29 June 2015

Reflections on a proposed war memorial.

If you ask two Canadians a question, you will likely get three opinions.  I know this to be true, and I know it to be doubly so for myself.  I am generally of five minds on any given topic, so if I am one of the two, you will get a minimum of six opinions, and quite possibly more.  With that in mind, I wish to make a few notes about a proposed monument in honour of the Canadian war dead.

One: I found the first article I read on the proposed monument to be bull.  Or, to be more clear, not so much the article itself, but the comments which follow.  The article itself is written in opposition to the proposed monument, albeit it in an overwritten, melodramatic way.  For instance:  "...it’s offensively tasteless at the aesthetic level. The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists. In a hubristic act of arrogant unoriginality..."  Okay.  Your opinion, fair enough.  But what is odd is, as I said, the comments.  Every single one for the first several pages is in utter unanimous agreement with the editorial.  Odd, isn't it?  The Globe says that the comments express only the opinions of the writers of those comments and not The Globe, and yet every comment is a reiteration of the opinion of The Globe's editors.   Either their readers are utterly unanimous, or the Globe should rework it's editorial comment policy, and state that only comments restating the opinions of  The Globe shall be allowed.

Second:  I read several articles railing against the proposed monument.  Not one linked to the site of those who are seeking to raise it.  They did not want anyone to see any opinion other than their own.

Third, my opinion of the monument itself: mixed.  On the one hand, I support the idea of raising monuments to our war dead.  With that in mind, the questions I have basically boil down to where and what, and possibly when.

Where: The monument is proposed to be on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, on a Headland overlooking the ocean.  It seems like a decent idea, a monument not far from the place where our men sailed out across the ocean, almost a hundred thousand of whom would not return.  However, some have raised the issue that the place chosen is ecologically sensitive, and not a place to put a monument.  I don't know enough to comment one way or the other about that, though I will say that, if true, it is a valid objection and not something to be cast aside lightly.

What:  the monument features the figure of a woman looking over the ocean, holding out her arms to the men who will never return to her.

When: soon.

I'll treat these two points together, as they are somewhat intertwined.  Whilst I favour the building of monuments, I also think that now really isn't the time to do so, as all our public monuments these days are hideous.  Our artists are largely dead, and our self styled artists these days are incompetent, and repetitive.  One of the more common artists found around the city is a fellow who raises steel cubes and tilted rectangular prisms, and nothing else.  I find the idea of a dedication ceremony darkly laughable:  "We are gathered here today to dedicate this...er.. cube in memory of those who gave their lives for our beloved country. The cube symbolizes the fact that these men were, by our standards, a bunch of squares." 

When our original memorials were raised, they employed a language of symbolism: the statue of a soldier standing at ease, looking to the east for his friends who will not return, lions symbolizing the Empire, often in groups, one sleeping, the others watchful, symbolizing the Empire at peace, but still guarding against dangers.  There were many other symbols.  The spoke an artistic language, and believed that form and content should work together.  Today, that language is gone and we are left with artists who make up their own language and end up speaking gibberish.

As a result I was in some ways pleasantly surprised when I saw the proposed monument.    It actually looks like something.  I can recognize what is portrayed and what is symbolizes.   It is based on the grieving mother on the Vimy Ridge memorial.  Some object that this is a copy that demeans both.  I don't think so.  It is similar, true. but also different.  The two can complement each other.  The grieving mother is looking down at her dead sons spread before her, many just names on the wall she is perched on.  This mother is looking out across the seas for the sons she will never see again.  Done well, it can be a powerful symbol.  However, that opinion changed a little when I read the description: the monument is to be over a hundred feet tall.  Suddenly, those who think the monument gaudy seem to have a point.  Ostentation is not something Canadians do well, nor does it sit well with us.

Should we have a monument?  For me, the question is not if, but more of where and what.  I support the building of a monument, but is this the monument that should be built, and should it be built in this place?  For that I have no real answer at this time.  So, I will close with General Currie's special orders to the Canadian Corps prior to the Lys offensive.  It is, in its way, a monument to the men, built in words, if not in stone, and a call to those who remain to remember those brave men.  In its own way, it embodies the quiet dignity that should be the mark of our monuments:

Looking back with pride on the unbroken record of your glorious achievements, asking you to realize that today the fate of the British Empire hangs in the balance, I place my trust in the Canadian Corps, knowing that where Canadians are engaged there can be no giving way.

Under the orders of your devoted officers in the coming battle you will advance or fall where you stand facing the enemy.

To those who fall I say, "You will not die, but step into immortality.  Your mothers will not lament your fate, but will have been proud to have borne such sons.  Your names will be revered for ever and ever by your grateful country, and God will take you unto Himself."

Canadians, in this fateful hour I command you and I trust you to fight as you have ever fought, with all your strength, with all your determination, with all your tranquil courage.  On many a hard-fought field of battle you have overcome this enemy.  With God's help you shall achieve victory once more.

27 June 2015

On the recent SCOTUS decision

I've seen a lot of pixels spilled on this one, claiming how this decision degrades the institution of marriage.  I have said it many times before: it is utterly impossible for homosexuals to degrade marriage.   Heterosexuals wrecked the sanctity of marriage long before the gay community sought the right to do so too.  Only in our weakness are they strong.

26 June 2015

Reflections on my first week on Facebook.

I ended up signing onto Facebook, but only with great reluctance and misgivings.  (The short version of why I signed on is so I can keep in better touch with the Knights. Fearless leader set up a Facebook group for us, and encouraged us all to sign on and communicate with each other.  So far, we haven't.) I've been on there for a week now.  My thoughts on the experience can be divided into two parts.

Firstly, as a human being, I find Facebook appalling.  It is every bit the soulless, thoughtless, time sucking vortex I thought it would be.  It is, on the whole , a good place to kill time for those whose time is better off dead.  Most of what I get in my mailbox is someone reposting an article (and it was rare for them to repost from the original source- each article I got was mainly a repost of a repost of a repost etc etc) with a brief line that amounts to "Yeah! What they said!"  The groups I have been invited to join are similar: people repeating the same thing over and over, adding nothing new, endlessly preaching to the choir, and yet convinced that they are the daring freethinkers, and everyone outside their little bubble is a sheeple. People are just endlessly endorsing the thoughts of another, adding nothing to it and seemingly doing it all the time.  Almost all of it is trivial at best.   To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never before in the field of human communications was so little said by so many so often.

However, as appalling as it is, from my second perspective, that is, as an academic, I find a rather horrid fascination with it. As an outsider looking in, there is something to be studied about this phenomena.  Take, for instance, friends, or, more accurately, 'friends'.

I had only been on Facebook for a while when I was contacted by some of my old friends from years ago, who requested my friendship.  I actually thought about it for a bit.  You see, there was a time, years ago, when I had friends.  Good friends, the best anyone ever had.  We used to go everywhere together, do everything together, this gang of mine.  But then life happened, and my family happened, and the year 2000 happened, and I my friends and I drifted apart, or were wedged apart, take your pick.  For a time I would still run into some of them, speak briefly, catch up a little, and then we would exchange e-mail addresses.  "Write me," they'd say. "We should stay in touch."

So I would write to them, and they usually responded.  Then I would write again- respond to their response- and sometimes they wrote back.  If we got this far and I wrote to them a third time, they would never respond to that.     I imagine what happened was life.  They were out of the habit of communicating with me, I no longer was present enough in their thoughts, so they set aside my letter and decided to respond to it later, and went about the other things they usually did.  And my letter would move further down the inbox, and further from their thoughts, and later became never.  No letters, no phone calls, no Christmas cards.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I no longer had friends, and the idea friendship became a fond memory.  I would carry on without.

That isn't quite the case now, but for a long time it was.  So when these people (one of whom was supposed to be my best man but couldn't come to the wedding because his band was on tour and to whom I had not spoken in about twenty years and who, I understand, has cancer and is undergoing chemo)  - plus a few acquaintances- contacted me and requested my friendship, I wondered what it could mean.  So I clicked the button and decided to wait and see what friendship on facebook means.

I think I've figured it out: it means nothing.  There have been no exchanges between us, nothing.  They just wanted me to click that button.  I was literally the least both they and I could do.  It is deeply narcissistic.  They don't wish to talk to me: they wish to talk in my general direction, and have me say "Right on!"  I is utterly foreign to me, but that is what friendship now means.  I think a sociologist would be fascinated.

I imagine there is much else that would be fascinating.  And it is worthy of study- it is even necessary to study it, and study it now, while we still have control groups who are not on the site and who remember that things were once different, in order to see how this is changing us.  Because we are being changed.  And though Facebook and its ilk do multiply our ability to do good in the world, it also increases our ability to be lazy, thoughtless, shiftless and fruitless.  On the whole, I am not convinced we are changing for the better.

23 June 2015

Senate Scandal

The Canadian government just paid $24 000 000.00 to auditors to spend 18 months going over the accounts of  the senators.  They found slightly more than $1 000 000.00 in inappropriate spending.  John Oliver has the details.

What's the bigger scandal- that they spent the million, or that we spent twenty four times that amount finding out that they spent the million?

At any rate, way to go Canada.  I am oddly proud to live in a country where this would be considered a scandal. Just think about it: how much money needs to be blown in other countries, such as- sorry guys, you're nice and we like you- our neighbours to the south, before it becomes a 'scandal'?

19 June 2015

About the actual Laudato Si

I'm taking my time reading it.  After I've read it, I will sit and ponder what it says.  This may take a few weeks.  Then, I will quite possibly read it again.  I am not going to publish any first impressions nor fire off kneejerk remarks based upon what other people have said about it at this point.  I may have something to say in, maybe, a month's time- basically, after everyone has stopped caring one way or the other about it. At which point I probably won't say anything about it, on the grounds that, y'know, no one cares.  But, if there are any stalwarts out there who want my opinion, which seems unlikely to me, ask me in about a month.

17 June 2015

Update on reactions to Laudato Si.

I have for some time been writing about how the Right under Francis has been behaving almost exactly like the Left under Benedict.  Today, Fr. Z. not only admits it but prescribes it as a course of action.:

So, here’s an initial approach.

Perhaps we can pay as much attention to the sections on markets and environment, as the catholic Left pays to Humanae vitae.

We will pay as much attention to this as the libs pay to Summorum Pontificum.

So, an admittedly right wing priest is now counseling Catholics to become cafeteria Catholics and pick and choose what they will follow and what they will ignore.  He is teaching them that they may ignore what comes from Rome, after years of claiming that Rome must be obeyed.  And his justification for this is an infantile "They did it first!"

So what if they did it?  Did we not condemn them for doing so?  If it was damnable for them to ignore Humanae Vitae and Summorum Pontificum is it not doubly so for us to now ignore the teachings we dislike, for we, by our own words, know better?  If it was wrong for them then, it is wrong for us now.  If it is not wrong for us to do it now, then we had no leg to stand on for when we condemned them, and we owe them an apology.  Somehow, I do not see one coming.

How can he, or anyone who has followed in his shoes, expect to be heard and listened to or even taken seriously when we have writ our hypocrisy in large for all to see?  If we continue this war amongst ourselves, neither right nor left shall win, and the only one who benefits is our true enemy.

16 June 2015

Why do I feel a gut wrenching terror every time I hear some politician wants to 'restore democracy'?

Justin Trudeau plans to restore democracy should he win the next election.  My first question: Does that mean we are not a democracy now?  Don't answer.  My second question is this: If the usual meaning of  'restore' is 'to put something back to the way it was', then how does changing everything amount to a restoration?

Among his  proposals:

-setting one day's question period aside solely for the purpose of grilling the Prime Minister. (I have nothing to say about that, other than that I like mine medium rare.)

-More free votes.  (This from the man who will not allow members of his party to dissent from party policy.)

-— Appoint an equal number of men and women to cabinet and adopt a government-wide appointment policy to ensure gender parity and greater representation of aboriginal people and other minorities.  (I'll address this one along with the next point)

-Get rid of first past the post elections.  This is the one I want to discuss, along with the above.  To be blunt It is a cure worse than any disease.

The article reporting it slants itself heavily in favour of the change.  Here is the passage where it discussing the potential for reform:  "The current system badly distorts voters' choices, allowing a party to win the majority of seats in the House of Commons with less than 40 per cent of the vote, and delivering wildly different seat counts to parties that win similar shares."  

What the article says is true, that is indeed what the system does, but it is only true from the perspective that people are voting for parties in the first place.   Let me repeat that: it assumes that we are voting for parties, and not individual members of parliament who represent us.  This view is a distortion of the system to begin with.

Our system, in theory, is simple:  Each region elects a member to represent them for the purpose of advising the crown on the best way to run the country.  Each electoral area is to elect the best advisor they can find: a person, preferably local, and not a hypothetical party embodied by a distant leader.   To say that the system distorts the results is to say that the voters were not voting for people in the first place, but parties.  Party becomes more important than person and representation: in such a system, the members of parliament do not represent us, but rather represent their leader to us.  As I heave said before, this is part of a continuing trend in Canadian politics to concentrate power upon the party leader, giving them a power never intended for the office.

There is also the small but not minor issue of what is to be done with independent candidates. Every election, independents get a small but not unsubstantial percentage of the vote- let's say between one and two percent. By the rules of proportional democracy, they should get one or two percent of the seats- but which independent candidates would that be? They are not a party, they cannot produce a list. Who shall stand for the independents? Under a new system, it may be that we may be shackled to vote solely for the parties, and what began as a distortion of the system , rather than being cured, will be far, far worse.

Here's then even worse part:  every proposal I have ever heard to achieve proportional democracy involves voting strictly for parties, and then the party allots the seats they have won to names on a list.  Parliament will be filled with people no one specifically voted in, and, therefore, as long as their names remain on the list, no one can specifically vote them out.  We'll be stuck with party people, or, to use the correct term, fawning bootlickers.  Canada is not well served by yes men, though that is exactly the kind of party member Trudeau seems to desire.

Similarly mandating that cabinet ministers should be of so many men and women, and of this ethnic/racial/gender group.  It makes the group more important than the person.  A horrible person who checks the right boxes will be preferred over someone who does not.  It makes form more important than content.  Optics more important than substance.

 Together, and with his other changes, these are big changes.  This is not a restoration in any way but a destruction of the current system and replacing it with a theory: in short, a revolution.    He is talking of replacing a system that by and large works with a theoretical system.  Replacing practical systems and replacing them with theories has been tried before, usually to the regret of the people.  As Edmund Burke noted in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, as true as an idea may be in theory, that is how false it will prove in practice.

And that, I suppose, is the answer to my question in the title.  Change everything?  No thanks.  Things are bad enough.   No need to try and make everything worse.  This is not a reform.  It is taking  what began as a perversion of the system, and carving it in stone.

On the events surrounding the encyclical

So: as I understand it, the next encyclical was leaked ahead of time.  The person responsible for the leak, Sandro Magister, has had his Vatican press credentials revoked. 

However, this being the internet, everyone has an opinion on it, and, this being the internet, most of them are, to put it as charitably as possible, devoid of logic.  Here's the part that has caused the most consternation:  Apparently, a Vatican official has called the act of leaking the encyclical ahead of time 'heinous'.  Personally, I find the term slightly melodramatic, but I have no say in the matter. 

The first that I read to comment on this little affair was Fr.Z.  Father begins by explaining- after he published a link to the encyclical yesterday and began commenting on it- that usually one does not scoop the Vatican.  It is an unwritten gentleman's rule, apparently.

The Holy See’s spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, asked journalists to respect the “embargo”. I note that there was no indication of an embargo on the copy that I saw. That said, having spent a lot of time around the Holy See Press Office, it seems to me a solid and understood expectation not to jump out too far in advance of official releases. We just didn’t/don’t do that. Still, there wasn’t a clear indication of embargo that I could see. Perhaps it was included in some accompanying letter sent to Magister’s editor at L’Espresso.

I find the logic here a little specious: Father did not see anything that indicated there was an embargo, therefore it is okay that he linked  to it, although he is also aware that there is an understanding that he shouldn't, and so he did it anyway?  I don't find this convincing.  The Vatican released to the Press an item they intended to release to the general public later on in the week, so the press would have a chance to go over it and prepare their articles. This is a fairly common practice between governments and their agencies and the press. The understanding would have been to keep it under their hats until the proper time.  I don't see how they failed to understand that this was not to be released until the encyclical itself was released.

Then Father reaches the 'heinous' part, and he sets the tone that every other commenter I've read follows:

“Heinous”?  Like what ISIS does to children and women?

Cute.  And distracting.

Others are chiming in and claiming variations of this, or making other claims, like '"Why don't they call abortion heinous?" or "why don't they say something about the gays?" 

It is not a logical but a rhetorical move, and it is a weak one at that. It is purely rhetorical, because, logically,  it's nonsense.  What are you trying to say when you yoke these two things together?  The one has nothing to do with the other.  Are you saying that what Magister did was not bad because others do worse?  Are you arguing that bad is not bad because worse is worse?  This is the response of a child  in a playground who gets caught by a teacher:  "I wasn't that bad! So and So was doing something worse!  Why are you picking on me?"

Or are you saying that every time the Vatican speaks against this or that wrong doing, they must either preface their remarks or make an addendum that states: "And furthermore, these things are also wrong: starting with the A's..." Because they can't condemn anything unless they condemn everything?

What Magister did was wrong, people.  The Vatican spokesman is calling him out on it.  As I said, perhaps whoever called the act  'heinous' is overstating it, but pointing out that others do worse does not make what he did right.   Be adults, admit the mistake, and move on.