Allan Levine

  • Triumph of ego over humility

    Some years ago, David Olive, now a business columnist with the Toronto Star, published a witty book entitled Canadian Political Babble: A Cynics' Dictionary of Canadian Jargon. His definition of the term "ambition" was, "the triumph of ego over humility." That is an apt characterization of Premier Greg Selinger's behaviour at the moment. Like many political leaders, past as well as present, he seemingly regards himself as indispensable. This is despite spiralling poll numbers that suggest the NDP will be routed in the next provincial election and a mini-revolt by five key cabinet and some members of his caucus who want him to resign. Selinger has stubbornly refused to quit or call an election.
  • Who really was Jack the Ripper?

    For more than a century, one of the great criminal mysteries has been the identity of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who brutally murdered five and possibly as many as 11 women in the Whitechapel district of London's impoverished East End from 1888 to 1891. Over the decades, a plethora of books, films, newspaper articles and "Ripperologists," who have devoted countless hours to studying the case, have speculated the Ripper could have been an assortment of characters, rich and poor. Among the prime suspects were Montague Druitt, an unemployed barrister and teacher; Dr. Thomas Cream, a Scottish-Canadian doctor; and Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, one of Queen Victoria's grandsons.
  • A war for Britain

    Seventy-five years ago, on Sept. 1, 1939, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was awakened early in the morning with news that the German Wehrmacht had crossed the border into Poland. For the British and French this was the final straw in the frustrating negotiations with Adolf Hitler that had been ongoing for several years. The two western European powers declared war on Germany on Sept. 3.
  • The Panama Canal and the decline of Winnipeg

    A century ago this month, the opening of the Panama Canal was hailed not only as an "unprecedented feat of engineering," but also as "a profoundly historic human event and a sweeping human drama," in the words of American historian David McCullough, who chronicled the remarkable building of the canal in his 1977 book, The Path Between the Seas. Apart from wars, he added, the canal "represented the largest, most costly single effort ever before mounted anywhere on Earth." As with many key events in history, there are winners and losers. And while the canal was a boon for western ports like Vancouver, it had a much different effect on Winnipeg, contributing to the city's economic decline as Canada's railway, grain trade and wholesale centre.
  • Before the Great War, people travelled freely without passports or identification

    The First World War had a profound impact on western life, big and small. A century ago, the war triggered a rash of security concerns, which led to the widespread use of passports and entrance visas. "Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all," recalled the Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig in his autobiography, The World of Yesterday (published after he and his wife committed suicide in Brazil in 1942). "People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled from Europe to India and America without a passport and without ever having seen one." (In the late 1890s and after, Canadians required a single piece of paper designating them a "British Subject" for international travel.)
  • 'Blood of martyrs' the only endgame for nihilistic Hamas

    Common sense would dictate that Hamas should halt its rocket attacks on Israel immediately and agree to a ceasefire. Even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, thinks so. "What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?" he asked on Palestinian television.
  • The almost-forgotten Father of Confederation

    BOLSTERED by generous federal funding, the 150th anniversary of Confederation will be celebrated on July 1, 2017 with the great hoopla the birth of this country deserves. Yet the hard work, political compromises, backroom negotiations and constitutional debates that made Confederation — a more remarkable development than we appreciate today — possible occurred during a five-month period from June to October in 1864.
  • The assassination that sparked war

    Nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip was a troubled young man seeking a purpose in life on June 28, 1914. "Wherever I went, people took me for a weakling," he later said. "And I pretended that I was a weak person, even though I was not." Princip was a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Black Hand, an extremist nationalist secret society, whose primary crusade was to establish a greater Serbia. The Black Hand's chief enemy was Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, or the Dual Monarchy, which in 1908 had annexed the province of Bosnia that bordered the northwest part of Serbia.
  • Hard truths of D-Day: Canada along for the fight

    At 4:30 A.M. on June 6, 1944, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was awakened by a loud knock at the door of his bedroom. The RCMP officer on duty had an important message for him from Norman Robertson, the undersecretary of external affairs, who was on the telephone: "Mr. King, the invasion has begun."  
  • Sterling decision a sign of progress

    The general consensus is justice has been done in the case of Donald Sterling, the controversial owner of the NBA team the Los Angeles Clippers. The decision announced by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million (and proceed with the intent to force him to sell the team) in response to his recorded racist remarks about African-Americans has been hailed as the only response NBA officials could have made. Moreover, the tough punishment is a defining statement on how far the U.S. has come in the 50 years.
  • Quebecers are looking forward, not back

    "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time," Winston Churchill caustically put it in 1947. In a political career that spanned more than five decades, the two-time British prime minister understood more than most politicians democracy's strengths and flaws, as well as the unpredictable power of the electorate. In July 1945, despite leading Britain and the Allies to a great and hard-fought victory in the Second World War, Churchill and the Conservatives lost the election to Clement Atlee and the Labour party. It was a stunning defeat for Churchill -- who did become prime minister again in 1951 -- yet British voters believed Atlee and Labour offered the country more progressive policies necessary for the post-war era.
  • Education, history and la survivance

    For French-Canadian nationalists and sovereigntists, the teaching of history has always had a special place in Quebec. Framing the past three centuries as a valiant struggle to survive -- la survivance, as it has been christened -- against English domination can be a powerful propaganda tool. Hence, one of the first the issues Premier Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois tackled when it came to power in a minority government in September 2012 was the province's high-school history curriculum.
  • Parallels of 1914 and 2014

    The Russian occupation of Crimea has, naturally enough, led to a historical comparison with Adolf Hitler's occupation and annexation of Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in 1938. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, as well as former U.S. secretary of state (and possible 2016 presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton, and others, have pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent actions bear a striking similarity to Hitler's invasion of the northwest Czechoslovakia region.
  • Canada put stamp on Olympic hockey in 1924

    Unlike the Sochi Winter Olympics, at the first Winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France, a village in the Alps from Jan. 25 to Feb. 4, 1924, there was no threat of terrorism, little security, no drug testing, limited newspaper coverage, and definitely no $50-billion budget. There was, however, a similar distress about the mild weather. Four days before the competition was to start, the temperature in Chamonix was spring-like and the outdoor venues -- all sports including hockey and curling were played outdoors -- were slushy. Then, on Jan. 25, winter returned and it was clear, cold and crisp for much of the week.
  • Manitoba's 'bloody' desperado

    According to local legend, he was as charming as he was ruthless. The Free Press rightly called him a "notorious desperado." One hundred years ago, "Bloody" Jack Krafchenko captured the imagination of Winnipeggers young and old in a crime of murder and robbery and a sensational escape from the city's police station on Jan. 10, 1914 that ensnared a rising young lawyer and a police constable. The two had been lured into aiding Krafchenko with promises of a big payoff. The saga of "Bloody" Jack is recounted in the pages of the Free Press, by Ontario author Edward Butts in his 2008 book Running With Dillinger and by local writer Martin Zeilig in a 1998 Manitoba History article.
  • Accidental Queen's 60 years of influence

    The day after Tony Blair became the British prime minister in May 1997, his first order of business was a formal meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. He was instructed on the basic protocol of "kissing hands." Upon being introduced, he bowed, took her extended hands and brushed them lightly with his lips. The stilted tradition signifies the ancient bond between prime minister and sovereign and her bequest to him of her authority to govern. There was no question as to the relationship. "She was head of state. I was her prime minister," as Blair puts it in his memoirs.
  • Blasphemy's long, sordid history

    The last time parts of the Islamic world were as angry as they are now about the amateur film Innocence of the Muslims, which insults the Prophet Muhammad, was nearly 25 years ago after Salman Rushdie had published his controversial novel The Satanic Verses. So outraged were Islamic clerics that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, putting a bounty on the author's head. Rushdie was forced to live under armed protection in Britain for the next decade. The fatwa and threat of assassination was eased in 1998, permitting Rushdie to emerge from seclusion.
  • The debatable fuss over Paul Ryan

    On the witty new HBO television series Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- in a more mature and biting version of her Elaine character on Seinfeld -- stars as U.S. Vice-President Selina Meyer, who is in constant search of a job. In almost every show, her most frequent question to her secretary is "Did the president call?" And the response is always the same: "No!"
  • The Eichmann example

    Do tyrants and mass murderers deserve due process and justice in a courtroom? The Second World War left two enduring and opposite answers to that difficult ethical dilemma.
  • Liberals have rebuilt before

    NO one can deny that Bob Rae, the interim leader of the once mighty Liberal party, has his work cut out for him. This summer, he criss-crossed the country speaking at breakfasts and barbecues trying to solve the conundrum he has faced since the May election left the Liberals for the first time as the third party in the House of Commons, with only 34 seats: How to rebuild the party and reconnect it with Canadian voters. The popular vote numbers are telling. In the 2004 federal election, the Liberals, who won a minority government led by Paul Martin, received 4,982,220 votes. With Michael Ignatieff at the helm in May 2011, that figure was reduced almost by half, to 2,783,175.
  • Tea Party takes leaf from past

    From a Canadian perspective, there is something alarming in the power of the Tea Party to influence U.S. politics and its very troubled economy. There is no doubt that U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner would have reached a compromise much sooner in the recent debt-ceiling crisis, if not for the stubborn resolve of the 60 Tea Party Republican members of the House. Their absolute refusal to accept any (arguably necessary) tax hikes along with their demand to slash government spending ultimately forced Boehner and with him Obama into a tight corner. Neither leader emerged from this debacle unscathed. As unique as the Tea Party might seem -- and another real test of its power will be seen in the 2012 presidential election -- it follows in the footsteps of many other populist movements dating back to the mid-19th century. Its members' call for less government, their abiding belief that they represent the true "will of the people," and their generally conservative outlook on everything from U.S. foreign policy to gay marriage have been echoed throughout American history.
  • Political prosecutors or persecutors?

    In one case, a celebrated and cerebral former media mogul, who has served 29 months of a 78-month sentence in a Florida correctional institute, and who has been out on appeal for nine months, is being sent back to jail for another eight to 12 months. And in another case, a celebrated and brilliant economist and politician, has been charged with the sexual assault of a New York hotel maid in what initially appeared to be a straight-forward conviction for the state.
  • Earth-shattering? Not even close

    The May 2 election results were indeed historically unusual -- especially the NDP's winning of an unprecedented 58 seats in Quebec from the previous lone seat the party had held since the last election in 2008. The apparent demise of the Bloc Québécois and the humbling of the Liberals from 77 seats to only 34 are equally as notable. But the attempt by many pundits to declare politics in this country now has been transformed forever ignores 144 years of Canadian history. Consider several of the following sweeping statements read and heard during the past few days:
  • Canadian elections were not always boring

    So far, the election of 2011 has been a tedious affair with little to get excited about. It hasn't always been like this.  
  • People power doesn't always work

    The last straw was the government's arbitrary decision to cancel a grand banquet in Paris to celebrate liberal reform. On the night of Feb. 21, 1848, Republicans and radicals opposed to the increasingly authoritarian 18-year monarchy of Louis Philippe, erected barricades throughout the city. Violent clashes with the National Guard followed.  

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