Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Things I've been meaning to post....


History on television
....is heavy on medieval head-chopping and semi-naked women these days.  This week it is History Television's The Vikings, moving into the territory of The Tudors, the Borgias, Game of Thrones and the rest.  Which reminds me that TVO's recent She-Wolves -- a documentary on early women Queens of England up to Elizabeth 1 featuring the stylish and clothed Cambridge historian Helen Castor - was an intelligent exception to the rule.
(Disclosure: Acorn Media send me a promotional DVD of She-Wolves)

At the Canadian Screen Awards
...recently, the CBC historical drama John A: Birth of A Nation, somewhat inspired by Richard Gwyn's Macdonald biography, took a slew of awards, including for its lead actors Sean Doyle as a raffish John A and Peter Outerbridge as stubborn, principled George Brown.  Well deserved by both, I thought.  Birth of A Nation was Canadian film-making's Argo -- not so well acquainted with historical realities, but entertaining, well-acted, and lively.  And hey, we gotta be grateful for what little we get.

Congratulations to Andrew Preston
...  for Monday's winning of the Charles Taylor Prize in Literary Nonfiction for Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy.  Preston is a lecturer in American history at Clare College, Cambridge, but he is also a young Canadian historical scholar  (39 -- historians get to be young quite a while), and it's always good to see new historical talents rewarded and encouraged.  This book must be the most scholarly winner in the twelve-year history of the Taylor, a prize that has swerved between very literary and rather "informational," depending on the shape of the juries it chooses.  This year's jury was Joseph Kertes, a terrific novelist, Richard Gwyn, a past winner, and Suzanne Boyce, a broadcasting exec.

Ancestry.ca recently rolled out
... a huge new batch of searchable genealogical data for its subscribers:  Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960, "which highlights the journeys of more than 5.2 million people from the UK to Canada. Over this 70-year period, more than five million British citizens immigrated to Canada."  I'm interested not just because my own name is probably in those listings.  Ancestry is also an interesting model of internet research based on a commercial business proposition. It seems to be quite successful in maintaining a proprietary model for information in a world where a lot of people, including many who ought to know better, believe they have a right to everything free.

View RecordChristopherMooreageyeardatecity, Englandcity, Canada


True, Ancestry must have a hell of a "churn," as people sort out a basic family tree and then lose the motivation to continue paying a monthly subscription. Hence, I guess, the constant ads featuring people making contact with their grandparents.  But for the fee, Ancestry does make immense amounts of genealogical and, increasingly, biographical information readily available and easily searchable. It seems that for genealogy, a delivery model based on subscription fees seems to be outpacing crowdsourcing and freeware models -- and successfully resisting the piracy zeitgeist too, it seems. 

Worst. Premier. Ever?
Q. How does Christy Clark differ from Sarah Palin?
A.  Christy Clark is in office. She became premier of B.C. a couple of years ago without the support of a single member of the majority caucus in the B.C. legislature, has never faced the voters in a general election, has been spectacularly incompetent in just about every issue she has faced, and now faces serious charges of ethical failures and financial malfeasance within her own office.  She's also taken her party to abysmal ratings in the poll.  But she remains in power and looks likely to take all her MLAs and cabinet ministers to oblivion with her.

Has to be said:  This could not happen in a functioning parliamentary democracy.  In Australia there is constant discussion of whether PM Julia Gillard will be replaced by her caucus before the next election. In Britain similar debates surround PM David Cameron. Nothing personal really, it's just a question of who can do best for the party. But in Canada, any clown can buy his or her way into office though an extra-parliamentary vote-buying competition -- and hold unaccountable power for years, no matter how damaging to the society or to the governing party itself.

If the BC MLAs won't stand up for their responsibilities and remove her forthwith to the backbench, well, at least supporters of the BC NDP will be grateful to them.