Sunday, April 28, 2019

My Log 723 April 28 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 158 ; A little attention to the media is enough to convince one that the broadest possible spectrum of opinion is best for everyone

People are always telling me there’s nothing but rubbish on television. Speaking as a man who, because of my advanced age, is more or less housebound most of my time, I have to disagree.  In fact, when you are equipped with a recording facility, and the advance programmes of all the stations, so that you can pick and choose, it is amazing how much stuff there is that is definitely worth seeing or hearing.
Just in the last couple of days, for example, I have watched some learned and deeply illuminating and rewarding discussions about the hangover of apartheid in South Africa, and its impact even on young people born after that evil regime was ended; a programme on President Macron, and his mistaken idea that he could pretend to be General de Gaulle, with so far fairly disastrous results, a mistake that arose from his failure to distinguish between the qualities of leadership required of the French president, and those required of a lesser functionary, which the participants in the programme agreed that he has;  and an equally stimulating piece on the American demarche from the Iran nuclear deal, argued from both sides, which included an extremely valuable exhibition of American bullying that in the old pre-Trump days was carried out more or less covertly, but that is now right out in the open.  A guy who seemed otherwise reasonable was reduced to boasting about how the United States, having imposed sanctions on Iran by breaking the promises they signed to, is now spreading the sanctions to the rest of the world, demanding that every country buying oil from Iran must find another supplier by May 3 or else suffer the consequences. /for good measure he added  that  they were carrying out similar tactics in the hope of overthrowing the elected government of Venezuela, and also thinking they should extend the same tactics to overthrowing the government of Cuba.
This programme, if I had seen no other, would have rewarded my watching hours. But all of those took place within a programme called Inside Story broadcast by Al Jazeera, and changed every day. They gather three experts offering a variety of views on the given subject, and let them go at it. AlJazeera is owned by the Emir of Qatar and it was no surprise to me that when Egypt took up cudgels against some of its Arab Gulf states neighbours recently, Qatar among them, the closing of AlJazeera was among the first demands made. That is because this station provides a quality of investigative journalism that has probably never been reached before in the Middle East, opening its listeners to a wide range of opinions on most of the subjects that are exercising the world’s politicians at the moment. This simply demonstrates that freedom of information is about the last thing the dictators of these Arab states would want to see in their region.
For example it was Al Jazeera that some months ago made a riveting documentary on the subject of how the Israeli government has nakedly interfered in British politics by conducting a well-funded campaign to try to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn from his position as leader of the Labour Party. They had a man stationed in the Israeli embassy in London whose sole job, it seemed, was to sow discontent within the Labour Party, and they did not shrink from besmirching.. the reputation of responsible politicians, alleging falsely that they were anti-semitic. That programme was eventually withdrawn from circulation after intense pressure from Israel.
At the moment I have some 28 programmes recorded and waiting for me to find time to watch them. At one time I had 95; on the way to that I thought I had better look to see how much space I had left. I was amazed to find I had used only three per cent of the available space.
The stations I watch habitually are the CBC, the BBC, AlJazeera, and RT, the Russian programme that is so vilified as an arm of Russian propaganda in the United States. I find these charges ludicrous. RT  is as much a programme of Russian propaganda as the BBC is of British, or any number of the mainline privately-owned stations are of American propaganda. RT broadcasts a wide variety of opinion, has some excellent interview programmes, (for example, by Chris Hedges, the former NYTimes reporter who has lost his faith in the mainstream media).
Just today I watched an interview conducted by Oxana Boyko, one of their regular stars, with Professor emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh,  Michael Brennan. When asked his opinion of charges that Russia was interfering in American elections, he dismissed them as “absurd”, but when the interviewer later in their discussion pressed him in slightly shrill tones to agree with her that many recent actions by Republicans in Congress merited the sort of investigations the Democrats are always threatening against Trump, he simply smiled, said he didn’t think anything would come of all these charges and counter-charges because it was getting too close to the elections, and advised her politely to calm down.  It was one of the few times I have seen her almost lose her cool: she is a formidable intellect, appears to have had a lot of on-the-ground experience as a reporter, and seems equal to slugging it out intellectually with almost any level of intelligence.  The view she transmits of Russia today is far from a blinkered one: she admits   to most of the inadequacies that Western observers are always going on about, but adds of course other qualities that are never mentioned in the Western press.
On this question of having a broad range of opinion available to everyone, you can see, I hope, that TV given the right conditions, does fairly well. When I was working in London as a reporter for a Canadian newspaper in the 1960s, I used to have nine morning newspapers delivered to my door by 7 am. I always felt that only by looking through all of them was I able to get a fairly accurate account of what was going on in London.  They ranged in opinion from the deeply Conservative The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Mail, through some moderate Liberal party papers like the News Chronicle (until it was closed suddenly), and with strong representation of the Labour interest through the Daily Mirror with its circulation of more than four million a day, and the Daily Herald, actually owned by the Labour party at the time, and reaching right over to the Daily Worker, representing the Communist party, on the far left.  There was one other division worth mentioning: that between the tabloids, usually dismissed as trashy by the intellectuals, and the quality papers.
From my point of view, this division was not determinative: when the Daily Mirror, at that time under the command of a young and brilliant editor Hugh Cudlipp, decided to produce what it called a shock issue,  I was always amazed at the quality of the straightforward writing,  easy for everyone to understand, and the skilful layout.   These issues were every bit as good as anything produced by the quality newspapers, in my opinion.
I have not mentioned The Daily Express, at that time owned and operated by Lord Beaverbrook. This was a newspaper that espoused the interests of the Empire as it called the Commonwealth, and it made no apology for the fact that its reporters were under instructions always to slant their news stories to accord with the prejudices of the owner.  I never met Beaverbrook but I knew a number of journalists who had worked for him, knew him personally, and without exception they all had great affection for him.
This was just before Roy Thomson became the major Canadian proprietor on Fleet street, after taking control of The Times, and the Sunday Times.   I had worked for him in one of his small newspapers in Canada, and had nothing but contempt for him or his  Canadian papers, which were run with one object in mind, to make sure that no unions ever darkened his doorstep.  When he got in among the big boys in Britain, however he had the sense to realize he simply had to accept unions, and  he did so with such success that in my humble opinion, in the middle 1960s, his Sunday Times was probably the best newspaper being published anywhere in the world.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

My Log 722 April 27 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 157; Trudeau and Scheer: nothing for voters on either side to get excited about; and the problem with Trudeau’s being on both sides at the same time, an impossible task

I asked one of my sons the other day what he thought of Justin Trudeau, and he answered briefly, but tellingly: “He’s all we’ve got.”
There must be many people in Canada feeling as he feels, as they watch Trudeau stumble from one mistake to another, displaying  less than a firm grip on the tiller of government; and at the same time regarding with some horror the idiocy of most of the reactions by Andrew Scheer, the Conservative Party leader, who seems to be the only person with a chance of beating Trudeau at the coming election.
Of course speaking personally, I can take these disappointments more  or  less equably, because neither of these leaders nor their parties ever reach my expectations of what I would call good government.
I confess to having shared the widespread pleasure and surprise at the election of Trudeau, who seemed to have an open-minded attitude that was very much improved on that of the previous Prime Minister, the sepulchral Stephen Harper. And I even remember before that election realizing one day that this handsome young man, who seemed able to talk about issues coherently, might have the capacity to sweep the country.
That pleasure lasted for a month or two, but eventually the “sunny days” attitude began to become a bit cloying, and from time to time the young man himself began to exhibit a shortness of temper that seemed to be not far from arrogance.  Most people, observing this, appeared to shrug and say, well, with an upbringing like his, the son of a wealthy, prominent and powerful family, what could one expect?
He slotted in, from the beginning, to the modern habit of proclaiming that everything he was doing was for the benefit of the middle class, as if even to mention that working people belong to a working class were anathema to him. But then, what do we judge the Liberal party and its policies against?
Surely the danger to everything Canadian lies in the model exhibited south of the border. In spite of the immense pressure provided by their power, wealth and influence, (and I must include the overpowering, world-wide  influence of their soft power, transmitted through pop, but also formal, culture), we have succeeded in building a relatively efficient welfare state, with our nationalized health service at its centre. Of course it is only half completed, with obvious gaps in its meagre provisions for day care, something that is drastically needed in any society  that  demands, as does ours, that a single family needs two wage packets if it is to get by comfortably.
Both the Liberal and the New Democratic parties together deserve approbation for this, but it is necessary to say that the Conservative Party, the repository of the loyalty of the wealthier Canadians, has played little part in this.  In fact I often recall the statement made in the 1950s by Dr. George Grant, a Conservative political philosopher, who outlined in a book called Lament for a Nation how any movement designed to keep control of our economy in Canadian hands had always faced spirited opposition from the assembled ranks of commerce, whose practitioners and controllers  have always looked to the Conservative Party to represent their interests.
There has recently been an egregious example of this when the leader of the Conservative Party was the main speaker at a semi-secretive gathering of CEOs of the fossil fuel industry. This is an area where Mr Trudeau has tried to be on both sides at the same time, a tactic that has simply exposed him to be an economic lightweight without the backbone to resist the bullies of capitalism.
Set against Trudeau’s making an ass of himself during his visit to India (for much of which I blame his New Age, far-out wife, who seems to have a great deal of influence with him) I would say that Scheer’s gaffe in putting himself helplessly at the disposal of the captains of industry was much more definitive of the guy, especially if we are measuring them against the likelihood of their becoming our next Prime Minister. An even more determinative issue would be their attitude to our number one challenge as members of the human race, namely, the onset of human-made global warming. Here, Scheer so far isn’t even in the race. Trudeau it is true, has adopted a totally impossible policy which is to set national targets for global carbon emissions, in line with the demands of the Paris accord agreed by 195 international participants, but also, as his government keeps saying  “to get our resources to market,” by which he means simultaneously  to expand production of the Alberta Tar Sands, the digging up of which has required such high levels of carbon emissions as  to  make it known to be one of the major polluting sources  available anywhere in the world.
This double-barrelled policy is nonsense, as its rough history thus far indicates.  The Federal Court of Appeal examined the diligence with which the National Energy Board (NEB) approached its approval-in-principle of the building of the expanded pipeline to get more Tar Sands oil across to tidewater on the British Columbia coast where it could be shipped, at what Albertans believe would be a premium cost, to China, and although they said they had no power of judicial review of the NEB’s decision, they did challenge the Order-in-Council issued by the government by which approval for the pipeline was granted.  They found the NEB attitude to the problem had been inadequate in two aspects.
For one thing, they discovered on examination something that every interested person in Canada could have told them years ago, that the process of consulting the indigenous communities lying along the way had amounted to little more than writing down notes about what the indigenous people said, and then throwing the notes away, in effect.  This is no new discovery: this has been the norm throughout history. The only difference this time is that under guidelines agreed to by Canada when it finally adopted the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the government party is obligated to recognize that “states shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned… in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources,” and that this must apply “particularly” to the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
This concept of “free, prior and informed consent” of indigenous people in relation to any development proposed for their lands is the one provision from UNDRIP that has caught hold so far among the indigenous people of Canada, and it certainly is not something that could be denied by a government that came into office trumpeting how it was willing,  able and indeed, determined,  to re-conceive the entire relationship between government and indigenous peoples that has been, as one foreign journal recently described it, “Canada’s secret shame” for generations.
Indeed, as one person who has studied the historical record, and checked that out with dozens of visits to native communities and many discussions on the subject with indigenous people, I can say without hesitation that this has always been the most shameful aspect of Canadian history.
The Federal Court of Appeal found that the Government of Canada acted in good faith and formed an appropriate plan for consultation. However, at the last stage, the consultation itself,  “Canada fell well short of the minimum requirements imposed by the case law of the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The Government of Canada was required to engage in a considered, meaningful two-way dialogue. However, for the most part, Canada’s representatives limited their mandate to listening to and recording
the concerns of the Indigenous applicants and then transmitting those concerns to the decision-makers. On the whole, the record does not disclose responsive, considered and meaningful dialogue coming back
from Canada in response to the concerns expressed by the Indigenous applicants. The law requires Canada to do more than receive and record concerns and complaints.”
To my mind, this is a stinging response to an attitude that, as I have outlined above, has always existed --- one of treating the indigenous people --- as was once the official position --- as wards of state with the status of children.
But there was a second part of the NEB’s inadequacy, neatly summarized by the Court in its judgment that  although the NEB had concluded that project-related tanker traffic would have negative adverse effects on the resident population of killer whales, nevertheless they had advised the government that the project was not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. “The unjustified exclusion of project-related marine shipping from the definition of the project rendered the Board’s report impermissibly flawed,” Court said in judgment.  The report did not give the Governor in Council the information and assessments it needed in order to properly assess the public interest, including the project’s environmental effects—matters it was legally obligated to assess.”
Canadian environmentalists must have been waiting for decades to read a judgment like this in relation to what has always seemed to be an untouchable NEB.
 This judgment caused the company that was proposing to build the new pipeline to withdraw, leaving the federal government as a  face-saving measure to buy the existing pipeline for $4.5  billion,  along with the obligation to build the new section, if once it is approved, for another estimated $9 billion.
I intended to get on to Mr, Kenny, the little weasel who has taken over Alberta, a politician we have already seen at work in the Harper federal cabinet, now eagerly whipping up the Alberta people against the rest of the country, to ensure his election. And along with him, Mr. Ford, the idiot elected by the people of Ontario. But I will have plenty of opportunity in future so I leave it here for the moment.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

My Log 721: April 24 2019; Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 156; How to explain to others the peculiar genius of my favourite author, P.G. Wodehouse; a loony old bird, he never stopped writing, and was still at it when he died at 93, after writing 45 books, at least

Man and boy, I have been making my living by writing ever since 1945. Somewhere along the way I became obsessed with trying to write everything as clearly as possible, so that everyone could understand what I was trying to say. I think I even remember the occasion when this first became a priority with me: it bore on an instrument called an oscilloscope. I had no idea what an oscilloscope was, and still do not. I  had scant regard for science in those days, and I remember making fun around the word, as if diminishing its importance would somehow help in understanding what it was.
Nowadays I can easily discover, with a mere reference to Wikipedia, that it is an instrument on which can be displayed the waveform of the heartbeat, in a now common examination called an ECG, or electrocardiogram exam. I often wondered what ECG meant.
You may well wonder what I am driving at with all this indirection: what I am intending to write about has nothing to do with science, but rather with the difficulty in explaining some things. I have recently been re-reading some books by one of my favourite authors P.G. Wodehouse, and it has always been my experience that explaining the attraction of this particular author’s work is virtually impossible. (I should add here that with 27 books either by him or about him, he far outstrips any other author in my now rather limited library.)
For one thing, he began writing novels in 1902, and was still at it in 1975 when he died at the age of 93, half of a new novel written beside the chair in which he died. It would hardly be exaggerating to say that he wrote the same book over and over, a novel always rooted unashamedly in its own world of unreality. “I believe there are two ways of writing successful novels,” he opined at one stage in his long life. “One is mine, making the thing frankly a fairy story and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life, and not caring a damn.”
His two most famous, and enduring characters are the man about town, Bertie Wooster, and his man-servant Jeeves, a man of incredible talent at dreaming up schemes to extricate the young master from the various terrible scrapes in which he, willy-nilly, always involves himself. According to Bertie, Jeeves is at his most efficient after eating a good meal of fish, which makes his head bulge at the back even more than usual, and virtually guarantees that he will come up with a solution to whatever ludicrous problem confronts Bertie.
Bertie is notable for having an exaggerated regard for his own talents, which usually lands him in such deep trouble that he has no option but to call in Jeeves for a solution. Bertie’s world is also populated with his two aunts, one Aunt Dahlia, the soul of goodness and understanding, while the other, Aunt Agatha, is “the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.”
To many critics, Wodehouse’s style is too flippant to require serious analysis, but there are many others who regard him as a master of the language, and I have always allied myself with them. Although I am far from being a literary critic, nevertheless I regard the opening paragraph of his novel The Mating Season, as a superb example of written English, and one that I cannot imagine anyone else writing:
“While I would not go so far, perhaps, as to describe the heart as actually leaden, I must confess that on the eve of starting to do my
bit of time at Deverill Hall, I was definitely short on chirpiness. I shrank from the prospect of being decanted into a household on chummy terms with a thug like my Aunt Agatha, weakened as I already was by having had her son Thomas, one of our most prominent fiends in human shape, on my hands for three days. I mentioned this to Jeeves and he agreed that the set-up could have been juicier.”
This is such an irresistible mixture of slightly outworn slang and straight-forward English, all bound together with such expressions as “chirpiness, “a fiend in human shape,” to describe a child, and “the set-up could have been juicier”,  as to be almost beyond analysis. It perhaps helps to explain how, many years ago, I loaned a copy of a Wodehouse novel, one of my favorites, to a friend of mine whose first language was Polish, but who had a perfect understanding (or so I thought) of English. She simply was aghast that I could have seen anything worthwhile in this ridiculous story about these absurd people. A little lacking in the nuances of the language, I would say.
Wodehouse himself was, as several full-length biographies (the best, I am sure, is Wodehouse by Robert McCrum) have revealed rather an odd character, a man who never lost his interest in the result of the Rugby team of his old school, Dulwich College, but who nevertheless, although always writing about this imaginary strata of English life,  the effete aristocracy, lived most of his life abroad.  Much of that was more or less forced on him by the extraordinary things he did during the war. His biographer McCrum describes the key event in the opening page of his 542-word biography:
 “In the clear blue days of May 1940, a middle-aged Englishman and his wife, living in the French seaside resort of Le Touquet-Paris Plage with their Pekinese and pet parrot, found themselves faced with the threat of the invading Nazi army. Nothing could have prepared them for this moment. They were rich upper-middle-class expatriates accustomed to leisurely breakfasts, walks on the beach, afternoon golf, a preprandial martini or two and evenings with the wireless listening to the BBC, before a good night’s sleep.”
So they just sat there, waited and were eventually captured. In another account I have read of this, they sat and waited because their dog had been ill, and they didn’t want to upset it by forcing it to travel. The Germans soon  realized they had in their hands one of the best-known English writers, so they transferred them to a fairly comfortable internment, which after some weeks they suggested might be enlivened if the man would care to write  for their radio an account of their confinement, to be broadcast to the United States.  Wodehouse, thinking the assignment called for his usual light touch, was happy to agree.
“It is just possible that my listeners may seem to detect in  this little talk of mine a slight goofiness….If so the matter, as Bertie Wooster would say, is susceptible of  ready explanation. I have just emerged into the outer world after forty-nine weeks of civil internment in a German internment camp…and I have not yet quite recovered that perfect mental balance for which in the past I was so admired by one and all.……There is a good deal to be said for internment. It keeps you out of the saloons, and gives you time to catch up with your reading. You also get a lot of sleep. The chief drawback is that it means your being away from home a good deal.”
Wodehouse, no doubt, thought he was being amusing. But when once the news reached the popular columnists in London, headed by the famous William Connor, known as Cassandra, on the Daily Mirror, it marked the end of the  road for Wodehouse and England. Connor set out to destroy his reputation, and largely succeeded. Oddly enough, later in life, these two men became friends, lost in mutual admiration.
He stopped such an onslaught of vilification as a traitor that he never set foot in England again, retiring to live permanently in the United States after the war. It was not for a good twenty years that Evelyn Waugh came to Wodehouse’s rescue with extravagant praise, and managed to pull his reputation back to the point that he eventually was once again acknowledged to be a master. Just before he died he was elevated by a British honour of a knighthood.
Undaunted, it seemed, after the war he took up the Wooster and Jeeves stories where he had left them off; in fact, if you want my opinion, those that were published immediately after the war--- I have in mind here Joy in the Morning, 1947, and The Mating Season 1949 ---and that apparently were at least started during the war, were even funnier, the prose more inventive than ever before, and the general loopiness of the plots even more bizarre.
Fully  engaged in these stories were many of the favourite characters, in addition to the infamous Aunt Agatha, such friends and fellow members of the Drones club, where, as the wine took effect members began to throw pieces of bread at each other, just as a matter of every day behaviour, men such as Stilton Cheesewright, Boko Fittleworth, Catsmeat Potters Pirbright, and Gussie Fink-Nottle, normally a fancier of newts, who raised his eyes just long enough to get engaged to one of the ghastly girls who had previously been engaged to Bertie, Florence Craye, daughter  of the well-known loony doctor. Bertie’s relationship with these young women was unique: he regarded himself as a sitting duck for any of them who had the notion to become affianced to him, himself helpless to resist. Wherefrom, only an appeal to the genius of Jeeves with his exceptional brain power could rescue the poor blighter.
“Honoria, you see, is one of those robust dynamic girls with the muscles of a welterweight, and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge. A beastly thing to encounter over breakfast. Brainy, moreover.”
No wonder poor Bertie, caught by direct fire from Honoria’s dynamism, saw no object but to surrender unconditionally (except for the reserve brainwork of Jeeves, always a reliable ally).
One of my favourite passages from Wodehouse, illustrating the lunacy of his method,  occurred when Bertie greets one of his pals, Motty:
“What ho,” I said.
“What ho!” replied Motty
“What ho! What ho.”
“What ho!”
“What ho,” I said, rather clinching the thing.”
The famous actor Hugh Laurie, who, before becoming a fixture on American television as the infamous, addicted Dr House  was a comedian who played  Bertie in a TV series against Stephen Fry’s Jeeves, gives another example of the Wodehouse eccentricity with language.
Bertie leaving in a huff: “Tinkerty tonk,” I said, and I meant it to sting.”  How the devil could any actor do justice to such a line, asked Laurie.
“I’m not absolutely certain of the facts,” says Bertie, elsewhere, “but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow feels braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”
Okay, enough of this. If I haven’t persuaded you yet, I never will. But, as Bertie might have said, “Wot the hell! Wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai.”
*                                    *                                  *
“Extinction Rebellion is the last hope for this dying planet. That is why we are involved, because we know that science and facts did not save the Great Barrier Reef, nor the majority of our rivers here in New Zealand. Only a huge number of people willing to hold their governments, corporations and media accountable can create the system change we so desperately need. This is why I am a ‘rebel for life’ and this is what I want Extinction Rebellion to achieve: a new eco-socialist way of life where all people and other species have the same right to live peacefully, to have clean water, land and air, and where the short-term greed of the few does not dictate the survival of all.”
Dr Sea, 43, environmental scientist, Wellington, New Zealand