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The Man Who Would Kill* Julian Assange

From the magazine archives, a profile of conservative political strategist Tom Flanagan

From the archives, a profile of conservative political strategist Tom Flanagan

Composite image courtesy of Tom FlanaganComposite image courtesy of Tom Flanagan

Tuesday evening on CBC News Network, Tom Flanagan — widely identified today as “an advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada” — called for the targeted killing of Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website which has caused an international scandal by releasing massive amounts of United States diplomatic cables. “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think [Barack] Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something,” Flanagan told host Evan Solomon on live television. Given the opportunity to retract his statement, Flanagan replied, “Well, I’m feeling very manly today… I wouldn’t feel unhappy if Assange disappeared.”

Who is Tom Flanagan? Six years ago, award-winning investigative journalist Marci MacDonald profiled him for The Walrus:

Little is known about the shadowy, sixty-year-old professor who is staying on Harper’s post-election payroll as a senior advisor from Calgary. Flanagan declined to be quoted in this story. In Ottawa, where he has refused interviews for the last three years, some journalists regard him as a modern-day Rasputin manipulating a leader sixteen years his junior. But in Calgary, one of his former students, Ezra Levant, publisher of the eight-month-old Western Standard magazine, cautions against that generational cliché. These days, Levant sees Flanagan and Harper more as “symbiotic partners.” But he does not disagree with a Globe and Mail report that once referred to Flanagan as the original godfather of the city’s conservative intellectual mafia. “I call him Don Tomaso,” Levant says. “He is the master strategist, the godfather — even of Harper.”

Click here to read the rest of MacDonald’s story, called “The Man Behind Stephen Harper.”

* Update: Flanagan now claims to be The Man Who Was Only Kidding About Killing Julian Assange.

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Invasive Exposure

In Toronto, bird’s-eye photos of off-the-clock strippers raise questions of privacy

In Toronto, bird’s-eye photos of off-the-clock strippers raise questions of privacy

Recently on Twitter, writer Jen Selk made this request: “I want Jeet Heer to write about that Zanzibar/Torontoist thing next. You tell ’em, Jeet.”

Never let it be said that I don’t listen to readers.

First, some context. Zanzibar is a strip club in downtown Toronto. Torontoist is “a website about Toronto and everything in it.” And the “Zanzibar/Torontoist thing” was summarized by the Toronto Star in these terms: (more…)

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A brief note of congratulations

On behalf of all of our contributors, the staff and board of The Walrus Foundation would like to congratulate John Macfarlane, editor and co-publisher of The Walrus, on being awarded the Writers’ Trust Distinguished Contribution Award last night in Toronto. The annual prize honours one individual or organization in recognition of their ongoing commitment to furthering the aims of the Writers’ Trust.

According to the award’s citation:

The Writers’ Trust of Canada would not be the organization it is today without John Macfarlane’s wise and focused guidance. He exemplifies the spirit and value of volunteerism. He defines commitment. And, he leads with resolve. He never wavered in his first commitment to writers. He wholeheartedly believed in the excellence of Canada’s literary tradition. He often said the Trust’s goal was to help “make Canada the best place in the world for writers to write.” I believe it was his goal. And, I believe, he is largely responsible for making it happen.

For more information about this prestigious award, please visit the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s website.

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Death Becomes Him

Reflections on TIFF 2010: Barney’s Version, the film version, reviewed

Critical reflections on TIFF 2010: Barney’s Version, the film version, reviewed

Barney's Version, the film versionBarney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) and his father (Dustin Hoffman)

To call director Richard J. Lewis and producer Robert Lantos’s film adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version an ode to the Great Male Narcissists isn’t necessarily a slight against it. In literature, film, and music, the GMNs have managed between them a prolific, often productive, and most of all pervasive body of work.

The GMN’s old guard — Norman Mailer, John Updike, Philip Roth, even Leonard Cohen (whose music pervades the soundtrack to Barney’s Version) and Richler himself — as well as the inheritors of their legacy (like Morrissey, Jonathan Franzen, and Nick Cave) have fruitfully mined their own patent self-absorption in ways that transcend mere navel-gazing vanity. Even when inversely configured and self-admonishing (by his own admission, Cohen’s ladies’ man repute has always served as something of a joke), the GMNs have worked to fortify the ideas that life is a thing best examined with careful cynicism, and that love is a thing made more beautiful when it is left to wither on the vine.

Richler’s Barney Panofsky (played by Paul Giamatti in the film) is the ne plus ultra of the GMN, and thus it is fitting that circa 2010 we should spend two-plus hours watching him die. Because Barney Panofsky is the sort of character that is interesting: the sort of man that seems exuberant and robustly alive in a way that is undeniably appealing — witness his refined taste for fine cigars/single malts/women, his cultured bearing and intelligent wiles, his graceful crotchetiness — but ultimately outmoded, infertile, and fit to be retired. Because ultimately, Barney’s a dick. (more…)

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brucemccall_oct09aThe original artwork by Bruce McCall that graced the October 2009 cover of The Walrus is now available to own as a limited edition print.

Born and raised in Simcoe, Ontario, McCall is best known for his work with The New Yorker, where he has been a regular contributor since 1980. Largely self-taught, his art has adorned a number of magazine covers, including those of The New Yorker and The Walrus. He is also a humourist and satirist; his writing frequently appears in The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” section, and he won the Gold Medal for Humour at the 2009 National Magazine Awards for his article “A Liar’s Life” in The Walrus. McCall has published two story collections, an illustrated humour book, a memoir, and an illustrated children’s book. He is represented by the James Goodman Gallery in New York.

Only 24 signed and numbered prints are available of this piece by the world-renowned Canadian illustrator and humourist, so order yours now!

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Re: The Resignation of Ken Alexander

Magazines are driven by their editors, and occasionally personified by them (William Shawn’s New Yorker for example). [Upon Ken Alexander's resignation as Walrus editor, comments have landed in media outlets across Canada. Below is Walrus contributing editor's Don Gillmor's view. ~The Walrus Online]

Magazines are driven by their editors and occasionally personified by them (William Shawn’s New Yorker, for example). The Walrus is Ken Alexander, both in conception and attitude (democratic, wide-ranging, messy). Under his tutelage, the magazine is alive—a forum for both ideas and (more selfishly) writers. Where else could you write a 9,000-word political piece? The long form was nurtured by him. In the ever-diminishing world of letters the response to this is: Who gives a shit? But long form magazine journalism maintains a critical place in the literary ecosystem. It is the logical stepping stone to a book. It gives the writer a chance to explore an idea in a way that isn’t possible at 3,000 words and gives the reader an experience he won’t find elsewhere.

The magazine cultivates the readership that Saturday Night left in the wake of its slow death. It is an enviable readership: national, sophisticated, and astute. As the death of SN demonstrated, to found a literary magazine and keep it going takes heroic energy, dedication, and money. Ken had all three, a rare happenstance. Whoever succeeds him will need those qualities as well.

Apparently, there was turmoil. It was always thus. McClelland & Stewart experienced turmoil under Jack McClelland (descriptions of Jack were eerily similar to those of Ken) as well as one of its most productive (and seminal) eras. From a writer’s perspective, the critical measure of a magazine is the experience with the editor, and in my case it was a wonderfully happy and fertile one. There is also the experience of the magazine itself. Do I want to read it?

It is uneven, as some critics have noted. But everything is uneven. Every New Yorker issue, every issue of the Atlantic and the New York Review of Books. Anything that is even is even because it is standardized into mush. Esquire is enjoying a prolonged period of evenness along with hundreds of other titles on the rack, some of them quite successful as measured by sales. New magazines are launched weekly it seems, all chasing the lifestyle market, hoping to cash in. A book editor once told me that the critical test for any book was: Is it alive? Under Ken, The Walrus is alive—as a voice in public affairs, as a nurturing ground for dozens of interns, as a standard for editorial excellence, as a haven for writers. Finding someone else who’ll donate $3 million and eighty hours a week to those causes will take a house to house search.

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This is not the UBC campus. Image c/o
VANCOUVER—Congress is over for another year. Plans are now well underway for Carleton in 2009, an exhausting thought. By all measures, this year’s event on the UBC campus was a success, even if the weather was lousy. Having visited learned societies for over a week I have a pretty good sense of the satisfaction levels of congress participants and I believe most were pretty happy with the level of the papers they heard and the service they received. You can’t beat that.

Still, I am always amazed to overhear academics grumbling: the campus is too far from downtown; the taxi lines are too long; food services are limited on the weekend, and so on. Human nature, the very thing these thousands of scholars spend a lifetime studying, will have its way, and even one of the most privileged groups in society will find reasons to complain. It’s not that everything is perfect. It’s that educated people somehow forget to connect their experience to the sheer facts of running an event of this size. The UBC caterer, who has to feed these thousand or so of scholarly souls, was responsible for well over 150 deliveries a day for eight days, scattered all over the vast campus and all designed for different needs. That’s not even counting the daily receptions with hot food, wines, chafing dishes, and other disasters waiting to happen. That everyone got fed their veggie wraps, salads, cookies, and juices on time, between bites of Keynes or Nietzsche, is pretty amazing in itself. But even big-brained scholars can occlude the network of labourers that hums along beside them, efficiently working to serve their higher-paid masters.

Speaking of complaining, there’s a lot of talk about the need to invest in science and technology these days, to build, you know, the knowledge economy. Everyone’s favourite Canadian philanthropist is Michael Lazaridis, who during Congress week donated $50 million to the Waterloo-based Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, topping up the $100 million he has already contributed. In this country, that’s big news, trumping reports of even the most dazzling scholarly papers. Lazaridis’s gift was rightly applauded by Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente last weekend, but in praising Lazaridis’s vision of an internationally competitive, innovative Canada, she typically tossed off a supercilious remark about education trends. “Too many of our kids (and I’m saying these things, because Mr. Lazaridis is far too polite),” she wrote, “drift into liberal arts and gender studies instead of engineering and math.”

Give me a break, Wente. Lazaridis is the last person who would agree with you. RIM employs hundreds of arts graduates, and Lazaridis is on record as saying that Canada needs highly educated personnel to take this country forward, not just techno geeks. Imagine a world without the liberal arts. What would scientists read to their children?

The annual Congress of Canadian learned societies brings together thousands of people who are using their heads to talk, take up, challenge, explore the very ideas Lazaridis is promoting. This country, like all others, needs to educate fully rounded citizens, those who can understand what is human and social about us as well as those who can build the CN Tower out of Lego. Stop complaining, Wente. Come visit us at Carleton next year. We’ll show you vision.

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Margaret SomervilleVANCOUVER—Rain is keeping everyone indoors and so the sessions are well attended. When it’s sunny it’s easier to avoid that paper on the metaphysics of milk, or whatever. Margaret Somerville drew several hundred people to her “Research in Society” lecture. It’s not surprising that the woman who has argued the case against same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court of Canada would be described as controversial. The Globe and Mail quoted my designation of her as such, and so she mockingly riffed a bit on that at the start of her lecture. I’m not sure if she enjoys being called controversial or not. Maybe she’s not sure either, although there is very little she isn’t sure about.

Somerville discussed the culture of political correctness on our campuses, and how it has silenced debate and discouraged a democratic exchange of ideas, ostensibly what universities are designed to be about. The ideas she has been discouraged from speaking about, even at McGill, her own campus, have everything to do with an argument for the fundamental right of a child to know who its natural biological parents are. It’s hard not to agree that it’s probably a good thing for a child to know where it came from. It’s easy to feel that there is something alarming for a child to have been produced from some recombinant molecules nourished in a test tube, the way animals are being created in some experimental labs in 2008. But it’s a hard sell to say that a child is better off being raised by a man and a woman than by a woman and a woman or a man and a man. (more…)

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Wildflowers in urban meadow outside the Forestry Building at UBC. Photo by Dru!

VANCOUVER—Congress is now in full swing. Humanities scholars dominate the first half of the week-long event. Besides catching passing references to Nietzsche or Michel Houellebecq in the pizza line, you hear a lot of scholars speaking different languages–Italian, Spanish, French, Danish, Russian, German. These and other languages continue to be taught across this country in small departments. Yesterday an Italian professor dared me to explain why the teaching of languages was given so little attention in our universities. He was disgusted. No one seemed to be doing anything about this erosion of civilization. Surely students are not as well educated as they used to be, he asked. I know. It’s a recurring dirge. It’s hard not to lament the academy’s lack of enthusiasm for its own language programs. True, one often wishes that our students—that we—were, well, more European. But I can’t agree that they are any less educated. A lot of our discussions here are about a new language entirely—Web 2.0 or even Office 2007.

Speaking of language, André Pratte, prominent Quebec author and editorial writer for La Presse, delivered the first campus breakfast address yesterday. The Federation hosts this series every year, inviting congress participants to eat their eggs and bacon while listening to a prominent writer present his or her take on whatever path they are pursing. The French-based breakfasts are usually thinly attended. Most academics find it a bit too hard on the head to listen to a talk in a language not their own, especially at 7:30 in the morning. Frankly, many of us have a hard time finding the right buildings for our talks and sessions on this gorgeously sprawling campus, let alone eat and translate at the same time. (more…)

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Thinking Beyond Borders

Aerial shot of UBC Vancouver campusVANCOUVER—The 77th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences kicks off today on the beautiful UBC campus. Up to 10,000 academics from across the country, as well as many from the wider world, are expected to invade this lush garden, armed with 100 percent recycled-material tote bags and a strong sense of purpose. After more than a year of planning it’s finally coming together—the directional signs, the registration desk, the book fare stalls, and arguably the most important symbol of this scholarly happening: the beer tent. I’ve been here a little less than twenty-four hours and the whole experience reminds me of those moments in the Molson Stadium or the Air Canada Centre before the first face off. It’s minutes before the game and the stands are half empty, but by the time someone starts belting out the national anthem the whole place is miraculously blocked to the rafters. (more…)

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War Wearied

Cambridge, MA—The American public has responded in similar and predictable ways to each of the country’s three major conflicts since World War II. At the beginning of each episode, public support was considerable as people rallied around the flag in support of a shared ideal, be it anti-Communism during Korea and Vietnam, or anti-terrorism in Iraq. Subsequently, support has tended to decline with an increase in casualties and the duration of hostilities. Finally, after both the Korean and Vietnamese wars, the party that initiated the conflict was voted out of the White House, with Eisenhower replacing Truman and Nixon replacing Johnson.

Recent polls have shown eroding support for both the President and the GOP. Less clear is what might be done to halt or reverse that trend. Although more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of President Bush’s handling of the war, and 54% feel that their country shouldn’t have even gone into Iraq in the first place, 42% still believe that the military should remain until the situation is stabilized — and only 30% believe that all troops should be withdrawn entirely. These figures highlight the challenge of responding to divided public opinion in the face of a protracted occupation and discouraging historical precedent. (more…)

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Fiscal Relativity

Cambridge, MA—When Einstein first remarked that “Everything is relative,” he didn’t have Stan O’Neal in mind. This week, Merrill Lynch’s top banker was paid $161.5 million to take an early retirement after suggesting, quite acceptably, that the bank ought to consider merging with another global titan of finance to buoy its sagging share price, restore investor confidence, and position the company for growth after the latest shake-up in the credit markets.

To be fair, the bank just announced that it was writing down $8.4 billion in holdings as a result of the recent mortgage meltdown, and Merrill’s stock has underperformed every one of its global banking peers in 2007. But this latest sacking adds yet another ugly data point to the growing debate around executive compensation at a time when even failure, it would seem, can be a sign of success. (more…)

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