Monthly Archives: September 2005

Back to the future in a world that’s flat

The other day, my wife confessed to someone on a train that she admired George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. He replied she was in a distinct minority in Canada.

Factually, it is undeniable. But as a riposte it implies that in this land of independent thinking everyone wants to be original but no one wants to be weird.

Thus Paul Martin lets it be known he’s been reading Thomas Friedman. It’s meant to make him look deep, but if he were any shallower he’d bulge. Margaret Wente responded, “who hasn’t? Mr. Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is Flat, is on the bedside table of every respectable CEO and politician.” Well, I haven’t. I say, find out which way the herd of independent minds is currently stampeding and go someplace else, to read and think where the buzzwords don’t buzz. Whereas Mr. Friedman believes we’re moving into a fast-paced trans-competitive knowledge-based globalized economy where China is a giant and … zzzzzzz. Continue reading

It’s time to put politicians’ schedules on a diet

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It looks like Joe Volpe, Joe Volpe and Joe Volpe. He’ll be having the trouble. But is that us in the kitchen?

Critics are feasting on our immigration minister charging taxpayers for two and even three dinners a day. Especially after the appetizer of Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew taking his chauffeur with him on a trip even when he doesn’t take his car.

The latter strikes me as majestic … as in Louis XVI. On Mr. Volpe I have quite different concerns. Continue reading

It’s not Mulroney who’s been slimed by Newman

Two men fall into the mud. One comes out. I think it’s Brian Mulroney. His tone is unpleasant, but not surprising. But who expected Peter C. Newman to publish such a lurid, uninformative, sin-of-detraction “Gotcha!” book?

As too often with Mr. Mulroney, we find ourselves agreeing with much of what he said while shaking our heads at the way he said it. Joe Clark’s vanity is not a well-kept secret; nor is Kim Campbell’s self-pitying political ineptitude. As for calling Pierre Trudeau a “coward,” he was physically brave and, on separatism, had the courage of his convictions. But his chic indifference to the evils of Nazism, then Communism, I do consider moral cowardice.

Mr. Mulroney’s depiction of many of his political contemporaries as egotists invites the response “tu quoque.” But it is not thereby rendered less accurate. Nor is he the first skilful politician to see others more clearly than himself. He just had a particularly repellent way of doing it. Continue reading

Water, water everywhere, and many lessons, too

As the floodwaters recede, the first priority is taking care of the displaced; the second is recovering, identifying and burying the dead. Then comes rebuilding New Orleans and, one hopes, retrieving from the slime and debris some common sense about the lessons of this catastrophe.

For some people, the matter is already settled: President George W. Bush is a moron. This instant analysis has two virtues: It is immediately available and doesn’t require thought. On the downside, it can’t withstand thought. Decades of highly public, expert warnings that New Orleans was not ready for an inevitable major hurricane were ignored by authorities at all levels, many of whom weren’t even slightly George Bush.

So first, a little perspective. What’s with complaints that five entire days after a major American city was submerged beneath the ocean not everything was totally fixed? To some extent, it simply reflects the running headline “Bush reels as [<insert today’s news>].” But it also reflects a peculiarly tenacious modern spirit that expects man’s will to dominate reality (including nature) and leads to over- reliance on the politics of outrage. Continue reading

Helmets off to the troops in green

Canadians are so out of touch with the military some don’t know a warrant officer from a brigadier general. Uh, including me. Within five minutes of reaching the media trailer on a recent visit to CFB Petawawa, I greet Gen. Gary O’Brien as ranking below a lieutenant. Strange. The media relations people seem tense.

I was told I was addressing the OCE of Operation Stalwart Guardian, but filed it under HWT (Huh? What’s That?) because I am an RCJ (Really Clueless Journalist). It meant he was the Officer Commanding the Exercise of more than 3,000 soldiers from all the reserve regiments in Ontario practising large-scale modern military operations (brigade-level, for those who know sergeant is a rank and sergeant-major is a job and that warrant officers are in some ways more important than generals but clam up when generals are about). Where there’s that much food, vultures gather. Enter the media on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Wednesday morning we rise early for a lovely stroll in the woods. Of nine kilometres. Followed by a frenzied assault on a trench and bunker system. But first, brekky. And my first encounter with an IMP, or Individual Meal Pack. Last year at Fort Drum, New York, for a Brockville Rifles urban warfare exercise (officially FIBUA, for Fighting In a Built-Up Area but one sergeant called it FISH, or Fighting In Somebody’s House, and sergeants know stuff), we had to subsist on American MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) because mad cow kept Canadian food out. The Canadians kept saying IMPs were better, easy to believe while eating MREs. But now my wife hands me a piping lukewarm foil package, which I wrestle open to encounter a Pressed Object in Fluid. Later someone claims it was a ham steak. I say it sure didn’t look like one. He smiles. “Welcome to the army.” Continue reading

Our next governor general exposes our mediocrity

Michaëlle Jean may yet prove an excellent governor general. But her appointment has dramatically underlined a major source of pervasive mediocrity in Canadian public life. Because clear thinking about Quebec tends to be alarming, our politics is dominated by people who don’t think very clearly.

It’s irritating to have another vice-regal consort who dresses and thinks like a campus socialist. It’s worse that, in 1991, Ms. Jean’s husband Jean-Daniel Lafond filmed her joining in a toast to “independence.” But her, and our, big problem is that, as Paul Wells wrote in Maclean’s, “In some circles last week it was fashionable to write off” both his films and her toast as “an expression of the ideological flexibility that is as fundamental a part of life in Montreal as a jaunty disregard for traffic signals. Everyone in Montreal finds himself at a table full of sovereigntists now and then, according to this analysis. Anyone might, finding himself at a polling station after a morning stroll, take it into his head to vote ‘Oui’ instead of ‘Non.’ What of it?”

What indeed. Here’s the question we can’t even ask. Not the comparatively harmless one whether Ms. Jean was a good choice for governor general, but the far more alarming one whether it would matter if she had flirted hard with separatism. If the answer from one part of the country is that destroying Canada is something any decent person might seriously have considered, and from another that the proposal is outrageous, it could lead to real trouble. Continue reading