Two decades ago today Conrad Black and Ken Whyte launched Canada's National Post. Conrad writes about the anniversary here, in the course of which he includes an aside that, until his recently acquired Canadian titles began reprinting Telegraph and Spectator columns by me, no newspaper in my native land had ever published me. Which happens to be true, and was not for want of effort on my part.
All this week at SteynOnline, we've been marking the twentieth birthday. (And don't forget, over at the Steyn store there's ten dollars off the combined price of two books that feature many of my favourite Post pieces - or, for members of The Mark Steyn Club, twenty dollars off when you enter the special member-pricing code at checkout.) In 2000 Conrad sold his Canadian empire to Global TV's Izzy Asper - for over three billion dollars, the last ten-figure sale of "newspapers" there will ever be. Izzy was (to me personally) a pleasant fellow with no feeling for newspapering, so he left the business to his kids who in nothing flat destroyed the entire empire. Patrick Fitzgerald and the other Department of Justice tosspots who disgracefully threw Conrad in gaol for the way he ran his American business (also now collapsed) never grasped that there are very few men on the planet who have the first clue about how to run news organizations in the 21st century.
At any rate, almost fifteen years after I parted with the Post over the Aspers' firing of editor Ken Whyte, deputy ed Michael Newland and the marketing hottie Alex Panousis (Ken and Martin? big deal; but, as I told reporters, the firing of Alex was a provocation too far for me), I am glad to see "the great journalistic adventure of my life" is still here, and still greeting readers in Canada and around the world every morning.
For this twentieth birthday we found a lot of moldering old clippings in the cellar and dusted them off, starting on Monday with the tie that binds me to Tony Blair. Tuesday found me inside Buckingham Palace and outside Bar Erotica; on Wednesday we choked up at the heartwarming friendship between John McCain and George W Bush; on Thursday we sauntered along the nude beaches of St Tropez admiring the viceregal wedding tackle; and on Friday I gazed enviously at David Frum's fatwa. I thought we'd round out our anniversary observances with what I believe is my most recent column from the Post - from 2012 - and a timely one in view of the accelerated enforcement of identity politics and the moral labeling that substitutes for debate (as Tucker and I were talking about this week). Indeed, the penultimate paragraph has come to pass on an industrial scale around the western world. It is also a pertinent theme to close out our series, because it is precisely what Ken and Conrad set their newspaper against two decades ago today - the ever greater compulsion to conform:
You go away for ten minutes, and come back to find there's a new acronym in town. "Duelling Queen's Park Protests Planned Over GSAs," reports Xtra. "OECTA Comes Out In Favour Of GSAs," reports The Catholic Register. "Obama Blames Bush For GSA Scandal," reports Fox News.
Honestly. Is there anything that isn't Bush's fault? No, wait. That last one turns out to be an American GSA — the Government Services Administration, the government agency that picks out the office furniture for the other government agencies and is currently under fire for flying itself to Vegas and throwing itself a lavish party with clowns (professional clowns, not just government bureaucrats) and a fortune teller, who curiously enough failed to foretell that the head of the agency would shortly thereafter lose her job. By contrast, Canada's GSA is the Gay-Straight Alliance. The GSA is all over the GTA (the Gayer Toronto Area), but in a few remote upcountry redoubts north of Timmins intolerant knuckle-dragging fundamentalist school boards declined to get with the beat. So the Ontario Government has determined to afflict them with the "Accepting Schools Act."
"Accepting?" One would regard the very name of this bill as an exquisite parody of the way statist strong-arming masquerades as limp-wristed passivity were it not for the fact that the province's Catholic schools, reluctant to accept government-mandated GSAs, are proposing instead that they should be called "Respecting Differences" groups. Good grief, this is the best a bigoted theocrat can come up with?
Bullying is as old as the schoolhouse. Dr Thomas Arnold, one of the great reforming headmasters of 19th century England, is captured in the most famous novel ever written about bullying, Tom Brown's Schooldays, in what, by all accounts, is an accurate summation of his approach to the matter:
'You see, I do not know anything of the case officially, and if I take any notice of it at all, I must publicly expel the boy. I don't wish to do that, for I think there is some good in him. There's nothing for it but a good sound thrashing.' He paused to shake hands with the master... 'Remember,' added the Doctor, emphasizing the words, 'a good sound thrashing before the whole house.'
These days, a Thrashing Schools Act mandating Thrashing Out Differences groups across the province would be the biggest windfall for Chief Commissar Barbara Hall and her Ontario "Human Rights" Commission since the transsexual labiaplasty case went belly up. Teachers are not permitted, in any meaningful sense, to deal with the problem of bullying. And, when you can't deal with a problem, the easiest option is to institutionalize it.
Thus, today is the Day of Pink, "the international day against bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia." Don't know how big it is in Yemen or Waziristan, but the Minister of Education for the Northwest Territories is on board, and the Ontario MPP Peggy Nash has issued her own video greeting for the day, just like the Queen's Christmas message: "Today's the day we can unite in celebrating diversity and in raising awareness ..."
So it's just like every other bloody boring day in the Ontario school system then?
Meanwhile, Cable 14 in Hamilton has been Tweeting up a storm: "National Day of Pink/Anti-Bullying Day is tomorrow. What will you be wearing?"
Er, I don't think I have a lot of choice on that front, do I? "For schools holding Anti-Bullying events in April, you still have time to order shirts at a discount."
That's great news! Nothing says "celebrate diversity" like forcing everyone to dress exactly the same, like a bunch of Maoists who threw their workers' garb in the washer but forgot to take the red flag out.
If you're thinking, "Hang on. Day of Pink? Didn't we just have that?" No, that was Pink Shirt Day, the last Wednesday in February. This is Day of Pink, second Wednesday in April. Like the King streetcar, there'll be another one along in a minute, enthusiastically sponsored by Scotiabank, Royal Bank, ViaRail and all the other corporate bigwigs.
If you're thinking, "Hang on. Pink awareness-raising? Isn't that something to do with breast cancer?" No, that's pink ribbons. Unfortunately, all the hues for awareness-raising ribbons are taken: not just white for bone cancer and yellow for adenosarcoma, but also (my current favourite) periwinkle for acid reflux. We need to raise awareness of how all the awareness-raising ribbons have been taken, so anti-bullying groups have been obliged to move on from ribbons to shirts.
If you're thinking, "Hang on. That sounds vaguely familiar", it is. P G Wodehouse, The Code Of The Woosters (1938):
'Don't you ever read the papers? Roderick Spode is the founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, a Fascist organization better known as the Black Shorts ...'
'By the way, when you say 'shorts', you mean 'shirts', of course.'
'No. By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left. He and his adherents wear black shorts.'
'Footer bags, you mean?'
Pink Shorts Day is the second Wednesday in October in the Northwest Territories.
Yes, there have been a small number of bullied teens driven to suicide, and these particular deaths are tragedies for the families involved that blow a great big hole in their lives that can never be repaired. But they are not a cause for wrongheaded public policy. Hard cases make bad law, and hard cases hijacked by social engineers, backed by make-work bureaucracies and bankrolled by dimwit boardroom patsies make bad law on a catastrophic scale.
According to the Toronto District School Board's own survey, the most common type of bullying is for "body image" — the reason given by 27 per cent of high school students, 38 per cent of Grades Seven and Eight, and yea, back through the generations. Yet there are no proposals for mandatory Fat-Svelte Alliances, or Homely-Smokin' Alliances.
The second biggest reason in Toronto schools is "cultural or racial background." "Cultural," eh? Yet there seems no urge to install Infidel-Believer Alliances in Valley Park Middle School's celebrated mosqueteria, although they could probably fit it in the back behind the menstruating girls. So the pressure for GSAs in every school would seem to be a solution entirely unrelated to the problem. Indeed, it would seem to be a gay hijacking of the issue. Queer Eye For The Fat Chick: "But enough about you, let's talk about me."
What about if you're the last non-sexualized tween schoolgirl in Ontario? You're still into ponies and unicorns and have no great interest in the opposite sex except when nice Prince William visits to cut the ribbon at the new Transgendered Studies Department. What if the other girls are beginning to mock you for wanting to see Anne of Green Gables instead of Anne Does Avonlea? Is there any room for the sexual-developmentally challenged in the GSAs?
Why, of course! GSAs are officially welcoming of gays, straights, and even those freaky weirdy types who aren't yet into sexual identity but could use a helpful nudge in the right direction. "Advisors Say GSA Also For Straight Students," as the headline to a poignant story in yesterday's edition of the Pembroke Academy newspaper in New Hampshire puts it. The school-approved GSA began five years ago with an ambitious platform of exciting gay activities. "They had plans for group events, like bake sales and car washes, but they never came to pass," explained Ms Yackanin, the social studies teacher who served as the GSA's first advisor.
From a lack of gay bake sales and gay car washes, the GSA has now advanced to a lack of gays. "The students just stopped coming," said Mrs McCrum, the new Spanish teacher who took over the GSA at the start of this school year.
This is the homophobic reality of our education system: a school gay group that has everything it needs except gays.
Ms Yackanin is reported by the Pembroke Academy paper as "saying to heterosexuals that the GSA is a resource for the entire school community." C'mon, you guys, what's wrong with you? No penetrative sex with other boys is required, or even heavy petting. It's all about getting together in the old school spirit and organizing a gay car wash.
And now the model that has proved so successful at Pembroke Academy will be enthralling school-children from Thunder Bay to Moosonee. In Thomas Arnold's day, the object was to punish bullies, and teach their victims to stand up to them. Now a defensive and enfeebled educational establishment lets the bullies get on with it, and Dalton McGuinty's ministry has decided everyone else should be taught how to be victims — or, at any rate, members of approved victimological identity groups. Gays? Sure. Muslims? You betcha. Gay Muslims? We'll cross that Rainbow Bridge when we come to it. For the moment, let's stay focused: Bullying is merely the sharp end of "heterosexism," as the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission calls it. Chief Commissar Hall defines heterosexism as "the assumption that heterosexuality is superior and preferable," which will come as news to anyone who's had sex with me.
When you shrink from punishing the bullies (as our schools do), when you pursue phantom enemies (as our "human rights" nomenklatura do), when you use the victims as a pretext for ideological advancement (as the Ontario government is doing), all that's left is the creepy, soft totalitarian, collectivized, state-enforced, glassy-eyed homogeneity of "uniting to celebrate diversity" (in Peggy Nash's words).
So Canada will have GSAs from Niagara to Nunavut; and for the lonely and unsocial, the lumpy and awkward, real bullying will proceed undisturbed in the shadows; and ideologically-compliant faux-bullying will explode, as a generation of children is conscripted into a youth corps of eternal victimhood, alert to every slight, however footling. In New York, where children are bullied with gay abandon, the school board recently proposed banning from its tests fifty hurtful, discriminatory words such as "religious holidays," "birthdays" and "cigarettes." From such an environment come a cowed, pliant herd and a cadre of professional grievance-mongers, but not a lot of functioning, freeborn citizens.
"Awareness-raising"? I think we need to raise awareness that, unless you've got the T-shirt concession, all these Pink Days are worthless crap that do nothing for the problem they claim to be addressing. If you've chanced to see me in person, you'll know I often wear a pink shirt (I may even wear one on stage in Toronto later this month). Like the country song says, "I Was Pink Shirt When Pink Shirt Wasn't Cool — Er, Mandatory." But, on Pink Shirt Day, I would wear mauve or turquoise or chartreuse or anything but pink, because, when the state is committed to coercing a ruthless conformity, that's the time to show that a flickering flame of the contrarian, iconoclastic spirit still flickers in the Canadian schoolhouse. You may get bullied for not wearing pink on the Day of Pink, but you'll feel better for it.
from The National Post, April 11th 2012.
The reference to the "transsexual labiaplasty" derives from the time of my own difficulties with the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission. A striking young lady had gone to see a surgeon who specializes in labiaplasties for aesthetic reasons. When the doctor had discovered his would-be patient had been born a man, he declined to perform said procedure on the grounds that, as a specialist in (biological) lady parts, he had no idea what he was getting into. So she took him to the HRC and destroyed his life.
Re Gay-Straight Alliances and my leaden jests about Fat-Svelte Alliances and Infidel-Believer Alliances: a couple of years back I was ferrying my kid and some schoolpals back from some sports event one evening, and they started yakking in the back seat about how boring the school's Gay-Straight Alliance was and why did they have to go to it. And along the way they started joking about how it would be a spiffing wheeze to form an official school Necrophiliac-Corpse Alliance - and, as is the way with the young 'uns, they warmed to the theme and ran with the joke.
And, in fairness, it was actually funnier than my quips above. Nevertheless, before the first drop-off, I turned round and cautioned them that, notwithstanding the excellence of the joke, they would be ill-advised to repeat it in school - or their lives would be as surely ruined as that labiaplasty doc's. We live increasingly in a post-joke world, which is why the above column is also anthologized in the "Last Laughs" section of The [Un]documented Mark Steyn.
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If you're not in the Steyn Club, we'd love to have you. Later today, for Club members, Mark will be presenting Part Two of our brand new audio adventure in Tales for Our Time: Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. He'll also be hosting a special edition of The Mark Steyn Show this coming week. You can find more details about The Mark Steyn Club here. And stay tuned for details of the second Steyn Club Cruise with Mark and his special guests.
For our Massachusetts readers, tomorrow afternoon - 3pm Sunday - Steyn will be at the Boston Marriott in Newton to accept the Genesis Award from CJUI (Christians and Jews United for Israel). Aside from speaking, he'll also be signing copies of Lights Out, so if you're in the vicinity of Greater Boston we hope to see you there.