Happy 100 First World War Armistice .. a view from the northern woods ..

Posted: November 11th, 2018 | No Comments »

“Le maréchal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) lors de la signature de l'Armistice dans un wagon du train d'état-major appelé le "wagon de l'Armistice", dans la clairière de Rethondes, en forêt de Compiegne. © Pèlerin”

The site administration staff have told me that I’ve already contributed at least one (as we say in Canada) Remembrance Day piece back in the past (“O valiant [Toronto] hearts who to your glory came .. your memory hallowed in the land you loved,” on November 11, 2013).

They’ve pointed out as well a still earlier related piece by my esteemed colleague L. Frank Bunting (“Afghanistan agony haunts November 11, 2010”).

This November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War (aka at the time the Great War) — “dans le wagon-salon du maréchal Foch, à Rethondes dans la forêt de Compiègne.”

And — Bunting being otherwise occupied at his almost winterized wilderness retreat in the Kawarthas (or is it Haliburton?) — I have been asked by the managing editor here to share some further thoughts on the present-day meaning of the end of the First World War. (Or “First German War” as the old-school English historian George Clark called it, in his masterful 1971 summary English History : A Survey.)

“Aboriginal soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) along with elders, ca. 1916-17.”

I want to start with a few background notes. The Veterans Affairs Canada website, eg, has a helpful synopsis : “The armistice of November 11, 1918, brought relief to the whole world … Sixty-five million men from 30 nations were involved in” the war ; “at least ten million men were killed; twenty-nine million more were wounded, captured or missing.”

Starting in the summer of 1914, the war “was also a landmark in Canadian national development … Canada entered the war as a colony, a mere extension of Britain overseas.” At the end, for a place “of eight million people Canada’s war effort was remarkable. Over 650,000 Canadian men and women served in uniform … with more than 66,000 giving their lives and over 172,000 more being wounded … It was this …that won for Canada a separate signature on the Peace Treaty.”

This Peace Treaty was not signed until June 28, 1919. The Armistice signed on November 11, 1918 just marked the end of fighting. It would take another six months to negotiate a formal treaty of peace among all participants.

Our best guess is that this is the band of Canada’s No. 2 Construction Battalion, which “sailed from Halifax Harbour to England, and then to France, where they served with the Canadian Forestry Corps during the First World War.”

It took some time to negotiate even the November 11 Armistice. The process began when the German government sent a message to US President Woodrow Wilson early in October 1918, proposing negotiations for peace on the basis of his “Fourteen Points.”

The Americans had only joined the war, however, in April 1917. The supreme commander of “the Allies” fighting Germany and its allies was the Marshal of France, Ferdinand Foch. And the November 11 Armistice was (as noted above in Canada’s other official language) finally signed in a railway car “given to Ferdinand Foch for military use by the manufacturer, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits,”

Foch’s railway car was parked near a station at Rethondes, in the forest around the nearby larger urban centre of Compiègne in northeastern France. For the Allies the November 11 Armistice document was signed by Supreme Commander Foch and the British First Sea Lord Admiral Rossyln Wemyss, representing Allied naval forces. Four men signed for Germany —  Matthias Erzberger,  representing the German government, and envoys from the German foreign ministry,  army, and navy.

Canadians — more exactly Montreal’s Black Watch regiment — marching through Mons, warmly received by liberated Belgians, November 11, 1918.

No Canadians (or Americans for that matter) actually signed the 1918 Armistice. But there is a serious Canadian wrinkle on November 11. After some deliberation I have decided my own best source here is A.J.P. Taylor’s English History, 1914–1945.

Taylor notes that when the 1918 Armistice came into force, at 11 AM GMT on November 11, “German troops” were still for the most part “everywhere on foreign soil.” Yet, happily enough, “Canadian forces entered Mons [in German-occupied Belgium] about an hour before the armistice and thus, appropriately, ended the war where the ‘old contemptibles’ had begun it” (at the Battle of Mons between British and German forces, on August 23, 1914).

In his 1983 volume of memoirs entitled A Personal History, A.J.P. Taylor noted that when he was commissioned to write English History, 1914–1945, as part of the Oxford History of England, he had to make certain decisions : “I was not interested in writing the history of the English upper classes which is what English history usually amounts to. Maybe the English people had no history until fairly recently. In the twentieth century they had, and that is what my book is about. I was glad when [critic and reviewer] Max Beloff described it as Populist history.”

“A time for rejoicing: Armistice Day celebrated on November 11, 1918, in London ( Getty Images ).”

At a now considerably later time when “populism” has become a much-abused term, too often used to describe a right-wing political pathology that real (and left-wing) populists like the late A.J.P. Taylor would find abhorrent, it seems appropriate to end my own reflections here with Taylor’s account of what happened (in his country at any rate!) right after the 1918 Armistice was signed. (As a mark, whatever else, of just what “Populist history” can involve.)

I quote the late great man’s entire and admirably lean paragraph at the bottom of p. 113 and top of p. 114 in the 1970 paperback update of the 1965 first publication of English History, 1914–1945 :

In the fighting-lines there was bewildered relief when the guns ceased to fire. There was no fraternization and little rejoicing. In England people were less restrained. Work ceased in shops and offices, as news of the armistice spread. Crowds surged through the streets, often led by airmen and Dominion troops on leave. Omnibuses were seized, and people in strange garments caroused on the open upper deck. A bonfire heaped against the plinth of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square has left its mark to this day. Total strangers copulated in doorways and on the pavements. They were asserting the triumph of life over death. The celebrations ran on with increasing wildness for three days, when the police finally intervened and restored order.

November 6, 2018 in USA .. not exactly a night to remember for the rest of our lives?

Posted: November 7th, 2018 | No Comments »

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York becomes youngest woman elected to Congress.

6:20 PM ET : Nothing too striking in the earliest 2018 US Midterms vote, as best as we can tell, on Twitter and/or TV. But it’s a relief that the evening has finally begun, as Rachel Maddow has recently observed.

12:15 AM : We agreed to wait somewhat longer before making any brief comments. Until after the popcorn runs out in the office board room with the big TV.

2:40 AM : So … early but soon faded prospects that Democrats might take both the Governor race and a Senate seat in Florida and a Senate seat in Texas set too high initial expectations at our election-watching party. The ultimate results were more sobering.

In the end the smart-money predictions beforehand were borne out. As summarized by the New York Times : “Democrats Capture Control of House; G.O.P. Holds Senate.”

A best progressive spin on how it all looked on the early morning of November 7 also appeared on the Times’ digital front page, under the headline “Unusually High Turnout Illustrates Intensity of Trump Backlash.”

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has become the new governor of Michigan.

The spin went on : “Democrats harnessed voter fury to win control of the House and capture pivotal governorships, delivering a forceful rebuke of President Trump … An array of diverse candidates — many of them women, first-time contenders or both — ended the Republican Party’s eight-year grip on the chamber … But in an indication that the country’s political and cultural divisions may only be deepening, the Democratic gains did not extend to the Senate.”

The exact but still to be finalized numbers reported by the Times as of 4 AM showed the Democrats gaining 26 seats in the House, while the Republicans gained two seats in the Senate, and the Democrats gained seven new state Governors.

We finally agreed here on a number of quotations from eminent persons on Twitter, as summaries of our own initial reactions.

Two largely negative comments to start with. First from Susan Delacourt at the Toronto Star : “I’m going to go right out there and predict that these midterms did the sum total of nothing to fix polarization in the United States and may have made it worse.”

Democrat Sharice Davids in Kansas becomes first Native American woman elected to Congress, “with New Mexico’s Deb Haaland expected to pull off a similar victory.”

Second from the anti-Trump former Republican commentator Bill Kristol : “I assume the election will embolden Trump. His political strategy of focusing on Senate victories in red states will have worked. He’ll have no incentive not to continue demagoguing immigration. He’ll be tempted to fire Cabinet members and others he regards as not true loyalists.”

We’ll end with a number of more positive comments, by various hands and from various directions. First here from Van Jones at CNN : “It’s a rainbow wave … with the Democrats taking control of the House, the new Democratic party is ‘younger, browner, cooler’.”

Next from Daniel Dale at the Toronto Star : “Democrats have won the Senate and governor races in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the states that narrowly put Trump over the top in 2016.”

Then from John Dean, of Watergate fame long ago : “MIDTERMS: A few close races that are heartbreaking. It is obvious the Trump con is not working for the overwhelming majority of American voters. Democrats controlling the House means we have a real check on our autocratic president. Trump is the big looser of the 2018 midterms.”

Democrat Gavin Newsom, celebrating here with family, has been elected California's next governor — “in a win for the resistance against Trump.”

Then from Doug Saunders at the Globe and Mail in Canada : “It looks like close to 60 per cent of Americans voted for Democrats tonight. It’s a majority centre-left populace, as it was in 2016.  Just that the electoral system, outside the House, is based not on demography but on geography.”

Finally, from the excellent Ezra Klein, founder of the news website, Vox : “Trump’s political rise was so stunning that the media is scared to say about him what we would say about any other president polling this badly, and who lost the House, amidst this economy … He’s failing politically. He’s an anchor on his party.”

3:45 AM : In our view there is indeed a civil cold war going on in the USA today. We believe that the growing demographic majority represented by President Obama and the Democrats is bound to win over President Trump and his Republicans in the very end. (Just like the North finally won the shooting Civil War over the South in the 1860s.)

Meanwhile, the long journey to the 2020 US presidential election has now begun. And there are no doubt many further struggles ahead for the great cause of human progress and Democracy in America. Again …  from the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli …

On the 2018 Toronto election … “it could be worse” seems the best you can say?

Posted: October 29th, 2018 | No Comments »

Councillor Ana Bailão, who grew up “in the rich cultural diversity of the Davenport area,” and studied at West Toronto Collegiate and the University of Toronto, appeared as deputy mayor at John Tory’s first press conference of his second term as Mayor of Toronto. A city councillor since 2010 Ms Bailão also won more than 83% of the 2018 vote in the new Ward 9 : Davenport.

The day itself was an entire week ago now, but no matter …

The drama of the 2018 municipal election in Canada’s current largest city was all before election day.

The somewhat Trumpian Doug Ford, new premier of Canada’s most populous province of Ontario (and failed Toronto mayoral candidate in 2014), finally managed to reduce the size of city council from 44 to 25 members, in the middle of the campaign!

His quest may have had its moments — notwithstanding an ultimately unnecessary appeal to the fabled “notwithstanding clause” in Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982.

In the end, however, it just set the stage for a traditionally boring municipal election — nicely summarized in Denise Balkissoon’s Globe and Mail report, “Meet the new Toronto Council, same as the old Toronto Council.”

(And in the Toronto Star see Edward Keenan’s “Toronto’s new council has as many ‘Michaels’ as visible minorities.”)

To start with, reducing the size of council seems to have strengthened the local political system’s longstanding bias towards incumbents — those who have already served on council, and whose names are well enough known among the traditional minority of the electorate who vote.

Michael Thompson from Scarborough cuts Canadian flag cake at citizenship ceremony in Toronto, February 19, 2014. A longtime conservative councillor (since 2003), he returned as both one of the four “people of colour” and one of the four Michaels on the slimmed down 25-member Toronto City Council of 2018.

After the 2018 election in Toronto there are only “four new faces on a 25-member council.” For further intelligence see “Rookies on Toronto city council could hold balance of power” in the Toronto Star, by Jennifer Pagliaro, David Rider, and Samantha Beattie.

The same Star piece also notes  : “Looking at previous vote records and past allegiances on council, it appears there are 10 very reliable votes for [now re-elected Mayor John] Tory, including his own, and seven stalwart progressives. The rest are somewhere in the middle …”

A bare majority on the new 25-member council (plus one mayor = 26) is 14. Graphic material at the end of the Pagliaro-Rider-Beattie report in the Toronto Star notes that, strictly speaking there are now 20 “incumbents” and five “new councillors.”

(Shelley Carroll in “Ward 17 — Don Valley North” — resigned her earlier council seat to run unsuccessfully in this past June’s Ontario provincial election. So she technically qualifies as a “new councillor.” But : “Prior to her provincial bid, she represented the former Ward 33 on city council  [Don Valley East] for 15 years.”)

The same Star graphic material divides the new 25-member council ideologically into 12 “right councillors”, nine “left councillors”, and four “unknown”.

As a further sign of just how much the present is trapped in the past, the “unknown” on this reading are the otherwise designated “new councillors” above, less Shelley Carroll.

Re-elected Mayor John Tory and family watch winning returns on election night 2018.

(And even here the four “new faces” — as still further above — include Mike Colle. He is a former member of the Ontario provincial parliament at Queen’s Park, and before that a municipal politician in the old local federalist days of Metro Toronto. He has now successfully run to replace his retiring son Josh Colle, on the current amalgamated City of Toronto council. )

I have four further quick notes to add on all this : (1)  Voter turnout in 2018 and 2014 … a tale of two quite different city elections ; (2) When will the “new very diverse Toronto in the inner suburbs” show up on city council? ; (3) NOW magazine and Jennifer Keesmaat as a winner anyway ;  (4) Finally getting John Tory’s ancestry right … he’s not really descended from the early 19th century Family Compact or even the mid 19th century Tory Toronto Charles Dickens found so “appalling” … but the mayor’s great grandfather (it seems) did welcome Winston Churchill to Toronto in 1929, not long before the historic great stock market crash in New York.

Those who may want to pursue these matters still further can click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below!

Read the rest of this page »

O Cannabis .. and the looming midterm elections in the USA today ..

Posted: October 17th, 2018 | No Comments »

Canada’s Princess of Pot Jodie Emery in front of Toronto coffee shop she opened this past summer.

First, the bad news.

Our text here is Neil Macdonald’s October 16 piece on the CBC News site :  “Lose your illusions. It’s an ugly, dystopian world … People my age grew up believing the world, led by the West, was becoming more progressive. It wasn’t and isn’t.”

Macdonald offers a “few thoughts on the Republic of Dystopia [USA]… and the Kingdom of Draconia [Saudi Arabia], Canada’s most violent and temperamental weapons customer.”

Along the way, he alludes to “a NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll taken late last month,” which “received far too little attention.” It involved a “survey of 997 adults … conducted September 22nd through September 24th, 2018 …”

The poll does suggest that Democrats will not finally do as well in the coming crucial November 6 US midterm elections as many of us up here in We the North would like. (Canadians usually “vote Democratic in American elections,” etc.)

In a store window, Mill Valley, California, September 2018.

When asked, eg,  “Do you approve or disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president?”, 49% of US “National Adults” disapprove. But a healthy enough 42% do approve (while 9% are “Unsure”).

Regionally, in the Northeast only 32% approve of the job Trump is doing, while 59% disapprove. But in the South 45% approve, while only 44% disapprove.

Similarly, among the youngest 18 to 29 age group (with the lowest propensity to vote) 60% disapprove of Donald Trump, and only 29% approve. But among the 45 to 59 group 47% approve of Trump while only 42% disapprove.

In big cities 60% disapprove of Trump while only 31% approve. But in rural areas only 29% disapprove while 57% approve. And similarly on and on

Ultimate Hollywood liberal (and Democrat) Bill Maher, who believes what America wants most right now is to get back to normal — whatever that may really be, or not.

To us these numbers alone do not quite seem to warrant Neil Macdonald’s especially gloomy conclusion : “It’s increasingly apparent Trump represents Americans better than any of his predecessors. I’m willing to bet his fellow Dystopians will elect him to a second term.”

At the same time, if your future mental health currently depends a great deal on the thought that some enormous Big Blue Wave on November 6 is finally going to put Donald Trump in the collapsing balloon where he belongs, it probably would be prudent to reduce your expectations.

(And for at least some compensating good news click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below.)

Read the rest of this page »

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving 2018 … Kavanaugh confirmation in USA, NAFTA Mark II, & Doug Ford’s Ontario

Posted: October 8th, 2018 | No Comments »

C. Wright Mills, the Columbia University pragmatist professor from Texas who some say invented the New Left in 1960. Maybe its time has come at last in 2018 ??

MONDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2018. GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. We came back from coffee Saturday just as our local TV news station was tweeting : “BREAKING: US Senate votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.”

Sometimes, C. Wright Mills from Waco, Texas is alleged to have said, just describing what’s happening can be a radical act (or words to that effect). Revived by our Saturday coffee, I had some vaguely similar thought about just citing tweets on the new US Supreme Court justice.

1. Howard Dean & David Frum

My observations started chronologically with a Howard Dean retweet-with-comment, on an earlier query from David Frum, not long before 8 in the evening (ET), Thursday, October 4.

Former George W. Bush speechwriter Frum had asked  : “if Supreme Court rules 5-4 in favor of Trump self-pardon for tax fraud … with Kavanaugh providing the margin of victory to a majority that includes Gorsuch in seat GOP held open for a year … will that command legitimacy?”

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean added to his retweet of Frum’s question :  “The Court lost their legitimacy in 2000 over bush vs gore. They have never really recovered …  Kavanaugh and Gorsuch won’t help. GOP can ram stuff down our throats but we will never respect them or call them legitimate …”

2. Steve Schmidt

Nicolle Wallace, l, and Steve Schmidt, r : Once they worked to elect Republican John McCain president. Now they’re conservative critics of Donald Trump on what is sometimes a progressive TV channel.

Chronologically my next tweet was from Steve Schmidt, former senior strategist for the 2008 Republican presidential campaign of John McCain (at 3:10 PM ET, 5 Oct 2018) :

“The price of Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the the SC is incalculably high. It will shatter the institutional integrity of the Court and eviscerate standards and expectations for both honesty and non partisanship in Judicial nominees for many years.”

3. Ezra Klein & Matthew Yglesias

Then on the late afternoon of Friday, October 5 I was struck by two tweets from the estimable Ezra Klein, founder and editor of the news and opinion website Vox.

The first (4:43 PM ET) urged : “Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation will delegitimize the Supreme Court — and that’s a good thing, argues @mattyglesias.” Klein,  good editor that he is, was just promoting Matthew Yglesias’s article on the Vox site : “It’s time America woke up to the radical right that’s run the Court for years.”

Pop singing legend Taylor Swift has recently announced that like many others she will be voting Democrat on November 6, 2018.

Yglesias’s article itself is of course well worth reading. It concludes : “Starting with … the procedural weirdness of Bush v. Gore, judicial conservatives have been undermining electoral democracy to entrench their power on the bench and then wielded that power to undermine democratic governance.” Whatever happens, “the cloud of illegitimacy hanging over Kavanaugh’s head will be helpful in waking the public from its slumber.”

Ezra Klein’s second October 5 tweet to catch my attention (6:29 PM ) went : “I’ve thought for weeks the cynical play would be for Republicans to hold the nomination open through the midterm for base mobilization— as they did in ’16 … But now, the right gets their guy and the left is enraged. If I were a vulnerable Republican, I’d be  worried …”

(And my very own editors have reminded me that counterweights itself retweeted this last message, with the comment “Hopefully Mr. Klein is onto something …”)

[For still more on Adam Schiff, Michael Moore, Max Boot, NAFTA Mark II (aka USMCA) , and Canadian Sunset in Doug Ford’s Ontario,  click on "Read the rest of this page" and/or scroll below].

Read the rest of this page »

From liberal paradise of N California to Ontario under the Ford Nation (and the Governor General of Canada)

Posted: September 23rd, 2018 | No Comments »

Sign in shop window, Mill Valley, CA : advertising local fund-raising campaign for Beto O’Rourke, Democratic opponent of Ted Cruz for US Senate seat in Texas.

The managing editor has suggested I apologize for taking so long to report back on our Toronto editorial group’s latest round of consultations with the technical staff, now in Mill Valley, California, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But as the sophisticated lady asks, who really cares? In any case we had a terrific and as usual helpfully informative time testing the Resistance in the liberal heartland of the Golden State.

The extracurricular activities featured a visit at last to the Bay Model. [“Housed in an unassuming low-slung building on Sausalito’s waterfront, the Bay Model was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1956-57 to demonstrate what would happen if the South Bay were dammed and infilled (as had been proposed).”]

Our casual wanderings also included a tour of downtown Mill Valley. We were especially struck by a sign in a shop window : “MILL VALLEY FOR BETO FOR TEXAS SENATE … RSVP/Donate BETOBELIEVEIT.com.”

(Beto O’Rourke, in case you’ve forgotten, is the Democratic opponent of Ted Cruz in the Lone Star State, far away from San Francisco Bay. And this is just another sign of the passionate progressive spirit in this part of the USA today.)

My own big problem reporting on all this promptly was that virtually all of us in the Toronto editorial group were consumed by the great Doug Ford notwithstanding clause crisis in Ontario politics, as soon as we landed back in town.

Grounds of California office, Social Metrics Canada.

In the end the courts determined that Premier Ford did not need the notwithstanding clause at the end of the Charter of Rights in the Constitution Act, 1982, to slash the “number of Toronto voting districts mid-campaign … from 47 to 25.”

Like others, I remain appalled by this especially foolhardy episode in the contemporary history of Canada’s most populous province. But there is no point in giving Doug Ford more further attention than absolutely necessary.

Another still unresolved issue on the fringes of Canadian politics has recurrently raised its head on our return from beautiful Mill Valley, CA.

See, eg : “Governor-General at odds with RCMP over security issues” (Daniel Leblanc) ; “Failure to launch: Inside Julie Payette’s turbulent first year as Governor General” (Marie-Danielle Smith and Brian Platt) ; and “Governor-General Julie Payette needs to make a choice about her role” (John Ibbitson).

Read the rest of this page »

While Canada in NAFTA lingers on (maybe, maybe not) we go to test the Resistance in Northern California!

Posted: September 4th, 2018 | No Comments »

I’ve just returned from the beach, as I start to write at least. It’s Labour Day 2018, up here in the true north. It was cloudy and grey at the beach, and still hot but relieved by a strong, steady breeze from the west.

There were quite a few people, enjoying the last day of the summer holiday season before, as someone somewhere put it recently, the real world returns.

My ostensible reason for going to the beach — only a few minutes from our office — was to contemplate what to write here, on my current assignment.

Again I have been asked to announce that this coming Wednesday (ie tomorrow) most of us at our Toronto editorial headquarters will be leaving for further regular consultations with the growing technical support staff,  now in Mill Valley, California, some 15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge …

NAFTA maybe, maybe not?

Some time has passed. I’m coming back to this assignment late at night. It’s dark out the window at the back of the building, just beyond my desktop computer …

I’ve concluded that my best move is to return in the morning, when I’ve had a chance to sleep on community political views one last time …

… I’m back again. It’s now Tuesday afternoon. Too much to do getting ready this morning. And a lot remains undone. So, as luck would have it, I don’t have much time to say more in this space.

All the editors, however, have urged on me that they do want to acknowledge we are leaving at a time when relations between the country we are leaving (for a week) and the country we are visiting are officially troubled, over NAFTA and so forth.

“You people here have a great country with great possibilities”

We are aware as well that in some minds this has only blended with the Federal Court of Appeal decision against Ottawa’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, to give Justin Trudeau his worst week from hell as prime minister yet.

I have also been instructed to say that the editorial community here has (at least?) two further propositions to advance. The first is that we are just going to California, centre of the Resistance to the current rogue administration in Washington, DC.

And the second is just that all of us here urge Primer Minister Trudeau (and Chrystia Freeland and everyone else in the cabinet, in parliament, and everywhere else) to keep standing up and standing firm for the best interests of Canada and the Canadian people, as in the past. Whatever happens, we the north will survive and prosper greatly in the end.

(And remember what US President Dwight Eisenhower told Ontario Premier Leslie Frost back in 1953 : “You people here have a great country with great possibilities … don’t let them ruin your water. We have ruined ours in the States … ”)

Building the Trans Mountain pipeline

Oh and in conclusion a last (third?) thought on the Trans Mountain pipeline. We believe that Justin Trudeau will finally make sure the thing gets built to tidewater, just as he has promised.

And we fail to see how it benefits the great Canadian cause of having this happen (safely and with environmental sensitivity, etc) to scream endlessly that he’s bound to fail?

Meanwhile, we are escaping further debate on all such matters by concentrating for the next week on much deeper questions of high technology and the future generation, at the Bay Area conference centre illustrated in the accompanying photos.

We remain unshakably convinced that Canada and all its glorious provinces (and especially the one that is not a province like the others) will remain standing in both official languages, and in the high traditions of the First Nations who have given the country its name and so much more, when we return on September 12, 2018.

The ongoing pursuit of various American (and Canadian) dreams

I will report further at some point not too long after our September 12 return on just what we may or may not have most recently discovered about the future of America in the Marin County heartland of California liberalism — and the ongoing pursuit of various American (and Canadian) dreams.

Meanwhile, a few of us managed to drop by the beach again just now this Tuesday afternoon : far fewer people on a beautiful sunny day, but with another strong, steady breeze, this time from the east. As Eisenhower told Leslie Frost long ago, we do have a great country with great possibilities up here in the ancient land of the multicultural northern fur trade, from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific oceans. “Je me souviens.”

Will deposing moderate Malcolm Turnbull as Australia’s PM finally lead to Australian Republic of his dreams?

Posted: August 24th, 2018 | No Comments »

Malcolm Turnbull (l), now deposed prime minister of Australia, with prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern (r), in at least somewhat happier times than today!

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA. REPORT FROM GREG BARNS. Australians used to laugh at Latin American nations like Argentina and Ecuador, which in recent decades turned over their leaders with astonishing regularity. But now the boot is well and truly on the other foot.

Today saw the demise of Australia’s fifth Prime Minister in 11 years. The Liberal (and moderate liberal) Malcolm Turnbull, who headed the Republic campaign to end Australia’s ties with the British monarchy in 1999, was deposed as Prime Minster courtesy of a hard-right insurgency inside his party, as he himself described it.  His successor, the conservative Christian (but still Liberal) Scott Morrison, assumes office with doubts about whether he can command a majority in Australia’s lower house, the House of Representatives.

(Canadian admirers of Justin Trudeau will also want to remember that the Liberals have long been, so to speak, Australia’s largest party broadly on the right side of the political spectrum. The best current Canadian analogue is the provincial party system in BC, on Canada’s Pacific Coast.)

Malcolm Turnbull (1) with his former Treasurer Scott Morrison (r), who finally became the “consensus candidate” in a Liberal leadership contest provoked by what Turnbull has called a hard-right insurgency against his government.

The last Prime Minister to see out his term in Australia was the Liberal John Howard — a great influence on Stephen Harper in Canada. Mr Howard was voted out of office in 2007 and replaced by Kevin Rudd of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), who was in turn deposed by the ALP’s Julia Gillard in 2010. Ms Gillard was then undermined by Mr Rudd who got his old job back for six weeks, before losing an election in 2013 to the Liberal’s Tony Abbott.  Mr Abbott, an arch-conservative Anglophile, lost in 2015 to Mr Turnbull who had challenged Abbott for the Liberal leadership.

Confused?  Well so are many Australians, and angry too at the self interest of their political class.  The campaign to unseat Mr Turnbull has been so chaotic that many are now saying the Liberals, who have been the major conservative organization in Australia since 1944, are now finished as a political force.

The influence of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the so-called Sydney shock jocks, the Rush Limbaughs of Australian radio, was apparent in the consistent attacks in recent months on the moderate Mr Turnbull. The favoured candidate of the Murdoch media and other right-wing media outlets has been  the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.  Mr Dutton belongs in the nativist hard-right camp — hostile to migrants, contemptuous of ‘out of touch’ judges, and opposed to climate change policies.

The good news about the Australian Liberal leadership contest, some will say, is that Rupert Murdoch’s favoured (and most Trumpian) candidate, Peter Dutton, did not win. Murdoch who is now married to Jerry Hall — also mother of four of Mick Jagger’s children — was probably not too disconsolate. Many thanks to Getty for photo.

But Mr Dutton’s backers did not bank on Mr Turnbull’s tactical skills.  Prime Minister Turnbull cast some doubt on Mr Dutton’s ability to remain in parliament because of a provision in the Australian Constitution, which prohibits MPs from earning money from the government : Mr Dutton’s family owns childcare centres which receive government subsidies. Mr Turnbull also controlled the timing of the request for a leadership ballot, and this meant that the alternative conservative Mr Morrison had time to garner enough votes to win the Liberal leadership.

Mr Morrison, however, may have to call an election immediately, even though one is not officially due until May 2019, next year. The Liberals now have a one-seat majority in the 150-seat lower house, and Mr Turnbull has indicated he will quit his Sydney electoral district immediately.  Unless the opposition ALP agrees to a pair, which would ensure one of its MPs did not vote, Mr Morrison and the Liberals may lose a confidence motion in the House.

Meanwhile the events of the past week have bewildered Australians. One of  the reasons for frequent leadership changes is because the rules of the Liberal Party mean only MPs get to vote.  In order to avoid its similar experience with Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd, the ALP has moved to a system where all members of the party can vote for the leader.

The moderate Liberal Mr Turnbull had a difficult job as Prime Minister. To become leader he cut a deal with the dominant right-wing faction of his party, which meant he agreed not to resurrect the Republic debate and not to pursue other liberal causes he believed in, such as a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme.

Malcolm Turnbull during the 1999 Australian Republic referendum — which his side lost (on a technicality some would say) 55% – 45%.

It is likely the Australian Labor Party will win the next general election whenever it is called.  And the party and its leader Bill Shorten are committed to an Australian Republic.  They may even be able to entice Mr Turnbull, as an ex-Liberal Prime Minister, to campaign with them and so turn his Australia first dream of the late 20th century into a 21st century democratic reality.

If this does happen, it  may give Australian politics some fresh interest for Canada. (If the struggle between the hard right and the more moderate Malcolm Turnbull inside the Australian Liberal Party doesn’t already seem at least vaguely reminiscent of Maxime Bernier’s resignation from Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party only yesterday!) And if an Australian Republic does finally grow out of the summer 2018 hard-right insurgency against Mr Turnbull, it will not be a consequence that the insurgents intended.

Greg Barns is a political commentator and former political adviser in Australia.  He worked closely with Malcolm Turnbull on the 1999 Republic Referendum and followed Mr Turnbull as National Chair of the Australian Republican Movement in 2002.  Mr Barns is author of ‘What’s Wrong with the Liberal Party?’ (2003 Cambridge UP). Twitter @BarnsGreg.

RIP V.S. Naipaul — who thought briefly about moving to Canada long ago but then went back to England

Posted: August 24th, 2018 | No Comments »

V.S. Naipaul in his later days.

I have no deep familiarity with the writing of V.S. Naipaul, who “died at his home in London” Saturday, August 11, 2018, just a few days short of his 86th birthday.

But he is at least one of only a few great literary talents I for a while found fascinating after my mid-30s. I feel an urge to say something at the time of his death. (And why not? As explained on Twitter : “We are all journalists now.”)

I was late coming to Naipaul’s work. I first learned about him on Dick Cavett’s PBS series, during the age of “the last great intellectual talk-show host” on US TV.

Based on records now online, that was in late November 1980. And I was fascinated (refreshed even) by the man talking to Dick Cavett.

Not long after, I received Naipaul’s 1979 novel about modern Africa,  A Bend in the River, as a birthday gift. Reading that led me to buy his early 1981 collection of four gripping non-fiction pieces, published in paperback by Vintage Books in New York as The Return of Eva Peron.

The next Naipaul book I bought (in hardcover this time) was his mid-1970s report on India : A Wounded Civilization. (He was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad — a grandchild of reputedly high-caste migrants from India.)

Naipaul in his earlier days.

Sometime later I was lucky to come across a remaindered hardcover copy of Naipaul’s 1984 collection of two brilliant non-fiction pieces, Finding the Center. (The first piece pursues his own autobiography, and the second his travels in West Africa.)

Over the past few days I’ve been pleased to (re)discover that Ian Buruma (a great literary talent in his own right) considers both A Bend in the River and Finding the Centermasterpieces.”

Finding the Center is also Buruma’s personal favourite, among Naipaul’s “more than 30 books in a distinguished writing career spanning five decades.”

After Finding the Center I bought three more books by V.S. Naipaul myself.

A Turn in the South, published in 1989, describes his 1980s travels in the most angular geographic region of the USA today (and long ago as well).

Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples was published in 1998. It draws on Naipaul’s travels in the Muslim countries of Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, and Pakistan.

Naipaul at home in England, 1981.

Finally, I also managed to find a remaindered hardcover copy of the 2004 novel, Magic Seeds. It  reports on adventures in India, Berlin, and London, and “Britain’s new multi-racial identity.”

I was subsequently dissuaded from looking too closely at Magic Seeds by the critic Mike Phillips at The Guardian. On his view : “There may be many reasons to admire the body of Naipaul’s writing. This book is not one of them.”

More generally, all three of these later Naipaul books that still sit on my shelves deal with subjects that are still interesting and important in the turbulent global village today. But I have not found them as gripping as the first four of his books I read, in the first half of the 1980s.

There is nonetheless (I have just agreeably rediscovered) an eighth and final Naipaul item on my shelves today. And it has proved especially helpful in my personal homage to the many reasons to admire the body of his writing, now at the time of his death.

It is a neatly folded 7-page “hard” copy of Ian Buruma’s late 2008 review of Patrick French’s The World Is What It Is : The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul.

It also fits well enough with Buruma’s August 13, 2018 eulogy, “V.S. Naipaul, Poet of the Displaced.”

Naipaul in Grenada, 1983, on assignment for the London Sunday Times.

Both pieces are from the New York Review of Books. The last paragraph of Buruma’s (online NYR Daily) eulogy a week or so ago is worth quoting in full up front :

There is no such thing as a whole civilization. But some of Naipaul’s greatest literature came out of his yearning for it. Although he may, at times, have associated this with England or India, his imaginary civilization was not tied to any nation. It was a literary idea, secular, enlightened, passed on through writing. That is where he made his home, and that is where, in his books, he will live on.”

Read the rest of this page »

August for the people 2018 : Canada/Saudi Arabia, Emancipation Day, global languages, Auden’s Brexit poem?

Posted: August 9th, 2018 | No Comments »

At the beach ... where we should all be in August.

CANADA/SAUDI ARABIA : To us what the Canadian federal government has done in its recent complaints about the fate of Samar Badawi, and other human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, is altogether what should be done. We have stood up on the side of the angels, and we should just have the balls to stay there.

As explained by The Independent in the UK : “Canada said last week it was ‘gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi’… Ms Badawi is a lawyer and sister to [Saudi Arabian] blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison in 2012 for criticising the country’s clerical establishment. His wife Ensaf Haidar and three children now live in Quebec … The whereabouts of Ms Badawi along with Nassima al-Sadah, arrested on the same day, are currently unknown …”

Canada’s “really quite standard comments from a Western ally” here (in the words of one former Ottawa bureaucrat now in academia) have prompted a quite fierce reaction from the Saudi government and its ambitious new crown prince.

For further details see, eg, Akbar Shahid Ahmed’s (we think especially perceptive) HuffPost US piece, “Thanks To Trump, Saudi Arabia Won’t Accept Even Mild Criticism From Its Friends … That a standard statement on human rights now inspires drastic Saudi actions and troll attacks evoking 9/11 shows authoritarians are bolder and diplomacy is harder.”

Current Quebec resident Ensaf Haidar, wife of Saudi-imprisoned human rights activist Raif Badawi, and her children, meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Some Conservatives in Canada — still congenitally attached to old (and new) imperial apron strings — have been wondering on Twitter and so forth whether Canadians are really willing to “pay the price” some believe is always exacted when you stand up for principles in this way.

Our quick thoughts are that the true north, strong and free, does not do anywhere near enough business with Saudi Arabia now for any such price to be very high for the overwhelming majority of we the people of Canada. And standing up for forward-looking principles of freedom most of us do value highly, in the always troublesome short term, could do even the Canadian economy a great deal of good over the mid to longer term.

Read the rest of this page »