The Plague-Ground – These are a few of my favourite things

September marks six months into the pandemic for all of us who locked down our lives in March. Happy Half-Birthday.

Not everything has changed, as some breathless prophets foretold. But since staying alive is the biggest thing I don’t want to change, I’ve gained a new respect for the idea of “peace, order and good government” over “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Who knew our very Canadian-ned would save us when in much more exciting places like America, Britain and Brazil. The biggest change is in the death rate of their people? Who knew I’d become a fan of Doug Ford?

But those are big, cosmic, existential matters.

Meanwhile, a  lot of little things have changed, including my tastes in reading and viewing. Looking back, I’m almost certain I would never have discovered any of these people, places and things were it not for the pandemic.

So if the end of summer has you looking for small mercies in new diversions, here are some that have caught and held me:

  1. Cathal Kelly. I never read the sports pages, even when there were sports. But a friend introduced me to the Globe and Mail’s sports columnist, and now he’s my five times a week habit who can be yours. Like the 99-year-old Roger Angell in The New Yorker, Kelly turns what’s on the field and off into compulsive reading. If the sports pages are as alien to you as the business pages, or the fashion pages, I urge you to try him out. Like yesterday’s column on the disastrous structure of pro tennis.
  1. Neil Postman. As the malign effects of social media and the predations of Trump’s Republicans make clear, it’s not oppression we have to fear as much as diversion. As Mark Twain said: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth is putting on its shoes.” And Twain said that before high-speed WiFi!But that’s the point. Postman’s  brilliant critiques of the online world were all written before the internet existed, including  Amusing Ourselves to Death, (1985) and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992) where he claimed that “culture takes its orders from technology.”
  1. Carol Anderson. A few years ago, she wrote a book called White Rage:  The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide. It’s being re-issued following America’s summer of racial discontent. Anderson has a different take on racism than most: “The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.”This is why I’m having her speak at a RamsayTalk Online on October 8th at 12 noon ET.
  1. Wade Davis. I’ve been a fanboy of the anthropologist, National Geographic explorer and author for years. He’s wildly articulate, both on the page and on stage. But there’s another part of Davis that’s less well-known and that’s driven him to giddy new heights.He’s a Canadian.

And it’s as a Canadian that he wrote a long article in Rolling Stone Magazine called The Unraveling of America. You likely read it or were sent it. In the three weeks since its publication, it’s received more than 300 million social media hits.

Davis has been interviewed by everyone from Christiane Amanpour to Alex Salmond, the former head of the Scottish National Party. Davis makes the case for something we’ve feared or cheered, the fall of the American empire.

This is why I’m having him speak at a RamsayTalk Online on September 15th at 1 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, in a different part of the forest, I never knew I’d come to depend on the predictable regularity of a multi-season TV series. One-off movies are great, like the deceptively-titled action flick, The Old Guard, with Charlize Theron, on Netflix.

But nothing frames a world of order, especially at bedtime, than snuggling in with the five seasons of the great British police procedural, Line of Duty (on Amazon Prime) whose acting and writing are what the Brits still do best. Little wonder it’s the most popular series ever on BBC Two.

If your tastes are more cerebral and continental, try the five seasons of the French political thriller Le Bureau  (Amazon Prime) about their intelligence service, the DGSE and its deep-cover agent, the brooding Malotru, played by Mathieu Kassovitz.

Finally, in the real world of espionage, look into Bellingcat, which has uncovered all kinds of plots and abuses, not only by the Russians but by bad actors from everywhere.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about what’s not just for voyeurs and fantasists, but it seems neophytes and doers.

Bellingcat is an investigative journalism website that specializes in fact-checking and open-source intelligence (OSINT).[1] It was founded by the British journalist and former blogger Eliot Higgins in July 2014. Bellingcat publishes the findings of both professional and citizen journalist investigations into war zones, human rights abuses, and the criminal underworld. The site’s contributors also publish guides to their techniques, as well as case studies.[2]

Citizen espionage. Who knew?

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18 replies
  1. Avatar
    Katherine Carleton says:

    My 82-year old mother and I agree with you about Cathal Kelly! “Cathal Days” in the Globe are occasions for great joy (and – as you can imagine – I don’t give even one hoot about sports); may he live as long as Roger Angell!

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Judith Green says:

    Selon moi, a recent valuable viewing was the just ended Edinburgh Book Festival 2020. An impressive lineup of authors and thinkers free online with many of the sessions still available to watch. There was a most noteworthy dialogue between Amin Maalouf and Rabbi Johnathan Sacks, “Rediscovering our Moral Compass.” Also interesting was the discussion between Masha Gessen and Phillipe Sands, “Facing Down President Putin” as well as Arundhati Roy’ s session on the closing day, “Portal to a New World.”

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Judith — I will check all of them out. Also, the former head (?) of the Edinburgh Festival, Roland Gulliver, is now the head of the International readings at Harbourfront — if he can get into the country, that is!
      Cheers.
      Bob

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Louise says:

    Line of Duty! What a well written series (not unlike Prime Suspect in its captivatingness [is that word?]). Kelly, Wade et al: worth waking up to, daily. With all the great writing and series we can watch from our beds, what will we do when live entertainment returns? If it returns. I do miss the buzz of entering these arenas of culture…

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Adam Plackett says:

    Spot on Bob. I too read Cathal Kelly daily, loved Line of Duty and have been impressed with Doug Ford’s handling of the pandemic although I wouldn’t go so far as to vote for him. On the topic of Bellingcat, there is a terrific documentary entitled “Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World” which came out in 2018. The cases covered included the Skripal poisoning in the UK and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the Ukraine by rebel Ukrainians with covert Russian support A major part of their approach is a forensic analysis of social media.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Adam — I’m glad you too are a Bellingcat fan. I’m amazed they haven’t been poisoned yet, though, given how well they tear down the Russians.
      Cheers.
      Bob

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    The Drifter says:

    One of the most interesting events that the pandemic has allowed me to follow is the BC Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering chaired by Associate Chief Justice Austin Cullen.The sessions are being live-streamed except for limited in camera hearings. The consistent message of the evidence is that Canada is a world leader in the facilitation of the laundering of proceeds of crime generated domestically and internationally. The proceedings resume on October 13th and will continue well into 2021. I am especially looking forward to the testimony of members of the legal profession who will,no doubt,be attempting to justify their court-protected exemption from the reporting of the financial sources flowing through their trust accounts.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      I’ve been following this issue in the Globe and Mail over the past two weeks. An eye-opener since I didn’t know Canada was a world leader,
      or rather THE world leader in this particular subset of the financial world. Cheers. Bob

      Reply

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