1. A few thoughts, recycled from twitter, about Rob Ford and gangsterism. 2. This Josh Marshall post gives good summary of where things stand in Ford case: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/mystery-phone-call-emerges-in-rob-scandal. 3. Based on Josh Marshall post & Toronto Star reporting, it looks like there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Ford unleashed Lisi. 4. Evidence is circumstantial, so it’s entirely possible that Ford won’t face criminal charges. 5. But if we look at evidence we already have, Ford is best understood as a gangster (rather than just a buffoon). 6. Ford-as-gangster helps explain not just his behavior in trying to find crack video but also his political support. 7. Think of the Godfather: his power is not just based on violence but also in providing services to local community. 8. The mafia boss is the padrone. He looks after the little people. He helps you and when the time comes you support him against his enemies 9. Mafia-style governance flourishes in marginalized (often immigrant) communities where centralized state is distrusted or distant. 10. The mafia boss both provides services (in good times) but can also threaten violence (when things get rough). 11. Ford-as-gangster explains both his style of governance (small favors for those who call), his base (in marginal communities) & loyalty he expects and gets from follower. 12. Loyalty is key to the mafia boss system: you have to stick with the padrone no matter what. 13. “You can’t teach loyalty” — Doug Ford. The Godfather would understand. 14. Rumors about “dirty cops” who did Ford’s bidding are the most troubling thing about Ford story. 15. Mafia governance flourishes where people don’t trust the state — so “dirty cops” have a double function in Ford story. 16. If we take Ford-as-gangster model seriously, then Rob Ford represents much more serious crisis in Canadian politics than people realize 17. The mafia boss stands for “family values” despite his criminality — hence Ford’s strain of social conservatism. The family is all. 17. Ford doesn’t exist in isolation. His family are part of fabric of Canadian conservatism, both provincially and nationally. 18. We have a mafia mayor whose dad was a member of the provincial parliament, whose family friend was until recently cabinet minister. 19. Are we willing to think seriously about the unanswered questions? 20. To what degree has Ford family been shielded over the decades from consequences of their criminality by family connections? 21. How many “dirty cops” does Rob Ford know, and what have they done for him? 22. To what degree has investigation into Ford been hampered by possible “dirty cops” in Toronto Police Department? 23. Will any of the elite political figures who participated in rise of Rob Ford (everyone from John Tory to Harper) be held accountable? 24. We criticize immigrant communities for “no snitching” ethos. What about “no snitching” among the Canadian elite?
Brian Morton, a fine novelist and engaging public intellectual, recently tweeted: “Leftists should stop sneering at @ezraklein. If we’d had liberal policy wonks as solid as Klein in the 1970s neoconservatism would never have attained the stature that it did. It would have been intellectually checkmated.” These tweets elicited some responses from me and a few other interested parties but my thoughts on this are a bit more complex than can easily be fitted into 140 characters, so I’m posting a longer argument here.
I understand the impulse behind Brian’s tweets. One of the most heartening developments in recent American politics is the emergence of a generation of passionate young left and liberal writers who have been very effective in challenging the lazy hegemony of conservatism that has dominated elite opinion since the 1970s. Ezra Klein is a convenient synecdoche for this generation. To see him go after blowhards like David Brooks or Bob Woodward is a rare example of a witnessing a salutary public service that is also bracing and delightful.
Via a facebook friend and the New York Times comes news that Dmitri Nabokov died last week at age 77. He lived, of course, under the shadow of his remarkable father Vladimir — and also in some ways equally formidable mother Vera but there was very little, if any, resentment. the Nabokovs adored their only son and he in turn conscientiously looked after them while they were alive and thoughtfully managed his father’s literary legacy. As some Nabokov scholars have learned, Dmitri could be a bit cantankerous at times, but he did yeoman’s work in helping to translate the Russian works into English, in bringing collections of the letters to print, and in taking care of the many little devotional editorial tasks that a great writer needs and deserves. Dmitri decision to allow the publication of The Original of Laura was controversial but I think he made the right call in a difficult case.
Aside from his care for his father, Dmitri lived a very active and colorful life (although also a seemingly lonely one). He was an opera singer and a race car driver, a high liver and a world traveler. One interesting biographical tidbit is that during his car racing days someone tried to kill him by sabotaging his vehicle. I believe that the mystery of this attempted murder was never solved. Dmitri Nabokov talked about this and about his father in this 1986 interview with Don Swaim.
Over at the Walrus, I have an assessment of Marshall McLuhan at the 100 anniversary of his birth, with a focus on him as a Catholic intellectual. You can read the article here.
Indeed, his faith made him a more ambitious and far-reaching thinker. Belonging to a Church that gloried in cathedrals and stained glass windows made him responsive to the visual environment, and liberated him from the textual prison inhabited by most intellectuals of his era. The global reach and ancient lineage of the Church encouraged him to frame his theories as broadly as possible, to encompass the whole of human history and the fate of the planet. The Church had suffered a grievous blow in the Gutenberg era, with the rise of printed Bibles leading to the Protestant Reformation. This perhaps explains McLuhan’s interest in technology as a shaper of history. More deeply, the security he felt in the promise of redemption allowed him to look unflinchingly at trends others were too timid to notice.
Over at the Walrus, they’ve posted some of the December issue including my profile of Stuart McLean, which can be read here.
When McLean was a boy in Montreal, he had the unusual habit of pretending to be a preacher, delivering ad hoc sermons to his parents’ friends. In a way, he remains a frockless clergyman, a parson in the guise of a popular entertainer. He is a deeply religious writer, but not in any narrow, sectarian sense. Rather, he articulates an unshorn natural piety that even unbelievers can accept. At the heart of all religion lies a feeling of gratitude for the simple and mysterious fact that we exist, that for reasons unknown to us we’ve been brought into this world and allowed to enjoy fellowship and earthly pleasures. It is perhaps no accident that his show airs on weekends, traditional days of rest and meditation. A century ago, many Canadians listened to homilies in church on Sundays, a practice some still follow. But now we can stay at home and hear secular sermons on CBC.
Below is a fascinating interview of Cyrus Habib by Chesa Boudin; I am reprinting it from The Rhodes Project. I am proud to count Cyrus as a friend, and I have also had the pleasure of meeting Chesa on a few occasions. Apologies for my obscure Hegelian pun in the title of this post.
Chesa Boudin earned two master’s degrees from Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship (Illinois, Merton and St. Antony’s, 2003). In April 2009, Scribner published his latest book, Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America. He is currently in his second year at the Yale Law School.
Cyrus Habib (Washington and St. Johns, 2003) an interview
At the Bon Voyage Weekend in September 2003, my class of newly-selected Rhodes Scholars descended on the Jury’s Hotel in DuPont Circle. Cyrus Habib (Washington and St. Johns) was easily the best dressed member of the group. His Armani tie complimented his tailored shirt and crisp pinstripe suit. He had a penchant for details – manicured fingernails, a unique wrist watch, cufflinks, and matching accessories. No matter the setting, he had on perfect designer sunglasses and would often switch between several in the course of a day. This focus on the aesthetic may seem odd for an intellectual powerhouse like Cyrus – or for the introduction to this interview. However, his attention to visual detail is particularly noteworthy because Cyrus is completely blind.
As a child Cyrus was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the retina. In his case it struck one eye, and then the other. He was lucky to receive world-class treatment that prevented the cancer from metastasizing to his brain; he was unlucky in that it left him with no eyesight whatsoever and unable even to distinguish light from dark. Unlike someone blind from birth, Cyrus has an abundance of vivid visual memory from before he lost his sight. Since Cyrus lost his vision in 1989, he imagines everyone today with mullet haircuts and plaid polyester pants. While he can no longer see red or green, he has an acute visual image of those colors and knows not to mix and match them except during the Christmas season. And if Cyrus has a conversation about a skyscraper or a forest, he can actually picture the subject in his head, rather than understanding or imagining it through verbal context as someone blind from birth would have to do. These memories, combined with an uncanny sense of physical space allow him to navigate the world so smoothly that on first encounters he often passes as not being blind at all. Yet for the last twenty years his brain has not accumulated any new visual memory, leaving space to develop in other areas – his sense of smell and hearing, his memory, and his ability to master complex information quickly epitomize the word “extraordinary.”