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Books of Interest

Review: Weingarten, One Day: The extraordinary story of an ordinary 24 hours in America

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Gene Weingarten, One Day: The extraordinary story of an ordinary 24 hours in America, Blue Rider, 2019.


Denied entry to the US (who knows why, and welcome to the club),* I must take solace as a writer, traveller, travel writer, in others’ experiences in the creaking monster to the south (of Canada, but, hey, of most of the exploited world). In the writings of those ‘lucky’ enough in live there or at least visit at will.


Weingarten starts from literally scratch, pulling a year, month and date out of a hat with scribbled numbers on bits of paper. The only limit was in the year; between 1969 and 1989, ‘far enough in the past to feel like ‘history’ and have a future to explore, but not so far so witnesses would be hard to find.’


He landed on December 28, 1986, at first, in disappointment, as it was a Sunday (bad ‘news’ day) and worse yet, the news doldrums of post-Christmas. But he forged ahead, assuming fate had something to tell him. He started out interviewing a few HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) types he saw in 60 Minutes, but even they drew a blank (!)


But after 6 years of research and writing, it turns out Weingarten hit a winner, though his journalist talent alone could turn a pig skin into a gold mine.


He cleverly sketches out a full range of Americana: lots of murders, of course, but also a historic moment in medicine (longest surviving heart transplant), crazy politics of race (Koch blowing his chances at a fourth term as mayor of New York), miraculous escapes from death, a vicious lawyer turned nice transwoman, lots of ex-soldiers, corrupt police … A page-turner from start to finish.

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Notes on James Clear, Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones (2018)

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James Clear, Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones, Penguin Random House, 2018.


Rules: make obvious, fun, easy, satisfying. ie, hide 'bad' habit stimuli, see them as unpleasant, hard, unsatisfying, to break ‘bad’ habit.

-the more tasks you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other areas.

-little stresses compound into serious health issues.

-knowledge builds up, like compound interest. (buffett)

-if you see people as angry, unjust, selfish, you will see them everywhere.

-the more you help others, the more others want to help you. Build up connections (~ knowledge)

-not how successful you are right now. Your current trajectory rather than current results.

-fall in love with the process rather than the product. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. Your commitment to the process will determine your progress.

-true behaviour change is identity change. Start habit from motivation but stick with it because it becomes part of your identity. Must believe. Your habits are how you embody your identity. (when you write each day you embody identity of creative person.) Identity: proof in pudding. (what you do is what you are.) process of building habits is the process of becoming yourself.

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Biking Hamilton’s trails

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Hamilton is a biker’s paradise. Even the inevitable ribbons of death (Hwys 403 and 407) slicing through it haven’t killed it. It is disparaged as Hammertown/ Steeltown for its attack of rust-beltitis in the era of ‘free trade’ (not). It’s kind of dreary, compared to Toronto or even its twin Burlington, which Maclean’s dubbed Canada’s shiniest new urban paradise (maybe true if you are a car addict), but that is in fact its cachet.


Its heyday was a century ago (but then that’s true of all colonial Canada), and it is not a high tech hub, but it has the Niagara Escarpment and its stagnating economy means no massive high rise condomania. Its working class ethos is served by its NDP MPPs and MP, and the affordable Chedoke Civic Golf Course smack in the centre of the city.

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Lake Ontario by bike: Waterfront Trail

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Okay, a bit of Lake Ontario -- the fabulous Waterfront Trail from Oshawa to Toronto, 60km, almost all in sight of the lake. Hardly any private mansions, and the towns with their marinas in between are funky. Accessible (free for bikes) on GO commuter trains from as far as away as Hamilton (the waterfront trail going west from Toronto is much less enjoyable).


I was afraid it might be too easy, and the lake boring after a while, but not so. It’s always an orienteering game, and the trail is never straight (except for bridges).


I’ve done the Pickering-Toronto stretch (40km) twice now (Pickering just west of Ajax). The first time always a learning experience. My first trip was also the inauguration of my Presto card, the new gimmick to minimize user-worker contact, which I don’t like, but I’ve got the hang of it by now. Do NOT forget to tap your card when leaving the GO train. Which I did, as I flew out of the station and over two hills and found the path. A bike is a form of meditation. Ram Dass's 'Be Here Now.' You get in a rhythm as you process your thoughts and the trip so far and what's ahead. Oh no! Didn’t tap the card. So my first retracing of steps (not the first or last time).


The panorama, the air. Such a relief from Toronto. And no ‘ribbons of death’ to contend with. The deadly hwy 401 a safe distance, buried behind lots of trees. Only the occasion rush of the electric train, the railway being the least deadly of our obsession with speed and distance. The two rail tracks just a tad wider than one car-truck lane. And when you make that 10--12 car-truck lanes and football-field size interchanges, the environmental impact is truly shocking.


You reach the Port Union Waterfront Park over two wooden walkways, with marsh and river underneath. Too bad the stern warning ‘No swimming - high water’. The water looked fine, Google says it’s okay. Bureaucracy. I could have found a cove and done my own thing, but on both my first and second trips, I was saving energy for the final haul getting through Toronto home.

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Review: Diana Johnstone, Circle in the Darkness: Memoir of a World Watcher (2020)

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First, Diana Johnstone’s memoir is a classic, and will be read and quoted as long as we keep struggling for peace and justice. It is one of the great personal accounts of the anguished decline of our uncivilization, both a riveting eye-witness account of many of the horrors and perfidies, and a primer for students of history and all those struggling to not only dismantle the beast, but to prepare us for what follows it.

Read it and weep. And smile at the follies. And shout ‘Yes!’ as light bulbs flash in your mind.


Johnstone’s concern in Circle in the Darkness Is not so much ‘the lived experience of the transitory nature’ of things but ‘especially of the moral environment.’ She was blessed to to begin at the beginning of the end. At the empire’s undisputed zenith under FDR. And though not a card-carrying anything religious or left wing, she grabbed that blessing and stoked and nurtured it, creating her life, her jobs, a single mother raising a daughter in Minnesota and then France, seeing through the cant everywhere and using her only weapon, the pen, to expose it.

It is a frightening, unremittingly gruesome, Dantesque journey, but Johnstone’s steady moral compass sees us through and is uplifting.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html