Archive for August, 2010

Summer Diversions

Stratford Festival Report: The Winter’s Tale. Perfecto. Done in the style of Richard Monette, by which I mean that the story sings; the action convinces. You’ll be moved. You’ll laugh. You will be terrified. And your mouth will fall open in astonishment.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well. If you like Brel, you’ll love the show. If don’t like Brel, bet you still have a good time.

Kiss Me Kate, Evita. They’re heavily miked. At Stratford! I can’t believe it. I wore earplugs. I know the younger generation is going deaf. But do we oldsters have to suffer?

The Tempest. The famous speeches on utopian politics and government are delivered in garbled voices by actors facing upstage: very disappointing for the political scientist.

The clowns are not funny. Caliban is the traditional lizard with a foot on the evolutionary ladder going up. There’s a whole crew of the slithery creatures. Fine. The Ariel is something else. She looks like an escapee from the movie Toy Story. Square, blue in colour, tiny. Uncanny; you can’t keep your eyes off her. But does her strange appearance contribute to the play? Our party was of two minds.

Christopher Plummer as Prospero is superb.

Back Home. They’ve opened a soccer field for small children across the road. Everyone out of diapers is welcome and all have a great time, including the parents.

City police are forming a mounted patrol and our neighbourhood association wants home owners with a garden and shovel to do their part in cleaning up the “equine waste.” It’s purely voluntary, you understand. There are no regulations. Not yet.

We’re rereading Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. And doing the cryptic crosswords. “Hated for ill” mixes up to give the name, Adolph Hitler. I’ve said it before: who’s in charge of the English language? [The clue read: Dictator hated for ill treatment (5, 6).]

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Census Reprise

Why did the 2005 long-form ask whacky questions about housework? (In your household, how many hours each week did Person A spend cleaning house? What about Person B? How many hours did she or he put in?)

I can only suppose that someone – some group – was scouting around for data to support the idea of a publicly funded housewife’s allowance. Some feminists at the time harboured a picture of put-upon women slaving away at the dirty jobs in low-income households and getting mighty little in return. Some were in favour of sending such women a little help from government coffers; a monthly check perhaps.

The form was designed to elicit a comprehensive picture of household income. In the opinion of people I talked to at the time, the household-income questions were galling and time consuming.

Stats-Can gave you the option of authorizing census-takers to call up your  recent tax returns. I did not give the authorization. I did not fill out the questions on income.

Paying taxes is a citizen’s duty. It might even be called a citizen’s right, or privilege. Countries where the government lives on taxes, customs, and levies duly forwarded by the citizens under the law of the land are, without exception I think, free countries. Corruption is at a minimum. The populace retains the right to query the amounts levied, and the purposes for which the levy was made.

Countries where the government depends, if only in part, on monies dealt out by international organizations, charities, etc, are less free and more prone to corruption.

Revealing your financial soul to Revenue Canada is one thing. Stripping down for Stats Can: that’s another matter.

Canadian Traits

I’m completing an e-interview.

First question: “What do the words Canada and Canadian mean to you?”

I type: “Canada has been my home for seventy-five years. I love it.” Then recalling my scholarly obligations, I add: “Canada is a federation governed by liberal democratic institutions.”

I’ve neglected to say anything about the word “Canadian.” But I get a chance with the next question: “Are there uniquely Canadian traits and/or contributions to the world?”

Canadian traits. That’s difficult.

I think about “contributions.” Basketball? Farley Mowat? The Canadarm? I write: “We have one of the world’s oldest political constitutions. Ours is the first constitution to combine British parliamentary institutions with a version of the federalism invented by the U.S. I can’t say with confidence that recent regimes have copied the Canadian formula directly; it might be better simply to note that many free nations have found their way to it.”

Next. “What are you most proud of, and most embarrassed about, respectively, as a Canadian? Please explain why in each instance. Feel free to offer people as examples of those who make you feel either way, i.e., people who embody the best or worst the country has to offer.” (“Please explain.” Do you remember how your stomach used to cramp when you came across that phrase on exams?)

It’s time to come out with the flag flying. I write: “I am not embarrassed about any aspect of Canadian history or culture. There have been regrettable incidents, but comparatively few. (Nothing humans do or make is without flaw.) Confederation did not begin in war. We have had riots and violent police actions, but only some. We have not experienced a civil war. Relations with the conquered province of Quebec have been strained at times and the possibility remains that Quebec will someday leave Canada to build a separate, allied nation. There will never be a war between Canada and Quebec. Most political leaders in Quebec from early days embraced the British constitutional tradition. Some of our best constitutionalists are from that province. Last year the City of Quebec celebrated its 400th anniversary – four hundred years as a French-speaking city on the North America continent! We win our wars. Our forces served with extraordinary distinction in the World Wars. People from every continent come here to make a life for themselves and their children. People who once waged war on Canada (Germans, for example, and Americans) have made a good life here.”

I add: “There are women and men of distinction in our history, but I cannot say that our celebrated Canadians exemplify the “best the country as to offer” in a cultural sense. Canada is defined not by its culture, or by the traits of its citizens, but by its laws and political institutions.”

Done. I press send.

Immediately, there’s a cool breeze from the West. A message from Barry Cooper in Calgary? Oh heck! I’ve made the classic Easterner’s mistake. I’ve spoken of Canada as if the defining characteristics of our political life were established before the West was settled.