Thursday, 29 December 2011

James P. Cole, "The Death of Elvis: What Really Happened?" (1991)

Ever since the early 1990s, when I was researching an article on Elvis' death for my university newspaper, I have found the death of the 'king of rock'n'roll' pretty fascinating. At the time, my interest was spurred by the conclusions of the rather inflated sounding Elvis Presley Commission. This book seems to be generally regarded as one of the less biased, and better researched texts on the topic.

While the book generally presents a fairly convincing case, it is written in the kind of 'crime thriller' rhetoric that intends to make the process of research (conducting interviews and archival digging) more exciting. I have to admit that the process was exciting, in that much of the research was conducted as part of a respected American investigative news program, and/or as part of a legal proceedings growing out of the program's work. Attempts by the authors to occasionally describe their participant's behaviour, or characterizations of what these persons were thinking sometimes rang as amateurish.

In short, the book provides a nice introduction to some of the issues around Presley's death, and given the descriptions of expert testimonies in legal proceedings, helps to build a strong case for the proposal that Presley died of a drug overdose or, at the very least, drug-related causes.

Frances Widdowson & Albert Howard, "Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry" (2008)

The subtitle for this book is "The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation."

This book is tough to read. Widdowson and Howard are not gentle in their criticism of aboriginal activists, government negotiators, academics, and the sundry hangers-on that speak in favour of a mythical 'golden' state of nature for aboriginals, and economic, social, and political solutions for contemporary Canadian problems based on that 'golden' myth.

More to follow.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Alexandra Highcrest, "At Home On The Stroll" (1997)

The subtitle of this book clarifies what it is really about: "My Twenty Years As A Prostitute In Canada."

In short, the story of a northern Ontario boy who moves to Toronto, begins working as a prostitute, finds the life not particularly objectionable (especially the money), makes some friends, conflicts with family, deals with some bad tricks, begins to experiment with living as a woman, leaves the trade, becomes an advocate. An intriguing story that doesn't wallow in polemicizing about the evils of prostitution, or preaching the virtues of liberal live-and-let-live economics. It is one person's story, one person's analysis, and a very humane one at that.

Belinda Beaton has written a very good review of this book in Books in Canada.

Vincent Bugliosi, "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy" (2007)

I worked on Bugliosi's epic (more than 1,500 pages, as well as a full CD of notes and sources) on and off from 2008 through to the end of 2011 (more off than on, I'll admit). It is compelling, if at times annoying, reading. It is to be expected that anyone who treads into such a storied and controversial subject will anger many, and 'speak truth' to others. Bugliosi gives short shrift to the abundant conspiracy theorists. He denies, flat out and without any apology, the prospect of any conspiracy being involved in JFK's death. He attacks, sometimes in quite vitriolic terms, the arguments and even sometimes the reputations of many conspiracy theorists.

Bugliosi has an impressive history as an American prosecutor. He successfully tried, for instance, Charles Manson. In the 1980s, he was hired by a British media firm to engage in a mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. The budget for the project was fairly large, and resulted in something close to 15 hours of television. Bugliosi's preparation for the case likely forms the foundation for this book.

Part of what makes Reclaiming History so compelling is simply the weight... or should I say, the volume... of the text itself. It's hard to argue with a book that offers such a comprehensive, overwhelming amount of text, and that appears to be based on an exhaustive search of primary and secondary documents related to the case. Bugliosi also, like a good prosecutor would, not only provides an overview of what he understands the events related to the case to be, but devotes chapters to demolishing a multitude of positions related to conspiracy proposals, including questions regarding Oswald's ownership of the gun used for the assassination, sightings of other shooters, irregularities of the autopsy, etc. For this, the book's encyclopedic coverage is tremendously useful.

Bugliosi's writing style is - to be kind - indulgent. The text often wades into annoying rhetorical questions, petty name-calling, and unnecessary speculation about other authors' motivations. The worst chapter for such indulgence is the second-last, which explores Oliver Stone's film, JFK, in depth. With much of the rhetoric and excess excised (something a good editor could and should have done, if they could have gotten through the whole of the text in less than a year) the book would have run to perhaps a far more manageable 1,000 pages.

The length of the text is its central shortcoming for casual readers. The book is not for the faint of heart, nor for the weak of arm. For those with a deep interest in the Kennedy assassination, you will get what you most need in the first ten chapters or so. Some may also find it useful to read the chapter devoted to the film JFK.

Bryan Burrough wrote a very good review of Reclaiming History for the 20 May 2007 New York Times:

You can watch or read the transcript of a 2007 talk by Bugliosi on the book:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Joseph E. Stiglitz & Linda J. Bilmes, "The Three Trillion Dollar War" (2008)

The full title of Stiglitz and Bilmes' much talked about book is The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. The central idea they propose in the book is that the way the costs of the war were discussed, by the great unwashed masses, the US government, and the US military, is wildly misleading, either by intention or error. They propose, through using a form of what I will call forensic auditing - for lack of a term I know that will be more correct - to identify heretofore hidden costs of the war, costs of the war that have not been discussed or built into short and long-term US national budgeting, and incidental or related costs of the war that do not go reported in calculations claiming to capture the cost of the war.

A decent, though cursory, outline of the types of costs the book analyses are laid out here:

Excerpts from the book can be read at:
National Public Radio, USA (NPR) -
Vanity Fair, Apr. 2008 -

Monday, 7 November 2011

Chalmers Johnson, "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic" (2007)

Nemesis is the third in Johnson's 'American Empire Trilogy'. Dan Clendenin offers a succinct, accurate summary of the series at Journey with Jesus.

You can read significant portions of the text via Google Books.

All too often I write these summaries several weeks after having finished the text in question. This presents dangers and advantages. On one hand, the objectivity provided by some temporal distance from the reading experience helps to test the impressions made by the book. On the other, even the most thought-provoking ideas from the most well-written book – ideas that might benefit from prolonged consideration - can simply get lost in the challenges of managing daily life. To a certain degree, this is how I now experience Nemesis.

The book impressed me enough that I started to make notes. The notes were written on the back of a receipt, however, and do not go beyond cryptic comments such as, “pg. 73 – quote”.

Johnson’s American Empire Trilogy is an inspiring, chilling assessment of how the United States has developed as a global power since the Second World War, how that empire is likely to precipitously decline in the next few decades, and what the reasons for that decline currently appear to be. Nemesis explores the rise of a military state, where spending and policy prioritization is often driven by the needs of the military, the lobbyists hired by military contractors, and the elected officials and political constituencies who have come to depend on American domestic military spending. The need to pursue this sort of spending, and to control the domestic political process to allow the USA to carry out aggressive and often semi-secret military initiatives abroad also have led to a deteriorization in the practice of democracy in the country. The particular example explored in Nemesis is the growth of the Central Intelligence Agency, which can largely function (particularly in the waging of aggressive actions beyond the United States’ borders) without the consent of Congress, and is answerable only to the President, not Americans as a whole.

The increasing extension of the United States as a military empire – and by this I mean its creation of physical military facilities and properties explicitly intended to provide semi-permanent operating bases in foreign countries – holds significant risks for the country. While it calls for ongoing and significant spending, it also creates a certain tension between the countries who grow dependent – willingly or not – on that US military presence, while at the same time hating it and the cultural and political presumptions that they represent.

Johnson also explores, in a particularly scathing and informative chapter, the ridiculous record of US experimentation and investment in the militarization of space. He also wisely directs his readers’ attention to the very real problems – too rarely considered - that military conflict in space would pose. I was fascinated to read, for instance, the near instantaneous destruction that even a small explosion would likely cause for almost all satellites (aggressive or not, friendly or not). It is easy for us to forget how destructive something as minor as a screw flying through orbit at hundreds of kilometers an hour can be. Consider what fragments of an exploding satellite or ICBM would do the US military GPS satellite network.

A few last items purely of interest to me, I'm sure follow:
- pg. 73: Johnson quotes Michael Ignatieff, from the NY Times, 5 Jan. 2003: "Ever since George Washington warned his countrymen against foreign entanglements, empire abroad hasbeen seen as the republic's permanent temptation and its potential nemesis. Yet what word but 'empire' describes the awesome thing that America is becoming? It is the only nation that polices the world through five global military commands; maintains more than a million men and women at arms on four continents; deploys carrier battle groups on watch in every ocean; guarantees the survival of countries from Israel to South Korea; drives the wheels of global trade and commerce; and fills the hearts and minds of an entire planet with its dreams and desires."

- pg. 82: "the United States, protected from its inception to about 1940 by tariffs on manufactured importss that averaged 44 percent"

- pg. 89: "Imperialism and militarism will ultimately breach the separation of powers created to prevent tyranny and defend liberty. ...Rome and Britain are archetypes of the dilemma of combining democracy at home with an empire abroad. In the Roman case, they decided to hang on to the empire and lost their democracy. In the British case, they chose the opposite: in order to remain democratic they dumped their empire and military apparatus after World War II. For us [Americans], the choice is between the Roman and British precedents."

Here is a February 2007 Democracy Now! interview with Chalmers Johnson, regarding Nemesis.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Gwynne Dyer, "The Mess They Made: The Middle East After Iraq" (2007)

Dyer has written a captivating, approachable, opinionated and authoritative discussion of how the war in Iraq came about, and how, built on a foundation of ill-thought out strategic choices, the long-term unintended and unforeseen consequences of that war might have devastating effects for US foreign policy goals.

One strength of Dyer’s approach is that he does not write in a way that depends on a deep familiarity with the historical, political, military or social conditions within which the war occurs. He certainly writes far above a “Middle Eastern conflict for Dummies” text; perhaps it might be called “Middle Eastern conflict for young diplomats”.

Key to Dyer’s analysis is consideration of three factors often touted as justifications for concern with Iraq, if not the second US war on the region. The first is the idea that Saddam Hussein was tantamount to a Middle Eastern Hitler, seeking lebensraum and riches from his immediate neightbours. Second, is the prospect of Hussein’s Iraq having capacity – if not using – weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The third is the threat radical, militant Islam, particularly Shias, was believed to posed.

As Dyer clearly lays out, it is quite likely that the initial conflict that brought the US into direct conflict with Iraq, the invasion of Kuwait, represented a fundamental breakdown in communication between two cooperating, if not allied nations. The US had supported Iraq in its decade-long war with Iran, and the record suggests that Iraq believed – such as in its discussions with Madeleine Albright – that the US was not opposed to the invasion of Kuwait. Telescoping this problem into the future, illustrated by other examples, it is easy to see how US intervention in the region has often been intended to play forces off against each other, to limit the expansion of any particular force, and particularly during the presidency of G.W. Bush, to ensure that no meaningful counter-force to US dominance could arise in areas of US-concern, if not the globe. As the need to address US debt rises, as global powers rise to counter US hegemony, and as the nature of political power changes during the 21st century, however, the US may find itself facing a region with a deeply entrenched hostility to the US, and bent on avenging a previous generation’s humiliations.

The second concern presents an interesting dilemma. As most people know now, Iraq did not possess WMDs. It is even quite likely that the US knew this going into the second war. What is not often talked about is the widespread awareness that Iraq had already used chemical and biological weapons in its 1980s war with Iran, uses that were sanctioned, if not assisted by the US. Having armed an ally, much as was done in Afghanistan with the mujahideen, the US found itself within a decade, having to fight against a country armed largely with US weaponry. The argument that has been used to sabre-rattle against Iran is very similar to that which was used to justify attacking Iraq: Iran may have nuclear weapons, or be seeking the capacity to build them. Dyer observes that the economy of the country precludes its ability to generate a meaningful nuclear development program, let alone an arsenal that could provide any kind of sensible deterrent to Israel’s overwhelming nuclear armaments. For these reasons, the proposal that Iran might develop nuclear weapons should not be taken too seriously.

Finally, with regard to the rise of a militant stream of devout Shia Muslims, Dyer suggests that the cadre of radicals is not reflective of the larger Shia sensibilities. Additionally, if there is radicalization, it is as a result of US activities, not the other way around. In this respect, the rather unreasonable US response to 9/11, parsing the events as an act of war by a nation rather than as a terrible but singular terrorist attack, has hastened the downfall of the United States as it strives to fund multiple foreign wars, fight terrorism at home and abroad, and see its economy and politics succumb to a dangerous form of singularism of goal and absolutism of control.

Perhaps the most effective and thought-provoking chapter of The Mess They Made is the one Dyer devotes to exploring the role of Israel in the Middle East. From his perspective, political division within Israel, and the competing desires to achieve peace while not yielding any territory acquired through military conquest has served to exacerbate tensions surrounding Israel’s future. Noting its substantial military buildup (Israel has more nuclear missiles than Britain, for instance, and has not been shy in suggesting that it would use them if necessary, and not just on Arab neighbours), Dyer suggests that if it seeks lasting peace, or at least hopes to indicate a willingness to bargain in good faith with its neighbours, it will need to at some point accept a two-state solution with Palestine. When considered with respect to waning US power, and growing enmity towards the US in the Middle East, and the important role the US has played in supporting Israel internationally for the last fifty years, the implications are substantial. The next generation could see growing pressure on Israel to come to the table regarding Palestine, and a growing militarism from within Israel as a response to the perceived threat of growing demands from its neighbours. This militarism might serve to be particularly dangerous in light of the significantly diminished military, particularly offensive, capacity of the country’s neighbours.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Chester Brown, "Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography" (2004)

I had high hopes for this graphic novel. Not too long ago I reviewed Chester Brown's Paying For It on this blog. I had seen his Louis Riel book many times in book stores, and been intrigued. I had browsed through it briefly. I know someone who assigned it as a text for the students taking a history course concentrating on Canadian history since 1867. It seemed to be right up my alley. I was suspicious that a graphic novel could not do Riel and the Metis conflicts with Canada justice, however. My suspicions were right.

Maybe I'm a politics and history geek. Maybe I demand too much of a graphic novel. As a particular kind of tool, for a particular kind of audience, this work may be a great 'teaser' work. The very format of the graphic novel - or perhaps this particular graphic novel - simply did not allow the ambiguity and complexity of the situation to be well communicated. Instead, it offered the kind of guilty Canadian anti-nationalism that Jack Granatstein so lamented a few years ago in Who Killed Canadian History?

Yes, this is a quick read. Yes, it's about the kind of topic that I'd be glad to see high school students reading about. Yes, it's by Chester Brown, whose Yummy Fur series I loved. No, it's not that great a book if you're interested in Canadian history and capable of reading straight prose for more than ten minutes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Klaus-Michael Mallmann & Martin Cuppers, "Nazi Palestine" (English edition, 2010)

I am of two minds regarding this book, subtitled, "The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine."

On one hand, it approaches a subject that is rarely written about, is very well researched, presents a compelling argument, and does not seem to have garnered criticism from experts on the subject. On the other, the translation or editing of the volume is shoddy, which gives the impression that the book was produced in much the same fashion. Additionally, the construction of the book's argument sometimes feels a little heavy-handed - not manufactured - but as if all evidence available leads inexorably towards a very few conclusions.

What does the book argue? Tracing the relationship between the Nazi plans for the Middle East, particularly Palestine, and the nascent Palestinian nationalism movements striving to throw off the colonial presence, Mallman and Cuppers make a convincing case for the Middle East as an overlooked realm of conflict in the Second World War, and one in which anti-Semitism played a pivotal role in bringing the Nazis and Palestinian/Muslim revolutionaries together.

An area where the book falls short, in my estimation (as someone who is not an expert on Middle Eastern history or politics), is in its attempts to link contemporary Palestinian/Israeli conflicts to events of the Second World War-era machinations of the Nazis. The Epilogue does offer an intriguing survey of contemporary positive references to Hitler, Nazis, and Nazi anti-semitic policies in Middle Eastern mass media, that does lend some credence to their argument for a connection between the past and the present.

On a personal note, I found the material discussing how the Nazis opted to build some flexibility into their racial policies, particularly for SS units, when the war on the Eastern front required more soldiers, and one of the candidate populations for willing recruits was Muslim anti-communists from the Caucasus. It was fascinating to read that the Germans were willing to provide halal food and imams for these troops, when the rhetoric of the Nazis more widely known and publicized makes such a compromise hard to conceive of.

Chester Brown, "Paying for It" (2011)

Brown has managed to concoct an memoir style graphic novel that chronicles his life as a 'john'; a man who pays women for sex. Of course, the novel is bound to be controversial. Brown has included an abundance of philosophical, political, and historical arguments in favour of deregulating, if not legalizing prostitution in Canada. While his ideas are interesting, they are unlikely to switch the thinking of anyone.

Less often explored in discussion of the book is the conundrum (characteristic of all autobiography) of separating fact from fiction, elimination of uncomfortable truths, and introduction of fictional elements to support a particular narrative outcome. In all the interactions Brown includes, his communication with the prostitute is generally either positive, or coldly analytical and unemotional. Perhaps this is the mindset that must be adopted to 'pay for it', but it does not help the reader understand some of the difficult questions the book raises but unsatisfactorily covers. For instance, what proportion of prostitutes are the clever, savvy, independent women Brown describes, and how many of them are transported here under false pretences, kept against their will or shamefully manipulated into the sex trade, and don't want to do this kind of work? Brown does narrate to a certain degree that he exercised choice as a john, perhaps seeking out prostitutes who seemed in control of their own business, but it does not eliminate the reality that many men do not, and in fact might seek out a capitalist bottom-line of 'getting their nut greased' at the cheapest price possible over some kind of sexual libertarianist praxis.

Brad Mackay reviewed the novel in the Globe and Mail (30 Apr. 2011).

Brian Heater wrote a far better review in the Daily Crosshatch (6 Jun. 2011).

Friday, 5 August 2011

Marci Mcdonald, "The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada" (2011)

Mcdonald kicked open wide a hornet's nest of controversy with this book. I admit that even jaded old me avoided reading it thinking it would just a sad, rambling case of conspiracy theory. It was actually pretty interesting, compelling reading.

Essentially, she explores two questions:
1) What is the relationship between the Harper government and 'Christian Nationalists' in Canada?; and
2) What is the motivation for Christian Nationalists to involve themselves in Canadian politics when traditionally they have opted to steer clear of political involvement?

Her answer to these questions is that there is a distinct community of Canadian Christian Nationalists (those who believe not only that Canada should be governed according to strict evangelical Christian principles, but that the Bible indicates Canada will play a special role in the anticipated 'end days'). These CCNs, and their like-minded community of evangelicals (who may not share the idea regarding Canada's pre-ordained end days role), have become significantly more politicized in the last few decades, and attempted to not only influence politics indirectly (e.g., through encouraging congregants to vote for particular candidates, or raising issues for public debate), but also directly (e.g., through financial support for candidates, providing campaign volunteers, etc.). Additionally, the CCNs and their peers have begun to create parallel streams of political education that operate alongside the traditional party apparatus, and that are created with the explicit intention of creating devout, politically astute, evangelical Christians who have as their career goal the aim of civil service and government work. Given their commitment to the idea of Canada's special role in the end times, and the idea that the political system might be 'permeable' enough to be influenced by an organized, like-minded community, the motivation for evangelical Christians to seek to exercise political influence is high.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

Mcdonald started a blog, but appears to have abandoned it.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Tim Cook, "At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916" (2007)

Volume 1 of an awarding-winning two-volume series.

As Cook mentions near the beginning of this opus, he is striving to tell the story of the war as experienced at "the sharp end"; by the Canadian soldiers at the front lines, in the trenches. His narrative closely and effectively weaves excerpts from soldiers' letters and diaries into well-researched information about Canadian troop movements, and technical aspects of the war (ranging from the mechanical - such as how an artillery gun worked, or the evolution of the grenade - to the mundane - such as how the latrines worked (or didn't, as the case may be)). The concentration on the details of daily life, such as why so many soldiers took to smoking, is what makes this book really fascinating. For those who don't have the time or desire to read the whole volume, Chapters 18 through 20 are the best in the book, and the ones that most effectively cover the mechanical and mundane technical details that I find so interesting.

The National Post has published excerpts from the first chapters of the book.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Deborah Dwork & Robert Jan Van Pelt, "Auschwitz" (1996)

This book is well-written, meticulously researched, chock full of singular illustrations (rare photos of the town of Oswiecim, maps, and design drafts of camp buildings) often drawn from the authors' personal collections, and takes a surprising breadth of approach (considering the development of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex within the 1,000-year history of German colonizing drives towards the East as well as anti-Semitism). In short, this is a really excellent book.

The BBC produced a great documentary, Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State based on some of the research for this book. The PBS-linked site contains much of the same maps, blueprints, and other materials contained in the book.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

1947 Farmall BN & Alan Klages

This is a restored 1947 Farmall BN, with Alan Klages at the wheel. If you know Alan (he lived in Cremona, Alberta during the 1980s & 1990s), he can be contacted through the author of this blog.

IH produced the Farmall BN from 1940 to 1947, and there were about 1500 of them produced. The Farmall BN is the same tractor as the Farmall B, except for a few rear wheel changes. It provides a narrower rear wheel tread , varying in 4 inch increments. It would allow the rear wheel to be placed from 56 to 84 inches apart, while the B only allowed the wheels to stretch from 64 to 92 inches. The BN was designed to work row crops, such as beets and potatoes.
Here are some specifications of the B range of tractors.

This one is in a lot rougher shape than Alan's, but for those of you seeking some close-ups, these will be helpful.

Monday, 20 June 2011

David Aaronovitch, "Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History" (2009)

Christopher Hart nicely summarizes the message of the book in the 3 May 2009, (London, U.K.) Sunday Times.

"Voodoo Histories is... much more than a prolonged sneer at human folly, ignoble fun though that always is. It is also a serious inquiry into why conspiracy theories appeal, and Aaronovitch’s theories are consistently reasonable, persuasive and humane. The complexity of our society is clearly a factor, and the frigid non-humanity of so many of our transactions. Real connections are few and far between, so some people start to invent their own."

The text explores a number of popular 20th-century conspiracy theories, as well as some that are more obscure (or at least obscure outside of the UK). No surprises that significant chapters or portions of chapters are devoted to: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Pearl Harbour, the Kennedy assassinations, the death of Marilyn Monroe, speculations around the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and 9/11. I was a bit surprised to discover that there was not a chapter dealing with speculations surrounding the first moon landing (or all of them?) being faked.

I would have preferred that Aaronovitch spent a bit more time trying to understand in some more objective sense the reasons for conspiracy theory creation, and the popularity of the practice in 20th-century societies. He does tackle this, but usually as a bit of an aside alongside his explorations of particular conspiracy speculations. My desire for such a chapter, however, may stem more from wanting this book to read like an academic text, rather than a book for a popular audience.

Aaronovitch closes the book with a few key claims regarding conspiracy theories:
1) "[c]onspiracy theories originate and are largely circulated among the educated and middle class" (338)

2) "overarching theories are formulated by the politically defeated and taken up by the socially defeated, deriving 'from the concrete experience of modernity by losers who will not go softly into the night but instead rage against it.' ...If it can be proved that there has been a conspiracy... then their defeat is not the product of their own inherent weakness or unpopularity, let alone their mistakes; it is due to the almost demonic ruthlessness of their enemy." (340)

3) "the possibility that conspiracy theories are history as written by the losers confers a kind of underdog's truth upon them." (342)

4) Conspiracist fantasies are "much more problematic when the theorist is someone who is seen as being repulsive or dangerous and/or whose targets are people like yourself." (346)

5) "That conspiracism is, at bottom, a symptom of paranoia subsequently became an anti-conspiracist cliche, and it's easy to see why. In modern society, paranoia seems omnipresent. (351) ... this impulse to grasp half-baked and damaging but attractive notions of why the world is as it is could be replaced through emotional literacy." (352)

6) Humans are intolerant of ignoring important causes. We invent stories to explain important events, even when they cannot be tested against - or test poorly against - reality. (354)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Midland & Penetanguishene, 15 June 2011

Looking northeast out into the bay, Mundy's Harbour, Midland.

Looking across the water in Midland, from the east side of Mundy's Harbour. Almost the same position as above.

The marina at the main dock in Penetanguishene.

Looking towards the King's Wharf Theatre and Discovery Harbour, Penetanguishene.

Sunset at the north end of Penetanguishene, with Magazine Island at the bottom right horizon. From the same position as above.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Cooking with goat's milk and goat's cheese

My big brother very generously supplied me with a cache of goat's milk and goat's cheese (he works at Mornington Heritage Dairy - see more info below). I thought I would post my observations and comments here.

Firstly, in the past I have had problems with cow's milk. I'm not lactose-intolerant, but have experienced some GI tract discomfort, and so had switched to soy products. I have experienced no problems with goat's milk, and was even surprised to discover that it had no unusual tastes. I thought it might have a bit of a "gamey", "musky" taste like lamb meat. None. I must admit to having the great pleasure of returning to late night visits to the fridge to chug cold milk out of the carton.

Secondly, the cheese has a delicious bite that is not overpowering, or in any way "gamey" (as some people claim they find goat's cheese), but far more enjoyable than the rather bland standard cheddars most people tend to buy. My wife LOVES the cheese in salads, and we both have fallen prey to keeping an eye on how much cheese is left and measuring each other's consumption so that it is fairly shared. ;)

Thirdly, having a new cheese to experiment with has led me to try some new recipes, all of which worked well with a slightly stronger flavoured cheese. I have included below pictures of two. The first is scalloped potatos, carrots, and onions, with goat's milk and goat's cheese. The second is layered, baked polenta and goat's cheese, with a tomato relish topping. Both were delish.

Finally, for those of you who appreciate food that's grown with a traditional approach to human and animal health, and that contributes to maintaining the viability of locally-rooted, family-owned farming in rural Ontario, and businesses that operate on democratic principles, the products of Mornington Heritage Dairy (operated as part of the Ontario Dairy Goat Cooperative) are ideal.

- Feb. 2011: "Dairy Goat Co-op Take Over Mornington," Better Farming

Others apparently feel the way I do. In Westboro, Ontario, "The Piggy Market" offers the following comments regarding Mornington's goat butter: "While searching for Ontario cheese producers, we came across Mornington goat dairy, and found butter! Goat butter is, if you can believe it, even more creamy and decadent than regular butter."

Scalloped potatos, carrots, and onions with goat's milk and goat's cheese

Baked polenta layered with goat's cheese

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Gregory Klages, "The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson," in Archival Narratives for Canada (2011)

I have a critical essay, "The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson", included in the edited anthology Archival Narratives for Canada.
The essay explores the many flawed accounts and speculation we have have regarding Thomson's last days and the cause of his death, comparing these accounts to what the archival evidence tells us. For more information, see the Fernwood Publishing website:

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cooking, baking, etc. - ongoing

24 May 2011 - A sort of raisin granola bar pie concoction.

23 May 2011 - Vegetarian tamale pie: thin version with bottom cornmeal crust only, and cheese topping

23 May 2011 - Vegetarian tamale pie: thick version with top and bottom cornmeal crust, and cheese topping

16 May 2011 - Cornbread with cheese baked into it.

15 May 2011 - A tomato-heavy daal, and cabbage lightly braised with chilis.

8 May 2011 - Dutch apple pie redux, with cloves added for extra yumminess.

2 May 2011 - Raisin cream pie: my grandfather's favourite, and a pie I had not tasted in a long time. Taste bud long-term memory kicked in a most pleasing way.

28 Apr. 2011 - Shepherd's pie

February 2011 - An apple pie I made using my mom's recipe. A family favourite.

J. W. Dafoe, "Laurier: A Study in Politics" (1922, rep. 1963)

Dafoe is one of Canada's great Liberal authors, and likely the most renowned journalist/editor the country has produced.

The text of this book, originally written for the Manitoba Free Press as a series of four essays, is available for free online at Project Gutenberg. Essentially, Dafoe was responding to what he saw as the interesting, but deeply flawed two volume biography of Laurier written by O. D. Skelton. As an acquaintance and admirer of Laurier, Dafoe took it upon himself to correct the record.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Queen's Park, Toronto - March 2011

Queen's Park during the melt and rain of March 2011. Really not much to say here, other than that I was surprised I didn't see Dalton McGuinty being brought into work in a canoe. That being said, perhaps I'll go back and post "before" and "after" shots for comparison's sake.

June 2010:

This is more or less the same area as the first winter shot above.

This is more or less the same area as the second winter shot above.

This is the basically the same shot as the last winter shot above.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Bob Woodward, "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008" (2008)

Woodward narrates a disturbing evolution (or lack thereof) in the White House approach to conducting war in Iraq. He explores, through information gained in interviews with high-ranking officials and members of the military, the pressures various actors felt to defend the existing approach (focusing on battles won, kills made, etc., akin to the approach used in Vietnam), pressure to deliver good news stories when required by the political process, etc.

Friday, 6 May 2011

David King, "The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia (1997)

Entry to follow.

A very interesting survey of images from the book, with brief summaries of who was excised and why, is provided by Fr. Richard Wolfs, S.J., at Loyola Marymount University, USA.

Here is a sampling to whet your appetite.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Maurice Ollivier, "British North America acts and selected statutes 1867-1962" (1960)

Book in progress.

This offering has very little "new" interpretive or summary writing, but essentially compiles some of the key documents related to Canadian administration. I will list the key documents below, for those who might be interested.

Documents of Canadian pre-history:

Surrenders of Quebec (1759) and Montreal (1760)
Royal Proclamation (1763)
Quebec Act (1774)
Act of Union

British North America Acts (14 revisions from 1867 to 1960)
Related Acts of the United Kingdom

Imperial Orders-in-Council admitting new provinces, territories, and the Arctic archipelago to Canada

Acts of Canada relating to provincial matters

- tax-rental and tax-sharing acts
- provincial boundary extensions
- natural resources acts
- marriage and divorce acts

Acts of Canada relating to federal constitutional matters
- protocols regarding the Crown
- Senate and House of Commons Acts
- Bill of Rights (1960)
- War Measures Act (1914, rev. 1952)
- Privileges and Immunities, Visiting forces Act

Documents relating to the Office of the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governors

Commentary will follow on completion.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Paul Litt, "Death at Snake Hill: The Secrets of a War of 1812 Cemetery" (1991?)

This book is a "popular" version of a more academically-oriented text:
by Susan Pfeiffer and Ron Williamson

It describes the discovery, investigation, exhumation, and eventual patriation of the remains of 28 American soldiers who died on Canadian soil during the War of 1812, likely in the fall of 1814. The book gives not only an understandable, brief account of the legal and political complexities surrounding an unexpected discovery of an archaeological site (particularly one with remains), but also details the intriguing international politics surrounding the case. Of course, the book also describes the events that led these soldiers to be buried on the Canadian side of the border, and provides compelling descriptions of what could be learned about life, society, and the conduct of the war from forensic analysis of the soldiers' remains.

The book can be purchased from Archaeological Services.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Bart Ehrman, "Forged:...Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are" (2011)

Ehrman is likely one of the best known, if not the currently most popular writer for the general public on Biblical history and textual criticism (I know some will debate this, and I accept that it's a controversial statement).

The full title of Ehrman's latest text is actually, Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. As has been noted by others, the title is somewhat misleading. It is not actually about writers who claim to be writing 'in the name of God', but rather writers who claim to be someone other than who they are, such as 'regular folks' claiming to be Apostles.

Ehrman’s book is not the most compelling of his texts, but nonetheless interesting, as always. The book is written for ‘lay’ readers; those not experts on Biblical history, but will certainly be of interest and informative for those who are interested in how the ancients thought about the act of writing, and of writing history in particular.

For instance, Ehrman explores the ways ancient authors might have used deception in stating or intimating authorship of a text, the reasons they might have forged documents, as well as how forgery was perceived and treated in ancient times.

Of course, the book summarizes some significant assertions regarding the authenticity of goodly portion of the New Testament. Given that its audience is not primarily scholars of Biblical history (Ehrman suggests that a similar book oriented towards scholars may be forthcoming), it progresses in a slow, methodical, straightforward manner that might be frustrating for some readers.

Ehrman explores both canonical and non-canonical texts. As the non-canonical texts are not likely nearly as familiar to ‘lay’ readers as the canonical texts, it is this material in the book that is most interesting, as well as the most controversial, particularly for Christians. Ehrman makes a convincing case for close textual analysis of the New Testament, combined with awareness of the socio-political context of Eastern Mediterranean life during the first ‘Christian’ millennium. Based on this analysis, and his survey of scholarly literature, he summarizes assertions that a number of New Testament books (primarily Pauline) are forgeries. These texts include: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, and Colossians. He also suggests, in line with a number of other scholars, that some of the gospels are forgeries as well, including: 1 & 2 Peter, James, and Acts.

Read closely after Akenson’s Saint Saul, this book is quite revealing in capturing the revolutionary changes that contemporary Biblical scholarship is offering. That much of this scholarship has not reached the common reader is unfortunate, but understandable. Books such as Forged, much more so than the rather involved and complex Saint Saul, might be a strong contribution to advancing wider knowledge of this scholarship.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Jimmy McDonough, "Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film" (2005)

Meyer's films are essential viewing for teenage boys, historians of the 1960s and 1970s, and fans of Boogie Nights. Meyer, for those who his name doesn't immediately conjure particular images, was a surprisingly financially successful director of movies that could perhaps be labelled... erm... mammary-obsessed, joke-infused, soft porn. This is not the type of porn that might make you feel particularly guilty or dirty, but rather the porn of a more... American version of Benny Hill type. It's nudity all seemed kind of... well... innocent compared to the graphic and grindy sex of porn intended purely to make money.

There's something that smacks of art in Meyer's films, in the same way that John Waters' films featuring Divine cross some strange line between art and trash. Additionally, Meyers' films often feature powerful, physically aggressive women, that seem to run counter to all popular understandings of graphic film produced for male consumption.

Unfortunately, McDonough's writing bears a certain resemblance to the late-career mammaries Meyer featured in his movies... over-inflated and self-consciously unnatural. In places it is almost painful to read. While the book provides some interesting back story to the production of Meyers' films, and is unique in that his life has not been examined in easily available book form (Meyers' multi-volume autobiography is priced at something like $400 USD), it is somewhat unsatisfactory in that it feels... superficial in many regards. Particularly disappointing is the last few chapters, when Meyer made the not too graceful transition from moviemaker to Alzheimer's-sufferer. Clearly, his financial, business and personal lives imploded, leaving many loose ends. McDonough, however, either because he was unable to find interviewees to explore these questions, or could not access the documentary record that might answer some of these questions, leaves the tragic denouement more to imagination than fact. Ultimately, this is unsatisfying as a narrative trope.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Donald Harmon Akenson, "Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus" (1999)

This book is quite thought-provoking, and written in an engaging fashion. Akenson is supremely confident in himself, and provocative in his assessments of the shortcomings of other authors' work. His scholarship is quite impressive, however.

He offers a number of interesting assessments:
1) Noting that the name 'Jesus' is a Romanized name that was adopted after long after the death of the person it was applied to, Akenson uses the Hebrew version of the name that he insists the person would have been called: Yeshuah.

2) He asserts that Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity really must be understood as coming from the destruction of the Second Temple, post-70 AD. In that respect, they are about the same age. Previous to the destruction of the Temple, Judaism was different, and fragmented enough, Akenson suggests, that he has adopted the name Judahism for it.

3) He takes umbrage with the idea of the 'Q' document which some scholars suggest forms the inspiration for the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). He also intimates, though does not state as strongly as Wilson, that Acts is a suspect document in terms of its historical verity.

4) He suggests that the idea of the virgin birth comes from a mistranslation; that the original version of the story referred to a 'young girl', not a 'virgin' in the 'woman lacking sexual experience' sense.

Having reviewed what can be reasonably argued as texts actually written by Saul, Akenson summarizes whet he concludes are Saul’s central judgements (pg. 181):
1) Jesus was the Messiah, but this status began with his resurrection. This means, then, that Yeshuah did not see himself as the Judahist Moshiah.

2) “Yeshua’s transformation into Jesus-the-Christ was a product of the resurrection.” Saul “does not evince any belief in the physical resurrection” of Yeshuah.

3) Yeshuah is the ‘Son of Yahweh’. “Saul makes explicit statements which are incompatible with a belief in the Virgin Birth of Yeshuah,” however.

On 219, Akenson makes a provocative, intriguing claim: “there are only three clearly-labelled places where Saul and the Gospels agree even roughly about words Yeshuah used” (links are to KJV):
- 1 Cor. 11: 23-25 > concerning the Eucharist (23, 24, 25)
- 1 Cor. 7: 10 > concerning divorce
- 1 Cor. 9: 14 > concerning a belief that preachers should not have to depend on secular labour for their living needs

This is provocative because it is generally agreed, as many forget, that Saul’s letters predate the Gospels (see this link for a provisional timeline of NT book authorship). If the expectations of historical method are applied, the earlier documents are likely more trustworthy as testimony. At the same time, we must take even Saul’s testimony with a grain of salt, for as Saul described, he saw himself as the preacher to the Gentiles of the parallel mission Yeshuah had taken on for the Judahists. That their messages, and requirements for their constituencies was quite different is also something that many contemporary (and past) Christians forget, or willingly overlook.

Finally, Akenson also alerts readers to the significant break the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE meant for the Judahist faith(s), as well as the burgeoning Pauline Christianity. With the removal of the Temple as a focal point of religious learning and ritual, the ‘decentralization’ of Judahist practice could more easily facilitate a practice based on a spiritual, non-material focal point.

I think the following review, offered by Loren Rossen ( ), captures well my sense of the book so far -

The book is relevant to both Paul- and Jesus-scholars, and it bridges the two fields by arguing that the apostle offers more of a
window onto the historical Jesus than commonly assumed.

I think the following excerpt from p. 173 adequately sums up the author’s position:

“[Saul] taught the historical story of the earthly Yeshua to his own disciples in person, and [in] writing his letters he took for granted that they had assimilated the basic facts and, perhaps, sayings. That he taught the Yeshua-history while he was in each community is not merely plausible, but has prima facie validity. However, it lacks explanatory robustness in relation to the matter at hand. . . [This] possibility (I think it is a probability) [is one] that most biblical scholars abhor: that Saul did indeed know the life of the historical Yeshua; that he had a full awareness of the miracle-stories, sayings, and of the various folk-beliefs about Yeshua, most of which are now forever lost; that he taught the most important stories and sayings to his own followers -- but that, when moments of spiritual crisis loomed, all the stories, all the sayings, and indeed the entire earthly life of the historical Yeshua did not count. Only the post-earthly Christ did. . . No wonder questors of the historical Yeshua dislike Saul. Yet, Saul actually tells us a lot about the historical Yeshua; however, he does so almost unintentionally...”

I won’t rehearse Akenson’s arguments..., except to say that throughout the book methodologies which have governed Jesus-studies are given sobering reappraisal (such as the limitations surrounding hypothetical documents like “Q”, in contrast to actual surviving letters). It’s refreshing, for a change, to watch a liberal academic pronounce that, “At the risk of being labelled a Luddite, I conclude that the most likely way to gain access to the historical Jesus is through the canonical New Testament” in general, and through Paul in particular (p. 116)."

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Robert Oldham, "Saving the King : Book One of the Alternative History of World War Two" (2001)

As I am working on developing a course that deals with counterfactual history, I stumbled across this novel at my local public library. It was written by a Hamilton, Canada, author, who is also a graduate of the university closest to my home. So... I thought I would break my somewhat loose rule against reading fiction and give it a go.

The book was ... ok.

It appears to be self-published, but is available in a reprint edition. I wish the author had taken the time to edit out the typos in the reprint. It would also have benefitted from a critical once-over by a good editor (to avoid honkers like "he looked around and turned around...", etc.). I wish, although this might be asking for too much, that the author would have taken the time to get the German spelling and grammar correct; such as using "die Fuhrer" when a German officer refers to Hitler. (OUCH!) Given that it is a book about the Nazis in England, I don't think this is really asking too much, is it?

All of this being said, as a piece of palate-cleansing, light, counter-factual history, it's a fun little tale. It doesn't have the grit or compelling narrative of related books such as "Fatherland", but it's local, it's slim, and...erm... it could be much, much worse. I can only wonder what the follow-up three volumes are like.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Richard Rubinstein, "When Jesus Became God" (2001)

The full title of this book is When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome.

Rubinstein manages the difficult job of making early Christian church debates about the nature of Christ easy-to-read with aplomb. The first fifty pages or so fairly clearly and efficiently explain the difference between the Arians and anti-Arians (who, essentially, debated whether Christ was man or God). By mid-text, however, the narrative seems far more concerned with the ebb and flow of the political arms of these debates than the theological elements.

It is not until the last 30 pages or so that Rubinstein reveals that what he has really been narrating is the long-trajectory development of the Nicene Creed, an oath of sorts intended to provide a foundational 'basic contract' of what Catholics (and later, Roman Catholics) believe. The book outlines disagreements that developed between the Arians and anti-Arians, particularly around the question of the relationship (and/or differences between) Jesus Christ and God in early Christian belief. Through a patient, sometimes laborious tracking of political contests (there was clearly no separation of Church and State during this time!) Rubinstein illustrates how church elders, theologians, and Roman imperial leadership fought for political and theological power. With the adoption of the Nicene Creed, and its evolution over the course of fifty years or so, the anti-Arians won - leading to the promulgation of concepts such as the Holy Trinity, with its complex singularity of and yet difference between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Click here to read some excerpts.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tariq Ali & Phil Evans, "Introducing Trotsky and Marxism" (2000)

This book - if it can be called that (it's closer to a pamphlet or graphic novel) - hardly merits a review. It can be read in the duration of a long subway ride across Toronto.

That being said, I was a little disappointed. For a very short text loaded with slightly juvenile illustrations (imagine Monty Python meets a bathroom wall), it jumps off into questionable comparisons, such as oppression by Stalin and Peter the Great. The book is clearly and unabashedly pro-Trotsky, which in itself is not problematic, but does not evenly consider much of the non-Stalinist criticism of Trotsky's thought.

The book is, at best, the kind of introduction that best serves someone reading a novel or history book that briefly touches on Trotsky or ideological debates in the early years of the Soviet Union. It is something like an extended, visual encyclopedia entry.

That being said, I did take away an easy to remember difference between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks (the former supported the concept of a socialist vanguard, while the latter supported the idea of a more democratic socialism that make room for the great mass of workers).

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Lawrence Martin, "Harperland: The Politics of Power" (2009)

This is, frankly, a brilliant book. It concisely, clearly, and objectively documents the egregious excesses and shameful machinations of the Harper neo-Tories. It should be required reading for every Canadian voter before the next election.

I expect that Harper supporters will claim: 'ah, but it is such a biased account! The Liberals were guilty of all the same sorts of ploys.' That may be so, and Martin as well as others (including Canadian voters) have skewered them for those. The Harper minority governments have been in place longer than Pearson's minority governments, and it is time that they be held to the higher standards of Canadians' ideal government, rather than copping out with the excuse of not being any worse than the previous regime.

I think Peter Newman's review of the book in the Globe and Mail is quite fair.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Richard J. Evans,"The Third Reich At War" (2007)

The third book by Evans in a trilogy tracking the rise and decline of the Third Reich.

About 30% of the way in, I thought that this is the best of the three books. Evans spends a significant amount of time dealing with the development of discrimination and extermination policies (focusing on persecution of Jews and the handicapped). He makes a strong effort to show that Hitler did indeed know about the concentration camps and mass exterminations (countering the claims of revisionists who challenge that the policies were approved from on high - as if much could have happened in the Reich without the state apparatus being apprised of it...).

Unfortunately, by the time he is halfway through the book, he seems to have lost the ability to offer many new insights regarding the military practices and fortunes of Grosdeutschland. For those hoping to understand the basic outline of how the Reich waged war, and where these efforts fell short, it provides a solid overview. Unlike the previous two volumes, and unlike the early chapters of this book, however, I rarely came away from reading feeling that I had learned something new or had read a particularly fresh and convincing approach to old arguments. In this respect, I think Adam Tooze's book on the economics of the Third Reich did a far better job at some of what Evans attempted in this volume.

For discussion of the first two volumes, see earlier posts:
- The Third Reich in Power
- The Coming of the Third Reich

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Pierre Berton, "Flames Across the Border: 1813-1814" (1981)

The second volume of this series is just as good as the first, if not better. It continues the tone and approach of the first volume, essentially establishing a near seamless link with the first book.

As Berton explains in his 'Author's Note', his effort considers "the war from a Canadian point of view, [and] is not intended primarily as a military or political history... This is, rather, a social history of the war, the first to be written by a Canadian. I have tried to tell not only what happened but also what it was like; to look at the struggle... as a combatant struggling in the mud of the battlefield; to picture the war from the viewpoints of private soldiers and civilians as well as from those of generals and politicians; to see it through the eyes of ordinary people on both sides - farmer and housewife, traitor and spy, drummer boy and Indian brave, volunteer, regular, and conscript." In this respect, Berton was very successful.

Additionally, he notes, "I have invented nothing. Dialogue is reproduced exactly as reported by those who were present." This attribute is one of the most engaging about Berton's writing in general, and in particular, about this series. As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, he really does capture a sense of the personality and tone of those whose lives he describes.

Of course, the books are not without their limitations, however minor these might be. For instance, I read the first and second volumes back to back, however, about 50 pages a day, and by the end of the total 900 pages, have to admit that the names and events were all starting to mush together. The focus on individuals does sometimes allow the larger flow of historical events to get lost. This may, in some respects, be Berton's subtle way of speaking to the outcome of the war, and the relationship between individuals and national decision-making, particularly in an era when decisions made in London, or Ghent by the final treaty-makers, might not reach North America for two months. (The taking of Michilimackinac before the Americans there knew they were at war is another good example.) On the other hand, his interest in the stories of individuals may have overcome the trope within which these lives were narrated: the War of 1812.

Nonetheless, a really great overview or introduction to the Canadian perspective on the War of 1812. Eminently readable, not mentally taxing, and informative.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Pierre Berton, "Invasion of Canada, 1812-1813" (1980)

I have always been a bit leery of reading Pierre Berton's Canadian histories. There's just something about them that smacks of pedestrian, Reader's Digest, "sacrifice the truth for a good story" writing. I have to admit, however, that having read two in the last year (this is the third), that they are really good night-time reading. This one, like Vimy (the last Berton book I reviewed), keeps the narrative moving along, and yet makes a complex topic like the War of 1812 completely understandable. Even more, and I think this is particularly important when talking about a war two-hundred years past, he manages to capture a real sense of immediacy, humanity, and contemporaneity in his descriptions of the soldiers, generals, reservists, and aboriginals. I was really pleased to see that in this book, unlike many of his others, that he actually cites sources, an invaluable gesture to historians who would follow in his footsteps, or inspired by his narrative, desire to seek out the primary information that he based his story on. Of the total six Berton books I have read in my life, I think this ranks as the best so far.