Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reform Bill not the Senate's cup of tea


"It is my opinion we would be better off without an upper house"
-- Alexander Mackenzie, future prime minister, 1865

Last week at Grano, I got to explain how the scheme of the confederation-makers at Quebec City in 1864 was to ensure that the Senate would fulfil most of Mackenzie's wish. It would be designed weak, unable to provide serious resistance to the will of the House of Commons, the representative and democratic house.  (Deets? See Three Weeks in Quebec City, Chapter 14.)

This week the Senate looks likely to kill the Reform Bill and its proposals to restore some parliamentary control to the House of Commons. The prime minister  is widely seen to be managing the Senate rebellion, as revenge on the house for passing a bill that was not his and implicitly rebukes his use of power.

The Senators certainly seem to be shoring up their reputation for oblivious thick-headedness:
"In the case of the government, that could potentially remove a duly elected prime minister without consultation of party members or Canadian voters,” said Conservative Sen. Denise Batters.
“How do you square that with grassroots democracy?”
Canadian voters do not elect leaders or governments — they elect MPs and legislatures, Chong told the committee. Allowing parties to decide solely on leaders in the Commons gives semi-private entities power that should rest with elected MPs, he said.
D'oh!

But I've been intrigued by commentary from Dale Smith, a journalist previously unknown to me, who supports the authority of the backbench but thinks the Reform Bill deserves to die, not just for doing too little, but for entrenching new and dangerous powers in those private entities.  His opinion is here, ("Chong's Reform Act sabotages parliamentary democracy and needs to be defeated"); follow his links for backup.

I've supported the Reform Bill in the expectation that MPs' appetites will grow with eating.: Give 'em a little authority, and they will grow to like it and look for more. Smith is right that entrenching the details of the private operations of political parties into legislation should be unnecessary and could be dangerous. Particularly, the bill does seem to legislate the right of the party at large to choose leaders when backbenchers remove them -- a bad idea through and through.

I'm still inclined to think that effecting these changes will lead to more backbench activism.  Or indeed, seeing this half-measure of democratic accountability killed by backroom sabotage in the Senate may inspire MPs to assert themselves even more effectively.  The House still has the ability to overcome Senate resistance if it cares to, as provided in 1864.

But Smith's ideas do make me go hmmmmm. 

Michael Chong photo: CP via Toronto Star.


The Tour looms


New team colours, new beard, same guy

Okay, it's not July and the Tour de France quite yet, but I recently upped my cable package (when I should be cutting the cord, no doubt) to get coverage of the Giro d'Italia.

And our Canadian boy Ryder Hesjedal, Giro champion in 2012, is coming through for me.  Yesterday he "animated the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia from start to finish" (it was the "queen" stage of 21 because generally accepted as the most demanding, the one where cycling prowess was most thoroughly tested). Though he got caught by a small group of the race leaders near the end, he held on close and ended up sixth on the day. Hesjedal now stands tenth overall, having moved up ten places in the last several days.

'Course you won't hear or read much of this in Canadian sports media (except his home town paper, bravo).  Hence this public service!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Active History conference, London, ON, in October



Active History, the lively multi-contributor HistBlog, is holding a conference at Huron College in London on October 2-4.  New Directions in Active History will review the mandate of the website and assess the process of "active" history, which broadly refers to historical work that reaches out into public discourse and policy deliberation.

Beyond being a constant reader, I have no connection to the website, but they've invited me to be a panelist at one of the sessions.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Debating History


Not yet facing a tribunal
Apparently New York Times columnists are not allowed to argue with each other,at least not by name. But columnist David Brooks and columnist Paul Krugman give a pretty good imitation when they handle the history of how the Iraq war got started in 2003.

For David Brooks on May 19, it was all an innocent mistake
Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility.... The Iraq war error reminds us of the need for epistemological modesty. We don’t know much about the world, and much of our information is wrong. 
Paul Krugman on May 18?  Not so much:
Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on. Well, let’s not — because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.
As others have pointed out, that Robb-Silverman report that Brooks relies on was specifically prevented from inquiring into "the use of intelligence by policy-makers" and the follow-up report that he didn't cite declared  the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Aviation History at the Fisher Library



Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto opens a special exhibition of materials related to the history of aviation in Canada: "Aviators and the Academy: Early Aeronautics in Canada."
It's Doors Open in Toronto, and the library is participating this weekend. After that, the aviation exhibit, curated by Jonathan Scotland and Edward Soye, runs until September.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Getting your work noticed by influential people

What's on your nighttable?

Barry Cooper, the political scientist at the University of Calgary, just learned that his book  New Political Religions or an Analysis of Modern Terrorism, was on the bookshelf of Osama bin Laden. At least that the U.S. government says it was.

Some histories of note reported to be on the shelf: Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers and Christianity and Islam in Spain 756-1031 A.D. by C. R. Haines.

From his reaction to the news, one has the impression Professor Cooper would rather have been a navy Seal.
“If I had a chance to kill him,” the Canadian political scientist says, “I would’ve.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

History of Bob Dylan



Never took much interest in David Letterman, frankly, and pretty much never watch music videos. But lately I always have some time for Bob Dylan. Even when he is terrible, he is searching for something, and his whole career seems like the history of 20th century American popular music.  This piece about Dylan's first Late Show appearance in 1984 (he was on again yesterday, apparently) has a pretty good explanation of all that.  And the music does kick ass.

Great Canadian mysteries: Franklin


Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History launches "The Franklin Mystery: Life and Death in the Arctic"  in Ottawa June 4, 10 to noon, at Library and Archives Canada.With historians Louis Kamookak and Lyle Dick and the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre.  Reception to follow.

RSVP (today please) to forsterm[at]uvic.ca

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Last chance to dine on Three Weeks in Quebec City


The wine is coming up from the cellar. The menu is set. Our host Patrice Dutil and I are planning a bunfight over who the real makers of confederation were.

And I'm told there are still some seats available.  Last chance.....
   

Against muzzling research


Public-sector unions have organized rallies in a number of locations across the Ottawa area on Tuesday to protest the alleged muzzling of public scientists.
Have not heard to what extent the historians of Parks Canada and the museums or the archivists at the LAC are engaged in this.  It's hard science researchers who seem to get what coverage there is --mostly at the CBC, where journalists may be particularly sensitive to this kind of issue. But here's a shout out to all my friends in those historical sectors of the public service harrassed and muzzled by political staffers.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The nail bar issue; Ask a labour historian

Erik Loomis responds to the flurry of news stories about the exploitation of south Asian immigrant women in North America's nail bars by observing this is not a crisis to be solved by social media.

The social media solution would be to start a Twitter hashtag and urge women everywhere to boycott nail bars, because because mass media/individual action/ it's really your fault. He points out sensibly that the better, indeed only, solution .... is government action through labour regulation.

LGM ... often a terrific blog, and enough history among all the other stuff.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

CBC Filming CanHist



One hears the CBC is planning a new television history of Canada, broadcast target 2017. Canadianists, you may be getting calls.

Word is it may be a Canadian franchise of an international product. An American series called "America the story of us" aired a few years ago. It was all filmed in South Africa (!) but it did good business for the American network History.  More recently the BBC presented "Andrew Marr's History of the World," also filmed in South Africa (!) with a British political journalist hosting.  

Image:  Youtube, from Canada: A People's History (2000-1)

GoT = WoR? Visualizing History


Why do film makers keep making historical docudramas when animation does it so much better? This short essay on the inspiration that Game of Thrones takes from the historical War of the Roses isn't particularly new in itself.  But I'm loving the graphic treatment.

H/t: 3Quarks and io9

'Nother one bites the dust

Tenured Radical, one of my go-to histblogs, is packing it in
the success of the blog has taken me places, places that I need to go without this particular blog if I am to prosper: a terrific job, new publishing opportunities, and projects in the digital humanities, to name a few.
The success of this blog, I have to say, has taken me pretty much noplace. (Only in America, I guess). But since I never expect it would, I suppose I can carry on.

Meanwhile see some new links on the blog list at right.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Come, friends of piracy


Someone's promoting a free (but you need tickets) public event in Toronto soon to explain to authors how they can prosper in the new digital age.  Oddly, the event is hosted by Michael Geist, the University of Toronto, and the University of Toronto libraries, all proponents of the theory that universities have the right to appropriate authors' works -- particularly their digital works -- without payment or permission.

(When students appropriate intellectual property without permission, universities call it plagiarism and expel them. When universities appropriate intellectual property without permission, they call it "fair dealing" and build it into their budgets.)

The Toronto event is run by a branch plant of the American "Authors Alliance" a well-funded (they're hiring) group that seems entirely made up of university administrators, academic librarians, and free-copy scholars, people who have always been committed to undermining writers' ability to prosper in the new digital age.  It's troubling, though, that among those listed as attending is the historian Natalie Zemon Davis, a longtime proponent of speaking truth to power, rather than the other way round.

This month at Canada's History


... they've put my story on Magna Carta and its 800th anniversary tour of Canada up at the website.
The protection of Magna Carta can be invoked in protest wherever justice is subverted, government becomes tyrannical, and liberties are trampled. “It became a pillar of Anglo-Saxon racism in the nineteenth century, yet it was also cited by national liberation movements — by Nelson Mandela at his trial,” said [British historian Peter] Linebaugh.
In his book The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All, Linebaugh aligns the Forest Charter with a deeper radicalism: that of indigenous peoples all over the world, striving to protect their livelihoods and their lifeways when the very lands on which they depend become state property and then private property from which they are fenced off. Magna Carta has indeed become iconic around the world — surprisingly often in ways that can still make crowned heads uneasy. For, as Linebaugh notes, the barons wrote a right of resistance into Magna Carta.
The trick with Magna Carta, it seemed to me, was to write about its pretty interesting evolution without slipping into sanctimonious platitudes about the sacred tradition of Anglo-Saxon liberties blah blah blah. Peter Linebaugh certainly helps with that.

The exhibition opens at the Canadian Museum of History in June, and tours to Winnipeg, Toronto, and Edmonton.


 
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