Monday, June 30, 2008

Signs of the Apocalypse

A hodgepodge of horror for you today. It's handy that most of these speak so well for themselves as they're so depressing that I don't think I have the energy to comment.

1) A formal complaint has been made to the Swedish Parliament regarding an 8 year old boy who did not invite two of his classmates to a birthday party. (h/t Ghost of a Flea)

2) Under the question "Describe the room you’re sitting in" a British student writing his GCSE English examination wrote the words "Fuck" and "off". The rest of the questions were not answered. For this, the young man received a mark of 7.5%. If he had punctuated the phrase, he would have earned 11%.

The chief examiner, who is responsible for standards in exams taken by 780,000 candidates and for training for 3,000 examiners, told The Times: “It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling.

“It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.”

Mr Buckroyd says that he uses the example to teach examiners the finer points of marking. “It elucidates some useful points – it shows some nominal skills but no relevance to the task.”

It's amusing to note that even if the examiner had taken offense at the obvious wickedness of the examinee, his/her only recourse would have been to committee:
“If a candidate’s script contains, for example, obscenities, examiners are instructed to contact AQA’s offices, which will advise them in accordance with Joint Council for Qualification guidelines. Expletives in a script would either be disregarded, or sanctioned.”
3) The Conference Board of Canada has released a study measuring our nation's socio-economic performance as compared with that of 17 other first worlders. We placed 11th overall, demonstrating considerable decline from our 3rd place ranking of the 70s.

We are, however, meant to take heart from this (my emphasis):
Canada is rated No. 2 in education and skills, behind Finland. Canada earns top marks for high-school and college completion rates, but still "four in 10 Canadian workers lack the basic literacy skills to cope with the demands of work in the modern economy" ...
The Conference Board itself is a little more forthright:
Canada’s adult literacy rate is worse than it was a decade ago: Seven million working-age Canadian adults—about four in ten—do not have the literacy skills necessary to function in the workplace. Canada’s economic boom in the last 10 years has so far protected many of these people.
4) Never mind the fact that marijuana smoke is considered to be much more toxic than the kind produced by tobacco, Amsterdam's impending anti-smoking legislation will require that anyone who insists on cutting their weed with tobacco will have to leave the company of their fellow pot-heads to partake in an air-tight, state-mandated smoking room.

5) The Ontario Human Rights Commission has taken to heart the public outcry against its mandate and methods (my emphasis):
Of the 2,300 complaints filed to the Human Rights Commission in 2006 and 2007, seven per cent were rejected before being passed on to the tribunal. The cases that were referred could then take up to five years to resolve, Bentley said.

Now, Ontario residents will bring their concerns directly to the tribunal, bypassing the commission. The Ministry of the Attorney General estimates the new system should complete hearings within one year.


"People who were bringing complaints to the Human Rights Commission realized that the law is pretty complex," he said. "They needed some legal support.

"[Complainants are] going to have the type of legal support that they've never had before."

The legislation also removes a $10,000 cap on awards for "mental anguish" caused by discrimination.

Ray-Ellis says that's important "because if you look at the United States, you can get millions of dollars in damages for human-rights issues.

"They only protect a few things, but they give you big awards. In Canada, we protect a lot of things, but traditionally we have given out small awards."

The law also outlines that individuals can now be compensated for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.

... We are losing!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Épater la Bourgeoisie?


For the reason that the only people who think it in any way important that they should bother shocking the middle- classes are ... the middle-classes!

So it's fitting that the most self- regarding element in our society will spend this weekend shouting "Boo!" at its own belipsticked reflection.

Vive la banalité!


ADDENDUM (June 27th)

It occurs to me that the "Boo!" here is ambiguous. I meant it in the sense of the sound ghosts are reputed to make, rather than that of disapproving sports fans ... Though, in fact, I think it works both ways--as such displays of disapproval are so desirable to the gruesomely self-righteous.

Also: Vive l'ennui! might've been the better motto.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Taking Huxley over Orwell: I have seen the Star Chamber upon your soul!

Initially one is encouraged that so much of the commentariat seems united in its belief that: while we might disagree with our neighbour's opinion, we will defend at all costs his right to say it. Recent examples of this, apparently admirable, ideological whip-round can be found here, here, and here.

What is distressing about the movement, however, is its failure to correct the very habits of mind that paved the way to the abuses that it has decided, now, to condemn.

Observe what is characteristic of each of the above given examples:

Each of the authors rejects the authority of government to censor speech. Each condemns the Human Rights Commissions as illegitimate--as, essentially, kangaroo courts ... But each, also, accepts that the accused in the given cases (i.e. Mark Steyn and Stephen Boissoin) have said something "hateful".

Now, don't get me wrong: this would be just fine ... except that none of these columnists--as per journalistic convention--spends so much as a sentence demonstrating what, exactly, makes the opinions in question hateful! They are united in their easy posturing to the effect that assholes should be allowed to spout nonsense, but they do not so much as dare to doubt that Steyn and Boissoin are assholes and that theirs is nonsense.

What should concern us is not the political toadying at work here, but the trend of journalistic incompetence. (And let there be no doubt that if the latter goes uncorrected then there can be no hope of a genuine victory for free speech or for a free press.)

My point being: that if it is so that Mark Steyn cherry-picked his facts, that he fiddled his numbers, that he left gobs of relevant stuff out, then there might be a case to be made for the characterization of his piece as "hateful" (though I think "mistaken", or if you prefer "completely erroneous", would be the more reasonable judgements, given the impossibility of determining intent). Instead--and for all their mockery of the tribunals' deference to the power of "tone"--an examination of the factual accuracy of Mr. Steyn's MacLeans piece remains to be the last thing anyone in the MSM wants to undertake. They condemn the prosecution of "hate", but are quite happy to perpetuate the smear--indeed, the slander--of "hate".

Ultimately, the effect upon free speech is the same. Indeed, it seems to me that it is a great deal worse. For while the HRCs only flout the conventions of law, the mentality exhibited in the columns cited above goes further: it flouts the conventions of inquiry.

Let us be careful that we do not replace our 1984 with a Brave New World.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

15 Ways to Keep Your Friends Entertained at Parties

1. When you arrive a half hour early make sure not to help with the preparations. Neither should you offer to help. Appear annoyed with the host and hostess when their busyness prevents them from hanging on every word of your rambling introductory palaver.

2. Do not bring any wine of your own or for the house; scrutinize the labels offered you by the other guests (when they arrive) and the host. Emit short, sharp guffaws at regular intervals--preferably as you set the given bottle back down on the table--shaking your head without cease. Reluctantly settle on one. Do so with a sigh.

3. It would appear that you have an acquaintance in common with one of the other guests! Hint that this has made you privy to information of a delicate nature pertaining to him. Say, "Oh! so you're X! Yes, Y has mentioned you. A number of times!" When X nervously asserts his hope that "only good things" were the cause of Y's confidences, draw X's attention to the bad/good weather, the prettiness of the neighbourhood, the unsettling situation in the Middle East, etc.

4. You would prefer that the property you've recently purchased be referred to as a flat, not a "condo". Even your real estate agent learned this in fairly short order. Anyone, therefore, of the gathering who insists on calling your flat a "condo" after you have tersely corrected them the once, is to be sneered at openly, or simply ignored.

5. When the food is being served, express a particular interest in only one of the items on offer. Do so in such a way that it becomes clear that your interest is inspired less by the the virtues of the given dish, than by the repulsiveness of all the others. Pick at your food as would a particularly spoiled Siamese cat of childless owners. Be the last to finish, without actually having finished.

6. Appear quietly, though conspicuously, aghast that two of your fellow guests have been encouraged to have their postprandial cigarettes indoors, and at table. Take shallow breaths for the length of time it takes them to complete the abominable act, periodically batting at the air around your head. Suggest that you might need to step outside for a breath of fresh air; make it clear what an absurd notion this is but for a world, apparently, gone topsy-turvy.

7. Complain that the wine being served after dinner is inappropriate. Do not say so directly, of course. Instead, convey a mild, even unserious shock that Port was not the chosen accompaniment to the very rare, very creamy Brie. When the host then semi-seriously offers to open a bottle of Chip Dry for you, do not protest, but do not accept either. Allow the natural awkwardness of the situation to guide him back to the rack.

(REMEMBER: the secret to the most memorable behaviour at parties is making the satisfaction of your vulgar demands the quickest and easiest remedy to the unbelievable uneasiness your every utterance generates.)

8. You overhear that one of the more soft-spoken members of the party has expressed--in confidence to their neighbour--an interest in farming. Make sure to mock this relentlessly and without subtlety. If that same guest happened to mention that she reads a website called the Tiny Farm Blog, be sure to refer to it as the "Iddy-biddy farmer blog or whatever." Turn to the host at the opportune moment and say in hushed but quite audible tones: "Oh God! She's talking about her iddy-biddy farmer blog or whatever again!" With any luck, the host will be taken sufficiently unawares that he will appear complicit in the humiliation.

9. Further to tip #8: assume an air of familiarity with the host that verges on the intimate. Do so in full view of the hostess. Point out to the hostess at some point that she has been slurring her words.

10. If one of your fellow guests, the host, or hostess should appear deeply hurt or insulted by any of your petulant barbs at any point during the evening, remind the gathering that you are not in the habit of consuming alcohol on the scale that they apparently are. If the hour is late, you might consider sulkily waving off any further attempts to fill your glass. Appear disappointed that your resolve in the face of temptation is not being emulated by everyone else.

11. Your hosts and a number of the guests are fond of cats, and the conversation has turned to that subject. This is risible in the extreme, insofar as you neither like nor own any cats. Make sure to point out the error here. This will provide you with an opportunity to resume what you were saying re. the dubiousness of honouring blood-soaked warmongers on a "Remembrance Day". (Incorporate the use of finger quotes.)

12. Contradict yourself often and completely over the course of the evening. Side always with the strongest opinions being expressed--no matter how stupid--so long as they have the approval of a bulk of the most self-assured-seeming guests. Laugh derisively and without mercy at any dissenting opinions, particularly if they have been made by the more nervous members of the gathering.

13. Apropos of nothing, announce that the reason you have been avoiding the company of the few beer drinkers present is that you "don't want to be belched at."

14. It doesn't matter that barely any of the party are familiar with the works of Iris Murdoch! Or that those who are, don't particularly like her! Nor, indeed, does it matter that you never actually met the woman yourself, but that it was your mother who did when she was pregnant with you, and that the event was painfully unremarkable! Iris Murdoch's is a name that should be dropped often, casually, and in connection with yours!

15. The host has produced a selection of single malts, which he has arrayed decorously in the centre of the table. Amongst these, you'll notice a bottle of Dalwhinnie--a whisky so smooth that the joke amongst connoisseurs is that it is meant for ladies. Point this out to everyone as they choose their nightcap. Indeed--now that the host appears to be distancing himself from you for some reason--insinuate with the bare minimum of tact that this is likely some reflection either upon his sexual orientation, or the size of his genitals. Obsess over the bottle as though it were the only one on the table. Should someone insist on taking some in order to relieve the host of the burden of your belittling inferences, snort loudly and begin a quiet conversation with your neighbour, never allowing the smirk to fall from your face.

BONUS TIP. In future, should you run into any of those who attended the party with you, make it clear that the occasion exists in your memory only as an unduly painful event following the evening in question. Suggest that this was likely due to the negligible quality of the cheese.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sophisticate Sniffs at Pherlosophy

John Moore's devastating attack on Intelligent Design:
[Intelligent Design] may be a sublime idea worthy of religious and philosophical contemplation, but it fails to meet the definition of science. It can't be proven and it can't be tested.
The "definition of science," eh? Easy on the abstruse terminology there, egghead! ... But for those of you whose dictionaries don't give a "definition of science" that does much to clarify Professor Moore's intended meaning, I think what he means to say is that: Intelligent Design, because it can neither be proven nor tested, fails to meet the necessary criteria for a scientific theory. Which is quite true. Indeed, in the interests of comprehensiveness, I would add to ID's fatal failings that it is not observable either.

'Thing is, this is precisely the most obvious problem with evolutionary theory.

The title of John's piece is "Science is not philosophy", but if he knew absolutely anything about either of these disciplines he should never have dared to say anything so stupid. Leave alone the fact that philosophy most assuredly is a branch of science; how the hell can one assert the reasonable supremacy of one theory of knowledge over another without recognizing that such a judgement is wholly dependent on that standard of reason? Or did John think that the scientific method came to us as easy-to-read instructions engraved on the backs of those dinosaur bones?

Alas, such is the way with people who believe that philosophy is what you do on weekends at the cottage: staring solitarily at a Muskokan sunset from a wicker lawn-chair, wondering "Why am I here?"

But I wonder if it ever occurred to John that the staunchly backward National Post chose him to write this piece for the reason that he would do such a bad job of it? A priceless irony, this underestimation of Neanderthals.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

He Said Earthquakes, Not Youthquakes!

Much as I'd like to think of myself as a kind of prophet, I can't say that it took much more than a rather unremarkable feat of inference to come up with this two years ago:
[The United Church of Canada] is so nebulous, so diffuse, so insubstantial, as to constitute more of a religious gas. A kind of post-Christian flatus: intangible, but somehow still offensive.


It would be far more in keeping with the miracle of its conversion, then, that the United Church not seek to fill the seats of its own, now defunct, churches, but itself move to its natural place of worship: the rec room of an age-restricted condominium.
The "post-Christian flatus" line was good, yes, but so obvious as to preclude its inclusion amongst the multitude of pithy and insightful lines to be found in this space ... And the suggestion that the next step for the UCC should've been for it to move to "its natural place of worship: the rec room of an age-restricted condominium"--was, you'll concede, not prophesy, but mere prediction based on form.

And, true to that form, the United Church moves ever closer thereto, as the National Post reports today:

"Shouldn't the United Church Just Throw in the Towel?" is the opening event of a four-day Church-sponsored conference that will look at the future of the country's largest Protestant denomination.

'Zazzy title, what? The UCC might've completely abandoned its faith in God, but you gotta give them props for their unflappable devotion to the power of the ironically negative ad campaign. Christ was only a man, but let there be no doubt that the day of the Metrosexual so cometh as a thief in the night.

It's a sad story, though, as it would appear that there is at least one remaining Christian in the Church's hierarchy (sorry: leadership I imagine is the word they'd prefer used):
Rev. [Connie] denBok, who will be on tonight's panel, said the United Church has moved from being a Christ-centred body to become a "government-sponsored social club" in which all classic Christian doctrines are open to question.
My heart bleeds for you, Reverend. Honestly. But please, please, please don't tell me that you're only twigging to this now! In Christian terms, when we're talking about the United Church, we're not talking merely of a dying man, or even a dead man--not a Lazarus; it's a corpse so rotten that even its bones have returned to dust. Behold the words of the Moderator of your General Council:
"I don't remember Jesus requiring anyone to subscribe to a doctrine before he healed them. I don't remember Jesus requiring anybody being saved before he ate with them. In terms of my understanding of Jesus, it was one of radical inclusion of people of many perspectives. And to suggest that one needs to subscribe to a narrow understanding of who God is and who Jesus is seems antithetical to the understanding I have of Jesus revealed in the Gospels."
If Mr. Giuliano doesn't remember what Christ had to say, explicitly and unambiguously, about each and every one of the examples he gives above, then I'm afraid that Mr. Giuliano has never actually read the Gospels. And lest my saying this be dismissed as mere rhetoric, let me--at the risk of boring my reader with so pedantic an untertaking--supply Mr. Giuliano's sieve-like memory with the relevant passages that a ten minute gloss of the King James Version affords:

Re. "I don't remember Jesus requiring anyone to subscribe to a doctrine before he healed them."
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. (Matthew 21:12-14)
Re. "I don't remember Jesus requiring anybody being saved before he ate with them."
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. (Matthew 26:21-24)
Re. "In terms of my understanding of Jesus, it was one of radical inclusion of people of many perspectives."
Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:5-6)
For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)
Re. "And to suggest that one needs to subscribe to a narrow understanding of who God is and who Jesus is seems antithetical to the understanding I have of Jesus revealed in the Gospels."
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23-24)
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:33-37)
To the singular Ms. denBok, then, I say that you have cause both to rejoice and to beware. For it is, of course, the case that God is not dead, and that he is not mocked. But the United Church most assuredly is both of these things. Yours would be an honourable retreat were you to do so. (Or, if you prefer, a spiritual retreat--I know how keen you guys are on that sort of treacle.)

Just don't go to the Anglican Church! It is the UCC minus 5, perhaps 10 years.



The elusive Ambler forwards me this fantastically obtuse piece by United Church anti-Reverend Gretta Vosper, to which he adds a bit of dialogue:
What's saccharine, mommy?

Before my time, and you should probably ask your gramma, but I believe it was something they used before Splenda.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In their stars (and theirs alone) they are above us

Picked up a Globe for the flight back this morning and found this bizarre editorial claim:
Hinduism will continue to thrive long after Mike Myers's The Love Guru has finished its run in movie theatres, rather as Christianity has survived satires on its abuses in comedies such as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Molière's Tartuffe, and as Judaism has survived the portrayals of rabbis in the films of Woody Allen.
Sorry, but ... Twelfth effing Night?!

No doubt cross-dressing and extravagant leg wear are a little less than strictly pious. But a satire of Christian abuses?! ... Guys! It really is best to get a working knowledge of a play--i.e. all the text that comes after the title--before you start running around making claims as hysterical as that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Off to See the In-Laws

I'll be in Nova Scotia until the 17th. Until then, I encourage you to meditate upon this piece of mindless optimism from A.H. Clough:

Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main,

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
If front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

I know which "argument" I'd prefer to "import"

[Khurrum Awan] said that the argument for limitless free speech "is really a far-right Republican argument that is being imported into this country."
Try as I might, I simply cannot get this line out of my head. It encapsulates so perfectly the shameless muddle of ignorance, entitlement, bigotry, and something verging on sedition that drives the sock puppets (and their HRC enablers) to recreate Canada in their own, disturbingly self-interested image.


1) That no one, absolutely no one, is advocating "limitless free speech". There is, always has been, and always will be a very clear line distinguishing controversial opinion from direct incitement to violence and hatred. There's your limit.

2) That freedom of speech most assuredly is not "a far right Republican argument" nor, indeed, is it being "imported into this country." Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment of the American Constitution (not a partisan document that I'm aware of)*; freedom of expression is protected by the Canadian Charter.

3) That Mr. Awan does not scruple to imply that American ideas--simply because they are American, mind you--have no business in Canadian society, on Canadian lips, or even in Canadian heads ... I should've left that door (the one marked Argument from Xenophobia) quite firmly shut if I were him. But seeing as it's now been thrown wide, I think it's safe to ask: what country is Mr. Awan importing his ideas from?

Here's a clue.

... And it's the Americans (Peace Be Upon Them) I'm supposed to be wary of?


*Of course, it is clear that what Mr. Awan means to say is that anything expressing a "far right Republican viewpoint" is, of itself, hate speech.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Police State Creep

Ian Mulgrew fails--rather spectacularly--to get it:

From the start, the tribunal should have agreed that Steyn's Oct. 26, 2006 piece was insulting and wrong-headed. It might even have said it's regrettable that Maclean's gave space to this kind of incendiary sarcasm.

Methinks the man would've been much better advised 1) bothering to spend his 1000 words substantiating the claim that the cited piece was "insulting and wrong-headed"--particularly the latter as the former is not only subjective, it is irrelevant; and 2) explaining what the hell "incendiary sarcasm" is, or could ever hope to be (outside of the confines of the Academy of Lagado).

With friends like Mr. Mulgrew, who needs brainless invertebrates?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Roger Scruton on Léon Krier ...

... on the monumental errors of modernism and the rebirth of the polypolis:
Krier has pursued a career in architecture, but he is also a philosopher and social thinker who believes that architectural modernism is not just ugly but also based in profound mistakes about the nature of human society. As he put it in a recent interview: “Humanity lives by trial and error, sometimes committing errors of a monumental scale. Architectural and urbanist modernism belong—like communism—to a class of errors from which there is little or nothing to learn or gain. . . . Modernism’s fundamental error, however, is to propose itself as a universal (i.e., unavoidable and necessary) phenomenon, legitimately replacing and excluding traditional solutions.” What we need, therefore, is a repertoire of real solutions to the problems of urban design. And that is what Krier has set out to produce.


Traditional architecture produced forms expressive of human interests—palaces, houses, factories, churches, temples—and these sit easily under their names. The forms of modern architecture, Krier argues, are nameless—denoting not familiar objects and their uses but “so-called objects,” known best by nicknames, and never by real names of their own. Thus the Berlin Congress Hall is the “pregnant oyster,” Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles the “madhouse,” the new building at Queen’s College, Oxford, the “parking lot,” and the UN building in New York the “radiator.” The nickname, in Krier’s view, is the correct term for a kitsch object—for a faked object that sits in its surroundings like a masked stranger at a family party. Classical forms, by contrast, result from convention and consensus over centuries; they earn their names—house, palace, church, factory—from the natural understanding that they elicit, with nothing about them forced.
And let's not forget that archetypical assault on tradition, the "Crystal" ...
Modernist forms have been imposed upon us by people in the grip of ideology. They derive no human significance from the materials that compose them, from the labor that produced them, or from the function that they fulfill, and their monumental quality is faked.

Krier identifies the leading error of modernism as that introduced by Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: separating load-bearing and outward-facing parts. Once buildings become curtains hung on invisible frames, all of the understood ways of creating and conveying meanings lose out. Even if the curtain is shaped like a classical facade, it is a pretend facade, with only a blank expression. Usually, however, it is a sheet of glass or concrete panels, without intelligible apertures. The building itself is hidden, and its posture as a member of the city, standing among neighbors and resting its weight upon their common ground, is meaningless because unobservable. All relation to neighboring structures, to the street, and to the sky, is lost. The form conveys nothing beyond the starkness of its geometry.


... Moreover, such buildings use no architectural vocabulary, so that one cannot “read” them as one does classical buildings. The passerby experiences this as a kind of rudeness. Modernist buildings exclude dialogue, and the void that they create around themselves is not a public space but a desertification.

This failure to provide a readable vocabulary is not a trivial defect of modernist styles: it is the reason why modernist buildings fail to harmonize with their neighbors. In architecture, as in music, harmony is a relation among independently meaningful parts, an achievement of order from elements that create and respond to valency. There are no chords in modernist architecture, only lines—lines that may come to an end but that achieve no closure.


Krier’s solution is to replace the “downtown plus suburbs” system with that of the polycentric settlement. If people move out, then let it be to new urban centers, with their own public spaces, public buildings, and places of work and leisure: let the new settlements grow, as Poundbury has grown next to Dorchester, not as suburbs but as towns. For then they will recapture the true goal of settlement, which is the human community in a place that is “ours” rather than individual plots scattered over a place that is no one’s. The towns will create a collection of somewheres instead of an ever-expanding nowhere. This solution has a precedent: the city of London grew next to the city of Westminster in friendly competition, and the residential areas of Chelsea, Kensington, Bloomsbury, and Whitechapel arose as autonomous villages rather than as spillovers from the existing centers.


... As Krier puts it: “All buildings, large or small, public or private, have a public face, a facade; they therefore, without exception, have a positive or negative effect on the quality of the public realm, enriching or impoverishing it in a lasting and radical manner. The architecture of the city and public space is a matter of common concern to the same degree as laws and language—they are the foundation of civility and civilisation.”
Roger Scruton, Cities for Living

More information on Léon Krier can be found here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Of the Regression of Theatrical Edge

Ankled round to the Princess of Wales Theatre yesterday to see a performance of Twelve Angry Men. There I found myself overwhelmed by the realization that theatre which was considered edgy in the 1950s--in spite of its having become gruesomely clichéd through the 70s and 80s, dead and decayed by the 90s--has somehow, inexplicably, become edgy again in the aughts of this century.

For, while I found the play tedious in the extreme, not so my gasping, clapping, laughing, all-round agoging fellow audience members. The woman sitting to my right was particularly animated: how hard was her laughter when Juror #11 rebuked Juror #10 so soundly re. his ill-breeding! How violently did she shake her head (and how remorseful was her sigh!) when Juror #10 raved against society's underdogs and the threat they posed him and his brains-are-for-sissies countrymen! How proud was she of her acumen when she observed to her husband--at the point where Juror #3 is revealed to be projecting his own son's failings on the accused--that "He's projecting his own son's failings on the accused!"

Her performance couldn't have been more diverting if she'd been given her own spot-lit section of the stage from which to deliver her observations in Sign. And I'm most grateful to her for it.

But it is fascinating to me that we have managed to resurrect the appeal of a play as hopelessly dated as this one is. No doubt, at the height of McCarthyism, it wasn't entirely risible to suggest that thick people cease being thick when they become Democrats; that blue-collars and capitalists are Freudian clichés desperately in need of sorting-out by some fatuous tick in pants up to his armpits and whose voice, even in middle age, hasn't yet cracked. But the irony seemed somehow to have escaped the otherwise penetrating notice of my fellow audience members that, sans the McCarthy context, those were Twelve Angry Propagandists.*

This was the first production of the play that I've seen where I left the theatre uneasy in the feeling that the accused got away with murder.


*Editor's note: I suggested to Snook that perhaps the renewed interest in TAM has something to do with the current uneasiness over hate crimes tribunals. His reply: "One, no such uneasiness exists amongst anyone I know. Two, "reasonable doubt"--the hammer with which the fictional accused's shackles are broken--is used to establish guilt, not innocence, in the courts you mention."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Inequality Under the Quasi-Law

The Canadian Association of Journalists' panel discussion of Canada's various Human Rights Commissions is well worth the watch, even at an hour and a half. The panelists include Ezra Levant and Keith Martin, and Ian Fine of the CHRC.

Ezra Levant has already outlined the most glaring deficiencies of Ian Fine's argument--insofar as his ever managed to be an argument--so I'll just add that what I found most telling about the proceedings was not Mr. Fine's completely dubious assertion that there "can never be enough laws against hate"; nor indeed was it his utter failure to even attempt to explain the disparity between sections 13(1) and 13(2) of the Human Rights Act; nor, even, was it his hysterically redundant characterization of hate speech as "hateful hatred".

No. Rather, the part that I thought best encapsulated the basic incoherence of the human rights racket--as a racket and not just the subject of an isolated controversy--was Mr. Fine's dithering, by way of reply to Ed Camps of the Alberta Press Council, that: "Of course, it's hard to speak in hypotheticals." He effectively dodged the question on these grounds.

That, I strongly suspect, provided the one and only occasion during the discussion wherein the other two panelists, likely the entire room, were in agreement with Mr. Fine.

The problem is: speaking in hypotheticals--in unsubstantiated likelihoods--is Ian Fine's entire stock and trade! Dealing with hypotheticals, where it has no legitimate authority to do so, and using means that are themselves highly unethical (if not illegal), is precisely the reason why the CHRC is now the subject of two effing inquiries!

Here is the place where one man's excuse is another man's crime; where one man's defence is the other's offence.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Microcosm of Nocosm

... Universities have come to be seen by many a student activist not as a place of inquiry, but as a place where students are to be imbued with the tenets of social responsibility and taught to promote a better world, a place where politics are viewed not as a competition of ideas but as a war of ideologies, and a place to train ideal citizens by inculcating in them a comprehensive worldview.

A competing claim is that because universities should be places of inquiry, students should come away not with a comprehensive understanding of the world, but with developed intellects suitable for critical thought, and thereby for engagement in an advanced democracy. The mission in this case is not to train ideal citizens, but better citizens, and restrictions imposed upon campus debate must be seen as anathema to this conception.

Though the idea of a university as a place for students to learn to engage in a democracy appears to be more palatable than the universalizing mission conceived by those who believe they are promoting a better world when preventing certain groups to operate in student union controlled space, both views are equally misleading, if not outright spurious ...

Carson Jerema, Universities can't save the world.

Also, from University students: ignorant, apathetic dolts?
... But for all the posturing that both student executives and their critics make about the importance of democratic principles, student democracy has never really existed, and if it did it was long ago, perhaps in a galaxy far, far away. Therefore, student democracy can’t fail, if only because it is impossible to erode something that isn’t there ...