How Warren, Olbermann, Floethe, and Cox can help us understand Wolff’s crazy new book on the Trump White House

Posted: January 7th, 2018 | No Comments »

Michael Wolff with girlfriend Victoria Floethe at a book release party a few years ago — for a different book. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PATRICK MCMULLAN COMPANY.

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA. JANUARY 7, 2018. 1:30 AM. Sometimes it is hard to resist the pure soap opera that American politics has become in the age of Donald Trump, even if you live far away in the northern woods.

Two contributions to the latest bout of near-serious madness induced by the publication of Michael Wolff’s alleged tell-all tale of the Trump White House, Fire and Fury, have seemed to me especially helpful.

The first is Keith Olbermann’s retweet of the President’s January 6/7:19–7:30 AM response to what some have taken as the main thrust of Wolff’s book — that there are serious reasons to doubt Donald Trump’s “mental stability.”

Olbermann reproduces the three presidential tweets that climax with Donald Trump’s endorsement of himself as a “genius … and a very stable genius at that!” —  prefaced by Olbermann’s own reflection : “I find it helps if you hear these as if they were being spoken by a 15-year old Valley Girl in 1983.”

Of course Keith Olbermann is exactly right. But note as well that Donald Trump is the kind of irrationally half-clever and cunning 15-year old Valley Girl who does attract passionate admirers.

I’m starting to think that it may finally take something almost as irrational as Donald Trump to bring Donald Trump down. (Just demonstrating again and again how irrational he is, as in so much of the mainstream media these days, doesn’t seem to be working … so far at any rate.)

Meanwhile, what about Michael Wolff’s new book itself? Does it just confirm what has long been known about the Trump White House and the man at the top?

Some see the 1995 movie “Clueless” as an archetypal study of the genre. Others more aptly urge “A real Valley girl would never be a virgin who can’t drive.” Just like Donald Trump!

Here my second source of helpful commentary is a string (thread?) of tweets from Ana Marie Cox, as she has read through Fire and Fury off and on. (“Ok I now must make dinner …. And I’m back. It’s – 8 outside but I’ve got hot coffee.”)

I found almost everything Ms Cox points to in Michael Wolff’s book interesting. From a critical angle she notes on one page : “The sentence BEFORE the highlighted sentence is garbled nonsense trailing after around one keen insight … which is kind of a pattern in the book.”

She also acknowledges that “Wolff is compulsively readable, I will give him that. The only hitches are the clear editing errors and typos. They got this one out the door without anyone looking at it twice.”

(In a rush to publish before too many presidential lawsuits or other forms of “injunction preventing publication” were in motion. Even if, in fact of course : “There’s No Way Trump Can Stop Wolff From Publishing His Book.” Quite that kind of thing at any rate still hasn’t happened yet!)

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Seven steps to heaven on the Toronto jazz scene in January 2018 …

Posted: January 3rd, 2018 | No Comments »

[UPDATED JANUARY 10]. What are some options for dropping by the Rex Jazz & Blues bar in Toronto in the first month of this perhaps fateful year 2018? Which of the scheduled groups would you most like to hear?

Those asking these poignant questions also promised that if we did go to any of these shows, they’d listen to the music when it was playing — and not try to talk about Donald Trump or Justin Trudeau or whatever over the jazz (and blues etc).

Any excuse not to talk about Donald Trump these days seems worthwhile to me.  (I should say I remain a fan of Justin Trudeau, but I don’t think there’s any great need to talk about him either.)

I should say as well that I am an amateur saxophone player (well “semi-professional,” my piano-playing brother used to say), and saxophone players are usually who I like listening to myself.

Similarly, while I’ve been listening to jazz & blues in the Toronto area and beyond for many years now, I wouldn’t pretend to any vast expertise in covering the scene. This is just a list of what appeals most to me subjectively, with virtually no objective pretense.

The Dialectica Saxophone Quartet is not playing at the Rex in January 2018, but Chelsea McBride (far right) brings her Socialist Night School big band to the Rex stage January 15.

In any case, as a more or less completely non-political way of welcoming the new year (in any direct or partisan sense) — and hoping there will be some entertaining moments along the way —  here are my personal lucky seven options at the fabled (and much-valued) Rex in Canada’s current largest metropolis, for January 2018.

(And oh, as best as I can make out, the official starting time in each case is 9:30 PM. The Rex is at 194 Queen St West, on the north side just a block or so west of the Osgoode stop on the University subway line. And whether you go or not, a very happy new year — in one sense or another. May we all at least hear a lot of the good music that’s out there these days, everywhere.)

Bill Todd in flight.

(1) WED 3 JAN :  NEW YORK’S BILL TODDBill Todd- Sax, Harry Grasser- Piano, Israel’s Alon Near- Bass, Carmen Intorre- Drums.  This first show takes place today as I write, and it may still be too cold for some especially older listeners (like me) to make their way to the corner of Queen and St. Patrick streets on public transportation.

But Bill Todd’s Twitter site reads “Bill Todd … @BillToddMusic … #jazz trained. Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet. Buffalo boy turned Brooklyn Man. Praying for the Sabres.” Any hard-working young man like this from Buffalo deserves support in Toronto. And if you can’t make it at the Rex today (or January 3, 2018 if you’re reading this much later), you can at least see and hear Bill Todd play Monk’s “Ask Me Now” on the marvelous You Tube in our time.

(2) MON 15 JAN : CHELSEA MCBRIDE’S SOCIALIST NIGHT SCHOOL15 pc Jazz Orchestra Led by Saxophonist/ Composer Chelsea McBride. Not everyone likes jazz orchestras of this size (hangovers of the old big bands of the 1930s and 1940s). But Toronto (and Canada at large) has a long history of cultivating such musical enterprises.

Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School big band at the Rex, November 6, 2017.

Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School is at the leading edge of this long history in 2018. As  explained on its website, it is “led by fast-rising, 25 year old orchestration trail-blazer Chelsea McBride.” And award-winning “veterans like William Carn, Colleen Allen and Brownman Ali stand next to the city’s hottest 20-somethings in this contemporary modern big band.”

The orchestra’s 2017 “debut full-length album ‘The Twilight Fall’ … most recently received 4 stars in Downbeat Magazine. Bandleader Chelsea McBride’s compositions are influenced by the lineage of Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue.” For a taste on You Tube before Mon 15 Jan try THIS or THIS.

(3) WED 17 JAN : VAUGHAN MISENERKelly Jefferson – Sax, Geoff Young- Guitar, Vaughan Misener- Bass, Kevin Dempsey- Drums. I chose this because I’m a great admirer of the tenor saxophone playing of Kelly Jefferson. But there is also an excellent much-more-than-just-a-rhythm section playing with him here.

Leyland Gordon Group at the Rex, December 27, 2013. Left to right : Victor Bateman, bass ; Leyland Gordon, guitar ; Mark Kelso, drums ; Richard Underhill, alto sax. Photo by Jeremy Tudor Price.

URGENT UPDATE JANUARY 10 : We’ve just been informed that the Leyland Gordon Group —  one of Dominic Berry’s all-time favourite Toronto jazz organizations — will be performing on Friday, January 19, 2018. Though the group has often appeared at the Rex, this time (also back by popular demand) it will be at The Richmond Rogue Kitchen + Bar, 284 Richmond St E, Toronto — on the north side of Richmond St E just west of Sherbourne. The music will start around 8 PM. The atmosphere at The Richmond Rogue Kitchen + Bar is welcoming and the food worthwhile. For a taste of the music beforehand try “Leyland Gordon Quintet ‘Harvest Hills’ Live at The Flying Beaver” and/or “Leyland Gordon – SUSpense, Live at The Rex Jazz Bar.” Meanwhile, Mr. Berry is making definite plans to take in this one event for dead certain (unless it is just too appallingly cold for the streetcars to work!).

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Our top baker’s dozen on Canada, USA, & global village in strange year 2017

Posted: December 22nd, 2017 | No Comments »

From the August 10, 2017 issue.

Who would even want to deny that 2017 has been a strange year? Certainly not us, at any rate.

And here’s one cut at how the world looked to five brazen voices from our team on the northwest shore of the most easterly North American Great Lake — Dominic Berry, the Counterweights Editors, Rob Sparrow, Randall White, and Citizen X :

* JAN 14 : Was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s biggest success in 2016 the seduction of right-wing hockey icon Don Cherry?

Some would stress that 2017 has not been uniformly wonderful for the eldest son of Canada’s philosopher king, 1968–1984. Much later in the year, in the middle of November,  Citizen X was also asking “Who’s having a mid-life crisis — Justin Trudeau or the Ottawa press gallery?

As we go to press in December, other much vaster sites are reporting : “Trudeau Violated Conflict Of Interest Rules On Trip To Aga Khan’s Island” ; and “Trudeau apologizes for violating ethics laws with visits to Aga Khan’s island.”

We agree that PM Trudeau ought to apologize and be more careful in future. At the same time, just what is it that the Aga Khan — 49th Imam of the progressive Nizari Ismaili branch of Shia Muslims — is supposed to be looking for from Canada and its prime ministers anyway?

The Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in front of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, September 2014. Photo : Jack Landau.

Could it be something like the Boston Globe pointed to a few years ago, when it reported : “At a time when anything associated with Muslims or Islam may produce responses ranging from unease to outright hostility, the new Aga Khan Museum in Toronto counters those sentiments with a thoughtfully-designed, tranquil place that honors centuries of Islamic art in a space welcoming to all.”

We still strongly believe that we the Canadian people are very lucky Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister of Canada in the age of Donald Trump.

* MAR 23 : Canada has its own populisms .. and rebellions — in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan!

This seconded Preston Manning’s motion that “Canada’s elites could use a crash course in populism” — while also stressing how Canada’s “own past experience with populism” has included Tommy Douglas’s CCF/NDP government in Saskatchewan, which pioneered public health care in Canada.

Still further back in the mists of time the Canadian populist past has also included “the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837–1838, the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, the First Riel or Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870, and the Second Riel or Northwest Rebellion of 1885.”

And finally don’t forget the “18th century ancestor — ‘The Conspiracy of Pontiac’” and “another late 20th century descendant : the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution Act, 1982.”

* APR 8 : Mar-a-Lago dreamin’ : is the Trump administration finding its feet at last?

Many are still asking this question just before the good old fashioned Great American Christmas of 2017, as the Trumpicans celebrate their wild and crazy “tax reform” legislation for the rich and famous (and the rhetorical working/middle class too … of course, sort of).

Since early this past spring Mar-a-Lago has largely faded from official view, no doubt because (much more than Justin Trudeau’s holiday on the Aga Khan’s island) it blurs the working-middle-class fake-news message (to say the very least).

Much more significantly again in our eyes, just two days after our own Mar-a-Lago dreamin’ back in early April, Rob Sparrow posted his annual sporting life special : “Blue Jays 2017 : last year was close but once again denied .. how much longer will the window stay open?

It was finally not a very good year for the Jays in 2017 (and our latest old Bob-and-Doug draft-hall reports from the Sparrow do not suggest any too sudden improvements ahead).  But very big congrats to the champion Argos and Toronto FC.  And best of luck to the ravaging Raptors (possibly even the Maples, as someone’s grandma used to say?) in the now so-called Common Era 2018.

Meanwhile, for 10 more now historical items on this site from the year that will end soon (and without all the current run-on retrospective commentary … well, mostly), click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below!)

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The whole town’s talking about the Jones Boy / The Jones Boy / The Jones Boy …

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | No Comments »

“Democratic Senatorial candidate Doug Jones takes a selfie with a supporter during a get out the vote campaign rally on December 11, 2017, in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.”

In part at any rate the good guy Doug Jones won in the Alabama special Senate election on December 12, 2017 by leaning on at least something somewhat like the “rigged-electoral-system” luck that almost accidentally gave Donald Trump the US presidency in November 2016.

To take just the clearest case in point : “1.7 per cent of the votes were write-ins, a proportion greater than Jones’s margin of victory and higher than what Alabama usually sees.”

(“Richard Shelby, Alabama’s other senator” — and of course a Republican — led the way here. The “Sunday before the election” he announced that “Alabama ‘deserves better’” than Roy Moore. Senator Shelby would use “his absentee ballot to write in ‘a distinguished Republican name,’ which he declined to specify.”)

And then Alabama’s particular Southern demographics finally (or just unusually and certainly happily) mobilized in winning progressive directions : “Charles Barkley, the retired basketball player and native Alabamian, campaigned for Jones, and President Barack Obama recorded a robocall … Turnout was markedly higher in counties with large black populations. These voters were the ones who defended the state’s respectability.”

In the end, 96% of Blacks, 61% of 30–44 year-olds, 60% of 18–29 year-olds, and 57% of Females voted for Jones.

Could this — African Americans, younger adults of all cultures, and women — be at least one road to some new progressive coalition in the Old South?

Those determined to show their savvy cynicism about current politics in the troubled American democracy will stress that, even with lady luck smiling his way, Doug Jones only managed 49.9% of the December 12 vote to Roy Moore’s 48.4%. And even my own favourite Doug Jones supporter in all of the United States and Canada concedes that if President Donald Trump’s original favourite Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange had been running instead of Roy Moore, the Republicans would almost certainly have won.

More immediately, just what Doug Jones’s victory may or may not mean for the 2018 mid-term Congressional elections nonetheless remains one of the most compelling questions about American politics in the new year just now on the horizon.

“Supporters of Doug Jones erupt in celebration during an election-night watch party Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala..”

Whatever else again, the Jones victory cannot be seriously construed as bad for the Democrats in 2018. The Mueller investigation is not the only hopeful prospect for the containment of the almost accidental Trump administration over the next few years.

Meanwhile, the largely unexpected triumph of the Jones Boy in Alabama ought to remind all concerned observers of the USA today everywhere of one key piece of non-fake news.

In quite living memory, the mixed-race Barack Obama from Honolulu and Chicago was twice elected President of the American Republic — by more commanding numbers than anything Donald Trump could show in November 2016 (even with all his “Art of the Deal” mendacity on feverish display).

With any luck at all history should finally show that the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 (not 2016) marked the real beginnings of the greatest America of the long-term future.

“Toronto, I just want to say … this is the greatest city in the world” — the double football championship of 2017

Posted: December 12th, 2017 | No Comments »

Jozy Altidore scores first Toronto FC goal as team brings home MLS Cup in 2-0 win over Seattle Sounders.

Football means one thing in North America, and another in the rest of the world.

(And even just North America north of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande. There’s also Australian Rules Football, I guess, but that’s … well … something completely different.)

In the late fall of 2017, as it happens, Toronto, ON, Canada has won what some might reasonably call two football championships — one, as it were, for each of these two current meanings.

(Though each championship, it should be noted, is vastly more obscure in the United States.)

To start with, only a few weeks ago in an Ottawa snow storm the current incarnation of a team originally invented by the Argonaut Rowing Club on the western Toronto waterfront won its 17th Grey Cup — coveted ultimate trophy of today’s Canadian Football League (CFL).

Toronto Argonauts cheerleaders in warmer weather. The Argos also won the Grey Cup this year — for a double football championship in the new global city.

(Canadian and US football in this sense “both have their origins in rugby football” and are very similar, if not quite identical. Broadly, the Canadian field is larger, and a team has 4 downs to advance the ball 10 yards in the US game, but only 3 downs in Canadian football.)

For the second great 2017 sports moment in the new global city of the Great Lakes, just over this past weekend the Toronto FC has won the Major League Soccer (MLS) championship — which “represents the sport’s highest level in both the United States and Canada.”

Soccer, of course, is what the rest of the world calls football. Major League Soccer’s  “first season took place in 1996 with ten teams.”  It now has “23 teams—20 in the US and 3 in Canada.” After some rocky early years today “average MLS attendance exceeds that of the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA).”

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What would the Incredible Canadian Mackenzie King make of Canada today, early December 2017?

Posted: December 4th, 2017 | No Comments »

St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia — only Canadian grove of academe to make it onto international list of “The 10 Wildest Party Schools In North America.” Will recent sexual assault charges against two varsity football players change all that?

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. DECEMBER 4, 2017. [UPDATED DECEMBER 11]. Who can doubt that we are now living in challenging times — especially in those realms of fake and other news where “Canada’s top party school” also qualifies as one of the “10 Wildest Party Schools in North America”?

(Even as “Sex assault allegations place NS university’s party culture under spotlight,” where “students spend more than 7 hours on average” drinking to excess and worse every week of the academic year — just like many of the working adults they know.)

Beyond our northern borders we hear “Trump tweets: ‘I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn’” and “Germany offers to pay migrants who go back home.”

Back in the northern homeland : “Trudeau arrives in China for trade talks with Xi” (are u  listening US NAFTA negotiators? ; “Poll suggests majority of Canadians back ban on guns in urban areas” ; “Kenney mirroring Trump in rhetoric on pipelines: Notley” ; “Quebec revising winter tire rules; incentive-based approach suggested for elsewhere” ; and “White Christmas ahead, but expect mild winter temperatures: Environment Canada.” [UPDATE : And yes Justin Trudeau's back from China now. See Robin Sears on “Canada is playing the long game with China” Note Alexander Panetta as well on how “Despite Trump’s insistence the US has a trade deficit with Canada, statistics from the website of the office of the US Trade Representative — the office handling NAFTA negotiations — paint an opposite portrait.”)

William Lyon Mackenzie King (l) and one of his key mentors, William Mulock, on the occasion of Mr. Mulock’s 101st birthday in 1944.

For all of us here at the Canadian republican underground, Ganatsekwyagon branch, these current challenges have happily coincided with the long-anticipated arrival of the next installment in Dr. Randall White’s work-in-progress, Children of the Global Village — Canada in the 21st Century : Tales about the history that matters.

If you go to “Long Journey to a Canadian Republic” on the bar above (or just CLICK HERE), you will find a short introduction to this modern history of Canadian democracy, along with the “Prologue : too much geography.”

This is followed by links to the currently completed six chapters in Part I, four  chapters in Part II, and the first four chapters in Part III on the old Dominion of Canada. You will now find as well a link to Chapter 5 of PART III : THE DOMINION OF CANADA, 1867–1963, “Age of the Incredible Canadian, 1921–1948.”

US comic book, c. 1942. Thanks to Ley and Lois Smith War, Memory and Popular Culture Research Collection, University of Western Ontario.

Yet again on a foggy day at the edge of the northern woods we eventually stumbled into Dr. White and his captivating business manager (in her freshly cleaned white faux fur winter coat), at the Tim Horton’s across from the local park.

We explained how we understood that William Lyon Mackenzie King, grandson of the 1837 Canadian rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie (and still Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, 1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948), was the “Incredible Canadian” in the title of his latest installment. And we asked Dr. White what he had finally taken from his encounter of the past number of months with Mackenzie King — the “profoundly eccentric, even creepy and worse … dead-mother-loving, lifelong bachelor spiritualist with a Harvard PhD … with all his strange and even crazy as well as brilliant political sides”?

Dr. White just said : “Well this is by far the longest chapter in the book so far. I think I can safely predict no future chapter will be at all so long. And I guess that says something (if not everything) about how Mackenzie King strikes me.”

More top party school action at St. FX — “Bishops’ Ball dance-off (Gordon La)” : and tks to Maclean’s website.

He took a bite from a Boston cream donut and pronounced it astonishingly fresh but lacking in cream. Then he added :

“In 1952 Bruce Hutchison wrote  ‘The mystery of William Lyon Mackenzie King is not the mystery of a man. It is the mystery of a people. We do not understand King because we do not understand ourselves … The full knowledge of both may be some time off …’”

He took a long gulp of regular coffee in the new seasonal cups and continued :

“It is still some time off, no doubt, even today. But we’re getting closer.” When we asked what he thought Mackenzie King would make of our challenges today — a strange US president, a deranged regime in North Korea, Brexit in the UK, a still massively unstable Middle East, climate change, Canadian pipelines, Russia and cyber security, etc, etc, etc — he just laughed and said he had to get back to the office (even on a Sunday afternoon).

Toronto hurray for Ricky Ray .. and Meghan Markle from “Black Beverly Hills”

Posted: November 28th, 2017 | No Comments »

Ricky Ray at the Grey Cup game in Ottawa, Sunday 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.

Toronto residents, some would say, have two particular reasons to thank the Golden State of California in late November 2017 :

(1) Ricky Ray from Happy Camp, CA: To start with, Ricky Ray, the quarterback who has just led the fabled Toronto Argonauts to their 17th Grey Cup (venerable prize of the Canadian Football League), was born in a place called Happy Camp, California.

A short account of Ricky Ray’s hometown on the net offers some greater understanding of the world that made the ultimate Canadian football champion (four Grey Cups : two with Edmonton and now another two with Toronto) :

“Along the banks of the mighty Klamath River in far northern California rests a sleepy mountain town. Steeped in history, fraught with lawlessness, altered by industry, and even haunted by the legend of Bigfoot himself, the oddly-named settlement of Happy Camp has beckoned eclectic groups of miners, adventurers, and mysterious lone wolves throughout its tumultuous history.”

As far as this year’s quite astounding Grey Cup game in the Ottawa snow itself goes, even some Toronto residents will agree that Shadoe Davis from Winnipeg has a point in “Did the Argos win or did the Stamps lose?” Still, I live in Toronto. I’m happy the Argos did actually get to take the Grey Cup home.

(2) Meghan Markle from “the View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, sometimes known as ‘Black Beverly Hills’” : Judging from Toronto TV and other media today, the absolutely crucial local news right now is —

Toronto in the early 1970s, before either Meghan Markle or Prince Harry were born!

How Meghan Markle and Prince Harry fell in love in Toronto: The timeline of a royal romance … From stepping out for the first time publicly at the Invictus Games to rumoured last-minute flights to visit each other, we go through Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s courtship in Toronto.”

As various friends and family can tell you (to everyone’s immense boredom etc), I very definitely do not believe that the British monarchy has any official, legal, and/or constitutional future in the modern “free and democratic society” we are so lucky to inhabit in Canada today. And in any case the Prince Harry Meghan Markle will be marrying this coming spring 2018 is unlikely to succeed to the throne. (Though that is also no doubt what some people once said about the stammering young man who eventually succeeded his abdicating brother as George VI.)

Yet even a fool such as I in these matters can agree that there is something genuinely new and intriguing about Meghan Markle in the history of British royal marriages. It’s not just that she is American, divorced, and Catholic — all anathema to earlier generations of the current British monarchy that descends from the 18th century German prince, George I.

As nicely explained in a piece from Ms. Markle’s own hometown newspaper (the Los Angeles Times), she is “the daughter of an African American social worker [Doria Ragland] and a white Hollywood TV cinematographer [Thomas Markle].”  As Meghan Markle’s IMDb biography also explains, she “Grew up in the View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, sometimes known as ‘Black Beverly Hills’.”

Doria Ragland (l) and her daughter Meghan Markle (r) on their way to yoga class in Toronto (where Ms Markle was working on the ”Suits” TV show), just after Christmas last year.

The Los Angeles Times piece noted as well : “While sipping a coffee in the Hollywood & Highland Center [near Ms Markle’s old hood, so to speak]  Renee Heck, 58, remembered watching the late Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981. It was right after her own wedding … Heck, who said she casually follows the royal family, was familiar with Markle from her role on ‘Suits’ and was happy to see the prince marry someone biracial … ‘It’s a big deal to me to know the queen is accepting of that,’ Heck said.”

My own view is that the British monarchy would have even more strongly shown how it is open to the future if Prince William (first in line after his father Charles) had, eg, married the daughter of a maharaja from India.

Even if that had happened, I would still believe very strongly myself that the British monarchy has no constitutional future in Canada. But I agree Renee Heck from Meghan Markle’s Los Angeles hometown is onto something : It is in its own way impressive enough, in this current crazy age, that the British monarch is happy to see her grandson marry a mixed-race Catholic divorcee from the American city of dreams, where many now speak Spanish at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, far far away from the deepening swamp in Washington, DC.

Who’s having a mid-life crisis — Justin Trudeau or the Ottawa press gallery?

Posted: November 17th, 2017 | No Comments »

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump at press conference in the White House, Washington, DC, Monday, February 13, 2017. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP.

A week or so ago John Geddes at Maclean’s posted a heavyweight piece headlined “Justin Trudeau’s mid-life crisis.”  The crisis, it seemed, had become a favourite theme for assorted journalists and pundits covering Canadian federal politics in Ottawa.

There also seemed to be at least some obvious enough weight behind it. When Éric Grenier pondered his CBC polling studies in early October — more than a month ago now — he reported “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are sliding in the polls, but it’s complicated.”

Much more recently (just yesterday in fact) no less liberal a newspaper than the Toronto Star published an article headlined “The economy is booming, but few Canadians are ready to give Trudeau credit, poll says … Canada’s economy is on pace to lead the G7, but just 25 per cent of Canadians describe the Prime Minister’s performance as an economic manager as good or better, and 36 per cent call it poor or worse.”

Justin Trudeau with Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest during his appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Monday, June 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Lynett.

Much more recently as well, however (again just yesterday), Bruce Anderson and David Coletto reported on a new Abacus poll : “Last month we saw a four-point slip in Liberal Party support; in our latest survey the Liberals have stabilized and would win 40% support today. The Conservatives are at 32%. Both these numbers are identical to the results last election day in 2015.”

Abacus has also reported some intriguing regional variation in responses to the question : “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the job the federal government led by Justin Trudeau is doing?” In Quebec (51%) and Atlantic Canada (a whopping 69%!) a majority of poll respondents answered “Approve” to this question. And in BC and Ontario the Approve number was 46%. As Anderson and Coletto put it, “Approval of the government” is at least “the plurality view” everywhere in Canada but the three Prairie provinces. And only in Alberta did a majority of respondents (56%) actually Disapprove of the federal government led by Justin Trudeau.

Justin Trudeau lights a candle for Diwali in this image shared on his Twitter account, Monday, October 16, 2017.

And now just today  Éric Grenier’s CBC poll tracker (reporting “Weighted Federal Polling Averages (%) … As of Nov. 17, 2017”) is suggesting broadly comparable results. (His current averages are Liberal 37.9%, Conservative 32.8%, NDP 17.1%, Green 6.0%, and Bloc Québécois 4.9%. On his model’s assumptions these numbers would give the Liberals 177 seats in the Canadian House of Commons — seven more than a bare majority.)

Moreover, if you ponder the individual poll results that Éric Grenier has used to calculate his current averages it is hard not to notice that the Trudeau Liberals have been reported at close to their 2015 election levels of popular support on various occasions over the past few months.

(Nanos had the Trudeau Liberals at 41% cross-country late this past summer. Ipsos had them at 39% late September. Campaign Research reported 38% early October. Abacus said 39% later October. Léger reported 42% for somewhat later October. Ipsos said 38% for somewhat later October. And Nanos reported 38% for mid October to mid November!)

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The polite fiction that the governor general is somehow “above politics” is what really lacks credibility today

Posted: November 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

Julie Payette, who was sworn in as Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada on the banks of the Ottawa River, Monday, October 2, 2017, back when she was just an astronaut floating in space.

There seems at least some significant agreement within the Canadian federal punditocracy (which I admire a great deal) that our new former-astronaut Governor General Julie Payette badly blotted her copy book, when she gave spirited opening remarks at the recent 9th annual Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa.

I nonetheless feel driven to confess that I am one of the (I believe) growing numbers of Canadians who are not offended by anything Her Excellency said to the country’s top scientists.

I would not, myself, have said quite what she said, or in the way she said it. Eg : “Can you believe that … we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process?”

But I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) myself be an astronaut either. And it’s reassuring at last to hear someone in Canadian public life stand up for one of the various growing minority groups I count myself among — the 23.9% of all Canadians who reported “No religious affiliation” in the 2011 census.

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Homage to Catalonia : déjà vu all over again .. it may belong in Spain but this isn’t the way to keep it there?

Posted: October 29th, 2017 | No Comments »

George Orwell with the POUM militia at the Aragón front in the Spanish Civil War, 1937. He is the tallest among the standing figures. The woman crouching just by his hand is his wife Eileen.

[UPDATED OCTOBER 31, NOVEMBER 1]. George Orwell’s Spanish Civil War book, Homage to Catalonia, first appeared in print in the spring of 1938. Not quite 80 years later, some updated version of its sad story about Spanish and Catalan politics — and the harsh light they cast on the wider world of the 1930s — may be unfolding all over again.

We’re following up here on the Catalonia part of L. Frank Bunting’s October 11 report on this site : “Canadian Thanksgiving 2017, Catalonia capers in Spain, and the unbearable lightness of Mélanie Joly” (subsequently UPDATED OCTOBER 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21!).

We’re also happy enough that, just this past Friday, October 27, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada’s support for “one united Spain … after the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona passed a motion unilaterally establishing a new country.”

At the same time, we’re happy as well to note the CBC Montreal report : “Catalan independence vote sparks contrasting opinions from Quebec and Canadian politicians … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada recognizes united Spain while Quebec premier calls for dialogue.”

Beyond this we’re just observers from a distance, perched on the northern shores of the North American Great Lakes, in front of desk-top internet monitors and big-screen TVs (and with warm memories of various Spanish visits in the 21st century). And we are especially impressed with eight particular observations from much closer to the action in Madrid and Barcelona :

Celebrating the Catalan declaration of independence in Barcelona, October 27, 2017.

* “Separatist lawmakers in Catalonia were unbowed …  erupting in applause as their vote was approved with 70 votes in favor of an independent Catalan Republic, 10 against and two blank ballots out of a total 135 members.”

* “Within an hour of the Catalan vote, the Spanish Senate in Madrid voted 214 to 47 to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, granting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy extraordinary powers to take direct administrative control over the region and remove secessionist politicians.” (As best we can make out, 24 members of the Spanish Senate are from Catalonia?)

* “Mr. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party has its origins in the neo-Francoist Allianza Popular, which was founded by former Franco ministers after the dictator’s death.”

* “however Rajoy chooses to implement Madrid’s takeover of Catalonia, it seems unlikely that his actions will end the era of ‘disorder’ there … something close to half of Catalonia’s electorate truly favors independence; that sentiment is unlikely to wane with Madrid’s intervention … the sectarian standoff will become even uglier in the days and weeks to come … The Spanish problem … is …  The political pacts that were formed in 1978, following the death of Franco, appear to be falling apart.”

* “‘Two months ago, I would have said that 43 percent [turnout in the Madrid-repressed referendum that voted 90% for Catalan independence] was not enough,’ said Ester Romero, 25, a [Barcelona] sales manager who had come to the [pro-independence] rally … ‘But after all the oppression, after all the police hitting people during the referendum, it’s enough.’”

Catalan president (now officially ex-president) Carles Puigdemont as the Parliament of Catalonia declares independence on October 27.

* “Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council bluntly announced: ‘…nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor.’ … Tellingly, Tusk added, ‘I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force.’”

* “The United States said Catalonia was an ‘integral part of Spain’ and that it supported Spanish government efforts to keep the nation ‘strong and united.’ … State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the two NATO allies ‘cooperate closely to advance our shared security and economic priorities.’”

* “Regional elections in 2015 returned a slim majority of pro-independence lawmakers, who took this as a mandate to push ahead with the independence drive … Analysts predict a similar outcome in the upcoming ballot” (now scheduled by Spanish President Mariano Rajoy for this  December 21, 2017).

For more than anyone ever really wanted to know about our own Canadian views on Homage to Catalonia 2017–18 click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll down below.

[UPDATE OCTOBER 31 : Meanwhile we've been impressed by Carles Puigdemont’s reaction to current events at a news conference in Brussels  — “I ask the Catalan people to prepare for a long road. Democracy will be the foundation of our victory” — and his “announcement that he would accept the regional election on Dec. 21.” See the short but sweet Thomson Reuters report “Ex-Catalan president accepts snap election, says 'long road' to independence.”]

[UPDATE NOVEMBER 1 : In the face of many other global events of deep concern, the situation in Catalonia and related places has grown somewhat quieter and will probably stay that way for a while at least. But the plot nonetheless continues to quietly thicken, in various troubling ways. See, eg : “Catalonia president Carles Puigdemont will ignore Spanish court order to answer rebellion charges ... Arrest warrant could be issued making it virtually impossible for him to stand in upcoming election” ; “Catalonia Will Not Retreat” ; “How Catalonia’s crisis is turning into a European problem” ; and “Catalonia: Fascists caught making Nazi salutes during anti-Catalan independence protest ... Far-right protesters also chanted 'Viva Franco' in reference to Spain's former dictator.”]

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