Tag Archives: politics

Ford Ontario

The Ontario Progressive Conservative party yesterday chose Doug Doug Ford 2014 parade-Bruce-Reeve-wikicommonsFord as its leader. That’s Doug, brother and advisor to the late Rob Ford who has to have been the weirdest mayor of Toronto ever. And that’s saying a lot. There have been some dillies. But Rob was the biggest dilly of them all.

Doug Ford as leader of the Ontario PC probably means that Kathleen Wynne will be re-elected as premier in May. Or he gets elected premier. Either way, it’s a disaster for Ontario. I’m sure there’s still a leader of the NDP but I’d have to google to find out who it is. And I have no real faith that she or he would be all that much of an improvement on either of the other two. Just mess up the province in new and different ways.

Kathleen_Wynnes_Campaign_Bus_Alex-Guibord-2014-wikicommonsI am very glad I am no longer living there. Living under the Liberal flag of first Dalton McGuinty and then Kathleen Wynne was an endless nightmare of trying to survive under their endless, non-essential ‘improvements’. And also an endless source of amazement of what stupidity they could dream up next. Kind of like what living in Donald Trump’s USA must be like.

But I have another reason for being glad I have been well clear since long before this latest move to crazy-land in Ontario politics. A friend once told me that when I moved to a place, it tanked.

He was speaking about my move to St. Thomas, Ontario, years ago. When I moved there, a Ford assembly plant had been in operation for four decades. Then it shut down and over 1,000 people lost their jobs. It was the largest employer in town.st thomas ford plant sep-2011-photo-d-stewart

I moved to Sussex, New Brunswick, where PotashCorp had operated a mine for four decades. Then it shut down and over 400 people lost their jobs. It was the largest employer in town.

Penobsquis NB Potash-Mine-2009-Verne-Equinox-wikicommonsSo, superstitious or not, I’m glad I am far away from Ontario. I do not have to feel any responsibility for this newest shit show. Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne could be the dictionary definition of ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Good luck, Ontario!

One Trump Year

One Trump year is like one dog year – very long! Tomorrow, January 20th, is the first anniversary of his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. A lot has happened, both silly and serious. The tweets and braggadocio coming from the White House have been entertaining and frightening. Also so mind-occupying that it’s hard to think of the serious stuff that’s happened. Actual legislation passed, revoked, deferred and proposed.Trump year begins - signing order permitting Keystone XL and Dakota Access

So here’s a summary of just one aspect of the past Trump year, the effect of his administration on the environment.

Earth’s 1st Trump Year

January 20, 2017

Trump is inaugurated. He says he’s going to drain the swamp. He meant the swamp of Washington politicos, but it’s real swamps that need to worry.

January 24, 2017

Stand-with-standing-rock_native-nations-rise-march-washington-mar-2017-slowking4-wikipediaTrump issues memoranda to permit Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines, despite indigenous peoples’ protests and environmental concerns.

January 25, 2017

All references to climate change removed from White House website.

February 1, 2017

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is appointed Secretary of State. From 18 Dec 2016 in OilPrice.com:

[P]utting Tillerson at Secretary of State does present some questions over conflict of interest. After all, Tillerson could be instrumental in removing sanctions on Russia, which would be a highly favorable outcome for ExxonMobil, where Tillerson has worked for his entire 41-year career… As Vox’s Brad Plumer succinctly put it, “In a lot of ways, Putin and Exxon need each other. And Tillerson is now in the middle.”

February 14, 2017

Trump signs a Congressional Review Act resolution that ends a financial disclosure requirement for energy companies.

February 16, 2017

stream-protection-rule-lcnewsgroup.com_coal-producers-face-new-stream-protection-rule-from-interior-Mark-Drajem-17-Jul-2015Trump signs joint resolution passed by Congress revoking “Stream Protection Rule”. The rule had placed restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways.

February 17, 2017

Scott Pruitt confirmed as head of Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General for Oklahoma, Pruitt was best known for suing the EPA as well as for his close relationship with oil and gas companies.

March 2, 2017

Newly appointed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rescinds ban on lead ammunition on federal lands and waters. NRA approves as good for hunters, conservation groups disapprove as poisonous for wildlife.

March 6, 2017

Boundary_Waters_Canoe_Area-US-Forest-Service-2007-wikicommonsAfter ordering an EPA review of it on Feb 28th, Trump announced his decision to rescind or revise the “Clean Water Rule: Waters of the United States”. Intended to clarify federal jurisdiction over US waters, it had extended federal protection to some waterways, wetlands and lakes.

March 7, 2017

EPA Office of Science and Technology removes word “science” from its mission statement. New wording stresses “economically and technologically achievable performance standards”.

March 13, 2017

First preliminary budget makes cuts to EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, other science and environmental agencies and social programmes in order to allow $54 billion increase to defense spending.

March 15, 2017

EPA considers rolling back emissions standards for future new vehicles, as goal of greater fuel efficiency said to be unachievable.

March 17, 2017

EPA does not rescind $100 million to Michigan for water infrastructure upgrades in Flint. Hurray.

March 21, 2017

B-affinis-wildlifepreservation.ca_rusty-patched-bumble-bee-photo-christy-stewartThe rusty patched bumblebee, a previously commonly found variety of bee in North America, is listed as an endangered species. Trump had signed an executive order that delayed its listing by one month.

March 24, 2017

Keystone XL pipeline given permit by State Department.

March 27, 2017

Dakota_Access_Pipe_Line_Central_Iowa-carl-wycoff-wikipediaOil is pumped into the Dakota Access Pipeline.

March 28, 2017

Trump signs Executive Order to begin rescinding EPA’s Clean Power Plan, moratorium on coal leases, and more.

April 3, 2017

Trump donates first quarter of his presidential salary to National Park Service. His 2018 budget plan includes a $1.5 billion cut to the Department of the Interior, of which the National Park Service is part. Funding for some National Heritage Areas will be eliminated.

April 19, 2017

All but one reference to climate change are removed from the climate change page on the Interior Department’s website.

April 26, 2017

Trump signs Antiquities Executive Order, instructing review of national monuments created since 1996.

April 28, 2017

ice-road-to-oil-rig-US-bureau-of-land-management-geology.com_articles_arctic-oil-and-gasTrump signs an executive order for a review of bans on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Also stops designation or expansion of National Marine Sanctuaries unless an “energy or mineral resource potential” estimate has been done by the Interior Department.

April 28, 2017

EPA climate change website is removed, remaining on the new page only in archived form.

May 5, 2017

EPA dismisses several scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors. The EPA says this allows a “more diverse” membership of the board, including industry representatives.

May 23, 2017

Trump sends his budget to Congress. It proposes a 31% cut to the EPA budget. Also eliminates Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound restoration programmes.

June 1, 2017

Trump says the US will pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

June 12, 2017

Interior Secretary recommending decreasing size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

June 13, 2017

Corpse_of_sea_turtle_drowned_in_fishing_net-salvatore-barbera-wikicommonsNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cancels a rule designed to prevent endangered whales, dolphins and sea turtles getting entangled in fishing nets.

August 7, 2017

Interior Department recommends relaxing plan for protection of greater sage grouse habitat and reprioritizing oil development in the affected federal lands.

August 15, 2017

Trump revokes federal flood-risk standards that took predictions of rising sea levels into account. He also announced that environmental review for infrastructure projects would be ” streamlined” and speeded up.

August 22, 2017

Martin_County-KY_home-mountainroadshow.com-jun-2006-wikicommonsInterior Departmental Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement stops a study of health risks from mountaintop removal coal mining. Also, the Trump administration disbanded a federal advisory panel for National Climate Assessment.

October 9, 2018

EPA head Scott Pruitt announces plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, saying “the war on coal is over.”

October 23, 2017

Department of Interior announces largest ever auction of offshore oil and gas leases. 77 million acres of federal water in the Gulf of Mexico outer continental shelf, off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The announcement comes days after a 672,000 gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to a pipeline leak off the coast of Louisiana.

December 4, 2017

Valley_of_the_Gods-Plain-US-Bureau-of-Land-Management-Aug-2012-wikicommonsTrump announces an 85% reduction in size of Bears Ears National Monument and an almost 50% reduction of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Both are in Utah. The Valley of the Gods, above, is now outside the boundaries..

December 18, 2017

Trump administration drops climate change from national security threat list.

December 20, 2017

Congress approves opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. It was bundled with the tax reform bill.

December 22, 2017

Department of the Interior removes “incidental takes” – industry-caused bird deaths – from being a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

January 4, 2018

Interior Department releases new offshore drilling plans. 5 days later, Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts are excluded. “Florida is obviously unique” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s also home to Trump’s “Winter White House”.

January 6, 2018

Izembek_Lagoon_Amak_Island-chris-dau-1984-us-fish-and-wildlife-wikicommonsInterior Department says it will approve a road to be built through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. One village and a fish cannery wanted it. It was added to the tax reform bill passed by Congress in December.

January 15, 2018

Nine of the 12 member National Park System Advisory Board resign. From their letter of resignation: “For the last year we have stood by waiting for the chance to meet” with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Trump Year Chronologies

This chronology is based on National Geographic’s A Running List of How Trump is Changing the Environment. Also well worth looking at for environmental,  social and economic impacts of one Trump year is The Trump Effect compiled by Reuters.

Un-American Affairs

Marya Mannes on out of my time book coverFrom More in Anger (1958), a collection of essays by American social critic and satirist Marya Mannes. From 1904 to 1990, her life spanned most of the 20th century.

A fictional life-story of a man who, Mannes says, “drew strength” from the “poisoned climate of McCarthy”. Just change a few words and, maybe, ‘plus ça change…’?

The Brotherhood of Hate: Three Portraits (Pt. II)

If you should come across Charlie Mattson and his family barbecuing in the back yard of their Darien home, you would think they came straight off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. There is the jolly father-chef in his apron, the pretty – but not too pretty – wife in slacks, the twelve-year-old boy with the T shirt and the crew cut, and the teen-age girl in heavy white socks and loafers, blue-jeaned, sweatered and pony-tailed. They appear to be having a genuinely good time.

There is no reason, really, why they shouldn’t. Charlie has a good job in a factory sub-contracted to a defense plant, his family is healthy, and he is a pillar of his American Legion Post, the Presbyterian church, the Kiwanis and the weekly poker group. One reason for this is his good nature, another is his repertory of jokes, mainly for male consumption. Charlie rolls ’em in the aisles.

Yet Charlie is one of those men who was, whether he admits it or not, happiest in the war. He got overseas late in the game, but not too late to taste the liberation of Paris and the advance into Germany, and he can never forget the excitement and fulfilment of either. Nor can he forget the German girl he shacked up with after the surrender, in the months of occupation that followed. Ruins, starvation and all, he found the Germans very much to his liking, and he joined a number of other Americans in wondering why the hell they had fought the Krauts instead of the Frogs. Fundamentally, the Germans had the right ideas, and one of those was plumbing.

The nearest he could come to those war days now were bull sessions at the Post, where the men would reminisce about the war and the women they had. But the years after the war were a letdown to men like Charlie. They were conscious of a great lack: there was no place to go, nothing to do, no direction, really. They were disgusted with the untidiness and frustration of civilian life, and they began to blame it on all sorts of things, beginning with socialism (the bastard Truman and his goddam Fair Deal) and ending with Jews, foreigners, do-gooders, pinkos and longhairs.

It was small wonder then that when the Junior Senator from Wisconsin began raising his voice in 1952, Charlie began to listen. Here, at last, was a call to action, a new kind of war for good Americans to wage. McCarthy gave men like Charlie a motive and a function: to rid this country of the traitors in its midst, to hunt down the enemy, to restore America to its rightful owners and guardians. The bugle had sounded and Charlie Mattson joined the colors.

But things have died down a bit since, partly because most of the reds had been smoked out, and partly because there was nobody left in the government who had the guts to keep up the fight against subversion. For there was no doubt in Charlie’s mind that his country was in constant danger of penetration, that the wrong people were getting back into power, and that the only reason the Russians were ahead of us was that they stole our secrets.

But what can you do when people are dumb? Make money and mind your own business and tell your children what the score is. If folks can’t realize, for instance, that this whole integration business is one more communist plot and that the Supreme Court is playing right into their hands, it’s their funeral. [pp 84-86]

More in Anger cover Keystone Books J B Lippincott 1958Charlie Mattson would be the father or grandfather of one type of Trump voter: the white man from the Rust Belt. The man who remembers, and wants back, those good factory jobs. Donald Trump says he’ll restore the jobs, restore “Made in the USA”, restore America. Many want to believe that. And some want the “call to action” that he appears to promise. No matter what it costs in the long run. No matter what it costs others, and us all.


First Hundred Hours

In his first hundred hours – from midday Friday to this afternoon, President Donald Trump has been busy. Trump_first_day_as_President signing orders and nominations-wikipedia

Signing executive orders:

  •  Directing all federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare by waiving or deferring any provision that puts a “fiscal burden on any State” or clients, insurers, medical services and manufacturers. Not included are the specifics on what and how.
  • Imposing a hiring freeze for federal government workers, excluding the military.
  • Withdrawing the USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He also plans to renegotiate NAFTA.
  • Reinstating a ban on federal funds for international development NGOs that provide abortion information or services. First brought in by Ronald Reagan in 1984, this “Mexico City Policy” can adversely affect health care provision for people around the world.
  • Reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as related orders that would expedite their environmental assessment process.

Trump has also told large corporations that he will cut taxes, fast-track their factory openings and remove 75% of government regulations affecting their operation. That’s the carrot. The stick is “substantial border tax” on companies that move production outside the US.

Sunday, he said discussions would begin on moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. With Israel and Palestine both having claims to Jerusalem, that puts the cat amongst the pigeons. He named son-in-law Jared Kushner as senior White House advisor and said Kushner would be part of Middle East negotiations. “If [Jared] can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” Dad-in-law just made the job even more difficult.

Trump back-up

Trump’s minions have been busy too. On Friday, the White House website was updated. Gone were pages on climate change, civil rights, LGBT and disabled peoples concerns.

Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway gave us a new term for lies: alternate facts. She did that after Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, tore strips off the media for publishing photos and estimates of the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Spicer gave much larger figures not backed up by any evidence whatsoever. “Alternate facts” Conway explained.

inauguration crowds 2017 left, 2009 right wikipedia
2017 Trump Inauguration, left, 2009 Obama Inauguration, right

Trump, his staff and federal offices are not the only ones sweeping with a new broom. On Monday, the Texas Supreme Court said it will revisit a 2015 case allowing spousal benefits for gay city employees.

All this in 100 hours – after a bizarre inauguration day.

Inauguration Day

Trump’s inauguration speech emphasized the ME in aMErica. He went on to insult 40 years worth of presidents sitting beside him in decrying the nest-feathering and self-serving of the previous administrations.

Then he watched the parade. He had wanted a tank in it. I don’t Melania and Donald Trump dance at Liberty Ball wikicommons USAF Staff Sgt Alyssa C Gibsonknow if it was due to the “optics” or the damage one would inflict on the pavement, but I’m glad the answer was no.

His last public function was attending the inaugural balls that, at $50 a ticket, were overpriced. In the First Dance with the First Lady to the song ‘My Way’, he smirked and mouthed the words “my way” directly to the camera. OMG!

I didn’t think it could get worse than that, or more surreal. It has. And it’s only been half a week.

Yesterday, in Value Village in Saint John, I saw a woman with George Orwell’s 1984 in her shopping cart. I wonder how many copies of it have sold lately.

Trump Imagery

What is the appeal of The Donald as president? Trump imagery over Trump policy, I suspect. But why? Reading The Englishman’s Boy, I got a clue from a 1923 fictional Hollywood studio boss:

Last year Mussolini marched his Blackshirts on Rome and the government, the army folded. The government possessed all the material force necessary to prevail, and yet they gave way to a few thousand men with pistols in their pockets. Why? Because Mussolini orchestrated a stream of images more potent than artillery manned by men without spiritual conviction. Thousands of men in black shirts marching the dusty roads, clinging to trains, piling into automobiles. They passed through the countryside like film through a projector, enthralling onlookers. And when Rome fell, Mussolini paraded his Blackshirts through the city, before the cameras, so they could be paraded over and over again, as many times as necessary, trooped through every movie house from Tuscany to Sicily, burning the black shirt and the silver death’s head into every Italian’s brain. [p. 109]trump imagery tv

Guy Vanderhaeghe published The Englishman’s Boy in 1996, long before the phenomenon of Trump the Candidate. Trump moved on a fractured Republican Party, and America, the same way Mussolini moved on a post-WWI fractured Italy and Europe. Like Mussolini, Trump knows the power of image.Donald Trump is showbiz and glamour, gossip and myth. His actual beliefs? Do we know? Do we care? Donald Trump is a green screen of outrageousness. You can project whatever meaning you want on to his words. Be offended or be empowered.

Trump as Green Screen

To his supporters, he is Everyman: just like us, with money. If you squint right, you can see the Horatio Alger story in him. A “small loan” from his father set him up to become fabulously wealthy, so he says. He knows how to play the system. We go to his casinos, hoping that Lady Luck gives us a helping hand. We dream that  we could parlay that stake into our fortune. Those with a more scholarly approach subscribed to Trump University, hoping to learn the art of the deal.

But if we can’t, maybe he’ll do it for us. He will stand up to big corporations and job-stealing nations and immigrants. He’ll out-bully the bully boys of international politics (who are ‘taking advantage of us’). He can arm-wrestle Vladimir Putin figuratively and probably literally.

To his opponents, however, he is racist, sexist – every ‘ist’ that is vile and not part of the mantra of “diversity and inclusivity.” Including fascist. (Here is an excellent article on Trump and fascism.)

Stylistically, he is everything that gilt and mirrors are. Braggadocious, as he might say, decor. But his political and social philosophies are less consistent. So look at his statements and performance and choose your interpretation. For example: he’s anti-women because he insults women; he’s pro-women because of his hiring practices.

Whatever the topic, his very public life provides the canvas upon which you can draw the picture you want to see. He knows the art of the image better, perhaps, than he knows the art of the deal. This election campaign is proving to be more about imagery than about deals and policies.

Battle of Ridgeway

Anger house Ridgeway near Fort Erie ONToday marks a bizarre incident in Canadian history. Irish-Americans invaded Canada, planning to hold it hostage as leverage to end British rule in Ireland. My family’s farmhouse was smack-dab in the middle of what became known as the Battle of Ridgeway. Reading about it, the threads I picked up led far into North American and Anglo-British political and cultural history.

June 2, 1866, soldiers of the US-based Fenian Brotherhood met Canadian militia at a limestone ridge near Ridgeway west of Fort Erie, Ontario. It was a kind of “who’s on first?” fight. The Canadians had no horses to pull ammunition wagons so only had what they could carry. The Fenians had dumped Battle of Ridgeway illustration, showing IRA flagmuch of their ammunition because it had got too heavy after a day of carrying it all. Information and communication on both sides were misinterpreted, resulting in costly mistakes.

The Fenians were American Civil War veterans, straight from battle. The Canadians were volunteer part-time militia who had never seen action.  Due to budget constraints, many had never fired a live round.

At the end of the day, both sides had dead and wounded. The Fenians, who wanted to move west, were pushed back east to Fort Erie. But then the Canadians retreated. The newspaper clipping Fenians are coming June 1 1866 Irish-AmericansFenians celebrated their victory and planned their next move. And then they saw US gunboats in the Niagara River pointed at them. American and Canadian authorities picked them up and imprisoned them briefly.

“We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war. And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore. Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue. And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.”

Their marching song pretty much explains the Fenians. They had finished fighting in the Union Army just a year before. While the country tried to pick up the pieces after the devastation of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination, the Irish-Americans were looking at the troubles in the homeland they had been forced to leave. The US government knew the Fenian plan but ignored it until the last minute. Their action might provide leverage for US negotiations with Britain as well. Indeed, on June 6, Britain paid the US $15 million for war damages caused by its commerce with the Confederacy and the US enacted laws to stop acts of aggression from within its borders.

Fenian flag 1866 crwflags.com
Fenian Flag 1866

In Britain, they downplayed it because technically it was a British military loss to the Irish, the first in over 100 years. In Ireland, they celebrated it for the same reason. Fifty years later in Ireland, the name of the Fenian Brotherhood’s invading force was resurrected: the Irish Republican Army.

In Canada, the government downplayed the battle because it was a military loss with significant casualties. At the same time, they were debating confederation of the four provinces. That spring’s Fenian campaign of raids (in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario) convinced enough people that, individually, each was more vulnerable than if they united. In 1867 the vote was for Maple Leaf Forever sheet music coverConfederation. That same year, Alexander Muir, a veteran of Ridgeway wrote The Maple Leaf Forever, long an unofficial anthem.

The date of the battle was chosen in 1890 as Decoration Day, commemorating Canada’s war dead. That stood until 1931 when November 11th replaced it as Remembrance Day. The date and story of the Battle of Ridgeway faded into obscurity.

The Anger house, at the corner of Ridge and Bertie roads, holds its memories of that day. The shed that served as a field hospital still stands and the brickwork of the house is scarred by bullet holes.


Amazon link for Ridgeway by Peter VronskyFor more, see Peter Vronsky’s Ridgeway (left), or an introduction by him at fenians.org.  Other good accounts are:  

The American Legion’s Burnpit,

The Wild Geese Irish history site,


“Here comes that damned Green Flag again”,

Loyal Orange Lodge, and

“The Fenian Raids” by Capt. (N) (Ret’d) M. Braham, CD.

An excellent novel about the Fenians is The Roof Walkers by Keith Henderson (click title or image below left for Amazon). 

On eBay – Fenian Raids Battle of Ridgeway


Ford Branding

Rob Ford at Ford Nation t-shirt boothTobacco companies are probably heaving a huge sigh of relief.  As far as we know, no cigarettes were smoked by Mayor Rob Ford.  So they do not need to distance themselves and their brands from him. One of few industries spared.

Due to the mayor’s littering, Newfoundland’s Iceberg Vodka distillery released a statement decrying drinking and driving.  Ford Motor Company said its logo can’t be used on t-shirts made by his supporters.  CFL officials must have had kittens seeing him wearing a Toronto Argonauts jersey while making his infamous statements Thursday about whom he was going to sue and why.

shocked cat with text Rob Ford Eats What?And speaking of kittens, I wonder when a cat food company will distance themselves from him after all of his revelations on Thursday.

We made a point of watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report Thursday night.  This was way too good for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to pass up.  They and every other comedian could not believe he had actually said what he said.  In a nation grown accustomed to dirty little scandals like Anthony Weiner’s crotch ‘selfies’, Elliot Spitzer’s call-girls and a President’s hair-splitting denials of what exactly he dailyshow-14-Nov-13was doing with an intern, you would think nothing could shock American late night tv hosts.  So when the mayor of a Canadian city grosses them out, that’s an accomplishment of some sort.

I’m not a fan of Saturday Night Live, but I saw they plan to do something about him in their show this week.  You know we’ll be watching, along with the rest of Canada – except for maybe a few truly mortified Torontonians.

iceberg vodka-bottle-TO-police-picCongratulations, Mayor Ford, you have well and truly made Toronto a memorable city.  And provided hours of entertainment, both with your own words and the commentaries on them.  Thank you.  I haven’t enjoyed watching the news so much since President Clinton was Bad Billy.  Please don’t stop now!

A Nation’s Songs

Whatever one might think of the US of A, they got good anthems. Watching Monday’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Alicia Olatuja nydailynewsPresidential Inauguration, the high point for me was the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir giving it to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. What a song!  What voices!  (click to hear)

Wonderful as it is, the Battle Hymn of the Republic isn’t the only great song that Americans can sing at special events. And they all came out at President Obama’s Inauguration. James Taylor sang America the Beautiful and Kelly Clarkson gave a nice country twang to My Country tis of Thee. Beyoncé closed out the nation’s music with the official anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

Star-Spangled-Banner-1908-1919 Lib of Congress PDI especially like The Star-Spangled Banner because of the story behind it. As a Canadian, I feel a bit proprietorial about it. It came from an 1814 British Navy attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. The American forces won that battle and the tattered flag still proudly flew atop the fort. That sight prompted poet Francis Scott Key to write the words that, when set to music, became the national anthem. Despite winning that battle, the Americans lost the war. But they got a great anthem out of it.  Lemons and lemonade: the fabled American entrepreneurial spirit.

My Country tis of Thee was the de facto anthem prior to the official selection of The Star-Spangled Banner in 1931. It uses the same melody as the older God Save the King/Queen. America the Beautiful also was used as an anthem and efforts have continued through the years to make it the official anthem or at least an official national hymn. The arguments presented for it as national anthem are that, compared to The Star-Spangled Banner, its melodic arrangement is easier to sing and its sentiments are not evocative of war.

Anthem double meanings

Hartford circus fire 6 Jul 1944The official national march of the US is The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa. It is customarily played after the President gives a speech at a public event or ceremony. In circus and entertainment venues, it is called “the Disaster March” and is played only to signal to performers and personnel that there is a serious emergency.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic has its origins in the Civil War, on the Union side. But the tune was written a bit earlier, in 1856, being first used in a camp hymn called “Canaan’s Happy Shore” or “Brothers, Will You Meet Me?”. Early in the Civil War, Union soldiers used the tune as a marching song, with their own words. “John Brown’s body lies a’mouldering in the grave” was a bit of poking fun at one of their members named John Brown and the memory of the anthem sheet music Battle_Hymn_of_the_Republic_Lib of Congress abolitionist John Brown who was hung after an attack on the Armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

In November 1861 Julia Ward Howe put new words to the tune at the request of a friend, Rev. James Freeman Clarke. The Battle Hymn of the Republic as we know it was born. Indeed, the melody and the words do stir one to an overwhelming urge to march or at minimum stand to attention and salute. It has become perhaps the pre-eminent national hymn of the US. For the most part, its allegiance to one side of the Civil War is overlooked.

Powerful music all. And in the lyrics, melody or musical adaptation of each, a part of the history of the nation is told.

Reading History

Well-written and well-researched historical fiction gives the reader a two-fer:  a good story and a history lesson that you may have slept through during school.

Amazon link for The Boleyn Inheritance historical fiction
Click for Amazon

Recently, I’ve been living in the Tudor and Plantagenet eras courtesy of Philippa Gregory.  I started with the Boleyn sisters books, made into movies that I haven’t seen but I hope do justice to the books and their subjects.  I don’t know how it would be possible to make a bad movie out of the historical material itself and the treatment given the characters by Ms. Gregory.

Next I read the novels about the other characters in the Henry VIII saga:  The Constant Princess tells of his Amazon link for The Queen's Fool
first wife, Katherine of Aragon.   The Queen’s Fool tells of his childrens’ reigns, Edward, then Mary and ending with the ascension of Elizabeth.  The Other Queen is about Mary Queen of Scots in the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.  It is the only one that I kind of wanted to end.  I knew what happened to her:  she ended up “with ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath her arm” and, with the interminable plotting and moving about the countryside, I found myself thinking “please somebody, chop her head off and be done with it.”

Then I moved to The White Queen and The Red Queen, books about the predecessors of the Tudors, the Amazon link for The Lady of the Rivers by P GregoryPlantagenets and the War of the Roses.  There are two more books in this series, telling the stories of the mother of Edward IV’s Queen Elizabeth (The Lady of the Rivers) and the daughters of the Earl of Warwick (The Kingmaker’s Daughter).

You’ll notice a similarity in topic here – these are stories told from the woman’s point of view.  Even if you were the most dedicated history student, you may well have not been taught much about the queen consorts or dowager queens of England.  Ms. Gregory will fill in those gaps for you as well as bringing to life the monarchs they married or mothered.

A bibliography is always appended to Ms Gregory’s books.  I read it thoroughly and make a list of the books I want to Amazon link for The Other Boleyn Girl dvdfind.  She also writes a note explaining what is historical fact and what is speculation or fiction.  After finishing one of her novels, I always spend an evening googling the people and the era.  She makes me want to know more about them and what I find matches pretty well with what I’ve read in her books.

A while ago, I listened to a CBC radio interview with a writer about his novel set in the American West (sorry, can’t find the details online).  He said he doesn’t worry about historical accuracy because readers want a good story, not to learn about an era so he just creates his own world.  I guess that applies for some readers but not me.  If I’m going to invest my time reading an era-specific book, I want it to accurately tell me about that era and I want to know where Amazon link for The Last Templar by Michael Jecks
it deviates from history.  Philippa Gregory does that, as does Michael Jecks in his medieval England mysteries.  I would think that if you are going to research and travel in order to get the flavour of a historical era and the people living in it, as the writer I heard interviewed said he does, you might as well present your fictional story in a historically accurate setting.  As my father always said, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Recorded Campaigning

This election I don’t know who I’m going to vote for.  When the electioneering machine hand cutting phone connection on election callsstarted cranking up, so did the recorded messages.  You know, the taped messages that lazy and/or cheap telemarketers seem to like.  Saves them paying real people in India or Moncton to annoy householders at dinnertime.  This election, it seems to me, there’s been more of these recorded calls coming from candidates and pollsters.

“Hi, I’m blahblah for the blahblah party and I want your vote October 6th.”  Not bloody likely, I say to the recording and hang up.  I’ve waited through the spiel for the option to press a key to get taken off the calling list.  It isn’t there.  So I made a vow:  I will not vote for any party that phones me with a recorded message.  The Liberals were first out of the gate, no problem.  I wouldn’t vote for Dalton McGuinty if he came to my house and made my dinner.  Second was the Conservatives, a recording for Tim Hudak at 5:45 pm.  No danger I was going to vote Conservative anyway, but what are they thinking?  What are most people doing at that time?  Either making dinner or eating it.

So I thought it was clear sailing.  Whether because they don’t have sufficient resources or that they have the sense to know how alienating such calls are, I hadn’t had a recorded message from the NDP.  Hadn’t had any live NDP calls either.  Then, last Friday evening, 6:30, making dinner – phone rings.  “Hi, I’m Kathy Cornish … NDP candidate…”  No, it wasn’t really her.  I’d have talked to the real Kathy Cornish.  Wouldn’t have been thrilled with her timing, but was even less thrilled with it being a recording.

Telephone booth art installation by Mark Jenkins, photo wikicommons storker 2005The only actual human who has called campaigning was a lady on behalf of our Conservative candidate Jeff Yurek.  I told her I wouldn’t be voting for his party under any circumstances, but I appreciated having a real person doing the calling.  She said many people prefer the recorded calls.  I asked why and she said she didn’t know.  I cannot imagine.  Maybe easier to hang up on?

And pollsters – I don’t mind them usually.  They have a job to do and I’m usually willing to help them.  But not an automated one.  For pollsters and candidates alike, if you can’t be bothered actually having a human call me, I can’t believe my opinion or vote would have much sway with you.

So I’m voting with my phone.  Right now, the choices left to me in my riding are the Freedom Party or the Greens.  They are the only ones who have not bothered me with phone calls, either recorded or live.