In Praise of Prose

Posted September 5, 2010 on 11:16 pm | In the category Canada, Germany, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Here are four antidotes to the endless announcements of the death of books and reading. These are prose works written in the last couple of years in four different languages that can hold their own in any discussion of reading material that will keep you glued to the written page.

1: Per Petterson (Norway) – “Kjøllvannet” – In English “In the Wake”. Following up “Out Stealing Horses” with an equally convincing meditation on the power of memory and the importance of appreciating the potential of life before “the axe blow from within”, to quote one of his favourite authors Tomas Tranströmer, strikes home. The narrator talks about the grand perception of memory in another of his favourites, Alice Munro, and his two latest novels show that he has learned from the masters.

2. Daniel Kehlmann (Germany) “Die Vermessung der Welt” – in English, “Measuring the World”.
In his hugely successful novel about genius, Kehlmann juxtaposes the lives and adventures of two German geniuses who met in older age. One, Alexander von Humboldt, let his genius unfold through great exploratory journeys to the ends of the world; the other, Johann Gauss, explored the wonders of mathematics from a solitary room. Kehlmann’s work is also surprisingly funny.

3. Sofi Oksanen (Finland/Estonia) “Puhdistus” in English “Purge”
Oksanen takes on nothing less than the epic of the small Baltic state of Estonia from the Nazi occupation through the Soviet counter-attack and takeover followed by the establishment of an independent state after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the current situation. In a stunning display of narrative control, Oksanen delivers a grand epic through the fates of individuals. Written in Finnish, it may well become the national epic of linguistically-related Estonia.

4. John Vaillant (Canada) “The Tiger”.
Vaillant’s just-published epic of the Russian Far East as seen through the eyes of the last wild tigers in the world and the people who live with them talks the talk and walks the walk. On its way to a climax that will knock your socks off, it tells the extraordinary tale of a world that hasn’t changed much in the last century and whose inhabitants still live in awe and on occasion deadly fear of the tremendously powerful animal who wanders through their mutually-shared taiga.

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Wake up and smell the smoke

Posted August 9, 2010 on 2:37 am | In the category Germany, Global Warming, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

Not all of Russia is burning . It is way too big. But a lot of it is and that part is in Europe. It’s been 40 degrees in Moscow on many days for longer than seems possible and it’s been 35-37 degrees in Central Europe for weeks at a time. It turns out the German Bundesbahn is programmed to provide air conditioning in its fast (and expensive) CE trains when the temperature outside reaches 32 degrees, but to stop providing it when it reaches 35, which was assumed to be the maximum possible. The result was that hundreds of passengers were left boiling in superheated trains in the last weeks in which you could not open the windows, and some had to be flagged down before the situation of the passengers became critical. Even Stockholm was hot though few Swedes complained as they enjoyed their water-surrounded vacation spots more than usual.

But the tremendous storms that pushed regularly through Bavaria at dusk this summer never made it to eastern Europe and the question hanging in the air is if we are indeed seeing the future of a different Europe with drought, wild fires, suffocating smog and dangerous heat replacing the relatively moderate Central and Eastern European summers of the past. If that is the case – and lots of researchers think it is – it is simply incredible that the main polluters of the word – Canada, the U.S. China,India etc – are ignoring the problem and still building their energy futures on fossil fuels. The Obama government has stuck its head in the sand, the Harper government has the second largest oil reserves in the word and plans to use it despite the tremendous resources needed to transform it into fuel, and the cities of China and India already live in a permanently toxic soup. Only the European middle powers are making some real efforts at alternate energy sources – Germany, the Netherlands, Spain – but they don’t have a chance if the leaders of the big polluters don’t wake up and smell the smog before it’s too late.

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Ukraine looks towards Russia

Posted February 8, 2010 on 2:47 pm | In the category Europe, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

Viktor Yanukovich has apparently won the runoff election for president of Ukraine, thus tilting the European political map back towards the east, only 20 years after the events which seemed to be pushing it inexorably towards western Europe. Now the European Union, which was adamant in not considering Ukraine for membership, wallows in discontent as several members lurch towards bankruptcy – Greece, Portugal and perhaps even Spain leading the pack -and some others flirt very frivolously with the far right – Hungary in the lead. Meanwhile back in Brussels a completely no-name EU leadership predictably can’t lead as the real western european powers retreat behind traditional national fortresses.
Now one of the largest European countries has chosen to forget how much it once resented being called “Little Russia” and voted for a leader who represents the one-third Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine – he delivered his victory speech in Russian- and managed to win over ca. 20% of the Ukrainian-speaking western Ukrainians, tired of the complete failure of the leaders of the so-called Orange Revolution, though it is still unclear how man western Ukrainians just decided not to vote, having seen enough of so-called democracy. In any case it is clearly a great triumph for Putin’s increasingly powerful Russia, which already has a large ally in Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus, and a warning to western europe to get its ship in shape or risk losing much of the territory it thought it had gained in 1990.

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The Russians are flying, are the Russians thinking of landing?

Posted March 1, 2009 on 2:58 am | In the category Canada, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

On Feb. 18, the day before President Obama’s visit to Ottawa last week, two Russian Tupalov bombers entered a zone of international airspace over the Canadian Arctic that is in the NORAD air defence identification zone under Canadian control and penetrated to the very edge of Canadian air space itself. Canadian fighter jets were sent from Cold Lake in northern Alberta to intercept them and when they did so over Canadian Arctic islands, the Russians retreated. Prime Minister Harper denounced this incident as an encroachment on Canadian territory, a serious charge considering the visit of President Obama, and denounced “aggressive Russian actions around the globe and Russian intrusions into our air space.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay indicated that he felt it could not be a coincidence that this happened as Obama was preparing to visit. And the question remains, just why are the Russians returning to tactics not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union? About the only thing they could really accomplish by forcing the Canadians to confront them militarily in the Arctic would be to bring the Canadian and US military commands into closer co-operation than would have been conceivable during the Bush years, something that many think is a necessity if the North American Arctic is considered to have become vulnerable to intrusions from its north.

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The chickens come home to roost in Georgia

Posted August 22, 2008 on 1:57 am | In the category International Broadcasting, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

It did not take long for the chickens of Kosovo to find a splendid first roosting place in Georgia. When the topic of independence for Kosovo came up only a few short months ago, red warning flags were flying in many quarters from those with knowledge and experience of ethnic conflicts in the powder kegs of the Balkans and the Caucasus Mountains. Many countries, like Canada, took a long time before agreeing to recognize an independent Kosovo fostered by the United States, and a fair number still don’t, because they see the danger to their own national boundaries. A periphery province of a legally established national state with internationally recognized borders was declaring its independence from the much larger state to which it legally belonged. What would happen in France, Spain, Italy or the United States if such a situation arose at home? Not to mention China.

The reason was simple; after long standing violent conflicts between the two ethnic groups of that breakaway state, powerful outside nations took the side of the ethnic group that it felt was under almost genocidal attack by the mother state, which they then bombed unmercifully. This was Serbia in the late 1990s as NATO troops punished it for its atrocities against the Albanian ethic group of Kosovo. But it is also way too close for comfort for the situation in Georgia and its illegal breakaway republics with a large Russian majority, the Georgians having decided it was safer to leave. But this time, it was the US-sponsored Georgian army that took on the role of the Serbian aggressor, as it attacked the breakaway provinces. And who should come rushing to the defence of the poor threatened minority ethnic group but Tsar Putin, who must have thought he was dreaming when he saw that his increasingly dopey rivals had presented him with the opportunity to defend Russians (since he had given most of them Russian passports) under attack while at the same time squashing a tiny annoying tick on the skin of the Russian bear. So that of course is what happened. Poor Condoleeza Rice, sent out on a Don Quixote mission to chastise (and absurdly threaten?) the Russians for doing exactly what the US had done in Serbia less than ten years before, must be wishing her next job involves dealing with fractious faculty clubs, because she has served an extraordinarily foolish master for too long to retain her own dignity. Wasn’t she early on in her diplomatic career supposed to be an expert on Russia? How could anyone mess up the Russian desk in only 8 years as much as she has?

The result is a clear demonstration of renewed Russian power (and threat) along all its borders, a completely crushed and bankrupt exotic ally of the US which somehow misinterpreted US bluster for true support, and a really serious impediment to the free flow of essential Asian natural gas and oil to European consumers. Now we can wait to see if all of those countries who pushed for an independent Kosovo are as quick to recognize the new state of South Ossetia. Wanna bet?

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Canada and Kosovo

Posted March 20, 2008 on 2:33 pm | In the category Canada, China, Europe, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

It took Canada more than a month to recognize Kosovo as an independent state, a clear display of reluctance to follow the lead taken by its closest NATO allies, Germany, France, the UK and the Unites States, almost immediately upon Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Canada is not the only significant power to not follow this lead with any enthusiasm, and the list of those who have declared they will not do so is long and daunting – Russia, China, India, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Cuba, both Koreas, almost all of Africa, Central Asia and most of Kosovo’s neighbours – Serbia, of course, but also Bosnia-Herzogovina, Greece, Macedonia, and Cyprus. Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria all took longer than Canada to decide and near-neighbours Slovakia, Czech Republic and Ukraine have not recognized Kosovo. Albania, on the other hand, was the first to recognize and remains one of only 3 countries to actually establish an embassy in Pristina, the others being the UK and Germany.
Canada’s reluctance to recognize Kosovo as an independent state is closely related to the absolute refusal of Russia, China, Spain, India, Mexico and Indonesia to do so, a group of politically completely unrelated countries that make up the majority of the world’s population. They have one thing in common; they all have minority ethnic or religious populations striving for independent status. Most dramatically this is now playing out in China, but all these countries have separatist movements which often use violence as a political weapon. As long as there are Basques in Spain, Sikhs in india and Uigurs in China, Spain, India and China will not be recognizing unilaterally-declared separatist states. Quebec was Canada’s problem in this context and, as predictably as the sun will rise, the separatist Bloc Quebecois immediately congratulated the Ottawa federal government for recognizing Kosovo, saying that it had given a separatist government in Quebec the precedent it needed to do something similar. China, India and Spain will not be following that lead.

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The Great White North looks at the Map

Posted August 13, 2007 on 2:07 am | In the category Canada, Environment, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Colleague Jeff has supplied a convincing overview of Canada’s difficult role in the Arctic. Canada likes to mythologize its great open spaces in the wild north, creating emblems ranging from lines in the national anthem – “the true north strong and free” – to films like “Nanook of the North” to art like the sandstone sculptures and Baker Lake prints that southerners pay plenty of loonies to own to Stan Roger’s great song “The Northwest Passage” to the Edmonton Eskimos football team. Norm Kwong, one of their legendary players and perhaps the only major (ethnically) Chinese football player in history, recalls once hearing an Edmonton matron in the audience for one of his interviews tell her neighbour, “See I told you they were real Eskimos”.

But what Canada, the world’s second largest country, hasn’t done is provide military support for its mythology, making it vulnerable to the aggressiveness of the first and third largest countries, which face it in the Arctic. Instead it has slugged it out with tiny Denmark (controlling gigantic Greenland) in a farcical struggle over miniscule Hans Island. The excuse for lack of muscle in the Arctic has been strictly economic in the past, but this may be changing because the tide of Canadian public opinion has swung for the Arctic, and that has the politicians’ ears. Almost twenty years ago Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney cancelled Liberal plans for ice breakers for the navy, something which both Norway and Denmark manage to finance, and the US and Russia have both ice breakers and nuclear submarines out on Arctic patrol. In its lead editorial today, the conservative Vancouver Province advised the government to lease ice breakers if they are too cheap to build them, but to get them before it is too late to the newly announced far north military base with deep water port on the northern tip of Baffin Island, and to the beefed-up existing bases. Canadians will soon see whether their government is serious when it says it will provide protection for Canadian values from sea to sea to sea.

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Canada Takes on Russia: Cold War II?

Posted August 10, 2007 on 3:42 pm | In the category Canada, Environment, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Bob and Doug McKenzie are on assignment in the Arctic, traveling with Prime Minister Harper who visited the Arctic to plant the Maple Leaf to lay claim to its rich mineral deposits for Canada. This trip was in response to Russian President Putin’s sneak attack last week with two miniature submarines planting the Russian flag somewhere beneath the North Pole. These moves are partially in response to global warming which is melting the Arctic ice cap in direct defiance to U.S. Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma who claims global warming is a fraudulent tool manufactured by the infidels (e.g. Democrats and non-Christians).

As described in the NY Times, the race for mineral rights in the Arctic looms as a possible Worldwide Cold War as the Danes race to the region to map their own claims that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arctic island.

Norway and the U.S. also make claims to rights in the area but the U.S. is apparently banking on winning the Iraq War sometime in the next century and stealing all of their oil to power the next generation of Hummers. Talk of moving Vice President Cheney’s office to the Arctic was squelched by White House sources, as “wishful thinking by the American people”.

The world watches these developments with anxious concern mixed with admiration for the audacity of Canada as it takes on the Russian Bear while the U.S. waits to move in after the dirty work is done.

In other news President George W. Bush refused to add 5 cents to the federal tax on gasoline saying it “would be premature”, and that “ we will cross that bridge when we have the funds to fix it.”

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Canada goes to war

Posted July 13, 2007 on 2:01 am | In the category Canada, International Broadcasting, Iraq, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Sixty-six Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan. The death of each one of them has received front-page coverage in leading Canadian papers, and the CBC runs the risk of becoming repetitive with its films of funerals and returning coffins. Sixty times as many US soldiers have died in Iraq, but in total their stories have probably not been told as prominently, movingly and dramatically as have those of the dead Canadian soldiers in their home media.
The US effort in Iraq now surely seems doomed to catastrophic failure, at least partly because, as Senator Joe Biden recently put it, Americans have lost any desire to keep sending their kids to their deaths in the meat grinder of Iraq. At the same time the Canadian armed forces are having no trouble finding record numbers of recruits, despite the daily scenes of violence and death in Afghanistan. There is certainly some opposition to the war in Afghanistan. The socialist NDP Party wants the troops brought home immediately, the opposition Liberal Party wants a withdrawal at the end of the current mandate in 2009. But in general there is a perhaps surprising amount of general public support for the sudden display of Canadian military strength in what is considered a just cause.
Prime Minister Harper announced this week that Canada would design and build, at a cost of 3-4 billion dollars, 6-8 frigates with moderate ice-breaking capabilities to patrol Canada’s increasingly threatened Arctic water routes, particularly the Northwest Passage. For the first time, a Canadian submarine will be present in the Arctic this summer and Harper has promised to build a deepwater port in the Arctic. Critics of Harper’s announcements demanded more not less for the Arctic, including the 3 full icebreakers he had claimed he would build. These are enormous expenses for the world’s second-largest country, with one-tenth the US population, caught in the Arctic between the first and third largest, both of whom have shown they can afford nuclear ice breakers. But it seems to be an expense that Canadian citizens are willing to pay and that’s at least partly because the Canadian military has managed to begin to regain something of the stature it once enjoyed as a result of its powerful presence in both the First and Second World Wars. It may not yet be punching above its weight, as it did back then, but it seems at least to be returning to the weight class to which it rightfully belongs

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Attack on the Mackenzie Brothers

Posted May 30, 2007 on 10:44 am | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Jeff

An email from a Prague-based American journalist has raised several
issues regarding the Mackenzie Brothers comments in their blog posting, “The New Europe takes Shape”

That email is below – followed by the Mackenzie Brother’s response.

“Who the hell are the Mackenzie Brothers? Make sure someone buys them a spell checker for Christmas, and a German-English dictionary on their name day, would ya? I guess I can overlook the typos and
misspellings, but tell them that the German word “Tone” means “tone,”
not “notes,” which is “notizen.” What Dummkopfs. And when they write
this:

“Putin and Merkel speak German together and don’t need an interpreter.
In the past they have gotten along much better than any important
European leader…”

Which makes me wonder how much they’re following European politics.
For one thing, Merkel and Putin have never gotten along well at all.
And the second statement, that they got along more than any other
European leaders is really silly. I mean, Schroeder and Putin had to
break off their talks once every hour so they could go bang each
other. Schroeder and Chirac were nearly as close. And Blair got along
very, very well with Berlusconi; and, Silvio and Putin continue to be
incredibly close. All of those relationships are far, far closer than
the very cold connection that Merkel and Putin have.”

Returning from their annual pilgrimage to Munich’s Biergartens,
the Mackenzie Brothers respond:

“Fortunately the Mackenzies spent their youths in Bavarian lumber
camps, but, ok let’s see what the Cassell’s dictionary lists under Ton
(plural Töne, there is no German word Tone – or Dummkopfs). Ah, hah –
“Sound”, “note”, now there’s a surprise. However I’m glad your pal
points out that the correct back translation of “notes” would be
“Notizen (or rather notizen)”. This reminds me of the immortal Sarah
Bink’s translation of Heine’s Lorelei “und ruhig fliesst der Rhein” –
“and quietly flows the clean”. As for the second part, it would have
been more compelling if he had quoted the entire sentence, not just
the first half, which says something completely different from what he
seems to think it says. Is this the level of analysts working in the
Prague organization or doesn’t he know English or German?

In any case this blog of the Mackenzies has also drawn some sparkling
criticism, like the following;

Yes Mackenzies, only in France is there a monastery for water skiing
and a monastery for virtue. But don’t worry, it’s not just France.
The whole world’s gone to hell since the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

Preacher Roe

Such commentary does keep us on our toes and my brother Doug promises
to make a last minute spell check before pushing that old submit
button.”

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