Monthly Archives: December 2004

Through a glass darkly on a voyage through history

Well, you can wrap 2004 up. But you can’t take it with you. Instead, it’s going where all the years go when they cease to be this year, the dusty heap called history. I wonder what history will make of it.

Winston Churchill once said he knew what history would say because he intended to write it. Regrettably, I have less authority and fewer volumes at my disposal. But I do have David Warren’s recent observation in Western Standard that “the people in the past didn’t think of themselves as living there. Like us, they thought they were living in the present.” It reminds me that if we attempt to comprehend our own times as the final destination of history’s long voyage, not part of it, we are likely to step blithely from the coach and be hurled at speed into a tree.

So, through a glass darkly, I’m trying to see 2004 in light of the chapter titles in the perhaps too many history books I have read, especially the long surveys. Things like “The Development of Responsible Government” or “Edward III and the Executive,” but not “Paul Martin: Man of Destiny, a Bit”. The Canadian Press and Broadcast News annual survey just voted Mr. Martin newsmaker of the year for the second time running. Oh please. It should be someone who had a surprisingly large impact on our public life (which, parenthetically, involves slightly more than just government policy) especially in a surprising direction. Continue reading

Enjoy your sprouts and leave the carrots for Rudolph

Well, Merry Christmas, everyone. May all your Rudolphs be red-nosed and may you have as much eggnog as you desire. Though not one drop more.

I also see that European scientists have bred a sweeter brussels sprout, so if your background mandates these foul green spheroids at this festive season (who said British cooking was lousy? — other than the recipients, who so dread this aspect of Christmas that Thomas Cook Travel used a photo of a plate of them to induce Britons to flee the country in December) I hope yours, too, have that special sugary quality.

As for those Swedish-Canadians whose Christmas anchovies have been impounded by the authorities for having the weight indicated on the bottom of the can rather than the side (with such ponderous threats to our well-being are our betters preoccupied while we Cratchits celebrate even on a clerk’s salary), I can only recommend purchasing some of the conventional salty type, rinsing them, patting them dry and giving yourselves over to the exuberantly cheerful celebration for which Scandinavians are renowned. Continue reading

Policy is an afterthought for too many politicians

One very strange thing about Canadian politics is how many people are so keen to govern yet have so little interest in how government works. You would be surprised, and offended, if your car mechanic spent years seeking his job, then popped your hood and went “Whoa Nelly, there’s a lot of wires in here.” So why do we take it in stride from our politicians?

Last May, I complained that the federal parties were campaigning on wine and roses about what they’d do if elected, and skunk juice and cabbage about their opponents’ characters and intentions, but had almost nothing to say about how they would do things right and how their opponents would not or had not. As usual, the good thing about being a conservative is you’re eventually proved right; the bad thing is you’re eventually proved right.

Consider the admission last week by the vice-chief of the defence staff, that the military have not tried to recruit the 5,000 new regular-force members and 3,000 reservists Paul Martin promised in the June election. His explanation was perfectly sensible: DND has no money to train or house them, so it’s not signing them up. But what about the people around Mr. Martin or the great man himself? Didn’t they think about such things before making the promise? Or after? Continue reading

Some books are worth reading again for the first time

Now I’m bitter. I’d always hoped a magazine or upscale liquor firm would ask what I’m currently reading as part of a profile of me as hip and urbane. Right now my list is as impressive as it could ever be, and finally someone asked. But they asked George Jonas, as he boasted in this space on Monday. He’s not even reading any novels.

Not fair. I’m reading Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence. And Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur. And Relativity by Albert Einstein. And A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al. And All Tigers, No Donkeys by Kurt Grant about Canadian peacekeeping in Croatia. Never mind George. LOOK AT MEEEEE!

OK, mind George. He’s reading Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture and calls it “a must-read.” Also, he thinks men avoid new fiction as they age, instead rereading things that captivated them in their youth. Certainly I revisit old friends, like a guy Maclean’s quoted (Vincent Starrett) on Sherlock Holmes, “Here, though the world explode, these two survive/And it is always 1895.” Dude. And would you eat a dish, really enjoy it, then never taste it again? But I think George made an error worth discussing. Continue reading

Once upon a time, when to protest meant something…

A Citizen headline the day the U.S. president arrived said “Demonstrators organized quickly for Bush visit.” Yeah, I bet. Demonstrations are now mass-produced. They think they’re raging against the machine, but they’re actually part of it. Call it McProtest.

The model here is not Woodstock, but Levitton, the first modern American suburb: standardized, interchangeable components made elsewhere for assembly on site quickly, cheaply and without much labour. At first glance it looks like a community, but it’s not really very attractive and it doesn’t hold up well. As Charles Gordon said in yesterday’s Citizen, Ottawa’s “demonstrations were half-hearted and formulaic.”

Aye, there’s the rub. They have a distinctly suburban tendency toward stifling conformity. Some 1960s protesters sought a truly different path. Drop out, join communes, grow organic vegetables. Or tour America with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, staging happenings the machine couldn’t process. Maclean’s reports a similar impulse in Britain today: “mobile clubbers check the website to find out when and where the next event will be … show up and dance wildly to their iPods or Walkmans — creating a spontaneous club atmosphere amid thousands of confused commuters.” Continue reading