Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jan. 22: The history of ugliness..

(This  blog also appears daily on the web as a column in La Presse Libre de Moncton Free Press. I regret to say that the site also carries other blogs better than mine. Take a look.)
When the Normans conquered England, they built square, stone buildings called 'keeps'. Usually two or three stories high and built of stone, these were homes and refuges for the conquering lords and their soldiers, a refuge from the peasants who lived in hovels outside their walls.

Some 700 years later, the real rulers of England were the wealthy upper class of business who made their money out of  a system of world pillage called The British Empire. And they wanted to establish a connection between themselves and the Normans who had earlier ruled. That connection was to build mansions in grotesque  distortion of the Norman keep  (which was no beauty to start with.)

It looked as if they had taken the keep by its neck, stretched it to impossible length so it was eight or nine stories high, punched the walls full of windows (something absurd in a building intended for defence), and then stuck big, square blocks of stone along the roof line in obviously silly and useless imitation of battlements.

One of them was built here in Moncton. (p. A3). And, oh, it is stunningly ugly, even for its type.

We call it Castle Manor (the home of a feudal lord.)  Yep. We have the pretentious home of a feudal lord up on Mountain Rd. - except that no feudal lord would ever have stepped into a place so pretentious and ugly.

And we're having a big campaign to save it as a heritage treasure.

If something is a heritage treasure simply for being old and ugly, I want to announce right now a campaign to declare me  a heritage treasure.

There are lots of fine, heritage houses to preserve in this city. It's a shame we destroyed so much of the railway heritage that made this city. There are houses and churches, a couple of small, office buildings and the Capitol theatre that could make an excellent heritage project. A railway museum here could be a stunning addition. But why on earth are we making such an effort to preserve a Castle Manor of infinite pretentiousness, of no historical importance, and. oh, so ugly.

I wonder if it's because somebody wants to sell it.

Anyway, I have a cheaper solution. Call it an events centre.
The "must-read" story in section A concerns a report by Transport Atlantic Canada, which (reasonably) suggests we are in a rail transport crisis. It wisely sees a prominent place for governments in the operation of rail service in this region. Private ownership is concerned only with its own ownership and profit. But government ownership could be concerned with a broader picture of the needs of the province.

But, if you go the government route, don't do it while either the Liberals or Conservative are in power. First thing they'll do is sign it over to Irvings on a "Public/Private" deal.
In NewsToday Harper visited the sacred, western wall  He observed the wall "solemnly". The photo shows him touching it reverently with both hands, his head bowed.

Of course. we've always known that Harper's principles and actions have always been based on his profound faith. Ask any senator.
The editorial is, predictably, about how any railway reform must be based on private ownership. The reason, it says, is that public owndership is invariably a disaster. I think it was yesterday that I commented how our history text books leaves us ignorant of the truth about Canada history. So this one is for you, Mr. Editorial writer.

Early railways in Canada were not built entirely or even mostly by private means. They were possible only with large government grants, free land,  tax forgiveness, border taxes to keep out foreign competition, domestic laws to limit competition, killing native peoples to get them out of the way, loosening immigration laws to bring in incredibly cheap labour, training Northwest Mounted Police to break strikes, and teaching them to operate trains in case a strike did start. There were also outright gifts of money to private companies - and they paid massive corruption to people like John A. Macdonald, and good ol' boy Sir Charles Tupper of Amherst, N.S.   (also known as the Cumberland ram for - well - for a good reason.)

With all this help and more, the railways were built and some big ones, despite wise, private leadership, soon went broke. They begged prime minister Borden for help. But, business lover though he was, he couldn't help them. That's why government-owned Canadian National Railways was formed. And it, government-owned, managed to salvage the mess that private ownership had left.

Norbert tells us we have economic problems. Very observant. But he has hopes. Pretty vague ones. But hopes. For one, municipalities could take over painting the yellow lines in the middle of highways once they enter municipal boundaries. Wow! Painting yellow lines. That should stop the drift to Alberta.

He thinks the Liberals should advance more effective ideas. Bang on. That'll solve it. More effective ideas. (He mentions only Liberals and Conservatives. But those may be the only two he can spell.)

The weekend's revisioning exercise by Enterprise Greater Moncton was, says Norbert, important. It reminded us we all have to pull together. Wow! They must have had some really clever businessmen there to come up with that one. That's it. We pull together. Problem solved.

In his whole column, Norbert doesn't say a damn thing. In particular, he doesn't once even mention the major reason why this province is poor.                                            

This whole province, including the Liberals, Conservatives and Norbert, is owned and controlled by a handful of corporation bosses, most notably the Irvings. They interfere in government and education. They set policy. They do little to share the costs of government services. And, oh, they haul money out of here by the trainload.

The income gap is a scandal all over the world, and has been for the last twenty or thirty years. There are now 85 people who have more wealth that three and a half billion poor people - that is, more wealth than half of the whole world.

It's happening here as it's happening everywhere. They pull out huge sums. The pay low taxes. They store their wealth offshore, or they invest it in industries overseas where people will work for less than five dollars a day.

Cutting taxes won't help. It almost never has throughout modern history. There's a reason we are poor. And it's not because we're wasting money giving turkeys to the needy at Christmas or because we (sometimes) help to keep fishermen's families alive through the off season.

It's because a handful of people to their shame for doing it and to ours for letting them do it are taking out far, far more money from this province that they are putting into it. It's because the only concern of our Liberals and Conservatives and of you, Norbert, is to  help them do it.
Alec Bruce's column is very similar. It, too, avoids any mention of the role of big money or of the morally contemptible wage gap or of the failure of big business to pay its share of taxes - or of its sense of entitlement to government money.

Norbert at least mentions 'vested interests'. Now, if he would only have the courage (and intelligence)  to name those vested interests, we might get somewhere. I note, though, they don't seem to have been mentioned at the great "vision" meeting this weekend, either.
The op ed page with Eric Lewis and Brian Cormier is its usual waste of time. Lewis is fascinated by the wonderful world of liquor sales. Cormier writes a grade three essay about old photos.

Neither of those is what an opinion column is for in a real newspaper.


  1. "a handful of people... are taking out far, far more money from this province that they are putting into it."

    Maybe it's necessary to be from outside the province in order to see this? It's the first thing I observed on moving here, and over 12 years in NB I've found that this effect is pervasive.

  2. I think one does have to come from outside. It's been going on for so long that it's normal to anyone who grew up here.
    I'm from Quebec where it's undoubtedly bad - but obvious became the major players are gangsters.

    Here, it's not noticeable because the greed and moral rot come not from criminals but from the leading families - and it's always been that way.

    And the citizens of New Brunswick have developed a placid servility about it all.

  3. But Graeme it is "noticeable": you are either one of the ones taking out, or you are hanging around hoping for scraps.

  4. File under: my heart bleeds

    J.D. Irving fails in bid to buy Maine portion of MM&A rail