02 November 2017

The Poppy

According to the Royal Canadian Legion's Poppy Manual, the Legion will never authorize  the display of a poppy on "blogs or discussion groups even of a remembrance nature, as the Legion cannot control the text content of such forums [sic]."

A symbol of the defence of freedom can't be displayed in Canada on a website where Canadians exercise their freedom of speech.

Remembrance is impossible when the Legion has already forgotten.

-srbp-




08 September 2017

Fixing the date or fixing the election #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Arguably,  Justice Gillian Butler’s decision in a six year old case on the special ballot provisions of the provincial election law is one of the most significant political events in recent years.

Butler ruled the special ballot rules are unconstitutional since they deny an individual’s right to vote under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Introduced in 2007 with unanimous support of all members of the House of Assembly, the special ballot rules allow people to vote at least four weeks before an election exists.

Among the first critics of the special ballot rules was Mark Watton.  He represented the Canadian Civil Liberties Association pro bono as an intervener in the case Butler heard.  In 2007,  though, Watton wrote a letter to the editor of the Western Star and later published it on his now-defunct blog nottawa.  SRBP reproduced it from the print edition.

The fight against the special ballot laws took four years to get to a court and another six for the case to end in a decision but the fight was worth it.

Most people likely haven’t read Watton’s letter and the fact it isn’t available online anymore means that people writing about the issue these days won't know any of the background to the story.  To remedy that and to give Watton his due,  here’s the letter in its entirety.

The provincial government might appeal the decision.  Hopefully it won’t since, as Watton explained a decade ago,  the law is unconstitutional.  There is no reason to disagree with Butler’s conclusion.  The only sensible task for justice minister Andrew Parsons and his colleagues is to introduce amendments to the especial ballot law in the fall sitting of the House. 

[Originally published in the Western Star and at nottawa,  Friday 14 September 2007]

28 August 2017

The Quebec Demon #nlpoli #cdnpoli

The fancy word for it is revanchism.

People who study words and language call it a borrowed word, meaning that we use it in English but got it from the French word.  In this case, it is the French word for revenge.

People familiar with history are most likely to associate the word revanchism with the struggle between France and Germany that lasted from 1870 until 1945.  The Prussians defeated the French in 1870 and took two territories – Alsace and Lorraine – that many in France wanted back. 

Desire for revenge for regain of the lost territories was an important aspect of French policy against Germany at Versailles in 1919.  The tension between the two countries lasted until, after another world war,  Germany was simply destroyed as a single country and France got the territories back.

07 August 2017

Muskrat, risk, and memory #nlpoli

There's a great column in Saturday's Telegram by Pam Frampton that anyone concerned about Muskrat Falls should read.  It's the latest in a string of columns that Pam's been writing about the troubled megadebt project and events in 2013 around the time that the major contractor on the project produced a memorandum about huge risks that needed attention.

In the very first sentence,  Pam mentions a book she's apparently just been reading.  It's called Megaprojects and risk.  It's written by three Scandinavian scientists who studied huge construction projects to try and find out why they tend to go wildly over-budget. They found that the folks behind gigantic projects over-estimate the benefits and underestimate the costs.

Note the date of Pam's column.

2017.

24 July 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Reviewers have been so effusive in their praise for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk that one suspects that something is very wrong here.  Their words are over the top and cliche.

The New York Times, for example, called it a "tour de force", "a brilliant new film",  and "a characteristically complex and condensed vision of a war in a movie that is insistently humanizing, despite its monumentality."  The Guardian called the film "structurally immaculate" and "a jaw-dropping spectacle in which the picture for the most part stretched beyond [the reviewer's] field of vision, both vertically and horizontally."  Vanity Fair, among others, calls the film Nolan's "most artistic, impressionistic film yet."

But the Vanity Fair reviewer gives us a clue that something is amiss here with his very first sentence. He describes the challenge of trying to find words to describe this film. "It was a dance piece, then a music video, then a poem, then a prayer."

These are bizarre ways to describe a movie about the defeat of Britain and France in early 1940 at the hands of an invading German army. Britain only avoided a catastrophe by a combination of muddling, luck, and improvisation. The story of Dunkirk is a spectacle in its own right. It is spectacular in the wider context of defeat and conquest at the opening phase of the largest war in human history. Thematically, Dunkirk is the antithesis to Normandy:  retreat in defeat versus attack leading to victory. Dunkirk: improvised. Normandy:  meticulously planned. The one is the prelude to the other.  This is a rich mine of a story.

There are lots of ways to describe such an event and indeed lots of ways to present the story.  But dance piece?  Music video? Poem you might buy into but it would be a great insult to Sassoon or Owen to liken their work to Dunkirk's pristine, one-dimensional soldiers, sailors, and pilots.

What becomes plain fairly quickjly in these effusively positive reviews is that the reviewers clearly know very little of the actual events or indeed or war movies as a genre. Go read the New York Times review of the one movie made about Dunkirk before now, the one made in 1958. Now look at the reviews of the 2017 movie. The recent ones seem thin. Insubstantial. Lacking in depth either of knowledge or indeed even of morality.

Even after that brief experience you should now be retching at the idea as war and the events at Dunkirk can be a rendered as a tour de force dance piece or a structurally immaculate music video.

17 July 2017

Traces of the Grossly Impudent Lie #nlpoli

There's a phrase in Pam Frampton's Saturday column on Muskrat Falls.

A bunch of words dropped in easily,  maybe offhandedly.

Nothing that really stands out.

Just a simple fact.

The kind of thing that you might just skip past, unless maybe you'd be writing about this project since before it was a gleam in some old twitchy-shouldered man's eye.

"Now, the project is more than 75 per cent finished, two years behind schedule and 70 per cent over budget."

11 July 2017

Heretics and Believers


Peter Marshall's Heretics and believers:  a history of the English Reformation from Yale University Press (2017) arrived as a belated birthday present on Friday past.  It's proven to be well worth the wait.  

"Heretics and Believers" by Peter Marshall


As the official blurb describes it, "Peter Marshall’s sweeping new history—the first major overview for general readers in a generation—argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of “reform” in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora’s Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life.

With sensitivity to individual experience as well as masterfully synthesizing historical and institutional developments, Marshall frames the perceptions and actions of people great and small, from monarchs and bishops to ordinary families and ecclesiastics, against a backdrop of profound change that altered the meanings of “religion” itself. This engaging history reveals what was really at stake in the overthrow of Catholic culture and the reshaping of the English Church."

-srbp-

30 June 2017

Canada 150 #nlpoli #cdnpoli

From my paper "Two solitudes",  Dorchester Review, volume 6, number 1, spring/summer 2016:

"Newfoundland and Canada, separate countries for so long, exist as two solitudes within the bosom of a single country more than 65 years after Confederation. They do not understand each other very well. Canadians can be forgiven if they do not know much about Newfoundlanders beyond caricatures in popular media, let alone understand them. But Newfoundlanders do not know themselves. They must grapple daily with the gap between their own history as it was and the history as other Newfoundlanders tell it to them, wrongly, repeatedly. 
These solitudes are not fragments of the past of no consequence in the present. They are not without shape and substance in the world today. People who think of themselves as eternal victims of conspiracies will see conspiracies everywhere and act accordingly. For some Newfoundlanders,  the British bogeyman of 1914 became the Canadian and British bogey of 1949, and the Quebec bogey in 1969 at Churchill Falls, or the bogey of Ottawa and offshore resources in 2004. A century after July 1, 1916, the result of these two solitudes is a relationship between Newfoundland and the rest of Canada that may well be more distant than it ever was, but certainly is needlessly so."
For the full thing, buy the single issue or subscribe.

You'll get some thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff from writers across Canada.

-srbp-


23 May 2017

The Newfie Thing #nlpoli

Facebook has become hugely popular in Newfoundland and Labrador and, not surprisingly, some creative and enterprising fellow came up with a running joke - these days called a meme - featuring a fellow in a sou'wester.

You will find it called "newfie word of the day". The text that goes with the picture involves a joke based on some mispronunciation of a standard English word or phrase and out of that comes some sort of joke.

The one above is an example.  There are dozens more.  The thing is quite popular as you can tell by searching the Internet for "newfie word of the day".

Memorial University's political scientist slash sociologist Jamie Baker has discovered that the guy in the picture isn't a Newfoundlander.  He's actually Czech.  The picture came from a post on a Northern Peninsula blog by cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore.  It's about a Screech-in ceremony in the Czech republic that Mitchelmore ran during a visit there on one of his numerous globe-trotting ventures.

Baker posted the link on Facebook and asked folks to give them their thoughts. Feel free to do so by sending him an email:  jbaker at mun dot ca.  Baker's also written about about nationalism and racism, if this interests you. He got some notoriety last week not for this "newfie" meme story but for one on a paper he wrote about young people's attitudes to the word "newfie." He interviewed 30 university students and found that among the young people, the word is either an insult or no big thing.  You can find a CBC story about it, one from Radio Canada, and one from NTV.

15 May 2017

The unbroken machine #nlpoli

The Unbroken Machine coverThe best little book on Canadian politics and government in a long time.


Starting with the basics,  Dale Smith describes how the Canadian political system works and why things are like they are.  The language is plain and that makes the idea understandable for as wide an audience as possible.

Every politician, pundit, and plumber should have a dog-eared copy of The unbroken machine close at hand and check it before speaking about any current issue in Canadian politics. Smith's focus is on the federal system but the basic ideas - responsible government,  the role of the Crown and so on - apply in the provincial sphere as well.

Available in paperback,  pdf, and ebook editions from your local bookseller or online from Dundurn Press.

-srbp-



12 May 2017

Junk reporting of medical research

The Telegraph is a major conventional newspaper in the United Kingdom.

And it spreads fake news.

There's nothing surprising in that. Most conventional news organisations produce some amount of pure nonsense in the course of a year.  The crap content level varies from outlet to outlet and the people who work hard in pretty well every conventional news outlet also work diligently to get stories right.

But excrement seeps through.

It's a Law of Averages thing.

Anyway...

24 April 2017

Plain language, power, and politics #nlpoli

In the midst of a political controversy over recent fishing quotas in Newfoundland and Labrador, two people are talking about the need for better communication about science and the fishing quotas.

Jacqueline Perry is the regional director of fisheries management for the fisheries and oceans department of the Government of Canada.  "This is difficult stuff,"  she said, referring to reductions in quotas that the decisions that flow from the scientific information on fish stocks will have an adverse impact on people in the fishing industry.

"We are doing the very, very best that we can with the information that our science colleagues are able to provide to us with the input of industry. Are we getting it 100 per cent right? I don't know if we will ever know [about the precise size of fish stocks]."

In related comments,  the head of the Marine Institute's fisheries science program told CBC that the "fact that there is so much controversy is indicative that communication is a necessary component … If we're going to find a way forward, we're going to have to keep talking."  Brett Favaro said the Marine Institute will include course work in the master's and doctoral programs aimed at teaching scientists how to communicate their research findings more effectively.

He's talking about plain language, among other things.  Plain language or Plain English establishes some simple rules about the way you use words and sentences in order to ensure the greatest number of people will understand what you are saying.