Friday, January 13, 2012

Jan. 13: The making of an editorial writer...

I remember the day well. I was twelve years old, just back to the city from scout camp, walking down St. Gerard St, when I came to a crossing. I looked to the left. I looked to the right. And I felt a glow of pride, even arrogance.

There was no traffic. But as looked left I could see, for the first time, I think, my left shoulder. And as I looked to the right, I saw my right shoulder. I smiled, stood straight, sucked in my stomach. I was a man. I had shoulders. The summer at scout camp must have done it.

Journalists go through a similar experience. The basic social rule of journalism is the importance of knowing everything about - everything. Since few beginning journalist know much about anything, the easy way out is to pretend not to believe anything coming from anybody. (Believing exposes you to the danger of being suckered.) Some journalists can build a whole career on not believing anything - and not knowing anything.

But there comes that magic day, for some, when they make the leap from being cynical to being cynical AND believing they know everything. I saw my left shoulder, and that day I became a man. A journalist convinces himself he knows everything, and in that day he becomes an editorial writer.

The Moncton Times and Tribune has an example of this almost every day. Today, there is a pompous (sorry, thundering) editorial on school reform and French immersion. As a former teacher, I realized immediately this was a writer who had not the faintest idea what he was talking about - a person who probably had never taught and had no training whatever in education. It happens every day on editorial pages around the world as young young journalists peck through their shells to become editorial writers.

Actually, there were two, news stories, real ones, that had the makings of a good editorial. In one, Harper announced the Second Coming with the new shipbuilding contract it has given to Irving. It will bring back the great age of shipbuilding in the Maritimes.

(No, it won't. Cheap labour countries will still beat us out in building commercial vessels - unless Irving breaks all the unions and pays only starvation wages - a possibility I wouldn't ignore.) In any case, much of the 30 billion dollars of our money will go in profits to Irving, tax breaks, deals, and equipment to make Irving even richer in future. This is one hell of wasteful way to create jobs.

One might also wonder why we are spending so lavishly on our navy. For the answer, read Gwynne Dyer's column. 1.We're doing it because politicians can get rewards big time by giving lush contracts to the defence industry. 2. We're doing it so we can supply cannon fodder for the wars the Americans have been losing for the past fifty years - and which benefit only American resource companies.

The other story is that Harper is dumping 25 billion dollars of the cost of medicare onto the provinces. Gee. You'd think an editor reading that would be able to add two and two.

With one hand, Harper has spent 30 billion to make rich people richer, and to fight wars that have nothing to do with Canada. With the other hand, he makes up for this wasteful spending by encouraging the demolition of medicare. And that, in a nutshell, is the general policy of this Canadian government.

For once, I'm going to disagree in part with Alec Bruce's column. It's on the commemoration the War of 1812. Harper has expensive plans for this. It's his usual style - may a big noise and rouse sentimental enthusiasm (at a cost of 30 million), and using that a cover for damage he intends to do to the country.

I can speak with some feeling in insight on this boondoggle because 1. I am a retired historian of Canada who 2. also taught military history, including a course on the War of 1812. As well, I was invited to Ottawa to sit on the advisory board for the commemoration - and was so disgusted by the plans that I heard that I wrote to the minister that I wanted nothing more to do with it, and to demand that my name not be used in any connection with it. (I shall publish his reply if I ever get one.)

Generally, I agree with what Alec Bruce says about it. However, Canadians did play a major, military role in that war. The British maintained a large fleet on the Great Lakes, and drew heavily on the Atlantic colonies for crews. As well, many an colonial merchant converted his ships to privateers; and many a fortune, especially in Nova Scotia, was found on their looting.

Canadians also figured prominently in the land war. The troops that marched from Fredericton to Montreal in mid-winter bore the name of a British regiment. But many of the soldiers were maritimers.

A Quebec colonel named de Salaberry fought quite brilliantly as leader of a Quebec French regiment, at one point defeating an American army that far outnumbered his. Ontarians were also prominent, sometimes in British regiments, sometimes in what were called 'fencibles', regiments formed to fight within their own territory (that is, not required to cross national borders. Many American regiments were organized in the same way.)

Finally, native peoples played a major role in battle and in reconnaisance. The Americans were so terrified of Canadian native peoples that General Brock frightened the commander of Detroit into surrendering simply by saying he had native war parties with him.

However, I quite agree that Harper's celebration of the war is an expensive piece of shoddy sentimentalism. It's designed to cover some of the even more shoddy measures he has in mind.

Finally, a sad note. Highfield Square, like so much of downtown, has for years been a reminder of the impossibility of combining cars, downtown, and people. (A lesson we may have to learn all over again if we're foolish enough to build a new hockey arena.)

For years, the shopping halls of the Square have been places to go when you want to be alone. Now, the last major store, The Bay, is closing shop. But I have the solution.

Give Highfield Square to Jim Irving. He will demand (and get) grants, subsidies, tax breaks and interest-free loans to re-open all the shops. Nobody will return to shop there, of course. But it wouldn't matter. Irving could make a profit just on the grants, subsidies, tax breaks and interest-free loans.

You think it won't work? I don't see why not. It's exactly the same thinking that lies behind the proposal for a hockey arena/convention centre.

1 comment:

  1. Your buddy Norbett is retired but he has since become a guru of many subjects. Most of which he appears to be rather deficient in. What pisses me off is that people believe him. That's why they should read your blog to get another viewpoint.