Thursday, July 24, 2008

Intermission - The Historian as Man

Kipling on a particular failure of the Roman conquest

... And peace was imposed all over Southern Britain; and the legions came to be stationed only on the frontier, and hardly ever moved. No doubt at first these legions were recruited from all the regions over which Rome ruled, and she ruled from Euphrates to Tyne, from Rhine to Africa. Soon, however, they must have been recruited in Britain itself and from Britons. Celtic mothers bore British sons to Roman fathers, and crooned Celtic songs over the cradles of babies who would one day carry the Roman flag. The beautiful Latin tongue, which the Romans had brought with them, was enriched with many Celtic words.

It was, however, a misfortune for Britain that Rome never conquered the whole island. The great warrior Agricola did, between A.D. 79 and 85, penetrate far into Scotland; but he could leave no traces of civilization behind him, and Ireland he never touched at all. So Ireland never went to school, and has been a spoilt child ever since ...

Rudyard Kipling, Kipling's Pocket History of England

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oh, What A Straight Shooter!

I tell you, that John Moore sure taught us a thing or two! What with his daring refusal to debase himself by seriously considering a serious matter.

Here's all the rest of us suckers looking nervously into our drinks--praying that somebody might relieve the abortionist-induced tension of an otherwise inoffensive little party--and in walks Jack, shirtless and with a lampshade on his head, bellowing, "I'll say it even if nobody else will! I'd be willing to give the man a hummer if I thought it was gonna get me an OC!"

But June Callwood, Pierre Burton, Peter Gzowski? These are the great luminaries with which he hopes to be associated? Fuck me, that's depressing.

Friday, July 11, 2008


A little advice: when accusing someone of dogmatism, it is not sufficient for the purposes of your argument to simply state that that person is being dogmatic when they assert "x" "y" and "z". Why? Because, in the absence of an explanation of how assertions "x" "y" and "z" are dogmatic, a judgement of dogmatism becomes, itself, dogmatic. That is, the judgement is "based on a priori assumptions rather than empirical evidence."


Well, not if you believe that dogma is an exclusively Catholic/Christian commodity, apparently:
As for the Catholic Church, it soldiers on against the right to abortion, contraception and sex education. It asked the governor-general to deny Morgentaler his award. In the National Post, Father Raymond J. De Souza, whose views mirror those of the Vatican, went after Raymond Gravel, a Catholic priest and federal Bloc MP [here]. In Le Devoir, Gravel had expressed a more balanced and empathetic view [here] of the issue compared with that of the Vatican.

De Souza's reply displayed the kind of dogmatic and nasty attitude against women's equality rights, including the right to abortion, which has turned so many Catholics into non-practising ones. Bemoaning how complicated it would be to have Gravel expelled from the priesthood or the church itself, De Souza called Gravel a "crackpot," a "thoroughly disingenuous man," a "reliable source of anti-Catholic dissent," a "poseur," a man of "scandalous behaviour" who "betrays both his faith and his office."

So the Morgentaler controversy serves as one more reminder of how impervious most major organized religions remain to women's rights ,within their own organizations and the larger society.
Wow! Talk about dogma! There is but one line of the above that doesn't betray either (a) the author's complete ignorance of the abortion issue (not to mention Catholicism), or (b) her glaringly unreasonable unwillingness to acknowledge the rational--that is to say, the non-religious--substance of the anti-abortion argument. So convinced is she of her belief that a human being is not a human being until it has left the womb, that no other opinion deserves even the dignity of accurate representation, let alone fair hearing.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for Ms. Legault's right to believe this, and to make known her belief--even if she goes so far as to misrepresent those of others. What bothers me, I say, is the intellectual dishonesty of her using one form of infallible dogma to dismiss another. (What bothers me even more is the uncanny feeling I have that hers isn't so much intellectual dishonesty as it is intellectual deficiency, i.e. that even she doesn't recognize the glaring double-standard at work in her piece. But this is just a conjecture--a belief for which I have no solid proof--so I won't press it.)

I mean, yes, Josée, we get it: as far as you're concerned, the issue isn't so much about abortion as it is about "women's rights". But you do recognize that abortion's opponents have addressed this? That they quite accept the idea of equality rights, just not to the extent that those rights be allowed to infringe upon those of others (in this case, the unborn). This because they can no longer be called equality rights when they necessitate that some human beings be treated unequally.

So what say you to that? That the unborn aren't human beings? OK. Interesting. And on whose authority are we meant to accept that assertion? Some people's? Erm ... Oh: the people who aren't religious nuts, you mean. OK. And what's your criteria for a religious nut, again? Somebody who is against abortion? Gotcha.

In short, Ms. Legault has commited the mistake of assuming that where the religious have no demonstrable claim on truth, it then follows that the non-religious do. This, I believe, is called affirming the consequent--an argument no less flawed, unfortunately, than is the appeal to (divine) authority.

But what is perhaps most remarkable about Ms. Legault's piece is how she seems to infer from a 65% nationwide approval of Dr. Morgentaler's nomination to the Order of Canada, a 65% rate of approval of Canada's current non-existent abortion law. (Which, needless to say, is to simplify things on a very grand scale.) Indeed, she goes even further and suggests that the 35% of Canadians who oppose Morgentaler's nomination to the Order--whom she describes as "religiously fervent and ultra-conservative "--constitutes an insignificant number.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

OHRC On a Roll

You know, I'm getting the impression that--far from thinking them public relations catastrophes, as would anyone with a braincell--Babs Hall sees her various recent bollocksings-up of the sane order of things as, somehow, publicity coups. All eyes are upon us--her reasoning seems to run (to Thunder and Blazes, obviously)--let's not disappoint them!

To ask whether this is deeply stupid of her, or whether it is deeply sinister, is a vexed question. It is deeply (I might venture to add: deeply!) stupid ... But while sinisterness may not have succeeded in being the cause here, it still manages to be the effect.

... I am alluding of course to this:
A new report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission makes a case for considering housing as not only a need but also a right, guaranteed by international agreements that Canada has signed.
A good examination of the implications of this absurd interpretation of rights can be found here, (via BCF). And be sure to keep your eye on the distinction between making the Canadian public as a whole accountable for the homeless, and singling out only landlords to bear that burden.

But I just love this:
The commission conducted interviews with tenants across the province and found a variety of reasons for discrimination in rental housing, including race, poverty and mental illness.
Speaking as a person who believes that the poor and mentally ill deserve much from those who fare better, it still seems to me that it is reasonable for a person who earns his livelihood by renting out his property to show preference to those who are most likely able to pay their rent. This is discriminatory to the extent that all good business practice is discriminatory. You may as well pillory Loblaws for not handing out sandwiches to anyone who asks.

But race?! Somebody claims that they didn't get an apartment for as scandalous a reason as racial prejudice, and we're expected to buy it? Just like that?! Were the accused consulted for their side of the story, I wonder? Something tells me they weren't.

Show me the landlord who would actually admit to a prospective tenant--under any circumstances--that he refused them based on their race, and I'll show you a man stupid enough to believe that he is responsible for homelessness.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Lord Tweedsmuir On the Potential that Was

... But if Canada has the vigour of youth, she has also the balance and the just perspective of maturity. She is an integrated nation, united long ago by her own act, and with her unity riveted and compacted by partnership in the enterprises of peace and the sacrifices of war. And from Britain and France she draws the same tradition--that great Mediterranean tradition of Greece and Rome, which I believe to be the basis of civilisation. She is no rootless people, deriving a fickle inspiration from transient fashions, but a nation broad-based upon the central culture of mankind. She has her own proud heritage and she is loyal to it, for the first of virtues in a people or an individual is loyalty to what they know and love. That I hope and believe is the prime quality of our Empire and of all its constituent parts.

Canada has completed her pioneering stage, her romantic adolescence. Yes, but she has still pioneering before her as difficult as any in the past, and adventures not less fateful. The world to-day is one vast laboratory of new experiments. Every problem is changing and requires a fresh analysis. The quality of a nation will be tested by its power of facing novel situations with clear eyes and steady nerves. The peril--and, make no mistake, there is a very real peril--the peril for the world lies in a light-headedness which is content to be flippant and cynical and destructive, and a timidity which makes men forget their manhood and rush in panic to any shelter.

The courage to construct, the insistence that every man shall be able to stand on his own feet and be the master of his soul--these things mean the defence of true democracy. For it is democracy, the very essence of our political faith, that is at issue. The modern State is such a complex affair that there are many people who have come to believe that it cannot be administered on the old line of personal freedom. They say that freedom is inconsistent with efficiency. We have seen proud nations lose heart and surrender themselves to a dictator. It is for us to show a better way, to prove to the world that civilisation has twin foundations, and that, if one of them is law, the other is liberty.

I have said that the task before Canada to-day is more fateful and more vital than that struggle by which she first came into being. Then she was fighting for her bare existence. Now she is assisting to preserve our hard-won civilisation. She has to win back prosperity for herself, and in so doing she has to help to stabilise the world. For I firmly believe that the task of restoring a slightly lunatic world to sanity, of safeguarding the bulwarks of liberty and civilisation, must fall mainly upon the British peoples. It is a task which might well fire any patriotic spirit--to be a trustee and defender of profound truths which the foolish have forgotten.

In this task she is not alone, but moving and working within the great framework of the Empire. That Empire to-day, as we all know, is an executive partnership which involves the pooling of interests and ideas and the linking together of energies. Its prestige has never been higher. The words which Burke used 150 years ago are even truer to-day: "We are set on a conspicuous stage and all the world marks our demeanour." First of all we present an example of disciplined freedom, ordered liberty. In the second place we present an example of nations holding fast to their old traditions, but facing the future with clear and candid eyes--at once rational revolutionaries and rational conservatives. And lastly we are living proof that peoples can dwell together in unity and peace, for have we not made in the Empire a league of nations of our own, and insured that over a great part of the earth's surface there can never be war? ...

Lord Tweedsmuir, "Ave" Canadian Occasions

Canadian Cake

One begins to understand why pro-lifers consider it a necessary tactic to force upon the public eyeball graphic images of aborted fetuses ...
Canada is full of quirky, non-establishment types who buck the system, force change and in the end are interesting sorts who deserve recognition.
This is from Barbara Yaffe's most recent column; and, yes, she is talking about Henry Morgentaler.

Actually, I'm grateful to her for her wickedly childish analysis, as it at least confirms my suspicions about why--to a certain Canadian sensibility--Morgentaler's nomination to the Order of Canada is considered so great. It is not just that it upsets social conservatives, and it is not just that it politicizes an apolitical Canadian institution. These two things are, of course, eminently desirable to the progressively inclined, but they also carry a weight of seriousness--of an imperative need to work towards resolution--that even the progressive cannot deny, nor ultimately does he particularly want. Rather, what carries the Morgentaler case above and beyond all its (short-term) boons is its capacity to serve as a formal declaration to the world of what so many Canadians are convinced is their unique virtue: that they're totally cool with controversy!

Morgentaler, a murderer? Yeah, sure, I guess you could look at it that way. Let's rap about it over a beavertail!

Now, that's not to say that if I were to put it to Ms. Yaffe that Dr. Morgentaler is, in fact, a murderer, that she wouldn't then apoplectically counter that I must be a misogynist. (But that's neither here nor there as, apparently, I don't figure into what Ms. Yaffe conceives of as a Canadian, as per this breezy given:
Canadians have accepted the legalization of same-sex marriage on a similar basis [to abortion], with reluctance but recognizing that it reflects a pragmatic reality.
Wow! There's a fascinating spin! As though C-38 were put to a referendum, and as though every single Canadian ticked a third option: You accept the bill, with reluctance, recognizing that it reflects a pragmatic reality!)

As is typical of any adolescent, Barbara Yaffe's "Canadian" is as uncomfortable as anyone else in the midst of the unpleasantness brought about by controversy; but he (Yaffe's Canadian) still desperately craves a free and easy association with it. That it be generally recognized that to this hardened, worldly-wise Canuck, even abortion is no biggy; that he can handle it. He is tough, he is mature. He is--and I hope you're listening Mr. US of A--so world class as to be world beating!

(Not even Colby Cosh is above this sort of pimply pining after national puberty; comparing Morgentaler to--you've probably already guessed it--Nelson bloody Mandela! ... And I heard that Canada smokes too; and that it lost its virginity!)

"Tolerance," Ms. Yaffe piously asserts, "is what this particular award choice is about and what Canada is widely recognized for."

But wait! No it isn't! She's not even close, as a matter of fact. (I mean, for God's sake, it can't all be about flipping tolerance!) The Order of Canada "recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation." Now I have no doubt that "tolerance" can be made to work towards these ends--no doubt many recipients were very tolerant of things like financial success, yes-men, public accolades, and breathable air--but it is not the be-all and end-all of the award. Nor, indeed, can it be! (I mean, every day of my life I have tolerated the inadequacy of toilet paper to do an efficient job of cleaning my ass! Do I get the Order of Canada, Babs?)

But let's imagine for a second that the Order of Canada is all about tolerance. So what is it, exactly, that Henry Morgentaler has been so exemplarily tolerant of? Honestly: what?! Profits, was it? Alternative forms of birth control? The contempt of people who didn't so much disagree with what he was doing as consider it to be purest evil?

By all means give the man an award for his indomitability, for his lunatic zeal--and I'm not knocking lunatic zeal--but tolerance?! Give me a flipping break!

Of course, the "tolerance" which Ms. Yaffe is speaking of is not so much Dr. Morgentaler's as it is her own. Of the said Morgentaler. Again, as is typical of the adolescent, Ms. Yaffe isn't half as impressed with the accomplishments of others as she is with her own opinions of them and how mature they make her sound. And for this she believes that her proxy should be awarded the Order of Canada.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Me, Mom, and Morgentaler

Order of Canada expert, Christopher McCreery, says of Henry Morgentaler (my emphasis):

"I didn't think they would ever appoint him, and I have spent 15 years studying this. In Canada, I can't think of anything more polarizing [than abortion].

"Sometimes I thought the advisory councils of previous years were waiting for him just to die so they didn't have to deal with the issue."

... But surely that would have been the most fitting way to honour the man and his work?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Margaret Somerville Puts It In a Nutshell

... Political correctness excludes politically incorrect values from the "all values are equal" stable. It shuts down non-politically correct people’s freedom of speech. Anyone who challenges the politically correct stance is, thereby, labelled as intolerant, a bigot or hatemonger. The substance of arguments is not addressed; rather people labelled as politically incorrect are attacked as being intolerant and hateful simply for making those arguments.

It is important to understand the strategy employed: speaking against abortion or same-sex marriage is not characterised as speech; rather, it is characterised as a sexist act or a discriminatory act against homosexuals, respectively, and, therefore, as, in itself, a breach of human rights or even a hate crime. Consequently, it is argued that protections of freedom of speech do not apply.

Another part of the same strategy is to reduce discourse to two possible positions. One must be either pro-choice on abortion and for respect for women and their rights, or pro-life and against respect for women and their rights. The possibility of being pro-women and their rights and pro-life is eliminated. The same approach is taken to same-sex marriage: One is against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and for same-sex marriage, or against same-sex marriage and for such discrimination. The option of being against such discrimination and against same-sex marriage, as I am, is eliminated. That is not accidental; it is central to the strategy that has been successful in Canada that resulted in having same-sex marriage legalised and maintaining the complete void with respect to having any law governing abortion.

In short, political correctness is being used as a form of fundamentalism, and fundamentalisms, especially "warring" fundamentalisms as manifested in the battles between religious fundamentalists and neo-atheist fundamentalists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, are a grave danger to democracy. They vastly widen the divides between us, creating an unbridgeable "us" and "them" when what we need is a "we" ...

Margaret Somerville, "Correctly Squelched" (via FMS)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Another fantastically brutal offering from the Toronto Star!

(Where, I ask you, do they find these people?)

Rochelle Burns--whose CV couldn't be more perfect (a teacher! a "social" historian! a citizenship judge!)--presents us with a paean to Canada so exquisitely maudlin and obtuse that it will leave you gasping. (Though, I'll admit, there is one worse.)

Playing on her bizarrely misbegotten refrain, that "Canadians see the other side of the point" (did she perhaps mean "the other side of the story" or "the other side of the coin"?), Ms. Burns spends 900 or so words of ham-fisted, semi-literate nonsense trying to prove that, ahem, "all is deafened by the understatedness of Canadians."

I encourage you to read the thing in its entirety, but here are a few of the riper bits:

Outsiders say, "You Canadians are so polite." Watch it. That can be a euphemism for, "You're rather naïve." Let me set the record straight. We are polite; we are compassionate. Being polite and compassionate are not synonyms for naïveté but for open-mindedness.

Canadians see the other side of the point.


Travelling abroad makes Canadians want to come back and kiss the ground of their country, no matter how much fun the journey was. If you ask Canadians why, they often go blank. They know, yet cannot quite put it into words. It is another form of our understatedness.

Those from other countries, however, have no trouble articulating Canada's merits. Actor Jane Fonda once said, "When I'm in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like."


When you are 60 years old, you can appreciate that the symbol of the Order of Canada is a snowflake, illustrating that all recipients are like snowflakes, all unique. And polite and definitely able to see the other side of the point.

I wonder why we are like this. We are a country of immigrants. We always have been. We come from all over bringing with us all of the planet's faiths, outlooks and styles of living. I have a theory that the overwhelming majority attracted to live in Canada already had in them the gift of seeing the other side of the point. We attract who we are.

That is why Canadians are not tolerant; Canadians are accepting.

The word 'tolerant' is pejorative. It means people put up with those they deem to be different from them. This is an insult. This is not what being Canadian is.

Canadians have a great sense of accepting others. We walk down the street and feel it is normal to hear a world full of accents and languages.

Being accepting means it's okay for someone else not to belong to your group.

Being accepting means you know groups to which you do not belong accept you.

Being accepting means you see the other side of the point.


I remember when I began to teach in Toronto's inner city in the 1970s. A dental hygienist from the Caribbean worked in my school. I loved chatting with her because she was so honest and caring. One day she invited me to her home along with her multitude of friends. Everyone but me was from the Caribbean. I was the outsider.

Yet I felt totally at home. They understood the difference between "tolerate" and "accept." They saw the other side of the point.

And so did the "universal man" at one of the ceremonies over which I presided as a citizenship judge. I nicknamed him that because his skin was a mixture of worldwide hues. His physiognomy also displayed a universality. Eighty new citizens from 37 places around the world sang "O Canada" at the end of the ceremony. As the words emanated from his mouth, the tears poured from his eyes. He was looking upward, perhaps toward God or a departed loved one.


Just to write about such remembrances makes me feel Canadian. But I have not given a specific definition of what it is to be Canadian that would fit neatly into the Oxford dictionary of the soul. I haven't because I can't.
Ah, yes! The old "Oxford dictionary of the soul." That's Bliss Carman, isn't it? ... But I don't think Ms. Burns has scrutinized her copy soulfully enough. If she had, I'm fairly certain that she would have found the following definitions:

A n. A native or inhabitant of Toronto.
B adj. Squeaky-clean.
Mine adds:
C adj. Squeaky-toy stupid.