Democracy in British Columbia 2017 : suddenly it’s very interesting

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | No Comments »

Beautiful girls on the Capilano suspension bridge in beautiful BC.

[UPDATED JUNE 20, 22]. Without a doubt the most interesting thing in Canadian politics right now is the continuing fallout from the May 9, 2017 provincial election in beautiful British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast.

To start with, make a strong mental note that 44 seats constitute the barest of majorities in BC’s 87-seat elected Legislative Assembly.

(And recall from high school, or wherever else you were once told about it, that having or being able to regularly find a majority in the popularly elected legislature or parliament, to support your program by passing crucial laws, is what government is finally all about in our kind of parliamentary democracy.)

Alas or otherwise, depending on your point of view, when all the ballots were finally and properly counted (and where necessary recounted, two weeks after the May 9 election day), the lovely Christy Clark’s previously governing Liberals won 43 seats with 40.36% of the province-wide popular vote — one seat shy of a bare majority.

John Horgan’s New Democrats won 41 seats with 40.28% of the popular vote — 3 seats shy of a bare majority. And (make another strong mental note here) Andrew Weaver’s Green party won 3 seats with 16.84% of the vote!

Beautiful (and soon-to-be former?) BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who in an earlier career taught high school in BC, where his mother was born and raised), February 5, 2016.

For the time being Christy Clark’s Liberals — the party with the largest number of seats — have remained in office as the BC government.

For a short while after the election it also seemed that the easiest ultimate resolution of the challenging numbers would be for Andrew Weaver’s Green party to strike a deal with the Clark Liberals, that would give Premier Clark a “stable” governing majority of 43+3 = 46 seats.

It soon enough became clear, however, that the Greens were more interested in backing the more environment-friendly (and otherwise “progressive”?) New Democrats, to bring about a change at last from the Liberals who have been governing BC for the past 16 years. (Under the lovely Christy Clark, and then before that Gordon Campbell.)

On this scenario a new minority government will have NDP leader John Horgan as premier, in partnership with Andrew Weaver’s Greens, and with a 41+3 = 44-seat bare governing majority in the legislature. (As some advocates have also stressed, this NDP-Green government will represent 40.28% + 16.84% = 57.12% of the province-wide popular vote in the May 9 election.)

NDP leader John Horgan (r) and Green party leader Andrew Weaver (l) sign their agreement for government of BC, May 30, 2017.

A written document to this effect has been drawn up and signed by both Mr. Horgan for the New Democrats and Mr. Weaver for the Greens. On the weight of this evidence even Premier Clark has seemed to accept that her now-43-seat Liberal government’s days are numbered.

Back on June 7 Premier Clark “recalled the legislature for June 22 to test the confidence of the house in her government … Clark said last week that she fully expects to go down in defeat at the hands of the NDP and Greens.”

Now the new BC legislature will report for work this coming Thursday — only a day or two hence as I write. It will no doubt take a few more days for a suitable opportunity to test the Assembly’s confidence in Premier Clark’s government to arise. But the NDP-Green takeover scenario appears intact, except that there apparently remains one still-to-be-resolved fly in the ointment. Well … maybe make that two

UPDATE JUNE 20 : See “BC wants Christy Clark to accept defeat, new poll suggests … Angus Reid poll finds 71% surveyed don’t want another election,” Mike Laanela, CBC News. Dr W comments : “Cynics will just say voters never want another election so soon after the last one. But then when it happens almost no one complains.”

UPDATE JUNE 22 : For an account of what happened when the Legislative Assembly returned today, see Rob Shaw’s report in the Vancouver Sun : “BC legislature resumes, MLAs elect Liberal Steve Thomson as Speaker.” But don’t think this headline means the Liberals have resolved the now famous NDP-Green alliance Speaker issue (click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below) by doing some altruistic, crazily public-spirited thing at last.

As Mr.Shaw explains : “if the NDP-Green alliance defeats Clark’s throne speech on a confidence vote next week, it’s expected the Liberal Speaker will resign and force the NDP to elect someone to the position … That would leave both parties deadlocked at 43 votes each, and force the previously non-partisan Speaker to cast the deciding vote on virtually all motions and bills. That is ‘uncharted territory’ for a legislature or parliament, say experts.” We should all clearly be staying tuned …

Read the rest of this page »

Stop the war on streetcars .. why does Toronto’s Ford family hate them so much?

Posted: June 11th, 2017 | No Comments »

Doug Ford at the wheel of his car, being interviewed by media.

A cogent column by Edward Keenan in this past Saturday’s Toronto Star has prompted me to get something down on paper that has been bothering me for a while now. (Just ask my wife.)

The extended headline reads “Ford’s costly streetcar study will just reveal the obvious : Keenan … TTC CEO Andy Byford calls using streetcars on the Queen St. line ‘inherently more efficient’ than buses, and he estimates the TTC would need three times as many buses as new streetcars.”

I’ll start my story by confessing I have for years (decades in fact) lived along the Queen “501” streetcar line in Toronto.

It descends from an electric streetcar service  that began in the late 19th century. The area I live in was developed during the first few decades of the 20th century and is sometimes called a “streetcar suburb.”

Queen streetcar and rival automobile, later 1920s.

It was built around the great spine of the Queen streetcar service — on which I can get from my house to the heart of downtown Toronto at Queen and Yonge streets in not too much more than half an hour.  (Now, if I have to wait too long for a streetcar … but that’s another issue for another day.)

You might say I moved to the area I live in now — many years ago — because of the Queen “501” streetcar. I travel almost entirely by public transit, and in my experience the streetcar is the most civilized, efficient, and humane form of the genre.

On the other hand, I know some Toronto residents feel almost any form of public transit is just part of a legendary “war on cars.”

And many war-on-cars resisters seem to especially dislike streetcars. I think Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star column is especially good on all this.

Krista Ford, daughter of Doug Ford (and cousin of Michael Ford), at the wheel of her convertible.

He does “know what it’s like to be a car driver stuck behind a streetcar for blocks at a time, feeling like it’s slowing you down because you need to stop behind it every block while it loads passengers … It’s frustrating. And without even thinking that the vehicle has more than 100 people on it, it’s easy for a single car driver to think his car ought to have right of way here.”

Keenan goes on : “It’s easy to think that, in your car, on the way home … But it should be equally easy to realize, on reflection, that the big transit vehicles carrying thousands should get priority over the small personal vehicles carrying dozens … that, because they carry so many people at a time … streetcars are a solution to traffic, not the cause of it.”

Read the rest of this page »

London Bridge not falling down Ricky Gervais says .. meanwhile what about that UK election on June 8?

Posted: June 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

“Man drinking pint while fleeing terror becomes symbol of London spirit.” Ashitha Nagesh for Metro.co.uk, Sunday 4 Jun 2017 (Picture: Twitter). Also retweeted by Ricky Gervais.

[UPDATED JUNE 9]. We were just watching TV on a Saturday night,  north of the North American Great Lakes. And then CNN, MSNBC, CBC News, CTV News Channel, and most immediately and crucially BBC News only had eyes for :

“6 people dead plus 3 attackers killed in London ‘terrorist incidents’ … ‘Evil, evil people’: Attacks leave many in hospital after van hit and run on London Bridge, market stabbings.”

(Subsequently updated as “Death toll in London ‘terrorist incidents’ rises to 7, police also kill 3 attackers … Dozens remain in hospital, some ‘critical,’ after van hit and run on London Bridge, market stabbings.” Note as well : “Canadian among 7 killed in London attacks … Nearly 50 injured as 3 assailants ram people with van on London bridge and stab others.” And  : “Christine Archibald, Canadian Killed In London Terror Attack, ‘Had Room In Her Heart For Everyone’.”)

My TV watching partner marveled yet again at how aging Canadians resting comfortably on their early 21st century couches can become so quickly connected to tragic (and other) events around the world — via a 60-inch TV and English-language cable news.

And I thought of my grandmother, who moved from London, England to Toronto, Canada very early in the 20th century when she was not quite 20 years old. She returned once to London for an extended visit 10 years later.

Cover of the Illustrated London News from the year before Dr. White’s grandmother moved from London, England to Toronto, Canada.

Then she came back to Toronto and never saw London or any other part of the United Kingdom again. And the random old copies of The Illustrated London News she kept in a magazine rack were nothing like  BBC News, CBC News, CNN, CTV News Channel, and MSNBC TV in 2017. (Just as the ships she crossed the ocean on — three times — were nothing like the airplanes today.)

It seems that in my advancing years one of my ways of trying to keep my grandmother alive —  and my military musical grandfather, and my father, and his sister my aunt, and on and on —  is to read the London Review of Books (not something any of them would ever do, but …).

On the Saturday afternoon before the Saturday evening London Bridge terrorist attacks of June 3, 2017 I had read two almost related articles from the June 1 issue : John Lanchester’s musings on voting strategy for the UK general election this coming Thursday, June 8, in his London riding of Vauxhall ; and Andrew O’Hagan’s review of Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’, the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain by Adrian Addison.

UPDATE JUNE 9, 2:45 AM ET/NORTH AMERICA : It’s now clear enough that the June 8 UK election result is pretty much what Dr. White earlier called (click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below) the “worst result from Ms May’s point of view,” which “might (but probably won’t?) see her Conservatives with no more than what we call a minority government in Canada (‘hung parliament’ back in the Mother of Parliaments?).”

Conservative MP Boris Johnson, in earlier incarnation as mayor of London.

With only four of the current 650 seats in parliament still to report, the Conservatives have 315 with 42.4% of the UK-wide popular vote. This is the largest number of seats. But a bare majority is 326. And even if the Conservatives take all four of the remaining unreported seats they still won’t have even a bare majority.

Labour has 261 seats with 40.1% of the vote. The Scottish National Party has 35 seats (and 3.1% of the UK-wide vote, 36.9% of the vote in Scotland). The Liberal Democrats have 12 seats with 7.3% of the vote. The Green Party has 1 seat with 1.6% of the vote. UKIP  has no seats with 1.9% of the UK-wide vote.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland has 10 seats, and Sinn Fein 7. Plaid Cymru in Wales has 4 seats. The DUP has apparently indicated that it will support the Conservatives. This would give the Conservatives a bare majority in parliament if they take at least one of the four seats still to report. What has happened may not be the best result for a “hard” Brexit policy over the next while. But this could be a good thing if you don’t support Brexit. Meanwhile, there are many reasons to stay tuned. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a happy man — even if it may not last. And the pro-Brexit Kate Hoey hung on for Labour handily enough in Vauxhall, despite John Lanchester’s protest vote, which did nonetheless increase Liberal Democrat support in the riding by 13.7%!

UPDATE II, 12 NOON ET/NA : So… Theresa May’s Conservatives wound up with 318 seats in the end. Which means she has a slender majority with the addition of the 10 DUP seats from Northern Ireland. She is staying on as PM with this arrangement for now. But who knows how long this will last? In any case, many thanks to the people of the United Kingdom, who have given free and democratic political junkies in other parts of the world something interesting to think about — and offered further qualification to current international theories about the inevitable triumph of extreme right-wing populism!

Read the rest of this page »

Con party of Canada elects Andrew Who? leader : how much does he know about the original sunny ways, 1896–1911?

Posted: May 29th, 2017 | No Comments »

Andrew Scheer and his family at his swearing-in after the 2015 election. (Facebook : Andrew Scheer.)

What can anyone say about the Conservative Party of Canada leadership charade this past Saturday evening (May 27), at the Toronto Congress Centre?

The first  paragraph of  John Ibbitson’s report is the best short summary we’ve seen : “Conservative voters concluded, by the narrowest of margins, that Andrew Scheer’s sensible conservatism was a safer choice than the dogmatic libertarianism of Maxime Bernier. They are probably right.” (The final result was Scheer 50.95% and Bernier 49.05%.)

From here a lot of the fellow citizens we know best relate to the headline on an Alexandra Jones article in the (of course Liberal-leaning) Toronto Star : “Canadians ask: ‘Andrew Who?’”

One short answer is that Andrew Scheer was born in Ottawa in 1979 to a good Roman Catholic family. He married Jill Ryan, a girl from Saskatchewan he met at the University of Ottawa (where he also worked on his French).

NDP leader Jack Layton and PM Stephen Harper lead new Canadian House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to Speaker’s Chair, June 2, 2011. Photo : Chris Wattie, Reuters.

He first won the Saskatchewan federal seat of  Regina—Qu’Appelle in 2004, at the age of 25, and has held it ever since (through the elections of 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2015).

Scheer served as Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons from 2011 to 2015. (He became the youngest Speaker in Canadian parliamentary history at 32.)

He is a right-wing dinosaur according to NDP critics. And one side of him reminds us a little of the Stephen Harper who grew up in Toronto and moved to Alberta. On another side he may have more popular potential — as a gregarious and likeable guy with five young children.

The best longer introduction to the new Conservative leader we’ve run across is Althia Raj’s “Andrew Scheer, ‘Consensus Candidate,’ Hopes The Nice Guy Finishes First In Tory Leadership.”

Justin Trudeau and new French president Emanuel Macron compare socks at recent G7 summit in Sicily, beside flags of France, European Union, and Canada. Reuters.

As for his political future, Janyce McGregor at CBC News notes : “Scheer is a cheerful warrior who had a lot of caucus support … he inherits a party … with potential to win again — it has more money, more members and its long, grassroots-driven leadership race appears a success.”

Yet just how well all this will finally play against Justin Trudeau (or the NDP with its own roots in Saskatchewan) certainly remains unclear to us.

Mr. Scheer has a bit of a reputation as well for sometimes not connecting exactly with real-world details. (As in “Scheer raised eyebrows during one of the leadership debates when he seemed to misunderstand the term carbon pricing.”)

Janyce McGregor at CBC News also reported : “‘Sunny ways don’t pay the bills,’ Scheer said, after pledging his party would be ‘looking for new ways to make life more affordable’ as it ‘represents taxpayers, not connected Ottawa insiders.’”

This left us wondering how much Mr. Scheer really knows about the original “sunny ways”  history of the Liberal Party of Canada. And we had just been reading about all this ourselves in the latest installment of Randall White’s work-in-progress, Children of the Global Village — Canada in the 21st Century : Tales about the history that matters.

Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier (centre) on whistle-stop railway tour of Canadian West in 1904 election.

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 the democratic Dr. White’s project, 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 two chapters in Part III on the old Dominion of Canada. You will now find as well a link to Part III, Chapter 3 : “Sunny Ways : Imperial Preference, New Boom, and Last Best West, 1896–1911.”

Yet again we caught up with Dr. White and his irresistible business manager at the Tim Horton’s across from Kew Gardens in Toronto. And he explained :

“To say ‘sunny ways don’t pay the bills’ is to completely misunderstand Wilfrid Laurier’s 15 consecutive years as prime minister of Canada, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We’ve arguably never had a period of quite this much growth and prosperity again. Laurier invented ‘sunny ways.’ And the whole point about them was that they paid the bills better than anything anyone else had tried — including the Conservative John A. Macdonald.”

Dr. White went on : “I also think you’re right to call what happened at the Toronto Congress Centre this past Saturday night a ‘charade.’ There weren’t really 13 ballots — just one ranked ballot for 13 contestants. Party officials could have announced the result right away. Instead they put us through too much phony suspense, mimicking the old convention system they abandoned. It’s a kind of fake news that gives democratic politics in our time too much of a bad name.”

And then the doctor paused, sipped some coffee, and concluded : “In any event, congratulations to Mr. Scheer — and everyone else (all 141,341 of them) who voted in the quite democratic Conservative Party of Canada leadership election of 2017.”

Monarchism’s last gasp as protest against decline of old WASP hegemony in Canada (and Australia etc)

Posted: May 17th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Opening the cottage around May 24 in the northern lakes and forests.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2017. Toronto, Ontario.  This coming Monday we will celebrate locally what is known here in Ontario (and other Canadian provinces) as Victoria Day.  (In Quebec the same holiday is now more sensibly called  Journée nationale des patriotes.)

The holiday is nowadays defined as “the last Monday preceding May 25.” And this entrenches its status as part of the present-day Canadian people’s first long weekend of the summer season. It is nicely timed for opening cottages at the lake, getting serious about gardening in your yard, or just lounging around your urban apartment (condo), mentally preparing for the brief burst of treasured hot weather in June (if we’re lucky), July, and August.

Historically, the holiday was first celebrated in 1845 in the old United Province of Canada (ie modern Ontario and Quebec, somewhat organized as one province in partial response to the Lower and Upper Canadian rebellions of 1837–38).

Fireworks on Victoria Day (also traditionally known as Firecracker Day) at Ashbridges Bay in east end of old City of Toronto. Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star.

Then and for many years after Victoria Day was celebrated on the actual day of May 24 — which was in fact the actual birthday of Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom, 1837–1901, Empress of India, 1876–1901, and first head of state of the Canadian confederation that will be 150 years old this coming July 1, 2017.

You might wonder why a holiday dedicated to the birthday of a Queen who lived across the ocean in another country, and has now been dead for 116 years, would still be celebrated in the diverse and almost grown-up Canada of today. A school-child’s rhyme that people my advanced age learned at their mothers’ knees might give the best answer : “The 24th of May / Is the Queen’s birthday / And if they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all quit school.”

In the Toronto of the early 21st century the Victoria Day weekend has also acquired some sparse notoriety as a time when “Canadian republicans” who want to see the end of the British monarchy in Canada (and are nothing at all like “American Republicans”) come out to advance their argument on a (hopefully) sunny holiday afternoon.

This will remind at least a few of us as well that two nights before last showed how “King Charles III airs after sudden death of actor Tim Pigott-Smith … Recording of Tony-nominated performance airs Sunday on PBS.”  (Our local PBS station in Toronto is “WNED Buffalo.Toronto.”)

And this TV show then reminded me of the new “We don’t need a king bus ads in Toronto,” that the counterweights editors noted just a week or so ago : “Next to a somewhat bemused photo of next-in-line Prince Charles, the ads proclaim : ‘We don’t need a king — Our next head of state should be Canadian.’”

Read the rest of this page »

French presidential election 2017, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and the “We don’t need a king” bus ads in Toronto

Posted: May 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

Macron arrives at Louvre museum Sunday night after his quite commanding victory in the second round of the 2017 French presidential election.

So, as all the polls predicted again, the centre-left Emmanuel Macron (or just straight centrist, as the anglophone mainstream media seem to have decided?) has quite handily defeated the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen (Donald Trump’s favourite?) for the presidency of the Fifth French Republic.

With all the vote now counted, 66.1% has gone to Macron, and a mere 33.9% to Le Pen.

According to the Associated Press : “Macron … celebrated with thousands of jubilant, flag-waving supporters outside the Louvre Museum in Paris on Sunday night … The European anthem ‘Ode to Joy’ played as he strode out to address the swelling crowd … ‘France has won!’ he said. ‘Everyone said it was impossible. But they do not know France!’”

Receiving news of French election results in Northern California — homeland of the Resistance in the United States.

In our view the people of France — in the midst of all their own hard enough current struggles — have once again stood up for what is most hopeful and forward-looking in some larger contemporary history.

As a website on the subject explains, the undeniably clever bourgeois red doctor Karl Marx “wrote on many occasions about the French Revolution [1789–1799], which he considered … the classic example of the ‘bourgeois revolution,’ in which capitalism overthrew feudalism, creating the legal conditions under which capitalism could flourish.”

The best side of French democratic politics has continued to transcend its own narrowest concerns, and speak to broader worries of the world — from the first republic established by the revolution and then interrupted by Napoleon and so forth to the present fifth republic, established in 1958 at another crisis point in French history by Charles de Gaulle.

“We don’t need a king” bus ads appear in Toronto in between first and second rounds of French presidential election 2017. What they are proposing for Canada has a few similarities with what two-thirds of the French people have just chosen for France.

La Marseillaise,” for example, a late 18th century “Chant de guerre” adopted by the revolutionary National Convention of 1795 as the republic’s national anthem, is in our view again easily the single best piece of words and music of its sort in the entire global village of 2017. It will forever have immense incontestable status as the national anthem of modern France.

Yet in striding to address his swelling crowd Sunday night to the strains of the European Union anthem “Ode to Joy” (aka the choral finale to the Ninth Symphony of the German classical composer Beethoven), President-elect Macron has shown that France today is still big and strong enough to stand up for the political progress long ago proposed by George Orwell in his “Toward European Unity” essay of 1947. (And for still larger themes of the free and democratic society, which also won endorsement from former US President Barack Obama.)

Read the rest of this page »

Center of Resistance in (especially Northern?) California has its own American progressive allure in spring 2017

Posted: May 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

At Lagunitas Brewing on the outskirts of Petaluma, CA, late April 2017.

Why am I not surprised that I am yet again stuck with drafting another counterweights editors travelogue  — this time visiting the technical support masters in the (especially Northern) California bear-flag republic? Among the key current alleged insights submitted :

* ASIA IN AMERICA ON THE PACIFIC COAST. On the Atlantic coast the USA is still mostly about Europe and America (with an increasingly recognized crucial sidebar from Africa). On the Pacific it’s more and more about Asia and America. (Cf, eg, the Netflix TV series Master of None — which we first saw in Mill Valley, CA, even though it “was created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and stars Ansari in the lead role of Dev, a 30-year-old actor who attempts to make his way through life in New York City.”)

* TPP REALLY DEAD? Obama’s multicultural Hawaiian youth helped him here. The Trans Pacific Partnership that Trump has backed away from (largely in fear?) tried to step further in this direction. (As in, sort of, George Orwell’s 1947 prophecy : “It may be that Europe is finished and that in the long run some better form of society will arise in India or China.” And note too : “’Secret’ TPP Trade Meetings Being Held In Toronto This Week” by Daniel Tencer at The Huffington Post Canada, posted on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 2, 2017.)

At the Depot, Mill Valley, CA.

* NO WAR ON CARS. In California even progressive politics remains in unbreakable thrall to the automobile. Life everywhere is like living in a parking lot and the most touted transportation future is the self-driving car. Despite a new Transbay Transit Center “at First and Mission streets, with accommodations for future high-speed rail service,” and several miles of track in the Central Valley, (Obama’s?) fast trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles remain an impossible dream.

* GEOGRAPHY & THE DONNER PARTY. Geography is both California’s stunning great attraction and omnipresent danger. The Donner Party’s tragic “winter of 1846–47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada” — also on TV during our visit — foretold the continuing dark side of Golden State geography. (And topography too of course — and note as well : “Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, a major road in Marin County … closed for the second time this week [well late this past February actually!] between Fairfax and Woodacre due to a landslide over White’s Hill.”)

Read the rest of this page »

We’re off to the bear-flag republic to study the natives, after 3 months of puzzling and mercurial new president

Posted: April 20th, 2017 | No Comments »

On Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley, CA, where not many residents like Donald Trump.

This coming Saturday morning the entire staff here (except for Dominic Berry, who has a big date with his current squeeze at a local sporting event) will be boarding an airplane at YYZ, bound for our regular seminar with technical support staff currently residing in the land of the Golden State Warriors.

(They are now, for the somewhat longer term they say, headquartered in Mill Valley — “about 14 miles [23 km] north of San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge” — with additional offices in Jerry Brown’s beautiful downtown Oakland.)

We’ll be back in our old streetcar-suburb editorial offices here in Toronto, north of the Great Lakes, at some point during the first week of May. And someone among us will report on our latest California adventures then.

Meanwhile, we leave parting thoughts for the time being on four (and a half) subjects, that may or may not be somewhat related :

(1) FRENCH ELECTION APRIL 23, MAY 7. The first round of the presidential election in France will take place this coming Sunday, April 23, just as we are settling into Mill Valley.

French actress Isabelle Huppert accepts award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in the movie Elle at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills, CA, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP.)

If the helpful Wikipedia site “Opinion polling for the French presidential election, 2017” is any guide (and of course it may not be!), the extreme right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen might actually finish first among the 11 official first-round candidates.

But don’t get too worried just yet. The centre-left candidate Emmanuel Macron (vaguely Justin Trudeauesque in Canadian eyes) is at least likely to finish second (and may even be first). And he will go on to defeat Le Pen handily in the second round of voting between the top two first-round candidates on May 7. (While many may still wonder : what exact array of forces in the Assemblée nationale will Macron’s new movement try to govern with after he wins?)

Even the polling that may well be wrong, or at least misleading, also allows for some possibility that the scandal-plagued centre-right candidate François Fillon may finally do better than Macron (or Le Pen?).  And even the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon — “who can make fools of his rivals in debate” — has been polling strongly. (In one survey from April 13–15 he actually beats Le Pen for second place on April 23, only two points behind Macron in first!) Marine Le Pen herself claims she will defy the polling altogether and finally win everything!

Dominic Berry just wishes this was him! In fact it’s Hollywood actor Dominic Sherwood with friends Katherine McNamara and Emeraude Toubia, waiting for the April 23 first round of the French election.

The eloquent Jeremy Harding had an engrossing April 10 piece on the London Review of Books Blog called ‘The Outsiders‘.  It drew attention to certain similarities between Le Pen on the far right and Mélenchon on the far left. They share “the ideological confusion that Europe is experiencing, with the new hard right and an older left refraining from objections to the Trump ascendancy, and to Brexit, on the grounds that the real enemy is liberal market ideology and the European behemoth that drives it.”

Whatever else, “It’s going to be a very interesting election” — as the puzzling and mercurial President Trump himself has prophesied, in an interview with the UK Financial Times.

Read the rest of this page »

Blue Jays 2017 : last year was close but once again denied .. how much longer will the window stay open?

Posted: April 10th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Baseball is back in the great white north, signaling spring revival, while also commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Blue Jays’ inaugural game (April 7, 1977) at snowy Exhibition Stadium on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

While it was an entertaining 2016 down at the ballpark known previously as the Skydome, last year once again ended in disappointment, this time dealt from a team based on the south shore of Lake Erie.

An omen of things to come — Aug 20, 2016, Cleveland, OH : Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Darwin Barney is tagged out at home by Cleveland Indians catcher Chris Gimenez in the sixth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports.

The Blue Jays, who had finished with an 89-73 mark during the regular season, beat the Orioles in the wildcard game and Rangers in the division playoffs, but were stymied by the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS.  Once again they were denied their first trip back to the World Series since they last won in 1993.

This has also not been an especially pleasant offseason for long standing fans. In a perfect world, the Toronto Blue Jays would still be showcasing Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, Major League Baseball’s most prolific power hitting duo for the past seven years.  But during an offseason where the Jays absorbed more than their fair share of curveballs, Encarnacion flew the coop to the Cleveland Indians, as a free agent in a rather sloppy divorce from his old team. And Bautista was left to flounder in the unwanted baggage section before being “reclaimed” by the team in late January.

Read the rest of this page »

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

Posted: April 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, April 2017.

APRIL 8, 2017. GANATSEKWYAGON, ONTARIO, CANADA. Is it true that : “Missile attack on Syria a ‘win-win’ for Trump … Strike will allow US president to deflect attention from domestic crises and regain moral high ground”?

And does the departure of Steve Banon from the US National Security Council similarly mean that adults are taking over the White House at last?

Does “Nunes steps down from Russia probe, cites ‘entirely false’ ethics accusations” just underline the point?

And finally what is Xi Jinping, president of what still calls itself the People’s Republic of China, taking away from his “about 24 hours together” with the president of the USA “at Mr. Trump’s beachside Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida”?

I of course do not know the answers to any of these questions. Beyond just pretending to be wise and saying “time will tell.”

Post Cereals’ heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her daughter, the future actress Dina Merrill, in 1929 portrait by Giulio de Blaas.

What this latest Washington, DC action has done is wake me up to smell the coffee of the new “Southern White House” (aka “Winter White House”) at Mar-a-Lago  — Marjorie Merriweather Post’s 1920s fantasy in Palm Beach Florida, that Donald Trump turned into a money-making “members-only club with guest rooms, a spa, and other hotel-style amenities” back in the 1990s.

From the start my managing editor has been enthusiastic about “something short” on the Mar-a-Lago story. But when I first looked into the issue I told her : “Forget it — there’s already an excellent Wikipedia article on the subject. The best I can do is tell the world to read it.”

Saying she had more faith in me than that, the managing editor has urged me to carry on anyway — though again “briefly” of course (well … no more than 800 words, say : and not too much longer than that at any rate, even in the very end).

Read the rest of this page »