In praise of trashy paperbacks

What could be bad about stories that are pacey, and replete with nefarious dealings, treachery, passion and lust? They're great fun and you won't nod off reading them

In praise of trashy paperbacksApart from childhood forays into the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, most of my fiction reading was done in the 1960s and 1970s. And the ubiquity of reasonably-priced paperback novels was a huge facilitator. A goodly portion of what I consumed can be described as respectable. Somerset Maugham, John O’Hara and…

The American melodrama after Super Tuesday

Many smart and highly educated people live in a bubble, and are shocked, shocked when the hoi polloi don't agree with them

The American melodrama after Super TuesdayYou’ve got to admit that the ongoing melodrama south of the border is gripping stuff. Aficionados of American politics are like kids in a candy store. From the Democratic caucus fiasco in Iowa to the turnaround of Super Tuesday, it’s been all drama all the way. If you wrote a fictional script along these lines,…

Justin Trudeau’s leadership failure

Leadership is complicated. Character counts, as do vision, competence, judgment and the ability to persuade or inspire. The PM misses the mark

Justin Trudeau’s leadership failureLooking at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the ongoing blockade fiasco, it’s difficult to avoid comparison with how his father, Pierre Trudeau, dealt with the 1970 October Crisis. Faced with the revolutionary FLQ’s kidnappings of British trade commissioner James Cross and Quebec provincial cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, the senior Trudeau moved decisively as prime…

Ireland on the cusp of political upheaval

Should Sinn Fein come to power, it’ll be interesting to see how they deliver results. Making promises is easy. Getting a job done is different

Ireland on the cusp of political upheavalIreland’s recent election produced an unusual result. You might call it downright peculiar. Or maybe just momentous. Irish politics has been dominated for the past century by two parties whose origins derive from the civil war that followed the establishment of an independent Irish state. In many cases, family voting patterns were faithfully handed down…

The making of an unlikely U.S. president

The new book Becoming Ronald Reagan details the unlikely emergence of the most consequential Republican conservative of the 20th century

The making of an unlikely U.S. presidentAmerican liberals always had a problem with Ronald Reagan. He was, they thought, no more than an “amiable dunce,” a mouthpiece for someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. Yet through the hurly-burly of political contests over the span of a quarter-century, the dunce cleaned up on a regular basis. He was elected California governor…

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stands the test of time

The classic film takes an unusually nuanced look at the Old West. Heroes aren’t necessarily who you think they are

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stands the test of timeJohn Ford was an Irish-American film director whose active career began in the silent era and extended into the 1960s. Along the way, he picked up four Academy Awards for best director. Immense talent notwithstanding, Ford had a dark side. He was, to put it mildly, a bully. You might call him a tyrant. Belittling…

The return of the Red Tories

The return of the Red ToriesBack in September 2012, I wrote a column suggesting that Jean Charest’s recent political retirement wasn’t the end of the story. A man in his mid-50s who’d spent almost his entire adult life in politics would find it difficult to irrevocably wash his hands of the whole business. Now, on the brink of his apparently…

The Stuarts, a dynasty brought down by religion

In addition to displaying the Stuart propensity for absolutism, James II publicly converted to Catholicism. The die was cast

The Stuarts, a dynasty brought down by religionOf the world’s failed causes, one of the most enduring is the romantic tale of the House of Stuart. Who hasn’t heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his tragic-heroic attempt to recover the three crowns lost by his grandfather? Let’s back up a bit. The Stuarts were originally French, having crossed over from Brittany in…

The American melodrama heads for home

A Canadian guide to keeping close watch on the 2020 U.S. presidential election

The American melodrama heads for homeAs we roll into 2020, aficionados of American politics will be in their element. Beginning with the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus and the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary, there’ll be a continuous series of events leading up to the Nov. 3 finale, the day of the presidential election. And most Canadians will fervently hope –…

A child’s Christmas Eve in 1950 Dublin

One of my earliest Christmas memories was going to see Roy Rogers, the "King of the Cowboys", in The Gay Ranchero in a Dublin cinema

A child’s Christmas Eve in 1950 DublinAs you get older, one of the things that Christmas evokes is a sense of remembering. And for me, one the earliest such memories relates to Christmas Eve 1950. It was the first time I ever went to the cinema. Or, as Dubliners would have said, the pictures. I was six years-old at the time…

Boris Johnson is a consequential politician

Prime ministers often come and go without making a material difference. For better or worse, Johnson looks like an exception

Boris Johnson is a consequential politicianBoris Johnson has been called many uncomplimentary things, charlatan and clown being among the milder epithets. Even those sympathetic to his current agenda are liable to use terms like “unprincipled opportunist.” However, another descriptor is becoming increasingly apt. Johnson is shaping up to be a consequential politician, defined as one who makes a difference. A…

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgia

Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas is recognized as the best-selling single record ever

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgiaIt’s surely a personal quirk, but I must confess that the relatively modern Christmas songs, like All I Want for Christmas Is You and Fairytale of New York leave me cold. Yes, I know they’re critically acclaimed and immensely popular, not to mention enormous money-spinners. However, they don’t tickle my fancy at all. Perhaps it’s a…

The rise and fall of Spiro Agnew

The Nixon administration vice-president made two critical mistakes: he took on the media and he got caught taking kickbacks

The rise and fall of Spiro AgnewSpiro Agnew – the 39th vice-president of the United States – was born in 1918 to a Greek immigrant father and a native-born American mother. In keeping with the integrationist pattern of the era, his father changed the Anagnostopoulos surname to Agnew. It was important to fit in and get along. Agnew’s early life was…

The enduring romance of the highwayman

Brave, dashing and manly, these social bandits have lofty status. But some, like Dick Turpin, fall far short of the glowing stereotype

The enduring romance of the highwaymanIf memory serves, my first encounter with the concept of a highwayman came circa 1952 thanks to the weekly Sun comic book. One of its regular characters was Dick Turpin, a highwayman who embarked on a series of adventures with his female sidekick Moll Moonlight. In addition to robbing the rich to help the poor,…

The first rock ’n’ roll Christmas

That a guy nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis had tackled sacred songs was offensive and sacrilegious to many. But it was perfect marketing

The first rock ’n’ roll ChristmasTeenagers in the 1950s couldn’t escape the music of their parents. Despite radio’s new-fangled Top 40 and the attendant infiltration of rock ’n’ roll, the sounds of the past were all around. This was particularly the case for Christmas songs. But things began to change in late October 1957, thanks to Elvis Presley announcing the…