Death of an Everybody Man

Posted November 13, 2016 on 3:02 pm | In the category Canada | by Mackenzie Brothers

It has been an awful week for Canadians. On the day before their US neighbours made a mysterious and potentially threatening choice of a leader, Leonard Cohen died in Los Angeles, and on the next day, as he had requested, a plane flew the body of the crown jewel of post-war literature and song, back to his home city of Montréal, and on the day after that he was buried there in the family plot after a private traditional Jewish ceremony.  It was almost twenty years ago that the best German writer of his generation, the very cerebral Durs Grünbein, told me that he really only knew only knew of one Canadian writer, Leonard Cohen, as he had become  the splendid troubadour of the post-war world.  At that time Cohen had  written two novels, one of which received Canada’s highest literary honour, and about ten books of poetry, all of which contained some poems   that had become as well known as any lyrics  written by anybody else in this period. What set him apart from other writers was that he had set a number of his published poems to music, and had made a very successful career singing them. Space here is far too limited  to begin listing the several dozen of these songs which have become part of the repertoire of the twenty-first century’s gathered memory. No other author comes close to matching them.

But the most extraordinary part of Cohen’s career was still to come. Instead of moving at seventy into a well-endowed retirement, he began  anew his travels around the world as a true troubadour would do, presenting these and many newly-conceived poem-songs in  almost 400 concerts over six years, most of them sold out, while expanding the themes of his new songs into a celebration of the broadness of life’s possibilities and the inevitability of the ending of it all.  And he  had widened their scope by  powerfully adding  a foundation of spiritual satisfaction with the whole process that had been missing in his earlier years. And what a group of songs they were (according to his son Adam he was writing on the day he died), culminating in several new disks that were as unexpected as they were triumphant. His last one , “You want it darker” begins with a title song accompanied by the choir from his childhood synagogue in Montreal, and with a Hebrew solo by its cantor. It appeared a couple of weeks before Cohen’s death.  When you look carefully at the full implications of his extraordinary poems about Auschwitz, Hitler and the fate of Jews including his family and that of his Montréal friend, the Rumanian-born Canadian poet Irving Layton,  for whom he served as pallbearer, we can certainly add Leonard Cohen’s name to the small list of the foremost Jewish writers of the post-war period. In the end he completed the circle,  returning in full force to his beginnings in the Jewish section of  Montréal.  Cohen begins Harry Rasky’s film, “The Song of Leonard Cohen”, the best  presentation of his life, by singing  in French the wonderful French-Canadian song “Un Canadién errant”  (“A wandering Canadian”) and admitting on questioning that he feels it pretty much also applies to him.  May the force be with  him.

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Now you CETA, now you don’t

Posted October 14, 2016 on 5:57 pm | In the category Canada, Europe, Germany, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Picture this scene. You are sitting in the splendid bier garden in front of the splendid Jagdschloss on Rotkreuzplatz in splendid Munich on a splendid June afternoon, minding your own business while meditating on the Augustiner situated in front of you, when someone comes along and staples a poster on one of the trees affording you shade. Oh no, the political junkies have dared to come into an area off limits to them. One of the Lederhosen or Dindl servers will soon remove this poster but what is it all about? Why, it says STOPP CETA!
What is that? Never heard of it. Read on and you find out it is the proposed Canada-European Free Trade Pact. They never pay any attention here to Canada, unless the hockey team is pummelling the German one, so what do they care about a free trade pact? As it turns out, by mid-October this is the headline event in the papers. On October 27 Prime Minister Trudeau, his photo once again prominently displayed (Journalists just eat up his good looks and youth on a continent where politics is dominated by unappealing old men – Merkel is an exception but not on the youth side), is supposed to sign the CETA agreement, already approved by the EU representatives. But now that the UK has bizarrely left (or so it seems) the European club, the fractures in the among unity of the rest of Europe are becoming more and more evident.
It turns out that CETA, and any foreign agreement approved by the EU must after that be approved by the parliaments of each country. BREXIT has changed the rules on this.  If the Brits can just take their ball and go home, so can anybody else on the supposed team. And anybody else includes some real wild cards these days; Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, even Denmark and the Nethelands, have very different views about immigration and globalization, for instance, than do Germany and Sweden.
But experts are willing to bet that all of these countries will sign the document when it is on the table in Brussels on October 27.After all, as has been pointed out by many leaders, if you can’t make a free-trade deal with Canada, the non-European land that is closest in its laws and general views to those of Europe, who could they make a deal with?
But they had all forgotten Belgium, the least governable country in the EU. It turns out, as they now all know, that the Belgian constitution says that each of the three main parts of Belgium – the French-speaking Walloons in the south, multilingual Brusselians in the centre and the Dutch-speaking Flems of the north – must agree unanimously or the government in Brussels cannot give Belgian approval. And now it is the Walloons who seem to be leaning to saying no, thus scuttling the whole deal, which took 7 years of negotiate. No doubt they we will be facing tremendous pressure in the next two weeks – the French President is there as we speak – but it may be that this CETA Non-Pact will signal the end of a functioning united Europe – and of the Euro, if it does not get signed on that table on October 27.

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Merkel, Clinton and Trump

Posted October 12, 2016 on 7:54 pm | In the category Africa, Canada, Germany, Merkel | by Mackenzie Brothers

On October 9, 2008 the day of the second US presidential (so-called) debate in Missouri, Angela Merkel was in Mali, making the very difficult trip to a country torn in half by east/west political and religious disputes that have turned it into a battleground for a brutal civil war. It is clearly one of the most dangerous parts of Africa or for that matter anywhere, and it is widely expected that Canada will soon send special forces troops to join the French contingent there in attempting to help restore order to a battered land, once better known for its splendid music.  And that seems to be the only reason that Kanzlerin Merkel was also there.

It was exactly sixteen years earlier to the day that Angela Merkel  became the Kanzlerin of the recently reunited Federal Republic of Germany. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor in the old East German Peoples Republic, she was relatively young and not very experienced at  50, and it’s  fair to say, in retrospect, that no-one imagined at the time  that she was potentially  a long-term Powerfrau in the tricky world of German politics, and that within a decade she would enjoy a reputation  as  the most powerful and respected government leader  anywhere nor that  she would soon become the most honoured politician in the world.  But in the sixteen years during which she became the longest-ruling leader on a floundering continent where, after a catastrophic war that had ended little more than a half-century before her inauguration,  Germany has under her leadership become the uncontested economic and arguably even moral centre of Europe.
And yet there she was on a day when she could have enjoyed a bright spotlight in Berlin, offering help to a country in great need of it, far from home and very far from a place that could bring her political gains.  At home in this last year she has made decisions declaring  Germany’s willingness to accept  virtually all refugees (almost a million at this point) from a  terrible war zone, and that has cost her some popularity.  But she still says “Wir schaffen es” (“We’ll make it work”) and  she still enjoys the support of more than 50% of the German population.  Most experts believe her party will win the upcoming German election if she decides to run again.

Hard to imagine that on that same day, the two candidates running for Head of State of the United States, still the most powerful military presence in the world, could put on such an embarrassing and demeaning piece of sordid entertainment as the so-called debate.  One can forgive the female candidate, Hillary Clinton, for gradually starting  to look like a smiling robot, since that must have been  because the overwhelming thuggery of her opponent Mr. Trump, often lurking threateningly just behind her,  was something she could not have been prepared for.  But what does it say about the political system that allowed such a spectacle to take place after it slowly simmered into a boil in the course of more than a year?  My advice for Mme Clinton is to take a break after she wins (which she will) and go over to Berlin and have a long talk with  the woman who  has walked the walk rather than just talk the talk.

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America or is it North America the Beautiful?

Posted February 17, 2016 on 3:21 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Well, let’s see now. First there were several Republican candidates in the United States of America’s primary drama, led by the indomitable Donald Trump, who suggested that it would be a bright idea to build a Berlin-type wall along the US border. It seemed likely at the time that they had meant the border to Mexico, and perhaps forgotten or did not know that there was also a border in the north with Canada. When it was pointed out that that wall would present mighty challenges in the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia  and  Yukon, not to mention Newfoundland, ST. Pierre and Miquelon, some reconsidered after looking at a map. But some candidates stuck to their guns.

As more information about these candidates dribbles out, Canadians became more and more interested in the proposal for a wall, not because it would keep terrorists from travelling south, but rather because it might hinder  unwanted aliens from travelling north. As it turned out, one of the leading lights, Ted Cruz, was actually born and bred in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with a Cuban father and an Amurcan mother, and was a Canadian citizen when he announced  his candidacy for President of the United States. . Hmm. Now, the third in the trio of favourites, Marco Rubio, has begun showing an ad for his candidacy on tv in his new series “Morning in America” that makes you wonder just what he means when he uses the word “America”. Does he mean the United States or does he mean all of North America, perhaps excluding Mexico? Who knows?

What most who see this ad will know  is that the scene he opens with is not in the United States. It shows a tugboat sailing out of a very dynamic-looking harbour, obviously recognizable as Vancouver harbour to lots of folks, but for anyone who isn’t familiar with the  scene, there is a Canadian flag flying on the tug just to make it clear. Doesn’t Rubio or his advisors know that on the other side of that northern wall there is an independent country with a different flag than his, which does not call itself America, and that what his ad shows is “Morning in Canada” as the most spectacular and busy harbour city on the west coast of North America  comes to life? Anyhow Ted Cruz is probably thanking the unpredictable primary gods for this intervention in the Canadian irritation in the Republican primary. But Canadians are just wondering what the hell is going on.

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Another Tale of Two Cities

Posted January 21, 2016 on 12:17 am | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

So the statistics are now in for homicides in North American cities in 2015.  Here are a couple for readers to consider.

Baltimore, a US city  has a population of 622,000.

Vancouver, a Canadian city, has a population of 603,500.

Baltimore, in a country which seems to have become ever more enamoured of guns in the last decade , including public display of them, had 344 homicides in 2016, the great majority delivered by such guns.

Vancouver, in a country whose laws aim at strict control of firearms, had 14 homicides last year.  The police reported that  they were disappointed because they like to see homicide numbers in single digits, as it usually has been  in the last years.

Nuff said.

 

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A Tale of Two Countries

Posted November 27, 2015 on 3:23 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that his election pledge to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2015 will have to be altered with a new deadline of March 1, 2016 in order to provide sufficient security checks and to deal with transportation and housing issues.  10,000 refugees will arrive by January 1, 25,000 by March 1 and 35,000 by the end of 2016.  The refugees will be restricted to families, single women and children.  All the premiers of all the provinces and the two northern territories have agreed to this and there has been virtually no opposition.  On the contrary.  Housing will be located on military bases and other available sites, and no one will be settled in tents.

The United States has pledged to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016. However, according to CNN, the governors of 31 US states have announced that Syrian refugees will not  be welcome in their states, including President Obama’s home state of Illinois, and  Canadian  border states Michigan, New Hampshire  and Maine.  Dylan was right.  The times they are really achanging.

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Trudeau hits the ground running

Posted November 6, 2015 on 12:54 am | In the category Canada, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now comes the hard part for young Justin Trudeau. Canada seems to be breathing an audible sigh of relief today as he presented the new cabinet of the Justin Trudeau regime. Young Trudeau  sports a Haida tattoo on his shoulder, which seems to have been accepted by the First Nations peoples (that’s what Canadians now call the people they used to call Indians, a word somewhat taboo in Canada now) because his father was adopted into the tribe.  And Justin just appointed an aboriginal woman as Attorney General who has been both a crown prosecutor and the  top chief of British Columbia First Nations for relations with Ottawa. This move on its own is certain to dramatically alter the increasingly poor relations between indigenous peoples and Ottawa under the last regime. In this case you could almost hear the thunderous applause of First Nations members from coast to coast, as they can finally see that their legitimate concerns with the law would now be judged by one of their own.  Trudeau  named 15 men and 15 women to his cabinet, fulfilling a promise of gender equality that he made at a time when no one thought he would win. (In the Obama government women make up 25% of the cabinet).  He  included 3 First Nations people, 3 East Indians, two of them turbaned Sikhs highlighted by the new Minister of Defence, a former soldier and policeman who looks like a very tough guy, 1 Afghani=born refugee and 1 Inuit.

When asked why he has constructed such a cabinet, Justin simply answered, “because it’s 2015” which also seems like a good way to start trying to deal with the uncomfortable current world scenario. The whole country seems to be breathing a sigh of relief. One of the almost periphery things that this election did was to reverse the growing two solitudes between Quebec and ROC as there is now a completely bilingual prime minister, a very French, very intelligent and very experienced foreign minister, Stephane Dion, and several high-level cabinet ministers who took the oath first in French. The separatist movement for an independent Quebec, which almost won a referendum 20 years ago, has very probably been laid to rest for good with the Trudeau win.

One thing that seems clear is that the relationship between the US and its largest trading partner, Canada, has been very poor during the Obama years. Some say it may well be that Obama simply didn’t like Harper, but that surely can’t explain why the President spent almost no time in his neighbouring country, in any case much less than any of his recent predecessors. Journalists reckon it was a total of seven hours, most of them at international meetings held in Canada. And it surely didn’t help that Obama appointed a Chicago fundraiser for the Democrats to be the Ambassador and he made himself so unwelcome playing the role of the ugly American that he did not have access to members of the cabinet, never mind the Prime Minister, during his term.

Justin is already being warned to try avoid the fate of Obama, who came to power at about the same age but somehow never figured out how to use it well. The US seems to have such a chaotic legislature nowadays, almost a defunct political system, that poor Obama may have had no chance. But there are many who think he’ll go down as something of a disappointment no matter what happens now.  There is good reason to hope that Justin will do better, if only because he will not have to deal with a strange and defiant opposition determined to make his plans unworkable. There are also many who would argue that it is unfair to blame the current dramatic decline of the US position in global affairs on Obama alone but to rather put the most blame on the elected legislature that worked so hard to block all his laudatory efforts. But what should we then conclude about the country that elected the legislature that seems to have become almost unmanageable at a time when Canada seems to be finding its way again through an election. Surely it would be a good idea for these two young leaders to have some friendly talks together, and try to get North America working together again instead of continually at odds, as has been the case with its two biggest countries over the last decade.

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A Home Run from Justin Trudeau

Posted October 22, 2015 on 11:17 pm | In the category Canada, Politics | by Mackenzie Brothers

Why it seems just yesterday that Canada’s premier Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century, Pierre Trudeau,  managed to produce two sons on different Christmas Days and the country watched the first of them, Justin, turn into an adventurous young man (just like his Dad) who would travel widely, live for quite awhile in beautiful Vancouver, where he taught English and theatre at a local school, and enter politics as an MP from a francophone riding in Montréal.  He certainly went far beyond what was expected of him in  his first campaign as the leader of the Liberal Party, which in the last decade has been declared dead in the water by many political experts, as it slipped into third place in the last election, and seemed to be following middle-of the r0ad liberal parties in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia  and elsewhere into oblivion, squeezed out in the face of competition between right wing and left wing parties with more profiled platforms.  In the last election, Michael Ignatieff, surely the most prominent intellectual running for headhonchoship of a country lately proved completely incapable of putting his  ideas across to the general public, and the Liberal Party was reduced in Quebec to a small rump representation in anglophone parts of Montreal and in British Columbia to two Vancouver ridings.  Times were tough.

Enter Justin, who, as it turned out, at the very least has a way with a crowd that hasn’t been seen in Canada since the days of Pierre, although some would suggest that Brian Mulroney, who was asked by Nancy Reagan to give the eulogy for Ronald (imagine that these days when the President of the United States has spent 7 hours in 7 years in his neighbouring largest trading partner. This time the Liberals sent a young man with a big old name out into the ring.  He was mocked and branded by the ruling Conservatives as a lightweight who should try again in a decade or two.  When he responded by challenging the largest Conservative politician in Ottawa, an aboriginal Senator, to a boxing match, he was warned to not risk his body on such a dangerous mission and then promptly knocked the Senator out in the first round.  When the Conservatives cleverly said that they’d consider him to have overachieved if he showed up at the first national debate in long pants, he kept his short pants on long enough  to lead a bevy of reporters up the classic Grouse Grind mountain challenge in Vancouver, leaving almost all of them gasping for breath in his wake.  Youth and athleticism does, as it turns out, have its charms.  In the debate, he proved to be at least the equal of his two perfectly intelligent rivals, one from the right and one from the left.  In short he had the opportunity to display in the longest campaign in Canadian history (8 weeks!, as Amurcans might note as they suffer through the torture of 2 year-long campaigns)  that he not only had the physical stamina of his father, who could throw a canoe up on his shoulders and paddle through whitewater rapids in his sixties.  He also seemed to have   at least a reasonable percentage of the brain power of Dad.  The jury is still out on this, but many have pointed out that  Papa  had the smarts to fill his cabinet with the best experts in the most important areas of national concern, something which  the outgoing Prime Minister failed to do in spades.   In his first conversation with Obama, Trudeau informed Obama  that Canada would recall its fighter jets from the US-led mission in Iraq and Syria, so he is listening to a different drummer than the outgoing regime was.

So the next months will be very interesting as the second-largest  country in the world is fronted by a young very attractive leader who will at the very least put a new tone on relations with his own people and other heads of state, and Canadians are hoping that that new tone will distinguish Canada’s return to its long-held former position as a reliable, independent, tolerant and sensible middle power.

 

 

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Security bordering on oppressive

Posted May 29, 2015 on 2:58 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Congratulations to the Boston Globe for publishing an article with the above title that underlines a festering problem which has only begun festering more in the 6 years of the Obama regime. It is yet another disappointment for those who thought Obama would bring in a fresh breeze after the Bush years, which is when the border problem began festering. But Bush did have a desperate security problem on his hands after 9/11 and clamping down on border crossing was a reasonable, if apparently, temporary, step. Instead as The Globe put it:
“Since the 9/11 jihadist attacks, the 5,525-mile-long border between Canada and the United States has been transformed from the world’s friendliest to a high security zone marked by fortified crossing points, thermal “body detectors,’’ swiveling surveillance cameras, and the occasional low-skimming Blackhawk helicopter or spy drone.”
Anyone who got stuck in the four-hour long waits at the US/ Canada crossing at the so-called Peace Arch on the Victoria Day long weekend was surely asking why and how this could happen in a century in which no such border checks interrupt the flow of economic, regular and tourist traffic in all of western and central Europe. You can drive from the UK to the Ukrainian border without encountering a single checkpoint but if you drive from Vancouver to Seattle you could well be stopped after 40 minutes for four hours by a checkpoint which costs many millions of dollars in economic terms and more than that in lost friendliness, while serving no real purpose. What is now called the mexicanization of the Canadian border will be a legacy of the Obama years. Let’s hope someone now comes in to put an end to the increasingly hostile border, before it’s too late, and grounds the drone planes which continue to spot no terrorists but many moose crossing a border in the wilderness.

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At last, now let the real season begin

Posted April 12, 2015 on 3:20 pm | In the category Canada, Sports, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

It’s been a long dry spell for sports – a Marx Borthers so-called Super Bowl, a good Grey Cup after a Marx Brothers season, overhyped US semi-pro (i.e.)  college football and basketball tournaments, and now the US tv moguls  are trying to add semi-pro hockey of all things, of zero interest in real hockeyland, no soccer of note except when the Faroe Islands beat Greece in the European Championship prelims, baseball struggling almost pitifully  with  drug abuse, and with  a potential  summer race of interest a long way off,  And all the while an overly long regular season NH L hockey agenda , half to it played in southern or near southern US cities with little or no interest in ice, and then – poof – suddenly the premier playoff schedule blazes forth  in today’s papers.  The real season of hockey begins – and finally a playoff scenario for the next 6 weeks is in store  that will be terrific..  This time lady luck played its hand beautifully in forming the schedule.

Some of the usual suspects are present:New York Rangers have won the President’s Cup as the league champions, and their former world’s best goalie is just coming back from a lengthy injury (watch out!), the Detroit Red Wings, after a scare, are right in the middle of things, where they always show up at a  minimum, and they are always welcome.  They may be a bit old, but they have tons of skill and some young studs are working there way in nicely with the big boys (watch out!).  Ditto for Chicago.  The Pittsburgh Penguins, should by all rights be out of the playoffs, after a complete collapse,  but just managed to stagger in  as the last team on the last day, despite the fact that they think they have the best star players in existence – they’re wrong and will make a quick exit.  The untalented but ruffian Boston Bruins are out and deservedly so – too old, too tired, too unskilled.   And the incomprehensibly incompetent Toronto Maple Leafs outdid even their own seemingly endless disappointing seasons with  a total turkey.  Their supposed big scorer scored one goal after new year. Most of the rest of the country began  to feel sorry for them.  But not very.  What is with that city?  Maybe the endless snow got to them.

But look who is in and how they got there.  Mordecai Richler can look down from above with delight on  his beloved hometown Montréal Canadiéns .  With the current best goalie on earth, an inherently modest  First Nations chap from the splendid wilds of the Chilcotin plateau of  British Columbia, and with  plenty of help from a sassy Torontonian, of all things, this team has brought real excitement to the wonderful city where hockey really  counts (watch out!!).   And  Vancouver, destroyed last year by self-destructive coaching, replied this year with a minor-league coach with major league talent, and a return to game-changing form by their superlative Swedish twins (watch out!!!). And this time no less than five Canadian teams are in the playoffs who will  all be chomping at the bit, the last three after breathtaking final runs – none more than the Ottawa Senators who thumped Boston  out of contention behind a supposedly mediocre minor-league  has-been (or never was) goalie who was an injury call-up and  then won 19 of the last 22 games.  No matter what now happens, this team will be the sentimental favourite, but they shouldn’t be able to get past Montreal in the first round this year, though the do have the best defenceman in existence and home team support will be tremendous, but it also will be down the road.  It is in any case easy to predict that this will be a great opening round series.  Winnipeg hasn’t played a playoff game since 1996, so their new  arena  will be hopping, and their bigness and toughness may give Anaheim more trouble than they should expect from the eighth place team.  And Calgary was picked for last by most pre-season experts, and came through in the end in  hair-raising fashion game after game with a bunch of young guys who will make them a real contender in the future. The start against arch -rival Vancouver, and that too will be a sizzling series.  Prediction, Vancouver vs Montreal in the final.  Anybody’s series then, but the weather will be nicer in Vancouver.    Bring it on!!!

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