Category Archives: A – BLOG

Image of the Month: Canadian Women’s Army Corps posed photo of Mary Greyeyes and Harry Ball, 1942.

18-05-31 BLOG 1 Mary GreyeyesThis pho­to­graph hung for decades in the National War Museum in Ottawa with its sub­jects labeled “uniden­ti­fied”, until Mary’s daughter-in-law learned of its exis­tence in 1995. The photo was taken to encour­age more women to join the army, and its staged “Indian bless­ing” prov­ing pop­u­lar, it was widely reprinted dur­ing the war, then forgotten.

Mary Greyeyes was from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. This tiny com­mu­nity (only 367 peo­ple live on the reserve) has a remark­able mil­i­tary his­tory. 56 of its youth served in the armed forces, includ­ing seven women, most of them named Greyeyes, Arcand or Lafond. Mary Greyeyes joined about the same time that my mother joined the Air Force. Muskeg Lake Cree have fought in Europe, Korea, and Afghanistan. Muskeg Lake is also the birth­place of the bal­let dancer, chore­o­g­ra­pher and film actor Michael Greyeyes.

Mary returned to Canada after fin­ish­ing her ser­vice in 1946, mar­ried, and made a career as an indus­trial seam­stress in Van­cou­ver. She died in 2011. The other par­tic­i­pant in the staged photo was Harry Ball, a Cree from Piapot First Nation, who was a World War I vet­eran. His Plains Chief regalia was scrounged up on that reserve, where the photo was taken.

Pho­tos of CWACS in action. Many were involved in dan­ger­ous work. They were not just clerk-typists and tea-brewers:

18-05-31 BLOG 2 CWACs18-05-31 BLOG 4 CWACS

18-05-31 BLOG 5 CWACSe3b2dff99d6d933a4e4a9ac9bfeb1fd4

Image of the Month: Pluto

18-04-28 BLOG PlutoWe are in a great era of space explo­ration. This mag­nif­i­cent photo of Pluto (colour-enhanced, but oth­er­wise a true visual image) was taken by the New Hori­zons probe, which is now more than six bil­lion kms from Earth. New Hori­zons, launched in 2006, is enter­ing the vast outer regions of our solar sys­tem, which we are dis­cov­er­ing is far big­ger and more com­plex than was ever imag­ined. The heart-shaped plain called Sput­nik Plani­tia is an ocean of nitro­gen ice, which is semi-fluid and shows dynamic fea­tures sim­i­lar to those that occur in polar pack-ice on Earth. Adja­cent to it is a moun­tain­ous region charm­ingly named Cthulhu Mac­ula, which seems to be coloured by hydro­car­bon tars.

Image of the Month: Lava flows in Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla region of Iceland, 2014–15.

18-03-30 BLOG Lava flow

Friday, March 23, 2018 — Lóa fiðurgisin

Engis biður ein á strönd
— elsk að friði— þysinn,
Stor­mak­lið né lýð um lönd
lóa fiður­gisin.

[Alone on the beach, the feath­ers worn and shabby, the peace lov­ing bird tries to evade the noise and the storms that blow through the lands.]

̶ Guð­mundir Friðjónsson

The above is from an amaz­ing record­ing of rímur sung by Steindór Ander­sen, a renowned kvæða­maður, or tra­di­tional chanter. This verse is from an old record­ing, but it is fol­lowed by addi­tional verses in a mod­ern, rock-like orches­tra­tion by Hilmur Örn Hilmars­son. Both men have worked with Sigur Rós. The sen­ti­ment is appro­pri­ate to my inves­ti­ga­tions in Ice­land. This small, peace-loving island coun­try has weath­ered many storms blow­ing across the sea from pow­er­ful con­ti­nen­tal tem­pests. While mis­takes have been made, Ice­land is a place where peo­ple seem to believe that prob­lems can be solved. This atti­tude is in sharp con­trast to the mor­bid pas­siv­ity and defeatism that enshrouds some of the larger and louder nations. To under­stand this, I’ve been speak­ing with a vari­ety of Ice­landers. It is just a first step. I have been merely intro­duc­ing myself and estab­lish­ing some rap­port so that these issues can be explored in greater depth by cor­re­spon­dence. It has proven both infor­ma­tive and delight­ful. The egal­i­tar­ian Ice­landers care not that I have lit­tle pres­tige — I’m merely a curi­ous Cana­dian. Peo­ple rang­ing from civic and national politi­cians and civil ser­vants to aca­d­e­mics, musi­cians, and film­mak­ers, have all given me pre­cious time and hon­est talk. I must thank, among them, Ásgrí­mur Sver­ris­son, Kári Gun­nars­son, Sveinn Guð­munds­son, Herdis Sig­ur­jons­dot­tir, Ste­fán Bal­durs­son, Sibeso Imbula, and Sig­urður Bjorn Blondal. There will be oth­ers to thank in the days to come.

Solv­ing the prob­lems that face a nation is not served by con­coct­ing utopias, but by observ­ing sound prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and rea­son. I was delighted that every­one I spoke with seemed to take that approach. There was no whin­ing. As one of my infor­mants observed, in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008 some of the peo­ple respon­si­ble for the deba­cle were later instru­men­tal in cor­rect­ing it. Appar­ently, the well-being of the coun­try in the end over­ruled stub­born pride. This was a remark­able point to make. Every nation, like every extended fam­ily, has its fools, and even the wis­est have their moments of fool­ish­ness. But it is a strong fam­ily indeed that has fools who learn from their folly. When I was in Ice­land the first time, shortly after the cri­sis, I did not find peo­ple in a panic or a rage. I found peo­ple who knew that they had made mis­takes, and were deter­mined to cor­rect them. Now that I am back, I see the results of those efforts, and they are impres­sive. Cana­di­ans could learn from this. We are not a small, tightly bound together coun­try like Ice­land. Indeed, we are loose and sprawl­ing, with many fac­tions barely aware of each oth­ers’ exis­tence. But we are not a tor­pid giant like our neigh­bour to the south, and not con­demned to moral and intel­lec­tual paral­y­sis — unless we so choose.

We are now enter­ing a time of much greater per­ils than mere stock mar­ket crashes. We will have to step nim­bly to survive.

Friday, March 9, 2018 — Ghosts and Zombies

18-03-09 - BLOG DraugrAccord­ing to the Eyr­byg­gja Saga, when the Ice­landic penin­sula of Snæfell­snes was plagued with ghosts and zom­bies (specif­i­cally Thorir Wooden-leg and his undead com­pan­ions) dis­rupt­ing daily life and harm­ing the econ­omy, Snorri Þor­gríms­son solved the prob­lem by tak­ing them to court and sub­mit­ting them to trial by jury. Always the pro­ce­du­ral­ist, Snorri was best known for his fair judge­ments in cases of blood feuds, bound­ary dis­putes and the end­less squab­bles over fire­wood. The zom­bie prob­lem was just another such case. The Eyr­byg­gja Saga is not one of the best known of the Ice­landic sagas, but it would appeal to any lawyer or polit­i­cal jour­nal­ist. I read it in 1992, and then twenty years later I hiked exten­sively in Snæfell­snes, tread­ing foot­steps in most of the places the saga men­tions. I’m return­ing to Ice­land ten days from now, for another visit to that mag­i­cal lit­tle coun­try, so it’s much on my mind, and so is old Snorri. Today, Canada is men­aced by a plague of ghosts and zom­bies, orig­i­nat­ing south of the bor­der. The ghosts are an assort­ment of old and stu­pid ideas, the zom­bies are the march­ing morons of Trump­ism and the morally cor­rupt leg­is­la­tors of the U.S. (mostly Repub­li­can, but quite a few Democ­rats as well). We could use a Snorri to sort things out.

Among the old and stu­pid ideas is the belief that the finan­cial sys­tem is “bur­dened with exces­sive reg­u­la­tion”. It’s been a full ten years since the finan­cial melt­down on Wall Street plunged the world into reces­sion. Canada and Aus­tralia were the two coun­tries that best weath­ered that cri­sis ― thanks to the reten­tion of reg­u­la­tions in those coun­tries. In the U.S., mil­lions lost their homes and sav­ings. Lit­tle Ice­land was taken to the clean­ers. It’s finan­cial sys­tem had been cap­tured by ide­o­log­i­cal zealots espous­ing the crack­pot the­o­ries of Amer­i­can Con­ser­vatism, and in such a small coun­try there were no coun­ter­vail­ing forces to deaden their impact. The whole coun­try went bank­rupt after these zealots used their country’s bank­ing sys­tem to laun­der cash for Putin’s crim­i­nal empire, and to loot pen­sion plans in Britain and the Nether­lands. To their credit, the Ice­landers sub­se­quently had the courage and good sense to jail some of their bankers, though the biggest offender man­aged to flee the coun­try. The results were dif­fer­ent in the U.S., where the Obama admin­is­tra­tion came in on the strength of an under­stand­ing with Wall Street that the banks would be bailed out and none of the crim­i­nals would be pun­ished. But in 2010, that Obama admin­is­tra­tion passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act. This pro­vided a small degree of reg­u­la­tory over­sight, and lim­ited at least some of the pro­pri­etary trad­ing within com­mer­cial banks, whereby deposits are used to trade on the bank’s own accounts. It is pre­cisely this type of shenani­gans that had cre­ated the 2008 crash. Con­ser­v­a­tives screamed in agony at this tepid level of polic­ing finan­cial crime, and they have vowed bloody vengeance ever since it passed. Now, trad­ing on the fact that the Amer­i­can peo­ple have the atten­tion span and memory-retention of gold­fish with Alzheimer’s Syn­drome, the Repub­li­can Party (with the help of cor­rupt sell-out Democ­rats) is about to ram through its “Finan­cial CHOICE Act”, which essen­tially wipes out Dodd-Frank and returns every­thing to 2007 ― and it guar­an­tees more and more dis­as­trous finan­cial crashes in the future. This is all hap­pen­ing in the back­ground, vir­tu­ally invis­i­ble because of the con­tin­u­ous cir­cus freak-show in the White House.

Now for the zom­bies. Trump has long been manip­u­lat­ing the cred­u­lous suck­ers who con­sti­tute his “base” with non­sen­si­cal slo­gans and absurd promises of impos­si­ble things. The Repub­li­can Party doesn’t care what non­sense he spouts, because they know that Trump has no knowl­edge of any­thing, will say any­thing and then say the oppo­site ten sec­onds later, and has filled the White House with a “team” of igno­rant boobs, cranks, and incom­pe­tent nitwits. The Repub­li­can hier­ar­chy is only con­cerned with pur­su­ing the agenda of its cor­po­rate back­ers: “tax reform” that will trans­fer all of the country’s wealth into the hands of a tiny aris­toc­racy, and “dereg­u­la­tion” that will destroy all of its func­tion­ing civil soci­ety. The end result will be to turn the U.S. into a back­ward hell-hole like the old Soviet Union, or its suc­ces­sor, Putin’s Rus­sia. Not sur­pris­ingly, they have looked to Putin to help them do this. The lat­est procla­ma­tion from Zombie-land is announced tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum. This con­tra­dicts every sup­posed eco­nomic notion pushed by Con­ser­v­a­tives for the last half-century, but it’s meant to drum up more sup­port from the suck­ers who voted for him in the decay­ing indus­trial regions. They have been fed years of bull­shit about how their jobs have been destroyed by nasty “lib­er­als” ― instead of the com­bi­na­tion of Con­ser­v­a­tive poli­cies and tech­no­log­i­cal changes that actu­ally destroyed them. Most of these suck­ers are con­vinced that these tar­iffs are “against China” ― a coun­try that Trump and his fam­ily have con­sis­tently sought out deals and graft from while at the same time they denounce it. Trump alter­nates between giv­ing rous­ing speeches to unem­ployed coal work­ers about the evils of trade with China and then telling his bil­lion­aire bud­dies how much he adores Xi Jin-peng and admires that Com­mu­nist tyrant’s recent ascen­sion to Dictator-for-life.

This is basi­cally a zom­bie attack on Canada, because China’s sales of steel and alu­minum to the U.S. are insignif­i­cant. It is Canada that is over­whelm­ingly the largest for­eign sup­plier of steel to the U.S., export­ing $4.3 bil­lion of it last year. This is not a “trade imbal­ance” for the U.S., because Canada in turn imports even more Amer­i­can steel. This is because there are many dif­fer­ent kinds of steel made in dif­fer­ent forms for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, and the indus­tries on both sides of the bor­der that use steel are tightly inte­grated. An auto­mo­bile chas­sis may be shipped back and forth between the two coun­tries six or seven times before it is com­pleted. In the case of the alu­minum indus­try, there is a dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tion. Pro­duc­ing alu­minum requires cheap elec­tric­ity and baux­ite mines in places acces­si­ble to mar­itime bulk trade. Canada has both. The U.S. has lim­ited sup­plies of baux­ite, most of which are not acces­si­ble to the sea. Fur­ther­more, it’s elec­tric­ity has long been expen­sive because of com­pli­cated swin­dles in its oli­garchi­cal power indus­try, cre­ated largely by its Con­ser­v­a­tive ide­o­log­i­cal nut­bars. The U.S. can­not pos­si­bly pro­duce enough alu­minum to sup­ply its indus­tries, and imported 3.2 mil­lion met­ric tons of it from Canada last year, for a total of $7.2 bil­lion. This is essen­tial to Amer­i­can indus­try and sup­ports hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­can jobs. In fact, the Cana­dian alu­minum indus­try is fully inte­grated with that of the U.S., and the Pen­ta­gon con­sid­ers Cana­dian alu­minum pro­duc­tion a strate­gic mil­i­tary supply.

So when Trump claims that “we lose a lot with Canada. Peo­ple don’t know it. They have you believe that it’s won­der­ful, and it is — for them. Not won­der­ful for us — it’s won­der­ful for them.”, these are either the demented rav­ings of a lunatic, the will­ful lying of a pro­fes­sional con-artist, or the igno­rant bur­blings of an igno­ra­mus. Few peo­ple believe that these tar­iffs will actu­ally be imposed…. oth­er­wise the stock mar­ket would not just have dipped on their announce­ment, it would have col­lapsed. Trump’s White House orig­i­nally announced that the tar­iffs would be enacted with­out excep­tions, then shortly after that they might have “some excep­tions, but not on a national basis” then some­what later that “there might be exempted coun­tries”, and finally that the tar­iffs on Canada might “poten­tially exempted for secu­rity rea­sons.” Now the White House is issu­ing state­ments that Trump is “flex­i­ble”. But he had, as usual, an elab­o­rate and infan­tile pub­lic cer­e­mony to sign a mean­ing­less document.

Iceland’s largest indus­try today is alu­minum smelt­ing. Because it has extremely cheap elec­tric­ity from both hydro­elec­tric and geot­her­mal sources, and because it sits in the Atlantic mid­way between Europe and Canada, it is prac­ti­cal to ship baux­ite there in bulk and refine it. A Cana­dian alu­minum com­pany was the first to see this oppor­tu­nity, way back in 1969, open­ing a plant at Haf­nar­fjörður, which I hope to visit. In 1998, and then 2008, two Amer­i­can com­pa­nies built plants, and the lat­est new project is a Canadian-Swedish con­sor­tium. Ice­land exports more than a bil­lion dol­lars of un-alloyed alu­minum annu­ally to the U.S.. While Canada will prob­a­bly end up exempted from Trump’s loony tar­iff, there is no sign that Ice­land will, which will be a dis­as­ter for that lit­tle coun­try. Zom­bies threaten Ice­land once again. Snorri Þor­gríms­son, where are you?

It’s inter­est­ing to inform this farce with a lit­tle Canadian-American trade his­tory. When Canada first came into exis­tence in 1867, its trade was pri­mar­ily with the United States, but its finan­cial insti­tu­tions were mod­eled on those of Great Britain and some of its high-end indus­tries were British owned and man­aged. It’s most advanced enter­prise was Cunard Lines, a Nova Scotia-based com­pany which dom­i­nated trans-Atlantic pas­sen­ger ship­ping for a cen­tury, with finan­cial back­ing in both the U.S. and Britain. By 1899, British invest­ment in Canada had grown some­what, though trade in com­modi­ties and man­u­fac­tured goods remained mostly with the U.S.. Two men and two par­ties dom­i­nated the polit­i­cal life of Canada before World War I: John A. Macdonald’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Party and Wil­frid Laurier’s Lib­eral Party. The Con­ser­v­a­tives were extremely hos­tile to what we would now call “free trade”. The United States, at this time, was a high-tariff nation, one of the most extreme pro­tec­tion­ist coun­tries in the world, and Mac­don­ald wanted high tar­iffs to match the Amer­i­can ones and pro­tec­tion for fledg­ling Cana­dian indus­tries. The Lib­eral Party, on the other hand, was com­mit­ted to a pol­icy of “reci­procity”, that is nego­ti­at­ing the low­er­ing and removal of all tar­iff bar­ri­ers between the U.S. and Canada. While Mac­don­ald was a hard-core canny politi­cian, much given to wheel­ing and deal­ing, Lau­rier was much more of an intel­lec­tual, given to opti­mistic visions of lib­erty and advanc­ing civ­i­liza­tion: “Canada is free and free­dom is its nation­al­ity… Noth­ing will pre­vent me from con­tin­u­ing my task of pre­serv­ing at all cost our civil lib­erty.” Free trade seemed to him to be a cor­ner­stone of this lib­erty. His admin­is­tra­tion nego­ti­ated much lower tar­iffs with the U.S…Good tim­ing, because the Great Lakes region was about to spawn a new indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. The auto­mo­bile was essen­tially a fusion of small motor tech­nol­ogy and car­riage mak­ing. Carriage-making had long been a large-scale indus­try in the Toronto area, and small marine engines a spe­cialty in Detroit. Both areas began man­u­fac­tur­ing auto­mo­biles in 1901. By 1908, the Ford Motor Com­pany in the U.S. adopted and refined the assembly-line mass pro­duc­tion meth­ods that the McLaugh­lin Com­pany in Canada [soon to become Gen­eral Motors] had devel­oped for car­riage mak­ing. Simul­ta­ne­ously, McLaugh­lin began man­u­fac­tur­ing auto­mo­biles. From the very begin­ning, indus­try around the Great Lakes region had a strong trend of inte­gra­tion, since these inland seas sup­ported mas­sive fish­eries and marine trade, which the auto­mo­bile and steel indus­tries ampli­fied and elaborated.

Despite this grow­ing eco­nomic involve­ment with the U.S., Lau­rier was an enthu­si­as­tic sup­porter of the British Empire. Though he fought stren­u­ously to pre­serve Canada’s polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence from Britain, he sin­cerely believe that the Empire could be trans­formed into a grand fed­er­a­tion of equal and inde­pen­dent nations, with French and Eng­lish Cana­di­ans, Ben­galis, Jamaicans, Aus­tralians, Africans, Irish navies and Lan­cashire work­men all on the same foot­ing. You can imag­ine how this went over in the halls of West­min­ster and Buck­ing­ham Palace, where the con­cep­tion of the Empire was con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent. Lau­rier died in 1919, sus­pect­ing that the Empire would never be more than an exploita­tive racket, and demor­al­ized by the Great War he had dreaded for a decade and tried every diplo­matic strat­egy to pre­vent. The Great War soured many Cana­di­ans on Britain, and in the boom­ing 1920s, the U.S. became the focus of Canada’s trade and cul­tural ambi­tions. After WWI, Nia­gara Falls, at the bor­der of these two coun­tries, became the epi­cen­ter of a tech­no­log­i­cal and social rev­o­lu­tion that would rapidly trans­form the world. The Amer­i­can inven­tor and indus­tri­al­ist George West­ing­house had cham­pi­oned alter­nat­ing cur­rent for deliv­er­ing elec­tri­cal power, and made good use of Nikola Tesla’s AC induc­tion motor/generators and the polyphase alter­nat­ing cur­rent trans­mis­sion sys­tem to start power gen­er­a­tion on the Amer­i­can side of Nia­gara. But elec­tric gen­er­a­tion still remained local­ized and aimed more at indus­trial than domes­tic clients. On the Cana­dian side appeared Adam Beck, an indus­tri­al­ist, Con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cian and civil engi­neer. Start­ing in 1906, Beck was a vocal pro­po­nent of pub­licly owned elec­tric­ity grids, oppos­ing the pri­vately owned com­pa­nies as poten­tially exploita­tive and cor­rupt monop­o­lies. He also wanted to see Nia­gara Falls har­nessed on a large scale, and power grids extended over wide areas, includ­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cept of rural elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. Rural elec­tri­fi­ca­tion was soon to trans­form agri­cul­ture across the world. After WWI, both nations built mas­sive power gen­er­at­ing facil­i­ties on either side of Nia­gara, and it was in these projects that all the detailed tech­nol­ogy of long-distance power trans­mis­sion was developed.

By the end of the 1920’s, Cana­di­ans had come to think of them­selves as more or less twin broth­ers and sis­ters of Amer­i­cans with no more than a sym­bolic con­nec­tion to Britain. The coun­try was grow­ing rapidly, mak­ing a for­tune export­ing wheat from its expand­ing west­ern provinces, and indus­tri­al­iz­ing in the east­ern cities. What’s more, a flood of immi­grants had given it a demo­graphic pat­tern sim­i­lar to the Amer­i­can Mid­west. The Cana­dian accent in Eng­lish was only a minor vari­ant of the Amer­i­can Mid­west­ern accent. Pop­u­lar cul­ture and the pat­terns of daily life were largely shared. Cana­di­ans felt per­fectly at home walk­ing the streets of Chicago or Min­neapo­lis. How­ever, the other Amer­ica, the South, largely rural, racially seg­re­gated, and far from the indus­trial world of the Canadian-American bor­der regions, remained utterly alien and incom­pre­hen­si­ble to them. Nor did they at all under­stand the great wound of slav­ery and the Civil War that per­pet­u­ally haunted Amer­i­can life and politics.

The Great Depres­sion struck both nations. The droughts that crip­pled the Amer­i­can West were even more dev­as­tat­ing in the Cana­dian West. How­ever, there were some con­trasts. Canada’s banks were more strictly reg­u­lated, and there were zero bank fail­ures in Canada while there were over 9,000 in the U.S.. Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion rebounded quickly, but its unem­ploy­ment remained high through­out the 1930’s; Canada’s employ­ment rebounded quickly, but its pro­duc­tiv­ity was slower to rise. But the sin­gle most impor­tant event was not the stock mar­ket crash of 1929, it was the Repub­li­can Party’s Smoot-Hawley Tar­iff Act of 1930. This was a mas­sive enact­ment of pro­tec­tive tar­iffs in the United States. Just as with today’s Trump Tar­iff scheme, the major­ity of econ­o­mists con­sid­ered it fool­ish, and lead­ing indus­tri­al­ists begged Pres­i­dent Hoover not to enact it. Eco­nomic his­to­ri­ans are divided as to whether it sig­nif­i­cantly length­ened or wors­ened the Great Depres­sion, but there is no dis­pute about its effect on Canada. As with today’s Trump Tar­iff, the prin­ci­pal vic­tim was America’s largest trad­ing part­ner to the north. Canada’s imme­di­ate response was, of course, retal­ia­tory tar­iffs, but its long-term response was to shift both its trad­ing and polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion. With the Statute of West­min­ster (1931) Canada sev­ered its last direct leg­isla­tive ties with Great Britain, mak­ing its inde­pen­dence com­plete, but at the same time it entered com­pre­hen­sive trade agree­ments with Great Britain and Aus­tralia in which each guar­an­teed to co-ordinate their trade poli­cies and abol­ish bar­ri­ers. This was essen­tially a new configuration…with Britain a large indus­trial mar­ket for Cana­dian and Aus­tralian resources. At the same time, Canada’s new indus­trial pro­duc­tion could share in Britain’s mar­ket with Aus­tralia. Aus­tralia was not yet indus­tri­al­ized, but it ben­e­fited from pref­er­en­tial deals for its agri­cul­tural goods, which, on the whole were not in con­flict with Canada’s dif­fer­ent prod­ucts. Canada invested heav­ily in devel­op­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, partly to pre­serve unity across an immense and still sparsely-settled ter­ri­tory. Iron­i­cally, Laurier’s dream was at last being ful­filled, at least in a lim­ited way. Canada was now fac­ing away from the U.S. in pre­cisely the ways it had pre­vi­ously faced toward it.

The begin­ning of World War II mul­ti­plied this effect, at first. The responses of the two coun­tries were pro­foundly dif­fer­ent. Canada imme­di­ately entered the war and geared up for it. It rapidly accel­er­ated its trans­for­ma­tion into a indus­trial power, and chan­neled vir­tu­ally all of this devel­op­ment into the war effort. Soon, fac­to­ries in Toronto were turn­ing out Lan­caster bombers at fre­netic speed, and Cana­dian women pilots were fer­ry­ing them to Eng­land through swarms of spitfires.

In the U.S., it was a dif­fer­ent story. The F.D.R. admin­is­tra­tion was sym­pa­thetic to Britain’s plight, and opposed to Hitler, but it had to deal with a sub­stan­tial pop­u­lar move­ment called Amer­ica First. This should be of spe­cial note to today’s read­ers, because Trump’s “Amer­ica First” slo­gan was con­sciously devised as a his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence to this move­ment of the 1930s. Trump him­self may be clue­less about his­tory, but his ide­o­log­i­cal gun­slingers, Steve Ban­non and Stephen Miller, cer­tainly knew what the phrase meant. The Amer­ica Firsters, as they came to be known, flooded the media of the time with pro­pa­ganda and staged hys­ter­i­cal ral­lies. The mes­sage was clear: Hitler is our friend. Ger­many and Amer­ica should co-operate. Jews and god­less “lib­er­als” are schem­ing to drag Amer­ica into war. Uppity negroes, Mex­i­cans and immi­grants with gar­lic breath and funny accents are the real ene­mies, not the noble Nazis. If you have ever seen a Trump rally, you get the idea. The Amer­ica First move­ment was sur­rep­ti­tiously financed by both the Nazi Party in Ger­many, and its faith­ful ally, the Com­mu­nist Party. Both Hitler and Stalin dis­patched agents to infil­trate the local Amer­ica Firsters and direct their ener­gies to their inter­ests. As a con­se­quence, though Roo­sevelt was able to devise some “lend-lease” poli­cies to help Great Britain, the U.S. stayed out of the war until the Japan­ese attack on Pearl Har­bor deflated the Amer­ica Firsters. The con­clu­sion of that war, with the U.S. par­tic­i­pat­ing, was to change the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic land­scape of the whole world.

When the war ended, the United States and Canada were the only two sub­stan­tial indus­trial pow­ers left stand­ing. The for­mer indus­trial pow­ers of Europe and Japan were dev­as­tated ruins. Britain, France, and the Nether­lands had not yet lost their over­seas colo­nial empires, but every­one expected them to soon. Britain lived with food short­ages and ration stamps for a decade after the war. For the next gen­er­a­tion, the global lead­er­ship of the United States was self-evident, and the return of Canada to its fold was unques­tioned. Cana­di­ans became, once again, par­al­lel Amer­i­cans. Aus­tralians felt the same pull. There emerged in the world a clear “gold stan­dard” of life. This cen­tered on the United States, which despite the embar­rass­ing per­sis­tence of racial injus­tice, and poverty and seg­re­ga­tion in it’s south­east­ern quar­ter, offered the world a vision of a decent life for the ordi­nary worker and fam­ily. This was char­ac­ter­ized not only by a wide dis­tri­b­u­tion of con­sumer goods, but a gen­eral assump­tion of social equal­ity, strong unions, busy fac­to­ries offer­ing high-paying jobs, qual­ity pub­lic edu­ca­tion, excel­lent pub­lic infra­struc­ture and gov­ern­ment ser­vices, afford­able hous­ing includ­ing wide­spread own­er­ship of single-family homes, a bank­ing sys­tem now reg­u­lated against fraud and spec­u­la­tion by the Glass-Steagall Act, and a cre­ative and highly demo­c­ra­tic pop­u­lar cul­ture mim­ic­ked around the world. Every dance craze dreamed up by Cal­i­for­nia teenagers was soon taken up in Turin and Tokyo. Canada, Aus­tralia and New Zealand shared in this new pros­per­ous and egal­i­tar­ian lifestyle, char­ac­ter­ized by a steadily nar­row­ing gap between the rich­est and the poor­est. Sub­ur­ban life in Mil­wau­kee, Mel­bourne or Mon­treal was essen­tially the same. Despite threat­en­ing the world with nuclear holo­caust and cre­at­ing a global cold war, the Soviet Union offered noth­ing to the world that peo­ple wanted. Every­one knew that despite its weapons and space pro­gram, it was a back­ward dump that no sane per­son would choose to live in.

The Viet­nam War tar­nished this pic­ture, but did not fun­da­men­tally alter it. Cana­di­ans over­whelm­ingly opposed the Viet­nam adven­ture, and refused to par­tic­i­pate, anger­ing the Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tions that waged that war. (Aus­tralia took the oppo­site posi­tion). But Cana­di­ans’ atti­tudes to Amer­i­cans remained “fam­ily” —- broth­ers might squab­ble, but out­side the fam­ily it was another mat­ter. Cana­di­ans were dis­mayed by Amer­i­can racial injus­tice, but admired the courage and patri­otic vital­ity of its civil rights move­ment. They deplored the Viet­nam War, but admired the youth­ful Amer­i­can ide­al­ism that resisted it. The assump­tion that the U.S. and Canada were “nat­ural allies” and eco­nomic part­ners remained self-evident. So too was the assump­tion that social injus­tices would one by one be defeated and rel­e­gated to the trash-heap of the past, that under­neath all the weak­nesses and con­flicts there was a fun­da­men­tally pro­gres­sive core.

The real change began with the Rea­gan Rev­o­lu­tion of the 1980s. From this point on, the United States sys­tem­at­i­cally aban­doned all the prin­ci­ples and atti­tudes that had made it great. Sud­denly, it was no longer a coun­try where a fac­tory worker could feel the social equal of any stock bro­ker or banker, where the inven­tor of every new gad­get and builder of every big for­tune went to Cen­ter­ville High and then State Uni­ver­sity, where cures for dis­eases came from the labs in prairie cow col­leges, and where the impov­er­ished immi­grant ended up with “my son the doc­tor” and “my daugh­ter the lawyer” within a few decades of set­ting foot on a land of oppor­tu­nity. Instead, it was now a land where “the right school” and the “the right con­tacts” mat­tered most. It was now a land where “celebri­ties” were treated like Euro­pean roy­alty and “impor­tant” peo­ple expected to be fast-tracked past the line-ups in restau­rants and clubs. Ruth­lessly pil­ing up money by cheat­ing peo­ple was pro­claimed a moral virtue. At first, it began with sym­bolic things… a dress code here, a sniffy “class” priv­i­lege there, an arro­gant smirk in a smug priv­i­leged face every­where. The hard-won advances of African Amer­i­cans stag­nated, then began to roll back. The sym­bolic assaults were rapidly suc­ceeded by real, gut-wrenching trans­for­ma­tions, and over the course of the last forty years, Amer­ica has become Anti-America, a nation dis­play­ing and espous­ing every­thing it once stood against, and every­thing the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion was fought against. It is now well on the way to becom­ing a third-world, back­ward soci­ety, ruled by a third-rate hered­i­tary nobil­ity ― and if Trump stays in power, a tenth-rate tin-pot pup­pet dic­ta­tor tak­ing orders from Moscow.

The rela­tion­ship between Cana­dian and Amer­i­can soci­eties has altered fun­da­men­tally in this process. There is no ques­tion now, that Canada is more demo­c­ra­tic ― not because its polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions have greatly improved (they have only mar­gin­ally done so), but because Amer­i­can democ­racy has eroded so dras­ti­cally. Income inequal­ity has been increas­ing in Canada as well, though not nearly at the same rate. With its inti­mate cul­tural rela­tion­ship to the U.S., it’s no sur­prise that many of the despi­ca­ble social trends that plague the U.S. find echoes in Canada. But the dif­fer­ences between the two coun­tries have sharp­ened dra­mat­i­cally in the last decade. There is no Trump in Canada, and nobody like him can pos­si­bly get elected. The only polit­i­cal Party even slightly sus­cep­ti­ble to that kind of stuff, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Party, turned away from it pretty firmly. There is no Cana­dian Marie Le Pen, no Vik­tor Orbán, no Alter­na­tive für Deutsch­land, no Five Star Move­ment, no Golden Dawn. There are no bands of goons roam­ing the streets beat­ing up immi­grants. Refugees have been wel­comed in great num­bers, encoun­ter­ing hos­til­ity only from a hand­ful of cranks. Old social injus­tices are still seen as mat­ters to expose and resolve, rather than to deny and entrench. In short, it is another world from what lies south of the border.

The sta­tis­tics tell a pro­found story. A Cana­dian today has con­sid­er­ably greater social mobil­ity than an Amer­i­can. If a Cana­dian is born into the low­est quar­ter of the income scale, they have twice as much chance of mov­ing into the upper mid­dle quar­ter and three times as much chance of mov­ing into the high­est quar­ter. Immi­grants to Canada suc­ceed in achiev­ing a secure stan­dard of liv­ing at higher rates than immi­grants to the U.S. Refugees show nearly the same rates, though start­ing with obvi­ous hand­i­caps. There are no racial or eth­nic ghet­tos. Inher­ited wealth is half as likely to be the major fac­tor in suc­cess for a Cana­dian. Small busi­nesses have sta­tis­ti­cally bet­ter chances of suc­cess, and are started at a higher rate. Cana­di­ans have three times as much chance of becom­ing mod­er­ately wealthy as Amer­i­cans and there are twice as many very wealthy [over $30 mil­lion in assets] Cana­di­ans per capita as Amer­i­cans. The over­whelm­ing major­ity of suc­cess­ful peo­ple in Canada went to ordi­nary pub­lic schools and local main­stream uni­ver­si­ties. There is no stu­dent loan cri­sis in Canada, and col­lege tuitions are not a sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier to advance­ment for any level of the soci­ety. Cana­di­ans have sta­tis­ti­cally bet­ter health than Amer­i­cans and live a few years longer.

This is a new sit­u­a­tion for Canada. None of those sta­tis­tics would have been true a gen­er­a­tion ago. What is more, only some of them can plau­si­bly be attrib­uted to social or polit­i­cal progress in Canada. They result much more from the com­par­a­tive decay of Amer­i­can insti­tu­tions and soci­ety. One can­not pur­sue the sick, anti-democratic and anti-American ide­ol­ogy con­cocted by Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tives for four decades and expect to remain the land of the free and the home of the brave. Mind­less wor­shipers of a self-styled super-duperman like Trump can never be brave, and cer­tainly have no inter­est in free­dom. The core prin­ci­ple of Amer­i­can Con­ser­vatism, which boils down to “if a bil­lion­aire enters the room, get down on your hands and knees and pre­pare to suck his dick”, is fun­da­men­tally noth­ing but snivel­ing cow­ardice. And once you are in that posi­tion, crouched on all fours, it does not mat­ter much if the bil­lion­aire wears a cow­boy hat, tweets his orders from a Park Avenue pent­house, or mut­ters them in Russ­ian from his Res­i­dence Riv­iera dacha in Sochi.

Will Amer­i­cans turn a cor­ner and recover their hon­our? As a Cana­dian, and a friend of many Amer­i­cans whom I admire, I am con­vinced that they will. But it will take a long time. A major­ity of Amer­i­cans are true in their hearts to America’s most noble ideas, but they have, like bat­tered wives, become accus­tomed to accept­ing their dis­hon­our as ineluctable fate. A minor­ity of big­oted fanat­ics wave AR-15s at them, scream at them from the Fox Net­work and church pul­pits, and sneer at them from the halls of Con­gress; a demented child tweets at them from the White House or a golf course; and they cower in their homes, afraid to stand up, afraid to assert their her­itage as Amer­i­cans, afraid to vote out a gang of trai­tors despoil­ing their coun­try. Demon­stra­tions are fine, but it is polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, purg­ing the Demo­c­ra­tic Party of sell­outs, get­ting out the vote and putting real patri­ots in office that will accom­plish some­thing. The Amer­i­can his­to­rian Tim­o­thy Sny­der has rightly said that “Amer­ica has been col­o­nized. Amer­i­cans are in the process of accept­ing their sta­tus as a colony.” He has com­pared America’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion to France in the time of Vichy, when many French­men pre­tended that every­thing was nor­mal, that noth­ing had hap­pened, that Mar­shall Pétain’s rule was just another French admin­is­tra­tion. “It is only very slowly” Sny­der has said “that one comes to under­stand what being col­o­nized means.” And the longer it takes, the deeper the wound and the shame will be, and the longer it will take to recover.

Which brings us back to alu­minum and steel. It seems unlikely that Trump’s insane tar­iffs will actu­ally be foisted on Canada. The bulk of Trump’s back­ers and the Repub­li­can Party elite stand to loose money if that hap­pens, though some stand to gain. They can usu­ally finesse, dis­tract, or talk Trump out of any­thing they really dis­ap­prove of, because Trump has no knowl­edge of any poli­cies. You get some­thing from Trump by flat­ter­ing him, giv­ing him a parade, and let­ting him sign some­thing. But Trump is not reli­ably con­trol­lable. He uses ran­dom destruc­tion as a habit­ual tac­tic, and can sum­mon up an army of zom­bies to denounce any­one he takes a dis­like to, ruin­ing their chance of re-election and future graft.

It is unwise and dan­ger­ous for Canada to assume the dan­ger is passed. The United States is going to be in a chaotic state for many years, no mat­ter what hap­pens next. Dur­ing this period, Canada will be con­stantly vul­ner­a­ble to nasty sur­prises and eco­nomic chaos. When this hap­pened before, back in 1930, Cana­dian politi­cians and busi­ness were clever enough to shift their per­spec­tive and seek out new alliances, and the coun­try survived.

This is one of the rea­sons I am about to visit Ice­land, vis­ited Aus­tralia last spring, and hope to make vis­its to Scan­di­navia and New Zealand rea­son­ably soon. I seek to under­stand these soci­eties as deeply as I can. This is because a glance at a sin­gle chart tells me which coun­tries should be the focus of Canada’s atten­tion, and which should be con­sid­ered nat­ural allies. Our cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion, conventionally-minded, looks to where the money shines, thinks that carv­ing out deals with the big play­ers is the desir­able strat­egy. Canada’s pres­tige in the world has def­i­nitely been ris­ing, as the U.S. sinks, but cur­ry­ing favour with Japan, India, or the Euro­pean Union is not going cre­ate any con­fig­u­ra­tion of power that Canada can rely on, and any­one who thinks they can play poker with Xi Jin­ping and win is just a plain fool. It’s not trade deals as such that Canada needs. Canada’s prod­ucts will go where the mar­ket for them is, and our polit­i­cal lead­ers will never have much influ­ence on where that will be. What mat­ters is with whom one has sol­i­dar­ity, with whom one reli­ably keeps a two-way flow of infor­ma­tion, and keeps cul­tur­ally con­nected to. This was the basis on which Cana­di­ans acted in the eco­nom­i­cally chal­leng­ing 1930s, and then again in the pros­per­ous 1950’s and 60’s.

The Econ­o­mist Intel­li­gence Unit calls upon an impres­sive pool of jour­nal­is­tic, aca­d­e­mic and polit­i­cal sources to com­pile it’s annual global Democ­racy Index. It ranks and clas­si­fies coun­tries as Full Democ­ra­cies, Flawed Democ­ra­cies, Hybrid Regimes, and Author­i­tar­ian Regimes, using 60 indi­ca­tors, any of which might be debat­able for some rea­son, but which alto­gether are accepted as rea­son­able by most peo­ple with a seri­ous inter­est in the progress or regress of democ­racy. The Econ­o­mist table does not try to mea­sure any­thing as neb­u­lous as “free­dom” and does not at all depend on the obscene notion ped­dled by ide­ol­o­gists that “eco­nomic free­dom” can be con­cep­tu­ally sep­a­rated from “polit­i­cal free­dom”. It con­cerns itself strictly with the bricks and mor­tar of polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that are rel­e­vant to democ­racy. Coun­tries drift up and down in this tally, and it is alarm­ingly sig­nif­i­cant that, for the first time, the United States has slipped down into the Flawed Democ­ra­cies cat­e­gory. This does not appear to be the prod­uct of any simple-minded cul­tural anti-Americanism, which the EIU has never, to my knowl­edge, been been guilty of. The decay of Amer­i­can demo­c­ra­tic insti­tu­tions is appar­ent to every­one who is obser­vant, includ­ing most thought­ful and patri­otic Americans.

There are coun­tries that have con­sis­tently remained in the top tier of the Full Democ­ra­cies cat­e­gory: Canada, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Ire­land, Ice­land, Nor­way, Den­mark, Swe­den, and Fin­land. Nor­way rou­tinely holds first place, with a rep­u­ta­tion for painfully hon­est gov­er­nance. All these coun­tries have fairly long his­to­ries of sta­ble demo­c­ra­tic insti­tu­tions. All of them are wealthy coun­tries with pro­duc­tive, inno­v­a­tive economies and strong social safety nets. All of them have sophis­ti­cated telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­tures, access to the sea, and mar­itime tra­di­tions. Among them, only Den­mark and Aus­tralia can be impli­cated in over­seas colo­nial­ism. Denmark’s hands-off rela­tion­ships with its depen­den­cies, Green­land and the Faeroes, have not trig­gered crit­i­cism or com­plaint. Aus­tralia has some embar­rass­ments con­cern­ing Papua-Niugini, but is now well-behaved. All but two have some his­toric expe­ri­ence of being colonies or depen­dents. None have ever pre­tended to be world pow­ers or thrown their weight around. All have expe­ri­ence in deal­ing with minori­ties. Three have been long-term immigration-based soci­eties. All have accepted refugees. All have high stan­dards of edu­ca­tion. Canada has rou­tinely co-operated with all these coun­tries in var­i­ous ways. Together their pop­u­la­tion amounts to about a hun­dred mil­lion peo­ple, which is con­sid­er­ably more than either Ger­many or France.

All these coun­tries have resisted the trend of increas­ing income dis­par­ity (though Canada is per­haps the weak­est exam­ple). They demon­strate the false­hood of the ide­o­log­i­cal snake-oil which claims that increas­ing income dis­par­ity is nec­es­sary for pros­per­ity. They are all liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries that show that Neo-Conservative [or “Neo-Liberal”, as it is absurdly called in Europe] eco­nomic the­ory is a crack­pot fraud, in exactly the same way that Marx­ist eco­nomic the­ory is a crack­pot fraud. The two fraud­u­lent “sys­tems” in fact share many false assump­tions and oper­ate in much the same way, jus­ti­fy­ing the ascent of an aris­toc­racy and the exploita­tion and loot­ing of the peo­ple under a pre­tense of “equal­ity”. Both are pro­foundly collectivist.

But most impor­tant, these coun­tries have been rel­a­tively free of the plague of author­i­tar­ian, racist, leader-worshiping, immigrant-hating, theo­cratic, vio­lent, lgbt-persecuting and mys­ti­cal nation­al­ist polit­i­cal move­ments that are cur­rently cir­cling like vul­tures to destroy exist­ing democ­ra­cies and advance the agen­das of exist­ing tyrannies.

These nations should form a mutual asso­ci­a­tion explic­itly com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing and pro­tect­ing the demo­c­ra­tic prac­tices that have put them in that top tier, explic­itly reject­ing author­i­tar­ian polit­i­cal move­ments and the eco­nomic and social the­o­ries asso­ci­ated with them, self-monitoring and mutu­ally mon­i­tor­ing each other for signs of cor­rup­tion, pro­tect­ing sys­tems of uni­ver­sal pub­lic edu­ca­tion and pub­lic health, and pro­mot­ing the laws and reg­u­la­tions and prac­tices that pro­tect these high stan­dards. There should be no need for such nations to lec­ture oth­ers or engage in moral cru­sades out­side their bor­ders. The best teach­ing is by exam­ple, and the best argu­ment the fait accom­pli of peace and pros­per­ity.

If the top tier of Full Democ­ra­cies acquires a col­lec­tive iden­tity and vis­i­bil­ity, it may be the clar­ion that turns the tide. Every­thing that clar­i­fies the dis­tinc­tion between effec­tive demo­c­ra­tic gov­er­nance and cor­rupted democracies-in-name-only will be cru­cial to the sur­vival of the demo­c­ra­tic idea. The United States is in no posi­tion to do this, and will be “offline” for some time to come. Democ­racy has been on the run around the world, and unless it turns around and fights, the whole world is in dan­ger of sink­ing into bar­barism. We will have a planet of Xis and Putins and Trumps clink­ing cham­pagne glasses while they dance on the rot­ting corpse of civilization.

I am tempted to send a copy of Eyr­byg­gja Saga to U.S. Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Swan Mueller. He may just be America’s Snorri Þorgrímsson.

Image of the Month: Mont Alouette, PQ

18-02-27 BLOG Mont AlouetteThis is the view from the top of Mont Alou­ette, in the Charlevoix region of Québec. My friend Isaac White and I stood on this exact spot, but it was a cold and rainy day, and the land­scape below was a moody spec­ta­cle of mists, beams of bro­ken light, and shadows.

Image of the Month: Baffled by Japanese Culture… Episode 26,752.

18-01-30 BLOG Baffled

Mardi 2 août 2017 — Deux voyages, avec momos (version française)

Pas grande chose a été pub­liée sur ce site au cours de la dernière année. Peu après mon retour d’un voy­age en France, une série d’événements a com­mencé à mod­i­fier mes cir­con­stances per­son­nelles, en com­mençant par la mort de ma mère. De nou­velles respon­s­abil­ités per­son­nelles appa­rais­sent et des change­ments de plan. Pen­dant un cer­tain temps, je ne suis pas d’humeur pour les com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­son­nelles. Mais alors que je n’ai pas eu beau­coup de temps à écrire mon blog, j’ai été en train de faire des recherches et d’écrire beau­coup. Main­tenant, je com­mence une nou­velle phase, parce que j’ai aban­donné les emplois rémunérés et j’espère sur­vivre entière­ment en écrivant. Cela sig­ni­fierait des sac­ri­fices — vivre fru­gale­ment l’un d’entre eux. Mais il y a des avan­tages. Pen­dant des années, main­tenant, je pou­vais rarement me livrer à l’un de mes plus grands plaisirs, en marchant dans les ravins et dans les coins loin­taux de ma ville. Je n’avais tout sim­ple­ment pas le temps libre, et un tra­vail à l’extérieur qui me tenait debout dix heures tous les jours me lais­sait trop fatigué pour le faire. Mais main­tenant, je serai assis à un ordi­na­teur pen­dant la plu­part du temps, et faire de la ran­don­née sera néces­saire pour écarter le péril clas­sique des écrivains: le sur­poids. Donc, je ne marche plus pour gag­ner ma vie, mais je suis libre de marcher pour le plaisir. Read more »

Tuesday, August 2, 2017 — Two Journeys, with Momos

Not much has been pub­lished on this site in the last year. Shortly after my return from a trip to France, a series of events started to mod­ify my per­sonal cir­cum­stances, begin­ning with my mother’s death. New per­sonal respon­si­bil­i­ties appeared, and changes of plan. For quite awhile, I remained in no mood for per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tions. But while I have not had much time to write casu­ally for the site, I have been in fact research­ing and writ­ing a great deal. Now I’m begin­ning a new phase, since I have stopped out­side work and expect to sur­vive entirely by writ­ing. This will mean some sac­ri­fices — liv­ing fru­gally being one of them. But there are ben­e­fits. For years, now, I could rarely indulge in one of my great­est plea­sures — walk­ing the ravines and dis­tant cor­ners of my city. I sim­ply did not have the spare time, and out­side work that kept me on my feet ten hours every day left me too tired to do it. But now I will be sit­ting at a com­puter for most of every day, and some walk­ing will be nec­es­sary to stave off a clas­sic writer’s peril: over­weight. So, no longer walk­ing to make a liv­ing, I am free to walk for plea­sure again.

I had a monthly sub­way pass in con­nec­tion with that work, and it still remained valid until yes­ter­day. Real­iz­ing that I was let­ting it go to waste, I used it on Sun­day and Mon­day, to go to two remote parts of the city for some walk­ing. On Sun­day I went to Old Mill Sta­tion on the sub­way, so that I could walk along the Hum­ber River. Bloor Street and the Sub­way trains cross the river that sep­a­rates the old City of Toronto from the Bur­rough of Eto­bi­coke [1] at this sta­tion. But a short walk from it there is a much older and quite hand­some lit­tle bridge that was built in 1916. This was the point of cross­ing for the river for many cen­turies. Here was the17th Cen­tury Seneca town, Teia­iagon, at its peak hav­ing about 5,000 inhab­i­tants in long houses. It was a major cen­ter of trade along the Toronto Carrying-Place trail that joined Lake Ontario with the fer­tile Huron lands to the north, and upper Great Lakes. But the Seneca town was the cul­mi­na­tion of a very long his­tory, as there were peo­ple liv­ing along the Hum­ber as early as 12,000 years ago. The local his­to­ri­ans have been busy, and now there are sev­eral plaques in Eng­lish, French, and Seneca indi­cat­ing this and that. The hand­somest one com­mem­o­rates Éti­enne Brûlé, whose name has been given to the park­lands along the river north of Bloor. This gave me great plea­sure, because he is one of my favourite char­ac­ters in Cana­dian his­tory, and one of my cats (now adopted by friends) was named after him. Arriv­ing in Canada from France at the age of 16, Brûlé chose to live among the local peo­ple and, after learn­ing the Algo­nquin and Wen­dat lan­guages, began a series of extra­or­di­nary trav­els that ranged over four of the five Great Lakes, most of present-day South­ern Ontario, Michi­gan, Ohio, and Penn­syl­va­nia. It was in 1615 that Brûlé arrived at this spot. The next recorded vis­i­tors were in 1678 —- René-Robert Cave­lier, Sieur de La Salle, the Sieur de La Motte, and the Récol­let Louis Hen­nepin. Their ship was grounded and frozen at the mouth of the river, and they walked upstream to barter for pro­vi­sions with the Seneca. In the next cen­tury the Anishinaabe-speaking Mis­sis­sauga peo­ple had largely sup­planted the Seneca, build­ing a sep­a­rate vil­lage on the oppo­site bank, closer to the present sub­way sta­tion. Trade in the region flour­ished under the Great Peace of Mon­treal, and by 1730 there was a French mag­a­sin royale and gar­ri­son, sta­tioned fur­ther down­stream and to the east of the river mouth at Fort Rouillé. A hand­ful of French came to live along the river. But all of these things van­ished dur­ing the vio­lence of the Seven Years War, and this por­tion of the river, for which the Seneca name was Niwa’ah Onega’gaih’ih and the Anishi­naabe name was Gabekanaang-ziibi, was deserted until set­tlers from York­shire arrived and renamed it Hum­ber, after the largest river in that part of north­ern Eng­land. A series of mills were built at the river cross­ing, the last of which, a grist mill, burned down in 1881 and remained a pic­turesque stone ruin until its walls were incor­po­rated into a new hotel in 2001. 17-08-01 BLOG old bridge

With all this his­tory in mind, I walked south towards the wet­lands of the river mouth, and within min­utes I was out of sight of any build­ing. Occa­sion­ally, a canoe would drift by. The for­est here is rich, an unspoiled rem­nant of the Car­olin­ian for­est that cov­ered what is now Toronto before it became farms, then city. There are many tall and ancient oaks here. And these, link to more his­tory. The largest clus­ter of them, about 150 trees, is known as the Tuh­be­nah­nee­quay Ancient Grove, named after the daugh­ter of the Mis­sis­sauga chief Wah­banosay, who was the main nego­tia­tor and sig­na­tory of the 1805 pur­chase of the lands that were to become most of Toronto. Tub­nah­nee­quay mar­ried Augus­tus Jones, the prin­ci­pal sur­veyor of Upper Canada. Jones was a long­time com­pan­ion of Thayen­da­negea (Joseph Brant), and was with him when he led the Loy­al­ist migra­tion of Six Nations from New York State to Canada. Tub­nah­nee­quay was one of his two co-wives, for Jones fol­lowed native cus­tom. Tub­nah­nee­quay mar­ried him in a Wiidi­gendi­win [2] cer­e­mony, for she was a strict tra­di­tion­al­ist, but Jones’ other wife, Sarah Tek­ere­hogen was a Mohawk and a Methodist. One of Tubnahneeqay’s sons, though raised by her in the Mis­sis­sisauga midewi­win tra­di­tion, in later life became a famous Methodist preacher, tour­ing the world. The grove is named after her because at this spot, Mis­sis­sauga war­riors, led by her and her father, took a stand, claim­ing that Eto­bi­coke town­ship, on the west side of the river, was not part of the pur­chase. The legal wran­gling sur­round­ing the Toronto pur­chase went on until finally resolved in 2010!17-08-01 BLOG Humber River
Not only the oaks, but all the trees are espe­cially splen­did. The land becomes wet­ter as you walk south, until it becomes broad marshes. Here there’s a wealth of bird life, and in a very short time I saw count­less monarch but­ter­flies and drag­on­flies, numer­ous ducks and cor­morants, a tern, a red squir­rel, a muskrat, and a mag­nif­i­cent white egret, perched on a limb with lordly dig­nity. I had not been in this place for years, and for­got­ten its wealth of wildlife. There are beaver here as well, and fox, and even deer, but I saw none. A bit closer to the lake, the west shore of the Hum­ber is blocked by a steep bluff, and one must make a detour away from the river to get past it. This detour took me into a quiet res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hood, known as Stonegate. It is partly low-rise apart­ment build­ings built in the 1950’s, all very well-kept up, and partly hand­some houses in tree-filled streets. Stonegate Road has some of the finest houses I’ve seen in the city, in the sense of good taste rather than wealth. Reach­ing the end of that street, dense woods began again, and I fol­lowed a wind­ing foot­path down into the rather iso­lated South Hum­ber Park. Here I saw a for­got­ten item of 1950’s Mod­ernism, the “Sun­catcher”, a strange pavil­lion inspired by sci­ence fic­tion art of the era, serv­ing no iden­ti­fi­able pur­pose, except per­haps to be the best local place to smoke a dube. After that, the tree-cover thinned, a huge water treat­ment plant appeared on the right, and the the path­way ran beneath the Queensway Avenue bridge, then under the CNR rail­way, then under the Gar­diner Express­way, and finally ended where the Hum­ber River emp­ties into the inland sea we call Lake Ontario. There, a mod­ern foot­bridge allows one to cross the river out of Eto­bi­coke back into the City of Toronto.17-08-01 BLOG Suncatcher
At this point, I was very hun­gry. No prob­lem. A short street­car ride brought me into the neigh­bour­hood that is com­ing to be known as Lit­tle Tibet, and I love Tibetan cook­ing. Here, within a few blocks, are most of the best Tibetan restau­rants in Toronto — The Lhasa, Nor­ling, Shangrila, Tibet Kitchen, Tsampa Café, Tashi Delek, Himalayan Kitchen, Le Tibet, Om, Kasthaman­dap. I set­tle on Loga’s Cor­ner, because there I could order take-out momos, those deli­cious Tibetan dumplings, with the owner’s fab­u­lous home-made hot sauce, and bring them home with me to eat at leisure. Soon I was back home, feet propped up, dip­ping momos into sauce, with no wor­ries other than keep­ing the cats from grab­bing them.

On Mon­day, the last day I could use the pass, I chose to go east­wards, into the part of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Toronto called Scar­bor­ough by its inhab­i­tants, but “Scar­be­ria” by peo­ple down­town. It is largely the prod­uct of post-WWII sub­ur­ban expan­sion, and is mostly on flat land, but at it’s east end there is a major, heav­ily wooded river, the Rouge, and along the lake it is a long series of sandy cliffs, known to the explor­ers as Les grands Ecores, and today as the Scar­bor­ough Bluffs. These are as high as 90 metres [300 feet], grad­u­ally dimin­ish­ing in height as one goes east. They are always erod­ing, and houses and streets are now kept away from their edge — after a few ended up tum­bling into the lake. There has been con­sid­er­able new ero­sion this year, since the lake is at it’s high­est level on record, and there have been a num­ber of storms. I took the sub­way out to it’s eastern-most sta­tion, Kennedy, then took a bus that wound slowly east­wards, through var­i­ous neigh­bour­hoods, lit­tle “strip malls” of Tamil, Afghan, and Caribbean shops, and finally left me off on a quiet street. A short walk led me to the entrance of a park. It had few park­ish ambi­tions, for it was noth­ing more than the space between the back sides of the sub­ur­ban houses and the edge of the cliff, ran­dom patches of mowed lawn and woods, mostly just a place where the locals could walk their dogs. The only peo­ple I met were a cou­ple doing exactly that. Their retriever frol­icked about hap­pily and came over to me to make friends. There were numer­ous signs warn­ing peo­ple not to stand on the edge of the cliffs. They are only about 30 metres high in this part, but the soil is very loose, water­logged, and slip­pery, and some of the warn­ing signs no longer exist because they were once located in what is now air full of swoop­ing seag­ulls. As I walked east­wards, the patches of grass dis­ap­peared, and I fol­lowed a nar­row path through the woods. This turned abruptly, because I had reached a point where a creek had eroded through the cliff face.23839904 I fol­lowed this inland to a point where I could scram­ble down, to the creek that would take me down to the shore. But there was no trail going down, only a dense tan­gle of trees, brush, and mud. One has to be care­ful, since sting­ing net­tle abounds in such places. Sting­ing Net­tle has a rec­og­niz­able flower in the spring, but at this time of year it looks like any other ran­dom weed. When its leaves brush against your skin, thou­sands of micro­scopic hairs stick to you and release his­t­a­mine and acetyl­choline, caus­ing burn­ing and itch­ing for hours after. There’s also plenty of bur­dock, this­tle, poi­son ivy and poi­son oak. But I avoided these per­ils and found myself down below, on the shore of the lake. It was grow­ing late, and for the last hour I had been hear­ing dis­tant thun­der. East­wards, out above the lake, dark clouds were pil­ing and roil­ing. Noth­ing of the city was vis­i­ble from this part of the shore, only the bluffs trail­ing west­ward and east­ward and the vast extent of the lake. Lake Ontario is the small­est of the five Great Lakes, but it is still about the size of the whole coun­try of Slove­nia. Though at mid­day its waters shone their famous bright blue, cel­e­brated by Walt Whit­man in his poem By Blue Ontario’s Shore, but now they were a cold gray. In fact, Whit­man sailed by this very spot on the lake steamship Alger­ian, on July 27, 1880. He specif­i­cally men­tioned, in a diary [3], that the ship kept close to the shore, and the bril­liant blue­ness of the lake. He was a keen observer, always quick to notice and iden­tify a par­tic­u­lar flower or tree, keen to eval­u­ate the farms, notic­ing house-styles and how well or poorly made a street, a build­ing, a train or a boat might be. Here are sam­ple entries:

I am in the midst of hay­mak­ing, and, though but a looker-on, I enjoy it greatly, untir­ingly, day after day. Any hour I hear the sound of scythes sharp­en­ing, or the dis­tant rat­tle of horse-mowers, or see loaded wag­ons, high-piled, slowly wend­ing toward the barns; or, toward sun­down, groups of tan-faced men going from work.

To-day we are indeed at the height of it here in Ontario. A muf­fled and musi­cal clang of cow-bells from the grassy wood-edge not far distant.

In blos­som now: del­phinium, blue, four feet high, great pro­fu­sion of yellow-red lilies; a yel­low coreopsis-like flower, same as I saw Sept. ’79; wild tansy, weed from 10 to 15 inches high, white blos­som, out in July in Canada, straw-colored hol­ly­hocks, many like roses, oth­ers pure white — beau­ti­ful clus­ters every­where in the thick dense hedge-lines; aro­matic white cedars at evening; the fences, veran­dahs, gables, cov­ered with grapevines, ivies, honeysuckles…

… I spent a long time to-day watch­ing the swal­lows — an hour this forenoon and another hour after­noon. There is a pleas­ant, secluded, close-cropt grassy lawn of a cou­ple of acres or over, flat as a floor and sur­rounded by a flow­ery and bushy hedge, just off the road adjoin­ing the house, — a favorite spot of mine. Over this open grassy area immense num­bers of swal­lows have been sail­ing, dart­ing, cir­cling, and cut­ting large or small 8’s and s’s, close to the ground, for hours to-day. It is evi­dently for fun alto­gether. I never saw any­thing pret­tier — this free swal­low dance.

I rose this morn­ing at four and look’ed out on the more pure and reful­gent starry show. Right over my head, like a Tree-Universe spread­ing with its orb-apples, — Alde­beran lead­ing the Hyades; Jupiter of amaz­ing lus­tre, soft­ness and vol­ume; and, not far behind, heavy Sat­urn, — both past the merid­ian; the seven sparkling gems of the Pleiades; the full moon, volup­tuous and yel­low, and full of radi­ance, an hour to set­ting in the west. Every­thing so fresh, so still; the deli­cious some­thing there is in early youth, in early dawn —- the spirit, the spring, the feel; the air and light, pre­cur­sors of the untried sun; love, action, forenoon, noon, life — full-fibred, latent with them all.

By Blue Ontario’s Shore was the poem in which Whit­man most deeply explored the tri­umphs and tragedies of his own coun­try, the United States, which is almost vis­i­ble from this spot on the shore as a thin line on the hori­zon to the south. What one is see­ing is not in fact, the actual shore of New York State, but the white­ness of haze float­ing above the land. As one’s eyes turn toward the east, length­wise along the lake, the hori­zon shows only the sharp line of sky meet­ing water.17-08-01 BLOG Lake 1

By blue Ontario’s shore,
As I mused of these war­like days and of peace return’d, and
the dead that return no more

The poem is prac­ti­cally schiz­o­phrenic in it’s unre­solved dual­i­ties. He seeks to under­stand, embrace, and take respon­si­bil­ity for all the wild lib­erty and youth­ful­ness of his coun­try, and its tragic failings.

O I see flash­ing that this Amer­ica is only you and me,
Its power, weapons, tes­ti­mony, are you and me,
Its crimes, lies, thefts, defec­tions are you and me,

most of all, the still bleed­ing wound from its great­est, most shame­ful evil:

Slav­ery — the mur­der­ous, treach­er­ous con­spir­acy to raise it
upon the ruins of all the rest

When Whit­man vis­ited Ontario, he was com­ing to a place where slav­ery had been abol­ished in 1793, and inter­nal polit­i­cal and social con­flicts were so tame that they would barely be on the level of bar-room scuf­fles in Whitman’s home, Brook­lyn. But the coun­try that he came from was not in good shape. After the slaugh­ter of the Civil War, the Repub­li­can Party quickly sold out the inter­ests of the African-Americans it had fought to free, and the elite of the South was allowed to use sys­tem­atic ter­ror­ism to drive them back into the semi-slavery of share-cropping, with the poor rural whites kept only slightly above them, while every com­po­nent of democ­racy was dis­man­tled. On the Fed­eral level, a few large cor­po­ra­tions, known as “trusts” had come to con­trol almost all of eco­nomic life, while a con­clave of wealthy financiers and indus­tri­al­ists had sim­ply laid out cash to pur­chase the gov­ern­ment. Polit­i­cal and finan­cial cor­rup­tion were omnipresent, uncon­cealed, and all-pervading. Stock mar­ket and rail­way swin­dles, and “pay for play” pol­i­tics were the norm. The rich boasted that they were super­men, and a small class of pros­per­ous pro­fes­sion­als acted as a cho­rus to them. The wealth­i­est 1% owned 51% of the prop­erty, while the bot­tom 44% claimed only 1.1%. Most Amer­i­cans had just strug­gled through a severe depres­sion that lasted seven years, and had just reached recov­ery the year Whit­man was here. The rich hired pri­vate armies to vio­lently crush strikes and the cities had erupted in repeated riots, all of which were fol­lowed by ruth­less police repres­sion. The rich could always rely on their bought politi­cians to deliver the booty, and on ingrained racism, reli­gious fer­vor, and hatred of immi­grants (at that time mostly Irish and Ger­man) to keep the “peas­ants” in line. Farms around the coun­try were falling under cor­po­rate and elite con­trol, land, credit and agri­cul­tural reforms des­per­ately needed, but these reforms required poor white farm­ers and black share­crop­pers to rec­og­nize their com­mon inter­ests and work together… some­thing the rich could eas­ily pre­vent by press­ing the racial, reli­gious, regional, and xeno­pho­bic but­tons on their con­trol con­sole. How­ever, the Amer­i­can peo­ple did, even­tu­ally, pull them­selves out of that hole. The next gen­er­a­tion curbed the power of the trusts. This was known as the Reform Era. It would take sev­eral cycles of such “reform eras” to build a mod­ern coun­try… work that is still unfin­ished.

If all this sounds famil­iar, it’s because the United States is going through much the same thing today, and we in Canada, as then, are stand­ing in rel­a­tive safety observ­ing it with the same mix­ture of hor­ror, sym­pa­thy, revul­sion and pity as we did then. We have our own prob­lems, but they pale com­pared to night­mare that our Amer­i­can broth­ers are march­ing into with a trai­tor, work­ing for their ene­mies, con­trol­ling the White House, mil­lions of their num­ber insanely embrac­ing a total­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy no dif­fer­ent from Com­mu­nism or Fas­cism, and a pop­u­la­tion so eas­ily manip­u­lated by exactly the same sort of con­trol con­sole as pre­vailed when Whit­man was sit­ting on the deck of the Alge­ria, prob­a­bly look­ing intently at the swal­lows fly­ing about the very place I was stand­ing 137 years later.

For the swal­lows are still here. They nest in great num­bers in the cliff face, and behave exactly as Whit­man described them.

17-08-01 BLOG Lake 2The sky was, by this time, per­form­ing the func­tion of the pathetic fal­lacy, by which nature mir­rors the polit­i­cal con­di­tion of soci­ety. Very dark clouds were rolling in from the Amer­i­can side, and flashes of light­ning. I did not want to be stuck on an unin­hab­ited beach below a con­tin­u­ous line of cliffs, 15 kilo­me­tres long, fac­ing a lake whose storms can be extremely vio­lent, and waves extremely high. The path I had taken down was dif­fi­cult, and retrac­ing it upward would have been more dif­fi­cult. So I walked east­wards along the beach, look­ing for a bet­ter egress. I even­tu­ally found a spot which was suf­fi­ciently clear of veg­e­ta­tion, and had secure enough foot­ing to let me climb, and I emerged on the man­i­cured prop­erty of a large, futuristic-looking water treat­ment plant that I didn’t know existed. [4] This was com­pletely deserted, though the city had duti­fully filled a large expanse with park benches and pic­nic tables, and kept the grounds as neat as a hos­pi­tal scrub room. It was being enjoyed, how­ever, by two very large brown cotton-tail rab­bits. One of them quickly hopped away as I approached, but the other strangely stood his ground, and stared me down with that pecu­liar aris­to­cratic con­tempt that I have seen in wild Kan­ga­roos in the Aus­tralian bush. Per­haps he had read Water­ship Down in his spare time, if rab­bits can be said to have spare time.

I was now in the first stages of twi­light, and I had no idea how far I would have to go to get to the near­est bus. Out­side of the fil­tra­tion plant there was noth­ing but an empty ser­vice road run­ning east-and west, par­al­lel to the CNR rail­way tracks, and behind the tracks there was noth­ing vis­i­ble but trees. The part of Scar­bor­ough with human beings in it was some­where beyond that, but how was I to get to it? I walked west along the road, and even­tu­ally found an inter­sect­ing road that crossed the track and went north. This was a level rail­way cross­ing, with noth­ing but a saltire, lights and a prim­i­tive boom bar. It must be the only one left in Met­ro­pol­i­tan Toronto on an active rail line, and this is the most heav­ily trav­eled line in the coun­try, link­ing Toronto and Mon­treal! Noth­ing could have more effec­tively under­scored my down­town prej­u­dice that Scar­bor­ough was a remote and prim­i­tive wilderness.

Nev­er­the­less, it was not long before this road brought me to houses, and some teenagers play­ing pickup bas­ket­ball in the street with a Spald­ing portable hoop set up on the curb. They directed me a few blocks north where I could get the 86D bus to the sub­way. I could, in fact, just see it turn­ing the cor­ner. But it waited at this par­tic­u­lar stop to mark time on its sched­ule, and I was able to run for it suc­cess­fully. Along its route, it passed a large Tamil gro­cery shop, so I hopped off the bus to pick up some naan bread, some Chennai-style snack mix [5], and a cold gin­ger beer. I got home, and, as the night before, hap­pily feasted. There were still some left­over momos.

Amount of writ­ing done those two days: zero. But I would count them as productive.


[1] Eto­bi­coke is pro­nounced “Ee-toe-bi-coe”. The “k” is silent. Nobody seems to know why.

[2] Wiidi­gendi­win — a wed­ding cer­e­mony in accor­dance with the Midewi­win, tra­di­tional reli­gious teach­ings of the Ojib­way and Cree peo­ple. These tra­di­tions are still active, some­times sup­ple­men­tary, and some­times in com­pe­ti­tion with other faiths.

[3] Walt Whitman’s Diary in Canada, with Extracts from Other of His Diaries and Lit­er­ary Note-books — edited by William Sloane Kennedy. 1904 Boston. Small, May­nard & Co. I read one of the 500 orig­i­nal copies, but it has since been reprinted. Whit­man trav­eled as far as the Sague­nay in Que­bec, but most of his visit to Canada was spent with his friend William Bucke, a pio­neer psy­chol­o­gist and coiner of the term “cos­mic con­scious­ness.” Their friend­ship was the sub­ject of an odd lit­tle film, Beau­ti­ful Dream­ers (1992) directed by John Kent Har­ri­son and star­ring Colme Feore and Rip Torn.

[4] I looked it up when I got home. The F.J. Hor­gan Fil­tra­tion Plant was com­pleted in 2011. Since it’s in Scar­bor­ough, down­town Toron­to­ni­ans like myself would no more hear about it than we would hear about one in Nepal or Ecuador.

[5] Ground­nuts, thenkuzhal, kara boondhi, roasted chana, kara­sev, murukku, pakoda and oma podi — a much tastier com­bi­na­tion than the Bom­bay and Pun­jabi mixes you get in my local supermarket.

Monday, November 28, 2016 — A Letter to my Member of Parliament, Bill Morneau

To: Bill Morneau, House of Com­mons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6

Re: Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau prais­ing Castro

I voted for the present gov­ern­ment. I voted for you. I had vis­cer­ally despised Harper, and I fell for your party’s hokum about “sunny days” and restor­ing Canada’s demo­c­ra­tic val­ues after the grim repres­sive­ness of the Con­ser­v­a­tive admin­is­tra­tion. Naive me.

This rid­ing includes Canada’s prin­ci­pal Gay neigh­bor­hood and busi­ness com­mu­nity. Among my friends was a man who suf­fered ago­niz­ing tor­tures in the con­cen­tra­tion camps that Cas­tro threw thou­sands of gays into. He is now, mer­ci­fully, dead, and does not have to hear a Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter prais­ing his tor­turer. He was under the impres­sion that he had come to a democracy.

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau’s inane, syco­phan­tic blather prais­ing a mass-murderer, slave-holder and exploiter is no dif­fer­ent from Trump’s cring­ing praise of Putin, Ronald Rea­gan call­ing the geno­ci­dal butcher Rios-Montt “a man of great per­sonal integrity”, or Mar­garet Thatcher claim­ing Augusto Pinochet as a “true friend”.

This clearly demon­strates that our sup­pos­edly “demo­c­ra­tic” lead­ers have no com­mit­ment to, or respect for democ­racy, what­ever their party.