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…

Curb the impulse to distort history for partisan purposes

History is not about judging the past or the people who lived it. It is about understanding how past events made us who we are today

Curb the impulse to distort history for partisan purposesEach morning, I peer out the window of my apartment at St. Paul’s Basilica, the centre of the Irish immigrant community that arrived in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood in the mid-1800s. Last year, I taught a course in writing about history. I used the basilica as a test case. If I were to write a history…

Luck plays a big part in creating a winning athlete

Fire the coach. Yell at the players to motivate them. Or accept that luck plays a significant role in the outcome, no matter how valiant your efforts

Luck plays a big part in creating a winning athleteNow is the winter of sports discontent. National Football League coaches are being primed for the chop. National Hockey League and National Basketball Association coaches, too, are trying to stay one step ahead of the grim reaper as their teams’ rosy prospects dim. In the NFL, we hear that longtime Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis…

Poland’s 20th century tragedy

Stuck between Germany and the Soviet Union didn't stop thousands of Poles from contributing to the war effort in the 1940s

Poland’s 20th century tragedyCanadians who grouse about living next door to the American elephant should consider the situation of Poland, particularly in the mid-20th century. With Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union on one side and Adolf Hitler’s Germany on the other, Poles must have occasionally wondered just what they had done to merit this unfortunate geography. English journalist Max Hastings…

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistake

If Hitler had declared war on Japan in support of the U.S., he might have kept the U.S. out of the European war. And that would have changed history

Adolf Hitler’s fateful mistakeAdolf Hitler began 1941 in a commanding position. He had 10 European conquests under his belt and just one active foe – beleaguered Britain and the members of the Commonwealth, like Canada. But by year-end, he’d added the Soviet Union and the United States to his slate of antagonists. And the declaration of war against…

How alcohol is killing Aboriginal Canadians

In his important book Firewater, Harold Johnson talks about the enormous problem of alcohol abuse that plagues so many Indigenous communities

How alcohol is killing Aboriginal CanadiansWhat is the ’60s Scoop and why should a conversation about it still matter to Canadians today? The ’60s Scoop has been much in the news recently, and I expect we’ll hear much more about it in the coming weeks and years. I’m guessing there are already plans to make it the subject of the…

Down with textbooks, the pre-digested meal of the academic world

To read a textbook is to receive a second- or third-rate experience, and third- and fourth-hand knowledge

Down with textbooks, the pre-digested meal of the academic worldI’m reminded of that old game Telephone we played in grade school. The teacher whispered in the ear of the child beside her and that child passed the message to the next person. By the time the message came back to the teacher, it had been hopelessly, hilariously mangled, either by passing clumsily through so…

Social recipe brews up a life that imitates a new work of fiction

Warren Kinsella's new novel Recipe for Hate chronicles fanatics insinuating their way into positions of power

Social recipe brews up a life that imitates a new work of fictionLife sometimes imitates fiction – and not in ways you’d expect. For example, I’ve just published a book called Recipe For Hate. It’s a novel. Without giving away the plot, I can reveal that Recipe For Hate is about fanatics insinuating themselves into positions of power and influence. It’s about zealots, on the right and the…

America’s first ethnic working-class hero

An Irish-American Catholic, champion boxer John L. Sullivan rose to popularity from modest roots

America’s first ethnic working-class heroBefore inclusiveness became a social mantra, newly arrived immigrant groups invariably went through a period of being viewed warily by society’s established mainstream. Irish-American Catholics were no exception to this probationary process. Indeed, it wasn’t until John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential victory that acceptance was fully sealed. Along the way, the process got a boost…

The ever-growing burden of technology on our lives

Increasingly, cities are complicated systems. The thought of traffic lights, 911 calls, transit and hospitals all going haywire at once is really scary

The ever-growing burden of technology on our livesIt you think red tape is slowing progress, you’re right. If you think some complex technical gadgets in your home, office and car aren’t really saving time, you’re right again. But have you thought about how costly and dangerous this technology can be? Author Samuel Arbesman has in his book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits…