Rick Salutin

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Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Globe and Mail.

Is Stephen Harper a Straussian?

I'm talking political philosophy here, not Viennese waltzes. People keep asking why Stephen Harper acts as he does, it looks so buttheaded. He seems to muck up his own prospects: firing decent people, lashing out, raising the partisan rhetoric, proroguing Parliament haughtily, binging on military toys, mauling the census -- he's a bright boy, it's hard to figure.

I used to favour a theory of political Tourette's, the kind portrayed by Robert Redford in 1972's The Candidate. You suppress your political ideals for the sake of electability as long as you can; then the buildup leads to random outbursts. But there's another explanation: Straussianism.


Opportunity knocks for the next economics idol

So there's really no new model for how to run this economy, and nobody's even, I think, thinking about that question, much less an answer."

-Doug Henwood, of Left Business Observer, on The Real News Network


The G20's symbolic violence

This week's mass processing inside (and outside) a Toronto courthouse helped clarify June's Jailapalooza festival during the G20, the largest mass arrest in our history. Of 1,100 detained, all but 227 had the charges dropped or were never charged. Most had no links to burning police cars or battered bank machines. They were picked up while protesting peacefully or looking on.

Why? Police say they wanted to prevent recurrences, after the dramatic events. Some intimate they were embarrassed by criticisms of their earlier inaction, and overreacted. Why had police gone missing at the crucial time? There's been no clear answer. One possibility: to justify the vaulting security costs via shocking images of violence.


Harkening back to Champlain's immigration policy

Americans gripped by immigration and ethnicity issues should glance for perspective at the large print on the base of the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor ... Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me ... Canadians with similar anxieties about immigrants and refugees -- categories that were often historically identical -- should think about Samuel de Champlain, who founded our country in the early 1600s.


Focus on the census shows Canadians won't take Harper's bait

Mario Laguë, Michael Ignatieff's communications director, died Thursday in a motorcycle accident on his way to work. I hadn't heard of him till this week, when a memo he wrote to MPs made its way into the press. I found it prescient on our current politics and especially this summer's surprising focus on the census. It was about "not taking the bait."


Conrad Black's inner child

Black's Bad Boy: My stab at what got Conrad Black through a prison stretch isn't his arrogance or sense of rectitude. It's his not-so-inner child, an eternal boyishness. You hear it in the piece he wrote last weekend for the National Post. It has a sense of adventure with an improbably happy ending; it could have come out of the Boy's Own Annual, which I can picture him reading, absorbing the Dickensian stylistics. (He's always been a Victorian figure, which helps explain his choice of British lordship over Canadian citizenship.)


Maury Chaykin's irreplaceable madness

Maury Chaykin died this week on his 61st birthday. Some obits called him a character actor. It's basically a film-TV term -- where Maury mostly worked -- as opposed to star. Another term is supporting actor versus leading man. It's a shame he didn't do more stage work, where physical typing isn't as great. I once wrote a play on the Montreal Canadiens; a sports type who met the actor cast as Rocket Richard said, "You can't have a fat Rocket!" But you can and we did. Maury was a beautiful guy in his prime but not a typical movie lead; yet he'd have made a great Lear or Prospero. Asked by Jian Ghomeshi for a role he felt he'd nailed, Maury joked, "Hamlet," making you think it may have been on his wish list.


Canadian government adopts America's fear economy

Since the Second World War, the U.S. economy has been built around what you might call the fear sector: its military-industrial complex, its crime-prison complex and its homeland-terror complex. We're now seeing the first attempt by a Canadian government to follow this model.

In the U.S., the military portion has been the healthiest (economically speaking). It made weapons the government could sell abroad and employed a work force with unions that were able to bargain medical and other insurance, taking pressure off governments to provide those. Its budget is 43 per cent of what the rest of the world spends militarily and as high in the Obama era as before.


Michael Ignatieff receives a lesson in humility

Political reality has been giving Michael Ignatieff a lesson in humility, and he needed it.

This is a guy who's spent much time, since moving back from the U.S., telling us what kind of guy he is, as if we need to know. ("I made a very calculated decision that I am the guy I am.") He spent the 1990s with his career on a steep rise. He acquired a heady podium in The New York Times, became chair of Harvard's human-rights school and regularly explained reality to Michael Enright on CBC Radio.


Cosmogony of the Gulf spill: The world is ours as we are the world's

Writing in The Guardian on the Gulf spill as a "hole in the world," Naomi Klein says: "Virtually all indigenous cultures have myths about gods and spirits living in the natural world. ... Calling the Earth ‘sacred' is another way of expressing humility in the face of forces we do not fully comprehend. When something is sacred, it demands that we proceed with caution." I'd like to extend this intriguing thought beyond smallish surviving cultures to most of the history of thought about the nature of the world and our place in it.

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