Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

29 September 2004

Play ball

What? The Washington Expos? It just doesn't have the right sound to it.

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New Skillen book just out

I am pleased to report that James W. Skillen's In Pursuit of Justice: Christian-Democratic Explorations has just been released by the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield. From the table of contents: 1 - What distinguishes a christian-democratic point of view?; 2 - Civil society and human development; 3 - The question of being human; 4 - E Pluribus Unum and faith-based welfare reform; 5 - The cause of racial justice; 6 - Equal education for all; 7 - Liberalism and the environment; 8 - Citizenship and electoral reform. Definitely worth reading.

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Cyprus president on Annan Plan

Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos explains why his government urged Greek Cypriots to reject the Annan Plan last April in an interview with Business Week. In the meantime, Cyprus' Justice Minister Doros Theodorou claims that Chechen terrorists have bases in Turkish-controlled north Cyprus, from whence they have planned attacks on Russia, perhaps including the horrific bloodbath in Beslan.

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28 September 2004

Dooyeweerd consultation - III

Although the consultation proper ended saturday afternoon, it was in effect relocated north to our side of the border, as Alan Cameron, Jonathan Chaplin, Gideon Strauss and I were part of an event yesterday afternoon at Redeemer University College. Here some of my colleagues and a few of our students showed up to hear Cameron deliver a paper, "The Encyclopedia of the Science of Law: A Provisional Assessment of the Legal Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd." The subject matter is one of the lesser known elements of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, viz., his legal theory. It is less known primarily because his major, multi-volume work, The Encyclopedia of the Science of Law, is mostly still in Dutch and has not yet been translated into English in its entirety. Only the first volume is available in English, while the crucial third volume has yet to appear.

The principal contribution of Dooyeweerd's mature legal philosophy consists in the recognition of legal plurality, i.e., that law is a feature, not only of sovereign states, but of every human communal formation. For example, by-laws of a private organization, such as a charitable foundation or a labour union, possess a genuine legal character in their own right and are not to be deemed somehow derivative from state law. To be sure, the state may be called upon at some point to enforce the members' conformity to these by-laws as part of its mandate to do public justice, but it is not the state that gives them their validity. Their status as genuine laws precedes any sort of state action. Something similar could be said of a private contract, in which the intention of the two parties to be bound by its terms is distinct from the relationship of the parties to state law.

Cameron's remarks and Chaplin's subsequent response whetted our appetites for the third volume of the Encyclopedia. Let's hope it is published before too long.

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27 September 2004

Dooyeweerd consultation - II

Most of our discussions took place at the Holiday Inn. We began friday morning by going round the table and introducing ourselves and our work. Among other things, I noted that Roel Kuiper and I share an interest in authority and sovereignty, so he is one person with whom I will wish to remain in contact. Kuiper is associated with the Free University and the Reformed University, Zwolle/Christian University, Ede. I was also interested to know that David van Heemst, of Olivet Nazarene University, is working on a revision of Bob Goudzwaard's Idols of Our Time, a small but significant book published two decades ago which had an influence on the shape of my own book. I look forward to seeing what comes of this effort.

In the second session Jonathan Chaplin gave an excellent presentation on "Dooyeweerd's Contribution to an Understanding of 'Civil Society' in a Changing Global Context." (This was the title on his printed outline.) Jonathan is putting the finishing touches on a monograph on Dooyeweerd's political philosophy which I anticipate reading once it is published.

After this we all went to the BWI train station and took a MARC commuter train into Union Station, Washington. From there we took the subway to DuPont Circle and then walked to the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, where we heard Prof. Johan van der Vyver speak.


School of Law, Emory University

Johan van der Vyver


Van der Vyver once taught at Potchefstroom University, near Johannesburg, South Africa. He was dismissed from there in 1978 due to his stance in opposition to apartheid. After that he taught at the University of the Witwatersrand until he received a full-time position at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Somewhat ironically, Potchefstroom would eventually grant him an honorary doctorate following the end of the apartheid régime.

Van der Vyver's address was a very learned polemic sharply critical of the United States' continual refusal to ratify and adhere to a variety of international legal instruments, such as the Law of the Sea and the International Criminal Court. Prof. Ruth Wedgwood of SAIS chaired the session and also responded at some length to van der Vyver's paper. In contrast to van der Vyver's support for US participation in the ICC and similar institutions, Wedgwood is rather more sceptical of the efficacy of such enterprises. A lively discussion followed.

That evening, after dinner, we walked down as far as the security perimeter surrounding the Capitol building. From there we could also see the darkened outline of the Washington Monument off in the distance. Among the other buildings of interest we saw during our time in Washington were the embassies of Chile, Peru, the Philippines, Hungary and (possibly) Uzbekistan; the National Geographic Society, Planned Parenthood, the American Enterprise Institute and the Congressional Black Caucus.


Pearson/Prentice Hall

Capitol Building


The following morning I presented my own work on political ideologies, outlining the basic thesis of my book and the debt owed to Dooyeweerd's political theory, as well as to Goudzwaard. This sparked another animated discussion, two features of which stand out for me. First, the conversation turned to the influence of radical islamism and the extent to which it represents either a reaffirmation of the original islamic faith or an ideologization of that faith. (This is something on which I am not altogether certain. I can see validity in both interpretations.) Second, I was struck by the assertion of our Dutch colleagues that ideologies, as we have come to know them over the past two centuries, are effectively dead, having been replaced by a pragmatic instrumentalism in which technical expertise becomes the primary consideration. To which I say, perhaps, but it all sounds reminiscent of Daniel Bell's "end of ideology" thesis of nearly half a century ago in the United States. His ringing of the death knell turned out to be terribly premature, given the subsequent developments of the 1960s. Still, perhaps I should consider taking on pragmatism itself at some point.

From here we heard from Roy Clouser on the religious roots of theory. This moved us into a presentation by David Caudill on the similarities between Dooyeweerd's legal theory and Critical Legal Studies. Alan Cameron was less persuaded of this affinity, but, as Caudill had to leave early, we were unable to hear an exchange between the two on the subject.

On saturday evening those of us remaining went down to the inner harbour in Baltimore and had dinner together. I returned to Hamilton yesterday. Whether we will be meeting again in another year or two is still to be determined. It was a good weekend, all in all.

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26 September 2004

Galactic confection

This latest news would appear to mean that, if its name is any indication, our galaxy is really a large dish of ice cream: "Frozen sugar at centre of Milky Way."

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Dooyeweerd consultation - I

I have just returned from two full days in Baltimore as part of a conversation amongst academics and practitioners who are in some sense indebted to Herman Dooyeweerd's political and legal theory. There were about 20 of us altogether and we met at the Holiday Inn at the Baltimore-Washington Airport. The gathering was organized primarily by James W. Skillen of the Center for Public Justice, an organization to which I have belonged for just under three decades. A number of institutions were represented, including the Center itself, the CLAC/WRF, the Free University of Amsterdam, the Institute for Christian Studies, Redeemer University College (of course), Dordt College, Trinity Christian College, The King's University College, Gordon College, Olivet Nazarene University, Emory University, Washington and Lee University, The College of New Jersey and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. The conversations were stimulating and it was helpful to have in one room so many people whom I either had not seen in a long time or had only heard about.

I will shortly be writing about this unprecedented event at somewhat greater length. Stay tuned.

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23 September 2004

Pop music icon a terrorist?

Baby boomers will remember the 1970s singer Cat Stephens, born Stephen Georgiou and raised an Orthodox Christian, who converted to Islam a quarter-century ago. The man who now calls himself Yusuf Islam has been barred from entering the US due to suspected terror links. Could a Greek go this bad? A friend denies it.

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21 September 2004

CBS recants

Whatever one thinks of President Bush and his policies, manufacturing lies about his past is clearly unconscionable. Now CBS, which only a few days ago was standing behind its big story, has been forced to eat its words. Sometimes the networks not only report the news; they make it.

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Mainline churches, ideologies and renewal

The United Reformed Church -- not to be confused with this denomination! -- was formed in 1972 with the merger of the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches in England. Since then other church bodies have joined the URC, making it in some respects similar to the United Church of Canada and similar mainline groups. It is a theoretically large composite denomination whose membership is greying and whose pews are gradually emptying. Typically such bodies are readier to make pronouncements on political issues than on even such basic doctrinal issues as the person and work of Christ.

Now I wouldn't wish unduly to impugn the significance of the URC's stance against racism and the British National Party. In fact, it in no way exceeds the mandate of ecclesiastical office to alert parishioners to the dangers to their spiritual health attendant upon accepting idolatrous ideologies. Yet such church bodies tend to be selective in choosing which ideological commitments to declare "incompatible with Christian discipleship." Racism is an easy target. It utterly lacks respectability and it was thoroughly discredited in the last century.

By contrast, it is much more difficult to find a consensus within such bodies against the blandishments of liberalism and its infatuation with the autonomous individual, particularly when this impacts issues of sexuality and the perimeters of life. The URC and similar groups will have more credibility when they take on the late liberal notion that the state exists to subsidize a multiplicity of individual choices irrespective of whether they answer to a normative order upheld by God.

My guess is that, because such composite churches have usually lost their sense of confessional identity, and because they further believe they have to take a stand on something, they are more likely to reach for those issues they believe to be less divisive. The irony is, of course, that, in focussing so heavily on concrete political issues, on which there is legitimate diversity of opinion, these denominations have effectively alienated substantial portions of their own flocks, thus contributing to their diminishing membership roles and their increasing irrelevance.

Is it possible to renew such churches? Absolutely, particularly on the local level. I don't know the URC at all well. But I do know there are vital congregations within the Anglican Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Renewing a church at the denominational level is more difficult, I am inclined to think. But, of course, nothing should ever be deemed impossible for the Holy Spirit.

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19 September 2004

A retirement

Congratulations are due to the Rev. Dr. Robert J. Bernhardt and his family on the completion of 33 years of service at Chalmers Presbyterian Church here in Hamilton. May God go with him and bless him as he continues to serve his kingdom in retirement.

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18 September 2004

Battle of the search engines

Will a9.com oust Google from the top spot?

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The Gothic Revival Cottage

Although my childhood ambition was to become an architect, I discarded this dream at age 14 after taking a drafting class in high school and realizing that my gifts lay elsewhere. That said, I have an abiding interest in the subject. I find it fascinating to explore the different living and working environments people construct for themselves as they work out the cultural mandate. The building materials are largely dictated by what is available in specific localities. But the styles characterizing the completed edifices vary according to the limits of the human imagination.

When I moved back to southern Ontario 17 years ago, I couldn't help noticing that the design of the house shown immediately below, located in the village of Simcoe, recurs throughout the region.


OntarioArchitecture.com


It's called the Gothic Revival Cottage, and it represents a 19th-century attempt to translate something of the English architectural tradition to rural Upper Canada. According to OntarioArchitecture.com,

Many elements of stone buildings in England are translated into wood on cottages and smaller residences in Ontario Gothic Revival buildings. The overall effect is eclectic and usually ornate. The Gothic Cottage is probably the most pervasive Ontario residential style prior to 1950. Not to be confused with Neo-Gothic, which is a twentieth century adaptation to large institutional buildings, the Gothic Revival is a direct translation of medieval details and building practices to the Ontario climate. . . . The basic design was promoted in the 19th century by academics J.C. Loudon and A.J. Downing as well as the Canadian Farmer (1865) where it is featured complete with construction drawings for the farmer to build.

The most distinctive element of the Gothic Revival Cottage is the small arched window above the door flanked by a fairly steep roofline. A drive through southern Ontario will reveal many such cottages, some made of brick and others of stone or wood, but all variations on the same basic theme.

It seems that the Gothic Revival Cottage is not altogether peculiar to southern Ontario. Here is one located in Hudson, Ohio, near the city of Cleveland:


Hudson Heritage Association


Other examples of this style are seen occasionally in various parts of the United States, but they are not nearly as common as here in southern Ontario.

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17 September 2004

Whom are we fighting?

To those Americans (in particular) who believe their country is fighting a war against terrorism, Stephen Monsma, of Pepperdine University, begs to differ in this week's Capital Commentary, "Terrorism is Not the Enemy." The foe is al Qaeda, and not terrorism per se. Reasons Monsma:

The reason why this distinction is crucial is that a "war against terrorism" is inevitably an unlimited, open-ended war. A Christian understanding of evil in this broken, sinful world leads one to expect that terrorism in one form or another will always be with us. We have no reason to expect that in this present age there will not always be certain evil persons or movements who are willing to use the tactics of terror to gain their ends. To think that we can rid our world of terror is supported neither by historical experience nor Christian thought.

Thus by committing ourselves to a "war against terrorism" we are committing ourselves to something with amorphous, ill-defined aims, which in turn means there will be few benchmarks to judge successes and failures or even standards by which to judge the appropriateness of our actions and tactics.

On the other hand, if we would identify the Al Qaeda network and its allied groups as the enemy with whom we are in conflict, we would limit and focus our aims. This, in turn, would make it easier to hold our decision-makers accountable this election year, since we could judge the appropriateness and outcomes of the actions to which they commit our military and intelligence forces in the light of those more limited, focused aims.

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Student globetrotting

One of the opportunities open to undergraduates and recent graduates is that of travelling abroad. When I was 20 years old I spent the summer travelling with the European Seminar sponsored by Gordon College, Massachusetts, and in the process visited some ten countries (including tiny Liechtenstein) in eight weeks. It was an exhausting but unforgettable experience. In many respects this journey helped to crystallize the sense of calling which I've pursued since then.

Now, as a professor, I see my own students embarking on their own travels, and some of them are kind enough to drop me a postcard or bring back a small gift. The other day one of my students, who had been to Russia over the summer, gave me a pin bearing the Russian imperial doubleheaded eagle with the arms of St. Petersburg on the shield. Very nice indeed. And only yesterday I received a postcard sent from another student in Poznan, Poland, where he has spent some weeks visiting relatives. Students may not be aware how much such gestures are appreciated, but they certainly are.

Probably the most interesting gift of all was a couple of pieces of the Berlin Wall, shrinkwrapped in plastic, which was brought back from Germany by a recently graduated student just over a decade ago. I still have it in my campus office. Perhaps I should make a display case for these gifts.

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16 September 2004

Ending slavery

What? Wasn't slavery outlawed more than a century ago in most places? Could it be true then that some 27 million people are enslaved today, more than at any time in history? That's what Susan Llewelyn Leach reports in this disturbing article from The Christian Science Monitor: "Slavery is not dead, just less recognizable."

Modern-day slavery has little of the old [American] South. Of those 27 million, the majority are bonded laborers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal - workers who have given their bodies as collateral for debts that never diminish no matter how many years, or sometimes generations, the enslaved labor on. . . .

In his book Disposable People, [Kevin] Bales says ownership is no longer an attractive proposition for most slaveholders because the price of slaves is so low. In 1850, a slave would cost about $40,000 [US] in today's dollars. Now, you can buy a slave for $30 in the Ivory Coast. The glut "has converted them from being the equivalent of buying a car to buying a plastic pen that you use and throw away," he says. That makes maintenance of the "investment" a low priority, and little care is taken for slaves' well-being.

The most common type of slavery is debt bondage which traps 15 million to 20 million in loan agreements they can never pay off. Others are lured by false promises into forced labor situations, where they are coerced to stay under threat of violence. Slavery also includes the worst forms of child labor and sexual exploitation of women and girls.

Fortunately people are working to combat the practice, including Bale's Free the Slaves and Tommy Calvert's American Anti-Slavery Group. That they deserve our support hardly need be said.

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The American electoral map, birthrates and culture wars

Since the last presidential election south of the border, a number of observers have pointed out that the electoral map of the United States corresponds very nicely to the frontlines in the so-called culture wars. The red states (as rendered by the television networks) voting for Bush are generally conservative with respect to religious and cultural ethos, while the blue states that went for Gore are much less so. Phillip Longman has unpacked this further by noting that birthrates in the red states are higher than in the blue: "Political Victory: From Here to Maternity." Writes Longman:

High fertility also correlates strongly with support for George W. Bush. Of the top 10 most fertile states, all but one voted for Bush in 2000. Among the 17 states that still produce enough children to replace their populations, all but two -- Iowa and Minnesota -- voted for Bush in the last election. Conversely, the least fertile states -- a list that includes Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Connecticut -- went overwhelmingly for Al Gore. Women living in Gore states on average have 12 percent fewer babies than women living in Bush states. . . .

In states where Bush won a popular majority in 2000, the average woman bears 2.11 children in her lifetime -- which is enough to replace the population. In states where Gore won a majority of votes in 2000, the average woman bears 1.89 children, which is not enough to avoid population decline. Indeed, if the Gore states seceded from the Bush states and formed a new nation, it would have the same fertility rate, and the same rapidly aging population, as France -- that bastion of "old Europe."

If Gore's America (and presumably John Kerry's) is reproducing at a slower pace than Bush's America, what does this imply for the future? Well, as the comedian Dick Cavett remarked, "If your parents never had children, chances are you won't either." When secular-minded Americans decide to have few if any children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to the other side of the culture divide.

This could, of course, lead to a realignment in favour of the Republican Party over the long term.

But what about 2004? My guess -- and it is just a guess -- is that, come November, the Bush and Kerry electoral map will not yield the same neat geographic division between religious and secular America. Why? Four years ago both Bush and Gore were untried as national leaders. They had no record on which to stand. Thus voters had the luxury, as it were, of choosing whichever candidate they felt to be closest to their overall worldview and political philosophy. They would then hope for the best after their favoured candidate was actually in office.

This time around, however, things are different. Bush has been president for nearly four years and he has a record to defend or to live down. This includes his performance with respect to both domestic and foreign policies. If voters in the red states believe that Bush's economic policies have hurt their local economies, they might decide to take their chances with Kerry. Similarly, if many reds, who were impressed four years ago by Bush's so-called compassionate conservatism, dislike the fact that his foreign and defence policies, besides alienating much of the world, have deflected his administration from its domestic priorities, they could abandon him for Kerry or -- perhaps just as likely -- stay home.

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15 September 2004

Electing a president: too much democracy?

Here is my column published in the 13 September issue of Christian Courier:

In the 1986 mid-term elections in the US, something occurred in my home state of Illinois illustrating the dangers of excessively democratizing a political system. In the primary election in March of that year two followers of extremist Lyndon LaRouche, an anti-semite who believes, among other things, that the Queen is the head of an international drug-smuggling ring, won the Democratic nominations for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State. Were Illinoisans in an especially nettlesome mood that year, ready to throw their support behind a fanatical political agenda? Not at all.

US ballots are exceedingly lengthy and, to vote intelligently, Americans must educate themselves concerning scores of individual candidates. Party labels mean little, particularly at the primary election stage, when voters are responsible for narrowing the choice among possibly four or five candidates for each post. Given the difficulty in learning enough about each candidate, it is clear that many voters opt for those whose names sound safe, even if they know nothing else about them. In Illinois that year Democratic voters chose “LaRouchies” Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart over state senator George Sangmeister and Chicago alderman Aurelia Pucinski for their respective posts. The reassuring sound of Fairchild’s and Hart’s surnames gave them an advantage over the more obviously ethnic names of their opponents. Democratic Party leaders were appalled, but they were stuck with these two candidates, because the voters had spoken.

As a result of reforms instituted in the late 1960s and early ’70s, voters were empowered at the expense of party officials, ostensibly to break the control of the old urban bosses, such as Chicago’s late mayor Richard J. Daley. All of this sounded good at the time, and it was difficult to argue with something that would more thoroughly democratize the political process. However, the major effect of these reforms was to eliminate a valuable preliminary filtering mechanism that would ensure that a party’s candidates were qualified for their posts and stood within the mainstream of its political commitments. Often ill-informed voters were in effect being asked to make executive decisions better made by a smaller body.

It is no accident that, since the Democratic and Republican Parties made primary election results binding, Americans have chosen a series of presidents with little or no national or international experience. They have typically been governors of states who have won election by campaigning against Washington rather than for it. Once they have attained to the presidency, they have often been less than adept at co-operating with members of Congress and foreign leaders. Jimmy Carter was the first of these, his presidency marred by a series of unskilfully-handled foreign and domestic debacles climaxing with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. George W. Bush is the most recent, pursuing foreign and defence policies that have unnecessarily alienated US allies while failing to apprehend the principal mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Given that the United States is a superpower, whose every action on the international stage has global ramifications, the rest of the world has an interest in the process whereby a president comes to office. If it is not true after all that more democracy will cure the ills of democracy, and if excessive democratization puts relative neophytes into what is arguably the most powerful office in the world, then the two major parties badly need to revisit the process whereby they nominate a presidential candidate, leaving it to the voters to make only the final and not the initial decision.

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Baby steps in Cyprus

Last year the Green Line between the Turkish north and Greek south of Cyprus opened. Although the Kofi Annan Plan to reunite the island failed in last April's referendum, there are still steps being made in the direction of reconciliation. Only recently a Greek school in the northern village of Rizokarpasso has been reopened after having been closed some time ago in an effort to drive the remaining Greeks into the south. That the TRNC government has finally permitted this is a good sign.

In the meantime, few are likely aware that, even after 1974, Greeks and Turks have continued to live together in the village of Pyla, located in one of the British sovereign military base areas. Residents co-exist peacefully and amicably, proving to the world that it can be done. Let us hope and pray that the rest of the island will catch up with Pyla.

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14 September 2004

Oh, come now: this is news?

Our hometown newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, has sunk to a new low. Last year The Spec underwent a facelift in which it considerably dumbed down its contents, eliminating the old "Canada and the World" section and cutting the two op-ed pages down to a single page. Now in today's edition two-thirds -- yes, two-thirds! -- of the front page is covered with rows of tiny photographs of automobiles and the following "headline" extending across the middle: "Oprah Winfrey gives away 276 BRAND NEW cars. A10." I suppose we can't expect The New York Times, but surely Hamilton deserves better than this?

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PJR on-line

The 3rd quarter issue of The Public Justice Report is now on-line. Some will likely find of interest the following disturbing article by James W. Skillen: "It Could Never Happen Here: Abuse of Prisoners and the Rule of Law." An excerpt:

Commentator Stuart Taylor Jr., who has been broadly supportive of the Bush administration, writes with dismay about that March 6, 2003 report that was written by Pentagon lawyers for Rumsfeld, who wanted to know how far the military could go in interrogating prisoners without being faulted even under American law for mistreating or torturing them. "Most breathtaking," says Taylor, is the following claim made on pages 20-21 of the leaked, 56-page report: "In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war,... the prohibition against torture [in the 1994 criminal statute] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority" (Taylor, "The Torture Memos: Putting the President Above the Law," National Journal, 6/12/04).

That Pentagon report, says Taylor, was "prepared under the watchful eyes of the White House" and "built on an August 2002 Justice Department memo addressed to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, in response to a CIA request for legal protection for interrogators."

What is clear as well as outrageous about these legal opinions is that the mistreatment, even torture, of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was not the consequence of a "few bad apples" at the bottom of the military ranks, as the president claims, or the distorted ideas of one or two secretive military lawyers who got carried away with themselves. No, says Taylor, these "warped analyses…reflect an attitude deeply entrenched in the Bush White House--including Bush and Dick Cheney as well as Gonzales--that whenever the president invokes national security, he enjoys near-dictatorial powers and is quite literally above the law."

I might add perhaps that Skillen himself was cautiously optimistic about a Bush presidency four years ago, since, in his judgement, Bush knew "he has to learn from others and not rush to judgment" and looked "like the one most likely to mature further as he works with others." So this new article does not come from someone who habitually reviles Bush in knee-jerk fashion.

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13 September 2004

Lost Hamilton

I wonder how many Hamiltonians are aware that there were once two incline railways early last century connecting James and Upper James Streets and Wentworth and Upper Wentworth Streets. This was in the days when the Hamilton Street Railway actually boasted, well, street railways. The Hamilton & Barton Incline Railway operated at James Street between 1892 and 1931 and was briefly revived in 1932 before closing for good.


hamiltonpostcards.com


At the top of the railway stood the old Mountain View Hotel, with its distinctive turret, as shown below.


hamiltonpostcards.com


Farther to the east at Wentworth Street lay the Hamilton Incline Railway, which opened in 1900 and closed in 1936.


Industrial Hamilton


Whether these were funicular railways I cannot say for certain, but, judging from the pictures, I rather imagine they were. I've ridden funicular railways in Niagara Falls, Lugano, Switzerland, Athens, Greece, and at Horseshoe Curve, Pennsylvania. It's a shame Hamilton was unable to make a go of at least one such railway over the long term.

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12 September 2004

Authority, office and uniform

In my recent readings on authority, I have come to believe that key to understanding the concept is office, something which the majority of writers on the subject appear to have missed entirely. As authoritative office has come to be derogated, there has been a concomitant tendency to disparage the distinctive garb associated with it. Beginning some four decades ago, coincident with the various cultural shifts of the 1960s, people began to jettison office-specific uniforms in favour of "ordinary" clothing -- a trend which, with its universaling of blue jeans, ironically put everyone into a new, more monochrome uniform. Nuns took off their habits. Professors dressed like their students. School dress codes went by the boards.

Of course, not every authoritative office was or could be affected by this. Police officers still have to wear uniforms, a tacit concession that they fulfil a crucial social function. Letter carriers still dress in postal garb, if only to alert the suspicious family dog to their presence!

Here are the reflections of one person who well understands the connection between dress and office: "Clothes Make the Office." Writes the author:

For almost the entirety of the church’s history (both biblical and ecclesial), ministers of the gospel have worn a robe in the service of worship. This continued until the last century and then the clerical garments started to disappear in various settings. . . .

I used to think that robes were some high-minded way of calling attention to the man. There was, of course, a great irony in my church tradition. Though the minister would never dare wear a robe so he wouldn’t be considered pompous or Popish, the choir was always robed behind him! Then I read defenders of ministerial dress who said the clothing is intended to hide the man behind the symbolic cloth of Jesus Christ. The church’s worship is about the ministry of Jesus Christ, giving us His Word and feeding us His meal.

There is a distinctive academic garb that is nevertheless worn only on special occasions, such as opening and closing convocations. I suppose my own distinctive academic "uniform", which I wear while teaching, is the bow tie. Of course, I would never wear it while gardening or exercising or doing the laundry. Even on campus, on days when I am not teaching, I generally do not wear it. I claim no great significance for this sartorial signature, but it does serve to mark the office in some measure. And given that it is rarely in style at all, it is not generally subject to the whims of fashion.

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News from Orthodox world

The Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Petros VII, a native of Cyprus, has died in an air crash in the sea off the coast of the ancient monastic community of Mount Athos.

In the meantime, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is holding on in its historic home despite the continuing hostility of the Turkish government. With the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul dwindling in numbers, Ankara's requirement that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen threatens the ability of the ancient see to remain in the city on the Bosporus. However, a glimmer of hope is to be found in Turkey's application for membership in the European Union, which is closely monitoring its treatment of religious minorities.

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11 September 2004

Québec's revised 'health' policy

Beginning in 1960 Québec underwent its Révolution tranquille or Quiet Revolution, in which a traditional Catholic people threw off the "oppressive" influence of Christianity, embracing in its place the jealous gods of nationalism and personal autonomy. Although there were many after-effects of this watershed movement, the following certainly has to qualify as an especially significant one: "Quebec hopes to offer late-term abortions."

The government's decision on late-term abortion was defended by Quebec Health Minister Philippe who said, "In Quebec, our doctors at the present time don't feel comfortable doing abortions later than 22 weeks. . . ."

"It is extremely hard for a woman to have a late abortion and also hard for the doctor that performs it, both psychologically and other ways," Couillard told CBC radio.

Perhaps as the doctors become progressively more liberated from the remnants of their former faith, their comfort level will rise to match the new provincially-correct ethical standards.

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10 September 2004

A centenary tribute

Today marks the one-hundredth birthday of my maternal grandmother. Frances Marie Hyder -- Marie to one and all -- was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, to Nelson and Lucy Jane Bentley Hyder, the third of ten children. Around 1914, when she was ten years old, the family moved to a farm outside Adrian, Michigan, and here she grew to adulthood. She married my grandfather, Eino Korpinen, around 1928, and together they had two daughters, the younger of whom is my mother.

I remember her to be a loving woman, as I suppose most grandmothers are. Yet what I associate most with her is a cheerful disposition and an optimistic outlook on life. She was always singing around the house, something my mother picked up. That she would be such a "cockeyed optimist," to quote Oscar Hammerstein, was somewhat surprising given that her life was a difficult one from virtually beginning to end. Her upbringing was not especially happy, from what she told me. Her marriage was unsuccessful. Shortly after my mother's birth, she was a single mother attempting to feed and raise two daughters in the midst of the Great Depression.



Marie with her mother, c. 1922


By the time I came along, she was in her 50s. We would visit her at least twice a year, often around Easter and then again in the middle of the summer, when we would sometimes spend weeks at her house in a small town south of Ann Arbor, Michigan. If my father was unable come along, we would take the New York Central from Chicago to Ann Arbor, where she would pick us up. On other occasions my father would drive us there via the recently-built Indiana Toll Road. While there we would often visit other relatives and friends with whom my mother grew up.

Decades later I found myself wondering what it was like for my grandmother, who lived alone and worked at an IGA grocery store in town, to have a family of eight (after 1963) descend upon her and expect to be billeted in what was essentially a two-bedroom house. I can no longer recall the sleeping arrangements, but I do recall a small back room off the kitchen where there was a bed. I believe this is where Grandma slept during our visits.

She was also a perennial visitor to our home at the American Thanksgiving holiday each November, along with my aunt, uncle and cousins.

I know little of my grandmother's personal faith. I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask her about this, but as she died when I was 20 years old, I undoubtedly felt myself to be too young before that point to broach the issue. In any event, it was not something she talked about. Although she was raised in a church-going family, she was no longer attending church by the mid-1950s. Yet she did own more than one Bible, two of which I inherited from her. In one she had underlined verses, so she was obviously conversant with the Scriptures on some level.

After she retired in 1969, Grandma was plagued by a number of maladies, including cancer and Parkinson's Disease. She eventually died in hospital from the effects of a stroke not too far from our family home near Chicago. Shortly afterwards, I had a dream about her that was as vivid as reality. Grandma was young again, younger than I had ever known her to be. She looked like the young girl of 18 or 20 in the old sepia-tone photographs we have of her. She was running happily through a beautiful meadow dotted with wild flowers. I can ascribe the dream to nothing more than the hope of a young man that he would once again see someone he had loved dearly for the first two decades of his life. Her final resting place is in the Oakwood Cemetery in Adrian, near the graves of her parents and grandparents.

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Latest Comment



Although I've not seen an official announcement, another issue of Comment appears to be on-line. Here is the table of contents: COLLECTIVE REPRESENTATION: A Conservative Defence, by Ray Pennings; Life's Big Questions: What's Wrong with the World?, by Shiao Chong; Turning dollars into dignity: Teaching a small town how to trade, by Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma; and Westernization or clash of civilizations?, by yours truly.

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WRF event

Last evening I was privileged to be present as the formidable Mr. James Brink was inaugurated as a junior research fellow at the Work Research Foundation. The event took place at Hamilton's LIUNA Station, the former Canadian National railway station on James Street North. The 1930 landmark was restored by the Labourers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) and the City of Hamilton. Given this connection, it is somewhat ironic that LIUNA should have provided the setting for an event sponsored by an organization associated with the CLAC, the "union with a difference."

The evening consisted of two speeches, the first by Gideon Strauss, "A Nation of Idiots," and the second by Mr. Brink himself, "How to Start a Slow Reformation in a Fast and Easy Society." As Mr. Brink is a graduate of Redeemer University College, we are especially proud of him. Congratulations!


hamiltonpostcards.com

Hamilton's CN station in its heyday

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09 September 2004

Egoyan and the Genocide: another perspective

At the end of July I wrote a review of Atom Egoyan's Ararat, which I had seen recently and found wanting. A few days ago I discovered that a certain Raffi, who lists as his homepage cilicia.com, left a comment which I had missed at the time. I thought I would reproduce it here, since it offers a viewpoint from someone whose family was affected by the Genocide:

I think you are mistaken in your assumption that Egoyan was trying to make a definitive film on the genocide, or even in saying that [his] film "is about THE genocide". It is a typical Egoyan movie, and I would say his tribute to the victims of the genocide (which I would say includes the descendants). It is about the reverberations even 80 years later, and the effects of the denial. It is a movie that I think really he made for himself, and which probably is appreciated best by those who have grown up as descendants of the genocide, as Armenians, but far from the Armenia of today.

If Egoyan had wanted to do a Schindlers List, and reach the entire planet, it is obvious he would not have made the movie in the way he did. It would have been much simpler, like the Sweet Hereafter, or Felicia's Journey.

Anyway - off of my soapbox now, but I just wanted to share from the persective of a descendant of the genocide...

Thanks, Raffi.

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Electoral reform in Canada

My own "Minority Government and the Case for Electoral Reform," originally published in the 14 August issue of Christian Courier, has been posted at the christianity.ca website.

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08 September 2004

Introducing the family: Niilo and Anna Juntunen

My great-great-grandparents were born in the village of Puolanka, in the north central part of Finland. Niilo Juntunen (1860-1934) brought his family over to the US from Russian-controlled Finland in 1882, when his eldest daughter, Anna Liisa (1881-1967), my great-grandmother, was less than a year old. Family tradition said that he came to escape conscription into the Russian army.

Apparently Niilo came over first and then sent for his wife, Anna Moilanen Juntunen (1859-1933), and little Anna Liisa. They settled near Oskar, Michigan, in the midst of the beautiful "Copper Country" in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Eleven daughters were born to Niilo and Anna, ten of whom survived into adulthood. Thus the family surname did not pass to any of their descendants

A quite nice account of Niilo and Anna Juntunen's immigration and life in upper Michigan is contained in an essay, "Journey to America," written by a distant cousin, Valerie Tuomi, as part of a project during her years at Houghton High School, Houghton, Michigan. The only significant error in her account is her assertion that, when the head of a family became a citizen in those years, so did the entire family. This is undoubtedly what Niilo and Anna themselves thought, and it seems to have been passed down the generations to Valerie. In fact, when, as an elderly woman, Anna Liisa applied for social security, she discovered, to her horror, that she had never been an American citizen. (All of her sisters, recall, were born in the US and were thus citizens from birth.) Somewhat implausibly, she feared deportation.

In any event, she died at the ripe old age of eighty-five in 1967 and was buried in Hancock, Michigan, near the final resting place of her husband, Jacob Korpinen, and their son Wesley, who had lost his life in the Pacific during the second World War.



The Juntunen Family, 1905


In the photograph shown above, Anna and Niilo are seated in the centre. Seated to Niilo's left is his son-in-law Jacob, or Jaakko (looking rather like a young Theodore Roosevelt). Anna Liisa stands to the far right of the photo. Three of their children, Jennie, Bill and Esther, are with them, with the latter two on their father's lap. Judging from the apparent ages of the children, Anna Liisa is almost certainly carrying my grandfather, Eino Justus, who was born in December 1905.

Niilo and Anna died more than two decades before my birth, but I recall seeing their daughter (my great-grandmother), Anna Liisa, on at least one occasion -- in either 1963 or '64, by which time she was nearly deaf, suffering from advanced diabetes and living in a nursing home near Detroit.

In July 1988 a huge family reunion was held at Suomi College (now Finlandia University) in Hancock, Michigan, of the descendants of Niilo and Anna. I and my immediate birth family were privileged to attend this event, along with some 300 other relatives.

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The 'betrayal of liberalism' thesis again

Susan P. Jacobse is an Orthodox Christian who has changed her mind over the past two decades, as recounted here: "Why I Am a Conservative." Writes Jacobse:

I discovered that the founding fathers [of the United States] were classical liberals. Their legacy is not the moral equivalency and moral relativism that are the hallmarks of modern liberalism. Rather, the rightful heirs of the classical liberalism of the founders are the moral and social conservatives of today.

This assessment is widely held by many people, particularly Americans, whether they call themselves liberals or conservatives. But what if it's not true? What if the followers of the latest, most decadent form of liberalism -- the adherents of what I call the choice-enhancement state -- really are the true heirs of the liberal legacy? What if there's a spiritual link between Jefferson's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the US Supreme Court's "right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life"? Then what?

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06 September 2004

Restating the obvious

From the Vatican's Zenit news service: "Marriage Is Only Between Man and Woman, Pope Reminds Canada." A short time ago this would have seemed like a tautological statement. Since it is no longer recognized as such, perhaps we can eventually expect to read the following headlines: "Historians determine Thirty Years War lasted three decades." "Meteorologist discovers flood danger associated with high water levels." "Medical researchers find deafness due to hearing loss."

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Moldovan or Romanian?

The Republic of Moldova is a country which can plausibly count Josef Stalin as its principal founding father. After all, it was the brutal Soviet dictator who forcibly annexed the Romanian territory of Bessarabia and made most of it into a soviet republic called Moldavia. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 the newly independent Moldova was forced to find its own identity. Since national identity is often associated with a unique language, some Moldovans have argued for the existence of a distinctly Moldovan language. Yet most linguists assert, with considerable evidence, that Moldovan is not a language in its own right but simply a minor variation of Romanian.

Thus far I have yet to hear anyone argue that there is a distinctive Canadian language, especially since we have two official languages here. However, a McMaster University sociologist has argued, much to everyone's surprise, that Canadians are an ethnic group.

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Westfield Heritage Village

If you live anywhere near Hamilton or Cambridge, Ontario, a good place to take the children on a Labour Day weekend is the Westfield Heritage Village, near Rockton. It's a somewhat eclectic restored village, with buildings dating from the 1790s through the end of the 19th century. Its big claim to fame is that some of the Anne of Green Gables episodes were filmed here. For railfans, it also boasts an old steam locomotive and caboose from the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway. Worth paying a visit.

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ET phoning earth?

So has the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) received its first signal from space aliens or not? Which is it? And what does all this say about terrestrial intelligence?

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05 September 2004

Old One-Hundredth?

This morning in church we sang "All People that on earth do dwell," which is, of course, a metrical versification of Psalm 100. The tune, to which Bishop Thomas Ken's doxology is often sung, finds its origin in the Genevan Psalter. Indeed, it is almost certainly the best-known of the Genevan melodies in the English-speaking world. What is less known is that the tune which goes by OLD ONE-HUNDREDTH in so many hymnals was originally Psalm 134 in the Genevan Psalter. Another, and to my mind, more compelling tune was used for Psalm 100. It was not until 1650, with the publication of the Scottish Psalter, that the Genevan tune for Psalm 134 was reassigned to Psalm 100.

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Russia's '9-11'

The Russian people have suffered much over the centuries, often from their own rulers, but certainly also from the predations of their neighbours. Now, within the space of a fortnight, Russia has experienced successive terrorist attacks, culminating in last friday's carnage in Beslan, one of the worst such attacks ever. May God comfort those who mourn and may the perpetrators of this evil be quickly brought to justice.

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04 September 2004

Bernard Herrmann

Many years ago I was driving home from work when I heard on the radio an excerpt from the score of the 1947 film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Very soon I found myself in tears, as the music provoked in me a strong emotional response that I hadn't expected. Now granted, my blood sugar was probably a bit low so late in the afternoon. Yet I was curious to find out who would have composed such haunting music. I soon learned that the score was written by Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), one of the seminal composers for the cinema who would have a huge impact on the development of his art for just over a generation and beyond. Composing scores for a series of films, from Citizen Kane (1941) to Taxi Driver (1975), he would perhaps become best known for his decade-long collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock in the middle of his career, as well as for his music for the science fiction classics, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).


filmstar.de

Bernard Herrmann


Herrmann got his start in radio, on the coattails of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air. Both collaborated on the infamous radio play of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds which aired on Halloween Eve, 1938, and whose realism caused panic among many listeners. When the brilliant Welles went to Hollywood to make Citizen Kane, perennially judged by critics the best film ever, Herrmann accompanied him and wrote a memorable score which not only broke new ground but set a high standard for his peers and successors. Up to that point composers were simply composing orchestral music to accompany the activities of the people on the screen. By contrast, Herrmann wrote music that captured the very emotions ascribed to the performers and elicited them in the viewer as well. The best example of this by far is the murder scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, in which the now-famous screeching violins communicate the stark terror of this unanticipated development in the plot.

Indeed Herrmann's best work was done for Hitchcock, beginning with The Trouble with Harry (1955) and ending with the mediocre Torn Curtain (1966), where the two artistic geniuses parted ways acrimoniously. In between there were, among others, Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960), whose scores are so prominent as to justify their being listed as co-stars, along with the principal actors. My own view is that Psycho would today be judged far less of a film without Herrmann's agitated musical phrases building the tension throughout. The collaboration ended when Hitchcock fired Herrmann on the set of Torn Curtain over an artistic disagreement. This was a serious mistake on Hitch's part. Herrmann's score was already mostly completed, but Hitch hired John Addison to write a new one. Addison's music is too melodic and appears to have been written independently of the screen action. It fails to build suspense or to compensate for the weak plot and the wooden acting of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews.

I've never seen Taxi Driver, but I have seen Herrmann's last-but-one film, Brian De Palma's Obsession, a near remake of Vertigo. It is not a particularly good film. The actors are not convincing in their parts, and the plot is riddled with flaws. Yet the music manages to carry the film, almost single-handedly. Herrmann died only hours after recording the last of his Taxi Driver score at the end of 1975.

Herrmann has been much imitated. But in my view the only composer who has even approached Herrmann in his ability to evoke a variety of strong emotions in his listeners is British composer Julian Nott, best known for his scores for Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit episodes.

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03 September 2004

Bush's Deeds, Kerry's Words

In today's Capital Commentary, dated 6 September, the Center for Public Justice's James W. Skillen offers Americans some sorely needed advice on how to choose between the two candidates for president. Unfortunately, if everyone were to listen to him, few would turn out to vote at all -- and not because Skillen has given bad counsel. The evident deficiencies of this year's candidates may explain in part why "only half the eligible voters will vote." Here is Skillen:


The political conventions are over and the campaign for the presidency now officially begins.

To make that statement, however, is only to transmit an echo from the past. The words ring hollow today. The conventions are entertainment productions, not serious political events. They are to politics what the morning television "news" programs are to news. And how can we talk of Labor Day as the official beginning of the campaign when by now the two candidates have already spent about $200 million?

The loose use of words and the manufacture of video imagery substitute for quality civic education and genuine political debate. One wonders, what kind of world have we come to inhabit where so much fluff can hide so much reality? In a country where democracy is supposed to mean a great deal but where only half the eligible voters will vote and most voters will base their judgments on video images and sound-byte slogans, does citizenship mean very much at all?

Those who do take government and citizenship seriously may want to consider the following when evaluating George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.

Bush has been president for four years. Therefore, weigh his deeds above all, and take his words into account only to see how adequately they square with what he has done. Kerry has not been president. Weigh his words above all and ask whether they add up to a convincing agenda and argument for a better presidency.

Judging by last week's Republican National Conventertainment, the president is counting on swing voters to base their vote on the positive image he and his handlers create for himself and on the negative image they create of Kerry. The president will repeat again and again from now until November 2 that since 9/11 he has made the country stronger and safer and that the economy is now on an upswing to steady growth. But this is the president whose deeds have generated greater anti-Americanism throughout the world than ever before; whose military budget has reached new heights while stretching the military to its limits; and whose own top officials say that we are in as great, if not greater, a danger of terrorist attacks than we were on 9/11. On the economic front, there is not yet convincing evidence that stable, steady growth is back, but there is plenty of evidence that budget-busting expenditures coupled with massive tax cuts over the last four years may have created more problems than they have solved. And all of this during a time when the Republicans have also controlled Congress as well as the White House.

Do you want to know what kind of president George Bush will be during the next four years? Look at his record; read reality; and then ask how well his words square with that record and reality.

For Senator Kerry one should take a different approach. He has no presidential deeds to evaluate. Listen carefully to his words, his promises, his proposals. If the promises remain general and vague; if the tax-and-spending proposals don't quite add up; if the security and foreign affairs strategies don't seem likely to yield more safety and international justice over the next decade; if he relies as much on Bush-bashing as Bush relies on Kerry-bashing, then assume that Kerry will be that kind of president. At a time when most Americans, according to polls, want a change and are uncertain about President Bush, Kerry has a huge opportunity to lay out a convincing, detailed, alternative course for domestic and foreign affairs. If he can't do that when he bears no presidential responsibility, then that's a good indication of the kind of president he will be.

It's Labor Day, so get to work--the hard work of being a citizen in an uncivic era. Ignore the television ads, the sound bytes, and the slogans. Look behind the media candidates to evaluate reality.

--James Skillen, President

I might add here that I will soon be posting my next column for Christian Courier, in which I make the case for fundamental change in the way the two parties in the US select their presidential candidates.

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Elizabethan pronoun and verb forms

Well into my youth it was standard practice for English-speaking Christians to address God as thou, which, though it was originally both the singular and (following Norman French usage) familiar form, was believed to possess an air of dignity which a mere you does not have. This sense of dignity is, of course, due entirely to the huge influence of the King James Version of the Bible, also known as the Authorized Version. Nowadays people rarely address God this way. However, when people do undertake to speak in something approximating Elizabethan English, they often end up butchering it.

Quite a number of years ago I heard a well-known television preacher addressing God in prayer, and I couldn't help but cringe when he repeatedly said, "Thou hath blessed us," "thou hath given us. . .", &c. No one in the congregation seemed to notice. Of course, hath is the old third-person-singular form of the verb to have, and it would thus come after he, she or it, and never after thou. The correct second-person form would be thou hast. What's the point? Only this: if thou knowest not how to use the old forms correctly, thou wouldst do well not to use them at all.

And, yes, it seems there are still parts of northern England where the second-person-singular form is still in use as rendered in The Secret Garden.

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02 September 2004

Prayer requests

Terrorists are by definition cowardly, preying on the innocent and defenceless in order to advance their pet causes. But it is difficult to imagine anyone stooping so low as to hold children hostage. Please pray for their safe release and an end to the crisis in Russia.

Pray also for the safety of the people of south Florida who are being evacuated from the path of Hurricane Frances. As my brother lives in Miami, he is likely among them.

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The Electoral College

Meanwhile, south of the border, I've never been a great fan of the US's Electoral College, which works much like our own first-past-the-post system to distort representation. The indecisive 2000 presidential election seemed to indicate the flaws in that method of choosing the occupant of the highest office in the land. However, Prison Fellowship's Mark Earley makes a good case that the Electoral College functions, much like the US Senate, to ensure that a president is supported by as many kinds of majorities as possible: "Metro Versus Retro: Should We Abandon the Electoral College?"

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The majority parties: changing the constitution?

During a "normal" majority government, the prime minister gets his way because he is undisputed leader of his party and his party has most of the seats in the Commons. Now that we have a minority government, however, all this changes. What if the other parties, which together have a majority of seats, decide to gang up on the PM and have the votes to make an impact? That's apparently what looks set to happen, according to the Ottawa Citizen's Bill Curry: "Opposition works to limit PM's power." Could it change our constitution by altering the meaning of confidence such that budgets and throne speeches could be defeated without triggering a new election? Perhaps.

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01 September 2004

The Genevan Psalter

Les Pseaumes de David, Mis en rime Françoise, par Clément Marot, & Théodore de Bèsze

Those who know me well are aware that I have a considerable affinity for the Psalms. I am reluctant to admit that I have a favourite book of the Bible, since that would seem to have me sitting in judgement on the scriptures. Nevertheless, I freely admit that the Psalms speak to me as does no other part of the Bible. My own daily prayer regimen has me reading a psalm or two per day, which means that I read through this book far more frequently than any of the other books. I love the Psalms for two reasons.

First, they cover a broad emotional range and carry the believer through times of joy and sorrow alike. Much of contemporary liturgy -- at least in protestant churches -- remains at one level. We easily sing God's praises and shout for joy in our worship services. But we rarely complain or lament or call down judgement on the wicked, perhaps because these things are not deemed politically (or should I say liturgically) correct. When was the last time any of us heard Psalm 88 or 137 used in the course of worship?

Second, I love the Psalms because they were meant to be sung. It is often claimed -- at least in some circles -- that, although the Bible prescribes what we are to believe and how we are to live our lives, it does not tell us how we are to worship or prescribe specific liturgical rites. This is only partly true. In fact, the nucleus of the church's liturgy should be the biblical Psalter itself. Yet there are many churches that sing everything but the Psalms, which is not as it should be.

In the 16th century the Reformers sought to render the Psalms in a form that would make them easily singable by ordinary congregations. Thus was born the metrical psalm, which all heirs of the Reformation sang until Pietism and the Enlightenment made Christians slightly embarrassed by the Psalter's typically earthy expressions. One of the more famous of the metrical psalters of the era was the Genevan Psalter, which went through more than one incomplete edition until all 150 Psalms appeared in metrical form in 1562. Some two decades ago I became fascinated by the Genevan Psalter and decided to versify as many of the English texts as possible and arrange their proper melodies so that the Psalms could indeed be sung. Thus far I have completed 50 psalm texts and tunes, which I posted three years ago on a website specially devoted to it. At some point I hope to get this partial collection published so that Christians can actually sing them. Click here to find out more.

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September

We have had a cooler than normal summer this year, including more than our share of 20-degree (68 F) days with the windows open, the sun shining brightly and the balmy breezes blowing through the house. Some hot and muggy days have come our way, but not nearly as many as there could have been. My suspicion is that we will pay for all this come January. In the meantime, September has arrived. Classes start at Redeemer next tuesday. The following day Theresa starts kindergarten, which is causing her mom and dad to feel a mixture of apprehension, joy that she has come this far, and perhaps a touch of sadness at the thought of her leaving behind another stage in her still young life. (Tomorrow is her very last day at the Redeemer Childcare Centre.) Whenever this month rolls around, I find myself with this song by Kurt Weill going through my head much of the time. May God bless you during September and always.

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Wake me when it's over

Oh yes, I almost forgot: the Republican Convention is taking place now, isn't it? See here for why I probably won't watch any of it.

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