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.