Wednesday, January 30, 2019

My Log 691 Jan 31 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 125; I’m finally admitting it: I can’t take notes as I used to do in my reporting days; could age have caught up with me at last?

When I was struggling the other day to write a piece that never did jell, it reminded me of something from my early days as a reporter that I had practically forgotten all about.
Of course, I got into the trade long before journalism schools were invented --- at least in the country of my birth --- and before there were oceans of electronic gadgets to aid in the reportorial function. I was 17, had just left after four years in high school, where I spent all my energies in running, jumping and hitting or kicking balls round, and I had to learn, first, to type, and secondly to master shorthand methods of taking notes. I tried Pitman’s but found it confoundedly complicated, so moved on to Gregg’s, an easier system, so I finished up with a mixture of Gregg’s and my own scribbled note-taking, and --- the best weapon of all ---  a memory that for a few years seemed to be almost infallible. As I grew into the trade and became accustomed to interviewing people --- we used to interview almost every foreigner who ventured into our small city, Invercargill, in the far south coast of the South Island of New Zealand, the place we proudly called “the southernmost city in the British Empire” --- I quickly became used to  mentally editing what I was going to write as I conducted the interview. Consequently, I eventually could return to the office with the outline of my piece already laid out in my head, and knock it off quickly. Of the various skills involved,  the actual writing was almost the easiest part of the exercise.
I worked at this trade for 25 years, off and on, moving from one newspaper to another in four or five different countries, usually staying for no more than three years in any one place, until I got kind of stuck in Montreal, mainly because eight years of my 14 years in Montreal journalism were spent in London, England, where I was more or less working on my own time, choosing what to write and when to work.
By the latter years of my quarter century, these little recording machines had popped up, and I found younger reporters were taking them along to interviews, and then coming back to the office and laboriously going through the interview all over again. I tried I once, and gave it up. First, I wasn’t good at working the little gadgets  --- although God knows they were easy enough, requiring just a slight manual dexterity to click them on and off --- but, secondly, I just couldn't produce as good a result as I could through my internal editing system. And, in addition, it took twice as long, and for me even longer, to do the job.
Well, the reason this has sprung to mind is that the other day, trying to work my way though to a satisfactory conclusion, I was working, first of all, from a recorded account of a symposium.
Until about 15 years ago, as I observed the reporting trade on TV and the like, I used to think, I could still do that, no problem, if anyone asked me. But it has slowly been borne in on me in the last 15 years that, in fact, I could not still do the job as I used to do it. I have discovered, not just last week, but also on some previous occasions, that my note-taking, which used to be eminently readable, at least to me, is nowadays lost in the purgatory of the incomprehensible. I still use some of the Gregg’s symbols, as I had always done, but nowadays when I try to read them back, I cannot remember exactly what I thought they were supposed to mean when I wrote them down, and the linking scribbles, that also used to be easy for me to understand, are nowadays unreadable.
Having failed to make readable notes by hand, after playing the tape through slowly, stopping and backing, and starting and stopping again, I decided I would be better to type it directly, as the tape wound through the computer screen. Unfortunately, on this 13-inch computer keyboard, I make gazillions of typing errors, and when I looked at what emerged from my rapid typing, as I tried to keep up with the speaker,  it was even less comprehensible than were  my hand-written notes.
Eventually --- fulfilling the injunction I passed on to my children  that “remember, you can always quit” --- I decided to quit, to give it up as a bad job. (Mind you, my advice to them that they could always quit was not meant to be applied to the minutiae of daily work performance, but really should have been confined to the big decisions, as to whether they could stand working for this or that particular asshole employer).
Anyway, all this reminded me of the days when I didn’t need a recorder to know what I had been told by an interviewee. And to tell the truth, even today I would tend to put more faith in a reporter who knew what he had been told, understood which part of it was relevant as a piece of public information, and knew also how to get that down on paper as soon and as accurately as possible, than I would in a reporter who, returning to his office, did not know how to begin his story, and could not fill it out without help from a machine.
All this shows how far behind the times I am (he says, with a touch of pride).

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My Log 690 Jan 29 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 124; A jolly little scenario for you, folks, about independence, legality, justice, and all those great attributes of nationhood we’re always talking about…

Okay, folks, here’s a jolly little scenario for you, relating to the arrest and detention of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive from China whose extradition is being demanded by the United States.
Let’s for the moment, accept the Trudeau government’s attitude towards this whole thing.
First, the entire incident is a judicial one. We are a country with a belief in “rule of law”, and it is up to the judiciary to decide the fate of Ms. Meng. This is not a political decision, and politics cannot intrude into it.
Second, the government’s first overweening,  and overwhelming priority ( ref. the fairy princess of Canadian politics, Chrystia Freeland), is to obtain the release of the two Canadians who have been arrested in China and are being held in conditions of imprisonment, obviously in retaliation for the arrest of Ms. Meng.
Third, the case is heard by a judge in Vancouver who comes to the conclusion that there is a case to answer for, and that the prisoner should be extradited to the U.S.
Fourth,  this decision goes straight to --- guess where? --- the Canadian Minister of Justice, who, taking everything into consideration, has to make the decision whether to extradite or not to extradite, because, under the law “he or she is the only person who can authorize the surrender of a fugitive to another country.”
Fifth, since politics cannot enter into this, in our system, the  ministerial inclination must be to extradite.
Sixth, but ---- perish the thought ---  we have China’s Ms. Meng at our disposal, and the Chinese still have our two Canadians.
Seventh, the Minister of Justice has to decide whether his overiding objective, the release of the two Canadians, could be achieved by ---  again, perish the thought! --- a decision to exchange Ms. Meng for them.
Eighth, or should he keep his political hands clean, and allow the two Canadians to rot in hell for the rest of their lives, and Ms. Meng to be destined to suffer for her company’s crimes in United States prisons for the rest of her natural life.
Ninth, with the enthusiastic support of the  Canadian Conservative party he decides to send the lady into the tender care of Mr. Trump, and, even worse, Mr. John Bolton, the scarcely-sane overlord of America’s National Security.
Tenth, this is the day when the rest of the world sees Canada as no longer an independent country, but as a satellite of the United States, under a puppet regime. Just  like the Chinese had been telling them….

*       *       *                           *                                  *     *       *
A nice scenario, right? So Canadian…..

Monday, January 28, 2019

My Log 689 Jan 28 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 123; Canada’s “sunny days” PM comes out of the wrong side of the Meng controversy; John McCallum did us all a service by telling the truth, as he saw it, and has now been thrown under the bus

With the firing of John McCallum from his ambassadorship in China because he made a simple statement of the truth about the precipitate and unnecessary Meng arrest and detention in Vancouver on December 1, it seems like the bottom has really fallen out of the foreign policy of the Trudeau government.
The “sunny days” Prime Minister, seems to be about the best guy around at the moment to lead the country, a statement that I could make less tentatively when comparing him with Andrew Scheer of the Conservatives. But he does exhibit some characteristics that can only be described as sort of flakey, and especially is this so in the field of foreign policy. He appears to need a strong right arm for Foreign Minister or whatever the office is called these day, and the incumbent Chrystia Freeland, undoubtedly a smart woman, seems to be a veritable repository of what I call the overall Western consensus about how the world should be run. This consensus seems to be on the point of crumbling, at least from its former dominant position astride global geopolitics, in the face of the rapid economic development of China, India, Brazil and other previously under-developed countries.
This remarkable change needs a solid response from Canada if it is to avoid being caught in the posture of a satellite of the American empire. This is the more so since the governance of the United States has become so irrational and idiosyncratic  that Canada needs to be on a renewed guard against the always questionable view that our great neighbour to the south sees itself as the one nation above all others --- the famed doctrine of “American exceptionalism” in which Barack Obama said that he believed “with all my heart.”
It was a bad sign, in my view when the Trudeau government enlisted the help of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for advice on how to approach the re-negotiation of NAFTA --- the same Mulroney whose duet with Ronald Reagan and their wives singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling, or some such cloying rubbish, will long be remembered by Canadians as a nadir in our long relationship with the Big Brother.
In these parlous circumstances we need someone as Foreign Minister or whatever it is now called, with a broader view of global affairs than that of a former economic journalist for the financial newspapers. McCallum said that Ms Meng has a strong case to present in the extradition proceedings, no more than a statement of fact. It was the entrenched commentariat that raised a chorus of protest, supported by a line-up of former ambassadors whose advice was predictably that McCallum should not have said what he said, (but should, apparently,  have contented himself with being the paid liar for his government). Trudeau stood firm in his support for twenty-four hours, but was within a day so overwhelmed with negative perceptions of what had happened that he totally caved in over the weekend and asked for McCallum’s resignation.
It is true that China does not have a judiciary independent of government control, but for Canada to have stood so firmly in its position that the “rule of law” is what is at stake between the two sides of this dispute is, not to put too fine a point on it, an untenable position.  The rules of extradition, as I pointed out in my last Chronicle but one, do allow for a judicial hearing, but the result of that goes to the Minister of Justice, and “he or she is the only person who can authorize the surrender of a fugitive to another country.”
This is a political decision, at one remove from the way the Chinese arrive at their decision in such matters, no doubt, but still ending in the same result: a political decision has to be made by the responsible minister. The United States knows, too, that extradition is not automatic: it has not hesitated to deny extradition of an individual to another country with which it has an extradition treaty, as is shown by their refusal to hand over the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States in self-imposed exile from Turkey.
Given this fact, that we are trapped by law into making a political decision, it is astounding that Trudeau, who knew in advance of the pending arrest of Ms. Meng, did not decide to make his political decision at an earlier stage in the proceedings, using whatever lay open to him to avoid her arrest, knowing, as he must have known, that once achieved, it would land him and his country in what, when I was a kid following wrestling by wireless night after night, we used to call an octopus clamp --- a hold from which it was impossible for the victim to escape.
It is notable that the tone of the Chinese seems to have moderated as a result of Mr. McCallum’s entry into the controversy. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the objective of the United States was clear for all to see --- they wish to leave no stone unturned in their effort to constrict China’s technological advancement “by depriving China of its legitimate development rights.”
This brings us on to the way the Western allies (mostly independent Commonwealth countries) appear to be knuckling down under the diplomatic terrorism initiated by John Bolton, the lunatic right-wing fanatic  running Trump’s national security operation, to ban Huawei, Ms. Meng’s firm,  from installing its technology in areas that might be considered to expose the host country to security risks. I keep thinking of the parallel of Japan’s development: I remember before the war when Australians and New Zealanders were encouraged to think of the Japanese as the “yellow peril” from the north, ready to pounce on us all.   All we knew of Japan at the time was that it was flooding the world with cheap goods, inevitably the first stage of what, after the war, developed into a technological mastery that saw them making the best quality electronic equipment being made anywhere in the world, taking over markets previously occupied by British cars, for example, and flooding the world market for cameras to such an extent as to almost drive the  American masters, Kodak and Eastman, right out of business.
No one now talks of this transfer of technology as a regrettable thing, but rather as the price that had to be paid for the under-developed, overcrowded nation of ancient Japan to emerge into the sunshine occupied by the economically powerful.
But what was good for the Japanese, against whose brutal war machine China offered the first resistance, is apparently not good for the Chinese, who, in an identical situation, are to be deprived of western markets for their already highly efficient electronic goods. The only justification I can think of that could be put forward in favour of this decision to exclude China from our markets, is that it is an act of racism.
I am not an expert on China, but I did have the remarkably eye-opening experience of working there twice during the days when the Communist government had been so traumatized by the brutal impact of Western power on China for decades, that, as a matter of choice,  it decided to stop all information from the western world at the borders.   Even under the authoritarian Communist government they were achieving some remarkable results. And it has since become clear that they have the capacity to make equipment already of the highest quality. I was always impressed, even under Communism, with their sense of being this ancient civilization with thousands of years of unbroken history behind them, who had a long view of events, who knew what they wanted to achieve, and were ready to do whatever was necessary in their drive to overcome the endemic poverty of their people.
They are a formidable people, as they are showing the world now, and we have made a bad move in managing to get on the wrong side of them in this unnecessary dispute.
One thing that struck me in the 1970s and 1980s, when I visited their country was that they were responsible for the fate of almost one human being out of every four: What they were doing was crucial to the future of a safe and sound world, and it was impossible to doubt their absolute determination to carry out the task they had set themselves.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

My Log 688 Jan 26 2019; Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 122; I am stymied by my extravagant expectations; and so, learning how to turn failure into success. Fancy, still a pupil at my age!

In the last week or so I have spent many hours --- I am not exaggerating --- slaving over an idea for a piece that simply has refused to jell. The idea was to illustrate the efficacy of my customary scattergun approach to information, reading and news, that I drew attention to in My Log 685, on January 19.
The piece was to be based on the morning I spent literally watching two things at the same time. One w s a symposium held at McMaster University about the federal government’s so-called reconciliation project with the indigenous people; the second was the latest tumultuous event in the struggle of the British Prime Minister Theresa May to persuade her House of Commons and her government members particularly to support the deal she had agreed with the other 27 members of the European Union for Britain to leave after 46 years of membership.
Each of these had extraordinary features, which gave me the idea of comparing them. When I had written 1800 words and was only halfway through explaining the reasoning of the two major participants in the indigenous symposium, I realized it was never going to work, and abandoned it.  I started these Chronicles on December 22, 2017, three months before I was due to turn 90 (if I ever made it that far), and this is only the second time I have not been able to bring an idea to fruition, and as you can se I have written 123 of them. I am not accustomed to this kind of failure.  Usually, as always happened when I was a working reporter, I have the idea, and the column follows.
Thinking about it, I realized I had learned a lesson, which is, not to try to do too much in a single piece.
It was only when I awoke at 5.30 this morning that the idea occurred to me to turn this failure into a success, by writing about the failure itself. I have run across this at various times when persistent creators have refused to be beaten. A notable example was a charming film made at the National Film Board in the 1970s by the Australian film director Mike Rubbo, who accompanied Newfoundland’s former  Premier Joey Smallwood, an idiotic little man lost in his visions of self-aggrandisement, on a trip he made to Cuba with the intention of meeting Fidel. Joey said he had met Fidel for a few moments in Gander and told him he would love to go to Cuba with a film team, and Fidel had told him he would always be welcome. So he set off, dreaming that he might be able to shake Cuba free from the American blockade, and become an international hero. The Cubans apparently were expecting him, set him up in a comfortable house, and Joey began to fill in his time visiting various achievements of the regime, and  preparing the questions he was ready to ask Fidel, and reading them aloud for Rubbo’s camera.
So, waiting for Fidel to walk through the door, they waited…and waited…and waited, until they could wait no longer. And the only thing that came out of the trip was Rubbo’s clever film, Waiting for Fidel, in which he demonstrated that for the man of action there is no such thing as a failure. Rubbo himself is a born hustler, who, after directing 40 films at the NFB returned to Australia where he has followed a career of notable success as an artist, filmmaker and community activist. He is now 80, a relative youngster.
So here am I, a guy who in 25 years as a daily reporter missed only one deadline, trying to emulate Mike Rubbo’s example by turning my failure into a column --- and, ipso facto, a success.
I have to end it by just mentioning the extraordinary features of the indigenous symposium and the Brexit imbroglio.  Two very mild-mannered native people, Janice Makokis, a Cree lawyer from Alberta’s  Saddle Lake reserve (one of many native reserves across the country that I visited as a reporter in my effort to ventilate the issue of the rights, titles, and poverty of the indigenous people); and Russell Diabo a Mohawk from Kahnawake reserve across the river from Montreal, were responsible for some blood-curdling statements. Ms. Makokis said Canadians should think of genocide when considering the Trudeau government’s reconciliation démarche; and Diabo called the whole programme “the federal government’s war of extermination” against the native people of Canada. He did admit that funding for his people has been increased in 2016-17-18 by  $16.5 billion on top of the $10 billion normally spent every year, so it seems the extermination is by being suffocated by money. I can’t dismiss that idea either, because I long ago observed that the deathknell of Cree life in northern Quebec would be the monetarization of their subsistence-driven society as hunters and trappers. And from what I hear --- although I do not base this statement on personal observation --- a people who used to be models of hardened fitness from their lives in the bush, nowadays seldom walk even to the corner store, but ride around everywhere in their newly- acquired four-wheelers, with a resultant surge of diabetes to near-epidemic proportions. (I know this is as more complex issue than as above-stated. Diabetes is the inevitable result of our long-running, centuries old determination --- this brings me back to Diabo’s description of “the war of extermination” --- to rob the indigenous people of everything that means anything to them, first, their economy; then their beliefs and customs; then their livelihood; and over everything, their land.)
On the British side, Theresa May has returned after a two-year  secretive negotiation with Europe with as deal than no one in the British House of Commons likes, and as a result when she finally did allow a vote to be taken --- after many weeks of shilly-shallying, postponements and the like --- her deal received the biggest margin of defeat ever suffered by a government at least in living memory, and even longer.
She seems to be a woman who, once she has an idea in her head, is completely inflexible. So she has said that the deal she has signed up to is the only deal available, and there is only one way to prevent Britain from lurching out of Europe without a deal --- which everyone seems to agree would be equivalent to a car spinning to destruction over the edge of a cliff  --- is to vote for her already rejected deal.
Given an opportunity to return with a Plan B, she did so on a recent Monday, and observers were unanimous that her Plan B was for the Parliament to accept Plan A.
Come to think of it, I have learned a second lesson from  this failure: that you are never too old to be learning. I can almost hear my son Thom remarking sardonically to me,  “There you go again, Dad; you are really playing the old-age card a lot these days.”)
Well, wot the hell, wot the hell. Toujours gai, toujours gai.