By Stephen Marche - Friday, June 18, 2010 - 0 Comments
When the U.S. tied England, it was as good as a victory
There is a very small chance that North Korea and South Korea will meet each other at this year’s World Cup. Just thinking about that possibility, however distant, offers a peculiar and dangerous thrill. A game played with a bouncy ball on a field of grass would undoubtedly affect the military situation of East Asia. Politics and football have always tended to mix explosively.
Games have stopped wars, as in the 1967 exhibition game in Lagos, starring Pele, for whom the warring factions in the Nigerian civil war called a 48-hour truce. And football has started wars too, like the 1969 “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras, begun over a qualification game. The World Cup contains many rivalries whose origin, whether on or off the pitch, can be difficult to distinguish. (England and Argentina in 1986 being a prime example.) If war is politics by other means, then football is war by means of a game. The world-historical background to many of the contests on the pitch is one of the most subtle and enduring pleasures of the tournament.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 11:04 AM - 43 Comments
The Czech Republic is expected to soon be ruled by a coalition of “losers.” Slovakia seems likely to follow. Belgium’s next government may well be a coalition that includes a separatist party. The Netherlands faces a number of coalition options, one of them rather controversial. Britain’s coalition prepares a tough new budget. Germany’s coalition teeters on the edge.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:27 PM - 27 Comments
Anne Applebaum surveys the British landscape.
Unusually, this government’s fate depends not only on the normal political calculations, but also on some more basic questions about human nature. And there are lessons here for the rest of us. If it succeeds—if the coalition stays together, if it tackles Britain’s financial crisis, if it reforms education and welfare, if it produces a coherent foreign policy—we will know that, yes, it is possible to convert bitter partisanship into amicable bipartisanship without destroying your party or losing your soul. And if the coalition fails—well, maybe partisanship can’t be overcome after all.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 17, 2010 at 1:55 PM - 15 Comments
Taylor Owen considers all the reasons a British-style coalition is not so easily replicated.
Possibly the main lesson of the British coalition is procedural. Brits have once again shown Canadians that they take parliamentary democracy seriously. There was no talk of coalitions with socialists and separatists, Gordon Brown stepped aside with dignity, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg authored an incredibly thorough agreement that has a legitimate chance of lasting, and the media overall treated the historic events with substance rather than gamesmanship. In short, they were adults.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 3:57 PM - 42 Comments
As Britain embarks on—dear lord, no!—coalition governance, Chris Selley attempts to draw lessons.
In short, what we’re seeing in Britain this week is a wakeup call. Canada has been playing Parliament in “beginner” mode. It’s in everyone’s best interests, I think, to give “intermediate” mode a try. I fail to see how it could make things worse.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 8:30 AM - 58 Comments
Greetings from Montreal, where, for the next three days, we’ll be hanging around the Liberal party’s Canada 150 conference. Herein a running diary of the proceedings. Day 1′s diary is here.
8:29am. Good morning. Montreal is chilly and quiet. In a few moments we will be roused by the dulcet tones of David “The Dodge” Dodge, former governor of the Bank of Canada.
8:36am. For those of you scoring at home, the colour of the lights today is orange. And the subject is Families.
8:45am. This conference was apparently the most tweeted subject in Canada yesterday. The Liberals are immensely proud of this. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 1:29 PM - 2 Comments
The leaders of the three biggest parties in England have agreed to a series of three debates in the next election. Alex Massie astutely raises some concerns, all of which are entirely applicable to our particular situation.
A Brown vs Cameron contest is all very well and good but it turns the election into a contest between competing personality cults. That being so, far from strengthening parliament (a good idea!) it weakens it by giving the Prime Minister an even greater “mandate”.
All this is perhaps inevitable and the debates are, in this sense, simply a recognition of the way the wind is blowing. Only a handful of voters will have the chance to vote for either Cameron or Brown but the debates will encourage all voters to ignore the competing claims of their local candidates and endorse instead the party, not the man (or woman). This is not the way to improve the quality of MPs.
In other words, whatever is useful (and entertaining) about the debates is countered by their drawbacks as we move towards the curious situation of electing a quasi-President via a parliamentary election. Britain will, of course and as is traditional, muddle through but the more Presidential politics becomes, so the case for rather more wide-ranging reforms becomes stronger.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 2:24 PM - 6 Comments
Conservative guru Patrick Muttart sends British Tory leader David Cameron unsolicited, and perhaps ultimately dismissed, advice.
In the documents, Mr Muttart says Mr Cameron should ‘practise staring down Brown while the camera is focused on the moderators, other leaders. Makes your opponent feel uncomfortable’. But he adds that when Mr Cameron is ‘attacking/rebutting’ he should ‘look at his opponent’s shoulder and not his face. Facial reactions can be distracting/destabilising’.
Personal attacks, meanwhile, should be ‘well-timed and well-constructed’ but used infrequently ‘for the biggest impact’. Most of Mr Muttart’s advice is listed under a section entitled ‘key presentation points’. It states: ‘Ensure Cameron has room-temperature water. Cold water (with ice) tightens the throat. You should control his water – not the TV studio.’
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 12:50 PM - 3 Comments
Research suggests the devices are useless, and possibly dangerous
In 2008-09, the Iraqi government spent $85 million to purchase 2,000 bomb detectors for use at security roadblocks across the country. Problem is, they don’t work.
The device, produced by ATSC (U.K.) Ltd., is a dowsing-rod-style bomb detector—basically, a piece of gun-shaped plastic with a metal wand sticking out of one end. It requires no batteries—it’s supposedly charged by the user’s body—and claims to detect dangerous materials thanks to a piece of paper that is “electrostatically matched” to the “ionic charge and structure” of ammunition, bombs and other contraband.
If that process of detection sounds ridiculous, it is: explosives experts, the British government and the U.S. Justice Department have all confirmed that the devices are useless. “They are positively dangerous in giving a sense of assurance that is exceedingly ill-founded,” says Sidney Alford, a British explosives engineer. “Lives have almost certainly been lost in consequence.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 8:46 AM - 104 Comments
Q. How did this all begin?
“It was the day I got back to Edmonton from the Christmas holiday. I slept in a bit. I was still in my pajamas, reading the news online, when I learned that Stephen Harper had asked for another prorogation.
“My first reaction was outrage. Here it was, happening again. It was so irresponsible, so undemocratic. And the worst part was, I could already feel the apathy starting to creep in.
“I looked at a couple other articles, and found a blog post Andrew Coyne had written on Maclean’s. He brought up this idea of the Long Parliament of 1640 in England, when the Parliamentarians defied the King and kept the Parliament going when he was out of the country.
“And I started wondering, ‘What if our Parliamentarians sat anyway?’ It just seemed like a really great idea.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 11, 2010 at 2:23 PM - 21 Comments
Via the Globe’s Doug Saunders and Broken Social Scene’s Julie Penner, news that the new Speaker in the British House of Commons is vowing to shorten that Parliament’s summer break. Seems British MPs sat for “just” (JUST!) 143 days last year. Seems Mr. Speaker believes a greater demonstration of accountability is necessary.
He confirmed plans for the Commons to cut short its three-month summer recess by sitting in September. He said it was “extraordinary” to suggest that the annual party conferences should take priority over Parliament. “The public want visible proof that we are doing our main job, which is to work in Parliament,” he said.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 8, 2010 at 9:01 AM - 6 Comments
Newsmakers of the week
Behind the mask, even more Iron
She’s known as the “Iron Lady,” but new revelations about former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher show the extent to which that was true. According to recently released secret files dating back to her time as PM, she told then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter she had personally “handled” the guns currently being used by the Northern Ireland police force, and decided the American-made Ruger pistol was a better shot. Maggie also liked whisky, preferred refugees from Poland or Hungary to ones from Asia, and didn’t like to be bored: in another file, she scolds staff for not organizing a “sufficiently interesting” itinerary for her first U.S. trip.
NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas has done the impossible: he’s trumped Tiger Woods in the athletes-behaving-badly department. A locker-room dispute with Washington Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton over a gambling debt apparently led Arenas to reach for a handgun. Crittenton grabbed a gun, too, the New York Post reported, and a Christmas Eve standoff ensued. (That the team name was changed from the Bullets over concerns about gun violence adds to the sad irony.) No guns were discharged, but Arenas has since laid down covering fire on Twitter. Among the tweets the self-described “goof ball” posted: “I hav 2 change subjects umM what about that TIGER WOODS I heard he dated 2 MIDGETS.”
Bet you think this song is about me
European media reported last week that in an effort to attract a million new members to his People of Freedom party, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi planned to launch a new political campaign, with posters featuring his bloodied and beaten face and the slogan “Love always wins over hate.” The 73-year-old, who spent four days in hospital after being attacked during a rally in Milan last month, received plenty of public sympathy after being struck in the face with a miniature Duomo statue; in one poll, his popularity rose from 45 to 48 per cent. His aides deny any plans to feature the infamous photo, but the party’s campaign song is changing. Roughly translated, the existing anthem includes the line “Thank God that Silvio exists.” It will be replaced by the slightly less megalomaniacal “Thank God we exist.”
Friend in high places
France’s first lady, Carla Bruni, has befriended a homeless man who lives on the street between her home in the 16th arrondissement and her son’s school. In addition to chatting with Denis, 53, about books and music and providing him with a “military-type duvet,” Bruni is said to have given him a signed copy of her latest CD. “My friends from the street told me that as [it] has got her signature, it’s worth a lot of money,” Denis told Closer magazine. “I couldn’t care less, I prefer to keep it; having said that, I lent it to someone two months ago who hasn’t given it back.” The police no longer bother him, Denis said. He isn’t the only beneficiary of Bruni’s do-gooding. Two French nationals, Céline Faye and Sarah Zaknoun, held in a Dominican Republic prison for 18 months on drug trafficking charges, were pardoned on Christmas Eve after Bruni took up their cause. “It’s thanks to her that we are here,” said Faye.
After some 25 years of competitive mushing, William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon, has sold off most of his sled dogs and announced his retirement. The German-born Kleedehn moved to Canada as a young man after reading a newspaper story in 1978 about the 1,850-km Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Kleedehn, 50, never won the Iditarod or the gruelling Yukon Quest, though he did win many mid-distance races. He is hanging on to eight puppies and two adult dogs for recreational mushing, but, he vows, “I won’t let it rule my life again.” At the top of his to-do list are travels to South America and Australia, by more conventional means.
Bubba’s other bombshell
While the focus on Ken Gormley’s soon-to-be-released book, The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr, has mostly been Monica Lewinsky’s claim that Bill Clinton lied under oath about their relationship, one of the book’s most shocking revelations is that the former president was nearly the victim of a 1996 bomb attack organized by Osama bin Laden. On a state visit to Manila, Clinton’s motorcade was diverted at the last minute after secret service officers received a “crackly message” that included the word “wedding,” commonly used by terrorists as code word for assassination. It was later found that a nearby bridge the president would have crossed was rigged with explosives.
Love and rockets
Israeli whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu is in trouble again. Not for spilling the beans on Israel’s nuclear program—he’s already had his knuckles rapped for that, twice—but for having a Norwegian girlfriend. Vanunu was first arrested in 1986, after disclosing information about Israel’s clandestine nuclear program to the Sunday Times. He spent 18 years in jail—then went back to the slammer for six months in 2007 after violating his parole by contacting media again. Now he’s been arrested a third time. The Israeli secret service is worried he’s telling secrets to his girlfriend. (Vanunu is banned from travelling abroad as well as speaking with foreigners.) According to his lawyer, though, the girlfriend “is not interested in nuclear business; she’s interested in Mordechai Vanunu.”
Lights, cameras, order, order!
In her bid for “100 per cent physical custody” of her son, Tripp Johnston-Palin, Bristol Palin, the 19-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, had argued that keeping the custody battle private was in Tripp’s best interests. She also claimed Levi Johnston, the one-year-old’s father, only wanted to make the hearing public to promote himself. Johnston recently posed for Playgirl and has been on something of a media campaign since splitting with Bristol last spring. Nonetheless, the proceedings will play out in open court following a court decision last week. Johnston, who is seeking joint custody, must be pleased. He said he did “not feel protected against Sarah Palin in a closed proceeding.”
One for the little folk
The jury is still out on whether Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the hedge fund Galleon Group, which closed in October, took part in insider trading (he pleaded not guilty), but apparently the Sri Lankan is guilty of pulling some rather peculiar stunts. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rajaratnam once offered $5,000 to any employee who would agree to be tasered (a female trader actually obliged). On another occasion, Rajaratnam introduced a dwarf, whom he said he’d hired to cover small-cap stocks (get it?), to employees. That turned out to be an April Fool’s joke.
New blood on the ice
When Canada’s Olympic hockey roster was announced last week, perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of 20-year-old Drew Doughty. Sports commentators across the country talked about a “changing of the guard”—more experienced defencemen, like Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf, were left off the team. It caught even the L.A. Kings defenceman off guard. Doughty slept through the call of a lifetime and only found out he’d been selected after checking his voice mail. Then he woke up his roomie, Kings captain Dustin Brown, who will also be in Vancouver—as leader of Team U.S.A. Brown is already dreading meeting Doughty on the ice. “I’m not too afraid of his bodychecks,” said Brown. “It’s his hip checks.”
Can a child have two mothers? Yes, and no. When Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, a lesbian couple living in Vermont, separated in 2003, a judge awarded custody of their child to Miller and visitation rights to Jenkins. That same year, Miller, the biological mother, moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality, and adopted the evangelical Christian faith. She appealed to the supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont to revoke Jenkins’s right to see their daughter Isabella, born via artificial insemination in 2002, on the grounds that a relationship with Jenkins would hamper her new religion. The courts ruled against her, noting custody cases for same-sex couples worked like those for heterosexual couples. Miller still refused to let Jenkins see the child—so the court reversed custody to ensure Jenkins would have access to Isabella. Miller has since disappeared, along with the child.
Bailout, Korean style
In an attempt to bolster the country’s 2018 Winter Olympic bid, South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, pardoned Lee Kun-hee, former chairman of Samsung, who had been convicted of tax evasion and breach of trust. The move allows Lee to try to regain membership in the International Olympic Committee, and take the lead in Pyeongchang County’s bid. Critics say the pardon confirmed the common view that corporate heavyweights are above the law in Korea. “A criminal convict travelling around the world campaigning for South Korea’s Olympic bid,” says Kim Sang-jo, an economist at Hansung University, “will only hurt our national interest and image.”
Good man walking
After 23 years of togetherness—they were never married—Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins have split up. The couple had long been considered tops among Hollywood’s socially conscious crew; they championed anti-globalization and Ralph Nader, while opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 1999, Sarandon was made a UNICEF goodwill ambassador—whatever that means. Apparently the two actually split in the summer but didn’t notify the press until now—hmm, wonder if that has anything to do with Sarandon’s new movie, The Lovely Bones, out now and considered an Oscar contender.
Dog’s best friend
Here’s a heartwarming story: two Montreal women are taking a trip to Vancouver to retrieve a dog they’ve never met for a family they hardly know. After Fred the dog was found in a trailer with his owner, Cyril Roy, three days after Roy’s death, Frank Palumbo, a dog-lover and owner of a freight company, pledged to get the seven-year-old kugsha home. His wife, Mélanie Pellerin, and her friend Christianne Hendershott flew to Vancouver to pick up Fred, then boarded a train for the four-day ride. VIA Rail chipped in with free first-class tickets for them, plus an extra ticket for Fred, who will eventually settle down in Ontario with one of Cyril’s sisters, a dog breeder.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 10:18 AM - 28 Comments
More memos from 2006, more concerns about Canada’s handling of Afghan detainees.
One of the complainants was British Colonel Dudley Giles, a senior military police officer with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force the 40-plus nation coalition fighting insurgents in Afghanistan. In August of 2006 he brought his concerns to the Canadian embassy in Kabul, saying Canada was stonewalling on providing basic information on the Afghans it was capturing.
“Col. Giles made what can only be described as strong criticisms of the Canadian approach on detainee issues,” Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin wrote in a Sept. 28, 2006, memo that was sent to more than 30 Canadian government e-mail addresses – most of them in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“There are ‘issues of trust and openness,’ ” Mr. Colvin quoted Col. Giles as saying. “According to Giles, when he contacts Canadian [officials] in Kandahar, ‘their first response to requests is ‘Why do you want to know?’ followed by ‘We know what you want, but we won’t give it to you.’ ” The memos add to the weight of concerns already raised by Mr. Colvin, the International Committee of the Red Cross and human-rights groups about Canada’s practices in transferring prisoners to Afghan authorities.
(Reminder: Tomorrow at 1pm, I’ll be chatting about the year in Parliament.)
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 7, 2009 at 11:32 PM - 9 Comments
Canadian Press gains access to internal documents and finds talking points, expressed concerns and wrangling over contingencies.
As the winter of 2006-07 settled in, Canadian officials began to hear abuse concerns from more than just the Red Cross. British and Dutch forces, who followed the Canadians into southern Afghanistan, were “deeply frustrated” even though their agreements with Kabul allowed them more access to prisoners.
“UK/Dutch pol/mil colleagues lament that they are unable to track their detainees,” said a Dec. 4, 2006, memo viewed by The Canadian Press. ”It is unclear whether they are tortured, held beyond legal limits, or (all too frequently) released back to battlefield.”
The Allies were worried “the detainee issue could explode at any moment into a political firestorm.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 27, 2009 at 2:43 PM - 7 Comments
The Guardian’s Martin Kettle considers the possibility of a minority government in Britain.
Britain has had hung parliaments and minority governments before. They have much to be said for them. They can make politics interesting. They can force governments to think twice before doing stupid things. But they can, as the Constitution Unit report emphasises, be well managed (as Salmond’s has mostly been in Scotland) or badly (as Canada illustrates).
They inevitably hand power to small parties as well as to factions within large parties – and thus to party whips. And journalists love hung parliaments. What hung parliaments cannot do, though, is to compel rival parties to co-operate on big reforms. By and large we don’t do coalitions – or co-operation. The idea that a hung parliament after the next general election will enable Labour and the Lib Dems to come seamlessly together and introduce a fairer electoral system is very seductive to many, but historically unpersuasive.
The Constitution Unit report is due for public release next week.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 11:52 AM - 3 Comments
A British committee set up in the wake of all that unpleasantness over MPs’ expenses, comes back with some suggestions.
“Achievable” but radical change to rebuild parliament’s independence from the executive, including a new body of elected backbenchers responsible for organising Commons business, is proposed today by a prestigious select committee set up by Gordon Brown.
The report also suggests that the public should be a given some direct say over what MPs debate, through devices such as e-petitions. Prime minister’s questions would be shifted from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon to liberate more time for backbenchers on Wednesday. It calls for Commons select committees to be streamlined and given more independence from the government so they are able to scrutinise Whitehall departments more thoroughly. Their chairmen ought to be elected by the whole house in a secret vote, rather than effectively agreed between the party whips, it says.
By Philippe Gohier - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 9:21 AM - 11 Comments
The Canadian author took an arduous journey across Northern Ireland, falling asleep in pubs and making sense of Protestants and Catholics
The Ulster Way is advertised by tourism officials in Northern Ireland as “the longest waymarked trail in the British Isles.” But as Will Ferguson discovered when he attempted to walk all 900 km of it, “waymarked” and “trail” can be relative terms. Ferguson’s new book, Beyond Belfast, is a thoughtful travelogue chronicling his arduous journey across Northern Ireland (or Ulster) in a bid to uncover his grandfather’s long-buried Northern Irish roots. The Calgary-based author recently sat down with Macleans.ca at an Irish pub in Toronto to discuss his trek, the religious violence that has pockmarked Ulster’s history and its people, and why it’s easier to make fun of Canadians than anyone else.
Q: It’s a tremendously lonely book.
A: Which I didn’t expect. For days on end, I’d be up in the hills. Because it’s Ireland, I thought it was going to be hill-valley-pub, hill-valley-pub, but it wasn’t. It was hill-bog-bog-bog-valley-pub. I was a cheap drunk, though. I’d have a pint and it would just hit me.
Q: You mention falling asleep at a table.
A: It happened more than once. They’d think I was some drunk, some lush.
Q: For a good portion of the book, the politics of Northern Ireland take a backseat to the landscape—especially in the Glens.
A: That’s a very peaceful area, even at the height of the Troubles. The choice was to go south or north from Belfast and I wanted to start, not easy, but you know, coast-walking. The Glens were quite steep, but coast-walking is almost like strolling.
Q: It seems like it gave you time to soak in the mythology of Ireland—the banshees, the mist, the ghosts.
A: I don’t believe in banshees, but I got scared. There’s something that happens in the bog. The wind whistles low along the ground and I’m sure that’s where the myths come from. You hear these moans. You hear it all the time and it starts to get in your brain. You’re hiking and the mist comes in, and you’re like, “Oh, God.”
Q: There’s a recurring tension throughout the book whenever you get into the cities and are trying to sort out people’s political affiliations.
A: The scariest was in Portadown. There were Union Jacks flying all down the street. And it’s a street that’s maybe the width of these two booths—barely a street. So there’s a little stream and a little bridge, and on the other side there’s tri-colours [Irish flags] and IRA signs. I remember thinking, “Oh, shit. This can’t be good.” And this is Portadown, which is a really violent city anyway. An old pensioner came and said, “You shouldn’t be down here.”
Q: Was it sometimes a challenge to figure out whose turf you were on?
A: It was easier than I thought. They let you know. They want you to know. If there are fewer flags, it’s usually Catholic. It’s the Protestants who go whole-hog with Union Jacks everywhere. They say the River Bann divides it, but it doesn’t really. It’s like saying the Quebec border is the division between French and English Canada.
Q: But if you go to Ottawa, you know that’s not true.
A: Or if you go to the West Island of Montreal, or the Eastern Townships. That’s what the River Bann is like—it’s kind of the border.
Q: Was there an element of bravado in choosing Ulster? Were you looking for trouble?
A: No, I was very worried. The bravado was that I was just going to be able to stride across the landscape. I had all this gear. I thought it was going to go oh-so-smoothly. By the end, I was dragging my packs into pubs, covered in rain, and muttering to myself. But I never really felt in danger because I knew instinctively that they really don’t care if you’re Catholic or Protestant—they care if their neighbour is Catholic or Protestant. They almost go to the other extreme to prove that they’re tolerant. If I was in a Catholic B & B in a Catholic town and they of course realized I was Protestant, instead of shunning me, it was the opposite.
Q: You say, “of course they realized.” Why “of course”?
A: Well, the name, the surname. And they would ask questions, they would fish. I’d always assumed Ferguson is a Protestant name, but there are areas in Fermanagh and Countydown where there is a small Catholic community. And if you look at the deaths in the Troubles, there are Protestant Fergusons who got killed and Catholic Fergusons who got killed. If I know my family, they killed each other. [Laughs]
Q: You seem to have gotten exasperated rather quickly with the sectarian politics.
A: I didn’t want to romanticize it. Whenever somebody romanticizes the IRA, I say go to Enniskillen, where they blew up pensioners. Or when Protestants tell me about their battles—look at the Shankhill Butchers. The two things that stand out to me, looking back, is how kind the people were in an understated way and how beautiful the landscape was. Why they can’t show that same kindness to each other is something I don’t understand.
Q: At the same time, there’s a real sadness that comes through in parts of the book. For instance, you write that, “the alienation of Irish Protestants from Gaelic culture is one of the most unfortunate aspects of the current approach to Irish identity.”
A: The sad thing is that it’s seeped into Protestant thinking that “we’re just visiting,” that “we’re born into exile.” They’ve been there longer than the French have been in Quebec. I don’t think anybody in Quebec says, “We’re not really from here, we’re really from Europe.” And you don’t hear English Canadians saying “England is our home, not this place.”
Q: You make the claim that the Protestants are staking a claim to the past, but leaving the future to the Catholics.
A: That’s exactly what happens. I find the Republican stance completely delusional. I think it’s delusion to think that if you keep bombing someone enough, they’ll become Irish. But it’s optimistic. It’s all about the future glory. The Protestants are all about holding the line and that’s exhausting.
Q: You’ve mentioned the Quebec-Canada relationship a lot. Do you get a sense there’s a parallel there?
A: Roughly, yes. The Québécois are more rational, they’re more reasonable. Imagine if the FLQ was still bombing things for 30 years. The rough parallel is that the FLQ is like the IRA and Sinn Fein is like the Parti Québécois. Bloody Sunday and the October Crisis were roughly around the same time—when the late sixties civil rights movement turned into this 1970s violence. But it never caught fire in Quebec. I think it’s the nature of the culture.
Q: Prince Charles and Camilla can still set foot in Quebec.
A: My gut feeling is their visit doesn’t resonate because the institution of monarchy is really hollow. It’s just a pair of tourists who are here on a junket.
Q: You seem to take Irish/Ulster nationalism a lot more seriously than you take Canadian nationalism, which you’ve lampooned.
A: Well, our nationalism doesn’t blow stuff up.
Q: Did you feel like you had a bit more license when you were lampooning Canadians?
A: Oh God, yes. And Canadians understand that. I would never title a book “Why I Hate Protestants in Ulster.” I would be killed. Canada is one of the only countries where you can write a book titled Why I Hate Canadians and people assume it’s a joke. Civic nationalism in Canada can be more inclusive and it can also be very, very silly, because inclusiveness can rapidly become funny. We were talking the other day about people getting offended on someone else’s behalf. That’s very much a Canadian thing. And, to be honest, Beyond Belfast is a travel book, it’s not a political polemic. I don’t think I’d be comfortable making fun unless I lived there. There are books by the Northern Irish that are very hard on the Northern Irish. They’re very capable of self-critique.
Q: Now that you’ve solved the mystery of your grandfather’s roots, is it over for you? Is that chapter closed?
A: My main thing was to do justice and to introduce him as a person, as a real person, not just as a symbol of something. I always tell people I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the fact we’re sitting here today having an interview and I’m not at my castle drinking Champagne is a clue. If I had found my castle, the book would’ve just stopped. You would’ve turned the page and it would’ve been blank.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 3:46 PM - 42 Comments
David Cameron, Britain’s official leader of the opposition, expounds on his vision for British society.
The size, scope and role of the state is of course the scene of a vigorous political debate. But I believe it is pointless to draw dividing lines where none exist – so I want to start my contribution with where we all agree. Ask anyone of any political colour the kind of country they want to see and they’ll say a Britain that is richer, that is safer, that is greener but perhaps most important to us all, a country that is fairer and where opportunity is more equal.
Agree or disagree with what follows, you are, of course, free to contemplate when it last was that a Canadian political leader spoke about this society as Cameron does here about his own.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 8:40 PM - 1 Comment
The big TV article of the day is “Why Britain Can’t Do The Wire,” by Peter Jukes, about the cautious, executive-driven culture of the present-day BBC and how it has caused the UK to fall behind the US when it comes to making interesting TV. (In the recent Monty Python documentary, the members mention that the show could only have been approved in the good old days when there weren’t so many executives at the BBC, all putting in their oar.) Just as interesting, and shorter, is this accompanying interview with David Simon, where he talks about the differences between US and British television: in the U.S., “the writer is god” (on good shows, anyway) and the head writer supervises a staff of writers, instead of doing every script himself as on most British shows.
It sounds a little paradoxical that having one or two writers write everything could produce a less writer-driven culture than the U.S., where only freaks like David E. Kelly write every script themselves. But it’s true. The reason, I think, is that TV is to some extent an executive-driven medium no matter what country you’re in. And in the U.S., writers are literally elevated to executive positions (it’s right there in the title, “executive producer”). There are many British shows where the head writer/creator has time to write every episode, in part, because someone else holds the power over the other aspects of the show. (This also happens sometimes in the States. Susan Harris wrote every episode of Soap, but left the producing duties to her partners, Paul Witt and Tony Thomas.) A David Simon or Milch can’t possibly write every episode, but everything is subject to his approval. And that can result in a show that more clearly expresses the vision of one person. If they wrote all the scripts, but ceded control in other areas, it would inevitably be different, because the other stuff — costumes, shooting, editing, locations — is hugely important. If one person has the final OK on everything, then it’s more likely that everything will work toward the same goal.
Canada is infamous for having a TV drama culture that (not always, of course, but often enough for it to be a pattern) combines the weaknesses of both systems: a domination by non-writing producers, with the head writer supervising a writing staff but not a whole lot else.
But the U.S. system, making a writer into an executive, is kind of a strange one, and one that goes against normal instincts. The writer’s temperament is not necessarily that of an executive. On the great DVD features for It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, creator Alan Zweibel talks about how difficult it was to adjust from thinking like a writer — protecting his material and his scripts — to being responsible for all aspects of the production, and caring as much about episodes written by other people. The U.S. system essentially asks people like Larry David to do management jobs when they’re totally unsuited to being managers in any traditional sense. And yet it works, because somebody has to be in charge of any production. And while the director is the one most likely to be in charge of a movie, a writer is the only person who can come close to handling all aspects of a 13 or 22-episode TV season.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 2:10 AM - 59 Comments
With confirmation that four al-Qaeda prisoners and several million dollars were exchanged for Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, here again is the transcript from the Prime Minister’s press conference on the afternoon of April 22, announcing Fowler and Guay’s release.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 27, 2009 at 8:28 PM - 8 Comments
Chris Selley sees hope—or at least something completely different—in David Cameron’s Britain.
“Reticent” isn’t a word that comes to mind. What comes to my mind instead is that if either Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper had given that interview, Canadian politics-watchers would still be picking themselves up off the floor, and the appropriate war room would be tearing into the other guy like a pack of half-starved wolverines…
Anyone who reads a newspaper knows lean times are coming to Canada too, one way or the other—tax hikes, spending cuts, or some combination of the two. The difference between Ottawa and London is that in London, they’re actually talking about it. Indeed, to hear Cameron talk, he actually thinks he’s telling the British people what they want to hear.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 9:21 AM - 50 Comments
Elizabeth Renzetti sketches Michael Ignatieff’s return to England this week.
Not many of Mr. Ignatieff’s former London associates would have pictured him on a podium, engaged in partisan debate. “I don’t think anyone foresaw him strutting across the stage of international politics,” said Mr. Loader, who was one of the creators, 20 years ago, of the BBC’s live culture program The Late Show . He hired Mr. Ignatieff as one of the four hosts, and the former academic quickly “became the good-looking intellectual one. He was quite well-known, he had a reputation as something of a cultural polymath.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 4:05 PM - 23 Comments
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 10:53 AM - 5 Comments
David Cameron wants to overhaul British democracy.
But it’s not just by decentralising power and reforming parliament that we can redistribute power away from an over-mighty executive. We need to end the culture of sofa government, where unaccountable spin doctors in No 10 – whether it’s Alastair Campbell or Damian McBride – toss around ideas and make up policies not to meet the national interest but to hit dividing lines or fit the news cycle. So we’ll put limits on the number of political advisers, strengthen the ministerial code, protect the independence of the civil service, and ensure that more decisions are made by cabinet as a whole.
Much more at the Guardian’s New Politics project. Read and imagine what it’d be like if we were having as serious a discussion in this country.