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Neil Cameron

Neil Cameron is a Montreal writer and historian. He served as a member of Quebec's National Assembly from 1989 to 1994.

The Treacherous Escalators of Sex and War

Over the last fifty years, relations between men and women, and relations between potentially warring states, have both been going through major changes. Sexual ones have come about mainly for cultural reasons, the strategic ones due to political and technological forces, but with a metaphorical parallelism. Both developments display widespread acceptance of a series of escalating steps, based on empirical observation and rational calculation, but also obscured by a fog of unrecognized possibilities, even the hint of 'other escalators'. Past 'steps' remain part of the psychological furniture of both the sexes and the strategists. Until the late years of the tumultuous 1960s, the central preoccupation of the majority of people in sexual relations was engaging in steps (even if a lot fewer than a hundred years earlier) in 'courtship' and its successful conclusion in marriage and parenthood. Full sexual intimacy often came first, but was largely 'pre-marital'. Non-marital intercourse was acceptable for single young males, but only for unusually adventurous upper-class women who did not fear social stigma, or for prostitutes or near-prostitutes. Otherwise, a socially powerful code for 'ladies' and 'gentlemen', while often violated, almost provided the very definition of middle-class life. International relations of the same era were dominated by the experience of the two World Wars and the Cold War that followed, by the predominant power of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and by the existence of nuclear bombs, soon joined by lightning-like missile delivery. The weapons kept evolving, but as competitive threats, not for practical employment. Their awful destructiveness meant that even the most hawkish political and military leaders had to regard the escalator as one that must never be climbed to its top, with as few states as possible being allowed to set foot on the steps. This was not fully realized at first. Both the… Read More

Tesla Technophilia and Little Miss Marker’s View

Tesla, Inc. is suddenly in deep trouble, with both its cars and its stock market valuation. Elon Musk has expanded far beyond the original Tesla Motors, created by two talented electrical engineers in the 1990s. They were eventually shoved aside by Musk, although they were responsible for putting Tesla on the map with the pretty 'Roadster' sports car, its design and construction drawing partly on the small but expert English Lotus company, while the Americans provided the electric motor and associated components. But Musk, their largest investor, soon began to build a far larger operation, not just making cars, but working on steadily improving lithium batteries and other high tech products, growing in the last four years to over 37,000 employees (see the fascinating account, 'The Making of Tesla; Invention, Betrayal, and the Birth of the Roadster' , Drake Baer, Business Insider, 11.11.14). But the firm, facing many technical and financial problems throughout it history, has been hit hard since the fatal and fiery crash of one of its cars testing the self-driving 'autopilot' last May, and Musk is now dealing with other failures, including a giant recall. Replacement of new company founders by an arriving later, more ambitious and financially powerful partner is a familiar business tale. Musk held from the start a vision of a future grand market for more varied and newer products still only imagined. Still, the projected auto business was the great jewel in the crown. He continued the development of bigger and better ultra-high-performance sports cars with astronomical price tags, powerful enough to be very appealing as 'muscle cars' (the instant high torque of electrical power provides breathtaking acceleration). Such vehicles are often given free publicity by movie star purchasers: Clark Gable and Gary Cooper bought Duesenbergs in the 1930s; George Clooney bought one… Read More

The Fall of a Texas Titan

March 31 will be exactly fifty years from the day Lyndon Johnson astonished the world by declaring that he would not run again for President in the coming November election. It was nothing like an anticipated retirement. No figure in American history had so passionately wanted to become President, won so large a first mandate, shepherded into force so many laws of enduring fundamental importance, and kept such narrow and firm hold on the reins of power throughout his years in office. His physical health was poor: he had had a heart attack t 47, and died of another one only five years later, when only 64. but he still appeared indestructible. Over six feet tall, imposing and sometimes intimidating, he devoured whiskey, steaks, cigarettes, sexual liaisons, and lesser mortals. When he had chosen to send half a million American troops to Vietnam four years earlier, he had declared that he would not be the first American President to lose a war, but that was what he was doing, even if it took another seven years for Nixon to complete the messy extrication. A master of professional politics, he had failed as a war lord. The familiar summary of LBJ's rise and fall has been that he was highly successful, even 'great', in introducing domestic policies, above all in civil rights and practical gains for black Americans, drawing on a combination of his own past Congressional expertise and the wave of idealism that swept the country after Kennedy's assassination. But he had fallen from grace, due to both the problems of the war itself, and to its public opposition, both magnified in impact by television. That leaves out a great deal. Johnson's ambitious 'Great Society' domestic policies were not just unpopular with unbending Southern white supremacists; they were widely disliked… Read More

Clashing Trade Theories and a Common Challenge

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump appear diametrically opposed on international trade and paths to domestic prosperity, at least in rhetoric, and to some extent in real policy. Granted, they are proving more constrained than they would like: long-established bi-national associations, and enduring internal divisions, modify practice.   They also puzzle both friendly and hostile critics, not only due to their individual singularities, but because both international affairs and domestic economic developments have become more confusing over the last three decades. The wider publics in both countries probably remain more unsettled by rapid socioeconomic changes than by threats of nuclear incineration. And while both leaders can cite some good economic news at present, Trump especially, neither 'market globalism' nor 'populist nationalism' have been all that persuasively demonstrated as bringing joy to the majority of citizens.   Neither the Prime Minister nor the President are all that unusual among democratic political leaders in presenting ideological and over-simplified explanations of economic happenings. In fact, both are appealing to opposing arguments about the effects of trade barriers that have not changed a great deal in a century. But this makes it easy to forget that the rising levels of political discontent since the 1990s are not all that closely bound to trading relationships at all.   International trade certainly remains what both of them like making noise about. Trump has continued much of his election campaign rhetoric as First Tweeter. Trudeau favours gestures. Shortly after being elected, he changed the Foreign Affairs Department into a 'Global' one under Chrstia Freeland, although retaining a subordinate Minister for Trade and International Development.   He has also recently boasted that, while signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord, he has much improved on the version accepted by Stephen Harper, with more bells and whistles. More narrowly but more concretely,… Read More

Presidents, sacred texts, and their helpful scribes

Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix! --George Clemenceau (1841-1929), 'Le Tigre', Premier of France 1917-1920, on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, proclaimed on January 8, 1918. *** Donald Trump's National Security Strategy speech of December 18 contained some of his usual rhetoric, but was prosaic and conventional compared to his last standards. The speech was in a long tradition. American Presidents, far more than leaders of other countries, have repeatedly been fond of producing grand public declarations of principles in foreign affairs. The most famous, or notorious, appeared exactly a century ago: Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. They somewhat resembled, as Clemenceau sourly observed, God's Laws brought down from the mountaintop to instruct the peoples of the world, but with more ambiguous impact. They did guarantee some permanent fascination with Wilson himself. Other such pronouncements, earlier or later, while also identified with the Presidents who made them, have usually been recognized as also revealing wider currents of ideas and the backstage advisers who helped form them: The Monroe Doctrine, for example, was in both theory and practice, more the achievement of John Quincy Adams and British Foreign Secretary George Canning than of President Monroe, and the recent one of George Bush was largely shaped by neoconservative policy wonks. But this backstage aspect has received less attention in the case of the Fourteen Points. Wilson was a PhD. in political science and prolific scholarly author, of books on government, the classic academic intellectual in public affairs. Nonetheless, his Points had been constructed with the aid of his own kind of brains trust, and reveal more about the American 'progressive' ideology of their time than of war and diplomacy in 1917-18. They have also cast long shadows in American dealings with the world ever since. Wilson's list included some straightforward war aims, like… Read More
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