Saturday, December 31, 2005

2006: the world of tomorrow

It’s been quite a year. Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Communist countries signed the Warsaw Pact. A vaccine against polio has been introduced. “Disneyland” opened in California. James Dean died in a car crash. We had riots in Montreal after the suspension of Maurice Richard. And the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series. Now, as we prepare to welcome in the year 1956, our thoughts naturally turn to the future. But here at Windy Weather magazine, we’ve decided to look much further ahead. We assembled a panel of experts to give us all a glimpse into the world of fifty years hence: the world of the year 2006. We asked them to confine their predictions to the plausible and not engage in wild flights of fancy involving the clearly impossible – e.g., that people might travel to the moon in the 20th century.

In many ways, say our experts, the world of 2006 will be scarcely recognizable. The world’s population will have increased from the present 2.5 billion to 3.5 or even 4 billion. With continued immigration from Europe, Canada’s population could reach 25 million, ten million more than today. Skyscrapers of thirty or even forty storeys will be common in some of our larger cities, which will be linked by a network of railways for super-fast magnetic-levitation trains.

A cure for cancer will have been discovered. At home, Mother will have a household robot to do the vacuuming and take care of the baby, leaving her lots of time to watch her favourite shows during the afternoon on the family’s 21-inch colour television screen. Father will jet off to work in his new Hovercar, which will glide effortlessly above the ground, controlled remotely from the Municipal Traffic Centre by a powerful, three-storey-high IBM computing machine using hundreds of thousands of vacuum tubes. Children will spend most of their time at school engaged in supervised games and physical activities; most of their learning will be done at night while they sleep, wearing earphones that whisper multiplication tables and the names of capital cities.

The National Hockey League will have expanded to twelve cities, including teams from Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Seattle. Montreal, having impressed the world with the huge profit it made from hosting the 1988 Olympic Games, will have subsequently joined baseball’s National League, and won the World Series in 1994. A fifty-storey skyscraper will be built in Toronto to celebrate the year 2000. One of our panel members went out on a limb and predicted that by that year Canada would see a woman appointed to the federal cabinet. Music will continue to exert its charms. This past year saw frenzied teenagers dancing to the likes of Bill Haley & His Comets. Thankfully, the “rock and roll” fad will be long gone and forgotten by 2006 and no doubt young people will have returned to waltzes and square dancing, and to the mellow strains of a future Bing Crosby.

Despite all the wondrous changes to come, some things will remain to lend a sense of continuity. King Charles and his family will be welcomed by adoring crowds when they tour the Dominions or Britain’s African colonies. The Brooklyn Dodgers will continue their rivalry with the New York Yankees. The Toronto Maple Leafs will continue to win Stanley Cups. We can imagine North Americans’ favourite television show – now in colour – being “I Still Love Lucy”, with the leading role performed by Marilyn Monroe’s granddaughter. The Pope will still be Italian, Canadians will still proudly wave the Red Ensign on Dominion Day, and 2 plus 2 will still equal 4.

What’s strangest of all is to think that many of the younger among us will actually live to see the amazing year of 2006!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Having your gâteau and eating it too

There’s a good chance that ten or fifteen years from now, Quebec will be an independent state. So let’s look ahead and see what the political situation will be in northern North America.

The first and most important thing to note is that, contrary to what some might expect, all Quebeckers – at least all who so desire, and that will be just about everyone – will be dual citizens of Quebec and Canada. There is no way that the Canadian government will be able to strip Quebeckers of their Canadian citizenship. It is not illegal for Canadians to reside abroad. Today there are Canadians in good standing who reside in the U.S., the U.K., Uganda, China, and so on. Any attempt by Ottawa to void the citizenship of Canadians living in Quebec would be challenged immediately in Canadian courts and struck down as unconstitutional. (The break-up of Czechoslovakia does not provide a parallel, since with the formation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.) So after Quebec separates and takes its seat at the United Nations, and starts fielding (or icing) its own hockey team in international competitions, we’ll still have seven million Canadian citizens living in Quebec.

Here’s where the fun begins. In federal elections, all these Canadians are going to be entitled to cast absentee ballots – either because they have some previous connection with a riding in the new, downsized Canada or because political parties, seeking political advantage, will make it easy for these out-of-country citizens to establish nominal residence in a Canadian riding of their choice or else vote in phantom out-of-country ridings (e.g., the phantom Gatineau riding for Canadians living in Gatineau, Quebec). Naturally, these Canadians living abroad in Quebec are going to represent a major political force. At election time, federal party leaders will have to cross the border and spend a fair amount of time campaigning for absentee votes in Quebec. So to be successful, parties are going to have to have bilingual leaders and governing parties are going to have to include members from Quebec in their cabinets. And because all those good Canadian citizens living abroad in Quebec need to have jobs in order to put bread on their tables, the federal government is going to have to award a good share of fat federal contracts to Quebec companies. (The government of Quebec is unlikely to complain; after all, the separatists have always advocated some form of economic union with Canada.) Of course, westerners, and Albertans in particular, will scream about eastern bias, but – let’s face it – population numbers talk when it comes to politics.

One more thing: those seven million Canadians, despite all the attention paid to them by politicians in Ottawa, and despite all the contracts awarded to the Quebec companies that employ them, will inevitably feel left out and neglected. They will feel that Ottawa – and Canada in general – doesn’t really understand or care enough about Canadians living abroad. Many of them will feel that their interests would be better served if they were represented in Ottawa by their own political party. What would they call such a party? Hmmm…how about the Bloc Québécois? That has a nice ring to it, n’est-ce pas? I imagine it would do quite well.

Welcome to the future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Iran wins Iraq election

Iraqi voters have given George W. Bush an early Christmas present: a big lump of coal. While the President has been trumpeting the good news about budding Iraqi democracy, election returns indicate that the winners are Islamic fundamentalist parties with ties to Iran. That’s the trouble with democracy: you can’t always control the outcome. The neocons would have been better sticking with their old buddy, Saddam Hussein, a secular tyrant who was keeping a lid on the place. But it’s not too late to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What with curtailing civil liberties, spying on its own citizens, and trying to ram Creationism down the throats of school children, surely the Bush administration qualifies as a religious fundamentalist regime itself. All it has to do is convince its Muslim counterparts that they’re all on the same side in the war against godless leftists, and then go after the real threats to civilization – like Evo Morales and Jack Layton.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


The political debates promise to be enough to put anyone to sleep. Thankfully, we have the outrage of the day to entertain us: Ed Schreyer’s decision to run for Parliament. Does the man have no shame? But on to more serious matters. I heard a CNN announcer mention the “five-week anniversary” of a recent event. This particularly egregious error seems to be getting more common, with “anniversary” now being attached to any period of time at all. (Is this now the two-minute anniversary of my beginning this blog entry? Break out the cake and party hats!) Even “two-year anniversary” is about as bad. Another thing: I’d like to know when “woman” became an adjective, as in “woman astronaut” or “woman writer”. How about making this sort of construction illegal, and punishing abusers by transporting them to Ellesmere Island, or at least putting them in the stocks for a day? (I guess I should consult a man lawyer I know.)

If you think I’m being picky, that’s nothing. Take the Oxford comma – also known as the Harvard comma, serial comma, or series comma. (Some smart alec is thinking, “Please…someone take the Oxford comma.”) If you know what I’m talking about, then you also know where I stand on the issue. If you don’t know, then have a look at the Wikipedia entry. And then have a look at the discussion page, where people almost come to blows over what the thing should be called. Now that’s picky! And fascinating. Perhaps it’s as bad – or excellent – as Russell Smith’s obsession with the correct way for a man to lace up his shoes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sickos thwarted

Good news: in the foreseeable future there will be no more hunting of bears and wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Raincoast Conservation Society has bought up the rights for trophy hunting for an area of some 20,000 square kilometres on the coast of British Columbia. The Society spent $1.35 million to buy out Bella Coola Guide Outfitters, which had the exclusive rights to trophy hunting there. The CBC reports that the Society and First Nations plan to develop an alternative hunting industry in which cameras will replace guns and the trophies will be photographs. This will not sit well with those who think that proving one’s manhood involves killing innocent creatures and mounting their heads over the fireplace or turning them into rugs. José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher whose Meditations on Hunting is the bible of “thoughtful” sport hunters, wrote that “one does not hunt in order to kill: on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” This fascistic mindset claims that hunting is a matter of communing with the forces of nature by asserting one’s dominance over other creatures, and that without the peak experience of killing, the hunt loses its raison d’être. For now, it looks like fascists will have to prove their manhood in other places.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bush announces Vietnamization plan

President Bush has announced his plan for winning the war in Iraq. It’s called “Vietnamization”. Of course, he didn’t call it that, but that's name the policy went under during an earlier U.S. war. With the U.S. public getting increasingly restive about his Iraq quagmire, Bush says the training of Iraqi government forces will be stepped up in order to allow U.S. forces to begin withdrawing from the battlefield. One problem is that at the moment apparently only one battalion of Iraqi troops (about 700 men) is able to operate on its own, without U.S. support. In Vietnam, the Saigon government’s army (ARVN) comprised hundreds of thousands of troops, and was able to hold off nationalist/Communist forces for some time after the U.S. began withdrawing its troops, before collapsing utterly in April of 1975. Present Iraqi government forces have nowhere near the capability of ARVN (though the enemy they face is also less numerous and less well equipped than ARVN’s enemy).

My guess is that there are four chances out of five that things will end badly for the U.S. in Iraq. That includes a 20% probability of a total meltdown à la Vietnam, with the last U.S. personnel fleeing in helicopters from the Green Zone in Baghdad, as mobs shouting “Allāhu Akbar” break down the gates. This scenario would presuppose that the Shi'a Muslims have stopped sitting on the sidelines and have decided they want the foreign crusaders out right away. The present guerrilla insurgency is based among the Sunnis. Once the Shi'a turn overtly against the Americans and British, even if they do so more or less non-violently, it's game over.

Perhaps there’s a 60% chance of a non-catastrophic, slower disintegration, with a shaky, patched-together central government gradually becoming less stable, leading either to a break-up of the country or to a dictatorial Shiite regime. And then there’s the 20% chance of an outcome that would allow Bush and company to save face and declare victory: a relatively stable coalition of Shi'a, Sunnis, and Kurds, arising from a decision that the costs of the alternatives are too high for any of them. But even this last outcome would in reality be a defeat for the neo-cons who decided to invade Iraq, since their goal of a pro-U.S. client state, wide-open to U.S. business and a platform for its military forces, would not have been achieved. O, say can you see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hargrove goes over to the dark side

Future Liberal Senator Basil Hargrove stabbed Jack Layton in the back on Friday, when he embraced Paul Martin and threw the support of the Canadian Auto Workers union behind the Liberals. The fact that Hargrove said the CAW would support the NDP candidate in any riding where he/she has a better chance than the Liberal of winning the seat does little to lessen the harmful impact of his message. Hargrove said, “If you look at the record, and every Canadian should agree, this government, this minority government, deserves to go back to Ottawa with even bigger numbers.” The sub-text was: Only the Liberals are in a position to stop scary Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. This is the message that did so much damage to the NDP in the last election, driving many potential supporters to vote Liberal – and sometimes electing Conservatives as an unintended consequence.

But the perfidy of Hargrove is only a superficial aspect of a deeper problem for the New Democrats. Over the years the NDP has become little more than a slightly leftish version of the Liberal Party – and a far cry from its anti-capitalist roots in the Regina Manifesto of 1933 that established the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), forerunner of the NDP. The planned economy advocated in that document can no longer provide a blueprint for the future. But Canada, and the world, is facing a looming crisis of global capitalism, driven in the first place, but not limited to, the coming end of the petroleum era. In its current liberal/social-democratic incarnation, the NDP has next to nothing to say about this. “Let’s pour more money into our health-care system” is a mantra that won’t do the trick at a time when an imaginative, comprehensive neo-socialist agenda is called for.