Archive for November, 2010

How to Kill a Candian Chatline

I used to tune in to the Internet chatline associated with Inroads, the “Canadian Journal of Opinion.” You could be sure of informed discussion about electoral politics, the influence of political culture on the development of public policy, hopes for the socialist future, etc. Among the contributors were Henry Milner, Reg Whitaker, Bob Chodos, Garth Stevenson, Jan Narveson, Rob Leone, John Furedy, Phillip Resnick.

It was reliably Canadian, reliably well written, academic in the best sense.

Then Middle Eastern questions intruded. And soon dominated the agenda. Participants began to drop out. I’ve heard nothing of substance from the chatline for weeks, months.

Andre Payant, who writes as La Grenouille Qui Rit, is struggling to renew discussions. Here’s his recent contribution: “The creation of Israel as we know it today will prove to have been the twentieth century’s gravest mistake. It continues to blackmail the US to be an enthusiastic and proactive partner to its criminal activities in the Middle East and by its actions manages to rouse Muslim extremists the world over to a vengeful fury.”

Looks to me like another nail in the coffin.

I used to tune in to my university faculty chatline, MUFAGAB. We talked about use of computers in the classroom, administrator’s salaries, the trials and tribulations of fine arts programs, teaching techniques.

Then Middle Eastern questions intruded. And after a time, just as with the Inroads line, participants began to drop out.

In an effort to save a venue for discussion of university affairs, we split MUFAGAB. On Line One we would continue our old, more or less friendly and always informative talks about teaching and administration.

On Line Two, and only on Line Two, we’d address contentious issues in the international arena, which is to say, the Middle East.

Middle East discussants rebelled. They argued with some cogency that freedom of speech is central to university affairs. They considered it perfectly appropriate to discuss on Line One, the original MUFAGAB, whether to invite to campus out-spoken journalists on the Middle East, and to offer in support of their opinions comprehensive and copious analyses of Middle Eastern affairs.

Now things are getting nasty. Our moderator Neil McLaughlin, who supervises both lines, has developed an “official” ignore/delete list. Here’s a recent communication:

“Norm [Rosenblood] is now officially on my ignore delete list. He has written me a number of nasty off-line notes, to the point where I have asked him several times to stop writing me off line. My views on Galloway (don’t agree with him politically but don’t think he, or Melanie Phillips, should be excluded from Canada) are  fairly clear to anyone who can read with basic intellectual honesty. Norm’s appalling distortion …

And so another academic chatline implodes.

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Mr. Harper’s Speech to the Parliamentarians

What struck me about Stephen Harper’s speech yesterday to the International Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism is the absence of rhetoric.

It lacks the high rhetoric style. It doesn’t sound like Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Barak Obama. It doesn’t sound like Winston Churchill. He doesn’t present himself as an exceptional person, someone privy to special knowledge.

He said: “It is freedom that makes us human. Whether it leads to heroism or depravity depends on how we use it. Let us not forget that even in the darkest hours of the Holocaust, men were free to choose good. And some did. That is the eternal witness of the Righteous Among the Nations.”

He describes exactly the temptation that we have all experienced, that we are all experiencing: “I know… the easy thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of “honest broker.”

Mr. Harper experienced the temptation at gatherings of world leaders, and at the United Nations. I’ve experienced it in debates on the Internet, in social gatherings. A quiet voice whispers: “don’t respond; save yourself; don’t get involved.”

I am reading excerpts from Mr. Harper’s speech that are circulating on the Internet. I am in tears.

John Ralston Saul: “Out of Empire’s Control”

Have I enjoyed John Ralston Saul’s new book? (Ralston Saul, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2010).

Yes! It’s a delight to read and at its core is a tough, and persuasive argument. The contention in brief is that the victory for responsible government in the British North American colonies made of each one an independent country. I believe it.

Here’s Saul (pages 170-171):

“What made the date, March 11, 1848, so extraordinary was that the British Empire was then the greatest force in the world, stronger than the United States has ever been. The British had a military, economic and political capacity to enforce their rules that we can no longer imagine. What’s more they repeatedly did enforce them. And combined with a handful of other empires, they had an interlocking global system that one way or another controlled every continent and was far more organized than anything that exists today. Yet LaFontaine, Baldwin and Howe, carrying their movements with them, had somehow succeeded in talking their way – our way – out of the empire’s control system and into a new democratic model …

“What was being attempted in Canada and Nova Scotia in early 1848 was not a matter of colonial catch-up. La Fontaine and Baldwin … were leading us almost first out of the modern democracy gate.”

I know Saul’s right because I’ve poured over the speeches of colonial legislators on the proposal to federate. At Confederation the question was this: would union impair the rights and freedoms to which the British North American provinces had become accustomed after their struggle for responsible government?

Here’s John Locke (not the John Locke, of course) in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, 16 April, 1866: “after obtaining responsible government we have become so free that we require nothing more in the way of independence.”

Locke is one of dozens; the sentiment is echoed in every province.

Here’s Newfoundland’s George Hogsett: “They had fought for responsible government, which meant self-government, and is it because they found a little difficulty in working it out and looked more after their own interests than after those of the country [that] that institution, which was the boast of every British subject, and which made the British people what they are, was to be given up and handed over to the Canadians? It may be that the country had not derived such great advantage from responsible government as was expected, but would any intelligent man be content to give it up and go back to the days of that government which was responsible only to imperial authorities? There was no nation nor no race of men without its difficulties but were they on that account to take their hats in their hands and go and beg of any other country to take them under their protection? (Newfoundland, House of Assembly, February 23, 1689)