12.06.2005

cons

Since becoming absorbed in life around me here in Canada, I look at the US with less rage and less grief, and more emotional distance. Several months before we moved, I had begun to feel detached, and now that process feels complete.

When I see the US on the news, I feel like I'm watching it disintegrate into a third-world country. The disaster after Hurricane Katrina - that is, the human-made disaster - brought this into sharpest focus. The rampant un- and under-employment, the shrinking middle class, millions without health care, the sad joke that is public education, the continued consolidation of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people, the ascendancy of superstition over science, of fear over rationality - the whole mess seems to be imploding.

I'm not suggesting this is an original thought. Just a thought I'm repeatedly having.

I just read an extended essay in The Walrus magazine called "America The Beautiful," one journalist's impressions of his US travels over the decades. The subtitle is "Reflections on the decay of the US mystique". (Good essay, worth reading.) The author could have omitted that last word. The mystique has surely decayed, but the country has gone along with it.

Off in another corner of my brain, I'm writing about ancient and medieval civilizations, some of them wealthy and powerful beyond anything the modern world has ever seen. All vanished. The parallels are often obvious. For example, uncontrolled military expenditures while domestic infrastructure collapses is a repeated theme. Sound familiar?

I haven't read Jared Diamond's Collapse yet, but I definitely will. (And if you haven't read his Guns, Germs And Steel: do.) Maybe after I read Collapse, which investigates why societies succeed or fail, this vague feeling will take a firmer shape.

I don't think any of us have the historical distance to fully describe what's going on around us in global terms, even less so to predict what the next 100 or 200 - or for that matter, 25 or 50 - years will bring. I have no bold theories or big statements to make. I just watch the US news with increased distance, and I feel like I'm seeing the whole thing implode.

* * * *

In yesterday's Globe And Mail, there was a story about those Nigerian e-mail scams. Allan pointed this out to me, and here's what I find truly amazing:
People involved in the scam -- known as 419 after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that prohibits it -- say that they get one or two genuine replies for every thousand letters they send. And of those handful of replies, every month or so, one yields a few thousand dollars, and one yields substantially more.
I realize that if a scam doesn't pay, no grifter is going to bother with it. Yet it still boggles my little mind that people fall for things like this.

But here's why Redsock mentioned it:
Their favourite targets are Americans, who have the perfect combination of greed and gullibility. "The Americans always go for it," according to a senior member of one 419 ring, who gave his name as Sunny. "But Canadians never do it. It's difficult to hook a person from Canada."
I don't doubt Americans are more gullible than Canadians - one only need turn on Fox News for proof. But hmm, could there be another factor at work here...? I won't say it. You know what I'm thinking.

37 comments:

Masnick96 said...

I remember when I took my anthropology class for my undergrad a few years back. The professor talked about how all civilizations come and go...how the Romans thought they would last forever too. Many of the naive 20-somethings in the class full of patriotism and bravado challeneged him on his thinking, but I understood what he is trying to say.

The United States only gets the limelight for so long, and sadly our 15 minutes on the world stage is almost up.

RobfromAlberta said...

"But Canadians never do it. It's difficult to hook a person from Canada."

This doesn't surprise me at all. When asked to describe Canadians, most people use words like "polite" or "passive", but they often forget "skeptical". Most Canadians believe if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. You just have to look at our indifference to religion to see that.

James said...

Recently read about a scam in the US: a couple approached their mark and said that they'd just withdrawn $8000 from the bank, but they weren't happy with the serial numbers they got. Would the mark be willing to trade them $6000 for their $8000 so they could have different serial numbers?

Natrually, they bolted once the mark handed over the $6000.

The story is on Yahoo News.

James said...

Off topic, this is circulating the 'net right now:

SO, WHAT DO WE CANADIANS HAVE TO BE PROUD OF?

1. Smarties

2. Crispy Crunch, Coffee Crisp

3. The size of our footballs fields and one less down

4. Baseball is Canadian

5. Lacrosse is Canadian

6. Hockey is Canadian

7. Basketball is Canadian

8. Apple pie is Canadian

9. Mr. Dress-up kicks Mr. Rogers ass

10. Tim Hortons kicks Dunkin' Donuts ass

11. In the war of 1812, started by America, Canadians pushed the Americans back...past their 'White House'. Then we burned it...and most of Washington, under the command of William Lyon MaKenzie King who was insane and hammered all the time. We got bored because they ran away, so we came home and partied...Go figure..

12. Canada has the largest French population that never surrendered to Germany.

13. We have the largest English population that never ever surrendered or withdrew during any war to anyone. anywhere. EVER.

14. Our civil war was fought in a bar and it lasted a little over an hour.

15. The only person who was arrested in our civil war was an American mercenary, who slept in and missed the whole thing... but showed up just in time to get caught.

16. We knew plaid was cool far before Seattle caught on.

17. The Hudsons Bay Company once owned over 10% of the earth's surface and is still around as the worlds oldest company.

18. The average dog sled team can kill and devour a full grown human in under 3 minutes.

19. We still know what to do with all the parts of a buffalo.

20. We don't marry our kin-folk.

21. We invented ski-doos, jet-skis, velcro, zippers, insulin, penicillin, zambonis, the telephone and short wave radios that save countless lives each year.

22. We ALL have frozen our tongues to something metal and lived to tell about it.

23. A Canadian invented Superman.

24. We have coloured money.

25. Our beer advertisments kick ass

BUT MOST IMPORTANT!

24. The handles on our beer cases are big enough to fit your hands with mitts on. OOOoohhhhh Canada!!

And we don't bomb our allies.

oh yeah... and our elections only take one day.

L-girl said...

Ha!

Cool, James, thanks for sharing. (A little military-heavy, but if you're trying to talk to Americans, that's what you need.)

But bad PR for those sled-dogs!

Baseball is Canadian? Um, ok. Sure.

L-girl said...

but they often forget "skeptical". Most Canadians believe if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. You just have to look at our indifference to religion to see that.

Hm, good point re religion. As a completely areligious person, I've always thought that faith requires a very high degree of gullibility.

shane said...

Your comment about your feeling that the U.S. is disintegrating into a third world country is very interesting. I also see this happening, unfortunately as the U.S. decays we follow. Our fates are so closely entwined, when the elephant rolls over, the mouse is going to feel it!
What bothers me most about the U.S. is the polarization of the people, it seems that the lines are being drawn, and there is no real balance.... either left , nor right. Furthermore the U.S. has lost many allies, and support internationally. Sending Condi on face saving missions will do little good, the damage has been done.....
I find it sad to see the decline in the U.S., the difference over the years has been evident in my visits. But his is the case with our whole economic model of modern western society, something has to give.
If you are looking for another good Canadian author to read you should read some works by John Ralston Saul. He has some great perspectives on the decline of modern civilization.
Keep up the good work, your writings are a highlight of my day!

Expat Traveler said...

I've been there with your thoughts Laura since 2001. But I get scared because my parents will always live in the states.

There was a great article on Saturday in the Washington Post about how a japanese business man thinks the 30,000 jobs lost with GMC could be changed around over time only if the American's could think long term! And Not for the short term gains they've been expecting.

He lays out a good plan which could turn around the auto industry in the US, and help the planet but only if they were to invest in the future. I think the only way this would happen is if a foreign investor steps in and takes control. Sad.

L-girl said...

Shane, thank you for your kind words.

The US is certainly polarized, but IMO balance is not what's needed. The center has moved so far to the right, that anything called "balance" or "center" is extremely regressive. Thanks for the tip on John Ralston Saul.

Expat: so true. Every industry that's been lost in the US has been victim to this short-term thinking. And, of course, greed.

Lone Primate said...

9. Mr. Dress-up kicks Mr. Rogers ass

Yeah... but he (Ernie Coombs) came here from the United States. :) So did the Friendly Giant (Bob Homme), by the way.

When asked to describe Canadians, most people use words like "polite" or "passive", but they often forget "skeptical". Most Canadians believe if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Yeah... this tendency is a mixed blessing. It makes us less likely to get into something crazy (Nigerian scams, Iraqi wars), but it also means we don't take the same risks that characterize the US... all-or-nothing capitalistic ventures, moonshots, CNN, that kind of thing. It makes us safer, but it makes for less interesting history. I suppose the latter is lamentable... but seeing as you have to live your three score and ten somewhere, I guess I'd like to be safer. How... Canadian. :)

Lone Primate said...

Then we burned it...and most of Washington, under the command of William Lyon MaKenzie King who was insane and hammered all the time.

William Lyon McKenzie King? He was prime minister in the 20s, 30s, and WWII. Longest serving PM in the history of the Commonwealth, yes; military commander in the War of 1812? No. Not unless he was the first person on record to live to be, oh, what... 175 years old or so?

Unless I'm mistaken, the man in question was Admiral Sir George Cockburn. He wasn't Canadian. I'm not sure any Canadians per se took part in the invasion; but "our side" did it, inasmuch as we were "the British" at the time.

L-girl said...

military commander in the War of 1812? No. Not unless he was the first person on record to live to be, oh, what... 175 years old or so?

Good catch, LP :)

Re the mixed blessings of risk-taking, these days much is being said and written about the US as no longer a risk-taking culture. Inventors and their innovations are mostly owned by corporations. The litigious atmosphere, the constant media glare (which announces and magnifies failure), the instant-gratification culture - all those factors dampen the appetite for adventure.

Mostly that stuff makes better history than daily life anyway.

L-girl said...

But I get scared because my parents will always live in the states.

My whole family will always be in the US, and I hope I'll always be able to go back and visit. I'm not scared in any immediate sense. I don't think the country is about to go up in flames in a few years - although if it does, worrying won't help, and we'll all be in deep trouble, on both sides of the border.

Wrye said...

Are you slipping LP? You should know this one. See WIkipedia--

William Lyon McKenzie King--Not to be confused with William Lyon Mackenzie, Mackenzie King's grandfather.

The original author is thinking of the grandfather, of course, who wasn't around in 1812, but was an interesting figure in his own right:

Mackenzie was born in Scotland and immigrated to Upper Canada in 1820. From 1824 to 1834 he published the newspaper the Colonial Advocate in York, Upper Canada (Toronto, Ontario), attacking the upper class clique known as the "Family Compact" which was in control of the government. In response to this, a mob threw his printing press into Lake Ontario in 1826. In 1828 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, but was expelled five times for libel, each time being re-elected.

In 1834 he became the first mayor of Toronto, and in 1836 he founded the newspaper, The Constitution, to promote the policies of his Reform Party. In 1837 he led the Upper Canada Rebellion against Sir Francis Bond Head and the Family Compact, which was quickly put down. Mackenzie escaped to the United States, and set up a provisional Republic of Canada government on Navy Island in the Niagara River. He was later imprisoned in the U.S. for his involvement in the Caroline Affair. An amnesty allowed his return to Canada in 1849, and he was a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1851 to 1858.


As an aside, I suspect that those who think that Canadian history is uninteresting have either a selective memory, or don't like history to begin with...

James said...

Baseball is Canadian? Um, ok. Sure.

That claim comes from this:

The first baseball game recorded in Canada was played in Beachville, Ontario on June 14, 1838. Many Canadians, including the staff of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, claim that this was the first game of modern baseball, although there appears to be no evidence that the rules used in this game were codified and adopted in other regions.

(From this page)

I also see this happening, unfortunately as the U.S. decays we follow. Our fates are so closely entwined, when the elephant rolls over, the mouse is going to feel it!

But we can distance ourselves somewhat from the US, if we put our minds to it. That'll help.

Yeah... this tendency is a mixed blessing. It makes us less likely to get into something crazy (Nigerian scams, Iraqi wars), but it also means we don't take the same risks that characterize the US... all-or-nothing capitalistic ventures, moonshots, CNN, that kind of thing. It makes us safer, but it makes for less interesting history. I suppose the latter is lamentable... but seeing as you have to live your three score and ten somewhere, I guess I'd like to be safer. How... Canadian. :)

We've had our share of history-making stuff (as this list thingy mentions), it's just not the big, dramatic stuff.

William Lyon McKenzie King? He was prime minister in the 20s, 30s, and WWII.

Yeah, that bit was odd. The list may have been mangled and two sections merged, or something.

L-girl said...

These Mackenzies and Kings and Lyons are confusing the hell out of me. Let me know when you have it sorted out.

Re baseball: bullshit. Sorry. Baseball was invented in New Jersey. Them's the facts.

When the baseball historian gets home from Loblaw's, he will set you Canucks straight about the origin of The Great Game. ;-) I couldn't care less what country claims it - just about accuracy.

I suspect that those who think that Canadian history is uninteresting have either a selective memory, or don't like history to begin with...

Yes, that's what I meant in an earlier thread. Almost all history is fascinating, if told properly - if one enjoys history.

James said...

Re baseball: bullshit. Sorry. Baseball was invented in New Jersey. Them's the facts.

Well, there's no actual logical conflict between that an "The first modern baseball game was played in Beachville, Ontario on June 14, 1838." Canadians do tend to nitpick at thing in order to find "firsts". Likewise, basketball was invented in the US, but by a Canadian.

L-girl said...

Well, there's no actual logical conflict between that an "The first modern baseball game was played in Beachville, Ontario on June 14, 1838."

How so?

Are you emphasizing the word "modern"? Because that 1838 game couldn't have been the modern game. The rules hadn't been invented yet.

Many games resembling baseball - called "base" or "townball", all based on the British game rounders (not cricket) - were played before the modern game of baseball. But the first baseball game was played in Hoboken, NJ in 1845.

Lone Primate said...

William Lyon McKenzie King--Not to be confused with William Lyon Mackenzie, Mackenzie King's grandfather.

No, I knew who Wm. Lyon Mackenzie was; I also knew he was mayor in the 1830s and a figure in the Rebellions of 1837. As such, I determined (without checking, I admit), that he was A) too young to have headed a military invasion a quarter century earlier, and B) unlikely to have been the kind of guy who would have rebelled against the Crown in any case if he had. Seemed a moot point to even bother. Besides, I'm reasonably certain that no organized force from Canada was sent to Washington. We had a bastard of a time just defending our own sod huts at the time, nevermind trekking to Nova Scotia to hop on ships and sail to a big party. There may have been a handful of Canucks in the British Army, God knows... but "we", speaking as Canadians exclusively of the rest of the Empire, did not invade Washington, fire the White House, bombard Baltimore, inspire The Star Spangled Banner, etc. etc. etc. "We", as adherents of the British Empire, did... by proxy, at least. But so, then, did the Aussies and Kiwis and South Africans and Jamaicans et al.

redsock said...

Baseball historian John Thorn found a 1791 bylaw in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which was passed "to protect the windows of a new meeting house by prohibiting anyone from playing baseball within 80 yards of the building."

According to Thorn, this shows that baseball was rampant enough in Pittsfield at that time to have an ordinance against it.

In a discussion on the Society for American Baseball Research's listserv, Thorn noted that the 'Pittsfield Prohibition' is North America's first recorded mention of a game called "baseball" (not base or barres or prisoners' base or other games that more resembled tag than baseball; the other Pittsfield-prohibited bat-and ball games, wicket, cricket, and bat-ball, are distinct games and not baseball).

Also: A timeline here includes this reference:

1838 (June 4) Residents of Oxford County gather near Beachville, Ontario, to play the first recorded game of baseball in Canada (first reported in 1886). The Canadian version uses five bases, three strikes and three outs to a side. An oblique, irregular foul line delineates buildings at the playing site creating an out-of-bounds area.

RobfromAlberta said...

That baseball claim isn't the only one on shaky ground. Just ask the members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong what they think about this one:

13. We have the largest English population that never ever surrendered or withdrew during any war to anyone. anywhere. EVER.

ALPF said...

Here is preety good essay on that whole baseball mess...Note all the references to Hamilton

http://www.humbersport.org/essays/Bakers.html

dogsled_stacie said...

18. The average dog sled team can kill and devour a full grown human in under 3 minutes.

Oh, I cringe everytime I see this one! More like "the average dog sled team can LICK a full grown human to death in under 3 minutes!"

*groan*

L-girl said...

1838 (June 4) Residents of Oxford County gather near Beachville, Ontario, to play the first recorded game of baseball in Canada (first reported in 1886). The Canadian version uses five bases, three strikes and three outs to a side. An oblique, irregular foul line delineates buildings at the playing site creating an out-of-bounds area.

Not exactly the modern game, eh?

Oh, I cringe everytime I see this one! More like "the average dog sled team can LICK a full grown human to death in under 3 minutes!"

I assumed this was meant completely jokingly! No?? Do people actually think sled dogs are viscious??? OMG. Sled dogs are only the sweetest things on four legs. (Far sweeter than most two-leggers, that's for sure.)

Pfft. Let's throw this silly thing out!

L-girl said...

ALPF: nice! Fits in nicely with my current Canadian history theme.

James said...

Well, there's no actual logical conflict between that an "The first modern baseball game was played in Beachville, Ontario on June 14, 1838."

How so?


Because one statement is about where it was invented, and the other is about where it was played.

I'm not defending the statement or the claim that "baseball in Canadian", mind; I'm just being a Comp Sci pedant.

L-girl said...

I'm not defending the statement or the claim that "baseball in Canadian", mind;

I knew that. :) (Or suspected as much.)

In this light, my use of the word invented was wrong. Or, I'm using invented and played interchangeably - as in, a game is invented when it is played.

However, Redsock has trumped all these claims with the 1791 Pittsfield, Mass reference.

My luck, those hardballers from Pittsfield were originally from Toronto! ;-)

Lone Primate said...

We have Babe Ruth's first professional home run, though; somewhere out in the waters of Lake Ontario off Hanlan's Point. So if you ever go skinny dipping, who knows...? :)

teflonjedi said...

As an aside, I suspect that those who think that Canadian history is uninteresting have either a selective memory, or don't like history to begin with...


Not to distract everyone from the baseball talk, but I always had a soft spot for Amor de Cosmos, who was I believe second premier of BC. A colourful story...

Now, in an effort to distract eveyone from the baseball talk (I'm inclined to let the US invent one sport), I should point out that football was invented in Canada. Click here and scroll down to the History section. (not the first place I've heard or read this...)

Lone Primate said...

Sled dogs are only the sweetest things on four legs.

Oh, yeah, that reminds me! Have you guys heard about this? It was just brought to my attention. Apparently, scientists in Russia started a domestication experiment about fifty years ago with foxes as their subjects. By selectively breeding the foxes who demonstrated less fear of humans and more friendliness, they have arrived at amazing results. In just fifty years, a far shorter time than it was supposed possible, they have foxes who exhibit all the same particular attributes relative to humans that the wolves who became "dogs" show. Most remarkable is their ability to read human expressions and gestures. For example, dogs are one of the few non-human animals who understand that when a human points, he or she is indicating something external, and not drawing attention to his or her fingertip. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, do not generally grasp this -- but dogs do. And so do the foxes tamed in the Siberian experiment. There's some latent ability in canines that's tapped into when we select for their friendlier characteristics. Apparently the tame foxes also exhibit a socialization period similar to domestic dogs, beginning earlier and ending much later than ordinary foxes; the onset of the time that they would ordinarily begin to fear the unknown is also postponed in the domesticated foxes, similar to its onset in dogs. It's fascinating reading. Another article I read on the subject today suggests that they may soon be released into the public as pets.

L-girl said...

We have Babe Ruth's first professional home run, though;

Yeah! Allan told me about that. (You know he's a big Babe Ruth guy.)

So if you ever go skinny dipping, who knows...? :)

Um, it won't work if we wear swimsuits? :/

That fox story is really cool. I have a thing for all canines.

L-girl said...

I always had a soft spot for Amor de Cosmos, who was I believe second premier of BC. A colourful story...

He sure had a great name. I must read that Wiki entry.

(I'm inclined to let the US invent one sport),

Mighty Canuck of you. :)

L-girl said...

In just fifty years, a far shorter time than it was supposed possible,

This is very interesting. I've read this before in other contexts - that behaviour thought to be deeply ingrained can be bred in or out in relatively few generations. Think of the implications.

Also, it's now believed that dogs have been domesticated far longer than previously thought, as early as 14,000 years ago.

Jenjenjigglepants said...

Hey L-girl,

Man, I love this page--my mornings don't get off to a good start without you and dogsled-stacie (check out the puppy photos on her page at the mo' and THEN decide if sled dogs eat people!)

Anyways, on the ancient civs part--I'd highly recommend Ronald Wright's "A short history of progress" the prose form of his Massey Lectures from 2004 out of Anasasi Press: T.O. This book very nearly re-inspired me back into the archaeology biz (and really, that would take ALOT). He compares the collapse of several civilizations and then compares them to us. It's brilliant.

Jared Diamond always makes me shudder a bit after a grad course in Archaeology where we pretty much tore his first book (on human evolution the name of which I can't remember at the moment)to shreds. He has a bit of the Farley Mowat approach to accuracy: don't like an argument? Ignore it, change it or misrepresent it or take it out of it's context. Granted, it's been about 10 years since I read that first one, and he's since gotten better reviews, but even Guns, Germs and Steel" got panned a bit for overlooking major lines of evidence (Globe and Mail review of the time).

Ronald Wright reviewed "Collapse" in the G&M --it got a good review (and it's on the top 100 g&M list 2005) and Wright went out of his way to compliment his accuracy this time out.

Cheers, JJP

L-girl said...

Thank you JJJP! You are too kind.

If you let that Globe & Mail review, or Jared Diamond's first book, keep you from reading Guns, Germs And Steel, you are doing yourself a great disservice. It's an absolutely amazing book. The issues you have with Diamond shouldn't come up. You can't put him in the same breadth as Farley Mowat.

I hope you'll read it and decide for yourself.

As always, thanks for reading wmtc. I'm honoured that anyone wants to start their day with this blog.

James said...

It was just brought to my attention. Apparently, scientists in Russia started a domestication experiment about fifty years ago with foxes as their subjects. By selectively breeding the foxes who demonstrated less fear of humans and more friendliness, they have arrived at amazing results.

Richard Dawkins discusses this experiment in The Ancestor's Tale, which I'm currently reading.

Jared Diamond always makes me shudder a bit after a grad course in Archaeology where we pretty much tore his first book (on human evolution the name of which I can't remember at the moment)to shreds.

Is that The Third Chimpanzee?

Jenjenjigglepants said...

That's right "The Third Chimpanzee". I guess we concluded Diamond was the fourth...ah, university, the world was so simple when we were right ALL of the time... ;-) JJJP