Archive for December, 2008

My best books of 2008

December 31, 2008 2 comments

As this is my first end-of-year posting, I thought I would discuss the books I’ve read in 2008 and pass on a few gleanings from what I’ve learned.

I’m always amused when I see politicians being asked what books they’ve been reading. Most of them stumble around before naming whatever might be the most popular current title. It makes me think they’ve just bluffing and have actually read nothing.

My book choices fall into three categories: The first is old works that I’m either re-reading or, because I missed them when they first came out, books that I’ve finally decided to get to. One in this category was Hugh Garner’s Cabbagetown, about a pennliless young man trying to make his way through Depression-era Toronto.

Cabbagetown contains a lot of social commentary that is as relevant today as when it was written (the 50s) or the period in which it was set (the 30s). As we may be heading into a similarly distressing era, I recommend this book to everyone out there who has not lived through hard times.

My second category is books I read for research on whatever writing project I’m working on. Of this kind, I’ve read too many to mention them all. A couple:

Secret River, and Searching for the Secret River, a tantalizing pair by the Australian writer, Kate Grenville.  Secret River is a novel about a convict who is transported to Australia and carves out a life for himself in a wild river valley. It  was inspired by the life of her great grandfather. The sequel, Searching, is a factual account of her research and the challenges she encountered along the way.

For anyone writing a historical novel that draws on family memoirs, as I am, Searching contains some fabulous lessons. It’s always reassuring to find that other writers have faced the same problems you have. One of the main things I got out of Searching is that just because it happened, you don’t have to put it in! Grenville’s research also led her to give a fictional name to her protagonist. This freed her to create more dramatic scenes than would have been possible if she had kept strictly to her ancestor’s life.

One of the last titles I read as I was finishing work on my book on Scott Joplin and Ragtime was Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revolution, by Eve Golden. The story of these two WWI era dancers intrigued me because my book focuses on the cultural and social changes that grew out of the Ragtime music of the period. McFarland Publishing (North Carolina) will bring it out in the Spring under the title, Scott Joplin and the Age of Ragtime.

My third category is all the new books I read,  either for information or pleasure. These include Annie Proulx’ new short story collection, Fine Just the Way It Is, and A.B. McKillop’s biography of Canadian author Pierre Berton. This one encouraged me to pick up several of Berton’s works that I’d not yet read, such as Worth Repeating.


I drew particular satisfaction from the Exile Edition release of Morley Callagan: A Literary Life. It’s made up of several score essays, commentaries and short articles that Callaghan turned out through his long and productive life. These pieces are so conversational and companionable that it seems you’re sitting with Callgahan at one of his favorite bistros and sharing an intimate conversation, mostly about great writers and writing.

The fact I was privileged to know Morley — as I do his two sons — made the read all the more enjoyable.

In 2009, I will keep a list of all the books I read. I probably average of one or two a week. First on my list (I’ll start it tonight as we sit around the fireplace awaiting Midnight)  is Joseph Boydon’s Through Black Spruce, which won Canada’s Giller Prize. I immensely enjoyed Boydon’s Three Day Road, the story of a WWI Canadian Indian’s misfortunes in and out of the fighting. I hope it keeps me as wild about reading as I am about writing.

Finally, let me put in a plug for your Public Library. I buy a lot of books, but I’m also a  big user of the Toronto Public Library. I have a country place near Orillia, Ontario, and I’m delighted to see the town council has approved the spending of $20 million on a new library. Use and support your local library!


Would Minnesota and the Midwest join Canada if the U.S. collapses?

December 30, 2008 2 comments

Graphic courtesy of Wall Street Journal

At least one American blogger likes the idea. Posted at

Well, the United States is really screwed financially and it’s all falling apart. Talk about fear-based journalism written by a Russian. But what if this guy is right?

Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010 and now people are starting to take this once crazy theory a little more seriously.

And a collapsing country could mean a split of the states into surrounding countries with more power, he tells the Wall Street Journal. “There’s a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur,” he says.

Our threats to move to Canada might come true as Panarin says Minnesota along with other northern states would become part of Canada or go under Canadian influence. All hail the Maple leaf.

More from the WSJ:
Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow.

The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in. California will form the nucleus of what he calls “The Californian Republic,” and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of “The Texas Republic,” a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an “Atlantic America” that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls “The Central North American Republic.” Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.

Would it really be so bad being a Canadian? Joining forces with those nice Central North American Republic folks could be quite nice. Maybe we’d miss the West Coast, and New York, but the rest we could bear to lose.

7 Deadly Sins of 2008

December 28, 2008 1 comment

The seven deadly sins are rooted in what the early Christians considered as acts involving the most objectionable of all the vices. They’ve been the stock of fables and morality tales ever since. But they can also be applied to a catalog of the world’s worst events of 2008:

LUST, overpowering craving, as in Robert Mugabe’s crazed clinging to power in bankrupt Zimbabwe. As if inflation at two million per cent were not enough, a cholera epidemic has infected 25,000 people in a plague the  dictator denies even exists.

GLUTTONY, the gorging of food or drink, as in the global oil fraud where prices were driven artificially — through speculation and monopolization — four times beyond their true market value. Enrichment beyond satisfaction, followed by the inevitable purging.

GREED, the desire to acquire more than one needs, and chief cause of the current global economic crisis. Specifically, the conspirators who designed the sub-prime mortgage dodge, hooking millions of unaware Americans into obligations they had no hope of meeting. Then, the wizards of Wall Street “securitized” this worthless paper and sold it off to banks and financial insitutions around the world.  As the bail-outs go on, why has no commission been appointed to investigate this pattern of deceit? Why so few criminal charges? Will President Obama dig into this?

SLOTH, the indolence and laziness of the pampered, specifically the Chinese entrepreneurs behind the shoddy construction of schools that resulted in the deaths of thousands of children when earthquakes hit Sichuan on May 12. Add to these the criminals who enriched themselves by spiking milk with melamine, thereby artificially raising its apparent protein level.

WRATH, fierce anger seeking vengeance, the characteristic of the Islamic militants who plotted and carried out the November 26 attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 170. As is usual in Al-Qaeda-type raids, the victims were innocents, some tortured before being killed.

ENVY, the discontent of covetousness over another’s success (or presence), surely a factor in the interminable conflict in Palestine. The years ends with Israeli retaliation for Hamas attacks in retaliation of … and it goes on and on.

PRIDE, the excessive opinion of one’s own worth, an attribute of all those financiers and engineers who value themselves above the sanctity of nature, as in the plundering of the Alberta tar sands. One of the greatest environmental depradations on earth, ranking with the destruction of the troipical rain forests and the emptying of the oceans of much of its marine life.

And what will be the punishment for these seven deadly sins of 2008? Unfortunately, it is falling on all of us.

Happy holidays

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Wishing all my readers

and friends

the Best of the Season

Categories: Uncategorized

Now Harper copies Dion’s policies

December 20, 2008 Leave a comment

I enjoy exchanging thoughts and ideas with my friend Michael Callaghan. With Michael’s permission, I thought I would share with you some of our recent conversations.

On Friday, I sent Michael a copy of a letter I submitted to the Globe and Mail (which was published the next day.)  Here is what I wrote:

“It is shameful that in praising Finance Minister Flaherty’s appointment of an economic advisory council as Obama-like (Opening ears, raising hopes – Dec. 19), you overlook the fact that this was the chief recommendation of Liberal leader Stephane Dion when he set out a plan  in the leaders’ debate on October 1 for coping with the economic crisis.

 “At the time, Mr. Harper said “You’re panicking, Stephane,” and the media ridiculed the proposal as meaningless.

 “It is doubly ironic that the potential stimulus figure you attribute to the Harper government (Harper eyes stimulus worth $30 billion – Dec. 19), is the very sum set out by Dion’s Liberal-NDP  Coalition as the amount that would be required to get the country moving again.

 “Clearly, we now have a Dion government – without Mr. Dion.”

Michael responded:

 Quite right. I told my Tory friend that the brazen lying of Harper and  his side-kick has been grossly offensive and increasingly dangerous.. The two of them milked the idea that Canada was largely unaffected by the economic storm swirling through other G10 countries as if  precautions they had taken were shielding us. Now they propose the same G10 measures. Just as the Opposition parties claim, Harper is a brazen 
liar and he can not be trusted.

Anyway, you might also, while you are on the injustice of it all, 
consider the Obama cap and trade proposal.
Nonetheless, I think Dion defeated himself. He was a “clarity” man who  didn’t have any. The Liberal party needs to rid itself of everyone in
charge of “communications.” Getting out the word began to fail back in 
Martin’s day. I remember throwing up my hands when I heard Martin on the radio bleeding all over Rex Murphy. “Can no one,” I thought, “get that
fool to shut up?” And Rex Murphy?!!. Owning Rex Murphy is like having 
the clap.

Then Michael sent me the following:

I see by a report today that the inflation rate dropped, largely because
of a decline in the price of gasoline, since food prices increased.  This reminds me of “core inflation” which arbitrarily excludes prices for both energy and food. Which reminds me that Milton Friedman used core inflation numbers of the ’70s to propound his monetarist nonsense. I call it nonsense because it was clear that the oil price bomb of those years caused a general rise in prices that was reflected in all the prices in the economy. If government intervention could have forced gasoline prices down we would have had the same effect then that we have today.

What was needed was an NEP. No one has mentioned it yet, but the effect
of what Obama promises is the US version of an National Energy Progame
for today, and it goes a lot further than Trudeau’s NEP. So, get ready out West, oil prices are collapsing and big government is stepping in to
control the business.

To which I responded as follows:

You are right. What intrigues me is that price is supposed to be a factor of demand vs supply. Now in the past couple of months the price of oil has fallen by three-quarters, from $160 to $40 a barrel, with only a marginal reduction in demand and no increase in supply. In fact, OPEC has been reducing supply.
So my question is, if the current price is a reasonable reflection of demand vs supply, why did the price ever get to $160? I can only conclude it was the result oif a monopolistic conspiracy – stated or unstated – among the major suppliers, abbetted by speculators who stupidly assumed they could push the price ever higher. It is this sort of nonsense that makes mockery of Adam Smith and all the cvonventional economists.
The problem is that the alternative – state control – is equally bad or worse because then there is nobody to monitor the criminal actions of those controlling the state. So my motto on that, just like “separation of church and state,” is “separation of commerce and state”
What we need to do is rigorously monitor the free market to keep its players honest. We moved in that directioin  from the 30s to the 80s, then the pendulum swung back, with today’s disastrous results. Hopefully, we’ll now put in place regulatory strategies that will yield long term improvement.

What do you think? I’d be glad to hear your ideas.

Re the comments above, Jeffrey Simpson’s Globe column from Saturday is a terrific read:

Greed grab and Bush’s triumphalist national narrative

Danny Williams – Man of the Year

December 18, 2008 1 comment

For the past few years we’ve all bowed down to the great god Free Market, not realizing we were giving free rein to all the thieves, cheats and liars of big-time Capitalism to run roughshod over our economic well-being.

One guy who didn’t fall over and lie down in front of the corporate steamroller is Danny Williams, the lawyer/businessman Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

For his forthright defense of the right of his province’s people for a fair share in their natural wealth, I nominate Premier Williams as Canada’s Man of the Year. I say Man because he’s a guy — and what a guy!

d-williams   David Newell/The Advertiser

This week,the Premier served notice on AbitibiBowater that it didn’t just have ever-lasting rights to timber and water resources after it was no longer operating in the province.

This followed the big American pulp and paper company’s decision to close its Grand Falls mill next March, putting 600 people out of work.

Now, a company has every right to shut a plant when it can no longer be operated profitably. (Note to the Big 3.) And perhaps there’s not much future in pulp and paper, considering the ease and economy of digital communication.

But it’s a different story when the company expects to also sell off to the highest bidder the rights it had held to timber and water rights as a condition of its “milling and logging business.”

So when the Premier pushed a bill through the Legislature to expropriate those rights it was, in the opinion of most perople in N&L (and many others) an entirely juistifiable action.

That’s because a 1905 agreement allowed AbitibiBowater’s predecessor “to have, use and enjoy for its milling and logging business all streams, lakes, watercourses, springs or water …”

No more milling and logging, no more water rights, or cutting rights either. Fair’s fair.

None of this will restore the jobs of the pulp workers. Nor guarantee an alternative source of income from the expropriated water and timber rights.

But Danny Williams has demonstrated again that he’s a Premier who truly acts as a steward for his people’s well-being.

It was this attitude that enabled Newfoundlanders to benefit by hundreds of millions of dollars from the hard bargain he drove with oil companies wanting to tap the Hebron offshore oil field.

At first, the companies walked away, crying they were being robbed. But they soon enough came around again, ready to face the reality of dealing with a tough-minded negotiator.

Then, of course, there was Danny Williams’ principled “Anybody but Harper” campaign in the late federal election. He felt the Prime Minister had broken a committment on equalization, and showed that he had the guts to fight back.

Sure, they’re calling him Danny Chavez, the socialist of the north. He’s not. And it’s too bad a few other Canadian politicians aren’t capable of being equally ballsy.

Premier Campbell of B.C., for instance. His province continues to pay through the nose for power produced by Alcan’s Kemano hydro station, even though Alcan’s new owner, Rio Tinto, refuses to invest in keeping alive the Kitimat aluminum smelter that was the basis for Alcan receiving hydro rights.

Of course, there’ll be a long legal dispute as AbitibiBowater tries to use NAFTA rules to stop the expropriation. Ironically, it’s the federal government, as the partner in NAFTA, that will have to defend Williams’ actions.

Meanwhile, all hail Danny Williams — Canada’s Man of the Year for 2008.

Great sound bites of 2008

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

People say such stupid things that it’s never too difficult to pick out the most egregious (and sometimes insightful) in any roundup of sound bites. Here’s a few that I thought worth passing on:

President George Bush

Dec. 16 – “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”

Muntadhar al-Zaidi, Iraqi TV correspondent who threw his shoes at George Bush

Dec. 16 – “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!”

iraq-shoe‘Go out USA’ sign


Bernard Madoff, Wall Street Trader in $50 billion fraud

Dec. 13 – Release of 2007 Video – “In today’s regulatory environment it’s virtually impossible to violate rules and this is something that the public doesn’t really understand. It is impossible for you to violate the rules and go undetected.”

Sean Avery, Dallas Stars $15 million ‘bad boy’

Dec. 14 (quoted after suspension) – “I am really happy to be back in Calgary. … I just want to comment on how it has become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds.”

Robert Fulford, National Post columnist

Sept. 5 – The Canadian election may well be among the least significant events in living memory. What, after all, is at stake? Nothing, so far as I can tell. The Prime Minister, with his present minority caucus, can get just about anything from Parliament that he asks.

Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance –

Economic Update, Nov. 27 – “Today, our Government is announcing a series of measures designed to strengthen Canada’s fiscal position in an uncertain time. These measures will enable us to plan on a balanced budget …”

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister –

Oct. 2 – “You’re panicking, Stéphane,” – response to Stéphane Dion’s 30-day plan to deal with economic crisis.

Dec. 15 – “I’ve never seen such uncertainty in terms of looking forward to the future. I’m very worried about the Canadian economy.”

Sarah Palin, Republican VP candidate

Sept. 11 – You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”

I know I’ve missed a raft of good ones. If you’ve got one, send it to me!

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