July 8th, 2005

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the rattachistes

I may have overstated my annoyance with the willingness of many Americans to favour the annexation of Canada into the United States. This 2002 poll reporting that 40% of Americans favoured the annexation of Canada does suggest that annexationist sentiments are soft and ill-formed.

"I wouldn't worry about the army coming," said Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

"I don't think there's any manifest-destiny thinking much in the United States anymore. People don't want to just acquire territory."

Sands said he was somewhat puzzled by the "high minority" of Americans who said Canada should be annexed. However, he speculated the responses were an indication of goodwill and welcome towards Canadians should the government ever decide on its own that it wants to join the United States.

Canadians are no longer the strangers to Americans they once were, added Sands. So Americans are now more accepting of the cultural and political differences between the two countries than they were in the past and they aren't in a rush to launch a takeover of their neighbours to the north.

Harold Waller, who teaches U.S. politics at McGill University in Montreal, said Canadians should view the poll result as more of a curiosity than a real window on how Americans see us.

"I doubt if the average American knows enough about Canada to make a reasoned assessment, what the pros and cons might be," said Waller. "There's really an abysmal level of ignorance about Canada in the United States so I don't know what conclusions you can reach."

The sentiment of these Americans, I'd argue, is comparable to the rattachistes who would like to attach this "cap le plus nord-nord-est de la France" to France following the dissolution of the Belgian state, perhaps (as Réseau Voltaire suggested) as a way to compensate France for the Federal Republic's annexation of East Germany. I doubt that the French would mind annexing Wallonia, that region's rust-belt industries and high unemployment aside.

This sort of mindset--the belief that smaller territories populated by your perceived kin shyould be added to your own nation, the better to enhance its glory and make things better for everyone--is less ominous than Russian nationalist argument that Ukraine is Malorussia, or the People's Republic threatening war if the Taiwanese declare independence, or--most famously--the permanent gloom cast upon the idea of assimilating Austria into the German federal state by the events of the 1930s and the 1940s. It's rather unlikely that Liège or London (in Ontario) would be conquered, for starters, and mass deaths among civilian populations would be unlikely. Even so.

Even so, these various irredentist tendencies--soft or hard, demcoratic or murderous--all make the slighting assumptions that inconvenient national identities (Canadian, Walloon, Ukrainian, Taiwanese, Austrian) are ultimately products of false consciousness, illegitimate and not of equal value. And really, isn't this tendency to favour the voluntary expansion of one's nation into areas which should belong to it just the time-honoured strategy of dealing with internal problems by engaging in foreign expansion? The assumption that these peoples should naturally belong to "us" is also problematic, particularly in contexts where democratic choice is rejected. What do you do to errant people who deny their obvious membership in your nation? What can be done?

What's particularly interesting about the rattachiste tendency is that small minorities in the populations slated for annexation support it. Take Canada, formed in response to threats from a post-Civil War United States (see the Annexation Bill of July 1866) and marked by endless controversy over what was known as reciprocity in the first century of Canada and as free trade. It's a central tenet of Canadian identity to fear that Canada is at risk of becoming the 51st state; back in the War of American Independence, Canada nearly became the 14th. (Nova Scotia as the 15th would have taken some work, given the dispersion of the New England settlements and Britain's naval strength.) And yet, some prominent Canadians have supported annexationist movements, or at least an intensification of Canadian-American relations. Why? Supporting the annexation of Canada is, for these people, a way of contesting the actions of the Canadian state by denying its very legitimacy. This legitimacy, in turn, depends on how well the state works: Eastern Ukraine is more likely to break away to Russia than southern Ontario is to become the 51st state for a reason.

What do I think of the rattachistes, at home and abroad? They mean well, certainly, and I am flattered. I just don't think that it will work, or that it should work. Small nations are good, too.
  • Current Music
    Pet Shop Boys, "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing"

[BRIEF NOTE] On Bisexuality

The recent New York Times article "Straight, Gay or Lying--Bisexuality Revisited" has provoked a lot of discussion with its suggestion that bisexuality doesn't exist.

The study, by a team of psychologists in Chicago and Toronto, lends support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation.

People who claim bisexuality, according to these critics, are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their homosexuality or simply closeted. "You're either gay, straight or lying," as some gay men have put it.

In the new study, a team of psychologists directly measured genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women. The psychologists found that men who identified themselves as bisexual were in fact exclusively aroused by either one sex or the other, usually by other men.

The study is the largest of several small reports suggesting that the estimated 1.7 percent of men who identify themselves as bisexual show physical attraction patterns that differ substantially from their professed desires.

"Research on sexual orientation has been based almost entirely on self-reports, and this is one of the few good studies using physiological measures," said Dr. Lisa Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender identity at the University of Utah, who was not involved in the study.

The discrepancy between what is happening in people's minds and what is going on in their bodies, she said, presents a puzzle "that the field now has to crack, and it raises this question about what we mean when we talk about desire."

"We have assumed that everyone means the same thing," she added, "but here we have evidence that that is not the case."

Myself, I think that people are working with different definitions of bisexuality. While I know that it's a notoriously bad idea to judge the legitimacy of a scientific experiment based on a press report, the researchers seem to be working with a definition of bisexuality as a sexual orientation marked by an individual's equal attraction to individuals of both sexes. This doesn't work with the definitions of bisexuality that I've used and which seem to be fairly current, which argue that bisexuality is a sexual orientation in which people experience some attraction to individuals of both sexes and that this attraction can definitely be unbalanced. That's been my experience of bisexuality ever since the light bulb went on, at least.

Yes, I know full well that you can question whether or not I'm actually gay with a passing interest in women, and that I am quite aware that this question can be debated endlessly. I've tired of this debate. I've realized that whenever I try to inquire too deeply, I end up encountering a variation upon Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, ignorant of both my precise location (here, on the Kinsey scale) and my exact motion. I've abandoned location for, well, motion. I know my starting point well enough to be able to navigate, at least. I leave precise determinations for others.
  • Current Music
    Pet Shop Boys, "Yesterday, When I Was Mad"

[BRIEF NOTE] On Hagiography

I admit to being confused by the tendency to to accept a hagiography as a person's legitimate post-mortem biography, to suspend normal critical faculties and claim that everything was good with this person. Yes, it's true that with the medieval genre of hagiography, we get to learn about such interesting characters as Margery Kempe. What medievalist, I wonder, wouldn't like to have a fully professional autobiography of her Kempe to stand by her hagiography, something capable of exploring the implausibilities and gaps in her narrative and giving us an idea of what her personality was actually like? An uncritical acceptance of hagiography kills biography.
  • Current Mood
    confused confused

[BRIEF NOTE] Hyperterrorism post-9/11

I wonder if one reason people outside the United Kingdom have reacted so calmly to yesterday's bombings in London is that we in the media-saturated world have come to accept hyperterrorism as normal, even as background noise. It would explain a lot. It should also cause some concern, but how likely is that in our terminally jaded and bored age?
  • Current Mood

[BRIEF NOTE] Canadian Ultranationalism

While I'm talking about an occasionally paranoid Canadian nationalism, I may as well bring up Ray Smith's 1969 story "Cape Breton Is The Thought Control Centre of Canada." I hadn't expected to encounter, in my English Canadian fiction class at UPEI, stories describing the mass-poisoning of American marines occupying Canada by the widows of the Canada Customs agents killed during the invasion, or the mass-mailing of American tourists' ears to the White House.

I think that Smith was joking, or trying to make some point in properly post-modern ironic fashion. I hope he was.

Civilization's a thin veneer, isn't it?

[MUSIC] The Lover Speaks

The Lover Speaks is a British group from the 1980s best known for penning "No More I Love Yous," later covered to great commercial acclaim by Annie Lennox in 1995. This is a shame, since this sadly obscure group released an excellent album but was subsequently neglected.

During the early 80s he worked with pop producer Phil Wainman, releasing a solo single entitled Stop in the name of love. He went on to publish a local history of Muswell Hill and also penned a book of erotic poetry, Voices of Passion. In 1985 he formed The Lover Speaks with ex-Flys bass player Joseph (Joe) Hughes. They recorded a demo tape which they sent off to Dave Stewart, who then sent it to Chryssie Hynde and finally to 80s super-producer Jimmy Iovine. The duo were signed to Dave Stewart's Anxious Music Publishing that year, and to A&M Records, Los Angeles in 1986.

With producer Jimmy Iovine they recorded the self-titled debut
The lover speaks, which contains the original version of No more "I love you's". After touring with The Eurythmics they returned to Los Angeles to record the follow-up album, The big lie, again with Iovine, assisted in parts by Daniel Lanois and Dave Stewart. The Lover Speaks split in 1988. The big lie was never commercially released.

This interview with David Freeman goes into more sad detail. Their album is unavailable and doesn't seem likely to be released. I was only able to get it by downloading them several years ago. To my sensibility, the songs are occasionally a bit too sweet and over the top. This is more than compensated by their lyrical passion, and by their complex musicality. "Every Lover's Sign," "No More 'I Love You''s," "Tremble Dancing," and "'This Can't Go On!'" are particular standouts. It's a shame that more people won't hear them.
  • Current Music
    The Lover Speaks

[MEME] Idiosyncrasy meme

Tagged by jhubert.

n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies
A structural or behavioural characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.

* * *

Write down five of your own personal idiosyncrasies. Then, if you wish, tag five people from your friends list to do the same in their journals.

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I'll nominate bonoboboy, larkvi, nire_nagaf, quillon and sushi_bard to take up the meme. No obligation, of course.