Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The intricacies of La fête nationale

Today is St-Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec. It's a public holiday and is known as la fête nationale, tracing its origins back as a patriotic celebration back to the early 19th century. Records from that time show how it was initially meant to promote solidarity and unity among people in what was then Lower Canada, and was celebrated by the Irish and Anglophone populations as well as the French Canadians.

In modern times, la fête nationale has been arguably hijacked by the Quebec separatist movement, despite its historically being a day for all French Canadians, both in and outside of the province. Sadly, the same inferiority complex that saw a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham cancelled at last year's 400th anniversary celebrations in Quebec City (and some uncharitable views on Paul McCartney's concert presence at the same event) remains in evidence today.

This year, a fringe festival called L'Autre St Jean was held in Montreal to provide a showcase for Quebec's indie musicians - including those whose songs happened to be sung en anglais. A week before the concert, all Anglo bands were axed from the schedule. The official reason: fear of violence in the crowd after warnings by nationalist/separatist organisations.

I'm happy to say there was a public uproar, and the bands were soon reinstated. The festival took place yesterday and was mostly peaceful. True to form, however, a ragtag group of (mostly drunk) separatists showed up and tried to disrupt proceedings. A quick glance through the pictures in this article from the Montreal Gazette gives some idea of the sub-atomic level of intellect we're dealing with here.

Shenanigans like these are nothing new in Quebec, but it's depressing to see that, more than 30 years since the Charter of the French Language was passed, there are still people out there who genuinely believe that singing a few English songs in a public park is a serious affront to French culture and national identity in Quebec. Haven't we got the self-confidence to move beyond this?

Friday, June 19, 2009


...but well-deserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Attacks on Roma in Belfast

To Belfast, now, where recent days have seen over 100 Roma immigrants take shelter in community centres to escape racist attacks - window smashing, rock throwing, gun shots, physical assault.

Something that's struck me is the difference in what's reported by the mainstream media and local bloggers. Not that this will come as a surprise to people who live in the north of Ireland, by any means, but for me it's still shocking that newspapers are so ready to say that there are only a handful of racists skulking about and that most people are open-minded and liberal. Reading through some of the comments on Slugger O'Toole and elsewhere, it's clear that a lot of people who do condemn the violence are not exactly thrilled about having the Roma in their backyard and are openly questioning their contribution to society. Another important discrepancy I've noticed between official and local reports is best summed up thus:

BBC Northern Ireland: "Police do not believe paramilitaries were involved in the attacks."


Slugger O'Toole: "The involvement of gun indicates an acquiesce of paramilitaries in an area in which it is almost impossible to move (or even talk to the press) without their say so."



UPDATE: Read and listen to more analysis of the situation by the Guardian's Henry McDonald. Would have been good to have more detail on why these attacks are mainly a problem in loyalist areas and not republican ones, but this is still the clearest and most accurate description of events I've come across so far.

Tribune: The great survivor

You have to admire the chutzpah of the good folks at Tribune. No money? Tiny circulation? Affiliated political party on the brink of collapse? Mere trifles! Under new ownership since March, Tribune now has a snazzy new look and wider editorial remit, and is set to keep on fighting the good fight. My mole tells me that last night's relaunch party at the Westminster's Churchill Dining Room was a generally upbeat affair, but I suspect that the presence of a handful of recently ejected Labour MEPs and Red Ken himself wandering about the place must've made it difficult to forget the Party's woes. As New Labour enters what must surely be its final months in power, I wish Tribune nothing but the best, and hope it can stay true to its roots and survive what will likely be a very difficult period. That said, "difficult periods" seem to be precisely what Tribune (and its amazingly dedicated staff) thrives on.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In praise of intelligence

My, but it was a joy to hear Obama take his time and choose exactly the right words on the White House lawn today when pressed for his opinion on the Tehran protests. When this president pauses, it's because he wants to get the right message across and avoid alienating potential allies. When the last one paused, it's because he had lost the right page in the Bumper Book of Big Words.

Call it shooting fish in a barrel, cheap point-scoring or what you will. I'm just happy to have an intelligent person in charge of the most powerful country on Earth.

(To say nothing of the lack of "regime change" talk. How times have changed.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I like Mike

Not Ignatieff in this instance - still making my mind up about him - but Finnerty. They say you should learn one new thing every day, and today I learned that Mike Finnerty, the host of CBC Montreal's morning radio show Daybreak, is moving to London to become the Guardian's new multimedia editor. This is possibly my dream job of all time (second only to being the Observer Food Monthly's chief pie taster), so I'm thrilled to see it go to a fellow Montrealer.

It's also been a sobering reminder of just how much experience you need to rack up before getting a gig with the Grauniad: Eight years working as a reporter for CBC radio, followed by a decade as a BBC News correspondent before becoming Daybreak host in 2007. I've a ways to go yet.

Monday, June 15, 2009

In Solidarity.

A few people have asked me for my take on the recent Iranian presidential elections. Those who have followed this blog for any length of time will be aware that I very rarely make any sort of public commentary on Iranian politics. This is not through lack of interest--far from it--but more due to family reasons. The state of things is such that if any anything I write here were to be traced back to me or my family, it could make things difficult for them if they need to enter Iran for whatever reason. So, for this reason, I have always held back, and will continue to do so for awhile yet.

Despite this, I am adding my name to those who are contesting the official results. After all, if you have nothing to hide, why not let in some impartial observers?

Also, at the risk of being a hypocritical wuss, here are some links to other bloggers and groups who are covering the unfolding events more passionately than I:

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Pig Plague Has Arrived.

It's official, we are in the midst of a pandemic. The first one in four decades, in fact. The WHO's decision to move up to Level 6 has prompted a fair bit of controversy and debate, not least between me and my fellow healthcare anylysts. Miss K and I were thrashing it out earlier this afternoon, and we quickly established ourselves on different sides of the divide:

Miss K: The WHO is being highly irresponsible in declaring a pandemic. People will panic for nothing, and there will be travel bans imposed in certain countries, and it will badly damage the economy.

Lady M: Perhaps, but how long is the WHO supposed to wait? If it does nothing until the A/H1N1 incidence rate is well into the double figures, it will be accused of having taken no precautionary measures and then people will really start to panic. Assuming the WHO delivers a consistent message that there is no need to panic and that the pandemic is a mild one, shouldn't we start mobilising resources to develop a vaccine as soon as possible?

Miss K: Yes, but the WHO has declared a pandemic based on the number of people infected rather than the severity of the infection. There have barely been any deaths from swine 'flu on a global level. If they do this with every new disease, the pandemic alert will lose its effectiveness and people won't care anymore.

Lady M: You can't use the number of deaths as the only way of telling how serious this is. Half the people who are getting sick are taking weeks to recover, and when you multiply the cost of their quarantining, specialised treatment, hospital costs and days off work by the number of people who will eventually get it if no preventive action is taken, the economic cost will run into the hundreds of millions globally.

It's a tough one, and there are valid points to be made on either side. What do you think?

Monday, June 08, 2009

The morning after the night before

Feeling a little calmer today, so enough with the personal nonsense. Instead, let's talk about the hysteria of the past week's political scene. As at least one other blogger has pointed out, most of the cabinet ministers who resigned last week were heavily implicated in the expenses scandal, and have managed to neatly sidestep further investigation by magically shifting the blame onto Brown. They say it's lonely at the top - how right they are. Not that Brown is a stellar leader by any means, but it is disappointing how willing most of the media is to automatically take the resigning cabinet ministers' accusations against him at face value without questioning what's in it for them. End result, Labour goes into public meltdown and the baying for Brown's blood continues. Do I think he should step down? No. But an election held reasonably soon does seem unavoidable for reasons we'll get to later.

Lest we forget, the Tories have also been badly hit by the expenses inquiry, although their status as opposition has allowed them to point the finger at Labour when its resignations reached Cabinet level. Nevertheless, the timing of the expenses revelations and the subsequent resignations within both parties made all mainstream politicians look like chancers and crooks, which certainly doesn't help in the run-up to local and EU elections during times of economic strife.

I would venture to propose, therefore, that the advances made by UKIP and the BNP last night are not entirely shocking! Crushing, disappointing and disturbing, yes, but not unexpected. The fact that many of Labour's lost votes went to these fringe parties and not to the other mainstream parties is an indictment of the mainstream's shortsightedness in failing to campaign sufficiently against the far right. It is also a depressingly predictable confirmation of which way people vote when the money stops flowing, not only in Britain but around Europe as well. The rise of Geert Wilders' ultra-nationalist Freedom Party in the Netherlands is particularly worrying. It's difficult to know, however, how much of the far right's success last night was due to increasing support as opposed to general voter apathy: according to the BBC, just 43% of the European electorate bothered to turn up at the polls for this election, compared with 62% in 1979.

Back in Britain, the dismal turnout for the EU vote, Labour's mauling in the local elections, the incessant bad press, the crumbling cabinet and--most importantly-- the growing antipathy of the electorate, all point to one course of action: calling a general election. We have officially reached the point where waiting a few extra months will not help. Labour will lose, and badly, whether an election is held tomorrow or in six months' time. Norm understands. The point is, the longer it waits, the worse its loss will be, and the harder it will be to repair the damage. If an election is held soon, it will be unavoidably humiliating, but in the long run it will preserve the few threads of credibility that the party has left. In opposition, they can regroup, choose a new leader, develop new ideas from the ground up, and--eventually-- win back the confidence of the working class.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

...and another thing.

When living in England, it took my bank precisely seven days to process a foreign currency cheque, while in this fucking backwater the standard is apparently FORTY BUSINESS DAYS. To say nothing of the fact that there is no post delivered on Saturdays.


-Disgusted of Montreal (formerly of N5 and EC1).

Friday, June 05, 2009

In Limbo.

Is it possible to be homesick for a place in which you never grew up? Is it possible to be more at home in an adopted country than your own? It's been over a month now since I packed up my London life and returned to Montreal, ostensibly forever, but initially at least to pursue a master's degree at a university I can actually afford. I had high hopes and big plans for my return to Canada. I was going to put the knowledge I had gained and the confidence I had developed into living a full and exciting life here, the country to which so many people are desperate to emigrate and in which I was fortunate enough to be raised. I was going to stand in wide open spaces and breathe deeply, enjoy the buzz of life in a city that is vibrant and active but small and friendly, meet new people and forge new alliances, finish my degree and set up a life for myself that was comfortable but never boring.

And yet.

That feeling, that haunting, nagging feeling that ate away at me in the years before I ever moved to London has returned. This is not where I belong. The people I have met, the places I have seen, the stories I have heard. All of them warm, pleasant and welcoming. But as alien to me as if they had come from the moon.

The French have a word for it that has no direct English equivalent: dépaysagement. Loosely translated, it means feeling removed from your own country, placed in an environment that feels foreign in appearance and culture. When I look around me today I see houses, streets and shops that have mostly remained the same for as long as I can remember, and they comfort me. The people, however, are what make me question my ties to this place. The more of them I speak to, the less I feel that I have a typically "Canadian" outlook on life. My priorities, my interests, my tastes, are shared by few here. The easy answer, of course, is that not everybody has the same interests, and that every country is swarming with people whose preoccupations are not those of the majority. But what happens when what makes you happy is specifically found somewhere else? What are you supposed to do with your life when your family is in one corner of the world and your heart is in another?

I cannot believe that I already want to go back. I am furious and heartbroken at the same time.