Calgary’s Bishop Carroll.

Also key to Recipe of Hate is a period in the history of punk when some of the racist attitudes being embraced in Britain began to infiltrate scenes in smaller cities. Before that, the punk scene, at least in Calgary, “really was the United Nations,” Kinsella says.

“We had Rasta guys, we had skinheads who were into reggae culture, we had gay kids, overweight kids, socialist kids, art students from (Alberta College of Art,)” he says. “Everybody got along. There were no fights. It was wonderful. It was around ’78 and ’79, just after they went to the dark side in Britain with the British movement and the National Front that the skinheads we knew in Calgary, who had previously been these great guys and had black friends, the vast majority of them became neo-Nazis. That’s why the Hot Nasties packed it in. We just got sick of the fights. It was ridiculous.”

Still, Kinsella said he wanted to move the action to Portland for the same reason he wanted to try fiction writing in the first place: to write something unlike anything he had written before.

“I had done Web of Hate on racism on the right; I had done Unholy Alliances about extremism on the left. I had written books about politics. I did a book on punk rock,” Kinsella says. “I had these filaments, these threads that I wanted to stitch together in a single book. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could do this.”

Recipe of Hate is now in stores.

Media roundup: neo-Nazi rag gets charged for promoting hate

Best part of yesterday: our kids said they’re proud of us.  Second-best part: Andrew brought his months-old son into the office.

But it was a wonderful day, and a long time in coming.  As we said in our press release, we are immensely grateful to Bernie Farber, Richard Warman, Len Rudner, Mark Freiman, Karen Mock, Evan Balgord, Avi Benlolo and our STAMP and Daisy colleagues – as well the legal teams at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre,  B’nai Brith and CIJA.  Those folks did the heavy lifting.

It was a historic day, too: for the first time in Canadian history, charges have been laid for promoting hatred against women.  It’s happened before when the victims were Jews, or gays, or non-whites.  It’s never before happened when the “identifiable group” was women.  Having seen how hard my feminist wife pushed the police on that – as far back as early 2016 – I think she deserves the credit for making a bit of Canadian legal history.  In the Weinstein et al. era, too, it is long overdue.

Now, the hard part begins.  Section 319 requires the approval of the Attorney-General, and is used very infrequently – as it should be.  The state’s criminal law power should be used only sparingly, and only in the most extreme cases.  This is one such case.  The trials are going to be long and tough, however.

Thanks to all of you for the kind words of support.  Thanks, too, to Toronto’s media, who have been diligent and factual on the Your Ward News saga.  Here, for your elucidation, is a roundup of some of the better coverage.

  • Canadaland: The best summary of the myriad legal cases, by Evan, is here.
  • CITY-TV: You know who has been the best at covering this neo-Nazi rag?  CITY.  By far – Cristina in particular, here.
  • CBC: Featuring a fetching photo of Lisa, here.
  • Globe: Patrick White focuses a bit more on the “free speec”(hate propaganda isn’t “speech,” FYI) angle, here.
  • Star: The Star folks have been covering this story diligently from the start, as seen here.
  • Yahoo News: Good report on the various legal actions, here.
  • Global: Solid report, here.
  • Sun: Great Warmington report – one of the first – here.