Friday, December 07, 2007

"A date which will live in infamy"

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The following day, on December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his declaration of war to a joint session of congress.

This speech is one of the most famous of the 20th century.  FDR made a deliberate decision to deliver a brief, uncomplicated appeal and decided against a thorough recitation of Japanese perfidies, as his Secretary of State urged.

After delivery, normal procedure was for him, or a staffer, to take the speech back to the White House for filing.  On that day, the speech was left behind and presumed lost.

That speech was composed by FDR himself, first in his head, then dictated to a secretary and then revised from typed copy.  It was truly a product of the man himself.

In March 1984, an archivist located his reading copy among the Records of the U.S. Senate.  It turned out that when FDR left his copy behind, it was picked up by a Senate clerk who took charge of it, endorsed it "Dec 8, 1941, Read in joint session," and filed it.

Delivered at a pivotal moment in history, it is clear, unambiguous, elegant, forceful and appropriate.  You can see from the scans below that he revised right up to the last draft.  The famous line "a day that will live in infamy" was revised by him by hand from the original " ... live in history."



Mythbusting - What if NL did the same?

Then a few scattered blogs here and there would vanish from the ether, I'm sure.  As would some newspapers.

On the other hand, others have been doing yeoman's service in carefully and systematically demolishing longtime received "truths".

When you base choices for the future on myths of the past, don't be surprised when things go awry and others look askance at you.

Simpson's column today covers another province looking hard at myths of their past.  We are overdue in doing the same.


Hard sell: What if Quebeckers turned their backs on false history?

In the dream palace of Quebec's existential politics, articulate and forceful federalists are at a premium.

Provincial politics has evolved into a competition among secessionists (Parti Québécois), autonomists (Action Démocratique) and federalists who seem chronically unhappy with most aspects of the Canadian status quo (provincial Liberals).

Federally, politics plays itself out among secessionists (Bloc Québécois), asymmetrical federalists (NDP), Quebeckers-are-a-nation (Conservatives) and Stéphane Dion Liberals. That the Liberals are now third or even fourth in Quebec says much about the leader, and attitudes toward federalism.

Federalism is a devotion in Quebec that often dares not speak its name. That it might be an excellent form of government, and beneficial, is an argument seldom advanced, except in cold mechanical terms in which Quebec's financial "gains" are recorded, then quickly forgotten in a welter of fresh demands.

It is, therefore, refreshing (although likely not consequential) that a group of federalists recently produced a collection of essays defending federalism. That the authors are swimming against the tide of elite opinion in Quebec makes their enterprise the more laudable, since they represent the few voices ready to state their federalist credentials clearly and largely without equivocation (although the contribution from the ADQ representative is as muddled as the party's attitudes toward Canada).

Reconquérir le Canada was the brainchild of André Pratte, editorial pages editor at La Presse. It brings together academics, political organizers, past candidates for the Conservatives, Liberals and ADQ, Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier and former federal Liberal justice minister Martin Cauchon.

Even among these redoubtable federalists, however, an undercurrent of dissatisfaction exists with current constitutional arrangements. Most of them say further constitutional changes (at some point) will be required to "satisfy" Quebec by way of allowing the province to sign on to the Constitution that the PQ government did not accept in 1981.

The time is obviously not right to reopen constitutional discussions (will the time ever be right?), but many of these authors suggest it must come.

Mr. Pelletier observes, correctly, that politics in Quebec is driven by identity over language, institutions and other manifestations of the "nation."

History, too, indelibly shapes the collective sense of the "nation," and that sense is exceptionally strong in Quebec. It is also a received sense, in that it is handed down in a certain way, largely as a trail of tears for Quebec within Canada, offset by ephemeral triumphs by provincial politics to "defend" the interests of Quebec.

Mr. Pratte's essay, therefore, is the bravest and most interesting because it is the most iconoclastic, for he takes issue with some of the received assertions of Quebec history.

The Conquest, for example, was a trade of one colonial master for another, and it allowed francophone Quebec to join the winning team in world affairs for the subsequent century and a half -- which meant the Industrial Revolution, parliamentary government, rule of law, and huge export opportunities, all while retaining its language and religion.

The Second World War is presented in Quebec as a doughty struggle against conscription wanted by les anglais, whereas, as Mr. Pratte points out, francophone Quebec's Pétainist preferences and its cultural/religious elites' disengagement from the fight against Nazism left too much of the province on the wrong side of history. To this day, Quebec has not faced up to that sad chapter in its "national" history, preferring the self-comforting saga of valiantly opposing conscription.

Mr. Pratte also takes issue with the premise that the Quiet Revolution turned a backward society toward modernity. Quebec, he argues, had an entrepreneurial class and spirit long before the 1960s.

Quebeckers, he urges, should be more outward looking, more embracing of the idea they can succeed in Canada, and less reliant on the clutches of false history that lead them toward the comforting but inward-looking options of secession and disengagement.

This is the book's most important idea. It will not be an easy one to sell, given the intellectual forces, conventional wisdoms and political choices ranged against it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dirty politics

It's all over but the nastiest politics has to be about candidates and their religion.

It's bad enough when you think certain candidates might be questionable but when God tells you they are bad, well, you get something like this video aimed at Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann.

Evel Knievel makes last jump

Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, Jr. recently passed away on November 30, 2007.

It's hard to describe who and what Evel was but this comes close:

Evel Knievel was kitsch. He was an Elvis who couldn't sing. He was a stuntman without a movie. But none of that mattered.

As my friends cheered, I saw that Evel Knievel was a visionary. Decked out in his Captain America jumpsuit, he created the first and perhaps the greatest reality show of all time. He embodied the American dream: getting paid to take risks, and getting famous along the way. In less than 10 years, he made $60 million in exchange for 40 broken bones, multiple concussions and a coma.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hypocrisy unbound

From today's Telegram's jeers and cheers:

Jeers: to a reality check. Wednesday, the province's Liberal opposition party asked the board that oversees the affairs of the House of Assembly for more money than the rules would normally give them, saying they needed the funds to be an effective opposition. They asked for $450,000 - the ruling Conservatives offered $100,000, saying they had to protect the taxpayers. Here's some of the comments: "You can't always get what you want. This is the people's money. We have to spend it wisely." - Finance Minister Tom Marshall. Cost of operating Marshall's ministerial office last year: $283,900. Cost this year: $339,100. Single-year increase - $55,200, or 19.4 per cent. "I would think that the request before us now is pretty rich. I don't see how we can deal with it as it is." - Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout. Amount budgeted to operate Rideout's cabinet office last year: $264,000. Amount budgeted this year: $354,000. Increase: $90,000, or a single-year increase of 34 per cent. Thank goodness they're standing on guard for us taxpayers.

Maybe we should just peg the budget of the Opposition office to the budget of the Finance Minster's office.