Sunday, June 15, 2008

Time for a two-speed Europe

By a roughly 7% margin, the voters of Ireland have narrowly rejected the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty that would have streamlined the administration of the European Union and given it the legal personality is has so badly lacked for so long. This has the practical impact, on the surface of it, of killing the Lisbon Treaty in its tracks: its ratification is incumbent on the agreement of all 27 current members of the European Union, bar none.

I do not believe it is in the interests of the EU, or the world, for the work of European integration to be halted at this point. It should, and must, continue. First the European Constitution was rejected, and now the scaled-back Lisbon Treaty is in jeopardy. My personal feeling is that European integration cannot be allowed to stumble and fall stricken to the ground on the basis of the Irish vote.

The principal problem has been the well-intentioned, but fetishistic insistence on unanimity in these votes. Given 27 different countries with 27 different cultures, histories, and attitudes towards the project of European integration, it is a recipe for permanent disaster and disappointment that can only result in cynicism about the project, and an ever-increasingly likelihood of its ultimate failure, which I believe the world cannot afford. Reality must finally be faced in this effort. Unanimity must be abandoned. Moreover, it is time to face the feared as the inevitable: the dreaded “two-speed Europe” must now become a reality. The time has come for the core nations of Europe to declare “We are proceeding. The rest of you may catch up as you please. But the time has come for those of us dedicated to European integration to go ahead without you.” It will be up to ‘slow’ European countries to consider their interests and either sign on to the project, or eventually fall away from the EU.

There is a historical precedent for this, and a great one. When the authors of the American Union proposed its constitution in 1787, they were not foolish enough to insist that the document be ratified unanimously by all 13 members who had agreed to the Articles of Confederation the new constitution was proposed to replace. Instead, they realized that some states might have reservations, legitimate or otherwise, and took that into account when they required that if nine of the thirteen states ratified the Constitution, it would then go into effect for those participating members. The other states would be left to decide their own fate, in or out… but their trepidation would not hold hostage the intention of those members willing to go ahead to do so. As we all know, those 13 states all realized where their real interests lay; they eventually all ratified the Constitution and went on to even greater things in the future.

This is the reality that Europe faces today. If Ireland is not ready for Europe, that does not mean that Europe must wait forever. It’s time for a two-speed Europe, and may the Irish have cause to reconsider.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Down the Humber and back

I had two adventures kayaking on the Humber last summer. The first time, P-Doug took me down there and introduced me to the pastime. I'd never done it before, but I was delighted to find how naturally it came to me. That time, we were guided down from Bloor to the mouth of the river at Lake Ontario, and then back again.

The second time was in September when my friend R-Lang was visiting from New England. That time didn't go as well for me. I had a devil of a time keeping up, largely because I couldn't keep the kayak straight. I eventually suspected that the stabilizing fin hadn't deployed, which turned out to be the case (it was jammed with sand). I finally had to turn back on my own and fight the thing back to the landing ground, where I cut my palm open falling into the water getting out of the thing, and spending about an hour and a half waiting for P-Doug and R-Lang to return.

Oddly enough, that second experience didn't sour me on the whole thing. I managed to keep my perspective — pretty rare for me, actually — and put to down to an anomalous occurrence that need not spoil things the next time out. And I was determined there would be a next time out.

Well, happily, that came last Saturday. I drove down to meet up with P-Doug and his missus, G, and we all went to St. Lawrence Market, where I availed myself of 6 lbs. of ground chicken (parceled off Monday night into 17 packages to be eaten over the next few weeks), a spicy pineapple-cranberry spread that's nice on toast and quark (a soft German spreadable cheese with no fat content, just milk protein), and my favourite hot sauce, Z: Nothing Beyond. After that we dropped off G back at home and then took the subway down to Old Mill Station, aiming for the 1 p.m. launch. We missed that, but I honestly didn't mind because I was perfectly happy to go at our own pace, rather than be led around.

Just like the second time I went, I brought my cameras. This time, I had the G9 and the infrared S70, as well as my cell phone and PhotoTrackr. I had everything in a little shoulder bag, all packed up in sandwich bags in case I fell in or otherwise got wet. This was, to be honest, of limited utility. To use the G9, I had to take it out and expose it to the elements (though I had the neck strap on, so unless I actually fell overboard, nothing much was going to happen to it). Using the S70, I kept it in the sandwich bag, which had the advantage of guarding it and rending it likely to float, but had the disadvantage of causing glare at certain angles and increasing the risk I'd drop it because there was no way to use the wrist strap and the bag itself was smooth and difficult to hold. I never dropped either one, but I was constantly aware I was risking a lot of money every time I took a shot that wasn't from the chest.

We got to the river around quarter after one and out on it around half past. I spent a lot of time messing with the cameras, taking shots and some movies that turned out pretty nicely in places, I think. P-Doug slowed down a couple of times to let me catch up, but I think eventually he decided that my shutterbuggery (if I can use that term) was bound to hold me back more or less constantly and he drifted down at his own pace. In truth, it's hard to keep in lockstep on a river anyway, unless you're a voyageur. We linked up a few times, especially at the first marsh where he lingered rather longer than I did. By that time, the sunny midday had taken on a decided overcast, and there was a sense of rain in the air, but it didn't seem overwhelming.

I think it was just after the second marsh, as I headed down towards the bridges with a decided pace, that I realized I'd left P-Doug behind. I was around a bend at that point so there was no way I could gage just how far back he might be... I waited for a few moments, but when I didn't see him, I figured he was taking his time at the second marsh and I just pressed on to the bridges and the mouth of the river. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment in getting there again, and I'd decided to wait for P-Doug there, but right around the time I got turned around, the rain started. I had no idea how bad it was going to be, and the wind was really picking up. I had most of an hour's trip back, too, so I pretty quickly gave up on the idea of waiting around and I headed back. Turned out to be just well because I never did bump into him on the way back.

The rain was never more than showers, really, but it fell for about fifteen, twenty minutes and I was convinced it was probably going to get worse. I was paddling pretty steadily, pausing when my arms tired. I noticed that it was mostly my left arm that seemed to tire, probably because I'm right-handed. The trip back always seems longer than the trip down (of course, you're going against the current, however slight) and I felt the pressure to get back before it really opened up on me. But it never did.

As I was approaching the landing ground, just above Bloor Street, I could see P-Doug's distinctive hat atop a figure beside another. Conversing, I figured, with the kayak owner. I wondered how long he'd been waiting. But as I was closing in, I happened to notice a deer on the east bank of the river. She noticed me, too, but didn't run away. I had to get a picture of her. I circled back, and took a number of shots. Then, I turned on the video function and got a wonderful 30 second movie of her as she wander away, and then loped off as the subway train arrived with its distinctive racket. I then turned back to end the excursion.

We headed back on the subway to rejoin G and all went to my place to watch Miller's Crossing and enjoy a spaghettini and sausage dinner, courtesy of P-Doug and his culinary skills. A pleasant day all around. Even for the deer, I bet.

It's funny because it's true...

A couple of weeks back, my friend P-Doug and his missus, G, took a few days and wandered upstate New York. A particular destination of his was a beer store reputed to carry something in the neighbourhood of a thousand different brands of beer. He was truly amazed by the selection of things when he got there, telling me later he was impressed with the selection, and then number of things unavailable in Ontario. In truth, I think we were both a bit humbled... a hearkening back to the days when so much was available there but not here; days we're used to thinking of as largely behind us.

Last night, they visited to make spaghetti and watch a movie. P-Doug brought over a beer he seemed especially eager to try and show me. It was called HoneyMoon Beer by the Blue Moon Brewing Company. We both thought it was pretty nice... would have been easy to down them all on a hot day, no question. As I finished mine, I looked over the colourful label and happened to notice the following...

Yup, that's right. Here's how it went: P-Doug spend two days in the US in order to bring back 24 beers without duty, six of which were HoneyMoon Beer. So last night, we drank beer he brought to Toronto, by way of a store in New York, by way of importation to Colorado, that had been brewed in... Toronto.

G and I spend a happy five minutes teasing him about what a wonderful patriot he was, and he claimed a moral victory for "repatriating" our beer from the Yankees. :)