Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Brief Hiatus

That time of year has arrived where I take a short Christmas break, but will return in early January. The Comte de Rienville has once again invited me and some of my progeny to his estate in Tahiti, and who could refuse such an offer?

There will , however, be a short side trip, in order to bring out of captivity a number of girls and women that were taken by the sub-humans known as the Islamic State.(IS) I have reviewed the plan, and believe it will succeed. My heart will be in the endeavour.
Females in such an IS environment do not stand a chance, and their situation is well described in a verse from the Talmud:

     "If a rock falls upon a jug, woe to the jug. If a jug falls
      upon a rock, woe to the jug."

Says it all, and I will report on this foray as well as other things of pitch and moment when I return in early January.

Keep on trucking, and may all readers enjoy a superb Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Generational Difference

"Come live with me, and be my love." So begins a short poem by Christopher Marlowe, and when I read this line, I immediately thought of its 21st century counterpoint: "Come live with me, and pay my rent."

I write this because it is becoming crystal clear that the generation following me will not be enjoying the opportunities and largesse that I did. Oh, there will always be a segment of society that does well, either through already being safely ensconced in the "haves", or equipped with the skills that society now demands (technological wizardry) or sheer blind luck vis-à-vis a lottery or an incredible day at the casino or the track.

For the rest, things will be tough. After all, according to a variety of economic studies, the coming generation will not match their parents in terms of wealth accrual. This has not happened for some time, hence the Marlowe update.

We must, however, take heart. Such generational disparity has occurred before, when society undergoes a massive economic shift. Think of the machines of the Industrial Revolution and the number of workers, particularly in agriculture, that they displaced. But eventually many of those workers discovered that they could run those machines, and (with some help from their friendly union) earn a living wage while doing so.

But what happens when machines run themselves, and continually improve their performance?

This is an area that a number of sound thinkers -- including Stephen Hawking --  are worried about: the idea that artificial intelligence will supersede our own, and we will then lose control over the whole shebang. Not so much a generational difference as a generational shutdown.

I am a bit more optimistic. I can envisage a world where machines look after providing the necessities of life, with no one required to do a stitch of work. To be sure, education would be a paramount priority, but such a world makes possible an hypothesis once put forward by Buckminster Fuller, upon which I conclude:

"The human race has to get back to what it was doing before some clown came along and said you have to work for a living."*

Food for thought.


* Written in his short text, I Seem To Be A Verb. ---Ed.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Whither The Weather

I am somewhat behind my times, as Bob Cratchit once said, in that I spent the previous day with the Little Sisters Of Poverty And Pain, a group of nuns that I support in their charitable activities. I mean, there is faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity.* In any event, I missed my writing time. These things happen, but I will stick to my John Wayne dictum: "Never apologize, pilgrim."

Now the good sisters take in a number of female refugees and women escaping from abusive situations, and I teach an English as a Second Language course to assist those who are having difficulty speaking the language. Things go very well at first, then the going gets rougher. As is known, English is an easy language to speak badly; it is an extremely difficult language to speak well.

A number of queries from my "students" focussed upon what to talk about that would be acceptable when they were part of a new group. I suggested they stay away from religion or politics, the two bugbears that have wrecked havoc upon society now and in the past. Rather, I recommended that they initially stick to that safest of all topics, the weather.

"Why?" asked one class member.

"Because," I replied, "no one really knows what weather is, and when precisely it will snow, rain, or whatever. Even meteorologists stumble all the time when predicting a weather event, and hence this topic presents a wonderful opportunity to say almost anything and never annoy the person or persons you are talking to. Which, when just getting to know people, is a very Good Thing."

"One could," ventured a class member, "talk of astronomy." (I recalled that one of the group was a physicist in her native country, but was now pushing a cash register at Costco.)

"One could," I replied, "but this can get a bit awkward if the person you are discussing parsecs with believes that the world is only 6000 years old, and that people were consorting with dinosaurs. Right away you would have made an enemy. For the time being, best to stick with the weather."

At this point the astronomer slipped into her native Italian, knowing I was fluent in what was my mother tongue. "Well," she said, "You are probably right. My professor at Turin once stated, I use her words, 'that it was never wise to provoke a person not ready to be provoked.' As a topic, then, the weather will be just fine."

I commended her professor, and concluded with my own astronomical observation:

"I exist!" the man cried to the Universe.

And the Universe replied, "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't feel any sense of obligation."

Enough. Or too much.


* First Corinthians, 13:13. More recent readings of this verse have altered "charity" to "love", mis-translating "caritas". I suspect that the focus was shifted to being charitable to Holy Mother Church, not the other way round. -- L.S.S.

Friday, November 28, 2014

When A Martyr Is Not A Martyr

I was all set to inform my readers of the latest Ontario fiscal horror story just now seeing the light of day -- the 'Mars' thing, the building, not the planet -- when I received some fascinating information from a certain "back channel" that I still maintain from my days in The Trade. The Ontario issue can wait (it certainly won't go away) and besides, the incoming information was far more intriguing than the monetary mess Ontario continues to wallow in.

Now, back channels are interesting, and in certain cases essential. The term is useful to describe negotiations that are done on the quiet until more favourable conditions for success come about. Governments and banks use them all the time. More literally, they can be drainage patterns for rice paddies, or even water run-off measures for houses built on sea cliffs.

The back channel for my information I can't really speak about, other than to say I find the data that arrives from time to time to be sometimes useful, sometimes terrifying, or sometimes simply hilarious.*

What recently came in on this channel was an accounting of a subversive technique that was proving to be more than a little effective. Apparently there was a certain area in Iraq that had seen a complete drop in suicide martyrs. Prior to this, it had been an area that was rife with such attacks. How had this occurred?

Long story short, a prestigious Islamic scholar had somehow become convinced that the jihad interpretation of martyrdom as written in the Qur'an was wrong. He (it sure wouldn't have been a she) got in touch with the powers united against ISIS and Al-Qaeda and offered to make this scholarly opinion more well-known.

His argument was simplicity itself, and centered around the difference in Arabic between the passive and active voice. To wit: a martyr must die by being acted upon, and never, ever meet death by his own actions (or her own actions -- in such cases, Islam makes an exception and becomes an equal opportunity employer). 

Then the scholar added a final touch: martyrdom must first occur by the leader submitting to his fate, never an underling. Showing the way to the 72 virgins, as it were. 

When this was all made known to the jihadists by a variety of means, both electronic, written and by word of mouth, there was suddenly a dearth of martyrs, and the number of farmers, labourers and shepherds in the area mysteriously increased. Score one for the greatest weapon of war known -- the effective use of imagination.

See you soon.


*It is not commonly known, but the back channel I use was convinced that North Korea's Kim Jong Un is entranced by the Disney Princesses. Explains a lot. -- L.S.S.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Something For Nothing

Occasionally, when writing these little missives, I have fallen into a trap that is is known as "writer's block." Topic in mind, I prepare to do verbal battle, and nothing comes. A sad state of affairs, and one begins to doubt one's capacity. So Piet Hein's 'Grook' : "If the sun or moon would doubt / They'd immediately go out."

Not good at all. At that point, however, I recalled a teacher friend of mine, one Elizabeth Henderson, who had given a homework  assignment to her class involving oral composition, indicating that the topic could be anything chosen by each class member. One lad, more troublesome than most, said he could think of nothing to speak about.

"Fine, Brett, then that's what you talk about. Nothing."

The class filed out, and my friend was almost automatically assigning a big fat zero to the aforesaid Brett.

Three days later, the class filed back in. Some talks were good, some fair, some not so good. But all had tried, and I knew from experience that oral composition could be trying for students until they figured out that they could talk for a time without being interrupted. Then Brett came to the front and began his speech.

"Nothing" he began, "can come from nothing. So King Lear tells his daughter Cordelia and thereby loses both his kingdom and his mind, as Miss Henderson has taught us. Then there is the concept of nothingness, or nihilism, very important in the area of philosophy. Also, 'no thing' would be no Parliament in Old Scandinavia* and then we have" -- well, he went on, naming all kind of nothings, and finished by looking carefully at the girls in the class as he referred to ears and "sweet nothings."

I gave Brett an A+ with no qualms whatsoever.

I remember asking my friend what happened to this unusual student. A university professor? A motivational speaker? What?

"He joined the army" she replied, "and has had a successful career. We still keep in touch from time to time." 

And now my writer's block has disappeared! In celebration, I conclude with a snippet gleaned from the Internet that has 'nothing' to do with the current topic. Apparently there was a small sexual escapade in a Toronto streetcar that caused a bit of a stir. Two men and a woman were involved in a little ménage a trois, and the thought occurred that somewhere Tennessee Williams was chuckling.

I also wondered if the woman's name was Stella. 

Just asking.


* Brett has it right. In Old Scandinavia, the word for a parliamentary gathering actually is "The Thing". -- Ed.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Valuing Value

The physicist Rupert Sheldrake wrote somewhere that "the universe has habits, not laws." Be that as it may, one habit that I and some others have come to like is to gather on every other Thursday at our favourite pub, The Three Q's.* There we discuss things of varying interest ranging from bothersome personal issues to solving, with grace and dispatch, problems besetting the world.

Yesterday, that discussion involved examining the concept of 'value' and the role values play in personal life. The discussion went on for some time, a great many bromides were tossed about, all of which I summed up by stating "Been there. Knew that. Let's move on."

So we did, and then the economist in the group threw into the ring that she knew of something whose value could be discussed in terms of pennies, but also be worth considerably more if regarded in a different light. Guesses were asked for, with the winner to be exempt from paying for the next round of best bitter.

I proffered the written, mailed letter, comforting one who had sustained a loss of one kind or another. Costing very little, yet of much more value to the recipient than the original outlay.

Other suggestions followed, with the best (in my opinion) from Joe, a local farmer that had charmed himself into our circle. He indicated that you would be far ahead from original value if you happened to have in your possession an original King Edward VII tuppence with a mis-spelled "Edwrd" said to be worth thousands.

"Close" said our economist, "but no cigar. You are in the right area, though."

"What do you mean?" said our resident philosopher. He was always rabbiting on about the meaning of things.

"Just this. Currency. Any five, ten or indeed any paper bill is, in one sense, only worth very little in terms of the paper used and its manufacture, but has a much higher value in terms of purchasing power. Agreed?"

"But," I said, "is not that value is determined by the economic output and fiscal intelligence of the country that issued it? Surely that's its true value?"

"Irrelevant in terms of the question posed," she countered. "The paper bill is the perfect example of a double edged value. But being the poser of the question, I recuse myself from the contest, and Joe's answer, the Edwrd tuppence, is the winner."

 Joe quietly smiled, but said no gloating words, causing me to remember the value Albert Einstein's words all too well: "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits."


* Just in case readers have forgotten, the three Q's are Quips, Quibbles and Quaffs. -- Ed.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Yin Now On A Par With Yang

My good friend Matilda Hatt was in town recently, and, knowing the speaker, we attended a lecture given last night. The presenter, Nora House, was a noted feminist, and while I avoid those with "causes" like the plague, Nora always made her points with deftness and humour.

As an example of the above, she had titled her address, "Three Wise Men -- Are You Serious?"

Nora began her remarks with a quote from the playwright and film director, David Mamet: "The perfect girlfriend: one who makes love until two in the morning, and then turns into a pizza." She went on to stress that she is a good friend of Mr. Mamet, and that she had ripped his comment well out of context -- the line had been used as a 'straw man' to set up a defense of women in films.*

Nora went on to state, however, that girls and women had been viewed as objects for pleasure for millennia, and in all too many parts of the world still were. She wisely avoided a rant at this point, indicating that women such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Aung San Suu Kyi, and, more recently, the girl viciously attacked by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai, could do a far better job of making the case for fairer treatment than she could.

No, Nora went on to indicate that real progress was being made. In the past, all too many eighteenth and nineteenth century best-selling novels featured frightened girls rushing down dark corridors shouting "O transport!"** Their only hope lay in the actions of a saviour, always a man.

In the current age, there is none of this; the terror-stricken heroine has been replaced with an arrow launched from the bow of Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, for those living somewhere in a cave in the Gobi desert) or a powerful spell launched from the wand of Hermione Granger. (Harry Potter -- see parentheses above.) Add into this mix such wildly popular heroines
such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Xena, Warrior Princess and the 'Yin' begins to become equal to the 'Yang'.

Nora went on with further examples , but I think the point is made: at least in certain areas of the worlds, women are no more regarded as chattel, as objects there to be servants to the almighty man, and the media reflect this. The concept just needs, in Nora's word, "extension".

As for the concept of feminism, Nora ended her address with some words from Rebecca West: "I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."



*Mamet's words were allegedly inserted into a TV spot for a pizza delivery outfit. A lawsuit is pending. --Ed.

** Not all novels were so one-sided. Jane Austen's women act decisively (after a learning period) and Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot's brilliant Middlemarch towers over the male protagonists in the novel. But it should be noted that the writer's real name was not George Eliot, but Mary Anne Evans, the publishing world being as it was then. -- L.S.S.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 24 / 7

So Halloween arrives again, complete with all manner of imaginary beings -- witches, ghosts, and a stunning variety of monsters ranging from mythological figures, Marvel Comics superheroes, and even costumes based on political creatures -- step forward Rob Ford and Mike Duffy (or, as he is better known -- The Puffster). Thus tots and tweens abound during the early evening of October 31st, and various streets come alive with shouts of "Trick or Treat!"

Mind you, of late the tricks are somewhat rare, and the treats flow freely. After all, t'is Halloween, and it comes but once a year. 

Er......not exactly.

Something not unlike Halloween appears to be occurring every day, and emphasizes not treats but tricks, and vicious ones at that. Let me explain.

As stated, Halloween is a date upon which temporary belief occurs as one dresses up as various imaginary beings that trundle house to house seeking favours. The next day all returns to sanity, or at least a good facsimile of it, and the imaginary beings are returned to the costume stores or closets to re-appear in the following year. Or not -- the belief in such beings tends to alter over time. 

There is, however, one group who believes in Halloween, or at least has a strong belief in one imaginary being. This group stresses this tenet on a daily basis, along with a stone cold focus on the "trick" aspect rather than the "treat" aspect. The trick is the enforcement of a belief in a kind, all-merciful imaginary being, but if this belief is questioned, torture is commenced, after which your head comes off. Great little trick, that.

The imaginary being is, of course, Allah, and the group is the Islamic State. And any celebration of an occasion such as Halloween would be banned on pain of death. I mean, people might begin to connect certain dots.

Something to keep in mind as little tricksters and treaters appear on the doorstep.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Ottawa Attack: Another Aspect

Al Pacino's line from his Godfather II film came to mind this week, after receiving a certain telephone call: "I thought I was out, but they keep pulling me back in."

So it goes -- one is never really "out" where The Trade is involved. All this resulted in my going to Ottawa, where my opinion was sought on the madness that had occurred involving one deranged fanatic and an attack upon Parliament. 

I could add but little to the analysis already done by some very bright Canadian minds. The attacker, one Michael Zehaf-Bibeau,
had killed a soldier, Cpl.Nathan Cirillo, on duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Shot him in the back, the true calling card of a "brave" rebel.

The shooter then jumped into a Toyota, drove to the Parliament buildings, entered, and caused a slew of MP's, including the Prime Minister, to barricade themselves in meeting and caucus rooms. A veritable fusillade of shots rang out, and shortly thereafter Zehaf-Bibeau was shot and killed by a quick thinking and quicker acting sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers. *

These, then, are the bare details of what transpired.

In my suggestions to the investigating team, I avoided topics such as probing his religious beliefs, criminal background, and environmental influences. There are people far more adept at such analysis than yours truly.** No, I stuck with what I knew best -- the gun -- and argued for a small but knowledgeable task force to go after answering such questions as how did he obtain the weapon, and from whom?

It was, after all, a Winchester 30/30 lever action rifle, not the easiest weapon to obtain unless you have connections with the military or belong to a gun club where the background checks are severe and the gun never leaves the club.

Now Zehaf-Bibeau had an extensive criminal record in Canada, and could not have purchased the weapon legally. Moreover, the Winchester 30/30 is not a "street" gun. This leaves only a hunting venue of one sort or another, and I suggested that if such a force was given the go-ahead, this could be the starting point. The aim would be to identify the supplier of the gun and bring the person to justice. Or terminate with extreme prejudice -- it is not just our military being attacked, but our democracy itself.

Well, that's what I put on the table, anyway.


* One reporter from something called the Homeless Review mentioned to me that she couldn't believe that a person in the Canadian Parliament had access to a gun. I replied, "Good Lord. lady, he is a Sergeant-at-Arms." Really, there are times I despair.
-- L.S.S.

**There are exceptions to those skilled in social analysis. I recall one incident where an agent had been severely injured in a brutal attack. She was screaming, there was blood everywhere, and as I rushed to her assistance, I overheard a woman, likely a psychologist or social worker, saying, Oh no. Oh dear. Someone out there needs me." Again, I despair. -- L.S.S.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Straying Beyond the Lines

One thing I can vividly recall about elementary school was the directive, in writing or any colouring activity, was TO STAY BETWEEN THE DEMARKED LINES. To not do so was to risk the wrath -- which was considerable -- of our grade four teacher, Miss Ratchett.*The world, or at least Ontario, has need today of such another, for there has occurred a grievous straying beyond the lines.

What prompted this behaviour was the behaviour of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), and its recent workshop on "white privilege". Sound and sane as all my readers are, I suspect that you were well aware of this activity, and were suitably disgusted at its outright racism and bigotry.

Moi aussi, but that is not the thrust of this particular missive.

No, what concerns me is that holding such workshops is an act that if not illegal, is certainly "conduct unbecoming" as the military might put it. Union workshops are fine when dealing with better ways to learn and to teach. They are not so fine when the curriculum  is being discussed, with the intent to bring it nearer to the Union's desire to find something or someone to blame.

In terms of curriculum alteration, that is the business of the Ministry of Education, with the Minister accountable as a publicly-elected official. Some school board trustees are wont to stray into this area, but their role is primarily to oversee the school board's budget and obtain value for money. And it certainly not the business of a teacher's union.

Two of my friends are elementary teachers, and as visible minorities, were outraged that blaming "whites" for all the ills of society was lousy history and way over the top. The fact that their union dues were put to this use just added flames to the fire. They have written the Minister of Education, urging that their Federation be decertified, or at least strongly reprimanded.

Much as I was long ago, when I strayed beyond the lines.

Who knows? Maybe pigs will fly, and they will succeed.


** I wonder if Ken Kesey had such a person in mind when he wrote of a certain nurse in his fine novel One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest? Just asking. -- Ed.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Time and the Ballot Box

The Toronto electoral campaign for Mayor is now in its sixth month (or seventh -- one loses track of these things) and is simply WAY too long. Add in a gazillion debates involving (usually) three people and we have a recipe for a show that in terms of audience interest is considerably past its due date.


I believe the answer can be traced back to former Premier Mike Harris ramming amalgamation down Toronto's throat, even though Toronto citizens from the five former boroughs, via a referendum,  had soundly rejected the issue. Democracy in action, as it were.

To explore this idiocy further is beyond the scope of this week's topic, but one result is that the Premier, perhaps suffering a twinge of guilt over such an arbitrary act, allowed a greater electoral time span because of the larger campaign area.*

But a campaign of months, with seemingly endless debates? To me, overkill in spades.

Now in olden times (to use an olden phrase)** area and distance were major factors in getting out the vote, and hence the need for a greater time span for any campaign. With modern media all too pervasive, however, this argument weakens. The whole thing could be neatly compressed into a month, or even three weeks. The electorate, I'm sure, would be grateful, and would, I suspect, take a greater interest in the issues being discussed and debated.***

I am, however, mindful that I am trying to compress time, a very tricky thing with which to get involved. Just how tricky can be seen in the following quotation from Michel de Montaigne in his Essay on Time: "Time is a thing of movement, appearing like a shadow in the eternal flow and flux of matter, never remaining stable or permanent; to Time belongs the words before and after; has been and shall be, words that show at a glance that Time is evidently not a thing which IS. For it would be a great silliness and manifest falsehood to say that something IS which has not yet come into being or has already ceased to be."

Montaigne, magnificent as usual. As for the result of the upcoming election, time will tell.


* Mike Harris never felt a twinge of guilt in his life. -- Ed.

** Middle English has a certain charm, does it not? -- Ed.

*** None of the above applies to the United States, which seems to run a perpetual election campaign and has since its foundation, with a short hiatus occurring owing to a wee tussle called the American Civil War. -- L.S.S.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Something Wrong in Hong Kong

Recently I was asked for an opinion on the mess currently engulfing Hong Kong. My answer was brutally simple.

The protests currently raging in Hong Kong should never have occurred. With respect to my previous missive, this is what happens when your Word is broken.

But let's back up a minute.

Leaving out a myriad of meetings, conferences and agreements that involved Britain and China over the last 100 years, the following are the "bare bones" of the situation.

In 1898, Britain asked China for and obtained a 99 year lease on Hong Kong, entitled The Extension of Hong Kong Territory, after which the Territory would revert to China. This is now termed the official "hand over".

In 1982 Chinese Premier Deng Xiao Ping agreed with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that a Basic Law, a kind of "mini-constitution"  would be drafted, with the participation of the Hong Kong people. This Basic Law would allow for the formation of a Legislative Council to act as the governing body of the city, while China took responsibility fort foreign affairs, national security and the army. Until the official "hand over" took place in 1997, China would have the right to be influential in selecting a Chief Executive of the Council.

Also, and I believe this to be crucial,, China went on record that Hong Kong's Chief Executive would, from 2017 onwards, be chosen by "universal suffrage."

Then, I suppose, someone high up in the Chinese hierarchy, happened to stumble upon Nicolo Machiavelli's book on advising rulers, The Prince, and read the following words: "He who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may be expected to be destroyed by it."

Well, that put paid to any idea of "universal suffrage". Shortly word reached the citizens of Hong Kong that the Chief Executive must be approved by an "Esteemed Committee" comprised of mostly pro-Beijing elites. And shortly after that, the citizens took to the streets saying that the Chinese had broken their Word and that they had been betrayed.

At the time of this writing, the situation remains a standoff, with the police holding firm on one side of the street, and the citizenry the other. The chances that this will all end in tears is very high.

One must, however, take heart. Machiavelli also wrote, "He who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way."

Let us hope the second quotation prevails.

Friday, September 26, 2014

In the beginning was the Word

In the King James version of the Bible (John 1:1) we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." So it would appear that the Word is rather important to the good apostle, and hence to a good many Christians.

Now the term "God" I use as a placeholder for what we don't yet understand (lots). Where the use of "Word" is concerned, however, it is quite a different story. To me the term acts as a kind of fulcrum upon which my life moves, and is of crucial importance when making a commitment. This deserves some explanation.

If you say to a person, "Yes. I will do that. I give you my word" what are you really saying? Certainly the person to whom the comment is directed can take heart that you are fully committed to whatever action has been agreed upon. Too often, however, the agreed action fades in importance, and the commitment is reneged upon. Not a big deal, you say, or put in the sports vernacular, "No harm, no foul."

Readers, a great "foul" has occurred.

When you give your word, you are giving yourself, or put more directly, your 'Self". It is as if you have taken your Self in your hands as you would an amount of water. When your word, your Self, is broken, your hands open up and the water, your Self, disappears.

And may never be recovered again.

So keep your Word -- don't open those hands. Just look at any number of politicians who, when not playing to a jaded public, look as haggard and woe-begone as Keats' knight in La Belle Dame Sans Merci. This also applies to any number of marketers or those selling products that don't do as they are supposed to. "Take my Word on it, and you will be forever happy!" Not. In effect, their essence as human beings has greatly diminished, if not completely disappeared.

Of course, considering the gravity of giving your Word, it is something to be done very sparingly, and if you can avoid doing so without compromising your integrity, do so. I have only given my Word six times so far, and not once done it lightly, for I know the storm that follows all too well, to wit: "Oh, c'mon, of course you can! So you gave your Word. No Big Deal."

Yes, it is a Big Deal.

You have my Word on it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Scottish Reel

A little late with the weekly missive, but I wanted to await results on the Scottish referendum. Those results are now in, and I could not but recall a lyric from the song, Flower of Scotland, to wit:

"But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again."

As it turned out, the "thinking again" part will have to be done by the "Yes" side of the poll -- the latest results were (rounded off) 55% to 45% favouring remaining in the United Kingdom. Proud Edward had morphed into proud David Cameron, Prime Minister off the U.K., who was far from being "sent homeward".

If the result had been different, an unholy mess would have come about along the lines of a very messy divorce settlement, and the 'who gets what and why' become a dominating, if not the sole, issue for both parties. Moreover, the PM's career would have taken a plunge that would have been very difficult from which to recover. David Cameron is not Bill Clinton. So, on his part, a huge sigh of relief.

There still, of course, remains the "sticky wicket" of certain promises made to Scotland by Cameron involving changes to taxes, spending and welfare programs. The "Yes" side of the referendum, led by the head of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Alex Salmond, will I am certain be relentless in following up on those commitments. In addition, these commitments did not escape the attention of Wales, Northern Ireland and, indeed, England itself. When one plays with fire, even if one escapes being immolated completely, one still can get badly burned. Cameron's weeks ahead will not be entirely pleasant.

Then there is a point made by my mentor, whom I refer to as The Red Queen.

She points out that in terms of the process itself Scotland (and possibly Spain)  should learn from Canada's experience with Québec and put in place in any future referendum a two-thirds majority outcome, rather than a fifty/fifty split. All such a split indicates that there are just as many for independence as are against it, a recipe for long-standing discontent.

She is a very wise woman.

So there we are, and as for my own reaction, I am pleased, and turn to Robert Frost's poem, Mending Wall for my justification. Put simply, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Calm Before The Storm

The time is out of joint -- next week promises, in the words of the late John Cameron Swayze,  "to be filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times."  Some examples:

On September 17th, Scotland will decide whether to go it alone, or not. An earlier Westphalian * attempt at becoming an independent nation state failed at Culloden in 1745;  we shall see what transpires in 2014. Certainly there are pros; certainly there are
cons; to explore these in detail would be beyond the scope of this missive. While William Wallace and Robert The Bruce are much in our minds, we shall hold off on such an exercise until the Scots have reached a decision.

Another Westphalian issue has to do with the nation state of Ukraine, whose Eastern borders have been invaded by rebels wishing a closer relationship with Russia. According to press reports, Vladimir Putin wonders who these rebels are, and where they acquired some very sophisticated weapons, including a ground to air missile platform capable of bringing down a Malaysian airliner. What the rebels had against Malaysia escapes me, although I note that the U.N. blames Israel for the whole mess. In any event, a somewhat shaky ceasefire is in force -- we shall await events.

Other pending events include the growing menace of the ebola virus, the growing menace of the Islamic State thugs, and the parlous state of Afghanistan. All are awaiting resolution of one kind or another.

Fed up with all this gloom and indecision, and following Monty Python's dictum in the Life of Brian, I looked for things "on the bright side of life" and conclude with two.

At the Toronto Film Festival, the British actress Keira Knightley was besieged by a vicious wind of gale proportions. This resulted not in having a bad "hair day" but a coif reduced to a total shambles. Ms Knightley handled it brilliantly, frantically pushing her unruly locks away from her face and shouting "Oh, the elements! The elements".

This instantly brought to mind Little Eva bravely crossing the ice floes in Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and triumphing against all odds. Ms Knightley also triumphed, well armed with a finely-honed sense of humour.

The second bright spot was one of the most unusual things I have ever seen. Canada's austere Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, ACTUALLY GOT EXCITED ABOUT SOMETHING. There he was, deep in the Arctic, bubbling and chirping away happily about being present when one of the ships from the ill-fated Franklin expedition was discovered. A side of Stephen I had not seen before, and in my opinion the electorate need to see more of that side of him.

I mean, it's nice now and then to get in touch with your humanity.


* The 1648 Peace of Westphalia, an outcome of the Thirty Years War, formulated the notion of a "nation state" that had sole jurisdiction of matters that were within the borders of that state. Vladimir Putin needs to brush up on his history. -- Ed.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Much Needed R. and R.

Of late, I have been guilty of having the world too much with me, what with a possible ebola epidemic, drone attacks, beheadings, buildings flying apart, to say nothing about those areas of the planet that have become so dangerous that one cannot even think of booking a decent time-share.

To restore some sort of sane perspective on things, I and several close friends repaired to our local pub, The Three Q's, for a much needed discussion on matters some distance from the grim condition of the world at the present moment.

All went well, particularly when we hit upon a silliness that proved to be both amusing and intellectually taxing. Well, somewhat taxing -- these things are relative. In short, we all tried our hand at matching a song to a condition prevalent in the world. A myriad of answers flowed, and I take this opportunity to share a few of the better ones.

1. Judy Collins'  Send in the Clowns. This we all thought appropriate to commemorate the success of Tea Party members in the U.S. House of Representatives.

2. Let's Go Fly A Kite. Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins comfort the Russian Space Agency on yet another failed space launch.

3. Webb Pierce's I'm In The Jailhouse Now. Mr. Pierce's salute to Bernie Madoff.

4. Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, an recognition of the weird air-blown stuff originating from Monsanto.

5. The state song of Kansas, Home On The Range, now acknowledged as a veritable anthem of Jenn-Air.

6. And for Canadians, Kermit the Frog's rendition of It's Not Easy Being Green, a tribute to Party Leader Elizabeth May.

So there we are, and we all agreed it had been fun, and hence determined to meet again, this time linking movies with worldly things. Our parting suggestion? Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall, the true story of the Chrysler Neon.

Enough, Or too much.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Inquiring Into An Inquiry

Recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy some time with a very good friend of mine. We had dinner at The Manor; my chef, Henri, made an excellent Coquilles St Jacques, accompanied with -- but I begin to digress. Suffice it to say that dinner was a wonderful thing, as was the Chablis that accompanied it.

My friend, who I do not name for reasons that will soon become obvious, was a senior officer in the RCMP, and she used our get- together to do some necessary venting.

What irritated her was the strident call for an inquiry into the tragedy of the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

 Now a public Inquiry, while an expensive use of taxpayer dollars, can be a useful thing, particularly in getting at issues that were to this point hidden, and unearthing who precisely was responsible. The point is to remedy the situation so that it does not occur again, and mete out justice to the perpetrators.


We know, for instance, all too well what the issues and perpetrators are are, and hence the call for an Inquiry falls, not into determining the facts, but into political theatre.* As to what we do know, here my RCMP friend provided the following information, all of which has been made public, and duly ignored by those pressing for an Inquiry.

As of  June, 2013, there are 6,420 missing persons on Canada, of whom 1455 are women. Of those, 164 are aboriginal. And out of those, 105 are missing in unknown or suspicious circumstances. Further, 88% of the murders of aboriginal women have been solved by police. -- almost identical to the 89% of murders of non-aboriginal women.

Moreover my RCMP informant indicated that of these aboriginal victims, 30% were murdered by their husbands, 23% by another family member, and 30% were murdered by an acquaintance. Only 8% were murdered by strangers.

It gets worse. Of the aboriginal family members and acquaintances who kill aboriginal women, 44% are drunk, compares to 15% of murderers of non-aboriginal women. Also, 74% of the murderers of aboriginal women are unemployed and 71% of the murderers of aboriginal women had a criminal record, 53% had been convicted before of a violent crime, and 62% had a history of violence with the murder victim herself.

If you are going to have an Inquiry, try focussing on those statistics. I for one, would look forward to hearing whatever response will come from a number of very well paid band chiefs.

I'm done with this.


* Justin Trudeau may not know these statistics -- he tends to wander lonely as a cloud -- but Mulcair certainly does, and keeps silent. For shame. I am also appalled to see the Premiers being roped into an issue best addressed by the professional "carers" such as Neil Young, David Suzuki and (this just in) Leonardo DiCaprio.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Vicious Little Sandwich

It may be apocryphal, but I believe it was Dr. William Osler who once said, "To hell with modern medicine. Half of the pills developed today should be thrown out the window, except it would be bad for the birds." Maybe so, but I got the right half, and my irritating bronchial cough is fast disappearing.

Which brings me to another statement, and the issue I want to address in this post. Dr. Norman Davies, in his magnificent historical account entitled Europe, writes the following: "The first recorded strike was organized by the weavers of Douai in 1245"* Professor Davies does not give the result, but this doesn't detract from the point I want to make -- unions have been with us for some time, and so has their right to strike.

I have no quarrel with that. A union wants better wages and living conditions, management balks, a strike ensues, and one of the parties concedes the position of the other. In most instances, there is compromise on both sides. The process is not called 'collective bargaining' for nothing.

And in earlier times, a strike was often the only weapon workers had to enable them to achieve a reasonable standard of life. A quick read of Orwell's Down The Mine, or a look at Galsworthy's play Strife will bring the point home brutally but effectively.

For most of its history, collective bargaining involved only two entities -- management and the union. Recently, however, a third party has entered the process, and here things go very wrong indeed. This is the 'vicious sandwich' referred to in the title.

The third element, the 'meat' in the sandwich if you will, is the public, and this aspect of the bargaining process only occurs where a public service union is concerned. The public is truly an innocent party in the process, caught between management (the government) and the union.

It is true that certain public services have been denied the right to strike, and use a binding arbitration process instead. Police officers, firefighters, and EMT personnel come to mind. This is done for reasons of public safety. 

What I am arguing for is a moral rationale that would bring an arbitration process for ALL public service unions. The public is not the reason for the strike, that would be government policy that is viewed by the union as strike worthy. But it is the public that suffers, and that in the final analysis is immoral.

This vicious sandwich becomes a moral horror story when a teachers' union decides to strike, thereby harming the students that they, acting in loco parentis as the Education Act puts it, have agreed to care for, nurture and teach.

The late and highly respected Dr R.W. Jackson, former head of the Ontario Institute of Education, would be appalled. After all, it was he who once wrote, "Never lose sight of the fact that the child as learner is not only the centre of the education system, but the very reason for its existence."**

The child.

Not a teachers' union.


* N. Davies, Europe, O.U.P. (Oxford,1996) p. 370

** Ontario Ministry of Education, Issues and Directions, June, 1980, p. 1

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Wee Lacuna

As Lady Simone's editor, I regret to inform readers that there will be no post this week. She unfortunately fell into the clutches of a minor bronchial cough, and wanted to rest to stop it turning into something more major.

This was a pity, for I noticed the following scribble on her notepad, that might have been the subject to be explored in the post. It was short, but to the point: 'Sheep cloned in a laboratory. The answer to Blake's question, "Little lamb, who made thee?"'

Well, maybe next week.

-- The Editor.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A (Somewhat) Brighter Future For Television

"Television? No good will come of it. The word is half Greek and half Latin."

So wrote C.P. Snow, former editor of the Manchester Guardian. He has a point, given the nonsense that tends to be put out over the airways these days. What with reality shows, endless clusters of celebrities discussing issues with an ignorance that often astonishes, or news broadcasts that tend to sum up all that one needs to know concerning a knotty geopolitical issue in about ten seconds -- perhaps Snow had it right.

Or perhaps not.

I should like to put forward that things are not necessarily as bleak as they appear. The Public Broadcast system continues to soldier on, with its fine documentaries, excellent concerts, and that favourite of many -- The Antique Road Show.*

Moreover, in terms of broadcast television, live sports broadcasts can often be exciting to watch. To be sure, the days that advertisers would underwrite and support a show such as All In The Family are long gone. Some "Interest Group" would be offended by the antics of Archie Bunker, scream to the high heavens, and at that point the advertisers would beat a hasty retreat and cancel the show. Just ask comedian Bill Maher -- he knows all about that sort of behaviour.

Yet certain players in the television world, combining with technological invention, discovered a way around the stifling atmosphere that was choking any ounce of dramatic (and yes, sexual) creativity to death.

Enter, stage right, cable and pay for view, along with the glories of HBO with its Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood and the magnificent Game of Thrones. Advertisers, terrified that someone would be upset (bet on it) would flee these shows in a heartbeat. Yet even they, watching, must be filled with remorse as they realize just how many eyeballs they have forsaken.

Now I well realize that I have barely scraped the surface of this topic. Where, you might well ask, are my comments on such popular TV offerings as Downton Abbey, The Big Bang Theory, or Grey's Anatomy. A fair question, but I believe I have gone far enough to rest my case. Television, once thought dead, has arisen rather effectively.

That, is, as well, the theme behind HBO's True Blood, a coincidence that sums things up rather nicely.


* The Roadshow can be a delight. Not only does it showcase the average person's interest in the past, it also allows a forum for those who actually know what they are talking about, always a Good Thing.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Martyrs Misapplied

Today's news, particularly from the Middle East, is filled with the brave actions of martyrs belonging to Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, or a myriad of sub-sects connected in some way with the Muslim religion.

This denoting of such personnel as "martyrs" is rubbish.

It would be akin to celebrating the soldiers landing in Normandy on D-Day, or those who died at Ypres, as martyrs. Brave, yes. Patriotic, yes. Afraid, yes. Skilled, yes. But martyrs they were not.

My reasoning here begins with a definition, in this case from Merriam Webster's Free Dictionary: A martyr is "A person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing and refusing to renounce a religion."

Some examples come to mind. Various saints of the Catholic Church, such as Peter or Andrew would qualify, as would Thomas a Becket, Thomas More, or (although a number of Papal hurdles had to be crossed that took some time) Joan of Arc. And not to be forgotten are the deaths in Canada of Fathers Lalement and Brebeuf.

Indeed, the Catholic Church can be said to have originated the word "martyr." Yet in no case did such martyrs launch themselves into such a state. They endured passively; it was their persecutors that acted.

This point is key. There can certainly be Muslim martyrs, but not if you are wearing a suicide vest with an aim to create as much carnage as possible. That is not passivity, that is acting to purposefully harm; that is not martyrdom, it is murder.

And if you look carefully at my list of Catholic martyrs, all were adults, well aware of what they were doing, and why. The children that are often used as Muslim "martyrs" have barely lived, and are totally under the control of an Imam or Mullah who "is commanded by Allah."  And such Imams or Mullahs tend not to be near any incident that might suddenly turn explosive. I mean, they might be at risk. Can't have that.

Ghastly people. I suspect Dante, were he alive and writing The Inferno, would fire them all into the Ninth Circle. Couldn't happen soon enough.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Being Careful With Time

It was, I believe, Napoleon Bonaparte who once stated, "One always has a chance of recovering lost ground, but lost time --  never." It is for this reason that I, at some cost, employ a person skilled in the art and science of information technology.

Some have questioned the not inconsiderable expense of such an approach, but I stand firm. My reasons are as follows.

When I wish to write something electronically, and to communicate whatever was written to another, that is time well spent. Mind you, the written piece should be worth reading, but as a devoted reader of this weekly report, I'm sure there are no qualms in that regard. What would not be time well spent is thrashing about trying to get ta faulty communication device -- computer, laptop, or whatever -- to work effectively.

Too often I have seen others grappling with such an issue, and wasting a goodly amount of time being frustrated as this or that attempt fails. Worse, when dealing with that modern avatar of Satan, the Indian Help Desk located somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, the whole already too lengthy process can now, if allowed, extend to infinity.

Not a good use of time. Not at all. I want my time to serve my priorities, priorities which are some distance away from technical arcana.

Such time-wasting is not a mistake we make when we write a letter. When the mail sometimes goes amiss, a phone call to the post office will quickly clear up the situation. Could be a statuary holiday, or the union happily exercising its abundance of sick days,* or whatever. But rarely does such a conversation go beyond five minutes, if that.

Compare that use of time to your latest rumble in the jungle of technology, an area where it doesn't do to bungle. And there, methinks, lies the crux of the problem. Technology, and the newness of it all.

Therefore, my answer is to fight fire with fire, and employ a technical expert who can hold his (actually, her) ground with the best that Dell, Microsoft, IBM and others have to offer in the field of complicated technical advice. And I must add that my expert enjoys grappling with all the new advances that seem to occur daily.

After all, it was not that long ago that people thought semiconductors were part-time orchestra leaders and microchips were very, very small snack foods.


* Now, now -- a titch of bias showing there. -- Ed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Perigee of Vladimir Putin

It was in my mind to write something quite different than that which follows, but events overtook.

I was expecting Rachel Levi, my IT specialist, to return from Kiev, whereupon I could get her thoughts on the whole Israeli / Hamas mess. However, when that Malaysian commercial airliner got shot out of the sky over Eastern Ukraine, she agreed to assist the Ukrainian authorities (the elected ones) on determining just who had done what, to whom, and why.

Here is her report.

In her opinion, after listening to various intercepts (she is understandably vague here) the incident boils down to the actions one of Putin's minions, a certain Igor Girkin, AKA Igor Strelkov. Rachel knew he was a former GRU operative, and recently was prominent in or around the eastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk. Indeed, Igor had recently proclaimed himself the Minister of Defence for the Donetsk Peoples' Republic.

Apparently he had taken credit for the missile hit, but then denied this. Rachel suspected he had heard from a furious Vladimir Putin.
She even forwarded a rather garbled recording in Russian when the incident occurred, as follows:

Voice: "We hit it! We hit it! The bomber is no more."

Strelkov: "I don't think it was a bomber, you idiot."

Voice: "What?"

Strelkov:"It was, I think, an civilian airliner."

Voice: "Shit!"

Admittedly the recordings were somewhat indistinct, and my Russian is a bit rusty, but the gist is there. The blowback on Putin would be severe, and justly deserved. Perhaps the words of Lord Macaulay were in his mind, although somewhat in reverse.

Macaulay had written, "Moderation in war is imbecility." What Putin could well be thinking is, "In war, imbecility can lose you everything."

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Technical Hiatus

I write this in hope that it actually sees the light of day -- or at least the light of a computer monitor. To alter an adage, "The spirit is willing, but the Wi-Fi is weak." You write a lovely sentence, and it disappears and is replaced with the dreaded "THIS PAGE CANNOT BE DISPLAYED."

Now it might be OK for Hiawatha to have an excellent wrestling match with the Corn God, but I have better things to do then wrestle with the Imps of Techdom. My IT support, Rachel Levi, is somewhere in Kiev right now doing something that apparently will
irritate Putin no end, but is expected back in two days. So I will take a break, and return next week.

These things happen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Surround Sound of Negativity

One of the causes I support is the work of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation. (CTF). In this regard I attended a meeting where the suggestion was put forward that Ontario's fiscal situation, given its horrendous deficit position, was headed for trouble.

The CTF spokesman, however, went on to state that there were remedies, and things, yes, were bleak, but not irretrievable. A politician with a penchant for honesty and a deep respect for the taxpayer dollar could work wonders. Yes, this would take an iron will as "nice" programs were cut back severely, while leaving "needed" programs alone. Good news, this.

The press report after the meeting began, "A CTF spokesman said limply that..."

Why the word "limply?" Is it against media nature to report possible good news?

Now while I was born in Italy, I have become a Canadian citizen, and have become well- versed in northern pessimism. I can remember  someone quoting the following anecdote:

"Imagine if Moses had been a Canadian. He would have gladly received the Ten Commandments, taken time to review them, then looked skyward and in a rather petulant voice said, 'O Lord, the Commandments are fine. But....but what about funding?'"

Marshall McLuhan had the answer to such pessimism and negativity constantly finding its way into the media.*He indicated that the media concentrated on "bad news" that would contrast nicely with the "good news" surrounding the products advertised in the publication or program, and from which such media drew revenue.

Of course, this aspect of the media is not confined to Canada, although our glass half empty approach to life makes us perhaps more accepting. On the other hand, there is an upside. If you are constantly viewing things in a negative manner, there will always be, from time to time, a rather un-Canadian pleasant surprise.

Or so I am told.


* This insight first surfaced in McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride, and was later elaborated in his seminal work, Understanding Media. -- Ed.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Meeting Her Kurds, And Away *

Matilda Hatt, my colleague from the C.I.A., dropped in unexpectedly the other day, all full of thoughts and ideas about Kurds. Apparently she had been providing security for some sort of clandestine mission undertaken by....well, she didn't say. Good little soldier Tilly always was.

Anyway, she came away impressed. The major city of Kirkuk was now in their capable hands, along with various and sundry oil fields. The populace was in full support of the leadership, all felt they were being well looked after, schools were flourishing, and their Sunni Islam religion, while important to them, was confined to the mosque rather than the Kurdish legislature.

Most important of all, in Tilly's opinion, was the Kurdish militia, the well-respected Peshmerga. This was a fearsome force, battle-hardened against a long struggle with the Turks. This conflict appeared to be drawing to an end, she informed me, given Turkey's alarm over the twin horror stories that are the carnage in Iraq and the surge of refugees from Syria. An alliance could well be in the offing.

"I wonder Tilly," I broke in at this point, "if the Peshmerga are ready to take on those superstitious maniacs known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, or its weird acronym, ISIS?"**

Tilly replied, "I thing the word here would be "salivate". The Peshmerga see ISIS as a total betrayal of Islamic values, and lump it together with such lovely groups as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. They would look forward to an attack, but think it unlikely.

"Why is that?"

Because ISIS is really a group of warriors, They would be actually facing a disciplined and competent militia, and in such cases, "warriors" go down the tubes. Look at Culloden. Look at Caesar's campaign in Gaul. Then there's the Battle of the Boyne --"

"All right" I interjected. "Point made. And I am now well au fait with the situation, for which, my thanks. And things can, in little, be seen to be looking up."

"Not surprising," countered Tilly, "When you begin flat on your back."

Any further comment here would, I thought, be very unwise, and we went in search of martinis.


*Dragging Little Miss Muffet into all this I thought somewhat unfair. -- Ed.

** The use of ISIS. It annoys me greatly that this scruffy lot has usurped the name of a very respected and powerful Egyptian goddess. Shame on whoever formed the acronym. -- L.S.S.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Voice of the Turtle

In re-reading the last few missives, I am struck by their rather pessimistic tone. Of course, this is quintessentially Canadian. As I believe Margaret Atwood once opined, "If Moby Dick had been written by a Canadian, it would have been told from the whale's point of view."

So let's be a bit more optimistic. For this I turn to the Song Of Solomon, (2:12) and the words, "The flowers appear on the earth. the time of singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land."* In other words, everything's going to be just fine.

Using this philosophy, one can now begin to assess the world's trouble spots in a somewhat different light. Admittedly, there is no scarcity of these, but nevertheless I will zero in on one such spot -- Iraq.

A solution to the ills of this tragic country immediately becomes obvious. Obvious, mind you, if you are familiar with Julius Caesar and his account of his Gallic campaigns, Commentarii De Bello Gallico. There he posited that all Gaul was divided into three parts,** and it is this thinking that could be applied to Iraq.

In essence, Iraq is comprised of three groups, currently at each other's throats. The horror of this is compounded by the fact that all three groups have dragged their imaginary and all-powerful friends into the mess; that is, Allah and Mohammed. But enough of this aspect, a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that achieving an Iraqi solution would be made far easier if a little geography could be brought to bear.

This of course would mean dividing Iraq in to three parts, like the aforementioned Gaul. One part would be Sunni; one part would be Shia and the third be controlled by the Kurds. Each part would select a leader, and the resulting triumvirate would deal with issues common to all three. And at that point the voice of the turtle would truly begin to be heard throughout the land.

This would take great imagination and great will, and of course entails great risks. But it is A Way.

And as the adage goes, "Behold the turtle. It makes progress only when it sticks its neck out."



*Rather than a turtle, I believe the King James version of the Bible   assumed that the term would be interpreted as a turtledove (As referred to in the Twelve Days of Christmas Song.) The Lady tends to leave some things unexplained now and then. -- Ed.

** Gaul at this time was actually five parts. But this is a quibble. --Ed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Words On A Grecian Turn

Well, apparently it's not just 'unionized' lemmings (see last week's report) that have a suicidal urge, but a majority of the Ontario electorate. The party with an iron grip on a tax and spend approach to governance, the Liberals, have obtained a majority. I believe this has come about because a goodly portion of that electorate have made the startling discovery that they can vote themselves considerable largesse out of the public treasury.

Hence the reference to Greece in the title. This country awarded many of its citizens,  particularly those in public service unions, a veritable ton of such largesse, and increased union membership considerably. All was wonderful, although this increase in employment was restricted to the public sector, who in essence took resources from the economy, rather than adding to it.

And then the money ran out, and the rest is history (and a sad one at that).

This could well be the fate of Ontario, in that those who wish to question such a profligate approach to fiscal management will be silenced whenever and wherever they attempt to raise such concerns. It is a majority government now, remember. No more on e-health fraud, Ornge helicopters, gas plants, or any other scandal. All will now fall under the rubric "Nothing to see here. Move along."

The press and opposition will fume and sputter, but that will be all. Alexis De Tocqueville in Democracy In America states this issue well:

"The majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. One is free within that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it, not that he stands in fear of an inquisition, but he must face all kinds of unpleasantness in everyday persecution."

Indeed. And how did such a situation arise in the first place? How did those who knew the above, who were well aware of the Grecian example, not speak out loudly and with force?

My answer? They did, but forgot their Schiller, who wrote simply and clearly, "With stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain."

Enough, or too much.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Learning From Lemmings

One thing television does rather well is nature programs, and the other day I stumbled into a film essay on the little rodent called the lemming. This little guy is found here and there in the tundra region of the Arctic, and survives quite well on grasses, small grains, grubs and whatnot. This, in spite of being hunted relentlessly by owls, falcons, stoats and the like.

Of course, being highly prolific helps, and it is this survival mechanism that has led to the myth of lemmings committing mass suicide when numbers grow too great for the environment to support them. As the show pointed out, this was not so much a mass suicide venture as it was migratory behaviour initiated by an instinct that the land could no longer sustain the majority of them.

So off a goodly portion went.

The suicide aspect came about when tales of lemmings jumping off cliffs or drowning in mass numbers in a lake became local, then national, lore.* This was nonsense, and the program stressed that such occurrences were mistakes on the part of the migrating lemmings -- the lake was larger than they were able to swim across, or an unforeseen chasm was seen too late to be avoided.

Here a thought occurred to me along the lines of the following.

The lemming's instinct was honed to its capability to survive. When, for instance, it realizes that further demands on the environment would result in it not being able to support the growing numbers of lemmings, starvation and eventual extinction would loom.

My thought -- Why cannot public service unions see what is obvious to lemmings, but not to themselves? A continually increasing membership wanting greater and greater wages and benefits to be drawn from a workers' tax base that grows smaller and smaller can result in the situation being presently faced in Greece, and to a lesser extent, Spain and Portugal. Such action puts a stress on a government that sooner or later will be unable to meet the demand.

An aside: Private sector unions are a different kettle of fish. Any negotiation is a tug of war between union and management, with no third party involved. If the negotiation fails and a strike is called, the company goes under, or the union collapses, or, more rarely, the union takes over management from the company. Unlike a public union strike, their is no innocent third party such as the public itself (or, worse, children, when there is a job action on the part of teachers). This aspect of the discussion, however, takes us away from the main thrust of the argument.

Now I am not suggesting that a large number of such union members fling themselves over cliffs or undertake a swim that they could not complete, but I am suggesting that the members give due consideration to lemmings, who see the need to alter their behaviour in order that all may succeed, and make the sacrificial decisions that result in this coming about. Otherwise.....well, it won't be pleasant.


* The Disney Academy Award winning film, White Wilderness, showed lemmings (imported from Calgary) jumping off a cliff to certain death. In a later CBC documentary, Cruel Camera, found that the lemmings DID NOT jump off the cliff, but were launched off a turntable. The Award still stands. -- Ed.