Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Free trade agreements are meant to be a boon to the economies of those nations who participate. In Canada, the Free Trade election of 1988 was supposed to bring in "jobs, jobs, jobs" according to the Prime Minister of the day, Brian Mulroney. In theory, it did. Canadian firms had access to the huge U.S. market and all seemed to go just as the auto industry had shown before the FTA came into effect. But then, along came Mexico and everything changed. Over time the FTA became NAFTA and many good-paying industrial jobs went south because Mexican workers were willing to work for less money and the Mexican government was willing to stifle any efforts of trade unions to establish chapters in that country. Subsequent trade agreements with other "developing" nations has shown a similar trend.
It has become obvious that free trade benefits only one group of people: investors. Those who seek to invest in economies that crank out product, often cheaply made, environmentally irresponsible, and completely uncaring for the conditions or safety or well-being of the workers, see their investments gain huge returns. Investors love free trade agreements. Other people ... not so much.
Thus, in its most positive form, the Brexit vote may be construed as a repudiation of large-scale free-trade agreements. So, that's the good news. However .....
The vote has badly divided the "United" Kingdom. Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the City of London ( the financial centre of Europe ) voted to remain, seeing advantages in doing so. The rest of England and Wales voted to leave. This sets up a troubling disunity. In terms of Scotland and Northern Ireland, those countries saw advantages of being able to count on the larger planning and location of economic activities of the EU. They are small markets, and saw their products being available to the large markets on the continent. Voting to remain was their way of telling the larger English electorate that they wanted more opportunity and control of their own economic future. And in terms of London, the economic powerhouse was able to exert influence on EU decision makers. But the English vote is obviously an anti-London vote. Smaller cities and towns have seen their factories close down and their young leave to go to London. And rural voters just do not trust their urban counterparts, in England and elsewhere.
More troubling in the disunity is the fact that younger British voters wanted to remain in the EU. They are more adaptable to new economic realities and were not frightened by the larger markets or opportunities of the EU. But older British voters wanted to get out. Why? Perhaps it's an unwillingness to embrace newer economic realities. Or perhaps it's because they still recall the older days of Great Britain being a world power, and having great influence in world affairs. It could be a type of nostalgia where "Britannia ruled the waves" at work here. Those days, of course, are long gone forever, but older British voters could've seen this as their last act of British defiance in the face of those Europeans that the British either fought against ( ie the Germans ) or traditionally distrusted ( ie the French ).
Whatever the case, the result of the vote has badly fractured the once United Kingdom. Scotland is openly musing about holding another referendum on their membership in the UK: presumably, the vote would be different a second time, with EU membership being linked with leaving the UK. And what of Northern Ireland? Gerry Adams and Sinn Feinn have long advocated continuing membership in the EU, as the Republic of Ireland has. Could this be the spark to have Northern Ireland finally renouncing its links to England and possibly joining the Republic to the south and maintaining membership in the EU?
All the result has really done is prove to the world that the UK in general, and England in particular, is a nation that no longer knows what it is, what it wants, what it's place in the world is, and where it's going. It is grimly trying to hold on to the notion that it is still a "great" nation, that its voice is still heard, and that it matters. Well, it has been heard all right ... but as for the rest ?
How the world might view the UK falls under this category .....
They have absolutely no idea what they have done. According to Google, the second most googled question on the day after the Brexit result was made known was "what is the EU?" It's almost like these people got drunk and angry, said many bad things in their choler, and then wanted to find out what they'd actually said. Many Britons have petitioned their government to have a second referendum, a type of mea culpa and apology in one. They're not going to get it.
What's done is done. There is no second chance, no sending the world in general and Europe in particular a bouquet of flowers with cute teddy bears on it, shedding tears and saying " I'm sorry, I won't do it again, please take me back."
England needs to take a long look in the mirror. And when it does, it needs to tell the world what it sees. For the rest of us, it's not a pretty image.
Monday, June 27, 2016
So reads the infamous Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights has been changed several times over the years, with new amendments added, and others being repealed. But the Second Amendment, a single sentence with only 27 words, has remained since the Constitution was drafted and adopted in 1791. It is, without a doubt, the most quoted and most contentious amendment in our modern world.
And it needs to go.
In 1791, the survival of the new United States was far from a sure thing. The country, which had only won independence from Great Britain a few years before, was a very loose gathering of "states" which had, until the Revolution, very little in common with each other, except for a series of grievances against Britain. But, despite all odds, the colonies won the war and then attempted to created a new republic, using some of the best ideals in the Enlightenment. The first constitution, the "Articles of Confederation" proved to be unworkable. There had also been several examples of discontent in the colonies against the federal government. A second attempt at a constitution had to be made, or the colonies would dissolve into a series of puny countries, ripe for the picking should European powers try to re-establish their supremacy in the New World.
Thus, the Second Amendment was crafted and brought into existence. It is a perfect eighteenth century solution to problem of national security, and it satisfied the fears and suspicions of many of the early citizens.
And it created a gun culture the like of which the world has never seen. Today, we have been pummelled with stories and images of mass murder and carnage that has claimed thousands of lives. These atrocities have happened in public places: places of worship, movie theatres, nightclubs, community centres, schools, malls. And the lives lost were, for the most part, innocent victims, unknown to the murderers who killed them, civilians who had been going about their daily activities with family, friends, colleagues and children. And they were killed, for the most part, with military-style weapons: automatic and semi-automatic weapons that repeatedly fire rounds as long as there are bullets in the clip. These weapons are designed for one thing and one thing only: to kill large numbers of people in a short span of time.
The weapon of choice in 1791 was a flint-lock muzzle-loading musket. It could fire 2 to 3 rounds a minute. After firing the weapon, the user had to manually load the next round: if he was a good musketeer, he could do this, as stated above, 2 or 3 times. But, if there were more targets in front of him, the musketeer would be overwhelmed by those targets and disarmed. That's why formations of troops in the eighteenth century were tightly packed and could work together to maximize the effect of their fire and protect each other from retaliation while they reloaded.
The AR-15 was not the weapon the Founding Fathers had envisioned.
Similarly, as the history of the United States evolved through the years, the aversion to a standing army gave way to the creation of a permanent, professional military the like of which the world has never seen. There is simply no need of a "well regulated militia" to exist any more. And there is no further need of the "right to keep and bear arms" for the general population. Despite the several terrible movies and TV mini-series that depict a country in ruins defended by plucky citizens with their trusty rifles, the likelihood of a national emergency of that magnitude is remote.
The only people who benefit from the retention of the Second Amendment are those in the guns and ammunition business, and the people of questionable intelligence and character who belong to semi-secret "militias" who exist either to someday destroy the overbearing federal government or survive some social apocalypse described above.
Repeal of the Second Amendment is long overdue. The act of enshrining the possession of dangerous weapons in a nation's constitution is an anachronism of a by-gone era, and a by-gone way of thinking. It will not mean the elimination of ownership of guns: hunters, farmers and sport shooters will still have them. Lesser legislation can guarantee this ownership. But making it a central part of the national psychology and mythology only puts innocent lives at risk.
The Second Amendment belongs in a museum, along with the muskets and the piece of parchment that created it.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
In point of fact, Gordie Howe himself had only two "Gordie Howe hat tricks", yet he is credited with being the originator of the accomplishment. According to hockey records, the first "Gordie Howe hat trick" was recorded well before Howe entered the league. For a man who has his name attached to the deed, he was never really proud of it. In fact, he was more proud of his Stanley Cup wins, for which he was an indispensable member of the Detroit Red Wings teams which won. He also set records for goals and assists, and won the MVP for the league numerous times. In Howe's world, talent and skill counted for more than the fighting. Because of that, Howe is remembered for being a gentleman, rather than a "goon".
Make no mistake: Gordie Howe was a fierce competitor. He hated losing. In his era, his Red Wings battled the Montreal Canadiens for hockey supremacy often. As a right-winger, he went up against the equally fabled Maurice "Rocket" Richard, a left-winger for the Habs. Their battles were the stuff of legend, and there was no clear winner. That was how it was supposed to be: when two god-like talents square off, there is only the rest of us to stand in awe of their accomplishments. The Rocket passed into immortality years ago. Recently, Gordie joined him.
I am lucky to have seen Howe play, albeit on TV, during the early sixties, when Howe still had much of his immense skill on display. He was a marvel. He had talent that transcended many of the other greats of his time. And he had toughness, not the kind where he was too willing to drop the gloves and duke it out. His toughness was in a single-minded will to win. Yes, the elbows came up often: yes, he would drop the gloves to face a challenger who thought he was tougher: and, yes, that challenger was often beaten soundly. But it was the skill and the will to win that mattered.
There have been many wonderful players to grace the game we love. The pre-war roster is now largely those whose names and accomplishments fill pages in hockey history books: Morenz, Joliet, Clancy, Vezina. And there are those that have their memory live on in the early TV days: Howe, Richard, Hull, Beliveau, Orr, Esposito, Kennedy. And there are the modern heros: Gretzky, Lemieux, Trottier, Perreault, Sittler, Clarke, Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Datsyuk, Tavares. And there are certainly more to come.
But among those greats, there is a small group of Immortals .... those whose names will never die. Men who played the game with superior skill, intense determination, and a humility and humanity that make them stand as giants and demi-gods.
Such a man is Mr. Hockey. Such a man is Gordie Howe. Rest in peace, Mr. Howe.... you were one of the Immortals.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
The truth of the matter is that the word "great" should be reserved for something out-of-the-ordinary, something exceptional, something rare or not previously experienced. Otherwise, the thing in question should be called "good", "nice", "satisfactory" or something equally mundane or ordinary. We should refrain from calling something "great" simply because it temporarily pleases or satisfies us.
But, on rare occasions, an event or person arises in our consciousness and experience that is truly unusual or exceptional. When it's a person, we view the individual as heroic, gifted and utterly beyond the scope of normal human endeavour. Such a person was Muhammad Ali.
Ali's life story is well known and does not need to be repeated here. Instead, I will use a few lines to express my admiration and affection for the man.
When he first burst onto the scene, after knocking our Sonny Liston, I was not a fan. I was only a young boy, about seven or eight years old, but I loved sports and was a boxing fan because it was a major sport in those days and because my dad loved boxing. When Cassius Clay, as Ali was known in those days, beat Liston, my dad was furious. Not because Clay was the new champion of the world, but because Clay defied all the established norms of behaviour for public figures. He was brash, he was vocal, he was cocky, he was loud. The fact that he was black added to the backlash. Now, I need to be careful here. My dad was not a racist by any means, but the idea of an "uppity black" rubbed all of white society the wrong way. I was strongly influenced by this, and had an innocently negative opinion of Clay. The fact that a black man was heavyweight champion of the world was not the issue: Clay had just beaten Liston, also a black man. My dad admired Liston and other great black fighters, such as Floyd Patterson and the previous "greatest", Joe Louis. But Clay was different and it was his mouth and cockiness that made him unappealing.
As time went by, of course, our opinions changed. As Clay morphed into Ali, as his career took all its bizarre twists and turns, and as the man grew into legend as a boxer, advocate for civil rights, and as a "warrior for peace", my initial naïve dislike grew into admiration and then complete hero worship. I only saw him once, well past his prime and as he was sinking into premature old age from the Parkinsons disease caused by the trauma of numerous fights and, undoubtedly, stress from his public life. It was at an Argos game many years ago, when Ali was honoured for all his humanitarian work. I stood and applauded enthusiastically when many people, including former opponents, lauded him. He was stooped, shaking, but completely aware of what was happening. It remains, for me, one of my own wonderful personal memories.
But the thing I would like to express as my own testimony of his true greatness is this: Muhammad Ali was a man who taught the world that it had choices to make. And that those choices are sometimes difficult, harsh and enduring. But, if choices are based on fundamentally sound and right principles, if choices are not merely expedients that make the tough things in life "go away", if choices are made from a person's heart and done for good reasons, then the difficult, harsh, and enduring pain and backlash can be borne and carried with noble and heroic honour.
Ali did this and more in his life. I will never forget him. I will never really live according to his example. But I will try. And, for this, Muhammad Ali will always be, for me, "the greatest."