Category Archives: History

My Grandfather never talked about The War

I never really knew my grandfather[1]. I’m sure some of this is because men[2] of his generation were not expected to interact with children in the same way as they are now, and some of it is because he was extremely old when I was born. Near as I can tell, he was born before the turn of the century in or near Ternopil[3], during the time it was Polish, but occupied.

Sometime during this time, he was conscripted[4] into the Polish army on the side of the allies, which likely means under Russian control.

After the war, he somehow managed to escape to France[5], and perhaps seeing that war was brewing again, he moved to Canada, where he met my grandmother.

My first, and perhaps only memories of him are of him being extremely old, in his late eighties, and seemingly upset with the infirmities that age thrusts upon a person. I regret that I never knew him when he was younger, or ever heard his stories.

My mom said that he never talked about the war, nor apparently much about his time before he moved to Canada. Apparently, he wanted to make a fresh start, and/or there was too much hurt or trauma back there.

As you’re reading this, it will have been 100 years to the day since the Armistice of November 11th, 2018, which is still remembered in Canada as Remembrance Day. This armistice was largely between Germany and the Allies in the West, though. The situation on the Eastern Front was significantly different. The war had taken a turn with the collapse of the Russian Empire, followed by two revolutions and civil war, which raged for four more years after the armistice in the West.

I don’t know what part he played in all of this. I don’t know how he managed to survive all of the chaos of war and revolution and civil war, never mind the subsequent Polish-Russian war. I do know that he worked as an orderly at Sunnybrook later in life, perhaps working with veterans, to what end I’m not sure. I like to think he gained some measure of peace from it.

This spirit of remembrance and peace that we celebrate today is based on a very important moment in history, where the guns fell silent for a time in one part of the world. We should also remember though, that despite this, a related war still raged for years afterwards, not very far away.

[1]My mother’s father.

[2]I have great memories of time with my grandma, interestingly, the most acute ones seem to revolve around food. Her delicious cabbage rolls, fresh-picked strawberries or corn from her backyard garden, fruit (bananas?) and Neapolitan ice cream, she even managed to make boiled peas a fond memory for me.

[3]Interesting things from this article: “In 1544 the Tarnopol Castle was completed and repelled the first Tatar attacks. On 20 January 1548 Tarnopol was granted legal rights by the King of Poland Sigismund I the Old which allowed the town to hold three fairs annually, and the weekly trades on Mondays.” I think we don’t fully understand the extent to which peoples’ lives were regulated, where a town had to be granted to right to hold a fair.

[4]Given what I know of politics in the area and at that time, I think conscripted is the best guess.

[5]I know there must be interesting stories here, some of which I have heard parts of, but they are outside the scope for today.

The Hollowed-Out Middle America

This presidential election has been described as a new realignment[1] of American politics, where social pressures mount so high that demagogues[2] appear, and politicians abruptly shift to actually mirror their constituents for a time.

First Bernie Sanders appeared[3], giving voice to the frustrations and the hope for change felt by Millenials and others who had been left behind by globalization and the regulatory capture by the banks.

Later emerged Donald Trump, who gave voice to the anger felt by blue collar white workers, who felt betrayed by decades of free trade and globalization/outsourcing/immigration[4] policies, exacerbated by trends towards more and more automation.

But they are really railing against the same issues (and these are very real issues), which is some of the reasons[5] why so many Bernie supporters are moving to Trump, even though Hilary and the Democrats[6] have basically adopted Bernie’s platform.

Much of why Trump has found such fertile ground is that *both* parties have been ignoring Middle America for decades, as Michael Brendan Dougherty says:

“To simplify Francis’ theory: There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.”

To me, it seems that in general, anger comes from frustrated expectations, often expectations that are not conscious, where people are not encouraged to really look at the forces in play keeping their way of life the way it is. Then, when one or more of these forces change, life suddenly changes, and you get anger. (It could also be because people know exactly what is causing things, they’ve been electing politicians who say they will fix things, but never actually do, so eventually the people get angry.)

One thing I’d never really thought about (in such words) was that Middle America was really a class protected by political forces (Michael Brendan Dougherty quoting Francis):

Middle American forces, emerging from the ruins of the old independent middle and working classes, found conservative, libertarian, and pro-business Republican ideology and rhetoric irrelevant, distasteful, and even threatening to their own socio-economic interests. The post World War II middle class was in reality an affluent proletariat, economically dependent on the federal government through labor codes, housing loans, educational programs, defense contracts, and health and unemployment benefits. All variations of conservative doctrine rejected these…

and it was inevitable that this would wane, but it was in few politicians’ interest to actually confront and solve the problems.

So, here we are. Maybe, with Hillary adopting Bernie’s platform, things will get better, and we’ll work together to solve some of these problems. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the realignment works itself out.

(This other linked story talks about how the Democrats are becoming the party of globalization, as the Republicans become the party of isolationism, where):

“This difference in worldviews maps neatly into differences in policy. Nationalists support immigration and trade deals only if they improve the living standards of citizens of the nation. For the new, globally minded progressives, the mere well-being of American workers is not a good enough reason to oppose immigration or trade liberalization. It’s an argument that today’s progressive globalists have borrowed from libertarians: immigration or trade that depresses the wages of Americans is still justified if it makes immigrants or foreign workers better off.


Likewise, the current opposition of many Democratic politicians to free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the residual influence of declining manufacturing unions within the party According to a March 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, Democratic voters believe that free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are almost reversed: by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, a majority of Republicans believe free-trade has been a bad thing. Among younger Americans, who tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, support for free trade is high: 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say trade agreements are good for the country. Even progressives who campaign against trade deals feel obliged by the logic of ethical cosmopolitanism to justify their opposition in the name of the labor rights of foreign workers or the good of the global environment.

[1]Or perhaps the end of a 50-year-long realignment.

[2]Trump for sure, but remember that Bernie Sanders appeared first, in his quiet(er) way, giving voice to the frustrations of many. In a way, both sides of the same coin, hope and fear.

[3]Yes, I know he’d been saying the same things for decades, but that was the first I’d ever heard of him.

[4]As Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in The Week:

“Chinese competition really did hammer the Rust Belt and parts of the great Appalachian ghetto. It made the life prospects for men — in marriage and in their careers — much dimmer than those of their fathers. Libertarian economists, standing giddily behind Republican politicians, celebrate this as creative destruction even as the collateral damage claims millions of formerly-secure livelihoods, and — almost as crucially — overall trust and respect in the nation’s governing class. Immigration really does change the calculus for native-born workers too. As David Frum points out last year:

[T]he Center for Immigration Studies released its latest jobs study. CIS, a research organization that tends to favor tight immigration policies, found that even now, almost seven years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans are working than in November 2007, the peak of the prior economic cycle. Balancing the 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans at work, there are two million more immigrants — legal and illegal — working in the United States today than in November 2007. All the net new jobs created since November 2007 have gone to immigrants. Meanwhile, millions of native-born Americans, especially men, have abandoned the job market altogether. [The Atlantic]

For decades, people have been warning that a set of policies that really has enriched Americans on the top, and likely has improved the overall quality of life (through cheap consumables) on the bottom, has hollowed out the middle.

[5]The other reasons are generally sexism.

[6]This would either be a terrific or terrible band.

Burning Man in Pictures XLV: Metallic Dragon Friends!

In our last installment, our plucky heroes had taken a sojourn amongst the growing coyotes. They then continued on until they saw a sign:

I would never use these words myself, but they seemed to enjoy them.
I would never use these words myself, but they seemed to enjoy them.

So many new friends! (Apparently, the real title is ‘Piazza D’Arte’.):

So many new friends!  (Or fiends?)
So many new friends! (Or fiends?)

This guy seemed a little…overly friendly. Luckily, he seemed to be constrained by the multicoloured shield[1].

This guy seemed a little...overly friendly.  Luckily, he seemed to be constrained by the multicoloured shield.
This guy seemed a little…overly friendly. Luckily, he seemed to be constrained by the multicoloured shield.

Next, M & S perused a strange bird/hammock structure, while the stork in the foreground made efforts to reduce workload in order to take some time off:

M & S peruse a strange bird/hammock(?), while the stork in the foreground is making efforts to take some time off.
M & S peruse a strange bird/hammock(?), while the stork in the foreground is making efforts to take some time off.

There was then this sign, introducing a Claude Dragon (not to be confused with Cloud, or Cloud Dragons):

Claude?  Does that mean...?
Claude? Does that mean…?

Claude entreated our intrepid heroes to enter, so that they could embark on an important quest. (This story shall be told at a later date…[2]):

Yes!  You can store many things in the Claude!
Yes! You can store many things in the Claude!

The good news was that this sentry was still there. They are always the first to leave, as they always know which way the wind is blowing:

"You're so vane, I bet you think this wind is about you..."
“You’re so vane, I bet you think this wind is about you…”

There was then this disturbing tableau, which is even more disturbing when you know the story behind why the being is caged, and why there is such a fearsome guardian[3]:

A disturbing tableau.  Even more disturbing if you knew the story behind why the cage and the guardian.
A disturbing tableau. Even more disturbing if you knew the story behind why the cage and the guardian.

Looking next door, our heroes saw this strange sight, recalling Phonecian legends[4]:

The jury is still out as to whether this is still a one-horsecar town.
The jury is still out as to whether this is still a one-horsecar town.

After many adventures, and many tearful goodbyes with their newfound metallic friends, our heroes embarked on the next leg of their journey, which they had spotted from their perch inside Claude. The FEARSOME MEDUSA!

Stay tuned!

[1]If you want to hear this story, comment below!

[2]This one, too!

[3]This one too, if you really, really want.

[4]This one sounds like fun!

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

11:37EST: 12.45M-11.71M, markets have been reacting significantly for a while
11:21EST: 11M-10.4M, ITV says 85% chance of Exit
11:14EST: Cable down from 1.50 to 1.36, almost 10%
11:00EST: 9.13 Exit-8.67 Remain.
10:32 Cable (GBP/USD) is down 6%, the largest single day drop ever.

As I write this, ‘Leave’ has just taken the lead (~6.2M-~5.9M), and the odds of ‘Brexit'[1] have just hit 75%:

Update 10:27PM: And another city that was supposed to be solidly in the Remain camp, Sheffield, has just turned to Leave:
LEAVE: 136,018
REMAIN: 130,735
* * *
Update 10:17 PM: ITV reporting that Leave probability odds are now 75% ITV NEWS RESULTS ANALYSIS: 75% PROBABILITY OF LEAVE TO WINWhile Ladbrokes once again has Leave favorite at 4/6 with Remain 11/10

Earlier in the evening, less than an hour ago, they were statistically tied at about 3M votes each.

So, what does this really mean?

Let’s take a step back and hear what Sir Humphrey Appleby has to say about why Britain joined the EU in the first place:

Video Link.

The relevant transcript:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish[2], with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it’s worked so well?”

James Hacker: “That’s all ancient history, surely.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased, it’s just like old times.”

So, the cynical viewpoint would ask whether the British Foreign Office has decided that they’ve done all they can to promote a disunited Europe from within.

Other viewpoints include the idea that the people of the UK truly want to leave, or are being convinced to leave by various demagogues.

10:32 Cable (GBP/USD) is down 6%, the largest single day drop ever.

I don’t have a strong handle on what a ‘Brexit’ will actually do. Here’s an article talking about the worst things that are likely to happen. Basically, the UK will go back to being a closely related country from one with totally open borders, unified standards, etc…

I suspect the momentum would keep it going, along with the large number of expats in each direction (on the order of a few million in each direction). Proximity would keep Britain as a major trading partner with the EU, economics would keep regulations reasonably close, etc…

A larger issue would probably be the threat of Scotland leaving Britain to join the EU.

There are probably also questions of what a ‘Yes’ vote actually means. It might just mean a slight separation between Britain and the EU (which would incidentally meet the goals of the cynical Foreign Office above).

It’s also important to remember that London remains an incredibly important financial capital, and geographically very close, so the ties will still be there regardless.

11:00EST: 9.13 Exit-8.67 Remain.

11:14EST: Cable down from 1.50 to 1.36, almost 10%

[1]What a terrible name. It doesn’t even sound like a good breakfast cereal, more like one of those that tastes uninteresting and has a terrible texture.

[2]Note that those are but three examples out of a large set of Anglo-Spanish wars.

[3]ibid Anglo-French wars. Note that most of these did not in fact include Germany as an official co-belligerent, until revolutionary/Napoleonic times. (Note that was before the German (Prussian) unification of 1871.)

What Canadians want from their Government

Apparently, the new PM’s office thinks it’s:
– Recalls & Safety Alerts
– Weather
– Find A Job
– Write to the Troops
Home Page of the Prime Minister of Canada, November 8th, 2015

Which is actually probably not a bad top four, given what people care about and the time of year.

Digging a little deeper, I had no idea that there were Canadian soldiers involved in so many overseas missions:

OP CALUMET- Sinai, Egypte
OP CROCODILE – Democratic Republic of the Congo
OP HAMLET – Port-au-Prince, Haïti
OP JADE – Middle East
OP KOBOLD – Pristina, Kosovo
OP PROTEUS – Jerusalem
OP IMPACT – Kuwait
OP IMPACT – Baghdad, Iraq
Operational Support (OS) Detachment – Kuwait
CFS Alert – Alert, Nunavut, Canada
Canadian Ships
OP ADDENDA – Kabul, Afghanistan
OP REASSURANCE – Land Component
OP SIRONA (Sierra Leone)
OP UNIFIER (Ukraine)

It also seems to me that Justin Trudeau emphasizes his support and mention of Canadian Soldiers, perhaps to defray the (generally incorrect) notion that Conservative governments are better for the military. But perhaps this is just me being oversensitive.

“It’s the responsibility of government not to put soldiers into harm’s way except as a last resort, when it’s absolutely necessary to do so,” he said. “When we do send them into harm’s way we have to ensure that we’ve done everything in our power to find other methods to reach our objectives.”

0th world problems

“Heaven’s out of toilet paper. You have to wipe your butt on a cloud.” -SN

But really, what would a 0th world problem be like? We have First world problems, like your internet not being fast enough, or having to wait 3 hours at the ER for your free non-emergency health care.

For that matter, what is a second world problem?

History repeating itself first as a farce?

-N 😀