Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

People still deny climate change?!

Nothing quite shocks me like the fact that people still deny the reality of climate change.  I know there will always be fringe nutters who will believe any nonsense fed to them – and apparently, if you listen to people like Sharron Angle, there’s a lot of ridiculous things going on in the world.  However, it stuns me whenever I realize there are people that actually, really still believe that climate change is some sort of leftist conspiracy.

It seems that while many of these right wing nutters (many of whom, not shockingly, are also deeply religious nutters as well) heard about the scandal now known as “Climategate” (by the way, can we get rid of the -gate meme? It’s fucking stupid), most seem totally ignorant of the fact that a full investigation of the matter has been done, and utterly unsurprisingly, the scientists – and the science – has been exonerated.  Most of the quotes used to try to claim climate change is nonsense were taken totally out of context or otherwise twisted to suggest that evidence for climate change was being fabricated.  That simply isn’t the case.

In the case, primarily, of Americans, whom I pay the most attention to, I simply do not understand this ridiculous position.  I don’t get why there is some incessant need to deny what to any reasonable observer is fairly clear science.  Given the interest in national security and energy independence that I’d think the righties would have, you’d think that there would be a lot of interest in strengthening research into global warming.

Americans, it goes without saying, and most of the West, are addicted to fossil fuels.  Oil in particular, and coal are absolutely vital to our standard of living to degrees some people seem totally incapable of understanding.  In recent months, with a coal mining disaster and the mess in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deepwater Horizon, you would think that even the most hard-headed of people would conclude, regardless of their opinion of climate change, that it’s probably time we really start to try to find alternatives to this stuff.  I was staggered when in my former town of residence, the provincial government of Ontario dragged its heels on the purchase of new nuclear power plants, which would have brought a lot of high-paying jobs to an economically depressed area and provided clean energy that would allow the phasing out of a number of coal-fired power stations.  Yes, I believe nuclear power is clean and safe.  It has risks, sure, but I am reasonably confident that burning massive quantities of coal and oil are far, far more dangerous to human health than the relatively low risk of a nuclear accident, particularly in a modern nuclear power station, which is overengineered for safety.

In the case of the USA, in particular, I’d think an effort to consume less oil would meet more traction.  The major sources of the stuff, with the exception of Canada, are not exactly friendly states to Americans.  Petrodollars run the economies of Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia… countries who are directly or indirectly enemies of the USA.  Literally billions of dollars flow into the coffers of these regimes from Americans who are apparently too stupid to realize what happens to the money they blow on fuelling their SUVs.  Even when oil prices surged to $150/barrel and gas prices moved accordingly, people only temporarily seemed to shelf their big vehicles.  No real alternatives have been proposed but conservation, either, because there are so many good arguments as to why turning all our food sources into fuel (ie corn-derived ethanol) are nonsensical.

Focusing on the problem of anthropogenic climate change strikes me as a way for the USA to deal with its enemies economically without even having to directly confront them, starving them of the cash they need to operate.  And yet, out of the usual claim of “individual liberty” it seems like people there take any attempt to suggest that not consuming much oil as an affront to “the American way”.

When I consider it, there’s nothing to lose and so much to gain from making a big deal of the problem.  Americans need jobs – and there aren’t going to be manufacturing jobs like the old days in the rust belt anymore… so why not try to support the idea of a green economy – new energy efficient technologies – to try to create a new niche for the US economy.  Doing so could both financially strangle American enemies and help stimulate the US economy in a way that can have a lasting impact.  Never mind that the savings on energy that people could experience long run would free up disposable income for them, furthering the stimulative impact.

I’m researching a lot of stuff on this as I’m planning to build a custom home in the next year and the whole goal for me is to be as efficient as possible, I want new technologies available, and I want to buy them locally.  I want to depend as little on buying heating oil and coal-sourced power from the local utility.  I want that to improve my local economy and so should everyone else…


Things I don’t get in the world – like North Korea.

I got an email the other day that a book I had reserved from the library was in – The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan.  It’s the story of a North Korean defector who spent some ten years in the North Korean “gulag” system, one of the most disturbing penal systems in the world.  I’ve been wanting to read it for a  long time and finally got around to getting it from the library.  I’ve been fascinated by the sick anomaly that is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for quite a while.  It is proof of a theory I read about a while ago that any country whose official name includes the words “democratic” and “republic” is neither.  North Korea is far from those things, it is some sort of insane Stalinist theme park that would be in some weird way humourous, save for the fact that millions of people live there and suffer under the world’s only Communist dynasty.

North Korea seems to endure because the Kim Family Regime (as it’s officially called) has learned well from its predecessors, particularly East Germany (which, in further proof of the theory above, was officially the German Democratic Republic, you likely recall).  It has done its best to screen out the influence of all foreign media, especially that from South Korea, to keep its people as ignorant of the outside world as possible, as indoctrinated into the Kim cult as possible.  I think the only real contender for doing this so was was Albania under Hoxha, and even they have since failed.

It’s a really, really depraved place to read about, and I have a hard time understanding how it manages to survive.

But I couldn’t blog well about it, other than the fact that I’m reading this book and might put up more about it.  Instead, I’ll shill for two sites I really enjoy checking in on from time to time – and – two good sources.  The former, in particular, is the source of an incredibly fascinating Google Earth overlay of the DPRK, including all of the known prison camps, whose size and scale are absolutely staggering when you consider how many people might be detained in them.  If you don’t know this already – in North Korea, three generations of a political prisoner’s family face incarceration for even the slightest offence against the Cult of Kim.

Captain Semrau – Sentencing Pending

Well, Captain Semrau faces his sentencing this week, the “sentencing phase” of his court martial began today, and not surprisingly, the media was rife with speculation on what the decision would be.  Some Charter challenges were presented by the defence today but apparently all of them have failed.  I didn’t read in great deal what they revolved around, some had to do with punishments available, some had to do with the legitimacy of the trial in general.

It’s not really looking that great.  A fairly senior Canadian officer, Brigadier General Denis Thompson, was widely cited in the press today saying that in his view, implying in the view of  leadership of the CF, there’s no choice but to dismiss him from the CF with disgrace.  His exact words, cited in every major daily, were “This particular conduct, in these particular circumstances, is such a blow to the credibility to the institution that as a deterrent I don’t believe we have any other option than to release him from service,”

Arguing the counterpoint was at least one troop that spoke highly of Captain Semrau saving his life, of his cool demeanor, and all the other features sought in an infantry officer.  These are meant to present his character as being of a high standard, I would guess to suggest that he is indispensable to the organization.

I have to agree, to a large extent, with BGen Thompson – at least on the big picture terms.  According to the Laws of Armed Conflict and the ideas contained in the Geneva Conventions which are basically beaten into everyone who serves in the Canadian Forces, what Capt Semrau did was undeniably wrong.  The individual, the Talib, was by the terms of reference hors de combat, out of the fight.  At that point, he cannot be harmed in any way and must be offered whatever assistance may be reasonably provided.  It does seem that there was no assistance possible – the Talib had been basically shredded by 25mm chaingun fire.  All the medical care in the world wouldn’t have done a thing to help the guy – and according to the law nothing at all gave Captain Semrau the right to shoot the man.

I still cannot reason out a position on what should actually be done with the man.  Reading court martial decisions, as I do from time to time just to see what stupid things soldiers get up to, the judges rendering sentences always highlight the purpose of military justice and the aim of sentencing – one of which – a key point – is to provide a strong deterrent to others.  A message needs to be sent in this case to the rest of the Canadian Forces that is clear that the choice made that day was the wrong one, that it was seriously wrong, and that it should never happen again, and that’s the argument you’ll see for a strong punishment, whether it is imprisonment (which I think is probably very unlikely) or the dismissal of the convicted from the Forces.  It is for this reason I expect to see such a strong sentence, though I have absolutely no cause to celebrate it of course, to feel good about it.

What has astounded me has been the debate on the matter, both within and outside the Forces, and I have been following both.  Universally it seems few people can’t empathize with the decision, but still, many seem to think that the whole thing should have been buried.  Frequently I find myself reminding them – or seeing others remind them – of one of the darker periods in the history of the Canadian Forces – the “Somalia Affair”, when the murder of a Somali teenager by the name of Shidane Arone who had been detained by members of 2 Commando, Canadian Airborne Regiment,  came to light.  The crime had been covered up as best as possible but a military doctor broke the secret and the whole thing came out.  The CF was embarrassed, and the Canadian Airborne Regiment was actually disbanded as a result.  The CAR’s history and end are a subject of many other works, and I can’t delve into it much, save to acknowledge that what happened in Belet Huen that night was the crime of a very few, and I’m most saddened that it was used to besmirch the honour of an entire Regiment.  I’ve had the privilege of serving with and being instructed by many who were Airborne, and have had the chance to hear their tales of what Somalia was like and the problems that led to that event.  Had this incident been “buried” it surely would one day have come to light and we would go through the same mess, to the benefit of no one.

I still can’t say with conviction that doing the same thing would not have crossed my mind, that I would have been in the same dilemma as Rob Semrau faced that day before he acted.  I can say now that I know exactly what I’d have to decide, but not that I’d necessarily like it.  In that way, I suppose, the court martial has accomplished some measure of deterrence already.

Random points on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a cold, lazy Sunday.  I’m really doing a lot of nothing today, except for research on our upcoming vacation trip, one that I wish was going about a month later because I’d have much more of a budget for it given that work has been quite productive lately, I just won’t be able to cash in on it until later in August.

It’s almost August.  We made the move to Nova Scotia in January and it’s almost August.

But I’m glad overall we came.

Last night, my father and I were sitting on the deck in the twilight, he’s been reading Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People, and I’m reading Diamond’s fascinating Collapse.  As we sat out, I was watching my neighbours, a Sikh couple – or rather my neighbour and his father-in-law lighting some kind of fire.  I realized eventually that it was a small charcoal barbecue and they were trying to get it going, presumable to make themselves some dinner.  It was not going very well for them.   So, as good neighbours, we wandered over, and started trying to get it going.  They hadn’t used any sort of starter fluid or much for kindling, but eventually I managed to get it going for them.  It turned out that they had made the food already, and just wanted to finish it on the barbecue, and we joked that at the rate they were going they’d be waiting until breakfast.

I wound up sitting and talking with them for at least an hour – I had had a few beers earlier on in the day and they insisted on sharing a bottle of Nicaragua’s finest (Flor de Cana rum) with me, so it’s possible I didn’t sound as smart as I thought, but we had quite an interesting discussion about India, the history of the Sikh people, about Indian food, and all sorts of things, it was really a great way to spend a warm evening under a nearly full moon, around a fire, just talking about all sorts of things.

And getting a couple of pieces of tandoori chicken out of the deal is nothing to scoff at.  I think I’ll have to cater the next lesson on barbecue, but we’ll get them straightened out on how to do it, without the normal starter that is apparently traditionally used in India – cow dung!

It’s amazing how easy it is to get along with almost anyone in such a setting, and I have to wonder if there was some way that more people could do that sort of thing – sit around a communal meal and realize that we aren’t really all that different.  I’ve heard anecdotes from many friends in Afghanistan that the best bonding opportunities they had with the locals and the ANSF people they worked with was over food, when they’d get sick of Army food and go out and trade with the locals for more interesting meals.  That’s some sort of primal bond amongst people I think – it’s sort of the key to a lot of things.  What made me think of that over the conversation last night was the concept in Sikhism of the gurdwara in a temple – a communal kitchen which feeds everyone who comes to the temple – they won’t let you go away hungry basically.

So what else, then, to write about?  I’ve been paying more attention to work than anything else, but was fascinated by the shitshow started when blogger/idiot Andrew Breitbart released an edited, out of context video of a woman who worked for the US Department of Agriculture making a speech to the NAACP in which she appeared to admit to being a racist.  Except, as we all know, the clip was cut and she was actually talking about how she came to realize that perpetuating or reciprocating racism doesn’t help anything.  If you aren’t familiar with this story, you probably shouldn’t be reading this.

Breitbart is a disturbing fool.  This of course is not the first time he’s done something like this, and he’s tried to spin this as him being the victim, then tried to claim the attack was on the response to the story (before the “redemption” part), that it “proves” the NAACP is racist and thus has no business condemning that rather bizarre Tea Party movement in the USA.  None of this actually holds up to scrutiny if you watch the tape, though.  And this ain’t Breitbart’s first “discredited video” rodeo, either.  He does, however, reveal a deluded sense of his own importance, as apparently, and I haven’t see the tape, he claimed his “journalism” was … well, it doesn’t matter what he claimed it was, that isn’t the point.  He’s not a journalist to begin with.  Then he tried to claim he’s “public enemy number one” because of his “journalism”.  Please.  Mr. Breitbart, you’re a piece of shit hack artist that no one of any real importance cares too much about – and I hope you find yourself on the receiving end of a significant lawsuit for the shit you’ve pulled here.

I think I’m just continually staggered that things like this can happen in a country that is supposed to be so advanced as the USA.  The fact that people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul can have any sort of influence on politics like they do just astounds me.  It’s as though on the right at least stupidity is revered as some sort of necessary quality of a politician.  It’s almost as though they think that if they elect the inept that they can’t do much harm.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen that is anything but the case, all you have to do is look at the Lost Decade under Bush – surplus squandered, goodwill squandered, two wars, etc etc.  I think that doesn’t bode well for a country whose trajectory for the last little while has borne some discernable resemblances to the empires of Rome and Britain before they were finished.

Even if Obama, who seems to have gotten more done as POTUS in a year than his predecessors did their whole time in office, is a miracle worker, I often wonder if, as someone on Twitter I saw put it, he just volunteered to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Miscellany – A bunch of different things really.

Well, Captain Robert Semrau, who I mentioned in a previous post, has been acquitted of second degree murder by a jury in his court martial.  They did, however, convict him of the offence of disgraceful conduct, which can carry a prison term up to five years.  The sentence has not been passed yet, and there’s no indication of what will happen.  I think the jury must really have struggled with it, and now a judge will too.  Capt Semrau is a model citizen by most accounts, other than this event which was the product of a very, very unusual set of circumstances.

I hope it’s a lenient sentence that doesn’t end his career prematurely, that would serve no justice that I can think of.

Despite that, I’ve been annoyed that some people I know continue to be outraged that the matter ever saw a courtroom.  I cannot see any other way it could have been handled.  The allegations were made by other Canadian soldiers obviously uncomfortable with the event, who felt that their sense of duty compelled them to report it.  Once the allegations were made an investigation must begin and progress in the normal manner.  CFNIS decided that there was sufficient evidence to refer a charge, which is their job.  Those who think that the whole thing should have been swept under the rug should remind themselves of the Somalia Affair and the price that was paid in the end by an entire Regiment for transgressions of a few who could have been dealt with individually had the “system” worked.

I’m watching with interest the big military procurement decisions announced by the government.  They’re finally going to get the ball rolling on replacing our ancient AOR (replenishment/supply ships) fleet.  HMCS Protecteur & HMCS Provider are pretty significant assets to allow the global operation of the Canadian Navy, and it’s time to replace them.  It won’t be long before the Tribal-class/DDH-280 destroyers are going to need to be paid off, too.  I laughed a few weeks ago touring the USS Wasp and being told by the “guide” how the ship was likely to be paid off soon because it was 20 years old.  The newest frigates in the Canadian Navy’s fleet are nearly 20 years old.

Fleet week was interesting, though.  I was impressed the the Danish patrol ship I toured, HDMS Ejnar Mikkelson.  Apparently it’s primarily a coastal patrol boat used in the Arctic.  It’s small, versatile, carries a motor launch that can be fired out off a ramp at the rear in addition to a zodiac, and is lightly armed.  It strikes me that this is what we have the Kingston-class MCDVs for, but I think this Danish ship was a lot more modern and better equipped.  That’s the sort of thing it seems we should be looking at, I’d think.  The Danish Navy is something of a good analogue for us, perhaps – their Absalon-class ships are another potentially good example of ships we would get use out of.

Any time a government announces such big purchases there is of course the drama of deciding what else the money could be spent on.  This of course is an age-old economic quandary – the guns or butter problem.  In particular with the announcement of the single-source procurement of the F-35 Lightning II, there’s been a lot of that.  The 65 jets will cost a total of $16 billion when maintenance contracts are factored in over 20 years.  One has to wonder, do we really actually need them?  There’s that – and the single source thing – although realistically, we’ve already invested a fortune in the program, there’s lots of contracts coming to Canada, and there is no other 5th Generation fighter out there – though I laugh that it is single engine, and we bought out CF-18 Hornets over other alternatives like the F-16 because it was twin-engine and single was deemed to risky for sovereignty patrols over the Arctic.  We do need something to replace the Hornets and we need more naval capability to be able to assert our sovereignty over the north.  It’s not so much fun to know that it costs money, but it’s also necessary.

This ties into what’s been getting me a lot listening to all this stumping in the States – and it’s been in the press a lot – listening to these Republicans going on about the deficit and about how they are going to balance the budget – but David Gregory on Meet The Press tried to pin Mitch McConnell down to what, specifically, he would do in order to get the budget balanced – what difficult choices he’d make, and all he did was spin.  Chris Matthews did the same to Mike Pence, again lots of waffling, but nothing actually believable or concrete.

The fact is, much of the worst of the US budget deficit mess is the product of Republicans making stupid decisions like invading Iraq and the massive cost of the US military – the sacred cow that no one will admit to wanting – needing to cut.  It’s interesting that it draws parallels to the fall of various Empires – the cost of legions to defend the Empire saps the treasury to the point that it all collapses on itself.  I fear that could happen to the USA, and reading stuff like Jared Diamond’s Collapse, which incidentally is an amazing read, doesn’t dispel a lot of that fear.  None of the civilizations I’ve read about so far – all thriving – saw their end coming until it was too late to do anything to stop it.

This is where the debate in the States has to head.  Not to the stupidity of absurd talking points that are being raised by the teabaggers or their deluded prophet Glenn Beck et al, but to real decisions about how to get the spending on the government under real control, without any sacred cows, but in a way that makes the country actually stronger, instead of just making the insanely rich richer while the poor get more fucked over and the middle class just hollows out.  It’s not glib to say that the middle class as my parents’ generation knew it seems to be disappearing fast.  The idea of a single income household seems to be more and more preposterous to people I know, most of whom are now married and starting to have kids.  At least I don’t have that burden and don’t ever plan to.  It kind of makes me wonder why I care about the future so much – without any progeny to care about, when I’m gone none of it matters to me anymore anyhow!  I guess it’s that I wonder about how bad things could become in my lifetime, given the accelerating rate at which we seem able to fuck things up.

I guess I’ll just ride it all out and keep being an interested observer, once in a while writing some nonsense in a blog I hope some folks might find profound…

Thoughts On The Monarchy

Lately the monarchy has been a rather hot topic throughout my life. Queen Elizabeth II just visited Canada and spent a couple of days in Halifax for the International Fleet Review in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Canada’s Navy, a new Governor-General to replace Michaëlle Jean has been announced, and some complete and utter moron on Twitter, @jeanniemcbride posted a few tweets about Canada & Great Britain that seem to prove that a little knowledge is dangerous.

Whenever anything involving the monarchy in Canada happens there inevitably begins a debate about whether we need it, if it is some expensive throwback to a bygone era, how much does it all cost, and so on. Opinion polls seem to suggest that while Canadians have a favourable opinion of Queen Elizabeth II there is a bit of ambivalence toward the monarchy.

I’m something of a fence sitter I guess. While I feel no particularly strong affinity for the system I don’t feel any urge to chuck it out either. It to me is a symbol of our heritage, though in a way I wonder how strong those feelings will be in a generation’s time as Canada’s cultural mosaic changes.

First, for the edification of readers who may not know much about it, I’ll try to concisely explain the monarchy in Canada and where it came from. This will be very much a Coles Notes condensed history, because I’m not going to claim expertise, nor is a detailed essay on Lord Durham, the Family Compact, and all those other facets of Canadian history I barely remember from Grade 7 necessary. Then I’ll try to put it into modern context. Then consider alternatives. Finally at the end of this little exercise I may have an opinion on the matter.

Canada, of course, began its existence as a British colony. Well, technically, no. It began with a French colony at Annapolis Royal, about three hours’ drive from the house in which I’m hammering this out on an iPhone. Anyhow, there was a war, the French lost, the British deported most of them (the Acadians) to Louisiana, etc etc. Things were alright.

When the United States of America revolted and declared independence in 1776, Canada didn’t join them. In fact, many Loyalists moved to Canada and settled here. Where I used to live in Ontario many families trace their routes to these United Empire Loyalists, and their flag can often be seen in eastern Ontario.

Canadians by contrast worked toward independence from Britain more slowly and less acrimoniously, pushing for Responsible Government which might well be described as akin to taxation with representation. We did have two rebellions, in 1837, but they were relatively small – the Upper Canada Rebellion in York (Toronto) is sometimes satirically described as a bar fight – it started and basically ended at Montgomery’s Tavern, at what if I recall correctly is now Yonge & Sheppard in Toronto, where stands the Recruiting Centre where I joined the Canadian Forces.

In the interim, the War of 1812 happened, an American effort to invade and assimilate what is now Canada was repulsed, and Britain wanted to see Canada defend itself and so on. Over time, as responsible government proved a workable experiment, a push for unification of the various provinces grew, culminating in the Charlottetown Conference where Canada’s Confederation was hammered out in 1864. On July 1, 1867, the British government passed the British North America Act establishing Canada as an independent, self-governing dominion of four provinces – Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

So the nascent Canada came into being. We call it Confederation although Canada isn’t really set up as one – that term implies strong decentralization (think Switzerland as a model confederal system), whereas Canada is a pretty strongly federal system according to divisions of powers.

Canada’s government was created as a parliamentary democracy with a fused executive and legislative function. From the beginning we were a constitutional monarchy like Great Britain, with the reigning monarch being Head of State and the Prime Minister being head of government serving on the invitation of the monarch. In Canada the power of Head of State is vested with the King/Queen’s appointed representative, the Governor-General. The G-G gives the final approval of all legislation passed by the House of Commons and Senate, Royal Assent. The power has since 1867 been ceremonial in nature only, as in Britain proper the monarch has really no power. The Governor-General is customarily appointed by the monarch on recommendation of the Prime Minister, serving a term of 3-5 years and ideally alternative between an anglophone and a francophone.

Until 1931, the British Parliament had the ability to pass laws that could have effect throughout the Empire including the Dominions. In that year, however, the Statute of Westminster ended that power, meaning Canada was no longer subject to the whims of Britain, though I know of no example of such a thing happening between 1867-1931 – save perhaps that the British declaration of war on Germany automatically put Canada at war, but we likely would have done so anyhow. The Statute simply further formalized the matter.

The last piece of the puzzle lay in the fact that Canada did not have a formal constitution, and so after much negotiation amongst the provinces on the composition of such a document, the Canada Act was past in the British Parliament and received Royal Assent, ending the last real tie to Britain.

The thing is that it was not that event that made Canada an independent self-governed country anyhow, not in the eyes of Canadians or any reasonable observer, and the fact that the Queen is the official Head of State similarly did not make us less independent. She is, after all, the head of state of several nations including Australia and New Zealand.

So, that’s the basic history this twit yesterday didn’t get.

So on now to the modern context – what’s the monarchy mean in Canada now?  Well, in terms of actual power or influence, really nothing, as it hasn’t even in Great Britain for many years.  The monarchy’s main purpose in Canada as in the UK seems to be the preservation of history and heritage, and a semblance of permanence whilst the actual government is more transient.  Throughout tumultuous history, the Royal Family has been able, at times, to show a sort of national resolve that I think has had a significant impact.  During the Second World War, for example, there was a suggestion that the young princesses, Elizabeth (now Queen), and Margaret to be evacuated from Britain to the relative safety of Canada until peace prevailed.  Their mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, stated something to the effect of “They will not go without me.  I will not go without the King.  And the King will not leave.”  The entire family stayed, enduring the Blitz and the bombing of even their home at Buckingham Palace (the Princesses were living away from there, I think at Balmoral), but faced the adversity with a steely resolve that showed the common Britons that they could carry on.  This, I think, encapsulates why to many the monarchy is somewhat sacred.

Fortunately, no national tumult has existed in my lifetime that has made this sort of force actually necessary – at least not in Canada.  There are stories of the role of the Queen Mother in the UK in the 1960s when there was talk of a putsch to save Britain from socialism, stories my father tells without sources, but he tends to be fairly sharp on these things, and the lack of sources is more from my lack of asking.  It’s fairly clear that Trudeau, whose efforts brought about the patriation of the constitution in Canada, was no monarchist and yet he made no effort to dispose of the vestige of Britishness that still exists here.

When I ask my father why he still believes in the value of the monarchy, he gives me a simple answer – with what would we replace it?  In the case of the UK itself, the monarchy and its trappings is a massive tourism draw, a sort of living history that seems to captivate people (including, I note with a sense of irony, many Americans…)  The pomp of it all seems to have some sort of value to people.  I note with amusement that affinity of some Americans, particularly for the young princes… because they seem to take more interest in the whole thing than Canadians do, when it has more of a role in our actual governance, and it was Americans who fought a war to rid themselves of the yoke of tyranny that the monarchy represented!

Ultimately, in many other industrialized nations, there’s a sort of similar role – all except the USA anyhow, I think.  France and Germany strike me as the clearest example, mainly because I’m familiar enough to know them – Russia as well.  In these nations, there is a head of government – a Prime Minister in France and Russia, a Chancellor in Germany, who is the head of the actual legislative body, and then there is a President who has a sort of final executive function.  Which of the two roles has precendence varies – in Germany, for example, I think if I remember right, the role of the Bundespraesident is mainly ceremonial rather like the G-G here.  In France and Russia less so – though Russia is a curious case given that the man who really seems to pull the strings, Vladimir Putin, is now Prime Minister because he could no longer serve as President, but one gets the sense that Dmitri Medvedev is really just a figurehead for the former President.

If Canada was to declare itself a republic and dispose of the vestiges of colonialism, what would we replace it with.  According to the current set up, the role of the G-G in providing Royal Assent, even if basically a rubber stamp, is required – so we’d either need to overhaul our legislative process entirely, or replace the role with a new one ostensibly the same.  If the argument for doing so is doing away with the expensive trappings of a viceregal system, then it seems we’d be set up to fail there.    That said, given that Governors-General have so very seldom actually taken a role in domestic politics in any tangible way, there can be an argument that they really don’t serve any purpose and we could scrap the whole office and adapt our system to function without it.  Again, this fails on the fact that in theory in the formation of government there must be some arbiter of last resort and the Crown fulfills that role.  Canadians, after all, do not elect the Prime Minister.  We elect our local Member of Parliament only.  The party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons is then by custom invited to form a government with its leader becoming Prime Minister.  It’s the Crown that makes that invitation – or entertains ideas for alternatives in the case where no clear majority exists.  That is, arguably, a valid and necessary role.

That is what it comes down to for me.  There’s some sort of permanence to the whole thing that I don’t see being easily replaced.  There’s something more sacred to it than the idea of some commoner having the role fulfilled by a monarch than some commoner.  I don’t know why, but for example, my commission as an officer seems to resonate more coming from the Royal We than from some “President”.  (humourous aside: though I have been a commissioned officer for some five years now, I don’t actually have my commissioning scroll, because of bad staff work – but if I did have it – it sounds more impressive that way).  I can’t explain why exactly that is save to perhaps assert that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  I don’t see that we’d really have much to gain by ending the connection, so why bother?  That said, most of the arguments I’ve seen monarchists make are rather spurious.  My personal favourite involves something along the lines of “why leave the Commonwealth?”  This is a fallacious argument, given that the Commonwealth isn’t particularly valuable for one thing I don’t think… includes countries with no historical connection to Britain anyhow now (Rwanda joined, I seem to think?), and becoming a republic and ending the role of the monarchy doesn’t mean leaving the Commonwealth, anyhow!

What will be interesting, though, is to see what attitudes toward the monarchy will be in 10 or 20 years, as Canada becomes more “multicultural” and home to more and more people who have no sort of connection to the British Isles or the Commonwealth.  There may become less sense of connection among a broader group of Canadians, notwithstanding the fact that naturalized Canadians swear an oath of loyalty to the Crown.  Maybe in 20 years things will be different, but Australians thought that in their last referendum on becoming a republic, and were stunned that there was no appetite for it.

On life, on death, on empires, on collapses, and so on…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, even through Twitter I’ve been really rather quiet I think, trying to stick to a pledge to stop being a polemicist generally and that sort of thing, and more importantly, it seems that we’ve finally run out of rain in Nova Scotia, and I’m finding it easier to do things besides sit inside moping by the fire.  We’ve actually got summer at last!

I’m having a pretty cheap summer, I guess you could say – with the priority of improving my balance sheet and getting a place to live, I’m trying to live a little bit more modestly, though I don’t know how successful I’m being.  It seems I’ll have to focus more on making more money and paying things down than anything else, but we’re getting there, slowly but surely, things are going well.

Two things are really weighing on my mind as fodder for today’s post, and they aren’t really related.  The first is on mortality.  A friend – not even someone I could reasonably call a close friend, but a friend nevertheless, has just died.  Last Thursday, I as was musing over how best to prepare the two racks of ribs I was planning to cook up for Canada Day, four officer candidates left the Land Force Atlantic Area Training Centre Aldershot on a long weekend’s leave, headed to Halifax.  They didn’t make it.  About 20 minutes into the trip, an oncoming car slammed into them, leaving three critically injured, and one who slipped away at the scene.  That’s the one I knew.

I met her before I moved to Nova Scotia, as she lived in one of my old unit’s garrison towns.  She had been in the ranks in a different trade and unit and decided she wanted to make the jump to pursue an officer’s commission, and chose the infantry trade.  I sat on her officer selection board, a process where a prospect is seated in front of four or five officers and bombarded with questions for as long as it takes to get an assessment of their character.  We ask them about what they think the job is, why they think they deserve a shot, what they know of current affairs, about their experience with adversity, all those sorts of things.  I remember her board interview not because of what she said, but because she simply couldn’t be rattled.  She answered questions in a straightforward, thoughtful way, she showed herself to be an intelligent woman, and we voted unanimously to take her on strength.

Being out here, I took it upon myself to be a morale officer of sorts for my former Regiment’s candidates sent either to Aldershot or Gagetown, offering them a reasonably comfortable bed, a decent meal, some local exposure, all the things it takes to stay sane during the rigours of officer training in the Canadian Forces.  This summer has been less than successful for them, the best prospect to finish his infantry training was sent home 2/5ths of the way through his training as being unfit to continue, not ready for the rigours to which he was subjected.  This young woman, however, was doing well, and I got in touch with her to offer to have her over for a weekend.  The appointed weekend was the one before Canada Day, but she got busy and we didn’t end up connecting.  I remarked during the week that I had to get a hold of her, but before I got the chance, I got a phone call from my commanding officer with the news.

When he called, I could tell from the tone he had bad news, and I was worried it was someone I knew in Afghanistan, but the shock was greater when I realized otherwise.

Such a random tragedy.  What made it worse is that she was headed to Halifax to meet her boyfriend/fiance (not sure) who was waiting at the airport and she never arrived.  Here was he, in a strange city, totally lost for information until they finally reached him with the news however they did.  I went down to his hotel and left a message with my contact information to offer whatever help I could, but I think he’s now left town.

I’m now contemplating how to compose a suitable letter of condolences, hoping I can find words that help.

Oh, that’s not all, either.  So after I got the call I started to pass the news, calling another former member of the unit to inform her, they were fast friends.  She took it upon herself to post the now-compulsory Facebook tribute group, which led to her being the shoulder to cry on for many people she didn’t know.  Most astoundingly, she was doing this while coping with another tragedy.  I think she’s done an admirable job, though.  She was contacted by a police officer who was on scene and given some details in order to offer some solace – she didn’t die alone, in agony, etc – I suppose that’s good to know in some way – it’s being passed on to the family in an appropriate manner.

So, I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you better, Mo.  I’m sorry your life was cut short in such a random way, and I’m sorry for the anguish of all your friends, family, and loved ones…

I did realize one thing though, which is what I told my friend who’s become the quarterback for all the mourning activities, and I thought myself rather smart for saying it, so I’ll share it here.  I told her, “it is through things like this [watching the Regimental families, friends, everyone else pull together] that we discover that there is immortality, not in some afterlife, but in the impact we have on others”.  We keep those we lose alive in a way through the memories, the stories live on.  I think of my friend Mark who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008 – in twenty years, new recruits to the Regiment on entering the Junior Ranks Mess for the first time will see the pictures of him and other references, and the stories will be told, repeated, and so on.  While he may be gone, the stories – the impact of his life, will outlast him.  It was this immortality we learn about in one of the oldest books ever written – the Epic of Gilgamesh – the life is ended, but only the physical body as the story endures.

So, that’s life and death.

So the empires consideration, that came from musing about the future of the United States of America, a country which is essentially a modern empire, though I think many Americans don’t really see it that way.  Empires never last, and I think the prognosis for the USA is not especially good, in part perhaps because of their blindness to this reality.  This is part of my ongoing effort to understand my neighbours that I start to consider these things.  I’m in the process, albeit slowly, of reading the fascinating book Freedom At Midnight by Dominique LaPierre and Larry Collins, on the independence and division of British India into the modern states of India and Pakistan.  This marked in the eyes of many historians the final end of the British Empire, on which it was said the sun never set.

Couple this reading with my customary voracious interest in history and you have a great context to look at the USA.  The parallels I note with Britain at the end of World War 2, with the Ottoman Empire in decline, with the end of the Roman Empire, are clear and noteworthy.

The United States currently is broke.  It is broke in a way that I think few Americans really grasp, particularly the conservative ones.  They have been very successfully brainwashed to believe that they are “overtaxed” by a government far too large and unnecessary.  When you ask them what they’re going to accept giving up not in the hopes of paying less tax, but merely to balance the budget as is, though, then you don’t really get much in the way of helpful answers.  In particular I note their obsession with their military – which consumes a massive chunk of the US federal government’s budget… something like 44 cents of every dollar in taxes they take in – and remember, they are currently running astronomical deficits with no end in sight.

It wasn’t always this way.  When Bill Clinton left office after two terms as President in 2000, the US ran budget surplus, the economy was sound, the military was smaller and not engaged in major foreign campaigns.  Things were generally good.  Then for eight years, America was hobbled by the inept “leadership” of G.W. Bush, a man who should never have won even one election, never mind a second.  In eight years, the economy went through a recession, recovered somewhat, and went into a far worse one, the worst since the Great Depression, and the United States got embroiled in two wars.  One was somewhat justifiable, though I think it’s time to wind it down, the second, and vastly more expensive one, was patently unnecessary, built on lies, and so on.  But I don’t really need to convince you of that.  Most people realize now that the invasion of Iraq was not only pointless, it was a tremendous mistake, and one that may have disastrous consequences not yet realized.

In the case of Great Britain, at the end of the Second World War, faced with an economy in tatters and astronomical debts, the government of Clement Attlee made the decision to abandon the Empire in as orderly a fashion as possible, in order to save the country.  The colonies around the world were set on the road to independence, laying in many cases the groundwork for civil wars, for other conflicts, for disaster.  In the case of India, the division of the country led to a fight within 24 years.  In Africa many countries experienced years of strife.

One can make the argument that the USA is in the same position now – its empire is now ripe to collapse.  The Vandals abound – China, India, other emerging market countries…  The USA has gotten itself into what appears to be a similar position to the Romans and the British did – an inability to maintain its far-flung outposts, though they aren’t so much colonies like Britain had, or remote provinces like the Romans, but military outposts, economic interests, and so on.  There are other factors at play.  There were arguments made that technological stagnation in the Roman Empire allowed the eclipsing of it by its neighbours.  While the level and quality of education received by American children seems to be decreasing, and the accessibility of advanced education is as well, with families increasing unable to afford the burden of educating their children, China and India are producing engineers and scientists at an increasing rate.  They are becoming the innovators, and they are amassing great wealth by doing so.

Economically, I don’t see anything looking good for the USA – even trying to fix the spiralling cost of healthcare and getting out of Iraq now and Afghanistan soon will likely not be enough.  The kind of austerity that European nations are discussing might not even be enough, but the problem beyond that is that no one can even have a rational discussion about in the US it seems because they are so blind to the depth of problem.  Even if they weren’t, I don’t know where you begin to get the country back to where it was 10 years ago – the world was different there, the enemies were not so clearly at the gates.

Perhaps the only thing that could stop the decline is the problems faced by America’s competitors… Japan used to be one, for example, but now has huge problems with demographics and stagnation that have no ready solution.  China and India may face problems as their masses seek to get a piece of the prosperity pie – China is finding that now with having to liberalize its exchange rate regime for example, and raise wages that have been kept artificially low.  For now, employers in China can simply move more into the hinterlands in search of lower wages, but that cannot last forever, and doing so will require continuous improvements to infrastructure that will cost the Chinese treasury large amounts of capital, never mind resources, though that’s a problem they have a handle on by investing abroad.

It doesn’t look good, particularly, if you take the pessimistic view anyhow, and I’m only scratching the surface thus far…