Trying to escape the spectre (specter) of Donald Trump in southern ontariariario on a [Sunday] afternoon

Jun 26th, 2017 | By L. Frank Bunting | Category: In Brief

“Poverty USA.” Bjorn Viberg.

One thing I’ve done today (well … yesterday really) is finish reading Jeff Madrick’s review of two recent books on poverty in the USA,  in the June 22, 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books.

(The two books are :  The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty, by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider ; and Happiness for All?: Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream, by Carol Graham.)

As a former Ted Kennedy policy consultant, Mr. Madrick is almost certainly not a conservative or a Republican. As a former finance editor at Business Week magazine, he cannot be seriously accused of communist sympathies either.

In any case, his current pronouncements on the latest chief executive of democracy in America have instantly slaked my thirst for any similar further comment :

The “budget President Trump has proposed” is,  in Mr. Madrick’s view, “both incomprehensibly harsh toward the poor and bound to fail to help struggling regions of the nation develop economically …”

He goes on; “Trump’s budget would slash a total of $54 billion from social programs in fiscal year 2018 and funnel the money into defense spending. His proposed cuts in coming years would be far deeper. Many … are unlikely to get through Congress, but Trump’s budget makes clear that neglecting the poor is now a presidential priority.”

(1) SUBWAY GIRL IN OLD T.O. In the midst of such trumpeting from abroad (so to speak), it is altogether refreshing up here in the northern woods of  Toronto, Ontario, Canada to see news headlines like “Images surface of girl lying on top of subway car at Davisville Station.”

Wouldn’t you have thought this was cool when you were 13 too? At Davisville station in Toronto, late June 2017.

This story is simple enough : “A 13-year-old girl was escorted off TTC [Toronto Transit Commission] property and arrested Friday [June 23] after she was caught lounging on top of a parked subway train.”

No doubt it is not wise to encourage this kind of behaviour. But it is hardly criminal in any serious sense. No vandalism was involved. And I can see no reason for any vast punishment myself.

“TTC property” is not as sacrosanct as some at the TTC  think. In the end it belongs to the people who pay for it. And some Toronto public officials in recent years have gotten away with a lot worse than anything this nervy and interesting 13-year-old girl has done.

Finally, click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below for further reporting on :

2. Why are so many lazy journalists jumping on the anti-Wynne bandwagon in Ontario? ; 3. Discovering Eve Babitz’s Los Angeles at last ; and 4. The late Eric Hobsbawn on Weimar Berlin, and the long tradition of dumbo presidents in the USA — as seen by someone who, for a time at least,  really was a Communist, period.

* * * *

(2) WHY ARE SO MANY LAZY JOURNALISTS JUMPING ON THE ANTI-WYNNE BANDWAGON IN ONTARIO? For starters see “The most popular political Facebook group in Ontario targets Kathleen Wynne … Its Facebook page has amassed more followers than Ontario PCs, Liberals and NDP combined,” by Mike Crawley on the CBC News site.

Kathleen Wynne in younger days.

The Facebook group in question here is called “Ontario Proud.” It was founded by Jeff Ballingall, who “grew up in Sarnia, has worked on Parliament Hill as a Conservative political staffer, at Toronto city hall for Coun. John Parker, and for the strategic consulting firm Navigator. He acknowledges he is a small-c conservative but says the group is non-partisan.”

Mmmm … non-partisan — like the Common Sense Revolution, say?

The polls also continue to show, eg. “Wynne’s Liberals tracking for third place in next election.” But I am still among those who don’t want to write the openly gay Ms. Wynne off just yet. The lion’s share of the Ontario mixed economy has prospered under her premiership. And she has, as promised, balanced the budget without cutting back on the progressive role of government.

. Kathleen Wynne and her later-life partner Jane Rounthwaite.

Moreover, there is some question about just who or what is leading the “Ontario PC Party” (or “Not really Conservative” party/NRCP?) these days. And Patrick Brown still looks … well, not like a premier of Ontario?

See also : “Welcome to Ford Nation, Sault Ste. Marie!” ; and “Caroline Mulroney poised to plunge into Ontario politics.” Does Ontario Conservatism really need someone like Doug Ford and/or Brian Mulroney’s daughter to show it the way ahead? What does that say about the party of Leslie Frost from Lindsay, John Robarts from London (Ontario), Bland Bill Davis from Brampton, or even Mike Harris from North Bay?

(3) DISCOVERING EVE BABITZ’S LOS ANGELES AT LAST. I have to confess I knew nothing of Eve Babitz and her work, until I read two short pieces in the Los Angeles Review of Books this past weekend : “The Glamour Machine: Eve Babitz’s Los Angeles” by Kim Fay ; and “Dreaming Jacaranda … Review of Sex and Rage By Eve Babitz” by Liska Jacobs.

Eve Babitz’s first taste of serious fame came with Julian Wasser's 1963 photographs of a nude, 20-year-old Babitz playing chess with the artist Marcel Duchamp, during his landmark retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum. The Smithsonian Archives of American Art has urged that the photos are “among the key documentary images of American modern art.”

I am not sure just how interested I really am in Ms. Babitz — who was born in 1943 and is still alive, but apparently reclusive in her old age. (Which I can understand, even if you didn’t acquire “life-threatening third-degree burns over half her body” in the late 1990s.) But I am glad I know a little more about her now.

She went to Hollywood High and as a younger adult “notoriously slept with Jim Morrison” (and Steve Martin and Harrison Ford and it would seem many other famous and obscure leading men).

In four books she became an admired observer of the Los Angeles she loves : Eve’s Hollywood (1974) ; Slow Days, Fast Company (1977) ; Sex and Rage (1979) and L.A. Woman (1982). The first two of these have recently been re-published as part of the New York Review of Books’s current book publishing project.

A very short quotation from Eve Babitz’s work that makes it into the introduction to the recent republished NYRB edition of Slow Days, Fast Company illustrates just what it is about her writing that has found so many admirers :

“I did not become famous but I got near enough to smell the stench of success. It smelt like burnt cloth and rancid gardenias, and I realized that the truly awful thing about success is that it’s held up all those years as the thing that would make everything all right … All art fades but sex fades fastest.”

(4) THE LATE ERIC HOBSBAWM ON WEIMAR BERLIN, AND THE LONG TRADITION OF DUMBO PRESIDENTS IN THE USA, AS SEEN BY SOMEONE WHO, FOR A TIME AT LEAST, REALLY WAS A COMMUNIST, PERIOD. In keeping with the anglophone “Review of Books” theme, my final intellectual achievement this past weekend was reading two articles by the late great UK historian of the old-school far left, Eric Hobsbawm — from the London Review of Books archive.

Marlene Deitrich in The Blue Angel (1930) — one of the remarkable movies from the Weimar republic.

The two articles were from seven singled out by the LRB from their archive, to commemorate the centenary of Hobsbawm’s birth earlier this month. (His dates are 9 June 1917–1 October 2012.)  The first article I picked to  read was a 24 January 2008 meditation on Weimar Berlin, where Hobsbawn spent his mid teens — “the years 1931-33, as a Gymnasiast [high-school student, more or less?] and would-be Communist militant, in the dying Weimar Republic.”

Hobsbawm notes : “It is hard to remember … that the republic lasted only 14 years [November 9, 1918–January 30, 1933], and of these just six, sandwiched between a murderous birth-period and the terminal catastrophe of the Great Slump, had a semblance of normality. The massive international interest in it is largely posthumous, the consequence of its overthrow by Hitler … the basic achievements of the Weimar Republic and the reasons non-Germans take an interest in it are not political but intellectual and cultural. The word today suggests the Bauhaus, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Walter Benjamin, the great photographer August Sander and a number of remarkable movies …”

I am among those who still find something about the Weimar republic compelling. But the Hobsbawm article that really left me with food for current thought this past weekend was from a spring 1991 review of two books on political leadership.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his first campaign for President in 1932 — not long before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Photograph by Hulton Archive / Getty.

Hobsbawm began by expressing some scepticism about much received wisdom on the importance of political leadership. He then went on to write a few sentences that have striking echoes today, more than a quarter of a century later : “A rapid glance at the history of the USA also suggests scepticism about the impact of individual leaders. That great country has, by general consent, probably elected to its Presidency … a greater number of ignorant dumbos than any other republic. It has indeed evolved a political system that makes it almost impossible to elect to the Presidency persons of visible ability and distinction, except by accident [eg Barack Obama, who still can’t quite believe it] … More than this, in the USA Presidents have quite frequently had to be replaced at short notice, whether because of assassination or malfeasance or for other reasons, by Vice-Presidents, who have usually been chosen for every reason other than their leadership potential. And yet the great US ship of state has sailed on as though it made very little difference that the man on the bridge was Andrew Johnson and not Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and not McKinley, Mrs Wilson and not Woodrow Wilson, Truman and not Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and not Kennedy, Ford and not Nixon, or even that there was nobody in the White House at all —  as under Reagan.”

. “Hobsbawm, who lived in a six-bedroom semi-detached house in Hampstead, north London, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and lived in Vienna and Berlin before his parents died.” He “once described himself as an ‘unrepentant communist’” but nonetheless “left an estate with assets totalling £1,835,341” when he died in 2012. (All according to the Daily Mail!)

Just how all this may or may not fit with today, in the early summer of 2017, is best left to the reader’s imagination and/or other shrewd assessment of current events. As cynics say in Canada’s other official language, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (I also agree with The Resistance in the USA today myself, but I think the great cause of progress could be strengthened by somehow better digesting the wisdom at the bottom of Eric Hobsbawm’s remarks on”the history of the USA” in the spring of 1991.)

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