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Howard Anglin: It’s ok to draw the line at statues of Satan

Commentary

The saintly editors here at The Hub have agreed to my request to produce one of my two monthly articles for the site as a monthly transatlantic diary. For those readers not familiar with the format, which is more common in British journalism, the diary is a grab bag of short items, sometimes on a common theme, but often not. In my case, what they have in common is that they are either too inconsequential to merit a full article or I can’t be bothered to come up with more than a knee-jerk reaction or a flip comment. This is December. It is also the last entry of this series.

In the first week of December I made one of my thrice-annual hop-skip-and-jumps from Oxford to Calgary to Vancouver Island. Plenty of catching up with scattered friends, plenty of good food in local favourites (you can read about some of them here), and blessedly few travel headaches, which these days counts as a Christmas miracle. 

One thing there has not been plenty of is snow. None, in fact. Nary a flake, even in Calgary. Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? Beats me, but it’s a great line. So is Rossetti’s English translation—“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”—for which he invented the word “yesteryear.” It’s a keeper, though it leaves some holes in the linguistic calendar. Between yesterday and yesteryear, surely we need a yestermonth and a yesterweek? I have made a New Year’s resolution to introduce them, and as many other necessary neologisms as I can get past my editors. 

* * *

Visiting my parents in North Saanich, I spent an afternoon blissfully lost in the second-hand bookstores of Sidney. Sadly, the used book store is going the way of the used book, or for that matter, the book. Not long ago, little Sidney boasted a dozen independent booksellers. This was mostly the work of Clive Tanner, who with his wife owned half of them and whose dream was to brand Sidney as “Booktown,” a west coast Hay-on-Wye

Now the town is down to four bookstores, and if Sidney is known for anything, it’s for a spreading plague of former public servants enjoying early retirement. At 9 am, when the grey-ponytail men in muddy lycra and cycling cleats descend on the local coffee shops, there isn’t a seat or a bran muffin to be found within a five-mile radius. 

Of the bookstores, Tanner’s remains, which is fine if you want week-old British magazines. The Haunted Bookshop changed hands a couple of years ago and the new owner has cluttered the shop with books from his other store stacked higgledy-piggledy on the floor and stuffed into shelves with minimal regard for the old hand-labelled sections. Inevitably, he’s also raised prices. Now comes news that Beacon Books will close at the end of January, its entire collection to be packed up and shipped off to Creston. 

One of Beacon’s specialties was Canadiana, and on this trip I picked up a pristine copy of Stanley Burke’s The Day of the Glorious Revolution. Flipping through it, I wondered whether any book has ever been published for a more niche audience. As a boy, Roy Peterson’s animal caricatures formed my impression of figures like René Lévesque (a squatting frog smoking five cigarettes) and Robert Stanfield (a somnolent lobster). The cartoon introducing the elder Trudeau as the lubricious Peter E Waterhole is still the best Canadian political caricature I know. It belongs on a stamp.

I will miss Beacon Books, but I will shed no tears for their geriatric “Erotica” section, displayed shamelessly smack in the middle of the store like turkey-necked decolletage. Front and centre on this visit was a copy of Adrienne Clarkson’s memoirs, Heart Matters, which I hope the former GG won’t mind me saying is taking CanCon to a disconcerting extreme. Worse, it was perched above a stack of individually wrapped magazines that, on closer inspection, turned out to be old back issues of Maclean’s. Definitely a niche fetish. 

* * *

Canadian and British politics provide more than enough fodder for a largely apolitical diary, so I rarely cast a critical eye on the American scene. But shortly after returning to Canada, I tweeted a gif applauding the toppling of a statue of Satan in the Iowa legislature. 

I am often surprised by which of my off-hand tweets hit a nerve. This one elicited multiple responses from liberal fundamentalists warning me darkly that if we do not tolerate statues of demons in our legislatures, freedom of religion itself will be imperilled. “First they came for Satan…” I guess. I have two responses: first, the statue wasn’t erected for a religious purpose but by some juvenile atheists and rational humanists who enjoy trolling the Jeebus people; second, for those who don’t read closely, it was a statue of Satan. Technically, Baphomet, but the so-called Satanic Temple seems to think it’s Satan, whom they consider a symbol of the “Eternal Rebel,” “rational inquiry,” and “critical thinking.” Really. [HJA: This footnote originally misattributed the statue of Baphomet to the Church of Satan, rather than to the Satanic Temple. To give the devil his due, I beg my readers not to confuse the Satanic Temple (self-styled Satanists who claim not to believe in Satan and erect silly statues) with the Church of Satan (self-styled Satanists who claim not to believe in Satan and are silly in entirely different ways). I hope that clears things up.] 

If our society can’t draw a principled distinction between benign expressions of religious pluralism and the literal embodiment of evil, then we might as well pack it up. My main takeaway from the episode is that there are a lot of very smart and earnest people out there who apparently do not believe in the Devil or in the objective reality of evil. To which I’d say: how do you explain all this? (Gestures vaguely at the world around us.)

* * *

Halfway through the month we learned that the Canadian population had ballooned by 430,000 in the third quarter of the year alone. The good news is that it was reported at all. For decades our cities have bulged like middle-age spread up mountainsides and into green belts and watersheds, and the media have treated it like the turn of the seasons: a natural phenomenon hardly worth noting, let alone critically.

Adding a population larger than Halifax or Surrey in three months is what happens when our Ministry of Finance cares only about the numerator, and our Ministry of Immigration cares only about the denominator. The numerator ticks up a little, so the finance minister can brag about rising GDP, while the denominator accelerates, so the immigration minister can pat himself on the back about what a swell, welcoming chap he is. Each department thinks it’s doing a bang-up job as long as it doesn’t look at the other’s work. Meanwhile, the fraction gets smaller and we all get a little poorer. 

Finally, it seems Canadians are starting to do the math in their heads. Even some journalists—mostly liberal arts grads who haven’t seen a quotient since high school—appear to have figured out how to calculate per capita income, which declined by 4.4 percent during the same quarter that the population jumped. Accepting we have a problem is a welcome first step. Now we just need someone to, you know, actually do something about it. 

* * * 

Boxing Day means two things to me: the World Juniors and hot turkey sandwiches. With Canada playing at 5:30 am local time, I skipped the hockey but made up for it with the sandwiches, a tradition for which Christmas dinner itself is but a prelude. This year’s were the tallest yet, with layers of (from top to bottom): gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce, mixed root vegetables, Brussels sprouts and bacon, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, butter, and toast. Any higher and I will need toothpicks, and maybe a planning permit. 

As for the World Juniors, there was a time when I would have been up in the dark, fizzing with anticipation. Maybe it’s age, but this year I’m going to wait for the quarterfinals—and a game at a civilised hour—to tune in.NB: This was written before Canada’s quarterfinal loss. My reaction vacillates between disgust and the smug fall-back available to all Canadians of assuming (with good reason) that if both teams had all their eligible U20 players, we’d have smoked the Czechs. In the past it seemed there was almost always an early grudge match with either the Russians or the Americans to liven up the first round, but with the Russians banned and the Americans in the other bracket, this year’s round-robin felt like it missed the old spark. I know the Swedes and Finns can be worthy rivals, but it’s just not the same. 

Speaking of Russia, I don’t care if we let them play or not, or if we make them compete under a fake team name or wear fake moustaches, but is it too much to ask for a little consistency? Looking at the IIFC website, I see the People’s Republic of China competed in the Division II, Group A tourney earlier this month despite currently occupying one country (Tibet), menacing another (Taiwan), and engaging in multiple genocides (Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong, probably a few others). And if that weren’t bad enough, both Iran and North Korea are competing in Division III, Group B of next year’s men’s world championship. I know complaining about hypocrisy in international sport is like moaning about corruption in municipal politics, but come on.

* * * 

After Christmas, a distinguished national journalist invited me to his house for blueberry waffles, and to impersonate minor European royalty for the edification (and, as it happened, to the bewilderment) of his young daughters. I chose as my role the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and the family duly provided me with a royal blue sash to wear under my blazer. With a head crammed full of duchy trivia, I presented myself at the door, where I was greeted by a well-rehearsed juvenile receiving line. I have no idea if the children bought the act or not, but my ersatz Poirot accent proved unnecessary as the family thought my genuine Canadian Dainty was unbelievable enough. The question now is how to put my newfound knowledge of the Bourbon-Parma and De Lannoy/Delano family trees to profitable use. It is one of my mottos that “no knowledge is ever wasted,” but this may try the maxim. 

* * *

The Hub will shortly publish my predictions for 2024 as part of its year-end round-up. I am not concerned that people will find it too bleak—it’s impossible to be pessimistic enough about the future—but I do hope people don’t take it in the wrong spirit. People who read it and don’t know me might assume the prospect of impending doom depresses me. Quite the contrary: I am filled with rapturous defiance. Bring it on. I have no doubt that good will triumph in the end, even if it will be in the next world rather than this one. 

Besides, despair is worse than a sin, it’s boring. As Trollope knew: “The well-educated, widely-read Conservative, who is well assured that all good things are gradually being brought to an end by the voice of the people, is generally the pleasantest man to be met.” I make no great claims to education or erudition, but anything that might make me more pleasant is worth trying, so I am determined to banish boredom and despair and meet disaster with a bottle of vintage champagne and a Bronx cheer.

And that’s also why I’m ending this diary before it becomes even more boring. In yestermonth’s entry, I said this would be the last, and so it is. Twelve months, twelve entries. Good enough for the Apostles and the Tribes of Israel, and surely good enough for my odd, disruptive life. Thank you to everyone who read it.

Ryan Gosling was just Ken: The Hub’s stand-out Canadians of 2023

Commentary

There were plenty of news stories of Canadians not making the best decisions in 2023 (*ahem*). But instead of getting bogged down by all the negativity, here at The Hub we see no harm in highlighting the postive things in life. We figured the best way to do that would be to stop and take a moment during the holiday break to appreciate some of our fellow country folks’ contributions to the year that was. We asked The Hub staff and contributors to nominate Canadians they thought made a positive impact, no matter how big or small, on Canada and the world in 2023.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: ‘A towering figure’ in world music

By Howard Anglin

As a part-time ex-pat, I would like to speak up for the contributions to Canada that Canadians can make from outside her borders. Raising a country’s profile abroad while feeding its pride at home is a real contribution to national identity. I speak from direct observation of Canadians earnestly regaling indifferent foreigners with which B-list Hollywood actors are Canadian (Jason Priestly! Alan Thicke! Seth Rogen!).

This year, the international stage offers rather juicier pickings: Celine Song, writer-director of the acclaimed debut film, Past Lives; Ryan Gosling, star of the year’s most popular movie, Barbie ($1.4 billion worldwide and counting); and Sarah Bernstein, whose second novel, Study for Obedience, was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

But I am going with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the musical director of two of the world’s most important orchestras, the Metropolitan Opera and Philadelphia. Although there was no one thing that vaulted his 2023 above any other year since he took over the Met’s baton, I don’t think most Canadians appreciate the towering figure he is becoming year-by-year in world music. To get a sense of his omnipresent impact, just look at his last month:

· November 19th, he led his hometown Orchestre Métropolitain in a crowd-pleasing performance of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony.

· He then returned to New York, where he is conducting the Met’s production of Florencia en el Amazonas until December 14.

· November 28th, he led the Philadelphia Orchestra, Itzhak Perlman, and Jonathan Biss at Carnegie Hall.

· November 30th and December 1st, he stepped in for an ailing Daniel Barenboim with the Staatskapelle Berlin at Carnegie Hall in what was supposed to be the 81-year legend’s American swan song, but instead became another tribute to Nézet-Séguin’s versatility as he conducted the four Brahms symphonies over two nights.

And if that weren’t enough, his marathon Rachmaninoff concert with Yuja Wang earlier this year was just named one of the Best Classical Musical Performances of 2023 by the New York Times, and his fingerprints are all over Bradley Cooper’s performance as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro, which opens this month. Few Canadians have done more to raise Canada’s cultural profile with some of the most important audiences in the world.

Elliot Kaufman meets the moment

By Sean Speer

Since Hamas’ horrific terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7, there’s been a lot of morally specious analysis and commentary in a lot of mainstream news outlets. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has been a clear exception. It has emerged as a key source of information, analysis, and moral clarity over the past few months. A big factor has been a 27-year-old Canadian named Elliot Kaufman. 

Kaufman grew up in Toronto and started reading the National Post at an age when most of us still aspired to play centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Soon he was writing letters to the editor and unwittingly launching his eventual trajectory into journalism. 

After attending Stanford University, Kaufman held fellowships and internships at major American conservative outlets, including National Review and the WSJ. He joined the WSJ full-time in 2018 as an opinion editor. 

He became the letters editor in 2021, where he’s responsible for curating the newspaper’s highly-coveted letters page from start to finish. (I was pleased earlier this year when he asked me to contribute a letter on the Trudeau government’s neglect of defence and security issues.)

Since October 7, however, he’s also contributed to the WSJ’s editorials, particularly ones on Israel and its war with Hamas. It’s here where he’s distinguished himself for his first-rate mind and a maturity that far exceeds his age and youthful appearance. 

It’s not easy for a young Canadian to enter the U.S. journalism market and succeed. It’s big, crowded, and highly competitive. That Kaufman has not only accomplished a great deal so early in his burgeoning career, but also played a key role at the WSJ in a true moment of intellectual and moral test, speaks to the impressive progress that he’s made in establishing himself as an up-and-coming thinker and writer on the American Right.  

For that reason, I nominate him as a Canadian who has made a difference in 2023 and undoubtedly will continue to make a big difference in the world of ideas for the years to come. 

If Hub readers want to learn more about Elliot Kaufman, his background, and his worldview, you can check out his appearance on Hub Dialogues from July 2022. 

Lucia Bertelli is an invaluable community builder

By Patrick Luciani

I would like to recognize Lucia Bertelli, the head pharmacist at the local Shoppers Drug Mart in Little Italy in Toronto, as deserving of recognition as a community builder. Not in the political sense—there are plenty who fill that gap—but as someone who leaves those she encounters better for doing so. Lucia has an infectious personality with her lilting Italian accent that delights everyone who hears it. Over the years, she has tended to thousands of clients, helping them with their prescriptions, and ensuring they take them properly. Her clients have come to love her and her dedication. In return, she has come to love the hundreds of locals and immigrants who depend on her. She’s a whirlwind of activity, dispensing pills and homespun wisdom on health and life. She kept everyone’s spirits up during COVID. 

Many times, she has followed up on whether I’m taking my medication as prescribed. Undoubtedly, other pharmacists have that same dedication, but her sense of responsibility to her community and clients seems unique. There are thousands of communities throughout Canada with Lucia Bertellis that make our country better; this is to thank one of them. 

Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, August 25, 2022. Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press.
SGA, Canada’s MVP

By L. Graeme Smith

Steve Nash, for all his professional accolades, never quite made his mark on the international stage. This is not to diminish Canada’s greatest basketballer. Nash led Team Canada to the Olympic stage in Sydney in 2000, but despite his herculaen talent and a surprising four wins, including an upset over powerhouse Spain, Canada’s tournament ended in tears in the quarter-finals.

They have not been back since.This dubious record applies only on the men’s side of things. The women’s team have more than held their own and have had considerable more success on the world stage in the intervening years. But that ignominious streak will end with the upcoming 2024 games. In one of the country’s best sporting stories of the year, Canada’s men’s team qualified for the Paris Olympics this past summer behind the brilliance of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who led the team to a third-place finish in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Already an All-NBA player and All-Star in the NBA, the 25-year-old emerging superstar proved, on the biggest stage of his career to date, that his blood runs as cold as his slippery, slithering play suggests.

A win over Spain, the reigning World Cup champions, was enough for Canada to qualify for the main event next summer. Going on to upset USA in overtime to win bronze—the first-ever men’s World Cup medal in the country’s history—was just the delicious capper to the tournament.

Canada basketball unequivocally once again has their man. SGA—with a (black) hat-tip to Dillon Brooks, his sneering villain of a backcourt partner—was the man most responsible for the tremendous result this past summer. He is the deserving figurehead for what could be a golden era of Canada basketball and a worthy successor to Steve Nash.

Three young Canadians Vladimir Putin despises

By Harrison Lowman

This November, 25-year-old Austin Lathlin-Bercier sacrificed his life for a free Ukraine. The Cree man from Manitoba enlisted in the Ukrainian army in March 2022 after spending time travelling in Europe. His hope was to later join the Canadian Armed Forces, having participated in a program for Indigenous youth and receiving laser eye surgery upon discovering his poor vision disqualified from the infantry. When he heard the war broke out Lathlin-Bercier knew he had to help. “I couldn’t just stand by while a sovereign country was attacked by an authoritarian regime. Seeing all the people losing their homes and loved ones, while Russia was indiscriminately killing civilians and committing war crime after war crime, it was extremely infuriating,” he wrote in a Facebook post.  Lathlin-Bercier was reported missing on Remembrance Day. He joins around 10 other Canadians who have died fighting in the conflict.

In 2023, 36-year-old Giancarlo Fiorella spent hundreds of hours painstakingly scanning the web for atrocities. The senior investigator at Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based digital open-source investigative group, helped lead a project that allows people around the world to crowdsource incidents of civilian death in the war in Ukraine. This geo-located evidence of the bombing of schools, and hospitals, initially recorded by those on the ground, picked up by volunteers aboard, and verified by Fiorella may be accepted in the International Criminal Court as examples of war crimes. 

This year, 29-year-old university drop-out turned director Daniel Roher experienced what he described as “a fever dream whirlwind”, winning Best Documentary at the Oscars for his thriller Navalny, focused on Russia’s most prominent opposition figure. In the film, Roher captures in real time Navalny prank calling the Kremlin hit squad that poisoned him, pretending to be a high-ranking Russian FSB secretary. They confess, exposing their plot to murder him. Roher aimed an international spotlight on the dissident when many never knew who he was or had forgotten him. While Navalny is currently trapped somewhere in the Russian prison system serving a trumped up 30-year sentence, and is also someone who does court controversy, he is the closest thing Russia has to a leader who could bring down Putin once and for all. 

Ravi Kahlon, housing hero

By Chris Spoke

Ravi Kahlon was appointed as British Columbia’s housing minister just over a year ago. Since then, he’s kickstarted a number of high-impact initiatives to increase the supply of housing in the province.

The most important might be a new requirement that municipalities designate transit-oriented development areas within 800 meters of rapid transit stations and 400 metres of major bus exchanges. Developers would be permitted to build high density midrise and highrise housing within these areas.

Another personal favourite is the start of a year-long process to update the province’s building code to allow for taller buildings to be built with a single point of egress. That change, as esoteric as it sounds, would have a meaingful impact on the viability of small scale multi-unit development and on the provision of more family-sized units.

He’s done more this year than any other politician in the country to advance the cause of housing availability and affordability. If he maintains that same pace and commitment to reform over the next couple of years, history will remember him very kindly.

B.C. Minister of Housing and Government House Leader Ravi Kahlon speaks during an announcement about the construction of new modular housing projects to house the homeless, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, December 14, 2022. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press.
The valuable lessons of Mark Critch and Anthony Rota

By Alisha Rao

My choice for a Canadian who has had a positive impact this year would have to be anyone from This Hour has 22 Minutes cast (Trent McClellan, Aba Amuquandoh, Stacey McGunnigle, and Mark Critch). I’ll simplify my answer and say 22 Minutes anchor Mark Critch. I can always appreciate satirizing the news to be a form of destressing during rather tenuous times, and Critch has provided ample entertainment in this capacity. His discussion with East Coast premiers on fish and chips and heading to the United Nations with Bob Rae provided real insights, even if it had a comedic twist. As Critch says in a recent episode, where he critiques entrepreneur and American presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s desire to build a wall at the U.S.-Canadian border, we should be building bridges, not breaking them.

My other (non-serious) choice for a Canadian who had a positive impact would be Anthony Rota, who, by dint of his unfortunate example, showed us that it is important to not celebrate Nazis, inadvertently or otherwise, and the benefits of knowing history and understanding political contexts. At the end of the day, though, Rota’s blunder in the House of Commons has led to Canadians across the aisles to reaffirm that Nazism should be condemned. That’s a good thing, right? 

Ryan Gosling was just Ken

By Amal Attar-Guzman

On the lighter side of things, a Canadian who has made a positive artistic and cultural contribution to Canada—and globally—during the past year is Ryan Gosling in his rendition as Ken in Greta Gerwig’s 2023 summer blockbuster film Barbie. 

Not only did his role make millions jeer and laugh, but it portrayed important sociocultural themes—from self-identity, individuality, and gender norms—relevant to today’s present climate. Many, regardless of gender, found his role to be useful in facilitating difficult and yet important conversations surrounding equality, masculinity, self-esteem, alienation, and the importance of dressing for the occasion. Deservedly, he has already has been nominated for a 2024 Golden Globe.

Whether or not Gosling’s performance wins any awards on the world stage, we could do worse than to follow the lead of our fellow Kenadian and take his attitude into 2024: he was just Ken, and that was more than Kenough.