The overwhelming imagery of the Crucifixion

The child that was me experienced the lead-up to Easter as foreboding rather than inspiring

The overwhelming imagery of the CrucifixionI was never big on Easter. As a Catholic schoolboy in 1950s Ireland, Easter played second fiddle to Christmas. In fact, the competition wasn’t even close. Christmas had several advantages. For one thing, school holidays were longer. Whereas Easter only delivered a week and a half, Christmas tacked on a further full week. The tone,…

The Cambridge Analytica furor is mostly bunk

The truth is that gathering and deploying information to influence people’s voting behaviour has long been a staple of politics

The Cambridge Analytica furor is mostly bunkIf you were an innocent in the world of politics, you might have been shocked by the Cambridge Analytica revelations. There are accusations of “harvesting the private information of millions of Facebook users” and then deploying it to “wage psychological warfare against American democracy.” But let’s be candid: At its core, the handwringing horror is…

The tragedy of Oscar Wilde

The Anglo-Irish playwright, poet and novelist ended up imprisoned, the casualty of his own foolishness

The tragedy of Oscar WildeOnce upon a time, I had an uncomplicated view of capital punishment. I was against it. Period. And a reading of the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde could reduce me to tears. Even now with a much more nuanced view of the subject, the power of the language still moves me.…

Stalin’s Moscow show trials a blind spot for western intellectuals

The eagerness of western intellectuals to justify the Moscow show trials of the late '30s was what was truly frightening about them

Stalin’s Moscow show trials a blind spot for western intellectualsThe infamous Moscow show trials ended 80 years ago this month. Based on fabricated charges of treason, Josef Stalin systematically eliminated virtually all of the remaining Old Bolsheviks, clearing away potential rivals and consolidating his power in the Soviet Union. The first trial began in August 1936, the second in January 1937 and the third…

Political dynasties: destiny fulfilled or disaster in waiting?

Without her surname, there’s no way Caroline Mulroney would be considered a serious Ontario PC leadership candidate at this point in her career

Political dynasties: destiny fulfilled or disaster in waiting?Political dynasties make me uneasy. Oh, I know reasonable arguments can be made for them. And I’m not saying this unease would determine my vote. Still, the reservation lingers. The subject came to mind when Caroline Mulroney announced her candidacy for leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. A political neophyte who’s never held elected office,…

Let’s stop gratuitously thrashing historical reputations

Emily Murphy should be celebrated for her accomplishments and how they changed Canadian society for the better, not reviled for her shortcomings

Let’s stop gratuitously thrashing historical reputationsDecades ago, I remember my father complaining about “the new fashion for debunking.” But imbued with the certainty of a university freshman, I wasn’t particularly sympathetic. In retrospect, though, he had a point. I was reminded of this the other day when I came across my research notes for a decade-old historical journal essay on…

Harry Truman completely unprepared for his accidental presidency

The inauspicious heir to the White House had planned to play poker the night Roosevelt died. Instead, he became president

Harry Truman completely unprepared for his accidental presidencyVice-President Harry Truman’s life changed on Thursday, April 12, 1945. That was the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Truman became the 33rd president of the United States. To virtually everyone, including himself, Truman was an inauspicious heir. Journalist A.J. Baime’s The Accidental President nicely captures the general bemusement. Born in small-town Missouri in 1884, there…

Politics, propaganda and the Bayeux Tapestry

French President Emmanuel Macron has loaned the historic depiction to Britain for public display. Is he taunting the English about Brexit?

Politics, propaganda and the Bayeux TapestryThe Bayeux Tapestry popped into the news a couple of weeks ago when French President Emmanuel Macron announced it would be loaned to Britain for public display. Immediately, people imputed political meaning. That’s nothing new. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the tapestry has been political from the get-go. Created in the late 11th century, the…

Stephen Harper in the rearview mirror

Calling the Harper years a particularly dark time for Canada is partisan fiction, not reality

Stephen Harper in the rearview mirrorWilliam Watson’s Financial Post columns are invariably worth reading. As centre-right economists go, his general perspective isn’t unusual, but his penchant for digging into data can be illuminating. One of the things that a dispassionate person might take away from Watson is a more nuanced view of former Canadian Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. Harper,…

When an intellectual cozies up to dictators

Is it feasible to separate political views and private behaviour from artistic merit? George Bernard Shaw is a perfect case study

When an intellectual cozies up to dictatorsTo most Canadians, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) may be a quaint figure whose primary distinction is having a popular southern Ontario theatre festival named after him. However, he was a big wheel during the first half of the 20th century. A self-described “downstart,” Shaw was born into an impecunious Protestant Ascendancy family in Dublin, Ireland. Leaving…