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    Book Reviews:

    Local Matters
    A Defense of Dooney's Café
    And other non-globalized places, people and ideas
    Brian Fawcett

    Edited and with an introduction by Stan Persky
    New Star Books, Vancouver    2003
    201 pages

    Tom Sandborn

    "In the early 1980s, after fifteen years of publishing reasonably subtle and technically elaborate lyric poems in magazines and books that no one read, I woke up one morning to the unpleasant recognition that publishing my lyric poetry in the late twentieth century was equivalent to playing with my penis on a busy street corner-and having everyone ignore me.

    The insight was humiliating enough that I decided to stop publishing my verse and to stop giving public readings of it." Thus, Toronto author Brian Fawcett on the fateful decision two decades ago that has led him to create over the ensuing two decades a body of thoughtful, provocative essays and longer experimental narratives. Local Matters is the latest addition to that body; Canadian fans of lucid prose and muscular thought have one more reason now to be glad for that early 80's moment of lyric renunciation.
    Fawcett is one of the best minds at work in English language prose in Canada today, and this latest collection of his essays is one more proof of his claim to that title. He has the intellectual courage to take on a wide range of topics, from traffic calming experiments in his Toronto neighborhood to the purpose of paranoia to the late novels and parenting style of Mordecai Richler to what Marshall McLuhan got wrong and right in his pivotal works on media.

    But Fawcett is not merely courageous. He is artful. He crafts  his essays through a long and laborious process of polish and re-write, a process that delivers a smooth and relaxed prose style that is capable of rendering sophisticated thought without lapsing into the convolutions and academic jargon that too often cluster around any attempt at serious intellectual work in print. His tone is deceptively conversational; a Fawcett essay gives the reader the impression she has wandered into a writer's café and had a coffee and chat with one of its resident intellectuals.
    The coffee house reference  is neither accidental nor inappropriate. The Dooney's Café of the book's subtitle is the local coffee bar in the author's neighborhood, his working space away from home, and the epicentre of a storm of local protest Fawcett helped promote when Starbuck's threatened to shut the local hangout down to make space for one more of the coffee giant's irritating caffeine clones.

    Dooney's Café is also the sponsor of a web-based news service (www.dooneyscafe.com) Fawcett has been operating now for several years, and where many of the essays in the current volume was first published. (Full disclosure: I have known Fawcett on and off for several decades, and the editor of this book, Stan Persky, is an old friend. I have occasionally published material on dooneyscafe.com myself.) 
    Whether at a coffee house table, on the page or in cyber space, Fawcett is a fierce partisan of the local and specific in opposition to the global and generic, whether the topic is politics, art or coffee. Thanks to that passion, and to his well honed prose style, the volume in hand reads like a delightful record of a visit to a genuine, pre-franchise bohemian coffee shop  where oppositional politics and critical thought are valued, cant and sloppy thinking disparaged, good sense and cosmopolitan intelligence promoted and knee-jerk responses of all kinds are subjected to a caustic approach as strong and bitter as good espresso. In an era when even the subversive intellectual tradition of the coffee house has been branded and turned into a global commodity outlet, a book like this that offers detailed and eloquent defense of the singular virtues of the local neighborhood, bar and perspective is  welcome indeed.

    Paul Martin
    CEO for Canada

    Murray Dobbin
    James Lorimer & Co. Publishers
    194 pages

    Marco Procaccini

    Paul Martin: CEO for Canada bookNow that the Liberals, both provincially and federally, are marred in scandal, and as a federal election draws nearer, it might be a good time to pick up a copy of Murray Dobbin’s hard-hitting book Paul Martin: CEO of Canada.

    The Vancouver-based journalist, researcher and author of several bestseller books, released this work last fall—before Prime Minister Martin’s ascension to the leadership throne and the current waves of scandals that have followed.

    The book covers much of Martin’s professional career and his climb to power—in the corporate world and in government. From Martin’s first parliamentary address as finance minister, with his prophetic quote “screw the Red Book” and literally negating the Liberals’ 1993 election promises, to the back room maneuvers of his trying to quietly keep control of Canadian Steamship Lines (its ships registered under foreign flags of convenience), this book shows that Martin is no stranger to scandals and “not knowing” about things he was involved with or supported.

    “Paul Martin put his personal stamp on the Liberal government in such a decisive matter that it is only a slight exaggeration to say that he has already been Prime Minister,” Dobbin writes boldly in the book’s introduction. This provides an eerie prelude to what is an astonishingly thorough review of the federal Liberal regime in the last ten years and Martin’s role in calling the shots.

    The book details the policy development of the government in its first term, how tax dollars were allocated, and who in Canada gained as a result—and who lost. Dobbin strongly argues that working class Canadians have largely been taken for a ride while a wealthy elite—much of which has ties to the Liberal Party—has prospered greatly.

    The factual information Dobbin provides is more than convincing. For example, it quotes Martin in 1997, still finance minister, boasting to corporate leaders that federal government spending had reached its “lowest levels since 1951.” Most of this reduction is accounted by over $97 Billion a year taken out of public infrastructure, job creation and social security. Meanwhile, tax handouts to Corporate Canada have ballooned.

    But what’s even more compelling about this book, given the scandals in Ottawa, is its detailed accounting of the back-room power moves of what is likely Canada’s most influential federal politician in a decade.

    Global Profit and Global Justice
    Using Your Money to Change the World

    Deb Abbey
    New Society Publishers
    227 pages

    Marco Procaccini

    Global Profit Global Justice bookCan social justice ever be measured in terms of money? Does doing business automatically mean undermining liberty and health? Is the socialistic ideal of the common layperson having a real democratic say in managing businesses and capital actually possible?

    All this is possible if the information presented in this new book is any indication. Global Profit and Global Justice analyzes numerous practical approaches to changing our economy and society for the better by using investment capital.

    One common complaint about books on progressive economic change is that they are long on theory and rhetoric and short on practical examples and successes. Not this one. Its focus is clearly to report on a variety of successful practical initiatives by real people and organizations and discusses developing strategies for affecting change.

    From socially responsible investment, teaching union pension trustees to take an active role in setting investment guidelines for their plans and community business to ethical consumer spending, shareholder activism and working with managers to adopt socially responsible practices, this book is a battery of information on how to put social and democratic values into the economic process.

    Deb Abbey, entrepreneur, social worker and the book’s author, is one of the leading experts on shareholder activism and socially responsible investment in Canada. She, along with her husband and investment consultant Perry Abbey, recently co-founded Real Assets, which invests shares in various corporations and puts forward resolutions at their general meetings.

    While its focus is to improve labour standards, environmental health and human rights through influencing corporate behaviour, Real Assets is mainly dedicated to ensuring a competitive rate of return for its investors.

    One of the main points of Global Profit and Global Justice is that it puts to rest the widespread belief among both business and activist circles that these measures compromise rates of return on investment. In fact, it reports that rates of return are comparable and, in some cases, even better than standard investment returns.

    Global Profit and Global Justice shows that real practical change is possible at a business level. This is a must-read, both for activists dealing with globalization issues and corporate responsibility and for anyone interested in getting more control over their investments and how the money is used.

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