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On the stand: The week's best magazine reads

A detail from the cover of Border Crossings, Spring 2011.

Border Crossings

Issue No. 117/ Spring 2011

The famous large-scale colour photographs of Toronto's Edward Burtynsky can't help but provoke feelings of awe and guilt. Awe because the images - of marble quarries, oil fields, factories, urban sprawl, dry-docked ships - are testimony to the resourcefulness and ambition of the human race. Guilt since these same images are a testament to our appetitive desecration of the planet and the dehumanization that goes with it.

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In conversation here with Border Crossings' long-time senior contributing editor Robert Enright, Burtynsky seems fully aware of this "cognitive dissonance," and unapologetic about "the aesthetic layer" he places on the often troubling milieux so meticulously and artfully framed in his view-finder. "Other forms of expression" - Macbeth and Apocalypse Now are cited - "have been able to adopt an aesthetic delivery of unpleasant truths," he notes. "But with photography there is a suspicion of the aesthetic component," perhaps because our familiarity with photos is such that "we treat them as artifacts of reality." Burtynsky, intriguingly, tells Enright that for all the sober content in his pictures, he has "a fairly optimistic view of humanity," even as he acknowledges "we're a bit of a rogue species right now."

The Walrus

April, 2011

Nigel Wright has been in the news lately. Or at least Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been trying to get Wright in the news by alleging that, as former secretary of Conservative Fund Canada, Wright had to have known about the controversial "in-out" campaign financing scheme currently dogging the Harperites.

Wright's fund-raising role with the Tories barely rates a mention in Michael Posner's profile here. Nevertheless, it's a timely piece of journalism not only because of the "in-out" fandango but for the context it provides to Wright's recent ascension to the post of Stephen Harper's chief of staff. Admittedly, Posner, a Globe and Mail feature writer, never really gets to the bottom of Wright, not least because Wright declined to be interviewed. There may, in fact, be no bottom (i.e., dirt) to be got to, especially if one accepts at face value the fulsome encomiums of such Establishment friends as John Tory, Rudyard Griffiths and Peter Munk. If anything, the 47-year-old Wright seems a rather ascetic type - he reportedly considered the Anglican priesthood as a youth - with a fondness for 90-hour work weeks and solitary long-distance runs. Will anyone be surprised to learn there's no significant other or children in the picture?

The New York Review of Books

March 10, 2011

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In the years following the Second World War, there's been much discussion and debate as to who was the greater evil - Stalin or Hitler. In North America, at least until recently, a kind of qualitative/quantitative distinction often was made: Yes, the Soviets under Stalin killed more civilians than the Nazis - at least 20 million - but Hitler's goons have a higher place in evil's pantheon as a result of the special character of the six million lives claimed by the Holocaust.

However, as Timothy Snyder reports here, these statistical assumptions haven't "held water" in the face of the rigorous scholarship undertaken since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Snyder, a history professor at Yale and author of the much-heralded Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, "the question of numbers" has been "resolved."

The total number of noncombatants killed by Hitler was about 11 million - more or less what most historians have long thought - but the number of civilians killed by the Soviets "is considerably less than we believed" - around six million (at least half of them Ukrainians). Six million, of course, is still "horribly high," and Snyder rightly asserts that "large numbers matter because they are an accumulation of small numbers: that is, precious individual lives."


April, 2011

Yowza! Wynton Marsalis turns 50 this year! For some jazz fans, it must still seem like only last week that the New Orleans trumpeter was being heralded as the idiom's next big thing. Now he's pretty much the same age as some of the musicians he scolded back then, most notably Miles Davis.

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Marsalis makes the cover of Downbeat for what's probably the umpteenth time here - but in this instance, it's a family affair. In January, Wynton was joined by his musical siblings - drummer Jason, trombonist/producer Delfeayo, saxophonist Branford - and father Ellis, a pianist, at a ceremony in Manhattan to induct the family into the National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Masters "hall of fame." Downbeat took the occasion to commission a group photograph and gather the five together for a chin-wag.

As you might expect, the banter is lively and affectionate, especially as it pertains to Daddy Ellis, who's 76. Branford recalls that in the 1970s he'd hear kids say, " 'My dad's a drag.' [But]I'd say, 'My dad's kind of cool,' " not least for his proficiency on the keyboard, bass and alto sax.

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