Friday, July 31, 2015

Election Selection

Knowing that an election was in the offing, the Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain had invited me to give a short address on the topic on behalf of the Board of Directors for the convent. Since I was the Board, and its only representative, I accepted. I have done this sort of thing before, the last time acceding to a request to give my views on Pope Francis and his rather kind remarks concerning atheism.*

I began with a description of the three main contenders and the party they represented. First, the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper. I held that he was, in his political stance, somewhat right of centre, with a focus on financial stability, a balanced budget, and turning tax dollars back to the public when the public accounts merited it. The best example here was the creation of Tax Free Savings Accounts.

Mr. Harper is also a believer in a strong military, and, a bit unfortunately, a strong believer in opaqueness rather than transparency in  things governmental. There is as well as some surprising ineptitude in personnel, particularly regarding staff and Cabinet selection.

The Liberals are led by Justin Trudeau, son of the esteemed (by some) Pierre Trudeau. Unlike Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau has not been at this game for long, and hence has made some blunders that echo Hermann Hesse's words, "Experience is a good school, but the fees are high." Think of the phrase "Budgets balance themselves" or "Eve Adams will I'm sure represent this riding well".**

In terms of where he leans, I see him jumping back and forth between right and left, as circumstances dictate. Not a bad strategy, but it can be annoying to a voter who might want a more stable view of things.

With Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democratic Party, there is no such doubt as to where he stands -- left of centre. But not as much as you might expect. Yes, he would be loathe to return monies to taxpayers that could be used for social needs, actual or not, but I can inform you that Mr, Mulcair has used the terms "budget" and balanced" in the same sentence. Interesting, and food for thought.

There is, it must be admitted, a fourth member in the upcoming fray, Elizabeth May of the Green Party. One seat, and that is a statistic that is unlikely to change. Or if it does, I rather think it, (and she) would disappear. Hence, good sisters, concentrate upon the three first named.

Now in conclusion, I should like to point out that this triumvirate is somewhat unusual, certainly when put against certain Republicans trying to trump each other as they run for president in the USA. All three Canadians are fundamentally decent, all are intelligent, and, wonder of wonders, all appear not to be tied to the stake of ideology. No Olivia Chows, David Suzukis or Maud Barlows here. And all would make a good Prime Minister (although Justin would at least initially need sound advisors). More importantly, to quote Matthew Arnold's line about purpose, these three endeavour "To see life steadily, and see it whole." 

Other countries should be so lucky.


* I should note that the nuns themselves are atheists, but gladly continue to minister to the poor and unwanted. It's just what they do.-- L.S.S.

** The riding association turfed Ms Adams and her parachute out on the first ballot. --Ed.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Martyrdom Misnomer

I am rather surprised that no writers on the vicious attacks launched on various citizenries by the likes of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have fallen into the trap of confusing the seeking of death by suicide bomb with martyrdom.

Martyrdom has nothing to do with such attacks -- particularly against women and children -- and should be called for what they really are: acts of murder.

The Qur'an is explicit here, and I quote from Allah (via Mohammed)  "And do not kill yourselves...and whosoever does that with aggressive inequity I will make them suffer in Hell
fire". "(24-30, 4).

Now that's a long way from the paradise on offer from the imams and mullahs that are encouraging suicide bombers to act. But these august figures don't rely on the Qur'an for the motivation, but on the Hadith, or the "sayings" of Mohammed as noted by his adherents. There's where we find the promised Eden, along with seventy-two virgins. (I mean, after the first seven, wouldn't you be seeking the embrace of a pro?)  But that preposterous nonsense aside, there is an even better reason to call in doubt the whole "martyrdom" strategy.

Having checked with my copy of the O.E.D., I learn that a martyr is one who continues to espouse a cause, knowing there is a risk. That risk was often death. But it is important, crucially important, to note that at no time does the believer seek torment or death. It is the passive voice, not the active, that is dominate here. The martyr never acts, but is acted upon.

Therefore, it can be safely argued that all the suicide bombers employed by the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and numerous twigs from these heinous branches are not martyrs at all. Soldiers fighting for a cause, even brave in a certain way, but not martyrs. A bit of thought on the matter, and familiarity with the Qur'an, would have helped the prospective bomber to perhaps decide there were better things to do.

Much better things.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rap and the Pan-Am Games

In reviewing the last several reports, I have decided that this one will deal with something lighter, a short trip if you will into the semi-inane.  

I do this with some trepidation. My source of information has been accurate in some past instances, and way off the mark in others, primarily because she is way too young to be as cynical as she is. So using her stuff is a bit of a crap shoot, but the material that follows, admittedly leaning to the bizarre, does ring true in an odd way.

It appears that a meeting of the senior organizers of the Pan-Am Games currently being held in Toronto was recently held. My informant was at this meeting, something that rang true in that she was a good minute-taker who was also wise enough to keep her mouth shut when Exalted Ones were discussing things.

After they congratulated themselves on the games success to date* the conversation turned to who might be called upon to give "star power" to the closing ceremonies, the type of power that Canada's Cirque de Soleil brought to the opening of the Games.

One member said that it was important to keep a Canadian focus where the closing ceremonies were concerned. All agreed. Another point was raised by one of the South American members that there should be an appeal to a more younger audience, to keep interest high for future Games. Again, agreement.

After a lively discussion, someone suggested that a Canadian rapper might fit the bill. My informant then broke protocol, and was going to make a suggestion here, but was ignored by the group. I mean, she was only twenty-something. What would she know of current stars in this area?

At this point the Chair suggested the perfect choice, the Canadian rapper Kanye West. My informant frantically waved her hand , hoping for recognition from the Chair. It was not forthcoming. The decision stood.

"You see," my informant said, "They vaguely knew that there was a Canadian rapper that could fit the bill -- "

"That would be Drake", I stated.

"No flies on you, are they? But yes, I'm certain that Drake was meant, but the only name they could recall was Kanye West, who is definitely an American, although one member also recalled that he came with some group called Kardashian."

"You 're kidding."

"I could not make this up. This is what happens when sixty-year-old men try to be twenty again. Make fools of themselves."

"Not entirely. You have to admit that after digging themselves into a hole, they dug themselves out rather neatly. Or at least the Chair did. Not something a twenty-year old would be likely to do."

"What do you mean?"

"The Chair, realizing the gaffe, made sure when he spoke publicly that such a choice was all part of a plan to emphasize that these were the Pan-American Games, involving both Americas, not just Canada. Therefore, to ask an American to close the ceremonies was both fair and just.  Using his experience, he had called upon what is known as The Juice Strategy.

"What the hell is that?"

"Ah, so speaks the twenty-something. It is simple, my dear. When you are confronted with a lemon, make lemonade. Here endeth the lesson."


* Media coverage has been adequate save for television, which spends far too much time discussing events when what the public wants is to see is the events themselves.

Friday, July 10, 2015

I Am My Self

I remember reading somewhere the adage, "If it's to be, it's up to me."* It is this little saying that I hope will get me through the next few paragraphs that deal with a rather complex and thorny issue.

The issue? Nothing other than the creation in people of a sense of dependency, further exacerbated by a feeling of entitlement to whatever largesse is on offer. Such largesse may take several forms such as monetary stipends, land use, housing rentals and even travel expenses to attend meetings that invariably push for more of the same.

Now my aim here is not to name names or castigate certain individuals who profit from this at the expense of those less connected --- this is the job of the media and (often more effective) auditors general. Rather I wish to get at the heart of all this, the loss of a person's selfhood when that person accepts rewards for something not earned.

This applies to many situations. One of the more stark examples is the effect of the Federal Indian Act.

On a First Nations reserve, for instance, the band members all receive monetary assistance as part of a prior treaty negotiation.** Individual members need do nothing else but exist, although one would hope they would use the funds wisely in terms of housing, health care, education and the like. Some do, some don't, and one can say that there has been a kind of gain.

 But what has been lost?

In a nutshell, a sense of self. Without earning the right to use and enjoy such largesse, the sense of who one really is, over time, withers into nothingness. The person involved has become a hollow shell, often turning to drugs and alcohol.

Put more bluntly, if you haven't earned something, the acceptance of it will have terrible inner consequences. It is this factor that is often missing from articles on the topic.

In contrast, turn to the portrait of First Nations peoples as described in Joseph Boyden's novel The Orenda. There each tribal member has a profound sense of self, and honour is only possible to achieve from effort, effort that benefits not just the individual, but also the tribe. If any gifts are given, those gifts have been earned. My wish here is that certain Federal officials and Ministers read that novel carefully, and then act accordingly.*** This would not only be the right thing to do, but their sense of self would grow immeasurably. It is as if each M.P. would take to heart the title of this particular missive, "If it's to be, it's up to me."

And yes, action in this sensitive area would certainly produce howls of outrage and self-pity, but as the Scots so well put it, "Self-pity never boiled a haddock."


* Sentence taken from Ben Bova's sci-fi novel, Moonrise. --Ed.

** Whether the band members actually receive what is owed them lies under the purview of the band Chief. In certain cases, this has led to scandals involving mis-appropriation and outright fraud. I hasten to add, however, that this affliction goes well beyond First Nations peoples. -- L.S.S.

*** This would require repealing The Indian Act, a complex business. So is much of life. Just get on with it. -- L.S.S.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Mantra For Recession

Recently, some very close friends of mine had to cancel a long-planned trip to Greece, for the reason that the hotel in Athens where they had booked accommodation had gone out of business. The staff had simply left en masse, apparently to return to long neglected homesteads in the country where olive trees still grew, and the oil from those olives was still a highly marketable thing.

This little anecdote brought to mind the following statement from Tommy Douglas, the father of Canada's universal health care* system:

"A recession is when your neighbour has to tighten his belt. A depression is when you have to tighten your belt, and a panic is when you have no belt, and your pants fall down."

Today, Greece is in a panic, and a number of countries are watching others tighten their belts, or are tightening their own. Which begs the question -- how did this come about?

Pondering these two queries over a very good vino barolo, it was not difficult to identify the culprits at the bottom of the mess. To wit: greed and incompetence.

The horror story of the Great Depression of the Thirties well illustrates both qualities at work. Greed in the purchase of shares with money you did not have (the 'on margin' aspect of the market) in order to make money without risking any, and incompetence to thinking that all this would work out well. At a later date, the sub-prime mortgage nonsense was also illustrative of the two qualities at work, mainly (but not solely) on the part of banks.

So it is with Greece, where way too many public servants argued for and got good-paying jobs, excellent benefits and gold-plated pensions while forgetting that all this was being laid at an ever-diminishing number of taxpayers. And like a Ponzi scheme, eventually the whole thing collapsed, and the call went out to the European Union for a bailout. And austerity. And a further bailout. And so on. And so forth.

The only thing that is crystal clear in all this -- greed and incompetence are terrible things when wedded together. And to correct the situation is going to demand wisdom. Here the words of former political commentator Walter Lippman come to mind: "It requires wisdom to understand wisdom; the music is nothing if the audience is deaf."

Does Greece have such wisdom?

Or, for that matter, Ontario?


* From every sensible American, "Sigh."