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Archive for the tag “Canada”

Bury your dead (book review)

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6)Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the sixth detective novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and the third I have read, and also the best I have read so far, It was the one we bought first, because of the blurb, and only after getting it did we discover that there is a metastory that runs through the series, with the same characters popping up again and again.

Chief Inspector Gamache is on leave in Quebec, recovering from injuries received in an earlier shoot-out, and is asked ny the local police to help with a case — an amateur archaeologist, notorious for his obsession with finding the grave of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, is murdered in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society, an English-speaking institution. The murder could increase tensions between the French and English-speaking communities of the city, and Gamache is asked to help because he speaks better English. He has also been doing some historical research of his own in the library.

I suppose one of the reasons I like books like this is my own interest in historical research, and so mysteries of the past that have repercussions in the present are the kind of thing I like reading about. Added to that is that my wife Val’s great great grandfather, William John Green, was born in Quebec in 1790, so the city is the setting of a historical mystery that has exercised many members of the Green family for more than a century. The period is entirely different to that of the story in this book, but the setting is the same, and the book gives a feel for the city and its present inhabitants.

In addition there are some more historical threads in this book. Gamache keeps having flashbacks to an earlier case, where he feels he failed, and he sends his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, to have another look at yet another case, which he thinks may have gone wrong, in the village of Three Pines, which seems to crop up in all these novels. These cases may have been covered in a couple of the books that we haven’t read, so mentioning too many details may be spoilers for the books we haven’t read yet.

There are a couple of things about the series that become slightly annoying — Louise Penny seems to be more given to detailed descriptions of every meal the characters eat than Enid Blyton and I, for one, get a bit tired of reading yet another description of maple-cured bacon and other Canadian delicacies. But it is generally a good read.

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Dead Cold (book review)

Dead Cold (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2)Dead Cold by Louise Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first detective story I’ve read for a long time that seems to be a true whodunit, inviting the reader to interpret the available clues, and try to solve the mystery. Most of the others these days withhold such clues from the reader, perhaps to resist spoilers, and the detective protagonist trots out the solution at the end, revealing for the first time the clues that enabled him to solve the case. Perhaps that’s because most of the crime fiction publishjed nowadays are police procedurals or psychological examinations of the criminal mind — the whydunits.

In any case, I managed to work out the identity of the perpetrators about halfway through, because the clues were available.

Of course crime fiction is not true life crime. The author can go around scattering clues for the detectives (and the readers) to pick up, but in real life criminals rarely do that.

Dead cold is the second of a series of books featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, We actually bought the sixth one (Bury your dead) on a sale, and discovered references to earlier books featuring some of the same characters, and tried to get the first one, but it was not available, so I’ve started reading the series with the second book.

Chief Inspector Gamache is dealing with two murders — one of a homeless woman in Montreal, and the other of an interior designer in the village of Three Pines, 100 km away. The first case is not really his, but one that he is giving a second opinion on, by an informal arrangement with a friend in the Montreal police. One of the biggest difficulties is to find the identity of the victims.

A minor mystery is that Dead cold was originally published under the title of A fatal grace, and one wonders why the title was changed. The most notorious example of this was the change of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, but it seems to be a confusing and unnecessary practice. Is it done for copyright re4asons, or just because publishers like to confuse readers, or perhaps dupe them into buying two copies of the same book, thinking that, becxause it has a different title, they haven’t already read it?

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Niagara Falls and climate change

This photo of the Niagara Falls was taken just over 100 years ago, in 1911. Has anyone seen anything like it recently? Will we ever see its like again?

Niagara Falls in 1911

Niagara Falls in 1911

Hat-tip to Nourishing Obscurity, where there are more pictures of the same event.




Politicians’ genitals: private or public parts?

In the same week controversy has erupted in both Canada and South Africa over the depiction of the genitals of politicical leaders of those countries in works of art.

In Canada ‘Well hung’ nude Harper painting sparks mixed reactions | Toronto SUN:

A nude painting of Canada’s prime minister has politicians and Tim Hortons employees cracking jokes, pundits crying foul and one federal department reportedly offering up cash.

Titled Emperor Haute Couture, the portrait hanging in a Kingston, Ont., public library shows a full monty Stephen Harper, leaning back on a chaise lounge chair surrounded by a doting team with a terrier at his feet, about to sip a steaming Tim Hortons coffee.

In South Africa, on the same day, came the news that ‘Portrait of Zuma is below the belt’ – Politics | IOL News:

The ANC is outraged at a portrait that shows President Jacob Zuma, in the pose of Lenin, with his genitals hanging out. And the party is headed to court to force the artist Brett Murray, the Goodman Gallery and the City Press newspaper to remove the portrait.

The Goodman Gallery said Murray will not comment and will let the art “speak for itself”.

The 1.85m-high piece, priced at R136 000 and titled The Spear, was first reported on by City Press and a picture of the portrait was printed and displayed on its website.

Perhaps conspiracy theorists will see something significant in the fact that both the above newspaper reports were published on the same day.

In South Africa attempts to have the Zuma painting removed have been criticised as attacks on the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The Bill of Rights states:

16. Freedom of expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes ­
    1. freedom of the press and other media;
    2. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
    3. freedom of artistic creativity; and
    4. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

  2. The right in subsection (1) does not extend to ­
    1. propaganda for war;
    2. incitement of imminent violence; or
    3. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

But in this case there is an earlier section of the constitution that might be in conflict:

10. Human dignity

Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

So if the matter ever gets as far as the Constitutional Court, it will be interesting to see which constitutional principle prevails.

But it is certainly not the first time that politicians’ genitalia have been the subject of political satire. Back at the time of the Rainbow Warrior affair a newspaper cartoon depicted French President François Mitterrand with his fly open and a very erect nuclear missile protruding. He was flanked by the leaders of other nuclear powers, and I think the caption was “Mine’s bigger than yours.” I forget which newspaper it was in.

And of course in South Africa there is the political cartoonist Zapiro, who for a long time depicted Jacob Zuma with a shower protruding from his head, after Zuma had said that having a shower was his way of taking precautions against HIV/Aids.

But last week’s art offerings seem to have been of a somewhat different order.

And, like the Bill of Rights, I find myself in two minds over the whole thing.

On the one hand, I think that both as the State President and also as a human being, Jacob Zuma has the right to dignity and privacy guaranteed by our constitution. Even though he holds public office, he has the right not to have his private parts treated as public and exposed to public view.

And this is akin to the principle behind the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK, in which the former newspaper executve, Rebekah Brooks, has been charged with perverting the course of justice.

Can one by-pass this principle by calling it “art”? And where does one draw the line between the work of artists and that of paparazzi?

On the other hand, I recall the trial of Johannesburg artist Harold Rubin for “blasphemy” back in 1963. The Wikipedia article, however doesn’t do either him or his work justice, and omits to mention that his exhibition was opened by Brother Roger, CR, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, who was later pulled off a train to give evidence at his trial, and whose evidence probably played an important part in his subsequent aquittal. The picture in question, with the title “My Jesus”, did not, as the Wikipedia article claims, have the head of a monster, but showed a human being on a cross undergoing extreme suffering. This is not the way Orthodox Christian ikons depict Jesus Christ on the cross, but Harold Rubin was not a Christian, but a Jew, though the life and death of Jesus possibly had more significance to him than it did to most Jews, something that he tried to express in his picture.

The legal system at the time certainly did try to curtail Harold Rubin’s freedom of expression, but then at that time we had no Bill of rights. And the Bill of Rights we now have explicitly guarantees the freedom of artistic expression. But Harold Rubin was no paparazzo, and I believe, as did Brother Roger (who knew much more about art than I do), that it was a genuine work of art. I’m not so sure about last week’s offerings.

Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.

Canada’s shame

Canadian police, who were “powerless” to stop a bunch of vandals from smashing shop windows and torching police cars, showed how “powerful” they are by beating up a 57-year-old amputee.

Simple Massing Priest: Cowardly police leave “anarchists” alone and assault amputee:

As Sarah began pleading with them to give her father a little time and space to get up because he is an amputee, they began kicking and hitting him. One of the police officers used his knee to press Pruyn’s head down so hard on the ground, said Pruyn in an interview this July 4 with Niagara At Large, that his head was still hurting a week later.

Accusing him of resisting arrest, they pulled his walking sticks away from him, tied his hands behind his back and ripped off his prosthetic leg. Then they told him to get up and hop, and when he said he couldn’t, they dragged him across the pavement, tearing skin off his elbows, with his hands still tied behind his back. His glasses were knocked off as they continued to accuse him of resisting arrest and of being a “spitter,” something he said he did not do. They took him to a warehouse and locked him in a steel-mesh cage where his nightmare continued for another 27 hours.

They would have done SS Einsatzgruppe proud.

SA white gets refugee status in Canada

Wow, Canada really has changed. In the 1980s it at least paid lip-service supporting the anti-apartheid struggle, but even in the worst days of apartheid I don’t think I’ve come across anything quite as racist as this.

SA white gets refugee status: News24: SouthAfrica: News:

Ottawa – A white South African man has been granted refugee status in Canada, after an immigration board panel ruled he would be persecuted if he returned home to South Africa, the Ottawa Sun reports.

This is the first time a white South African has been granted refugee status in Canada claiming persecution from black South Africans, the newspaper said.

Brandon Huntley, 31, presented ‘clear and convincing proof of the state’s inability or unwillingness to protect him’, the Canadian immigration and refugee board panel ruled last Thursday.

‘I find that the claimant would stand out like a ‘sore thumb’ due to his colour in any part of the country,” tribunal panel chair William Davis said.

Hat-tip to The BlaBla Blog.

“Stand out like a sore thumb because of his colour in any part of the country?” That guy must be channelling Dr Verwoerd.

Is Canada really as racist as that?

Sharpeville Day goes international: The Christian Radical

I wasn’t aware that 21 March was observed as an International day to eliminate racism, but The Christian Radical: March 1: Struggles Against Racism are not Over! indicates that it is not just observed in South Africa as Human Rights Day:

A series of events to commemorate March 21 International Day for the Elimination of Racism. March 21 marks the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa when police opened fire on hundreds of South Africans protesting against Apartheid’s passbook laws, killing 67 and wounding 186…

… and to judge from recent events in South Africa, here too racism refuses to roll over and die.

Kosovo UDI a headache for Canada

clipped from

Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia is a headache for Canada, which needs to find a way of recognizing the new state without boosting the fortunes of separatists in its French-speaking province of Quebec.

Polls indicate that around half of Quebecers support the idea of independence for the province of 7.5 million.

The Parti Quebecois, now in opposition in the provincial legislature, said that if Canada recognizes a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo it would have to treat a similar move by Quebec the same way.

blog it

And then, of course, there was the speedy recognition granted to Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, and “homelands” like Transkei, Bophuthatswana, etc.


There’s an interesting discussion going on over at the alt.usage.english newsgroup.

Don Phillipson, of Carlsbad Springs, Ottawa, Canada, asks:

Citations are requested for the first uses of “multiculturalism” by governmental officials or politicians in Europe (inc. Britain) and the USA, preferably with enough context to indicate the meaning of the noun (or adj. multicultural.)

My tentative thesis is that this word entered contemporary politics in Canada (Multiculturalism Act 1971) and was then taken up in Europe (by Britain and by other countries that operate in French, German, Dutch, etc.) where its meanings were different: and ultimately in the USA where meanings were different again, whence it returned to Canada to function in ways unforeseen in 1971.

Most obviously, as legislated in Canada in 1971, “multiculturalism” had nothing to do with race (skin colour) or with immigrants. (It was a strictly local response to Canadians of “other ethnic groups” who told the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that, because their ancestry was non-French and non-British and they did not see themselves as either “English Canadians” or “French Canadians,” they were apprehensive that public anxiety about B&B topics should not mean they were “second-class citizens. The largest language groups voicing this concern were German, Polish and Ukrainian: i.e. the people were all “white” and mostly Canadian-born.)

In Europe e.g. Britain, “multiculturalism” was associated less with long-recognized white “races” (e.g. Scotch, Welsh, Irish) but with first-generation immigrants from Asia and Africa i.e. “visible minorities.” In the USA “multiculturalism” was subtly different again, because there were new “visible minority” communities (e.g. from Korea and SE Asia) but also long-settled Hispanic and black communities. Most obviously, the largest visible minority in the USA was black Americans who had been settled in America for 200+ years and who had recently been engaged in the
Civil Rights movement, a significant social revolution.

Thus the “multiculturalism” associated nowadays with all-black US TV situation comedies is substantially different from that of (say) Turkish or South American
communities in Europe: and wholly different again from the concerns in 1971 of Canadians of Greek or Portuguese or Lebanese ancestry: and the word today in Canada is powerfully guided by American ideas based in demographic features that do not occur in Canada (i.e. the concept has completed a circle, during which its
meaning has changed.)

In order to test this thesis, it would be useful to have citations of the first official uses of the word “multicultural” in various places, e.g. Britain, Denmark, the USA, as well as current meanings.

My response:

I’m unable to give any “official” citations, though I’ll note any if I find them and report them.

A purely impressionistic observation (from reading newsgroups and other electronic forums) is that in South Africa it tends to be primarily descriptive (South Africa is a multicultural country) and multiculturalism is the state of being multicultural, whereas in the USA and UK it seems to be regarded as prescriptive, since many people seem to object to multiculturalism.

To this South African, at least, objections to multiculturalism sound racist, and a demand for a return to apartheid thinking, which was the idea that a multicultural society was highly undesirable, and that therefore different ethnic/cultural groups MUST be separated, and could not possibly live together, be educated together, or marry each other.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the matter? What do “multicultural” and “multiculturalism” mean to you?

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