Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

27 February 2006

Who said this?

"The man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at 40 he has no head."

I recall reading this saying some three decades ago, and for a long time I had thought this was one of Winston Churchill's long list of quotable aphorisms. However, in this article on John Howard's appeal to Australian youth, Caroline Overington ascribes it to former French Prime Minister Aristide Briand, who had once been a socialist himself before being kicked out of the party. However, this website suggests that Briand may have borrowed the saying from an earlier French statesman, François Guizot, who had phrased it this way: "Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." I suppose it's still possible Churchill could have said some variant of this at some point, but this site indicates the lack of documented evidence for him having done so publicly.

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26 February 2006

Marriage as public good

Here is a book that looks to be worth reading: The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Jennifer Roback Morse's essay looks especially good, as she argues that the weakening of marriage to a mere private contract began already some 40 years ago with the advent of no-fault divorce. Her analysis of how the attenuation of so basic an institution has led to an expansion of the welfare state accords rather well with my own diagnosis of the choice enhancement state, the 5th historic stage in the development of liberalism.

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Missed opportunities

It seems I'm not the only person to think that Greek Cypriots have been squandering opportunities repeatedly over the decades. Former government minister Nicos A. Rolandis agrees with me in this op-ed piece for the Cyprus Mail: King Jigme and floundering Cyprus. My only disagreement with Rolandis is that I would trace this pattern back to 1948, when Greek Cypriots rejected Lord Winster's proposal to institute a self-government that fell short of ending colonial status outright. Then again I've written before about refusing half a loaf and ending up with none.

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25 February 2006

Muzzling bizarre viewpoints

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, of Toward Tradition, would not approve of section 181 of Canada's Criminal Code, which somewhat vaguely prohibits spreading false news: What's Next — Jailing Flat Earth Fans? Much of his argument draws on John Stuart Mill's reasoning in his classic On Liberty. Indeed, it is unlikely that the Crown would ever lay charges against someone denying God's existence, even if large numbers of Canadians believe such a denial to be false.

Incidentally, whatever the virtues of Lapin's Thou Shall Prosper, the book is evidently not a guide to proper Elizabethan English verb conjugation.

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24 February 2006

A Hitchcock film 7 decades later

Mark Steyn reflects on a favourite early Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of its female lead, Madeleine Carroll. I myself reviewed the film on the IMDB website five years ago. I have long been a fan of Hitchcock's films, although I find the ones he directed after 1959 to be markedly inferior to those made prior to that year. Among my personal favourites are The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Rear Window (1954) and North by Northwest (1959). The book on which Hitch based his 39 Steps was authored by Scottish novelist John Buchan, who became governor general to Canada the very year the film was made. Buchan was rechristened Lord Tweedsmuir when he took the post and died here before his term had expired.

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23 February 2006

Catholics and the Democratic Party

Given that I've written on Wilfred McClay before (Bush's 'conservative' reformism), I was drawn to something McClay wrote at First Things' On the Square blog a few days ago. Although at present the Democratic Party in the US is more monolithically secular than the Republicans, it was not always so. McClay takes us back:

Seventy years ago, when the New Deal coalition was in full flower, Catholics played an absolutely essential role in the Democratic Party. This was not merely because the Democratic Party had always been the party of immigrants. Social philosophers such as Father John Ryan brought into the Democratic Party mainstream a vision of the human person not as an isolated individual, but as part of an organic whole, a vision that dovetailed with many of the more communitarian elements in the New Deal. Notions of a just wage, critique of laissez-faire economics, insistence upon the vital importance of trade unions, and an abiding concern over issues of economic maldistribution—these were part of an already well-established tradition of Catholic social thought, expressed in papal encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. Such political views were further grounded in a particular view of the human person, not as an autonomous and self-determining being, but as a social and communal being, whose life is made meaningful by webs of dependency and mutuality. . . . We often fail to remember what a socially conservative coalition, by our standards today, the New Deal era Democratic Party was, with its essential contingents of Northern Catholics and Southern Protestants.

How the Democratic Party changed is a long story that has been told elsewhere. Yet there can be no doubt that it has indeed changed.

McClay's social and political vision, if I am correctly understanding it from the few things of his I've read, seems not to be entirely congruent with that of Neuhaus, Novak and company, who are much more sanguine than he about the workings of the market. Thus it is a pleasant surprise to see McClay writing for On the Square.

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Bush blunder beggars belief

Could it be possible that the security-conscious Bush administration is allowing a company based in the United Arab Emirates to take over the management of such American ports as New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia? Small wonder that Bush faces a firestorm of opposition in his own Republican party, as well as amongst Democrats in Congress. On the other hand, editorial opinion is mixed. My guess is that he did not seek his father’s advice on this one.

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22 February 2006

Spec sceptical of Tory's Tories

John Tory's proposal to bring financial relief to parents with children in faith-based schools is running afoul of The Hamilton Spectator. This is not surprising, given that The Spec is owned by The Toronto Star, whose editors steadfastly refuse to recognize the prior rights of parents in the education of their own children. In the meantime, however, under its current discriminatory policy of funding only Catholic schools, Ontario is running afoul of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. If the province were to cut off funding to the Catholic system, the UN would presumably be satisfied. Tory's alternative is a much better way of rectifying — if only in part — an obvious injustice.

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20 February 2006

Reforming the judicial appointment process

Given the rigidity of our constitution acts, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is promising a more incremental and informal type of constitutional change by permitting a special parliamentary committee to question future Supreme Court appointees. Good move. All the same, given that "the committee will not have the power to confirm or quash the nomination after it questions the prospective judge", this proposal will do nothing to rein in the vast powers of a prime minister. Which only goes to show: however reform-minded a party leader may be in the opposition benches, once he tastes the powers of high office, he becomes reluctant to relinquish any of these to others — even to those to whom he is formally answerable.

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Tory's Tories committed to justice

Provincial Tory leader John Tory is pledging to restore a measure of educational justice in Ontario: Tory pledges fairness plan for faith schools.

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19 February 2006

Ottawa conference

This looks like a worthwhile event taking place next week: Navigating the Faith/Political Interface. I'd love to be there myself to hear Preston Manning, Bill Blaikie, Bev Desjarlais, John McKay, Brian Stiller, Paul Wilson, Mark Steinacher, Bruce Clemenger and Paul Chamberlain. The three-day seminar/conference is co-sponsored by Trinity Western University, Tyndale University College and Seminary, and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

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18 February 2006

Vale post to no avail

I seem inadvertently to have deleted my earlier post on the controversy over Danna Vale's remarks on the proposed legalization in Australia of RU486, the abortion pill. I had made no attempt at response, but I do wonder whether pulling in the difficult issue of comparative group demographics does not in some fashion cloud the abortion issue, which is about all the unborn, irrespective of their parentage.

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15 February 2006

What’s five times nothing?

Neither Australia nor New Zealand has a one cent piece, and New Zealand plans to take the 5 cent piece out of circulation as well, leaving 10 cents as the smallest coin. I have often thought that Canada and the US should also withdraw the one cent coin, since such coins only clutter up our change purses and are each worth very little. However, this creates an interesting mathematical dilemma. In the two Antipodean realms there is no such thing as one cent. If so, then the 5 cent coin is worth five times something that does not exist. If 5 x 0 = 0, then are the 5 cent coin and all other sub-dollar coins worthless?

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Did you know . . .

. . . that veteran actor Christopher Plummer is great-grandson to Sir John Abbott, Canada's third prime minister? Among his many other roles, Plummer was the only performer in Atom Egoyan's Ararat whose character, in my view, had any depth. As for Abbott, he was the only prime minister to have served in that office while a member of the Senate, which must have made Question Period a bit tricky.

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14 February 2006

Antipodean sojourn VI: tying up loose ends

One month ago today I left for Australia. It thus seems appropriate to wrap up this series with a catch-all post to cover whatever I've not yet mentioned of my trip:

  • Melbourne is a traction fan's delight. It has a quite complete tram (i.e., streetcar) system covering the city and its surrounding suburbs. I myself have long been a fan of electric rail transportation, ever since as a child I discovered the remnants of one such line that went through my hometown prior to 1961. During our visit to the centre of Melbourne, Ken Dickens and I rode one of these trams twice.

    A tram on Spring Street, Melbourne; source: Koyzis
    A tram on Spring Street, Melbourne


  • Melbourne has a huge Greek community — making it by some accounts the largest Greek city outside Greece itself. I rather imagine I have relatives there and would be surprised if I didn't. However, given that our immediate family has not kept up with any of them, I didn't think it proper to dig too deeply into the matter and show up at the door of one of their — well, restaurants, expecting to be fed. At the end of our day in the city centre, Ken Dickens and I ate dinner at Tsindos restaurant.

  • At La Trobe University I was baffled to see signs for a MUSLIM MALE WASHROOM and a MUSLIM FEMALE WASHROOM. Do the differences between Muslims and nonmuslims really extend even to the processes of elimination?

  • The restaurant at the Holiday Inn at the airport serves a series of curry dishes, obviously indicating an Indian influence on the country's cuisine. Similarly, McDonalds restaurants in Australia — or at least Melbourne — have a tandoori chicken sandwich on their menu. If McDonalds of Canada served this, it might be enough to get me to eat at one of their establishments.

  • Between 1910 and 1966 the country's currency was the Australian pound, which was divided into 20 shillings, each of which consisted of 12 pence. Obviously modelled on the British pound sterling, this cumbersome system was replaced by the Australian dollar and a decimalized system of coinage. Today there are no one cent pieces, but there are 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins, along with one and two dollar coins.

  • Tipping for services rendered is not generally practised in Australia. It is expected that those waiting tables, cutting hair, &c., are already being paid adequately for their work. Moreover, sales taxes are not added to the price of something at the till; they are already incorporated into the listed price — something I quite prefer to North American practice.

    In the Legislative Council chamber, Melbourne; source: Koyzis
    In the Legislative Council chamber,
    Melbourne


  • Thirty-one years ago today the Order of Australia was established to recognize citizens who have distinguished themselves in exemplary service to the larger society. Closely modelled on the Order of Canada, it originally consisted of four grades: Knights/Dames, Companions, Officers and Members. In 1986 the first category was abolished. One assumes this means that there will be no more Australians with "Sir" or "Dame" before their names.

  • The Australian Labor Party deliberately spells the second name of its title without the "u." Can we assume that this indicates a generally pro-American orientation on its part?

  • Some of the Transforming Education conferees told me that the federal government has mandated the posting of a brief document, Values for Australian Schooling, in classrooms across the country, including those of independent schools. The precepts contained in the poster seem decent enough, but one might well question whether the entire project is an example of the "unnecessary interference or control" condemned by the document itself.

  • All Australians of a certain age remember what they were doing when they heard that Governor General Sir John Kerr had dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975. The ensuing constitutional crisis served to encourage republican sentiments in Australia. A referendum was held on the issue in 1999, but the motion to replace the Queen and her representative with a president failed at least in part due to disagreement over the means of putting such a president in office.

    Trams and Heineken at Swanston & Lonsdale Streets; source: Koyzis
    Trams and Heineken
    at Swanston & Lonsdale Streets


  • Not only did this visit mark the first time I had been to the southern hemisphere; it was also the first time I had crossed the International Date Line. Thus on saturday, the 21st, I left Melbourne early in the afternoon and arrived in Los Angeles in the late morning of the same day. After crossing the Date Line, it was friday again for a few hours, which meant that I had been flying since the following day. This probably isn't what H. G. Wells had in mind with his famous time machine, but it does play tricks with one's head.
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    13 February 2006

    Garbled lyrics

    One evening last week I was putting Theresa to bed. Among other things I sang her The Teddy Bears' Picnic. When I got to the part that goes "Watch them, catch them unawares, /And see them picnic on their holiday," she looked up at me incredulously. "Watch them catch their underwear?"

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    12 February 2006

    We'll stick with gregorian chant, thank you

    Is this some kind of bad joke: Michael Jackson to pen Roman Catholic Church songs? Or is it penance for past sins?

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    Another Conservative misstep?

    Ted Menzies, the new parliamentary secretary for La Francophonie, does not speak French.

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    10 February 2006

    Acton ad on target

    Although I am not an uncritical supporter of the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I believe that its current campaign to highlight the harmful side effects of well-intended charity is justified. Charity that creates dependence and stifles initiative is not charitable at all.

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    Hail, Britannia?

    Mark Steyn lauds the largely salutary influence of the British Empire on many of the key players on the world stage: Pip, pip for the Brits — despite the blips. To which I say, yes, but. . . .

    The British Empire in 1897
    It is difficult nowadays to get people to admit that there might have been something good about the rule of a European colonial power. Ironically, Karl Marx thought that the consolidation of much of the world under a very few imperial powers was a progressive historical development, something almost entirely forgotten by his latter day followers. More than a century later we are wont to associate imperialism with exploitation of peripheral territories to enrich the mother country. In reality, of course, imperialism drained the resources of the metropolitan centre, which explains why Britain, France and others were so anxious to divest themselves of their holdings after the end of the Second World War.

    So let's tally up the score. On the plus side, British-derived political institutions have been extraordinarily enduring and have lent to a number of former British territories — though by no means all — an enviable stability not to be taken for granted. I myself was born in such a country, am currently living in another such country, and recently returned from visiting yet a third. To be sure, Anglo-Saxons cannot rival the French or Italians for their cuisine, the Russians for their literature and music, or the Germans for their philosophy. Nevertheless, those of us living in Anglo-Saxon countries are generally able to enjoy all of these imported achievements — plus the rule of law, guaranteed personal liberty, and — to quote the Constitution Act, 1867peace, order and good government. This is very nearly the best of all possible worlds.

    Steyn could have bolstered his case further by comparing Cyprus, a British possession for 82 years, with Greece, the latter of which has suffered under a series of interfering monarchs, overreaching nationalist governments, military dictatorships, and a weak sense of personal freedoms, including religious liberty. By contrast, Cyprus — at least the southern part of the island under the internationally recognized government — appears clean and efficient, with an excellent transportation and communication infrastructure. The people are unfailingly courteous and helpful. The greater prosperity of the island is achieved by an enterprising populace capable of bouncing back after the tragedy of invasion and partition. In Transparency International's recently released Corruption Perceptions Index Survey, Cyprus outscored Greece by 10 points.

    On the minus side, however, Cyprus also weakens Steyn's case to no small degree. For decades Britain refused to reconsider Cyprus' status, deliberately defying the political aspirations of its people. During the emergency of the late 1950s, Britain employed a divide and rule tactic that ended up poisoning relations between the Greek and Turkish communities in the island, leading to the troubles of 1963-4, 1967 and 1974.

    At the same time, it is true that Britain's Labour government offered Cyprus self-government short of full independence in 1948 — an offer that Cypriots, encouraged by an Orthodox Church in the dark grip of hellenic nationalism, unwisely declined. Yet in 1960, Britain, along with Greece and Turkey proper, imposed an unwieldy constitutional document on the people of Cyprus that took little account of pre-existing traditions of intercommunal co-operation in the island. And, of course, when Turkey invaded the north in 1974, Britain's presence in the form of its sovereign military bases did nothing to stop this.

    If Britain could have bequeathed one more thing to the Greek Cypriot political culture, it should have been this: a willingness to accept the proverbial half a loaf rather than to insist on the whole and end up with nothing. Anglo-Saxons are skilled in the art of compromise. Sad to say, Greek Cypriots are much less so — which explains in no small measure why the political stalemate in the island is currently in its 32nd year.

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    08 February 2006

    Antipodean sojourn V: politics

    The Victorian Parliament building; source: D. Koyzis
    When my trip to Australia was still in the planning stages, I wondered whether I might be able to visit the national capital of Canberra. However, after looking at a map, I quickly realized that distances are as great in Australia as in North America and that it would be 6 hours driving distance from Melbourne. Obviously that would be impossible during such a brief visit. So, knowing that Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, Australia’s second-largest state, I requested of my hosts to be taken to visit the state parliament building in that city. Advance research indicated that parliament would not be sitting in January, when MLAs and MLCs would be on summer holidays. So I would be unable to see question time in the lower chamber. Nevertheless, even a visit to the buildings would be informative and likely to enrich my teaching of Canadian politics, given the similarities between the two countries’ constitutions.

    Wednesday afternoon, the 18th, was designated free time for the Transforming Education conferees. Group tours were organized for wine-tasting (which quickly filled up) and riding Puffing Billy, Australia’s oldest functioning steam train. But Stuart Fowler had arranged through his MLA for a private tour for Ken Dickens and me of the Victorian Parliament building, which celebrates its 150th year in 2006. Because Ken lives in Sydney, neither of us knew Melbourne. However, I had purchased a map of the city, which helped us (eventually) to find our way into the central district.

    We were a little late arriving at Parliament, mostly because my northern-hemispheric sense of direction didn’t serve me all that well in my unofficial role as Ken’s navigator. All the same, upon arrival, we didn’t have to wait but were greeted immediately by a bright young parliamentary clerk, who looked to be just under 30 years old and reminded me a great deal of one of my former students. Adding to this sense of familiarity, I was favourably impressed that, prior to our visit, he had taken the time to visit my websites to discover my research interests. As it turns out, he himself has a fascination for Canada, so we were able to compare notes between our respective countries’ political systems.

    The Victorian Parliament, like those of four other Australian states, is a bicameral body, consisting of an upper chamber, the Legislative Council, and a lower chamber, the Legislative Assembly. Only Queensland has a unicameral parliament. Here in Canada, of course, all ten provincial legislatures are unicameral, Québec being the last to abolish its Conseil législatif in 1968, in an action eerily reminiscent of the opening volley of the French Revolution nearly two centuries earlier. (It even renamed its Legislative Assembly the National Assembly!) But because five of the six state parliaments are bicameral, they preserve more of the Westminster constitutional traditions, including the conventions of reading the Governor’s speech in the upper chamber and introducing money bills into the lower.

    The Legislative Assembly chamber; source: D. Koyzis
    Even the internal layout of the two chambers reflects something of British parliamentary tradition. The Legislative Assembly, like the House of Commons, is predominantly green-coloured, while the Legislative Council, mirroring the House of Lords, is a red chamber. Nevertheless, although most parliamentarians face each other across the floor, the seats form a U at the end, as illustrated at left. Although the bottom of the U is often where members of minor parties sit, in the current parliament, with the Australian Labor Party holding an unprecedented 62 of 88 seats, the government benches extend around the U to the other side as well. The few Liberals and the even fewer Nats are crowded into the seats at the speaker’s immediate left.

    I was surprised to learn, however, that, unlike British and Canadian practice, the state premier and the leader of the official opposition do not occupy the front benches of the Legislative Assembly. Rather both sit at a table in the middle of the floor facing each other across a row of law books, an arrangement perhaps intended to symbolize the rule of law in parliamentary government. The traditional Mace, carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms, lies between them at the other end of the table, perhaps as a way of keeping them from coming to metaphorical blows.

    The Legislative Council, or Red Chamber; source: D. Koyzis
    Between 1901, when the Commonwealth of Australia came into existence, and 1927, when Canberra became the federal capital, the federal Parliament met in this building, the House of Representatives and Senate occupying the two chambers. During this time the Victoria state parliament met in the Royal Exhibition Building several blocks to the north in Carlton Gardens. So the present parliament building has historic significance for the entire country, and not only for Victoria.

    Between the two chambers lies Queen’s Hall. At one end stands a white statue of Queen Victoria, which, our guide informed us, is identical to the statue silently presiding over the interior of the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa. Victoria, of course, lent her name to the state, and references to “the Queen” abound in Australia’s constitution, which came into effect on 1 January 1901, exactly three weeks before her death.

    Queen Victoria statue in Queen's Hall; source: D. Koyzis
    Prior to my arrival in Australia, I discovered a fascinating anomaly in Australia’s relationship to the United Kingdom prior to the Australia Act 1986. When the Statute of Westminster was enacted, effectively recognizing the constitutional equality of the various “dominions” to the UK itself within the Empire/Commonwealth, there were a number of loose ends in these countries that would be tidied up only in the ensuing decades. In Canada, for example, until patriation in 1982, any change to the British North America Act, our chief constitutional document, required an act of the British Parliament, which Ottawa would have to request explicitly. In Australia, 1986 was the watershed year. After 1931 the appointment of a governor general by the reigning monarch would be on the advice of His Majesty’s ministers in Australia and not in Britain. However, due to an apparent oversight, the six Australian states remained in a position of technical subordination to Britain. State governors continued to be recommended by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in London, albeit with the input of the relevant state ministers. As J. D. B. Miller wrote nearly half a century ago:

    In law, a State Governor could be ordered by the Commonwealth Relations Office to dissolve, or not to dissolve, his State parliament, or to refuse assent to a law passed by that parliament. In this sense the paradoxical situation exists of the British government being unable to interfere in the affairs of the Australian Federal government but able to interfere in those of the States.

    This possibility was removed for good 20 years ago, after which time the relevant state ministers would advise the Queen whom to appoint as governor. (In Canada, of course, it is the Governor General in Council, i.e., the federal government, which appoints the provincial lieutenant governors.)

    At the La Trobe University bookstore I purchased two books of relevance to the political system. The first is Australian Political Institutions, a standard undergraduate survey text. The second is Haig Patapan, Judging Democracy: The New Politics of the High Court of Australia, an analysis of the increasingly significant role of the High Court in shaping the domestic political process – a tendency very nearly universal in western constitutional democracies but which has nevertheless sparked severe criticism in those same countries.

    Next: Antipodean sojourn VI: tying up loose ends.

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    07 February 2006

    Conservative misstep and Senate reform

    It seems I'm not the only one to think it dishonourable for the Honourable David Emerson to abandon the party under which he was elected only two weeks ago to accept a cabinet portfolio with the party the voters in his riding so recently rejected. In addition to the predictable protests of the opposition parties, the bloggers are getting into the act by urging him to stand down and seek re-election under the new label. Harper should have known better. This doesn't make him look good.

    On the other hand, it is much less objectionable to appoint a cabinet minister from the Senate, for which there is ample precedent, even if reversing this order is somewhat unusual. Yet Harper is known to favour an elected Senate, so his appointment of Fortier may not go down well with his own supporters.

    If the new Prime Minister is serious about an elected Senate, and if amending our Constitution Acts is impracticable, all he need do is allow a province for which there is a vacancy to put candidates before the voters, after which he would simply appoint their first choice. My understanding is that this is his favoured strategy. However, given that Senators serve until age 75, Harper ought to make the appointment conditional upon the candidate's signing a legal document requiring him or her to stand down after, say, six years. That would bring us into line with Australia and the US, whose Senates are elected. A precedent would be established that future governments would find difficult to break.

    This would, of course, empower the Senate, which would then possess democratic legitimacy and could conceivably block legislation already approved by the Commons. Short of legally curtailing the powers of the upper chamber, as Britain has done over the past century, we might do well to look at the Australian Constitution, which makes provisions for resolving a deadlock between the two chambers of that country's parliament. It would not do for the Senate to become a confidence chamber, but it ought to be able to speak up for the West and Atlantic Canada, whose interests are chronically underrepresented in the Commons.

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    06 February 2006

    The new team

    The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper is now Canada's 22nd prime minister. Like most new prime ministers, he has downsized his cabinet – from 37 to 27 ministers. Safe bet: the number will creep upwards, if his government lasts long enough. Surprises: David Emerson has pulled a belinda to become minister of International Trade. Michael Fortier, one of Harper's campaign managers, will be Public Works minister, provided, one assumes, that he wins a seat in a by-election.

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    04 February 2006

    Will wonders never cease

    Even the most hardened sceptic would have to take this as incontrovertible evidence for the miraculous: The Toronto Star, of all places, has published a balanced view of Stephen Harper's religious faith: Stephen Harper just can't quit his inner-Evangelical.

    Incidentally, I've just begun reading Lloyd Mackey's The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper, reviewed here and here. I may have something to say about this book at some point.

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    03 February 2006

    Antipodean sojourn IV: Australians

    I’ve discussed earth and sky; now it’s time to look at the people of Australia. Prior to my trip down under, I did some research into the manners and mores of my host country, so as not inadvertently to commit a faux pas and risk offending someone. I understood that there are some countries where, if you do not polish your shoes or if you fail to inquire about the health of a contact’s family, you will be considered a hopeless boor and no one will have anything to do with you. From my research I discovered, among other things, that Australians dress informally and have egalitarian sensibilities. (Okay; so leave the bowtie at home.) Among the things to avoid are: (1) failing to buy the next round of beers, if you are next in line to do so; (2) mentioning your hosts’ convict forebears; (3) assuming that Alice Springs is a suburb of Adelaide; (4) inquiring of a Sydney Anglican whether he believes in the Real Presence or the apostolic succession of bishops, and (5) asking whether your new acquaintances know Paul Hogan or Rupert Murdoch personally. Armed with this information, I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

    Australians in traditional folk costume
    What I found when I actually arrived was that Australians are a warm and hospitable people, with unfailing good humour and a ready willingness to forgive the missteps of visitors. The first people I met at the Melbourne airport were Richard and Annette Edlin, whom I quickly came to like very much. They are originally from New Zealand but have lived in Australia for some years now. The person with whom I spent the most time was Ken Dickens, who had been designated my host during my visit. Once more, I found him to be an amiable person and enjoyed the times we spent together, including our memorable excursion into the centre of Melbourne wednesday afternoon. Thanks are due him for his generous hospitality. Over the following days I met and talked with scores of people, most of whom were attending the Transforming Education Conference. I was so warmly embraced by them that I immediately felt at home and scarcely thought myself to be a stranger in a new country. It’s difficult to imagine a nation filled with such genuine people having any external enemies.

    There are, of course, many similarities between Australia and Canada. (To be sure, climate is not one of them.) Both are immigrant countries with predominantly European roots. Both grew to nationhood within the context of the British Empire/Commonwealth. Both countries’ constitutions combine a Westminster-style parliamentary/cabinet system with American-style federalism. But there are differences as well.

    Australians are mad about sport — virtually any sport. But among their favourites are rugby-related Australian-rules football, football proper (formerly called soccer) and cricket, all of which I have reason to think I saw briefly on the television set in my room at the Holiday Inn. (All right, I confess — I'm not much of a sport fan.) Last year the Australian Soccer Association became the Football Federation Australia, which means that there are now at least two games being played under the name “football.” If there is any confusion about this, I didn’t detect it. Back home we have hockey. And then, of course, there’s hockey. Oh, and did I mention hockey? (Oh yes, also CFL football, but who pays attention to that?) The Commonwealth Games will shortly be taking place in Melbourne, and no visitor to that city would ever be allowed to leave without being informed of this repeatedly on every street corner. After returning to Canada, I discovered that a Greek Cypriot, 20-year-old Marcos Baghdatis, has been dazzling the spectators at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, also in Melbourne. The impressive thing is that, unlike many North Americans, Australians do not seem content to remain spectators. Most everyone I saw during my visit appeared to be fit, suggesting that ordinary Australians themselves participate in sporting events, or at least engage in vigorous physical activity.

    Australian humour is unique as well. Canadian humour tends to be self-deprecating. We’re good at poking fun at ourselves, as evidenced by our venerable national institution, the Royal Canadian Air Farce. (I’ll leave out Rick Mercer, who can be somewhat caustic at times.) By contrast, Australians like to give each other a hard time – something that may take some getting used to on the part of outsiders. However, if they give you, the visitor, a hard time, that means they like you and have come to think of you as one of their own. There’s no complaining about that. (Um, let's put aside Dame Edna Everage for now.)

    My second evening in Melbourne, Richard and Annette invited me to tea in their rooms at Glenn College, where a number of people had gathered to socialize. That was my first taste of Australian conviviality. I had not yet uttered a word — my first keynote address would come the following morning — yet I was already being made welcome. I even received a gift for my daughter: a set of children’s Hebrew letter flashcards and an accompanying workbook to help children learn and practise writing the shapes of the letters. (With her fascination for foreign languages, our Theresa took to these immediately.) At the end of the conference — after my third keynote — I was presented with two wrapped gifts: Steve Parish's Australia: the journey, a beautiful photographic survey of the country; and Australian Politics and Government: The Commonwealth, the States and the Territories, a useful look at Australian federalism.

    Small wonder I fell in love with the country and its people. One day I would love to return and take my wife and daughter with me.

    Next: Antipodean sojourn V: politics.

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    02 February 2006

    Leo Strauss in the True North?

    With the election of Stephen Harper's Conservative government in last month's federal election, could the conspiratorial Straussian cabal led by the notorious Paul Wolfowitz be extending its reach from Washington to Ottawa? Joseph Knippenberg explores this possibility in The Second Time as Farce. I am, of course, pleased to see Knippenberg cite my own The Calgary School and the Future of Canada, which he deems one of the "more measured accounts" of this school's influence.

    One of the articles to which Knippenberg links is written by a certain professed "Red Tory" and aficionado of the late George Parkin Grant. While he charges the Calgarians with taking their cues from, among others, European émigrés such as Leo Strauss, and not from "indigenous Canadian tradition," he appears to have forgotten that Grant himself had considerable respect for Strauss and counted him one of the great influences on his own thought. Nationalist though Grant may have been, he was hardly one to limit his own grazing to native pastures. How else account for the formative influence of Jacques Ellul and Simone Weil, the latter of whom in particular he held in almost childlike awe?

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    01 February 2006

    Intelligent design

    Given that I am not a biologist, I risk going out on a limb in commenting on the controversy over intelligent design. As I've written before, I tend to be agnostic on the question of whether macroevolution actually occurred, although I strongly disagree with Darwin's assumption that a simple mechanism like natural selection can explain the irreducible complexity of especially human life and the multiple levels of causality operating within God's world. The only defence of intelligent design I've read thus far is that of Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth, and I did not find her altogether presuasive for reasons that I may get into at some point.

    As I see it, a key reason why intelligent design cannot function as an alternative to Darwinian evolution is that it does not offer an alternative explanation for the rise of distinct species at particular stages in prehistory and appears to remove the issue from the realm of empirical investigation. After all, creatio ex nihilo occurred "in the beginning" (Gen. 1:1); everything else comes about through the subsequent unfolding of creation. It is the nature of this unfolding that is at issue. If proponents of the "special creation" of human beings and other species are arguing for multiple instances of creatio ex nihilo after God's initial creative act, they are going well beyond the teachings of scripture and, in any case, are arguing for something that cannot be empirically verified.

    There's another reason why intelligent design is flawed, and this is picked up by James W. Skillen, commenting on a much longer article by Calvin College Professor Uko Zylstra. Here is where those multiple levels of causality come into play. In Intelligent Design as Science, Skillen writes:

    In essence, what Zylstra does is to argue that the whole of reality begs for an answer deeper than science can provide of why anything exists at all and why things exist in the way they do, with millions of kinds of creatures conforming to various kinds of laws-physical, chemical, biotic, psychic, logical, historical, economic, and more. If some theorists hypothesize that everything can be explained in terms physical and chemical processes plus time and chance, their theory is reductionistic. But if intelligent-design theorists simply add the hypothesis that a designer, standing outside the physical and chemical processes, needs to be posited to account for irreducible complexity, they still haven't accounted for the biotic laws that hold for the development of living things. . . .

    The key issue in the debate between evolutionary theorists and intelligent-design (ID) theorists, says Zylstra, is that of causality. “The ID theorists want to posit an intelligent cause in addition to 'natural causes.' The difficulty with this, however, is that both evolutionary biologists and ID theorists assume a reductionist ontology with regard to natural causes. Natural causes are seen as physical and chemical causality. . . . I don't believe that positing intelligent design as a causal agent for such irreducible complexity is the appropriate response,” says Zylstra. What hasn't been taken into account is the biotic mode of existence. “Life phenomena are not material in nature. Life is a mode of being, a function of living things. Biology textbooks generally promote this major misconception by the frequent reference to 'living matter'. But the expression 'living matter' is an oxymoron. Matter itself is never alive. . . . We always find whole living organisms. Matter is fundamentally physical and chemical in nature and thus subject to chemical and physical laws.” The inadequacy of ID theory, Zylstra believes, is its “failure to recognize the life function of living things,” which exist in accord with biotic laws and not only physical or chemical laws.

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