Thursday, September 25, 2008

More GKC: Further to "Artists"

The class called People (to which you and I, with no little pride, attach ourselves) has certain casual, yet profound, assumptions, which are called "commonplaces," as that children are charming, or that twilight is sad and sentimental, or that one man fighting three is a fine sight. Now, these feelings are not crude; they are not even simple. The charm of children is very subtle; it is even complex, to the extent of being almost contradictory. It is, at its very plainest, mingled of a regard for hilarity and a regard for helplessness. The sentiment of twilight, in the vulgarest drawing-room song or the coarsest pair of sweethearts, is, so far as it goes, a subtle sentiment. It is strangely balanced between pain and pleasure; it might also be called pleasure tempting pain. The plunge of impatient chivalry by which we all admire a man fighting odds is not at all easy to define separately; it means many things, pity, dramatic surprise, a desire for justice, a delight in experiment and the indeterminate. The ideas of the mob are really very subtle ideas; but the mob does not express them subtly. In fact, it does not express them at all, except on those occasions (now only too rare) when it indulges in insurrection and massacre.

Now, this accounts for the otherwise unreasonable fact of the existence of Poets. Poets are those who share these popular sentiments, but can so express them that they prove themselves the strange and delicate things that they really are. Poets draw out the shy refinement of the rabble. Where the common man covers the queerest emotions by saying, "Rum little kid," Victor Hugo will write "L'art d'être grand-père"; where the stockbroker will only say abruptly, "Evenings closing in now," Mr. Yeats will write "Into the twilight"; where the navvy can only mutter something about pluck and being "precious game," Homer will show you the hero in rags in his own hall defying the princes at their banquet. The Poets carry the popular sentiments to a keener and more splendid pitch; but let it always be remembered that it is the popular sentiments that they are carrying. No man ever wrote any good poetry to show that childhood was shocking, or that twilight was gay and farcical, or that a man was contemptible because he had crossed his single sword with three. The people who maintain this are the Professors, or Prigs.

G.K. Chesterton, "The Three Kinds of Men"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And where will all the half-talents go?

Following up on their breathtakingly astute (not to speak of ground- breakingly original) comparison of Stephen Harper to Hitler, certain Québec artists have gone even further in employing the cutting edge of their craft to protest the government's recent arts-funding cuts.

And, man!, I've gotta say: not since Twisted Sister have we seen such incisive and such withering critique. I mean! Who woulda ever thought of portraying our political masters as a bunch of aging, theocratic, patriarchal stuffed shirts?!

Truly--and if I may borrow the phrase from Mr. Layton--without talents such as these, who will give us "access to our own stories as a country"?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Social Justice 12

Achtung! Achtung!

VANCOUVER - Abbotsford, B.C., high schools have been prevented from teaching the controversial new Social Justice 12 course because the local school board wants to review its content.

The elective course, which deals with issues ranging from homophobia to animal rights, has caused controversy among religious groups that worry it's too malleable to the individual beliefs of teachers.


The school rushed to take out parts of the course and expand on others, creating a new course called Global Studies and Active Citizenship, [Social Studies department head, Leanne] Abrey said. She said the course no longer contains sections on homosexuality and gay and lesbian rights.

Abrey said she's been saddened and frustrated by the board's intervention.

"I kind of questioned why a ministry-approved course would need to have board approval," she said. "It sort of defeats the purpose of a social justice course when it can't be offered."

Sure. But it sort of defeats the purpose of social justice when certain agenda (particularly "ministry-approved" ones) are accepted without question. Right?

And in the case of this particular course, the Abbotsford Board of Education has every conceivable reason to keep it out of their classrooms. Malleability of individual teachers' beliefs be damned, this is propaganda of the most conspicuously and inflexibly anti-intellectual sort.

Consider this from the draft of the course's proposed "achievement indicators":
Demonstrate an understanding of the need to undertake informed action while at the same time not necessarily waiting until having "all the information."
Oddly (though hardly surprisingly), this particular phrase was amended to an almost opposite meaning ("demonstrate an understanding of the need to undertake informed action"), as were a couple of the other more blatantly terrifying of the course's expectations. But see what remains:
... Identify and describe specific practices of solving conflict and promoting social justice, including ... coups [and] revolutions ...

... Identify a range of ways in which social injustice is manifested (e.g. ... reduced self-worth) ...

... Demonstrate an understanding of the role of language in oppression (e.g. non-gender inclusive language, use of euphemism) ...
These among many, many, many others. Truly, it has to be seen to be believed. (Honestly: beginning at page 34. Do!)

The course, however, is not without its supporters. Carol Sirianni, who teaches SJ12 at a high school in Port Coquitlam, claims that it is "absolutely working". Indeed, so absolutely is it working that she reported that her students were "enraged" to hear of the Abbotsford board's controversial reluctance to take their ministerially-mandated medicine ... One assumes this is the rage of tolerance and enlightenment.


ADDENDUM (September 24th)

Jay Currie:
Occasionally I am asked why we home school our boys. Well, frankly, I would prefer they take decisions when they have “all the information” and I would hope that their exposure to lunatics like the people who wrote up this curriculum will consist of meetings in which they say, “Miss Sirianni, you’re fired.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

And while I'm on the subject of columnists ...

Don Martin in today's National Post:

On the day when the Liberals practically begged Mr. Harper to attack them for putting on the ritz with a spending-spree platform topped by a massive $70-billion boost yesterday, a different Ritz stole Mr. Harper's thunder and pushed the gaffe-plagued Conservatives back on the defensive.

OK, bad pun ...
Sorry, but ... There was a pun in there? Somewhere in that morass of mixed metaphors, was it?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of Emetics Past

I should like to remind Lawrence Martin--who concedes today Stéphane Dion's "pusillanimous image" and that he (Dion) "should have been showcasing his star players since the day his campaign kicked off"--I should like to remind him, I say, of a piece he wrote not quite two years ago on the subject of Mr. Dion's rise to the Liberal leadership:
Is there something in the air? Quiet noises? Generational change? A touch, just a hint, of RFK?

At the same time that the Liberal Party was holding its leadership convention in Montreal, the film Bobby appeared. The movie isn't so much about him as about the period, its music, its mood, its character mix, its ferment. It doesn't make the mistake, as some such films do, of trying too hard.

Nor was Bobby Kennedy making that mistake back then, in 1968. After the shock, the despair, the tumult, his seething had stopped. He had taken on an almost mystical quality, drawing strength from whatever destiny awaited him.

It appeared he had done -- to borrow a phrase used by a young Liberal delegate to describe Stéphane Dion -- what few political men are able to do: He had "conquered his own inner territory."

It's a quality, the delegate noted, that sets real leaders apart. Their equanimity allows them, as the convention's kingmaker Gerard Kennedy put it, "to tune out the static" from the political backrooms and "to listen to the quiet noises."


Mr. Dion, a logician, didn't light up the convention hall with his words. It was his spirit, his demeanour, the sense of honour he embodied that the party admired. He was, in his self-effacing nimbus[*], as far removed from darkness as RFK was from Richard Nixon.

Is there something in the air, a new awakening in our political culture as 2006 closes?

Much appeared to change during that weekend in Montreal. The old guard was drowned out by quiet noises. Generational change was on the way. A leader with a trace of the mystical, with the potential to change so much, was born.

Bobby, one can imagine, would have approved.
I lost my lunch reading this two Decembers ago, and nearly did again today rereading it. All things considered, it seems to me only fair that Mr. Martin should now be made to fold his little column between two pieces of pumpernickel and see how long he can keep the lot down.


*Note that in the more recent column, Mr. Dion's "nimbus" remains, but is no longer "self-effacing" (gag!), but is one of "vulnerability". (Hack!)

Furedi on Denial

... Is it ever legitimate to criminalise free speech? There’s little doubt that people who deny or attempt to minimise the significance of the Holocaust are motivated by the basest of motives. They often believe that the wrong side won the Second World War, and they wish to rewrite history in order to legitimise Nazism. They are sometimes obsessively anti-Semitic. There are some very good reasons for taking up cudgels against those who would write concentration camps and gas chambers out of history.

But there are also some very bad reasons for crusading against Holocaust denial. One is the idea that denial offends the sensibility of Jewish survivors. Free speech cannot be free speech if people do not enjoy the right to offend their fellow citizens. The demand that we acknowledge the pain and suffering of any particular group of victims has more to do with moral policing than a desire to affirm historical truths. One critic of Holocaust denial, the author DD Guttenplan, argues that the debate is not about the minutiae of historical detail. ‘To fail to acknowledge the pain felt by Holocaust survivors at the negation of their own experience – or to treat such pain as a particularly Jewish problem which need not trouble anyone else – is to deny our common humanity.’ (26) Perhaps. But turning history into a form of therapy designed to affirm the feelings of victims risks transforming a debate into a method of social engineering.


It is particularly unfortunate that science has been mobilised to assist the policing of free thinking. Sections of the science establishment argue that the debate on global warming is finished, and that those who deny the so-called scientific consensus ought to be ostracised. But science cannot be legitimately used to close down debate. At its best, scientific research can provide us with evidence of important problems – but how society interprets that evidence is subject to controversy and debate, to political, moral and cultural factors. Every culture has something different to say about what is an acceptable level of risk, how much pain people should be expected to put up with, and about what is safe. Claims made about safe sex, child safety and environmental pollution are the product of cultural interpretation, as are the many threats to the world that apparently lie ahead. Science has some very important things to say about these problems that cannot and should not be ignored. But science does not provide the answers as to what a problem means for society, and how we should deal with it. That is why no subject should be treated as a taboo. It is also why science should not be used to end a discussion. In our search for meaning, we are entitled to argue and debate and freely express our views about everything. And in our conformist era, a healthy dose of disbelief is no bad thing ...

Frank Furedi, "Denial" via Alice the Camel

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Here's a staggering bit of equivocation from the National Post's Peter Kuitenbrouwer:
Watching the throngs of students firing up butts as they emerged yesterday from [Bendale Tech], near Lawrence Avenue East, was a bracing experience. It may be that lung cancer will claim a lot more student lives around here than stray (or aimed) bullets.
What a masterpiece of obtuse treacle this article is! Subheaded "Despite incident, Bendale's kids are all right" Mr. Cutesybrouwer seems somehow--inexplicably--to have lost sight of the fact that while the majority of the school's students are indeed "all right," that doesn't in any way mitigate the fact that one of them is presently in hospital with a flipping bullet wound in his chest.

He concludes, mind-bogglingly, thus:
What strikes me is not that sometimes violence mars such schools, but that Bendale offers living proof of the great Toronto experiment: Kids of every race mix together and learn together. Some are learning here to be plumbers, carpenters and auto mechanics.
Please, please, PLEASE tell me that this was Cutesybrouwer's attempt at irony! I mean, never mind the fact that he's just described one of the miraculous products of this multiethnic "experiment" as "wearing a Playboy bunny necklace and a Playboy bunny sequined on her backpack" (and with a mouth foul enough, apparently, to make a real hooker blush), if this isn't irony then the man has just made it his position that the odd murder attempt by one teenager against another is a small price to pay for multiculturalism.

Oh, but! I see that he thinks the students of Bendale deserve "our protection--and our respect." Well, OK then. That makes everything better.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Movement

From typically modest (immodest) conversational beginnings, this week's episode finds EMG guiding EMG through his assessment of the merits (demerits) of Generation Dickass. (Click the image, press play)

(Incidentals: 1. There are a couple of shits here, but they are employed to describe the thing itself. 2. A copy of the song in full can be found here.)

Run time is just over 8 minutes. Perfect for a relaxing smoke.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

If it ain't broke, fix it

As predicted, no sooner has it been determined that Ontario's Catholic school boards are disproportionately outperforming the province's public school boards, than the call goes out to "correct [the] injustice" of a separate Roman Catholic school system.
Separate Roman Catholic schools exist in Ontario because Catholic Quebec legislators insisted on them as a condition for the legislators' cooperation, first in the Union Parliament before Confederation, and then for Quebec joining Canada. But times have changed. Quebec no longer supports public religious schools, and Ontario now contains many adherents of non-Christian religions. Ontario is now among the world's most diverse, secular societies and yet the Ontario government is still being held hostage to 1867 arrangements.
The authors go on to reveal that the hostage takers aren't so much these antiquated "arrangements" of 1867, as they are the 40% of the population that continue to support a separate Catholic system. (That's roughly five million people.)

It continues:
One of Ontario's publicly funded school systems serves students and parents of all creeds and cultures in an atmosphere that focuses on our community as citizens of Canada. The other, the Roman Catholic separate school system, sorts and segregates on the basis of parents' religion and uses public dollars to hire a select group of employees to inculcate the beliefs of that religion into a select group of students.
This is beautiful! This notion that Ontario's public schools "serve students and parents of all creeds and cultures" etc. Speaking as someone who has taught in a handful of these schools, the only thing they're serving is a tepid mush of sentiment, superficiality and mediocrity. (Save for the odd ripe portion of left-liberal, anti-West, anti-Christian propaganda, that is.) And this insinuation that the RC system actively "sorts and segregates," then "inculcates" its vile doctrine into its "select group" of little shock troops, as though tens of thousands of Roman Catholic parents didn't choose freely not to send their children to Catholic school? Priceless!

But this is the kicker (my emphasis):
In a world where religious tensions seem to be growing, stressing what unites our next generation of citizens is of paramount importance. There would be no better way to accomplish that than establishing a single, secular, publicly funded school system made up of English and French-language school boards.
Ah! Nothing like flushing your point directly down the toilet! Ontario's ever-increasing diversity trumps public funding of Roman Catholic boards, but of course we should still dedicate entire schools to an exclusively French curriculum. Never mind the fact that native French speaking Ontarians comprise not even 5% of the population (that's roughly 550,000 people); nor, obviously, the fact of ongoing language "tensions" that threaten to tear the very fabric of the nation. No! Rather it's this movement for, apparently, a free and independent Roman Catholic state--that's been ever so subtly asserting itself over the last 140 years through the pernicious influence of morning prayer and mustachioed lady faith councillors--that we need to ruthlessly stamp out in the name of acceptance and equality!

(And this line can't be allowed to go without comment:
Defenders of Ontario's Catholic schools claim that they have a divine right to receive public funding because the right is enshrined in the constitution ...
They claim to have a divine right because it is enshrined in the constitution ... I smell a Pulitzer!)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Aside: Doctors and HRCs

I can't resist posting the following letter to the editor--written by Dr. Tim Lau of Ottawa--which appeared in today's National Post.

It is in reply to another letter to the editor that appeared in the weekend paper, penned by one Barbara Hall (which I have included below, for posterity's sake), which was itself in reply to a column by Lorne Gunter--in which he (Gunter) dealt with the recent and scandalous encroachment by the OHRC upon the consciences of Ontario doctors.
The letter from Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, should have been titled: "Doctors mustn't discriminate unjustly."

Doctors, like all people, need to discriminate. Morally, as physicians, we should always try to make decisions that are for the good of our patients. Ms. Hall's judgment that "patients should not have to shop around for medical treatment they were denied for non-clinical discriminatory reasons" implies that physicians make non-clinical decisions.

Consider that, in Canada, there remains no legal limitation on the practice of abortion, even to the 40th week, for an otherwise healthy baby. There is a practice of sex-selective abortions among some cultural groups. If a patient demands an abortion because she doesn't want a girl and doesn't want to "shop around" for a "medically accepted" and publicly funded treatment, does a physician refusing to refer or perform an abortion do so on the basis of a moral or non-clinical discriminatory reason? Who decides what a non-clinical reason is?

Commissions like Ms. Hall's seem to think that clinical decisions are somehow not moral decisions. Their members seem to forget that during the Nuremberg trials, physicians were held accountable for following legal directives, not their morals.

We now have a new publicly funded, politically correct inquisition coming to remove the rights of a doctor near you.

It's interesting to note that, in this model, even Henry Morgentaler--who is himself ethically opposed to late term abortions--becomes fair game to the charge of discrimination as defined by the OHRC. But I digress--

The refreshingly philosophical point here about "clinical decisions" also being "moral decisions" is, it seems to me, centrally important to this issue. And it is, needless to say, very sophisticated stuff requiring the very sophisticated attention of very sophisticated minds ... Yet, somehow, it is to Barbara Hall--who proves time and again her utter incapacity to think beyond the level of 'the shrillest woe wins the caring contest'--that we defer.

(Her letter follows.)

The Ontario Human Rights Commission's role is to speak out on issues that can lead to discrimination. We know from complaints and media accounts that some individuals are being denied public health services because of their race, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation and other grounds under Ontario's Human Rights Code. That's why we are pleased the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has drafted an anti-discrimination policy for its members.

I agree with Dr. Susan Piccinin's examples in her letter to the editor on how she handles delicate situations. Like other professionals, doctors are entitled to make decisions about the services they offer based on their clinical competence. And, doctors, like patients, are also entitled to accommodation of their religious beliefs as much as possible. In some situations, like a medical clinic, it might be appropriate to refer a patient on to another professional who will help them. But patients should not have to shop around for medical treatment they were denied for non-clinical discriminatory reasons.

Did I hear that right?

A hearing impairment Liberal leader Stephane Dion recently blamed for his difficulty speaking English perfectly could be attributed to sensory neural hearing loss, which can limit the quality of sounds to the point that they are no longer comprehensible, audiologists said yesterday.


Hearing experts contacted yesterday said they could not be certain without viewing an audiogram, a "vision test for the ears," but surmised that Mr. Dion could be suffering from a sensory neural hearing loss, which often leads to trouble hearing in crowds.
I'm not quite certain that I get this. Monsieur Dion is suggesting that the reason his spoken English is so poor all the time, is because he has trouble making out what people are saying at cocktail parties? Wouldn't the more likely manifestation of this specific impairment be a preponderance of clear and articulate non sequiturs when he is answering questions in a crowd? Rather than what we've got: just sheer, incomprehensible gobbledygook?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

GKC on Sentimentalists

The Sentimentalist, roughly speaking, is the man who wants to eat his cake and have it. He has no sense of honour about ideas; he will not see that one must pay for an idea as for anything else. He will not see that any worthy idea, like any honest woman, can only be won on its own terms, and with its logical chain of loyalty. One idea attracts him; another idea really inspires him; a third idea flatters him; a fourth idea pays him. He will have them all at once in one wild intellectual harem, no matter how much they quarrel and contradict each other. The Sentimentalist is a philosophic profligate, who tries to capture every mental beauty without reference to its rival beauties; who will not even be off with the old love before he is on with the new. Thus if a man were to say, "I love this woman, but I may some day find my affinity in some other woman," he would be a Sentimentalist. He would be saying, "I will eat my wedding-cake and keep it." Or if a man should say, "I am a Republican, believing in the equality of citizens; but when the Government has given me my peerage I can do infinite good as a kind landlord and a wise legislator"; then that man would be a Sentimentalist. He would be trying to keep at the same time the classic austerity of equality and also the vulgar excitement of an aristocrat. Or if a man should say, "I am in favour of religious equality; but I must preserve the Protestant Succession," he would be a Sentimentalist of a grosser and more improbable kind.

This is the essence of the Sentimentalist: that he seeks to enjoy every idea without its sequence, and every pleasure without its consequence.

G.K. Chesterton, "The Sentimentalist"

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

And McDonald's shall have no dominion

It's a movement that I have a certain (rigourously qualified) appreciation for, so it was with great disappointment that I read this silly book review:
After reading Michael Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, I’ve realized that Edmund Burke should be considered the intellectual father of the organic and locally-grown food movements as well.


... Pollan notes the dangers of rapid change, though here the warning applies to diets rather than, as it did for [Edmund] Burke, to forms of government. He reminds us that the Western diet of processed sugar and carbohydrates (coupled with a lack of plant-eating) is a relatively new phenomenon. No humans in history have ever eaten the way that we do. And it shows. The spikes in obesity and diabetes--particularly in children--are evidence that humans simply aren’t designed to eat this way.

Pollan’s forceful conclusion is that our current way of eating is killing us ... Who knew? — Edmund Burke, patron saint of hippie organic food.

(That noise you hear is the clatter of bones turning deep in a Beaconsfield cemetery.)

I don't know. It seems to me that someone like Edmund Burke might be a little more likely to take into account a roughly twenty year rise in average life expectancy since George III's reign; particularly its continued and steady increase through the advent of such horrible things as processed sugar and carbohydrates. Indeed, it seems to me that someone of his acumen might be relied upon to observe, too, that any determination of good health must be judged as much by frequency of physical exercise as by quality of diet. Not factoring in so relevant a detail as a precipitous general decline in respect of this (given that it coincides far more closely with increased rates of obesity and diabetes than eating habits do) is to attribute to this counterfactual Burke a degree of ignorance (or underhandedness) that his 18th century self would have loathed.

But I suppose he would've enjoyed the "forceful conclusion" that "our current way of eating is killing us." The idea that many-faced and inevitable death is neither many-faced nor, apparently, inevitable. That it just has the one face, and that the New Jerusalem of the "hippie organic" movement will be characterized (in addition to its gruesome and ever-exploding overpopulation) by a complete absence of fast food joints.

Obiter Dictum

To reward myself for a briskly paced 3 mile walk earlier this evening, I had for supper two cheeseburgers, a Big Mac, large fries, and washed it all down with two very tall gins and tonic. I shall be moving on to the Bourbon soon enough, but first have to roll myself another cigarette.

Mes amis, si j'avance, suivez-moi! Si je recule, tuez-moi! Si je meurs, vengez-moi!