Splendor at the Hollywood theatre with Natalie Wood .. five years later (when she would be 78 years old)

Posted: November 29th, 2016 | No Comments »

Natalie Wood with her daughter Natasha Gregson in 1973, early on in her second marriage to Robert John Wagner, Jr.

I’m told that for a few weeks now the statistics for this site have been showing fresh interest in a post of mine from exactly five years ago, on “Splendor at the Hollywood theatre : remembering the Natalie Wood who would be 73 years old.”

The occasion back then was the 30th anniversary of the sad and even tragic death of Ms. Wood, at the far too early age of 43.

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the same event.

Back then as well the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was apparently taking a fresh interest in the circumstances surrounding Natalie Wood’s death by drowning, somewhere between Los Angeles and “Santa Catalina … the island of romance … twenty-six miles away.”

Lana Wood confronts Robert Wagner at Hyatt Regency in Palm Springs, this past February. He should report her to Gibbs at NCIS.

Five years later there has also been some fresh speculation about just what did happen off Santa Catalina on the night of November 28–29, 1981.

This seems fueled more by the private demons of Natalie Wood’s younger sister, Lana Wood, and the business ambitions of a website called Radar Online (and a “private detective firm called Cold Case Investigative Research”), than by any serious concerns of the Los Angeles County Sheriff.

See, eg, a short, shaky article from this past September : “Robert Wagner to Be Arrested For Murder of Natalie Wood?” — the only even half-credible sentence of which is :

“It remains unclear if police have any intention of pressing charges against the 86-year-old Wagner.”

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Reaction to Justin Trudeau’s Fidel farewell just one early sign of new age of Trump .. well, sort of .. maybe?

Posted: November 28th, 2016 | No Comments »

Margaret Trudeau, Fidel Castro, and Pierre Trudeau, 1976.

As much as we want to escape the long arm of Donald Trump in the US (and other) mainstream media during the last lame-duck weeks of 2016, we keep bumping into it all, like it or not.

Up here in the true north strong and free the main media obsession of this past weekend has been Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s controversial message “on the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.”

It has been widely condemned, apparently, in the US media, among opposition critics of the Trudeau Liberal government in Canada, and by various alleged wits on line, in the remarkable Age of the Internet.

Without wanting to disagree entirely with some of the criticism, we just can’t help but wonder whether at least quite a lot of it has quite a lot to do with the new world of acceptable or even required public comment, that Mr. Trump’s November 8 electoral college victory in the United States has introduced — even in such a liberal place as Canada.

Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway, 1960.

Someone on Canadian English language TV yesterday did acknowledge that the essential first rule of messages on recently deceased persons of any sort is “do not speak ill of the dead.”

Yet underneath the bubble of life in the USA — and especially from a right-wing or even centre-right political perspective (the sort of thing that Trump’s victory has inevitably strengthened) —  it is not right to say anything at all agreeable about the late Fidel Castro, without at the same time underlining very heavily that he was also an appalling dictator who murdered some political opponents and generally abused human rights in his own country.

The US government in particular, for some good and other bad reasons, has not just disagreed in principle with Cuba’s domestic regime over the past half century or so. It has essentially proscribed all contact with that regime for American citizens. President Obama finally broke the ice on this relationship, but who knows what will happen to his efforts under President Trump?

Fidel Castro and Justin Trudeau at funeral for Pierre Trudeau, Montreal, October 3, 2000. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images.

In both Canada and Mexico, however, we have encouraged contact with Castro’s Cuba. Many Canadians (including some of our own best friends) have holidayed in Cuba during the Castro regime, and various Canadian (and Mexican) firms have established business enterprises there.

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was a particular friend of Fidel Castro. In the spring of 1998 former Prime Minister Jean Chretien   paid the first visit to Fidel’s Cuba by a Canadian prime minister since Pierre Trudeau’s visit of 1976. And in the early fall of the year 2000 Fidel Castro was among the foreign leaders (also including former US president Jimmy Carter) who attended Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in Montreal.

We here have now looked over the original allegedly offensive message from Justin Trudeau, in its official format, and we do think that referring to the late Fidel Castro as “Cuba’s longest serving President” is a little too cute.

“April 28, 1998 — Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien with Cuban President Fidel Castro before departing for home ending a three day trip to Cuba, the first visit to the Communist-ruled island by a Canadian leader since Pierre Trudeau's in 1976. (Andy Clark/Reuters).”

After a brief apparently democratic beginning, Fidel Castro did of course degenerate into what the New York Times has called “above all an old-style Spanish caudillo, one of a long line of Latin American strongmen who endeared themselves to people searching for leaders. The analyst Alvaro Vargas Llosa of the Independent Institute in Washington called him “the ultimate 20th-century caudillo.”

But one thing Alma Guillermoprieto’s 1998 piece on “Fidel in the Evening” makes clear (recently revived by the New York Review of Books) is that there are people in Cuba who still have the same warm feelings about the Spanish caudillo Fidel Castro that a substantial minority in the United States have about the new English caudillo-elect Donald Trump.

And if we are encouraged to respect right-wing caudillos of this sort shouldn’t we also be encouraged to respect similar left-wing caudillos?

Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro.

In any case, we would just like to go on record as joining the likes of federal cabinet minister Stephane Dion and Quebec premier Philippe Couillard in supporting the essential thrust of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro … On behalf of all Canadians.”

When all is said and done, the prime minister has certainly spoken for the side of Canada we see ourselves as part of. And we are grateful that we still have this Canada to identify with and reach out to, even in the troubling new age of Donald Trump.

The good, bad, and ugly in French philosopher Bruno Latour’s take on the tragedy of Donald Trump

Posted: November 22nd, 2016 | No Comments »

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford with Donald Trump, at ribbon cutting for Trump International Hotel in Toronto, April 16, 2012. Image : George Pimentel.

The usually agreeable X keeps telling me that he is working on some major tone poem called “Toronto notes : Donald Trump as Rob Ford, Part Deux .. and that really did end tragically.” He wants to take the time to get it right. It will be ready soon …etc.

Meanwhile the managing editor says it is starting to get too long since the last post here. And my email has just forwarded a helpful article from the Los Angeles Review of Books.

I at least acquired a better understanding of what I think myself by reading this article. It’s called “Two Bubbles of Unrealism: Learning From the Tragedy of Trump.”

It’s by the “French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist of science” Bruno Latour. And it is an English translation of a piece that originally appeared in the Paris newspaper, Le Monde.

Bruno Latuor, at work in his office.

An unkind comment writer on the LARB website has urged that : “A fair estimate of the number of French philosophers who have understood US politics well would be zero, even if they have spent six weeks at American universities.”

There is one partial sense in which, coming from just north of the North American Great Lakes, I have a similar opinion. And I will end on at least a moderate version of a related note. (See “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below.)

At the same time, in Canada today we have our own French philosophers. (Our present prime minister may be one of them!) And we are more accustomed to exploiting their very real talents.

Similarly, I knew nothing of  Bruno Latour before I read his article from Le Monde, now on the Los Angeles Review of Books website. But the early 21st century internet provides a fast second-hand introduction to such things that was impossible in my youth.

Brunch at L'arobase Café on the rue du Chevaleret in Paris.

In any case I found Latour’s remarks on “the Tragedy of Trump” the most refreshing thing I’ve seen on the subject since the election itself.

That might have something to do with my not looking very hard, in a state of information overload that could last forever. Maybe the key point is that I almost enjoyed reading Bruno Latour’s remarks. Which is more than I can say for almost anything else I’ve seen or heard about Donald Trump lately.

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Golden State waves goodbye : ‘Calexit’ movement’s a joke that’s become almost serious with Trump election?

Posted: November 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

California’s present state flag is a legacy of the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, when American settlers in Mexican Alta California declared a new republic. The territory in question officially became part of the United States at the end of the Mexican War in 1848, and then the “free labor” 31st state of the union in 1850.

You’ve of course already heard of “Brexit” — Britain leaves (exits) the European Union. (And this is something that’s already happening, in one degree or another. See, eg, the excellent Scottish journalist and writer Neal Ascherson on “England prepares to leave the world.”)

If you live north of the “unfortified” northern US border, you may also have heard of “Canadexit” — today’s independent “free and democratic society” in Canada finally leaves the British monarch as its symbolic “head of state.” (See, eg, our own counterweights editors on “Happy Canada Day 2016 — for Canadians biggest Brexit impact may be Canadexit from King Charles III.”)

UCLA students march through campus on November 10, 2016, protesting presidential election of Donald Trump, in state where only one third of voters endorsed him. Photo Frederick J. Brown, AFP/Getty.

Now the big-surprise US election of this past Tuesday has brought fresh attention to “Calexit” — the most populous Golden State of California secedes from the United States of America. (See, eg, “’Calexit’ movement says Trump win helps their calls for California to secede” (Los Angeles Times)  and “Interest in #Calexit growing after Donald Trump victory” (CNN politics).

Why? Well, to start with this past Tuesday 62% of California voters chose Hillary Clinton and only 33% chose Donald Trump. The only other state with quite such strong support for the Democratic candidate was Hawaii.

(In the very special non-state case of the District of Columbia the number for the Democrat Ms Clinton was as high as 93%. Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont all went 61% for Clinton, and the State of New York went 59%.)

March on state Capitol in Sacramento, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, urging California to secede from the US. SOURCE: KCRA.

Meanwhile, “Gov. Jerry Brown warns Trump that California won’t back down on climate change.” And : “California will stay true to its liberal priorities and won’t back down from the fight against climate change following Donald Trump’s election as president, Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday.”

Californians have also just voted to legalize marijuana and stiffen gun control. (And they voted  against a “measure” that “would have required condoms or other protective barriers to be used in pornographic films.”)

More generally, there has long been a good theoretical case for California as its own separate country.  A neatly printed sign carried by various Calexit (or “Yes California”) supporters over the past several days has summarized the story : “California is a nation not a state.”

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Memories of Remembrance Days past

Posted: November 11th, 2016 | No Comments »

Harold Innis, later first Canadian president of the American Economic Association, 1952. With the Fourth Battery of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Western Europe during the First World War, 1916.

A review of past counterweights postings on or near November 11 — since our humble beginnings in 2004 — suggests that it took the increasingly extended Canadian involvement in Afghanistan to finally spark our interest in Remembrance Day commemorations.

As best we can tell on some quick forays through the bulging accumulated material in “Browse Archives,” we first dealt directly with Remembrance Day in 2010.  Then we had something on the subject for 2011, 2012, and 2013 as well. But there has been nothing since 2013, and we did nothing before 2010.

As already half-noted, in 2010 and 2011 current Canadian military action in Afghanistan was the great inspiration for our Remembrance Day coverage. (For those who may not be quite old enough to remember, the annual commemoration began after the First World War, which ended on November 11, 1918, in a railroad car outside Compiègne, France.)

In 2011 and 2013 our coverage also made some reference to Canada’s current most populous metropolis of Toronto (it used to be Montreal, and may eventually be Vancouver, or Calgary?), and to “O Valiant Hearts” — still in our view the most poignant and beautiful “hymn remembering the fallen of the First World War.”

In 2012, in the midst of other concerns, we offered a quick bow to a November 9 Toronto Star column by Joe Fiorito, honouring the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (aka Mac Paps) — Canada’s volunteer military force on the side of the free and democratic society in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939.

Canadians at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, March 16, 2011.

For Remembrance Day 2016 here are links to all our earlier postings : “Afghanistan agony haunts November 11, 2010” ; “O valiant hearts .. remembering the Toronto we love to hate, and all who have served in Afghanistan” (2011) ; “Abandoning Lindsay Lohan and Paulina Gretzky for the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion in the Spanish Civil War” (2012, scroll down for Mac Paps) ; and “O valiant [Toronto] hearts who to your glory came, your memory hallowed in the land you loved” (2013).

Several of us watched parts of the 2016 commemorations in Ottawa, on the big TV in the office communications centre. Everyone agreed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire distinguish us on such occasions — yet another good reason to live in Canada, in the far north of North America. Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

What happened? … without rigged system of the electoral college Trump wouldn’t have won

Posted: November 9th, 2016 | No Comments »

[UPDATED NOVEMBER 10, 12]. What happened on November 8, 2016 in the United States of America? A few personal impressions from the accumulating vast collection out there, based mostly on US TV, various online resources in the miraculous Age of the Internet, and a few intermittent conversations with actual voters in various parts of the great republic :

1. DON’T BLAME ALL THE POLLS. Nate Silver had already allowed for the possibility of a Trump victory : “In some ways, our fundamental hypothesis about this campaign is that uncertainty is high, with both a narrow Trump win and a more robust Clinton win — in the mid-to-high single digits — remaining entirely plausible outcomes.”

2. UNDERESTIMATING TRUMP. The mainstream media commentariat — because they did largely favour Hillary — finally viewed the “more robust Clinton win” end of the spectrum as almost certain. And this did seem to be borne out by the polls. What both the polls and most commentators missed was the almost magical promotional brilliance and deep constituency empathy of Donald Trump. (Though a few MSNBC reporters close to the Trump campaign, eg, apparently picked something of this up.) As I heard one Democratic Party operative succinctly put it this morning : “We underestimated Trump.” (An old story by now — and yet another parallel for Toronto, Canada residents with the story of Rob Ford.)

3. NARROW WIN : HILLARY TAKES POPULAR VOTE. It’s worth underlining that what has happened is (in Nate Silver’s earlier language) very much “a narrow Trump win.”  Based on the latest numbers reported in the NY Times (6:00 PM ET, Nov 10), Hillary has actually won the national popular vote — by well over a quarter of a million votes (UPDATE : well over half a million votes as of 1:30 AM, Nov 12 ; and more than one million votes as of 11:30 PM ET Nov 16) — while losing in the electoral college. In this sense the rigged system finally worked in Mr. Trump’s own interest. And he will not likely un-rig the electoral college, which tends to favour his kind of “rural and small-town white America” geographic constituency.

4. BEST FOR PROGRESSIVES IN THE END? In the mid to longer term what has happened may be better for the continuing advancement of the cause of progress than a less than altogether robust win for Hillary, combined with continuing Republican majorities in the House and the Senate. If America is going to remain ungovernable and unprogressive over the next four years, regardless of who is president, it may finally prove a good thing that 2017–2021 was presided over by the Republican enigma of Donald Trump.

5. REAL PROGRESS HAS ALWAYS HAD AN ECONOMIC BASE. The cause of progress will be in trouble if it finally abandons its traditional economic dimensions, in favour of an almost strictly cultural definition of its main objectives. Real liberation has economic as well as cultural vibrations. Progressive strategy loses sight of that at its great peril.

6. DON’T NORMALIZE PATHOLOGICAL LYING OF DONALD TRUMP (AND WORSE) IN DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CULTURE. In my ideal world this would be one key guideline for all manner of American (and other) progressive politics going forward. Realists might wonder if it can actually happen. (Trump has won the election etc.) It bears saying anyway.

In any event, that’s how it looks the day after, to one Canadian who always votes Democratic in American elections.

PS : NOV 10, 6PM ET/3 PM PT — MAYBE THE MOST SURPRISED PERSON IS TRUMP HIMSELF ???? Something about the look on Donald Trump’s face at his victory speech event suggested he himself was surprised he actually won, and uncertain about what to do next. The very brief public part of his meeting with President Obama today raised similar thoughts. And it seems that US TV journalists like Chuck Todd are entertaining such thoughts with some amusement. President-elect Trump’s  cabinet and other appointments will start to clarify what he’s going to do (insofar as he knows himself?).  But it may be that no one should jump to any premature conclusions. Maybe …

Northern lights on US election VI : trying to be positive about democracy in America 2016, as it happens …

Posted: November 8th, 2016 | No Comments »

TORONTO, CANADA. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8. 1:30 PM ET. I too have been called by the doctor with an almost final assignment in the most troubling US election in my memory. (Well that’s the way it seems right now. I’m so old  I can’t really remember all that much. Except that I haven’t liked the results of many US and other elections in my time. That’s democracy.)

“Just start now,” the doctor said. “And try to write down positive impressions about what may actually prove to be a historic election — based on your vantage point in our communications centre, watching US TV, and your time on the net in your office. Just try to make us feel good for a change. Jot down short notes that you keep updating as the day and night wears on.” Well OK, OK, I finally replied. I don’t know how positive any of this will be. But here’s a start :

* 1:45 PM ET. I’ve been surprised by just how good the CNN coverage of the election has been. That may be because it is, as some Trump official said, the Clinton News Network. But that’s not what I think. I just think it has been good coverage. Generally fair, accurate, and not crazy.

* 1: 50 PM ET. I just caught Nicolle Wallace saying something that impressed me in a clip on MSNBC. I don’t have her exact words but it was something like : ‘It’s the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the beginning, or the end of the end. No one knows, and anyone who tells you they do is lying.’ (Nicolle Wallace also reminds me of a certain type of girl I coveted in vain light years ago in high school, but that’s only slightly important. To me her intellectual conclusion here is right on.)

* 3:00 PM ET. From the emails Rachel Maddow sends to her many fans (including me), a piece by Steve Benen : “Yesterday, Gallup’s daily tracking poll put Obama’s approval rating at 56%. Among modern two-term presidents, that puts Obama ahead of Reagan’s standing at this point in 1988 and just behind Bill Clinton’s backing at this point in 2000 … In fact, Obama is actually more popular now than he was when he was re-elected four years ago.”

* 7:15 PM ET/4:15 PM PT.  An aging commentator on ABC News has just expressed his concern that the political divisions in the country have become so toxic that no one is going to be able to govern over the next few years, regardless of who wins tonight. Meanwhile Trump has already taken Indiana and Kentucky. And Clinton has won Bernie Sanders’s Vermont.

* 8:45 PM ET / 5:45 PT. My impression from MSNBC at the moment is that things are not going as well for Hillary as we progressives might like. Rachel has just pointed out that most Democrat players did not expect Virginia to be undecided at this point in the evening. It’s also starting to look like Trump will finally take a close race in Florida. Steve Schmidt : reds getting redder, blues getting bluer. (Personally : thinking about having a beer from the office fridge …)

* 9:45 PM ET / 6:45 PM PT. My gloomy impression at this moment, from the numbers and virtually all the TV commentary, is that it is now likely enough Donald Trump will become the next president of the USA, in a big surprise Brexit II of the English-speaking world. It may also be that the 1995 second  Quebec referendum in Canada will finally offer more hopeful guidance. And Hillary Clinton will slip in by a few electoral votes at some point tomorrow morning — once California and the Pacific Northwest join in. Yet, whatever happens, as almost everyone on TV seems to be saying, this has to go down as a surprisingly good night for Donald Trump.  With god knows just what ultimate consequences for planet earth! For the moment again, I’m unhappily reminded of my September 7 note in this series : “Northern lights on US election II : What if Conrad Black is right and Donald Trump actually wins ????

* WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 12:15 AM ET / TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 9:15 PM PT. It now certainly looks as if Hillary Clinton has virtually no likely path to the required 270 electoral votes. And the commentators on TV are starting to talk about President Trump and just what that might actually mean. (Amid reports about chants of “Lock her up, lock her up” at the Trump headquarters in New York City.) It is of course part of democracy to accept the vote of the sovereign people. President Trump may not quite be official yet, but it is starting to seem that this is what we will all have to start getting used to. It’s not the first US election result I have personally found appalling. My most immediate instinct is just to cultivate our own garden up here in the northern woods. And let President Trump and his fellow Republicans in the USA, USA worry about themselves. Democracy in America in its deepest sense still has a future, no doubt. And it will fight again another day. Meanwhile all who admire this seriously great political legacy will continue to carry a torch in the wider global village …

* WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 3:00 AM ET / 12:00 PM PT. Donald Trump has now won 279 electoral votes and is the president-elect. Hillary Clinton has phoned and congratulated him. He has made some generous enough remarks at his headquarters about how hard his opponent has fought, and how much he wants to be the president of all the people. To me the clearest thing he said was that he plans to rebuild the outworn infrastructure of the USA.

Those of us who live in Toronto, Canada are bound to see some similarity with the mayoral victory of the late Rob Ford, back in 2010. Nobody thought it could happen, but it did. We somehow lived through the next four years, and no doubt the USA will do the same now.

It does seem that Donald Trump and his new Republican party have won all three US elected political prizes  — House, Senate, and Presidency. If they do have magical solutions to what they say  ails the American body politic (and economic) they will have every chance to implement them.

The Democrats will have to reconstruct themselves, to pick up the pieces in case what President Donald Trump has in mind just does not work in the end. And presumably there will be another election in 2020, to test these waters.

Meanwhile, up here in the northern woods we will carry on with life in the Canadian confederation of 1867 (in the wake of the US Civil War), whose 150th anniversary we will celebrate next year, with a Liberal federal government in office at Ottawa, after almost 10 years of Conservative minority and majority government under Stephen Harper. (Which we also somehow managed to survive intact.)

Northern lights on US election V : does Comey’s latest announcement cancel Bill Maher’s right-wing coup?

Posted: November 7th, 2016 | No Comments »

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2 AM. The phone rang. It was the doctor. “You’re supposed to be the humour guy,” he said. “Do something humourous about this US election. It’s killing us.”

He went on : “I watched Bill Maher Friday night. President Obama — just on tape but of course impressive. Then a somewhat Canadian panel : Martin Short, Jennifer Granholm, and David Frum (a Republican who is finally voting for Hillary). Interesting talk.”

Then the doctor’s tone changed: “They also tried some comedy. But Maher is full of anxiety that Trump might actually win. And so am I — and everyone else here. We need lighter moments to reach Tuesday night intact. And … well you’re supposed to be the humour guy.”

The phone call ended, and I started thinking. I don’t know that I can think of anything humourous right now either. I saw Bill Maher Friday night too. In some ways I agree with him. It’s too serious for humour at this point.

Personally, I now cannot stand to see or hear Donald Trump or anything about him on TV. And I was almost more distressed when I read Éric Grenier’s Saturday report up here in the true north :

“As of Friday’s Presidential Poll Tracker update, Clinton has the support of 47.4 per cent of decided voters, compared to 44.5 per cent for Trump. That margin of 2.9 points is far more comfortable than the 1.9-point margin she had in the polls at the beginning of this week.”

Well … yes. This suggests Hillary will still get by in the end. But the thought that as much as 45% of decided voters are finally prepared to vote for Donald Trump is alarming at best, even if Ms Clinton wins. (And again even if she wins, Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight website now has the Senate-control chances a mere 56.7% Democrats versus 43.3% Republicans — though the numbers here do change quite often still. UPDATE, Noon, Monday, November 7 : And now it’s worse for the cause of progress :  Democrats 45.7% versus Republicans 54.3% !!!! Good luck with Supreme Court appointments etc. )

Then there’s Trump’s last-minute psychotic ranting about how the FBI is going to charge Hillary with heinous crimes if she is elected.  What can anyone say? Beyond “how does he (and his friends in the FBI) get away with it ????” Again, again, and again …

On Saturday night MSNBC was reporting that some recent poll had found 51% of Americans believe Hillary Clinton has done something illegal. What a fraud! I don’t believe Ms Clinton is perfect. But I don’t think she has done anything at all illegal. That is a status much closer to Mr. Trump, who believes that it is just good business to do all kinds of corrupt and dubious things. And as for what is going on these days in the FBI …

Bill Maher’s ultimate fear on Friday night was that some kind of right-wing coup is now underway in the USA. His guests seemed to feel this was going a little too far. But a side of me could easily enough share his fear. Many strange things have certainly been happening on the US TV news.

The biggest trouble right now may be that, if you live in any kind of English language environment, anywhere in the global village, you just can’t escape the 2016 US election … with all its troubling doom and gloom.

(See this from polling guru Nate Silver, eg : “In some ways, our fundamental hypothesis about this campaign is that uncertainty is high, with both a narrow Trump win and a more robust Clinton win — in the mid-to-high single digits — remaining entirely plausible outcomes.”)

I finally don’t have any countervailing humour to offer. Just as I was getting ready to file my story, however, the latest breaking news came in : “FBI announces latest Clinton emails don’t require further investigation or charges … Director James Comey said there’s been no change to the conclusion reached by investigators in July.”

So why did Comey make the last-minute announcement he made in the first place?  As my esteemed colleague X urged in this space back at the end of last month : “Whatever history may in the future decide … right now it certainly looks a lot like a partisan effort by Republican sympathizers in the FBI to slow down the momentum Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have seemed to be developing over the past few weeks.”

As almost all the polling attests, so far this  partisan effort by Republican sympathizers in the FBI has largely succeeded. And it certainly ought to ruin the reputation and future of the FBI. (Which no doubt accounts for why James Comey finally walked back from his original last-minute announcement.)

I was especially struck a few days ago by an observation on the 2016 US election campaign from the American novelist Diane Johnson :“The pity is that whatever happens on election night will leave a permanent scar, because we’ve learned some horrible things about our country and its divisions, about how so many people don’t mind, or don’t even know, that someone lies …”

Anyway if Charles Parker II from Kansas City were alive today (aka “Bird” — the greatest musician America has yet produced, in my view), he would no doubt make sure he voted on November 8.

November 4 – November 8 : Seven key dates in Canadian history, waiting for the troubling US election of 2016

Posted: November 4th, 2016 | No Comments »

Professor George Grant at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, 1979. Photo : Tom Bochsler.

Back in 1969, the year Richard Nixon first assumed office as President of the USA, the old-style Canadian conservative George Grant offered “perspectives on what it is to live in the Great Lakes region of North America,” in his short book Technology and Empire.

Without in any way pretending to equal or follow George Grant’s adventures (of course, of course), here are some at least similar subject-related perspectives on the same place not quite 50 years later, with an increasingly troubling US election less than four days away.

As it comes to an end, what the long 2016 US election campaign has most obviously induced in anyone already in Canada is gratitude for living so close to the USA as to enjoy most of its advantages, without having to face its current political conflicts (at least not directly, or in quite as strident a form).

Similarly, coincidentally or otherwise, the remaining dates of the days leading up to and including the 2016 US election have a number of distinctions in Canadian political history. Taking quick note of seven particular dates of this sort is another way of being grateful for Canada in troubled times, in the most northern regions of North America:

(1) WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1981, OTTAWA : Towards the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Night of the Long Lives and Birth of the Kitchen Accord … almost completing a journey begun more than half a century before, at an Imperial Conference held in London, 19 October – 22 November 1926.

George V (front centre) with the prime ministers of the mother country and the self-governing dominions at the Imperial Conference of 1926. At this point the dominions were “white” — except for South Africa where the electorate was largely white. It was not until the brief histories of the “brown dominions” of India and Pakistan in the late 1940s that the real-world multiculturalism of the old anglophone global empire started to gain political recognition.

(2) THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1981, OTTAWA : PM Pierre Trudeau and Nine Provincial Premiers (all except sovereigntist premier of Quebec, René Lévesque) sign the “Kitchen Accord” to “patriate” Canada’s constitution from the United Kingdom, with federal-provincial amending formula … at last. (Note Lévesque had led the Oui side in the May 20, 1980 Quebec sovereignty referendum, in which 59.5% of the interested people of Quebec voted Non.)

(3) MONDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1894, OTTERVILLE, ON : Birth of “Canada’s first and perhaps only genuine intellectual,” Harold Innis.  Early discoverer of the human geographic meaning of Canada as a “northern North America” not dependent on the old British empire — a concept later brought to practical political life by John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson, and Pierre Trudeau.

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Do we really want the Ontario Provincial Police enforcing good manners in our regional democracy?

Posted: November 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »

Patricia Sorbara (centre) at birthday party, September 2014.

The Ontario Provincial Police have now actually charged two Ontario Liberal Party workers — Patricia Sorbara in Toronto and Gerry Lougheed in Sudbury — with “bribery” under the provincial Elections Act, in connection with a political controversy surrounding a by-election in Sudbury almost two years ago.

My own reaction when I first heard the news was that the increasingly high-pressure political pathology at work in the 2016  “democracy-as-depicted-by-Hieronymus-Bosch” election next door is finally making its way across the unfortified border, north of  the Great Lakes.

(Almost as if someone wanted to underline the late 19th century judgment of Goldwin Smith,  the Oxford Regius Professor of History who retired to The Grange in Toronto : “Ontario is an American state of the Northern type.”)

The OPP charges on the Sudbury by-election especially reminded me of some compelling recent writing from the US conservative military historian and foreign-policy analyst, Max Boot :

Goldwin Smith and his dog in front of The Grange in Toronto, 1905. The Grange is now part of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

“Trump’s apologists tried to claim that he wasn’t threatening to jail former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for being his political opponent but, rather, for supposed ‘felonies committed in office.’ But this is exactly the kind of thing that dictators always say; no one ever admits to jailing the opposition for political reasons. The essence of democracy is not to criminalize political differences.”

To also underline our traditional Canada-First identity, our case in Ontario is not a conventional matter of a government throwing its opposition in jail. It involves a more unique example of an opposition trying to throw the government in jail, through the good offices of the Ontario Provincial Police. (Analogous of course to the State Police, stateside, in the North of the USA.)

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