“You know, you want to make any sense on foreign policy in Canada, you talk to Janice Stein.”
–Michael Ignatieff [Muckamuck tribe]
Not to be sexist and all, but surely there’s a special place in hell for old women who send young men off to war? Whatever my faults, and I’ll tell you straight up I’m a horny old bastard, I couldn’t even in a million years imagine sending a bunch of women off to fight in some cockamamie war. When it comes to sexy young cadet chicks, I’m all about “bring home the troops.” Hell, they can stay for breakfast if they want.
Remember war? Not that cowardly predator thing where you hide stateside and gun down people at weddings on the other side of the world. I’m talking old-fashioned traditional. You know—practically Norman Rockwell. You find an interesting family, kick their door in, and eff them up any way you can get away with. Maybe they’re even shooting at you the whole time, in which case you eff them up extra. Go ahead and tell me that stuff’s not close to the bone, hard pulsating over the top—you’re freaked out but you’re also Napoleon, right? Old Bonie himself. Tell me you’re not feeling pretty alive doing that stuff. Hey ho Trigger. Norman invasion. All’s fair in love. Not called privates for nothing, eh?
There’re two million men in prison in the U.S., people who failed in the sense that they didn’t figure out how to get the government to pay them in cash for their Napoleonic activities. Not a lot of cash, maybe, but there’s legal spliff and such and a variety of recreational activities to sweeten the deal. Uncle Sam wants to be your pay pal, so what’re you doing in Oz?
Funny how there aren’t a lot of women there in Oz, just like there aren’t a lot of women in combat. So what’s with women telling men to do dangerous stuff? It’s even kinkier than that, because war puts the id back in Dave, the F in Frank, if you know what I mean. It’s pretty hard to get that full on feeling in civilian life, right? Sure, all these women with soldier husbands who aren’t protesting the war are going to get theirs when the men come home and find out there’s just nothing in building a home that gets the juice flowing like effin one up. This is all putting the blow-me back into blowback, the mess into domestic abuse. But when it comes to old ladies packing youngsters off to war, all wars are civil wars, and until you can prove to me that old ladies sending young men to their deaths in cockmaiming wars doesn’t have a sexual component, please allow me to be skeptical.
I grew up competing for bus space, and later fisticuffing in the slit trenches of home as a Department of Public Works gravedigger, with a bunch of Vietnam’d zombies in a New England VA town, so I know about the walking dead. Enjoy your war while you got it, you guys. It’s all shuffle and mumble after this. I decided early that if they were going to want me to vote like a whore or fight in a war, the politicians and other franchisers were going to have to catch me, and I lit out for the territories. Wary, is what I was, when it came to war and democracy and that sort of thing. My ass lounging in a chair thirteen thousand miles from the nearest hot zone was and is the plan. World isn’t big enough to get me away from the man mongers, let alone taloned old ladies with notions, but at least I’m on the war path going the wrong way, hightailing it up the backtrail, worrying about my up-and-coming teen boys.
If you’ve been thinking “Mrs. Clinton,” you’re with me in spirit here. Female mongers of men and purveyors of war. Feel the revulsion. Makes my scalp bear down like a reefed mainsail. Any flesh not battened down for the tempest tries to get below deck, like when I’m standing in cold water. I’ve got readers out there, pablum’d on newspapers, who pretend to themselves they don’t understand my writing style, when in fact they understand every single word. Cold water, parts of you trying to get below deck.
Alright, if this is still too hard for you, go back to your New York Times or your Globe and Mail.
Security checks are bad, but security chicks are worse. Am I right or am I right? Anyone, male or female, knows to stay away from the queue at Homeland Security that’s got a female officer at the business end of it, her mansuit tight to the crotch and her chest as ambiguous as a former West Virginia mountaintop with only maybe protester Mike Roselle on it like a nipple, the lady’s phallus holstered on her right hip like a newborn and good to go. If you have a choice of gun-toting bureaucrats, you know to go with the men, because the women have something to prove, or more likely they just get off on the whole sexual power dynamic.
Gun-toting security chicks are an obstacle, but beware the females higher in the system who don’t need to pack their own heat because they can get someone else to do it. Such a woman is Janice Gross Stein. Stein is a security consultant who lectures at places like the Nato Defense College in Rome and The Centre for National Security Studies in Ottawa, about whose ambience of dork-side loserdom we can only speculate. As an administrator at the University of Toronto, Stein scoops up a cool $360,000 dollars a year, the equivalent of the salary of four assistant professors in the humanities.
Is Janice Gross Stein worth four profs?
Almost certainly she is, if you like Bunker U. Bunker U closed up shop when world leaders came to town in June. Put a cease-and-desist on all intellectual work and did what it could to beat the drums of siege mentality at the behest of the war ministers. Did what it could to add to the 1.3 billion dollar price tag of The Fence and related deprivations of freedom. Invited, long-time readers might recall, cavalry onto campus to chase down my children in the neighborhood where my people have been walking beneath the sun for 175 years, if not canoeing for 10,000 years before that.
Janice Stein’s the right woman at the right time. Her base salary is minimal compared to the kind of big money she can pull in for the university—not to mention for herself in consulting fees—from industrial leaders interested in security, like Peter Munk, the gold baron. Security’s where the dough is.
Stein’s expertise is the managing of “conflict” (think Afghanistan) and clearly that is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity in a world “kicking against the pricks,” as the Lord said to the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. Pricks: assorted North American hegemons and NGO’s and such.
Remember Afghanistan? When I was a kid we—whoever we is—were fighting alongside the people we’re fighting against now. As it turns out, in other words, the phrase “fighting with” nicely encompasses the North American conflict mandate, since the endlessly malleable “with” can mean “against” or “alongside.” It’s all friendly fire now. Are you with me on this?
Afghanistan is a perfect dump site for security expertise, since it’s not a real war in the old sense of something that could be “won,” but a conflict. A bunch of anglos who can’t speak the many languages of a given region are thus invited to pontificate about the various needs of the locals. Some locals need food, some need shelter, and some need killin’. All in a day’s work.
Compare Stein’s confidence, as a thought experiment, with four assistant anthropology professors schooled in the reticence around cultural ventriloquism that has become the hallmark of the best sorts of anthropological inquiry since, at the least, the writings of Michael Taussig. No one would ever get anything done. We might end up turning out students who were skeptical and wouldn’t know how to get a job. Who might be able to think for themselves. Who might become a version of Brian McKenna’s “citizen anthropologists.”
Stein’s capacity for alchemy—turning twaddle to gold—shows its sparkle in her many appearances as a talking head. Stein is also apparently a persuasive writer, unlikely to tax her readers with nuance of the sort that might make them think. In a 2007 town hall interaction arranged by The Globe and Mail for a largely admiring public, for example, she can be found discussing whether it’s better to have the military or civilians in charge of whacking locals. Stein emails to the town hall:
Take the issue of air and artillery strikes which protect soldiers in battle but kill civilians. Restricting these strikes can be a matter of policy — which the civilian leadership sets — but a matter of serious operational concern for the military leadership.
We are meant to feel pity for military make-my-day muckamucks who cannot move decisively because a few civilians are in the way. Stein incites reverence from her homeside civilian readers even as she chides them for their interest:
This kind of issue [collateral damage] is usually discussed in private as civilian leaders try to understand the military’s concerns, and the military tries to understand the political consequences of its tactics.
“Private” is clearly a good thing for Stein—North American readers should butt out. Fortunately these are customers of The Globe and Mail, reading half aloud through pablum-encrusted lips while scanning lines with one finger and occasionally pausing to look up the big words like “and” and “the,” assisted by helpful pictures. Such readers are apparently happy to be chastened by a bosslady for being curious about the private killing matters of the bosses, and happy to have their soldiers doing the five-fingers-and-a-palm nasty for them in an inscrutable land far way.
Luckily for Stein and the marketing of her expertise in conflict, the military’s role in Afghanistan “is not a short-term project.” Endless war. Keep the coffers and coffins flowing.
It’s tough to wade through the gush in The Globe and Mail, or in this September’s hagiography on Stein in U of T Magazine, since Stein is clearly so popular in this massively militarized nation-state that squats on top of our watershed, where you can hardly walk down the street without bumping into a soldier or gunned-up muckamuck-protector (my long-time readers are familiar with my various bumpings), but if you want a good example of old ladies rattling sabers, I’ve hyperlinked you here against my better judgment.
Our souls are diminished by having to read such things. Are we so certain of the resilience and splendor of our spirits that we can afford to waste even one hour scanning the prattle of bitter but competent old women parroting the lament of man-generals who decry the 90’s as a “decade of darkness” because the military had to suffer budget cuts? Foolish and despicable and cowardly woman, if you think murdering civilians is so wonderful, go do it yourself.
I do believe that muckraking is an honorable profession, like that of thief in The Hobbit, but if you don such a ring of investigative power, it can hardly fail to tarnish you. I thus offer my readers this half-mucked article here as the trace of my ambivalence about the avarice of the banal Stein of leaderville. Should we waste our time on her? Spending time with her filths us up. Yet in my position, in this particular house on this particular street near the university, tucked in under this strange democracy, I overhear daily of some depredation of Janice Gross Stein. Strange destiny for me as I tread the paths of disciplined inattention here under the buttocks of the beast, ignoring the empire and its specular blandishments and determined to offer for my readers only facts I’ve tested for myself in the streets of the eternal city. The truth near to hand and not the dubious paternity of textuality with its second-hand, and often bastardized, blah-blah.
I am less interested in some muckamuck academic than in Dwayne, Ojibway Cree, who lives in my park and discusses lacrosse with me, but Stein has been pressing in on my circle. I’m reminded of the loathsome toad-like creature in the eighteenth-century novel Clarissa. The virtuous Clarissa says to the toad-like one as he crowds her in her big dress: “sir, you press upon my hoops.”
Of Afghanistan we at seewalk-the-always-ungoogleable have only two words of advice—“get the fuck out.”
The wise person would do well to be sure he or she cannot recognize on any map of the world the shape of a nation he or she hopes to bomb. We need to learn less about Afghanistan, not more, lest we be shown to be in spirit what we would repudiate in the flesh, so many steins for the filling.
Nevertheless I commit, in principle, to a muckraking article of the sort that must be the writer’s destiny from time to time, with more tedious facts on that sad spectacle of the wrack Janice Gross Stein than you can shake a stick at. Give me till the snow flies, or till I sink beneath the weight of boredom and disgust.
DAVID Ker THOMSON is a once-and-future prof at U of T. The quasi-English quotation cited at the beginning of the article by one Michael Ignatieff can be found here. For a more academic discussion of what’s gone wrong in North America, see DAVID Ker THOMSON, “Home Truths,” South Atlantic Quarterly, 2009, vol. 108.1 (including details on Mrs. Clinton, p.193). Thomson is an intermittently enthusiastic correspondent—try your luck at: Dave.firstname.lastname@example.org