Howard Dean: interesting blip. Some time after the momentous free-trade election of 1988, I chatted with a proud conservative about how, midway through that campaign, it seemed likely that the Liberals, under John Turner, would rout the Mulroney Tories and turn back the mighty tide of globalization. It didn’t happen, and now it is as if the whole thing never was. It made me feel that the most stirring moments in history were probably interesting blips — largely unknown due to their blipness. Howard Dean has been inducted into this realm. You could see it in a New York Times piece headed, “So What Was THAT About?”

What is inspiring in such movements is not that they draw millions of people out of their normal political isolation to defy entrenched power by supporting relatively radical alternatives. It is rather that people manage to challenge the ideas entrenched in their own heads about what is best for them. It is a noble effort because questioning those ideas means questioning themselves and, as a result, doubt is always a step away.

The movements are routinely beaten back through a counterattack by media authorities, pundits, elder statesmen and the like, all of whom mobilize, in effect, those pre-implanted conceptions. It is interesting that the Times‘s assignment of Howard Dean to the realm of quirkydom was illustrated by eight magazine covers on him, lined up like pulverizing hammers or junkyard car compacters.

Nader Haters: There is a kind of fury among U.S. leftists and liberals over Ralph Nader’s decision to run again. They speak as if he does not realize the vast differences a non-Bush presidency could mean. I think it’s a silly criticism. Surely Ralph Nader knows that many urgent matters — more U.S. invasions, a repeal of abortion rights, etc. — could be at stake. But, like the true obsessive he is, he can only focus on his key concern: corporate ascendancy in the United States. He and his critics might well agree that the race between the two main parties is just an intramural corporate runoff between candidates without fundamental differences. But for his critics, the minor differences still matter. To him, only this one thing truly counts, so when leftists rake him for scoring poorly on their checklist of issues like race and gender, it runs off him like rain.

Personally, I think there is a place for obsession in politics, and if Ralph Nader wants to run, others should welcome the injection of his obsession, while declining to vote for him on their own grounds.

The beauty of the hajj: I was lucky to be part of a discussion with students recently on media difficulties in reporting on the Muslim world. In the case of events in the United States, Europe or even China, there is a certain bank of background information — of varying accuracy, to be sure — that everyone can draw on when news events occur. For the Muslim world, this background tends to be non-existent or cruelly stereotypical: terrorists, oil sheiks, etc.

How can that be overcome? One Muslim student spoke of the recent hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Koranic holy sites. The only part of it reported here was a panic, in which hundreds of people were trampled. And yet, she said sadly, “It is a beautiful thing,” which people dream about and plan for all their lives. That humanized it for me. Just three words: a beautiful thing. I had dismissed the hajj as a sort of stream of human automatons faithfully moving, like lemmings, toward Mecca. Yet people get misty-eyed about a trip to Disney World, much less their ancestral homes in Ireland or Poland. You find a universal human equivalent, that’s how you do it.

After the trading deadline: NHL traders may finally be changing the questions. No longer: Do you trade raw potential for honed skills, or your future for your present? But, as in any social undertaking, how do you find the right generational mix, so that the older inspire the younger, the younger excite the older and each motivates the other?

An example: The legendary Brian Leetch comes to the Maple Leafs, without changing the composition of the rest of the team. He is paired with defenceman Bryan McCabe, already an NHL star in his mid-20s. In a culture in which even a Zamboni driver at a suburban rink is a local celeb, how do you teach such a youth some humility, a useful trait in a team sport? In their first game together, on a power play, older Brian cradles the puck, moves in as if to shoot, then gentles the puck back to younger Bryan who blasts it into the net. After the usual orgasmic outburst, he turns toward older Brian and his demeanour completely alters — to reverence and gratitude. He points at older Brian in the gawky way one does with a hockey glove on. The younger Bryan beams and shakes his head. His jaw practically hits the ice and his expression says nothing but, “You’re Brian Leetch. You really are.”


Rick Salutin

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 Toronto Star.