24 July 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Reviewers have been so effusive in their praise for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk that one suspects that something is very wrong here.

The New York Times, for example, called it a "tour de force", "a brilliant new film",  and "a characteristically complex and condensed vision of a war in a movie that is insistently humanizing, despite its monumentality."  The Guardian called the film "structurally immaculate" and "a jaw-dropping spectacle in which the picture for the most part stretched beyond [the reviewer's] field of vision, both vertically and horizontally."  Vanity Fair, among others, calls the film Nolan's "most artistic, impressionistic film yet."

But the Vanity Fair reviewer gives us a clue that something is amiss here with his very first sentence. He describes the challenge of trying to find words to describe this film. "It was a dance piece, then a music video, then a poem, then a prayer."

They should be a clue, though that something is amiss in the reviews.  After all all, these are bizarre ways to describe a movie about the defeat of Britain and France in early 1940 at the hands of an invading German army. Britain only avoided a catastrophe by a combination of muddling, luck, and improvisation. The story of Dunkirk is a spectacle in its own right. It is spectacular in the wider context of defeat and conquest at the opening phase of the largest war in human history. Thematically, Dunkirk is the antithesis to Normandy:  retreat in defeat versus attack leading to victory. Dunkirk: improvised. Normandy:  meticulously planned. The one is the prelude to the other.  This is a rich mine of a story.

Go read the New York Times review of the one movie made about Dunkirk thus far. Now look at the reviews of the 2017 movie. They seem thin. Insubstantial. Lacking in depth.  You should be squirming by now at the idea that such a subject can be a rendered as a tour de force dance piece or a structurally immaculate music video.

17 July 2017

Traces of the Grossly Impudent Lie #nlpoli

There's a phrase in Pam Frampton's Saturday column on Muskrat Falls.

A bunch of words dropped in easily,  maybe offhandedly.

Nothing that really stands out.

Just a simple fact.

The kind of thing that you might just skip past, unless maybe you'd be writing about this project since before it was a gleam in some old twitchy-shouldered man's eye.

"Now, the project is more than 75 per cent finished, two years behind schedule and 70 per cent over budget."

11 July 2017

Heretics and Believers


Peter Marshall's Heretics and believers:  a history of the English Reformation from Yale University Press (2017) arrived as a belated birthday present on Friday past.  It's proven to be well worth the wait.  

"Heretics and Believers" by Peter Marshall


As the official blurb describes it, "Peter Marshall’s sweeping new history—the first major overview for general readers in a generation—argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of “reform” in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora’s Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life.

With sensitivity to individual experience as well as masterfully synthesizing historical and institutional developments, Marshall frames the perceptions and actions of people great and small, from monarchs and bishops to ordinary families and ecclesiastics, against a backdrop of profound change that altered the meanings of “religion” itself. This engaging history reveals what was really at stake in the overthrow of Catholic culture and the reshaping of the English Church."

-srbp-

30 June 2017

Canada 150 #nlpoli #cdnpoli

From my paper "Two solitudes",  Dorchester Review, volume 6, number 1, spring/summer 2016:

"Newfoundland and Canada, separate countries for so long, exist as two solitudes within the bosom of a single country more than 65 years after Confederation. They do not understand each other very well. Canadians can be forgiven if they do not know much about Newfoundlanders beyond caricatures in popular media, let alone understand them. But Newfoundlanders do not know themselves. They must grapple daily with the gap between their own history as it was and the history as other Newfoundlanders tell it to them, wrongly, repeatedly. 
These solitudes are not fragments of the past of no consequence in the present. They are not without shape and substance in the world today. People who think of themselves as eternal victims of conspiracies will see conspiracies everywhere and act accordingly. For some Newfoundlanders,  the British bogeyman of 1914 became the Canadian and British bogey of 1949, and the Quebec bogey in 1969 at Churchill Falls, or the bogey of Ottawa and offshore resources in 2004. A century after July 1, 1916, the result of these two solitudes is a relationship between Newfoundland and the rest of Canada that may well be more distant than it ever was, but certainly is needlessly so."
For the full thing, buy the single issue or subscribe.

You'll get some thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff from writers across Canada.

-srbp-


23 May 2017

The Newfie Thing #nlpoli

Facebook has become hugely popular in Newfoundland and Labrador and, not surprisingly, some creative and enterprising fellow came up with a running joke - these days called a meme - featuring a fellow in a sou'wester.

You will find it called "newfie word of the day". The text that goes with the picture involves a joke based on some mispronunciation of a standard English word or phrase and out of that comes some sort of joke.

The one above is an example.  There are dozens more.  The thing is quite popular as you can tell by searching the Internet for "newfie word of the day".

Memorial University's political scientist slash sociologist Jamie Baker has discovered that the guy in the picture isn't a Newfoundlander.  He's actually Czech.  The picture came from a post on a Northern Peninsula blog by cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore.  It's about a Screech-in ceremony in the Czech republic that Mitchelmore ran during a visit there on one of his numerous globe-trotting ventures.

Baker posted the link on Facebook and asked folks to give them their thoughts. Feel free to do so by sending him an email:  jbaker at mun dot ca.  Baker's also written about about nationalism and racism, if this interests you. He got some notoriety last week not for this "newfie" meme story but for one on a paper he wrote about young people's attitudes to the word "newfie." He interviewed 30 university students and found that among the young people, the word is either an insult or no big thing.  You can find a CBC story about it, one from Radio Canada, and one from NTV.

15 May 2017

The unbroken machine #nlpoli

The Unbroken Machine coverThe best little book on Canadian politics and government in a long time.


Starting with the basics,  Dale Smith describes how the Canadian political system works and why things are like they are.  The language is plain and that makes the idea understandable for as wide an audience as possible.

Every politician, pundit, and plumber should have a dog-eared copy of The unbroken machine close at hand and check it before speaking about any current issue in Canadian politics. Smith's focus is on the federal system but the basic ideas - responsible government,  the role of the Crown and so on - apply in the provincial sphere as well.

Available in paperback,  pdf, and ebook editions from your local bookseller or online from Dundurn Press.

-srbp-



12 May 2017

Junk reporting of medical research

The Telegraph is a major conventional newspaper in the United Kingdom.

And it spreads fake news.

There's nothing surprising in that. Most conventional news organisations produce some amount of pure nonsense in the course of a year.  The crap content level varies from outlet to outlet and the people who work hard in pretty well every conventional news outlet also work diligently to get stories right.

But excrement seeps through.

It's a Law of Averages thing.

Anyway...

24 April 2017

Plain language, power, and politics #nlpoli

In the midst of a political controversy over recent fishing quotas in Newfoundland and Labrador, two people are talking about the need for better communication about science and the fishing quotas.

Jacqueline Perry is the regional director of fisheries management for the fisheries and oceans department of the Government of Canada.  "This is difficult stuff,"  she said, referring to reductions in quotas that the decisions that flow from the scientific information on fish stocks will have an adverse impact on people in the fishing industry.

"We are doing the very, very best that we can with the information that our science colleagues are able to provide to us with the input of industry. Are we getting it 100 per cent right? I don't know if we will ever know [about the precise size of fish stocks]."

In related comments,  the head of the Marine Institute's fisheries science program told CBC that the "fact that there is so much controversy is indicative that communication is a necessary component … If we're going to find a way forward, we're going to have to keep talking."  Brett Favaro said the Marine Institute will include course work in the master's and doctoral programs aimed at teaching scientists how to communicate their research findings more effectively.

He's talking about plain language, among other things.  Plain language or Plain English establishes some simple rules about the way you use words and sentences in order to ensure the greatest number of people will understand what you are saying.

14 April 2017

Monchy-le-Preux #nlpoli

Very few Newfoundlanders and Labradorians let alone very few Canadians have ever heard of Monchy-le-Preux.

People from St. John's might know of Monchy Street,  in the city's Rabbit Town neighbourhood. It is there alongside Suvla,  Cairo,  and Edinburgh Streets and a few others that seem to people unaware of Newfoundland's military past to have very little in common.

The streets are all connected to the Newfoundland Regiment during the Great War.  Suvla is where he regiment landed during the Gallipoli campaign.  Cairo is where it spent some time training before landing in Turkey.  Edinburgh is the city in Scotland where the Newfoundlanders mounted guard at the famous castle.and Cairo.  Hamel, another street in that neighbourhood, refers to Beaumont Hamel, of course.

And Monchy is Monchy-le-Preux.

03 April 2017

Ray and Robert #nlpoli

With the release of Ray Guy:  the final columns, 2003 - 2013,  almost every column Ray Guy ever published is now available in book form.

This compilation is edited by Brian Jones,  published by Creative,  and contains a decade's worth of writing Guy did for The northeast Avalon Times.  The topics are all familiar fodder:  provincial politicians.

Let's be clear about one thing up front.  You will buy this book to fill out your collection of Ray Guy's work.  You will not be buying it as a penetrating insight into a decade's worth of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador. Sure the cover blurbs are effusive in their praise - "brilliant writing"  and "unequalled style" - but by the time Ray was clacking out his opinions on Danny,  Jerome or Roger,  he was clearly tired.

What's more evident is that his touchstones,  his go-to references had become cliche,  stale and lifeless through overuse.  And what's worse, his writing lacked any sign of crispness, clarity, deftness of phrase, or any of Guy's other hallmarks.

27 March 2017

The Andrew Potter Affair #nlpoli #cdnpoli

For those interested in the controversy caused by an opinion piece in Macleans,  here are some useful links.

1.  "How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise"  Sub-head:  "The issues that led to the shutdown of a Montreal highway that left drivers stranded go beyond mere political dysfunction"  Andrew Potter's original piece,  with some alterations and editorial notes that have been added since it first appeared.

2.  "This is not how a liberal society responds to criticism"  -  Andrew Coyne's typically cogent and eloquent criticism of the response to Potter's column article.  From the Montreal Gazette.

3.  "It was shoddy journalism that cost Andrew Potter his job"   - Chantal Hebert's typically cogent and eloquent examination of the response to Potter's column.  From the Toronto Star.

4.  From Joseph Heath, an academic's perspective on what he calls "l'affaire Potter".

5.  Many people have incorrectly stated that the vitriolic reaction to Potter's opinion piece is unique to Quebec.  Those people either are not aware of or have forgotten about the string of attacks perpetrated in Newfoundland and Labrador between 2003 and 2014 against individuals who were accused of pretty much everything folks have said Andrew Potter did or failed to do.

Here are a few stories and relevant SRBP posts:

2005:  "A vast and scenic welfare ghetto"  - Margaret Wente's original column in the Globe and Mail sparked some loud and widespread condemnation.  To find some of the reaction, you have to search the Internet Archive.  Other reaction will cost you a subscription to the NewfNat's newspaper of record, the Toronto Globe and Mail.

2005:  For others,  you need look no farther than Rex Murphy in the Globe whose entire argument is based on the premise that while others presume to be victims,  Newfoundlanders really are.   Rex becomes the Fifth Yorkshireman.

Various:  Quislings and traitors

2013:  "On bigotry and prejudice"

2016:  Margaret Wente, again,  only this time knowing how to provide the stimulus to get he neo-nationalist knees in Newfoundland jerking wildly. SRBP:  "Through others' eyes".

2016:  "Poor Russell's Almanack"

-srbp-


20 March 2017

Queen's Counsel and other things that sound alike #nlpoli

"The Honourable Dwight Ball, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, today announced this year's appointments to Queen's Counsel by the Lieutenant Governor in Council."

That's the lede from a news release issued in January about appointments for lawyers.  On Friday, there was a little ceremony at Supreme Court in St. John's where the lawyers appointed as counsel to Her Majesty received their new robes.  They are made of silk instead of ordinary material, hence the phrase "take silk"  when one gets a QC appointment.

Anyway,  the sticklers may have already noticed the problem with the government news release.

One is appointed *to* a council, which is a group of individuals, but one is appointed *as* counsel, meaning that one is an advisor.  So yes, one can be counsel to a council, which is what the Attorney General is, for example.  He or she is the government's chief legal advisor and so is the law counsel to the Executive Council.  The correct sentence would have been "announcement of lawyers appointed as Queen's Counsel" or something to that effect.  If there was a simple explanation of qualifications for getting this disctinction - like say, long service, it might have gone there as well.

The error in the government news release the sort of detail that is like nails on chalkboard to folks whose business it is to be accurate about such matters. Feel free to come up with a more modern simile for irritation.

-srbp-

When did it start?  Update:

The always annoying labradore produced a list via email this morning comparing every QC email issued since 1996. That's the year the government website went live.

The provincial government issued seven news releases between 1996 and 2003 announcing QC appointments. They described the appointment of individuals as Queen's Counsel.

Started in 2004,  someone decided to call them appointments *to* Queen's Counsel, which is wrong. 

There have been 11 such releases since 2004.










03 March 2017

A change is as good as a rest #nlpoli

After 12 years and two months, we are going to make some serious changes at Bond Papers.

For one thing, we'll be going from daily posts to weekly ones, most likely on Monday mornings. 

For another thing, there'll be a change of content.  There are some book reviews that have been in the works for a while. Those will appear over the next few weeks.  General political science and history posts will appear as will notifications of events. I may need to make some observations about public relations now and then. SRBP has always been a very personal thing for me and, as such, the truly personal stuff will stay.

Fans of the policy analysis and commentary will find it at aims.ca.  Long-time readers will know that the original idea for SRBP was for longer, detailed policy analyses. It turned into a blog, went through a number of changes of style and form, and has still been evolving up to and including these changes. In that respect, this next evolution - of doing policy research and analysis for an independent think-tank - makes perfect sense.

AIMS does some other regular public commentaries through conventional media and I will be producing those for Newfoundland and Labrador. Don't be surprised if you see some other efforts to make more people in Newfoundland and Labrador more aware of AIMS and the work we do.

Many of you have sent good wishes via Twitter, Facebook, and linkedin.  It has been truly gratifying to know that all this work has had an impact.  There are thousands of people I have gotten to know online. You have all made an impact on me, in return, in more ways than you realise.  Thank you for that and thank you for the good wishes.

Many of you have told me you want SRBP to continue. The simple truth is that it cannot keep going as it is, under the circumstances. Hopefully you will continue to follow the policy work I will be doing through AIMS and will check in at SRBP for your fix of Newfoundland and Labrador history that will turn up as time allows. If you feel so moved, you can always reach me by email at ed_hollett at hotmail dot com, the address I have been using since hotmail started.  I will try and answer as much as I can. Of course, if you see me anywhere around town,  you can always come up, introduce yourself, and say hello.  Contrary to rumours, I don't bite. You know what I look like.

After all that, look at it this way:  it is not like I am disappearing.  And, if other plans work out, you will have a book or two to read in the near future that have come out of SRBP.

Take care and keep an eye out for me.

Ed