Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quotes from Books

Recently I bought Allan Gotlieb, The Washington Diaries, about his time as Canada's ambassador to the U.S. Quite a bit of interesting stuff about personalities and how issues are shaped and resolved. Throughout his tenure, Gotlieb faced growing protectionism in the U.S. Congress. He was convinced a new approach was needed if Canada was to minimize harm to its own position--something very much like classic Washington lobbying, using the social circuit directly to achieve political ends, etc. Probably his culminating achievement was a free trade agreement between the two countries. Canada had to get underneath the umbrella, or it was going to be rained on.

My favourite quotes:

1. On acid rain--another recurring issue. The acid that was (allegedly) harming Canadian lakes came largely from the U.S.--from such things as coal-burning electricity plants. First Trudeau, then Mulroney pushed Gotlieb hard to get some U.S. or joint action. p. 153:

The mixture of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that produces acid rain is a curious phenomenon. There may be doubts about its environmental effect, but there certainly can't be any doubt about its political effect--the crusade to reduce acid rain is the most unifying force in Canada today.

This is the only time, I think, when Gotlieb expresses any doubt about the science. On pp. 499-500 he says Canada's Environment Minister, Tom McMillan, has screwed up badly by referring to powerful Senator Byrd from West Virginia as a "neanderthal," lobbying in a way that has been described as "illegal," and calling an official U.S. report on acid rain (the NAPAP report) "voodoo science," "although all scientists in the United States agree with it." I guess if there is a controversy about acid rain, it has to do with whether the costs of mitigation outweigh the benefits, and whether the dangers are as great as has sometimes been stated.

2. A pretty good Robertson Davies story about Lester Pearson. I've come across other versions as well. Page 454:

We agreed on everything, but especially on how Canadians like to put down achievers and people who stand out. He told me this story: In the late 1950s he was at a cocktail party in Vancouver and someone came into the room and said, "Did you hear the news? Lester Pearson was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize." A woman at the party commented, "The Nobel Peace Prize! Lester Pearson! Who does he think he is?"

A funny thing that relates to Gotlieb's sense of humour and that of his possibly equally-famous wife, Sondra. They made some effort to identify who was "King of the Jews" in the United States.

Next, I've borrowed from the library a kind of family history by Ranulph Fiennes--some kind of cousin of a couple of actors who share this surname. The family goes back to various Norman barons--fought with William the Conqueror, went to the Crusades, etc. Some remained very French, others became very English. I think the family name would now be Twisleton if they went by male descent (the Twisleton who made money, and whose descendants were able to marry up, was known as "The Goldsmith"), but they tend to hyphenate in order to keep the more aristocratic forebears in there: "Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes."

One of the few facts or possible facts in my head about the English aristocracy dates from the time when Charles was planning to marry Diana. Genealogists were on TV explaining the family trees, etc. One helpful line was that "Diana is descended from all the English monarchs that Charles is not descended from," meaning mainly the Stuarts from Scotland. (I guess two different lines from James I of England/James VI of Scotland; the Hanovers descended from the oldest daughter, the Stuarts from the oldest son, who became Charles I of England). One genealogist also said something like: "There are very few families with either title or money today who have had them since before the Industrial Revolution. Lady Diana's is one of those families." This statement would include the Protestant "creations" of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, one of which was an ancestor of Diana's. The Tudors ended a lot of Catholic lines. The Fiennes are among the even fewer who go back centuries before that. By the time of the Stuarts, after the Tudors, leading members of the Fiennes family were among the Puritans. There is a living Fiennes who is Lord Saye and Sele--the de Saye connection is another one going back to Norman times. The family has lived for six hundred years in Broughton Castle (which is not really a castle).

Anyway, a couple of stories about the Scots.

1. A female ancestor named Celia Fiennes set out on horseback to explore England in 1697--a rather adventuresome thing for a lady to do. She barely ventured into Wales or Scotland: "Thence I went into Scotland ... all here about which are called Borderers, seem to be very poor people which I impute to their sloth ...."

2. King William IV: To the surprise of many people, became King before Victoria became Queen, and after his two younger brothers and before them the famous and infamous George III. William:

... disagreed with Wilberforce about abolishing slavery, on the grounds that the slaves he had observed whilst in the Caribbean had a higher standard of living than many Highlanders.

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