What a gorgeous morning, with lilacs last in the dooryard blooming, along with the flowering crab, making for a sparkling counterpoint for the dirty Norwegian maple and blue sky that frames all.

So, the defending World Series champion SF Giants come into the Rogers Centre to do battle with cellar-dwelling Toronto. And the Blue Jays destroy the Giants in both games–by scores that would have brought forth the mercy rule in little league. But so be it, and it’s clear that the Jays are better than their record, much, and the Giants, not so much. But of course it’s early in the season and this observer would not be surprised to see Toronto climb back into contention. June will tell.

Farewell to the great Cal running back Chuck Muncie, who passed in Riverside CA at the too young age of 60. Muncie, who had trouble with academics while in school, and with drugs and problematic associations after school–during his pro career, shook off his problematic baggage and returned to Berkeley as as an assistant to the program, working with student-athletes who faced similar problems as he did. He earned respect as a courageous person, who showed that being down did not mean forever. And could he run the football, catch it, throw it. Everything. Chuck was a nice person, unassuming, a bit overwhelmed by the Berkeley experience (as was this writer back in 1959). Gone too soon.

And also farewell to Betty Ngan-Woon Lee of Kingston, former coowner with her husband Donald of Lee’s Laundry at the corner of Division and Earl., who did suddenly on May 10 at age 72. A great lady and mother–she had sixteen children–and one wonders when she found time to do the laundry and dry-cleaning for generation’s of Queen’s students. But this she did, with unfailing good humour and help–I recall a tablecloth that no one else would or could touch. Betty said, “I’ll do it,” and she did, perfectly.

Reading the Globe and Mail this morning, the front page immediately grabbed my attention. “Pipeline” clearly is the magic word in BC politics, ha ha, and Mike “Puffy” Duffy (literally–and there is an eerie physical resemblance here with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, which now stretches to behaviours), who is alleged to have received many Ks of the green stuff to cover a debt. And from a member of PM Stephen Harper’s inner circle, no less. The bet here is that Duffy will lose his Senate position, and then start a new TV show and write a book.

And the piece in the “Life” section on marijuana as a possible antidote for a type of diabetes. We are of course in the midst of a sugar-fueled obesity pandemic throughout the civilized world. But my experience with hemp–aside from wearing it–leads to the cookie jar, the fridge, etc. You get the point. But if the researchers say so…..Also read that marijuana is said to slow, even cure, the insidious malady known to so many as Krohn’s disease. That, too, would be something.

Ran into an old friend, Craig Boydell, now retired sociology prof and basketball coach at Western University (yes, that’s what we call it now) while he visited with Gaels’ coach Stef Barrie yesterday afternoon. Boydell’s son, Mike, played for the Gaels in the early 80s in the same era that featured Tom Cavanagh, whom people now know as an accomplished TV and film actor.  Craig just turned 70 and looks great.  Those sure were the days….when professors coached at a varsity level….



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So the bottom line on this May 12 is the wet snow that fell last night, and a biting northwest wind that has been blowing up a storm. Unusual weather? We should expect it, given the hits that we have put on mother earth over the centuries. Every time I go to Toronto or Montreal, or LA and San Francisco (or any urban sprawl) I conclude that I am looking at the future: a mix of gridlock, smog, anger ranging to rage (I like the sound of that), and fast-food that will kill you very quickly indeed (Oh give me that old time slow food at the Brew Pub, any day….). Just back from a couple of jaunts that took care of some of the winter and early spring (ha – when the weather was warm here – I am told). The first did nothing to make me disagree with that old climate-change guru Al Gore and his Cdn sidekick David Suzuki. The first moment of recognition occurred as I surfed in Bali — after a voyage with Roberta on board the “Aegean Odyssey”. A rebullt car ferry, the doughty vessel and its passenger compliment braved the failure of the air-conditioning system as the vessel made the equator.  Many people unhappy, esp. those lacking significant breathing  apparatus.  But the big moment came as I body surfed and suddenly felt what might have been a jelly fish wrapping itself around my ankle.  In fact, it was a plastic bag, to be followed by a plastic holder for a six pack of beer.  Is nothing sacred anymore?  This is “Some Enchanted Evening,” people.

And then a three-week stint to the desert–Palm Desert–with marvelous day trips to Joshua Tree National Monument and up the Tram from the desert floor to the top of Mt. San Jacinto–some 8500 feet and a temperature change of about 45o.  Both areas were on my bucket list, and I’m glad I went.   Amazing moments throughout, as well as Angeles National Forest, where we were hailed by two very bold and large coyotes.  That specie is indeed bold these days.  But even in the desert, wisps of Los Angeles smog filltered through the dust storms that rose occasionally from the windy desert floor.  The area boasts roads named after Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope (yes there is a corner), Dinah Shore, and so on.  And the whole shebang pays testimony to golf and the American male.  The humungous amount of water expended on golf courses in the region makes one realize that environmentalists and conservationists have a long way to catch up with the corporate altar on which so many people hit a small white sphere, as they take, in the words of Mark Twain, “a good walk spoiled”.

We did not return through our original destination, the city of angels, which should be given back to Mexico (the U.S. stole it in 1848, history buffs), and which rivals Mexico City for both the proportion of Hispanic population and smog.  No, people, that is not a racist comment, just a statement on post-industrial population growth and smog.  So, if you think I am being too hard on LA, yes I am a SF Giant baseball fan, and yes, my brother Jon has moved to Hawaii and he tells me of a repetitious climate condition called  ”VOG” — use your imagination on this one.  Volcano dust mixing with fog.   And not nice.

So let us end this missive with the argument that we have lived in the golden era, have tarnished it, perhaps irreparably, with our rapacious appetites for cosumer marvels.  Cars and golf this time,  or as Baldwin paraphrased in the 1960s, this time the flood (yes, in places), the fire next time.


South Lake Sunset

“THE ISLAND”   — far away from the crud and whey of our

civilization (sic)…..or is it?



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The Permanent Militarization of America
Published: November 4, 2012

Annapolis, Md.

IN 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning of the growing power of the military-industrial complex in American life. Most people know the term the president popularized, but few remember his argument.

In his farewell address, Eisenhower called for a better equilibrium between military and domestic affairs in our economy, politics and culture. He worried that the defense industry’s search for profits would warp foreign policy and, conversely, that too much state control of the private sector would cause economic stagnation. He warned that unending preparations for war were incongruous with the nation’s history. He cautioned that war and warmaking took up too large a proportion of national life, with grave ramifications for our spiritual health.

The military-industrial complex has not emerged in quite the way Eisenhower envisioned. The United States spends an enormous sum on defense — over $700 billion last year, about half of all military spending in the world — but in terms of our total economy, it has steadily declined to less than 5 percent of gross domestic product from 14 percent in 1953. Defense-related research has not produced an ossified garrison state; in fact, it has yielded a host of beneficial technologies, from the Internet to civilian nuclear power to GPS navigation. The United States has an enormous armaments industry, but it has not hampered employment and economic growth. In fact, Congress’s favorite argument against reducing defense spending is the job loss such cuts would entail.

Nor has the private sector infected foreign policy in the way that Eisenhower warned. Foreign policy has become increasingly reliant on military solutions since World War II, but we are a long way from the Marines’ repeated occupations of Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century, when commercial interests influenced military action. Of all the criticisms of the 2003 Iraq war, the idea that it was done to somehow magically decrease the cost of oil is the least credible. Though it’s true that mercenaries and contractors have exploited the wars of the past decade, hard decisions about the use of military force are made today much as they were in Eisenhower’s day: by the president, advised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council, and then more or less rubber-stamped by Congress. Corporations do not get a vote, at least not yet.

But Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever. Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland” and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas. Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution — particularly one financed by the taxpayers — should be immune from thoughtful criticism.

Like all institutions, the military works to enhance its public image, but this is just one element of militarization. Most of the political discourse on military matters comes from civilians, who are more vocal about “supporting our troops” than the troops themselves. It doesn’t help that there are fewer veterans in Congress today than at any previous point since World War II. Those who have served are less likely to offer unvarnished praise for the military, for it, like all institutions, has its own frustrations and failings. But for non-veterans — including about four-fifths of all members of Congress — there is only unequivocal, unhesitating adulation. The political costs of anything else are just too high.

For proof of this phenomenon, one need look no further than the continuing furor over sequestration — the automatic cuts, evenly divided between Pentagon and nonsecurity spending, that will go into effect in January if a deal on the debt and deficits isn’t reached. As Bob Woodward’s latest book reveals, the Obama administration devised the measure last year to include across-the-board defense cuts because it believed that slashing defense was so unthinkable that it would make compromise inevitable.

But after a grand budget deal collapsed, in large part because of resistance from House Republicans, both parties reframed sequestration as an attack on the troops (even though it has provisions that would protect military pay). The fact that sequestration would also devastate education, health and programs for children has not had the same impact.

Eisenhower understood the trade-offs between guns and butter. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he warned in 1953, early in his presidency. “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

He also knew that Congress was a big part of the problem. (In earlier drafts, he referred to the “military-industrial-Congressional” complex, but decided against alienating the legislature in his last days in office.) Today, there are just a select few in public life who are willing to question the military or its spending, and those who do — from the libertarian Ron Paul to the leftist Dennis J. Kucinich — are dismissed as unrealistic.

The fact that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are calling for increases to the defense budget (in the latter case, above what the military has asked for) is further proof that the military is the true “third rail” of American politics. In this strange universe where those without military credentials can’t endorse defense cuts, it took a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, to make the obvious point that the nation’s ballooning debt was the biggest threat to national security.

Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.

Were Eisenhower alive, he’d be aghast at our debt, deficits and still expanding military-industrial complex. And he would certainly be critical of the “insidious penetration of our minds” by video game companies and television networks, the news media and the partisan pundits. With so little knowledge of what Eisenhower called the “lingering sadness of war” and the “certain agony of the battlefield,” they have done as much as anyone to turn the hard work of national security into the crass business of politics and entertainment.

Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer, is the author of “Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps.”

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So, we did not have the catastrophic weather that visited the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. last night. Still, the experience of watching the disaster unfold, in the dark, was chastening, reminiscent in some ways of the great ice storm that visited Ontario, Quebec, and the northeastern U.S. in January 1998.  For those people who lament that “nothing ever happens in Kingston,” that event, which stretched out over ten days to two weeks, certainly gave a good idea of what catastrophe means, up close, and for those of us who also recall hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans a few years back and making George W. Bush look terrible both as leader and humanitarian, President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood as tall as they could (Bloomberg is pretty short) while seeking to demonstrate leadership.  Governors in Maryland, Connecticut, and New Jersey also seemed to attempt to pile up political points in an event whose significance for next week’s presidential election remains moot.  Certainly hurricane Sandy has put the proverbial ball in both candidates’ courts.  How to react?  Can one individual get on top of such a humungous tragedy in a mere week?  Will the technology that now girds voting work?  It’s dependent upon electricity, after all.  Well, many imponderables now, but this corner holds the view that Sandy will be more helpful to the incumbent–bringing forth that hoary adage of “not changing horses in the middle of a stream” (God, could there be any worse pun??)  Yet, ultimately, Sandy is a wild card, and politics will go on, changed, but in what ways?

Here in Kingston, on William Street, this correspondent smiled on the morn when he ventured out into a relatively windy day, nothing more, and saw that his student neighbours had put their grey boxes filled with paper recyclables out for pickup.  Problem was that they put these vessels out last night, before the big overnight winds swooshed through the area.  Result?  Yes, indeed, the best and the brightest students, who also erroneously put out blue boxes filled with tin cans and beer bottles, contributed to an excessively messy morn.   Paper, cardboard, detritus of all sort strewn by the zephyrs.  All over.  And of course –  given how hard it is for students to put garbage out in the first place, and to make the kinds of divisions that recycling now demands of us, there will be garbage for days on William, Earl, University, et al.  But what can one expect?  It’s reached the point where one posts pickup schedules on front doors and then hopes for the best.

Qns made the Globe again today, with convicted plagiarist Margaret Wente coming to the defense of historian Mike Mason, whose use of graphic references in class ran athwart what Ms. Wente implied was a suffocating political correctness at the university.  Ms. Wente writes to get peoples’s blood moving, or boiling, depending upon political persuasion.  In this instance, she made several stretches and connections that did neither Mason nor the university any good.  Mason may have been guilty of poor public relations–his class was about third world history–and he may not have made his intentions as clear as he might in using references that some of his students and assistants found troubling.  As a former prof at Queen’s, I’ve used the phrases and words Mason employed, but always made certain to provide a contextual warning to allow students to realize that I was not embracing the terms in question.  No, it’s not necessary to refer to these specifically, merely to state that we’ve all heard them before, in various frames.  Mason was essentially terminated by the university, his due process violated, as a subsequent Ontario university investigative body ruled.   So this writer sides with Wente on part of the argument, but not on her larger critique of the university.  Yes, free speech is very necessary to moving forward, intellectually and otherwise, and yes, there are words that are very dangerous, hateful, and ultimately harmful.  The trick is to tell the difference, and Wente’s condemnation of what she deemed the overarching power of Queen’s thought police was overdone and missed that reality.

And, finally for now, how about those SF Giants.  Losing badly in both semi-final playoffs, then coming from behind to win, then beating the Detroit Tigers four straight in the World Series makes one believe that anything is possible, in sport and in life.  Who would have thought of a Giant sweep at the outset of the Series?   Perhaps only that wicked witch of the west from the Wizard of Oz.   Now there is no more baseball for a good while.  We’ll get more sleep and on Saturday nights we’ll satisfy ourselves watching teams like the Kingston Fronts, the Vees, and–given wheels and a passport–the Hershey Bears.  That would be, without the ‘e,’ the Hershey Bars.  If one wants to glean the meaning of the standoff between NHL players and management at this moment, think of a product that has been stretched way too thin, and think greed, especially on the part of the owners.  Without the players, they are nothing.

An addition from this morning’s (31/10/12) Globe and Mail “Letters” column, written by Drama Prof John Lazarus — very much worth reading….

“As a professor in a liberal arts department at Queen’s, I was saddened to learn from Margaret Wente that my university is “obsessed” with gender and racial politics; that my students’ lively interest in such drama-worthy subjects as race, class, gender and “the sins of dead white males” is merely “the usual faddish attention”; and that “there’s no place for faddish academics any more.”

I, for one, will be sorry when this fad has run its brief course and we all return to the values of those not-distant-enough days when race, class and gender were virtually taboo topics; when racism, sexism and homophobia, thriving in the vacuum thus created, were considered the norm; when our only heroes were dead white males; and when women were not usually allowed to write newspaper columns.”

John Lazarus, associate professor, Drama Department, Queen’s University






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There is much to ponder in the last few months’ record of the Stephen Harper government. From this angle, the most significant trend is the Harperite decision to put its foot down in favour of ideological purity–which of course in Canada is nowhere near the Tea Party ideology that so galvanizes right-wing Republicans in the United States. BUT, in its war on the CBC, its desire to further militarize its foreign policy and to spend billions on aircraft this country does not need, and its general hostility to NGOs that work to improve the lot of Canadians and provide important glue to maintaining this country’s social fabric. What happened in Ontario in the 1990s under the baleful stewardship of Mike Harris is now Federal policy, with a pale version of evangelical menace hanging over everything.

The new Canadian militarism is not going unopposed. The transformation of the peaceable kingdom–a country known for promoting and maintaining peace–into a willing partner to the American Republic’s drifting military adventurism is a sad turn/ This corner’s gut feeling is that Canadian apathy might not serve us well in the coming years, at the least as a drain on what’s really important in our lives. No, wars in the Middle East do not make my list. Never have. You can check my record on the “constructive journalism” page on the website www.geoffsmith.org

But equally offensive, and (at the moment) possessing more of an immediate impact is the government’s decision to take a razor to the CBC. Now CBC television is one thing–very much like its commercial rivals Global and CTV in this country, and the networks in the United States. CBC radio, on the other hand, has been and is a national treasure, free from the gut-curdling advertisements that sullies other outlets, and redolent of creative programming that brings people who think something of substance beyond shows that serve merely to help push cars, pills, and other dubious nostrums.

My wife and partner in  crime, Roberta Hamilton, captures my feeling perfectly in a note that she sent CBC on the announced cancellation of “Dispatches”.  If you feel strongly about this, why not a letter as well?   Here it is, and there is something very, very sad in all of this for people who think.  Marshall McLuhan called radio a “hot” medium.   In this judgment he was wrong–the CBC is as “cool” (inviting participation, empathy, and varied responses–check the call-backs on “As It Happens” and even the telelphone responses to hard-hat Rex Murphy’s show, “Cross Country Check Up”) as any medium ever.  You’ll see that by cross-checking CBC in its ability to critique government (yes) , address social problems, and probe all sorts of  issues that affect Canada, there is the stench of thought-control, of Goebbels on Sussex Drive.

Here is Roberta’s letter:

Dear Rick and Rick’s team,   I am deeply sorry about the CBC decision to cut dispatches.  The day before I heard  the news I had said to my son who lives in Toronto:  as long as CBC Radio keeps the really important programs – namely Dispatches–  we can live to fight another day.   Sure I blame the Harper government for this and too many other things to mention.  But I hold the CBC responsible for deciding what to cut.   To cut the only show completely dedicated to the global community when it has done such a fine job of combining important stories, human interest, call to arms– the works — is truly sad and unforgivable.   I felt sick when i heard the news.  Where else will I get such excellent stories that keep me a little abreast of this astounding world in which we live.   Congratulations to Rick and Staff.   Shame on the CBC.   And let’s hope that the next government will re-build the CBC.

Roberta Hamilton,  Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University, Kingston ON

Again, as with, but even more than, the Conservatives’s decision on the prison farms, let us moo, loudly and long……





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Oh my the wealthy have all the fun, don' t they.....

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There it is, a new year–with no snow, no water, very little of anything noteworthy aside from that gruesome trial running its way down at the courthouse. So sad, and so much a part of another culture not known to us Canadians, save through the kind of atrocities we read about in Middle Eastern countries where women have few if any rights from the time they are born. Yes, that was a long sentence, and the perpetrators of the Kingston Mills drownings will also get a long sentence. One tires of the daily trotting out of photos by TV station CKWS (short budget, same photo of the same people walking to court, bound in handcuffs with heads pointing downward). But, people, this stuff happens with regularity in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., places where women lack noteworthiness as human beings. Those who are attending the trial, including several neighbours, seem to me to want to be looking at freaks, or going to the zoo, probably feeling better for being Canadians of Anglo-Saxon heritage, rather than observing impartial justice in action.   Or, in other words, there but for the grace of god go we.

Am also saying that Ian McAlpine, photog for the Whig Standard, should get a special royalty everytime a version of this appears.  The CKWS version, meanwhile, runs the risk of wearing out.  May the trial of the decade here in Frontenac end swiftly before we get totally bored.
Meanwhile, we wait for winter.  No doubt it will arrive, sometime, probably in May.  Basketball and hockey and the interminable bowl games (The “Go-Daddy Bowl”?) take up the space at one time reserved for Roman bread and circuses.    No worse hardcourt circus is unfolding than the sad state of the men’s IC basketball teams at Queen’s and RMC, both of which, if stats serve, stand 0-10 in the OU East, granted a tough conference, but.  Last weekend, Ryerson (no power) came into town and knocked over the Gaels by 17 and then went crosstown and did in our military, 92-19.   No I am not making this up.  Many years ago, when Queen’s women’s coach Dave Wilson was in his (very early) salad days, his team lost to Laurentian, 92-15.  That was hard but if memory serves, again, he was quoted as saying, “they’ll be all right.”  And, of course, they were and are.  The Qns women have been competitive, interesting to watch, and on the verge of becoming very good.  As for the RMC men, well, I met their centre in the liquor store the other day and it took a while for him to own up to being on the RMC team.  Don’t blame him.  Why RMC continues to compete at the OU level is beyond me.  Maybe–as the man says–all the losses reveal character; they surely don’t build it.  Or as one of my correspondents noted,  a good thing that the Cdn military fires guns in Afghanistan and Iraq and not basketballs.
We retired professors still receive requests for interviews from various media.  We are, of course, considered experts, “outstanding in our fields,” like cows and sheep I guess.  One must take care in accepting these invites–knowing the reporter/journalist helps gauge the answer–but sometimes there are topics that just shout out for notice.  I very much regret that my colleague, Vinny Mosco, a world authority on communications and well-known sociologist (and a very nice guy) got the nod ahead of me on this one.  I shall not comment on the issue.  I shall leave that to the good Professor Mosco.  Oh that Toronto Star, always on top of things.


A correspondent from California noted the importance of considering “the power of vulnerability” when assaying the photo and reading the story, and I like that, given that we here so much about “the vulnerability of power,” in discussions of  U.S. foreign and defence policy…

Finally, for today, a variant of a poem published last week in the “Letters” column in the Globe and Mail — my take on the Republican Party as it staggers toward nominating someone to oppose Obama…..

Michele fell to hell;
Santorum lacked a quorum:
Paul took a fall;
Huntsman was a buntsman;
Perry proved too hairy;
Newt was no beaut;
Cain strayed from the main;
And Mitt crawled out of the pit.

What does it all mean? Precious little.

Hang in there, stay warm, and stay tuned……..
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