Political event: Guelph All-Candidates Meeting

Guelph All-Candidates Meeting

Italian-Canadian Club, May 10 2018:

So, last night I did my civic/democratic duty and attended the all-candidates meeting for the upcoming provincial election. It was much too long. The candidates didn’t debate or engage with each other at all. They gave quick set speeches on questions that had mostly been provided to them in advance. Not the most interesting format, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that each of the seven candidates responded to every question and they stuck to the same order throughout.

There was quite a full house, forcing the event coordinators to open up the room at the back. They said there were over 400 people and that may have been right. Though people did start to drift away as the night wore on. Here are my immediate thoughts and impressions on the line-up, moving from left to right (I mean in terms of the order the panel were seated, not as a description of their political alignment):

Sly Castaldi (Liberal): Castaldi is stepping into the shoes of long-time incumbent Liz Sandals. She struck me as a bit stern, but probably capable. I think she has a background in running a women’s crisis centre. I got the impression that she wasn’t that keen on being a politician though, and that she was having to work hard to get up to speed. Her remarks were well prepared, which means that she at least stayed on topic and answered the questions even if she sounded like she was reading from a card most of the time. She also could have used some more energy, especially as there is a real air of “time’s up” hanging over the Liberals this election.

Michael Riehl (Libertarian): Mr. Riehl didn’t show up and nobody knew why. I thought this seemed appropriate for a true Libertarian. I mean, the guy’s free to do what he wants on a Thursday night, right?

Juanita Burnett (Communist): most of Burnett’s comments were kind of vague and not well delivered. She did, however, get one of the most audience-approved lines of the night when she said that she was going to fund various government programs by a progressive taxing of the rich, and especially big corporations. Applause!

Ray Ferraro (PC): I thought Ferraro (whose background is in real estate development and who I believe is the brother of a former Guelph MP) had the best opening remarks, but somewhere along the line he lost the crowd. Not that the crowd was ever going to be on his side anyway. The event was sponsored by the Guelph Coalition for Social Justice and most of the big applause lines during the evening were for backing unions. Given that, it seemed as though he decided at some point that he had zero fucks to give and began making some bizarre statements, like saying that in 45 years in the construction industry he’d never heard of someone being injured at work. At least that’s what it sounded like he said. Maybe he meant something else. In any event, he was the only speaker who was getting heckled, which is something he seemed indifferent if not oblivious to. In general he struck me as reasonably well informed but perhaps a bit old for the job.

Paul Taylor (None of the Above): I’ve never heard of the None of the Above party. I assumed they are a joke party, along the lines of the Rhinos, and that Mr. Taylor was only there to provide some comic relief. But apparently not. According to their website their mission is “to elect independent MPPs who are not bound by party control and who truly can represent their constituents first. We support the 3Rs of Direct Democracy: Referendum, Recall and Responsible Government laws for true Legislative and Electoral Reforms.” I quote the website here because I didn’t get any sense from Mr. Taylor that he was aware of a party platform or that he had spent much time thinking of the issues in this election. Most of his remarks seemed off the cuff, or were offered up as “just my personal opinion.” As the night went on he seemed increasingly clueless. It didn’t help that he was always speaking right after Mike Schreiner either.

Mike Schreiner (Green): Schreiner may have been the only political veteran on the panel and it showed. I think Ferraro was a city councillor years ago, but that’s a different game. Schreiner was the pro. He sounded great and stayed on-topic all night. This wasn’t hard because many of the questions had an environmental angle (power generation, water conservation, climate change). Aside from what has become an obligatory nod to an undefined and perhaps mythical “indigenous world view” most of it sounded right to me. I don’t know if it’s because he’s the provincial party leader or because Guelph just has a strong Green organization, but the Greens around here always seem to work the hardest come election time. They easily have the most boots on the ground. Not that it’s ever got anyone elected, but if they’re going to make a breakthrough then this is the place.

Agnieszka Mlynarz (NDP): “Aggie” probably had the most energy on the night (though Schreiner was close) and she generally came across well. Unfortunately, our lousy first-past-the-post election system penalizes the number of parties on the center left who are largely indistinguishable as far as their main policies are concerned. I came away from the  meeting not knowing what Mlynarz, Schreiner, Taylor and Castaldi really disagreed on.

Thomas Mooney (Alliance Party): as with the None of the Aboves, I’d never heard of the Ontario Alliance party. Apparently they were only founded less than a year ago, as part of the fallout from the Patrick Brown affair. From what I can gather from their website they are a sort of libertarian coalition. They are against government (or government-as-usual) and pro-free enterprise, family values, personal responsibility, and hard work. Everything Mooney said seemed like a platitude to me. No policy specifics.

Final thoughts: I thought Schreiner was pretty clearly the best speaker. The three fringe party candidates didn’t seem prepared or even that interested in what was going on (or, for that matter, the election). Schreiner and Mlynarz were the only two who showed any enthusiasm. Castaldi’s demeanour seemed to reflect slipping Liberal morale but she might have just been having a bad night. As noted, Ferraro appeared largely apathetic, which may have been a sign of confidence that broader trends were pulling in his direction anyway or may just have meant that he really didn’t care.

As with any political rally, there were endless calls for the government to provide people with more. Meaning more of everything. More for health care (home care, mental health, drug plans, senior care). More for education. More for the environment. More affordable housing. Aside from the Communist call to soak the rich there was little desire to nail down how all this was to be paid for though. Schreiner thought that moving to a green economy would result in savings and he’s probably right. Castaldi, stuck having to defend the party in power, could only point to the fact that the Ontario Liberals have been spending more, much more, on health care and education already. But the feeling seemed to be that all this has been a waste.

I won’t call this election yet, but if the Liberals really are as vulnerable as they seem and this riding is up for grabs then there is a slim possibility that Schreiner gets in. But given the clutter on the left and the weakness on the right I’d say that Ferraro’s confidence at this point is merited.

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Re-reading Shakespeare: Hamlet

(1) In his book On Shakespeare Northrop Frye talks a bit about problems and pseudo-problems in Hamlet. By pseudo-problems he basically means the kinds of thing that are open for debate but that you shouldn’t be worrying yourself about. However, he then goes on to say that “there’s no boundary in the play between the actual and the pseudo-problems” and that “there’s no other play in Shakespeare, which probably means no other play in the world, that raises so many questions of the ‘problem’ type.”

I’ve always had this warning running in the back of my head when thinking of problems I’ve had with Hamlet over the years. Am I only imagining pseudo-problems, or are they real?

Well, I think they’re real, if only because they’ve never gone away. Here are some examples:

First: why, in the opening scene, does Marcellus have to explain to Barnardo why he has brought Horatio along with him to see the Ghost? We’ve already been told that Barnardo was expecting Horatio and had already discussed the matter of the Ghost with him. So why does he need to be filled in again now? Of course, the short answer is that it’s a way of informing the audience about what’s going on, but this seems a really awkward way of doing it and Shakespeare usually isn’t awkward in his handling of such things.

Second: Before he takes his leave, Laertes makes a long speech to Ophelia warning her about Hamlet’s intentions and the gap in their respective stations. Then, right after he leaves, Polonius keeps after her on the same point. Why the repetition, especially when what’s being said doesn’t seem that well-grounded in the first place? Gertrude later says that she expected Hamlet to marry Ophelia, and apparently she was fine with that.

Third: why does Claudius get so upset at the action of the play-within-a-play when he’s just seen the dumbshow? He already knows what’s going to happen and how closely it mirrors his murder of Hamlet Senior. I’ve seen various explanations for his delayed reaction – that, for example, he tries to play it cool during the dumbshow, knowing what Hamlet is up to, but loses it as the story is fleshed out on stage – but I find such explanations unconvincing. The dumbshow serves no good purpose I can see, and only makes Claudius’s later guilt-ridden meltdown more confusing.

(2) Hamlet is a play that’s full of lines so well known that reading it seems like skimming through an anthology of famous quotations. But am I the only one who finds the whole “To be or not to be” speech flabby? Meanwhile, my favourite line in the play, for its sheer quotability, is one I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say outside of a theatre. It comes when Horatio sadly reflects on the fate of the court ass-kissers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They “go to’t” (meaning go to their deaths). Hamlet responds “Why, man, they did make love to this employment.” In other words, they were asking for it by taking on the job in the first place. I find I use this line a lot, as it has many everyday applications.

It’s weird how some lines become adopted into the cultural consciousness while others don’t. I mean, how many people really think about suicide the way Hamlet does? And yet “to be or not to be” lives on.

(3) Every time I read Hamlet I find myself struck by something new. In this latest re-reading here’s something that I smiled at. It comes when Polonius is warning Ophelia about Hamlet’s lovemaking:

The canker galls the infants of the spring
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.

The conceit being worked here is that Ophelia’s virginity is like a bud in the spring that a blight may kill. But those “contagious blastments” . . . I mean, given that the whole tenor of the passage is sexual I don’t think there’s any way he couldn’t have meant what in our day goes by a legion of pornographic euphemisms. It’s the money shot!

On the utility of truth

Over at Goodreports I just posted my thoughts on Timothy Snyder’s little book On Tyranny. While I sympathize with a lot of what Snyder says, I think things are more complex than he makes them out to be (something I think he would agree with, as the book is meant only as a primer). One point in particular has to do with his warning about entering a post-truth era.

10: Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis on which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual — and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism.

We have heard a lot about this in recent years: the rise of “truthiness,” the rejection of the “reality-based community,” the branding of any story one doesn’t agree with as “fake news.” And I agree with Snyder about the dangers of giving up on truth. What I’ve found myself wondering about more recently however is the utilitarian value of the truth for many people. For example: it’s widely accepted that man-made climate change is real. To be a climate-change denier is to reject the truth. But I’ve known such people and whenever I engage with them I come away thinking that believing in climate change is something that is of no use to them. It does them no good at all. I’m not talking about oil company executive or coal miners here either. These are just regular people for whom the truth is of no value. Or, if anything, it’s a negative. This isn’t to deny Snyder’s broader point, but it does highlight the difficulty in doing anything about it.

There’s a saying, I’m not sure of its origin, that when the facts turn against us we turn against the facts. More and more when I find myself talking with people who can’t believe the ignorance or stubborn resistance to “what is actually the case” among those they disagree with I find myself asking them why they think such holdouts would even want to believe the truth. We like to think of the truth as being its own reward, an objective good, something that will set us free. This may be overstating its worth.

On trial

Joseph K. Before the fall.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve posted my notes on two film versions of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The first is the Orson Welles film from 1962. It’s not my favourite Welles, but he manages the text well and really makes it his own. The second is a far more literal adaptation, directed by David Jones, which came out in 1993. I didn’t like it nearly as much, but it’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the book.

Holmes on film

I’ve updated a few times on this site with links to my notes over at Alex on Film on various movies featuring Sherlock Holmes. Mostly I’ve been talking about the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series that ran through the late 1930s and early ’40s. If you’re interested, this is an up-to-date master list. If I review any more Holmes movies I’ll just add them here.

The Copper Beeches (1912)
Le Trsor des Musgraves (1912)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)
Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
The Spider Woman (1943)
The Scarlet Claw (1943)
The Pearl of Death (1944)
The House of Fear (1945)
The Woman in Green (1945)
Pursuit to Algiers (1945)
Dressed to Kill (1946)
Murder by Decree (1979)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)