31 October 2006
30 October 2006
Given his professed liberal individualism, Liberal leadership hopeful Michael Ignatieff has surprised me and troubled many others by proposing that Québec be declared a nation within Canada. Anyone who had spent more than a few years of his adult life in this country would have known better than to reopen the thorny constitutional question gratuitously for partisan political purposes. Historically, Québec has always been treated as une province pas comme les autres, but recent efforts to entrench this status in our constitution acts have come to nothing and have only inflamed tempers. Then again, Ignatieff might not have known this. He was away at the time, wasn't he?
29 October 2006
Our family almost never watches television, but last evening we did watch W-Five on CTV, a disturbing look at The Pied Piper of Hamilton. A number of local families, one of which is known to us, are experiencing considerable heartache over loved ones who are members of this cult and have cut off all ties with them. It's a familiar pattern we've seen elsewhere over the decades. Everyone involved needs our prayers. Κύριε ελέησον!
27 October 2006
This was the view from the east window of my campus office shortly after 7 this morning. After the weekend, when we return to standard time, it will no longer be possible to witness the dawn at that hour.
24 October 2006
Here is one more possibility with respect to the origin of our family's surname. It may come from the Turkish word, kuyu, meaning well, and could thus refer to an ancestor's occupation. In the absence of birth records, or at least access to such records if they exist, this can only be speculation.
23 October 2006
The current issue of the Public Justice Report carries an article by James W. Skillen, Election Hype and Political Stagnation. Writing within the American context, Skillen notes that his fellow citizens are increasingly disaffected from electoral politics and especially the two major parties. This shows up in an increasing number of professed independent voters and in low voter turnout. Why bother to vote when one's own vote for a losing candidate is effectively a wasted vote?
In response Skillen proposes the adoption of proportional representation (PR) for elections to the House of Representatives. Of course there are different forms of PR. The one Skillen favours is a state-by-state party list system in which voters would vote, not for an individual candidate, but for a party and its programme. This would eliminate the need for the periodic redrawing of electoral boundaries, along with the dangers of gerrymandering for partisan purposes.
I am pleased to count Skillen as something of a mentor, as I acknowledge in the preface to my Political Visions and Illusions. I agree with him wholeheartedly on the need for a more proportional electoral system in those countries, such as the US and Canada, where it is lacking. However, I disagree with his proposed form of PR, namely, the party list system. Why does he favour this particular reform? Skillen isolates a key problem:
Our system, after all, is one that was designed from the start to frustrate the power of the national government. Only one national official is elected by American voters as a whole, and that is the president. In November, all those running for Congress—both House and Senate—will be elected by the voters in single districts or within a single state's borders. The priority of each representative who is elected will be to function in a way that benefits his or her district or state. Senator Lieberman (D-Conn.), who argued on the one hand for lobbying reforms and election-finance reform, nonetheless made clear during his losing primary race against Ned Lamont, that the bacon he has brought back to Connecticut from Washington is great for Connecticut. My point is that we do not have national parties with an ability to govern for the national good in the United States. Voters, therefore, have little if any control over what Congress does as a body of interest-group brokers, each of whom is conscious of the need to serve his or her home district or state. All that voters can do in the few districts and states where competitive races will be held this year is to throw out one interest-group broker for another and wait to see how he or she will play the same game in Washington.
There can be no doubt that logrolling is a significant obstacle to doing public justice through the legislative process in the US. We in Canada are not as prone to this notable defect, primarily because of our more disciplined political parties and the Westminster system that places a premium on party solidarity. Garth Turner's recent expulsion from the Conservative Party's parliamentary caucus is a case in point and would be unlikely to occur south of the border.
Of course, not everyone is keen on giving more power to political parties, and it might be that, if Skillen were living and working in Canada, he might come to a different conclusion. For example, Nick Loenen, who comes out of the same Reformed tradition as Skillen and myself, favours the single transferable vote (STV), because it empowers ordinary citizens rather than party élites. Too many Canadians believe that their local member of parliament, far from representing their interests in Ottawa, does little more than to represent Ottawa back to them, as if he or she were a mere satrap of a distant imperial government.
I myself could live with either STV or a party list system, but I would much prefer a German-style mixed-member-proportional (MMP) system. Why?
In the first place, it potentially combines the best features of our current single-member system and PR. The mere fact of local, rather than fully national, representation in a parliamentary body will not necessarily lead to logrolling, if the institutional machinery, both within the party and within the legislature, is in place to facilitate a more expansive deliberation on the substantive public interest. Perhaps even more significant than institutional factors is a supportive political culture recognizing, along with Edmund Burke, that a representative is a trustee of the public interest and not merely an agent of a particular territorially-defined group of citizens. But institutional reform of any kind will not necessarily bring about this change of attitude.
Second, it recognizes that one cannot so easily cordon off local from national interests in the way that supporters of the party list system appear to assume. Again, a Canadian example should suffice to illustrate this. In 1980 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau firmly believed that enacting his National Energy Programme was in the interest of the Canadian polity as a whole. Yet Albertans disagreed and came to be persuaded that it lopsidedly benefitted the more populous provinces of Ontario and Québec at the expense of their own economic interests. A party list system would have done little if anything to ensure that the less populous provinces were not left out in the cold. Pursuing the national interest cannot mean ignoring local needs and aspirations, which must be taken into account by policy-makers. Skillen appears tacitly to acknowledge this by allowing for a state-by-state list system rather than a nationwide list system, as in Israel and the Netherlands. Yet, with Skillen, I heartily agree that the national interest cannot be reduced to a mere aggregate of local interests.
Next: More reasons to favour MMP.
Labels: electoral reform
20 October 2006
Well, that may be a bit of a stretch, but Turner is thinking of joining the Greens.
17 October 2006
In music could the concept of the grace note be rooted in a semi-pelagian worldview?
I can't count the number of people I've heard say this in recent days: "Thank goodness we don't live in Buffalo!" And we're not yet a month away from summer.
16 October 2006
I have been asked to post the following announcement:
Dr. Egbert Schuurman will be visiting Redeemer University College and will give a public lecture entitled "Christian Life in a Technological Culture". Dr. Schuurman is a professor of Reformational philosophy in the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands. He holds degrees in engineering (Delft) and philosophy of technology (Free University, Amsterdam). He is a member of the Dutch Senate for the Christian Union party. Dr. Egbert Schuurman has published many books, among others Perspectives on Technology and Culture (1995), Technology and the Future (1980), and Faith and Hope in Technology (2003).
During his time at Redeemer, the public is invited to hear him speak on the following occasions:
-Tuesday 24 October, Redeemer Room #214 at 7 pm: Public Lecture on "Christian Life in a Technological Culture" (open to the general public)
-Wednesday 25 October, in the auditorium at 11 am: message in the Redeemer chapel service (open to the general public)
Following my own experience with depression in the late spring and early summer, I was interested to read this article by Fr. George Morelli, Overcoming Depression: Cognitive Scientific Psychology and the Church Fathers. There are good things in the article, including the isolation of the eight cognitive distortions occurring in the mind of someone suffering from depression. Fr. Morelli suggests cognitive therapy and spiritual intervention as means of trying to alter these distortions.
Yet something is missing. Apart from the author's single reference to the possible need for "psychopharmacological treatment" in some cases, nothing more is said of the role of medication in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorder and similar conditions. This is not an inconsequential omission. Why might Fr. Morelli see fit not to discuss this element? The obvious answer is that he is merely a psychologist and not a psychiatrist, with the medical component thus lying outside his field of competence.
Nevertheless, I wonder whether there is not more at work here. Could the inattention to medication be rooted in a defective anthropology playing up the cognitive at the expense of the corporeal? I have heard of more than one case in which well-meaning Christians have advised those suffering depression to wean themselves off medication on the assumption that "dependence" on it is the sign of a defective spiritual condition. However, I doubt very much they would extend this same counsel to a heart patient needing medication to survive.
When I was going through the worst moments in May and June, I found it difficult to feel gratitude to God for his blessings to me, because everything appeared in such a negative light. I had to struggle to thank God on a cognitive level while feeling exactly opposite. This was the most vexing element of my depression. Was I undergoing an internal spiritual struggle? Most certainly, yes.
However, once I was on a high enough dose of the medication, I began to feel dramatically better, freshly aware of the joys of life and the grace of God. I could then much more easily feel grateful to him for all his gifts, including my wife and daughter, my work at Redeemer, and faithful friends and family who prayed for me during those dark weeks. Did the medication tip the balance in the spiritual struggle? Did it help to bring my emotions into line with my cognitive grasp of the world? It certainly seems to have done so, yes.
I find Dooyeweerd's philosophy especially helpful here, because, rather than assuming that spiritual struggles take place in a creational vacuum, he recognizes the different levels in which everything functions. According to his modal analysis, the biotic is foundational for the affective/psychic mode, which is in turn foundational for the logical/analytical mode. This suggests to me that in my case the medication altered the biological component by raising the levels of serotonin in the brain, making it possible for my emotions to return to normal, which then brought my thought processes back into line. Could it work the other way round, namely, attempting to change one's emotions, and ultimately one's physical health, by addressing the thought processes? That's what cognitive therapy is all about, and I understand that it can be effective. Nevertheless, in my case healing worked upwards from the more basic level rather than working downwards, as it seems to do in some cases.
This would appear to indicate that spiritual battles do not occur in a platonic realm of ideas separate from the tangible world as we experience it. As in Job's case, physical infirmity can be the occasion for the afflicted to doubt God's love for them, thus precipitating a crisis of faith. Conversely, addressing such infirmity may help to resolve such a crisis, though I, along with many others, can testify that the grace of God does come even in the absence of good health and a receptive emotional state.
Is this analysis less spiritual than one relying on, say, the power of prayer alone? I don't think so. Nevertheless the complex interconnections between the various aspects of the human person raise issues that would seem, at the very least, to require further reflection.
This is good news: New mouse found in Cyprus. The report fails to indicate whether this newly discovered species is a Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot rodent.
14 October 2006
Three decades ago I took voice lessons while a student at Bethel College in Minnesota. I thus learned to sing in the bel canto style associated with classical western music. Of course, bel canto is hardly the only vocal technique in existence. For example, the singers of Greek folk music, or δημοτικά τραγούδια, generally have raspy voices that seem to have been filtered through the rocky soil of the Peloponnese. Most, if not all, folk singing is far removed from a style more suited to the Italian opera house than to the village.
Commercial popular singing differs from one place to the next as well. In North America I have noticed over the years that male singers tend to sing loudly and at the top of their range, thereby seeming to suppress the masculine character of their voices. (The Bee Gees are perhaps an extreme example!) This I have never been able to understand, but it seems to have begun just over half a century ago with the birth (or perhaps the mainstreaming) of rock and roll.
By contrast Brazilian singers take an entirely different approach, as heard in this video of João Gilberto's exquisite rendering of Ary Barroso's classic Aquarela do Brasil and in this one of Antonio Carlos Jobim singing his own Desafinado. Both sing softly and very nearly at the bottom of their range. Of course these are men of an earlier generation. Has the Brazilian popular singing style come to mimic the North American in the intervening decades? Someone closer to the genre may be able to answer this better than I.
10 October 2006
Though I do not know nearly as much as I would like about the subject, I have long had an affinity for Brazilian music, both classical and popular. Now from that largest South American country comes an excellent jazz band, called 11 Cabeças (Eleven Heads), which deserves to be better known in North America.
Fantástico! If you liked this piece, click here for more. I understand that 11 Cabeças recordings are not yet available in the northern hemisphere, but let's hope that they will be soon.
What better way to spend Thanksgiving Day than by hiking through the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The autumn leaves appear to have peaked early this year, so we decided to take advantage of yesterday's lovely weather by trekking through the woods. Here are some photos of our adventure. I was particularly pleased by the second.
09 October 2006
and grant prosperity.
Even the grasslands yield a harvest
and grow luxuriantly.
The hills adorn themselves with gladness,
the meadows with their herds.
The valleys with their grain are covered;
they sing with joyful words.
06 October 2006
Ever since I came into contact with the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I have been disturbed by its apparent tendency to view the free market as a panacea and to overextend its validity beyond its proper sphere, especially in its approach to education and the environment. However, this recent commentary by Kevin Schmiesing represents an encouraging development and could prompt a rethink on my part: The Baby Market. Writes Schmiesing:
The market is a wondrous thing. There is no better instrument for the calibration of human productivity and ingenuity to human needs and wants. But its advantages turn pernicious when it encompasses human goods that should never be reduced to monetary values.
Excellent. I hope Acton as a whole will follow Schmiesing's line of argument as it tackles other issues as well.
03 October 2006
On the face of it, this is a bewildering report: WCC asks Israel to recognize head of Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. These lines jump out at the reader: "Under long-standing agreements, the election of the patriarch of Jerusalem, the oldest and largest church in the Holy Land, is endorsed by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities." Um, isn't it about time to change these longstanding agreements? The notion that an entire church body would allow itself to become paralyzed by the failure of a government to act seems ludicrous.
This one is for Anglicans and Episcopalians: count the number of sundays that pass before you hear a sermon lacking the words inclusive or inclusivity.
02 October 2006
Tuesdays with Morrie
I somehow managed to miss this book when it first came out nearly a decade ago: Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. Morrie Schwartz was Mitch's sociology professor at Brandeis University in the late 1970s, and the two of them grew close during that time, meeting on tuesdays to discuss the great issues of life. When Mitch graduated, he left his mentor behind to pursue fame and fortune as a sport writer for the Detroit Free Press, seemingly forgetting what he was taught: that relationships are more important than worldy success.
Years later, as Mitch was watching television, he learned from a Nightline report that Morrie was terminally ill with ALS. Regretting his own failure to maintain contact over the years, Mitch made a belated effort to renew his friendship with Morrie, going so far as to spend 14 successive tuesdays with him as his body gradually deteriorated. In the process he learned one last lesson from his old mentor: what it means to die, as well as how to live well in the love of friends and family in the meantime. Here's Morrie himself:
[G]iving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it's as close to healthy as I ever feel. Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won't be dissatisfied, you won't be envious, you won't be longing for somebody else's things. On the contrary, you'll be overwhelmed with what comes back (p. 128).
This book was commended to me by one of my own former students whom I am blessed to call a great friend. The relationship depicted in it felt familiar to him, and he thought I should read it too. I am glad I did. Even more than the contents of Morrie's last lessons, I was moved by the evident affection that grew once more between him and Mitch in his final weeks.
When I first started teaching just under two decades ago, I was surprised at how much I would come to love my students and how much more they would return to me in loyalty and affection. Indeed I can easily say that if I had to give up all but one thing of my academic career, that one thing would be the ongoing relationships with my students and former students which I've found so enormously gratifying. I think Morrie would have said the same thing.
For anyone who has loved a former teacher or for any teachers who have loved their students, this is a must read.