June 7th, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] Thoughts on American Dynamism

While lunching with bonoboboy last Friday, I made the off-hand observation that Canada's vaunted social liberalism is quite recent. Take Canadian multiculturalism, for instance. Although Canada has long been a major receiver of immigrants, only in the 1950s and 1960s did immigrants start to come in large numbers from areas outside of northern Europe, Clifford Sifton's efforts to recruit Ukrainian and other eastern European immigrants aside. This ethnic homogeneity was accompanied by a decided cultural conservatism, where, apart from enclaves like Montréal, Canada was repressive: See Québec during the grande noirceur of the Duplessis regime, Toronto in the days of the Orange Order parades, or the small pinched Prairie towns depicted by Sinclair Ross.

This isn't altogether surprising. As Christian Dufour observed in his 1989 The Canadian Challenge/Le défi québécois, modern Canada exists because it was created to oppose the United States, whether one talks of New France's role as French bastion against the Thirteen Colonies or of British North America's role as Britain's explicitly counterrevolutionary base on the North American continent. How did Canada loosen up? Tony Wilden's provocative 1980 book The Imaginary Canadian claims not, that throughout Canada's formative years Britain favoured the formation of a hierarchical society, as the Chateau Clique and the Family Compact demonstrate. Liberalism came from the south.

In Atlantic Canada, for instance, the Boston States exerted a tremendous influence. My parents have told me stories about anticipating the arrival of their American relatives, rich and well-dressed, giving them American dollar bills that they could redeem at the corner store for a Canadian dollar and change. (The exchange rate was different back then.) This experience was common throughout central and eastern Canada, judging by Ringuet's description in his Thirty Acres of the rich Franco-American relatives visiting the ancestral village on the St. Lawrence with their Ford and their jazz records and their love of baseball. Mass media--exclusively newspapers and magazines in the 19th century, electronic media in the 20th--played a hardly less important role. American influence was a breath of fresh air. Without the United States across the 49th, I'm sure that Canada would be rather more parochial than it is.

The United States is the sort of country that is good at destabilizing established conventions. This can be quite a good thing. Without the support lent by the United States after the Second World War towards multilateral rules-based international politics, in trade and elsewhere, I'm not sure if Europe and Japan ever would have properly recovered from the Second World War. There is the Argentine example, after all. American cultural influence in Canada isn't something that particularly worries me; uncontested American cultural influence does, but that's why it's incumbent upon Canadians to try to do something about the situation rather than blame others.

America has a vast amount of potential. Much of this potential has been used, and is being used, for good. Much of it isn't: Guantanamó, ground-penetrating nuclear weapons, Star Wars, greenhouse warming, the Religious Right. All of this potential, note, is controlled by people just like us. Non-Americans seem to tend to not trust American power; would we trust ourselves, though? I think David Bowie was hinting at this with his "I'm Afraid of Americans". I think that might be why I like this song.

[BRIEF NOTE] Save Rainbow Valley!

I was pleased to find this in the comments to the post that I made last month regarding the closure of the Rainbow Valley amusement park in Cavendish, back on Prince Edward Islad, at the end of this summer.

My name is Jeff Docherty. I have joined forces with campaign spearheader Bart Bourne to create SaveRainbowValley.com We have a full website online now with a link to an online petition to save the park.

Since Thursday, we have gathered over 6,000 signatures from all corners of the globe in favor of keeping Rainbow Valley open. Every signature we get is one more ray of hope that we will win this battle and keep Rainbow Valley Alive!

So far, word of mouth and newsboards and e-mail forwarding have been our only promotion.

Please visit the website and sign the petition if so inclined.


Your support is greatly appreciated.

Warmest Regards,

Jeff Docherty
Save Rainbow Valley

You've read the gentleman.
  • Current Mood

[LINK] Nipposexuality

imomus has a typically provocative series of posts (1, 2, 3) examining how race or ethnicity can encourage (or discourage) sexual desire.

While he makes some interesting points, I feel a bit squeamish. I'm not sure that this reaction is more than incidentally rational. I can't help but just recall the time, back in Kingston, when a friend of mine back in Kingston told me that some guys told him, politely, that they "didn't date Asians."

[BRIEF NOTE] More on the Book of Job

I was relieved to find out that the Book of Job isn't quite so bad as I feared. A Polish co-worker went to his copy of Czeslaw Milosz's translation of the Book of Job into Polish from the original Hebrew, finding that everything is described as being restored to the way as it was before. A Jewish co-worker mentioned that in the Jewish tradition readings other than the literal would be possible, descending into various forms of metaphor.

It's relieving to know that my reading, from the Book of Job, of the Abrahamic God as a Seven-like serial killer isn't the only possible reading. I'm not religious, of course. But yet.
  • Current Mood
    looking over my shoulder

[LINK] Belarusian Bards

rydel23 performed a mitzvah by linking to some mp3s by the Belarusian bard Valzyna Ciareszczanka. Since her name is in Lacinka and I've no idea how to manage the transliteration to Cyrillic, I can't find any information on her. It wouldn't be entirely inaccurate to liken her to a Slavic eastern European Jacques Brel, or perhaps to some Québécois folk singers of the 1960s. "Harela Sosna" is my favourite.
  • Current Music
    Valzyna Ciareszczanka - Harela sosna

[URBAN NOTE] Queen Street on a Hot June Evening

It's boring to wait for a streetcar to come by, especially when the evening's bright and hot and there's people about. I walked west on Queen Street West after getting out at Osgoode, past the displays of jewellery and drawings for sale on the sidewalk, looking at the young couples holding hands and the buskers playing electric guitar or bagpipe. I stopped to drink a pint of Amsterdam at the Horseshoe Tavern as I struggled to complete my Metro Toronto crossword.

You know, I could get used to this.
  • Current Music
    Kylie Minogue, "Come into My World" (Fischerspooner Mix)

[BRIEF NOTE] The Fate of East Prussia

Back in 1999, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung published Rudolf Hermann's fascinating English-language article "East Prussia's Search for Identity: Gdansk, Kaliningrad and Klaipeda Since the Great Change" (Google's cached copy is here).. Strictly speaking, the use of the term "East Prussia" is inaccurate when referring to the period after the First World War, since Gdansk (then Danzig) became a Free City under the League of Nations while Klaipeda (then Memel) was annexed with its hinterland to the young Lithuanian republic.

In the days of the Second Reich, Danzig, Memel, and Königsberg were the easternmost enclaves of Germandom. The German states of these cities were threatened, not only geopolitically by the Russian Empire that nearly surrounded them, but demographically and ethnolinguistically by the relatively more fecund Poles, Lithuanians, and kindred peoples. The Ostflucht, the migration of ethnic Germans from the eastern reaches of the Prussian realm to richer areas in western and central Germany, began almost as soon as Germany was unified. The recreation of independent Polish and Lithuanian nation-states impinged directly upon East Prussia, which became a sovereign German island in a Balto-Slavic sea. Unsurprisingly, the failure of Nazi Germany's gambit to unite all Germans into a single nightmarish empire left East Prussia and its adjoining cities forfeit. Memel was renamed Klaipeda and restored to a post-war Lithuania now a Soviet republic; Danzig became Gdansk as part of its annexation to a Poland that now also included the Warminsko-Mazurskie Voivodship, the south of East Prussia; the core of East Prussia, around the devastated city of Königsberg, became the Russian republic's 'Калининград province (Kaliningrad in Latin script).

Hermann's survey of these three cities, though six years out of date. Gdansk's Poland and Klaipeda's Lithuania are rejoining their old circum-Baltic and European communities, and using the remaining continuities with the pre-1939 past as capital to support this reintegration. The city of Kaliningrad and its province, trapped by their peripheral geography within the Russian Federation, can't follow suit. It's likely going too far to claim that Kaliningrad could become a "black hole" inside the European Union, despite the province's serious serious HIV/AIDS epidemic and the growing gap opening between it and its neighbours. It does seem quite likely that Kaliningrad won't be able to capitalize as effectively on its East Prussian heritage as its neighbour cities.
  • Current Music
    Pet Shop Boys, "My October Symphony"