27 December 2007

St. Stephen the Protomartyr
St. Stephen the Protomartyr

Today is the feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr in the eastern church. The western churches celebrated his feast day yesterday. His story is told in Acts 6-8:1. One element of this episode has always puzzled me. Verses 2-4 of Acts 7 tells us:

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty."

However, there is no further mention of Stephen "serving tables." In fact, "Stephen, full of grace and power, [performed] great wonders and signs among the people" and spoke to the people with wisdom through the Holy Spirit (7:8,10). It is highly unlikely that Stephen would have been stoned to death if he had stuck to his original job description. The Spirit seems to have had other plans for him.
The future of Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto killed in attack. Perhaps it's time to admit that the 60-year-old partition of India has been unsuccessful and that Pakistan is a failed, dysfunctional state. Anyone for reviving the concept of the United Nations Trust Territory?

25 December 2007

The nativity of our Lord

The nativity of our Lord

23 December 2007

Vlad the Emperor

The saga of Vladimir Putin continues, with what may be an attempt either to restore St. Petersburg to its former imperial glory or to gain control over the decisions of the Constitutional Court: Putin moves Russia's highest court to home town. After next May our maps and globes could well record that Russia now has two capital cities.

20 December 2007

The Jerusalem Patriarchate: the drama continues

It seems we assumed too quickly that the status of Theophilos as Patriarch of Jerusalem had been definitively settled. A new difficulty has now arisen: Court freezes recognition of Greek Patriarch. If the achilles' heel of Anglicanism has long been its establishmentarian tendency to affirm the spiritual direction of the larger society, that of Orthodoxy is its historic proclivity for too easily accepting government interference in what should be internal ecclesiastical affairs. Orthodox leaders, including the beleaguered Ecumenical Patriarch whose very title Turkey is attempting to extinguish, would do well to read Abraham Kuyper and his followers on what the Dutch call soevereiniteit in eigen kring (sovereignty in its own sphere) and I myself label the pluriformity of authority. It might not keep governments out of their affairs, but it would give them a weapon with which to fight back.
Man of the year

TIME has made its selection this year: Vladimir Putin! Russians are not surprised, but not everyone agrees with the choice: Putin: Odd Choice as Person of the Year. David Stokes goes so far as to analyze Putin's leadership in light of Jesus' counter-emphasis on servanthood: Gore, Putin... and Jesus. Stokes notes that TIME has also picked Hitler, Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini as men of the year. Whether Putin deserves to be in such august company remains to be seen.
Russian Ark

I hope to see this cinematic marvel one day soon:

19 December 2007

Cooper in The Spec

Dr. Justin Cooper, President of Redeemer University College, is interviewed in The Hamilton Spectator today: What should Hamilton aspire to be?
Dismembering Serbia, again

Like Canada, Cyprus too is opposed to the West's plans for this Balkan province: Cyprus will not consent to Kosovo's secession. With some justification, the island nation fears that it could suffer the same fate as Serbia.

In the meantime, the Russian news service Interfax keeps tabs on the destruction of Orthodox churches in Kosovo, the traditional heartland of Serbia: The Kosovo Tragedy.

While we're at it, could this mark the beginning of another European Union: Alexy II urges Orthodox [governments] to develop relations based on common spiritual tradition.

18 December 2007

Patriarch at last

This story is a bit late in coming: Two years later, Israel confirms appointment of Greek Orthodox Patriarch:

Theofilos petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to get the state to recognize him, since under church rules he must be approved by all governments in the areas where his flock lives — Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The latter two immediately approved, but Israel deferred, awaiting word from a committee it established to examine the appointment.

I've said it before, but perhaps it's finally time to change these "church rules" so that the church will no longer be held hostage by the capricious governments of the region.
The play continues

The actors and the scriptwriter alike are following their cues precisely: Putin Will Be Medvedev's Premier. Thus far the plot lacks suspense. By now the audience must be dozing.

17 December 2007

Thomas Torrance (1913-2007)

Tributes are pouring in for one of the 20th century's great theologians: A tribute to Thomas Torrance, By Gerrit Dawson; Presbyterians Pro-Life honors Thomas F. Torrance. Here is more about his life and work from The Telegraph: The Very Rev Professor Thomas Torrance.
Dismembering Serbia

Despite western pressure on Serbia to accept an independent Kosovo, Canada is not enthusiastic about the precedent it would set: Kosovo independence could encourage Quebec separatists. Serbia itself is rejecting a European Union offer to fast-track its membership in the organization in exchange for Kosovo. Perhaps Serbia needs its own Clarity Act.

15 December 2007

Urban planning: lessons from Thailand

Might this marketplace in Bangkok offer a good example of multiple-use zoning?

12 December 2007

Peculiar 'penalty' no penalty at all

This item caught my eye: Chilean judge sentences Catholic priest to recite psalms for traffic violation. "A judge in southern Chile has sentenced a Catholic priest to recite seven psalms daily for three months as punishment for illegal parking." I'm sorry, but this is no punishment. Indeed it amounts to a "lite" version of the Liturgy of the Hours, which has been practised in the monasteries for the better part of two millennia. Many nonmonastic priests observe this anyway. By God's grace, it's just possible that, at the end of the three months, he will decide to continue a discipline that will have become part of him.

11 December 2007

O Canada, eh?

Today may be Canada's real independence day: The Statute of Westminster, 1931.
Putin's next moves

It's all falling into place: Putin Names A Successor: 42-year-old Dmitri Medvedev, who appears to be doing as he was told in this speech:

In order to stay on this path, it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology. It is not less important to maintain the efficiency of the team formed by the incumbent president. That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government.

He led the list of the biggest party, United Russia, which won an impressive victory at the elections to the State Duma and only with this composition, will the new legislative and executive power be able to work efficiently.

Expressing preparedness to run for the post of president of Russia, I appeal to him with a request to give a principled consent to head the government of Russia after the election of a new president of our country.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Soon the only title Putin will not have worn is that of tsar.

08 December 2007


Now it's our southern neighbours' turn: U.S. diocese votes to secede from Episcopal Church.
Putin's Belarus

Hard on the heels of last sunday's election comes this report: A union between Russia and Belarus in works? Thus far Moscow is denying such rumours as "speculative fantasies." Poland cannot be happy at the thought of Russia expanding to its own eastern boundary, but it seems to have its own weapons to aim at Aleksandr Lukashenka's autocratic fiefdom: Poland to begin news, cultural TV broadcasts to Belarus in attempt to bolster democracy. Perhaps it's time for Warsaw to direct its efforts towards Russia itself.

07 December 2007

Putin's Russia

Here are two somewhat contrasting views of Russia under Vladimir Putin after an election many observers are calling the least fair of the post-soviet era. First, Amy Knight writing for The Globe and Mail: Amy Knight on Putin, Russia's democratic future. Here is Prof. Knight:

The election, on the surface, affirms the idea that most people in Russia believe that Mr. Putin is doing a good job. His consistently high ratings in opinion polls (over 70 per cent) add to this impression. But it is important to remember that Russian people are not presented with a full and objective picture, because of the Kremlin's control of the media. Mr. Putin is virtually the only political figure with name recognition in Russia. He gets personal credit for everything, while the continuous stream of sycophantic praise for him on state television is drummed into the minds of the Russian populace. As for Washington trying to undermine Mr. Putin, I am not sure that this is the case. If anything, the Bush Administration has been bending over backwards (too far, in my opinion) to embrace Mr. Putin as a credible leader, with whom the West can do business.

But Mortimer Zuckerman, writing in US News and World Report, has a contrasting view: Has Russia Left the West? Here's Zuckerman:

The Russians' perspective is based on the following: They closed military bases in Vietnam and Cuba; they accepted America's unilateral exit from the antiballistic missile treaty; they cooperated in the war on terrorism; they acquiesced in NATO expansion into the Baltic States, as well as the use of military bases in Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, and Tajikistan. And what did they get? Certainly not an understanding of Russia's special role in the post-Soviet territories, where some 25 million ethnic Russians live outside Russia. Instead, they had to cope with abrupt acceptance into NATO of the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and our recent support for admission of Ukraine and Georgia. As they see it, "democracy" is being used to expand American interests, to embarrass and isolate Putin and undermine Russia's influence through the counterrevolutions described as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Ukraine is a specific hot spot since it is a neighboring state that joined the Russian Empire in the 17th century and has a large Russian population. These challenges to Russia in an area so central to its national identity were barely discussed in the West.

Russia also resented NATO when it went to war against Serbia over Russian objections and without the approval of the United Nations Security Council. And when Russia proposed joining NATO, it was rejected. That was not all. Instead of helping Russia's integration into the world economy, the United States turned out to be a major roadblock to Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization. And we have allowed our own laws to be violated in a manner insulting to Russia. The Jackson-Vanik amendment was passed to penalize and constrain trade with countries that restrict emigration. Russia responded positively by removing all restrictions. It was found to be in formal compliance with the immigration provisions of Jackson-Vanik. But it made no difference. The old resolution is still applied because of senatorial pressure, indeed because of a single senator.

05 December 2007

To be a gentleman

Although I was taught by my parents to be a gentleman, by the time I reached adolescence the leading cultural indicators appeared to regard the entire notion as sexist or patriarchal. Yet Judi Vankevich, aka The Manners Lady, disagrees: “Gentlemen”: An Endangered Species? She has put forward ten principles for raising a gentleman. Some might argue that discarding such quaint practices as holding a door open for a lady has exacerbated such ills as date rape and violence against women. Others would likely hold that it has led to greater equality between men and women. Are these sorts of courtesies obsolete or do they make for better relations between the sexes as well as between young and old?
Drought ended?

It seems that the prayers of many have been answered: Rain in Cyprus at last! Let's pray that it continues.

04 December 2007

Save the earth: protect marriage

The Green Party now has good reason to combat no-fault divorce laws: Divorce hurts the planet too.

03 December 2007

Putin wins big

There were no surprises in yesterday's parliamentary elections in Russia, with Putin's United Russia winning 315 out of 450 seats in the State Duma. Nevertheless, the opposition parties are crying foul. Presidential aspirant and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has gone so far as to call the contest a struggle against tyranny, recounting his own experience in a Moscow jail. How are the Russian people taking this apparent return to Soviet-era tactics? Pre-election opinion polls gave little cause for optimism, according to this National Post article: "Public opinion polls show Mr. Putin enjoys an 84% approval rating and almost 50% of voters say they wouldn't mind if he became president for life." The lesson? Old habits die hard, and political cultures do not change overnight. Indeed it may take centuries.

02 December 2007

Spe salvi

Pope Benedict XVI has just published the second encyclical of his pontificate, Spe salvi, "on christian hope." His first encyclical, Deus Caritas est, "on christian love," was published two years ago. One assumes that his next encyclical will come out in another two years and will be subtitled "on christian faith," to complete what appears to be a series on the three so-called theological virtues.

01 December 2007

Judas no hero after all

It seems that revered institution, the National Geographic Society, mistranslated key words in the Gospel of Judas, according to this New York Times report by April D. DeConick: Gospel Truth. (Hat tip: Alan Jacobs)
A question of authority

The new Primate of the Anglican Church in Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has ordered this pastoral letter to be read in all ACC parishes tomorrow. This is in response to efforts of conservative Anglicans to set up a parallel jurisdiction under the Province of the Southern Cone. Thus saith the epistle:

The actions by the Primate of the Southern Cone are also inappropriate. They contravene ancient canons of the Church going as far back as the 4th century, as well as statements of the Lambeth Conference, the Windsor report and the Communiqué from the Primates' Meeting earlier this year. Furthermore these actions violate Canon XVII of the Anglican Church of Canada which states that “No Bishop priest or deacon shall exercise ordained ministry in a diocese without the license or temporary permission of the Diocesan Bishop.”

However, as this National Post article reports, the Canadian bishops are appealing to the canons selectively, choosing to ignore their own deliberate defiance of sections 143-144 of the Windsor Report and thus the rest of the Anglican Communion. As Mark Larratt-Smith wrote nearly two years ago, "Something is terribly wrong in a church where all that our bishops seem to be able to do is mutter about insubordination to their episcopal authority — at the same time as they themselves are rejecting the authority and witness of the worldwide Anglican church."
Proportional representation?

Writing for the Financial Post, Lawrence Solomon appears to be confused: Tories deny Ontario democracy. He begins with this:

Canada needs electoral reform to bring in proportional representation. It is unconscionable that in a modern democracy such as ours, vast swathes of the electorate should be effectively disenfranchised by a voting system that is essentially corrupt, disproportionately weighted to favour some segments of the electorate to the misfortune of others.

So far so good. Or at least it seems so on the surface. He properly draws attention to a federal bill that would shortchange Ontario voters by eroding the principle of one-person one-vote. But towards the end of his piece he unexpectedly derides any measure that would actually do something to enfranchise "vast swathes of the electorate" and to keep millions of votes from being wasted at election time, namely, some form of proportional representation!

No, Mr. Solomon, Fair Vote Canada has not "appropriated" this term for its own purposes. Proportional representation is a well-known term and accurately describes the several electoral systems used in most of the world's constitutional democracies. What you are addressing is representation by population, or rep-by-pop, which is a related issue but certainly not the same thing.
An unexpected finding

The ETTimes reports: Researcher claims to have found missing dark matter. Well, that is a surprise. If I had known Mashchenko and his associates were looking for it, I would have suggested they begin in our basement, which desperately needs tidying. Whether their findings might shed light on those odd socks that have gone missing from our dryer over the years is hard to say. Does NSERC fund this sort of research?

30 November 2007

St. Andrew

There are any number of nations that count St. Andrew the Apostle, Jesus' first disciple and brother of Simon Peter, as their patron, and many of these have a tradition that he visited them during his missionary journeys. Now writer George Alexandrou believes he can reconcile these disparate traditions and is persuaded that St. Andrew travelled very far indeed during his long lifetime, as reported in the Orthodox journal Road to Emmaus: The Astonishing Missionary Journeys of the Apostle Andrew. Here at least is one apostle who took seriously the gospel mandate to spread the good news of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. One hopes that Alexandrou's book, He Raised the Cross on the Ice, will one day be translated from Greek into English.

28 November 2007

Latest news

From Australia: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is requiring the members of his parliamentary caucus to visit homeless shelters in or near their constituencies. One assumes this follows from his Christian belief in the obligation to care for the poor.

From Cyprus: The island nation is suffering through a severe drought. The Church of Cyprus is ordering its priests to pray for rain.

From Ontario: Could it be that the United Church has really run afoul of political correctness? It seems so: LUV UR PL8? 2BAD4U, cleric told. (Hat tip: Jonathan Weverink)

From Russia: Reuters carries three "FACTBOX" articles about sunday's parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation: Key facts about Russia parliamentary election, New rules for Russia's parliamentary election, and The runners in Russia's parliamentary vote.

25 November 2007

Rudd on Christianity and politics

Australia's new Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is a serious Catholic who appears to be conversant with his church's social teachings. His address on Christianity and Politics, delivered two years ago at New College, University of New South Wales, indicates that he is grappling with issues of faith and justice — at least in the area of labour relations. Rudd's article last year in The Monthly, Faith in Politics, caught the attention of the press, leading to what one observer called an unholy row. If there are any Australians reading this post, I'd love to get your views on Rudd's premiership in the comments below.

24 November 2007

And now from down under. . .

John Howard is out. Kevin Rudd is in.

23 November 2007

Why I'm glad I'm not in the States today

This is a good reason to stay home the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday: Shoppers Rush Texas Mall.

The much anticipated split in the Anglican Church of Canada has now come: Anglican Church offshoot launched. The most recent precipitating act came on saturday at the synod of the Diocese of Niagara: Diocese of Niagara “walks apart” from Anglican Communion. The "new" continuing body will come under the episcopal oversight of Archbishop Gregory Venables and the Province of the Southern Cone. The Diocese of Sydney and the Province of the Indian Ocean have expressed support for this effort. It is unclear whether the ACC, the Episcopal Church and the new North American Anglican province can all remain within the Anglican communion. It seems likely that the Archbishop of Canterbury, presiding as he does over one of the fading provinces of the communion, will not be the one to make this judgement.

22 November 2007

The decline of Psalms in the liturgy

This is a sad account of the decline of Psalms in the western liturgy taken from the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia under the entry for "Gradual". I have taken the liberty of breaking it up into paragraphs and deleting the source citations for easier reading.

Gradual, in English often called Grail, is the oldest and most important of the four chants that make up the choir's part of the Proper of the Mass. Whereas the three others (Introit, Offertory, and Communion) were introduced later, [to] fill up the time while something was being done, the Gradual (with its supplement, the Tract or Alleluia) represents the singing of psalms alternating with readings from the Bible, a custom that is as old as these readings themselves. Like them, the psalms at this place are an inheritance from the service of the Synagogue. Copied from that service, alternate readings and psalms filled up a great part of the first half of the Liturgy in every part of the Christian world from the beginning.

Originally whole psalms were sung. In the "Apostolic Constitutions" they are chanted after the lessons from the Old Testament: "The readings by the two (lectors) being finished, let another one sing the hymns of David and the people sing the last words after him." This use of whole psalms went on till the fifth century. St. Augustine says: "We have heard first the lesson from the Apostle. Then we sang a psalm. After that the lesson of the gospel showed us the ten lepers healed."

These psalms were an essential part of the Liturgy, quite as much as the lessons. "They are sung for their own sake; meanwhile the celebrants and assistants have nothing to do but to listen to them." They were sung in the form of a psalmus responsorius, that is to say, the whole text was chanted by one person — a reader appointed for this purpose. (For some time before St. Gregory I, to sing these psalms was a privilege of deacons at Rome. It was suppressed by him in 595.) The people answered each clause or verse by some acclamation. In the "Apostolic Constitutions" they repeat his last modulations.

Another way was to sing some ejaculation each time. An obvious model of this was Ps. cxxxv [Hebrew: 136] with its refrain: "quoniam in æternum misericordia eius" ["for his mercy endures for ever"]; from which we conclude that the Jews too knew the principle of the responsory psalm. . . . It appears that originally, while the number of biblical lessons was still indefinite, one psalm was sung after each.

When three lessons became the normal custom (a Prophecy, Epistle, and Gospel) they were separated by two psalms. During the fifth century the lessons at Rome were reduced to two; but the psalms still remain two, although both are now joined together between the Epistle and Gospel, as we shall see. Meanwhile, as in the case of many parts of the Liturgy, the psalms were curtailed, till only fragments of them were left. This process, applied to the first of the two, produced our Gradual; the second became the Alleluia or Tract. . . .

It is difficult to say exactly when the Gradual got its present form. We have seen that in St. Augustine's time, in Africa, a whole psalm was still sung. So also St. John Chrysostom alludes to whole psalms sung after the lessons. . . . In Rome the psalm seems not yet to have been curtailed: "Wherefore we have sung the psalm of David with united voices, not for our honour, but for the glory of Christ the Lord." Between this time and the early Middle Ages the process of curtailing brought about our present [1913] arrangement.

One of the things the 16th-century Reformers wished to do was to restore the Psalms to worship, an effort that appears to need renewal every generation, even in churches that are heirs to the Reformation. My own website, dedicated to the Genevan Psalter, is intended to be part of this effort.

18 November 2007

People from the past

When I was growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, four decades ago, the house across the street from us was inhabited by a number of colourful people in succession. One of these was the family of John Noble, a former prisoner in the Soviet Gulag whose obituary appears here and here. We used to play with the Nobles' children, whose ages paralleled our own. After they moved out, a sport writer for the Chicago Sun-Times (whose name escapes me at the moment) moved in and lived there briefly. Then came Prof. Arthur Ernest Wilder-Smith and his family. His wife was German and their children were bilingual, speaking to each other in the other language when they wished to conceal something from us during play. What fascinating people to grow up with!

Orthodox and Catholics to reunite?

The bishops of Rome and Constantinople excommunicated each other back in 1054. Although these actions were rescinded in 1964 during an historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches remain out of communion with each other. Perhaps this is about to change, as indicated in this Times Online report: Vatican joins historic talks to end 950-year rift with Orthodox church. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church met recently in Ravenna, Italy, and issued what may or may not be a groundbreaking statement: Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority. From the Times report:

The document suggests that the Pope, always referred to in the text as “Bishop of Rome”, could be the “first” among the regional patriarchs. But this would be only as a primus inter pares, with his authority resting firmly on the support and consensus of the other patriarchs. “Certainly Rome could not be the absolute centre of administration, with authority over all the others,” Greek Metropolitan Athanasios Chatzopoulos, one of the participants of the Ravenna conference, said. “The ‘primus’ would not be able to do anything without the consent of the other Patriarchs.”

Despite the media attention, this does not appear to me to mark a substantive shift in the centuries-old Orthodox position. The Orthodox have always been willing to recognize the primacy of the "Patriarch of Rome," but they will not recognize his supreme authority over the entire church. That's why this headline from The Trumpet is greatly misleading: Vatican Takes Step to Reabsorb Orthodox Church. Moreover, this sentence from the Times is equally absurd: "Healing the schism would in effect turn Patriarch Bartholomew into an Orthodox 'Pope'." There is much greater likelihood of the Orthodox churches fragmenting among themselves than of Bartholomew being accorded popelike powers.

Much still stands in the way of reunion, not the least of which is fractiousness within the Orthodox fold. There is also the question of the number of ecumenical councils recognized by the two communions. The Orthodox acknowledge seven such councils, the last of which occurred in 787. Rome recognizes 21 ecumenical councils, the last being the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. What would be the status in a reunited church of the 14 councils occurring after the split? This is far from clear. Even decades of negotiations are unlikely to resolve such issues as filioque, purgatory and the extent of the Old Testament canon, because each side has staked a claim to truth from which it would be difficult to back down after nearly a millennium.

Why Ravenna? This city was undoubtedly chosen because of its history as a centre of the Byzantine presence in the Italian peninsula between 540 and 751. The Byzantines left a lasting legacy in the form of art and architecture that graces the city to this day. The ancient church buildings contain renowned mosaics, such as the one of Christ shown above from the Church of San Apollinare Nuovo. It would be most appropriate if unity between eastern and western churches were to begin here. By God's grace may it come to pass.

17 November 2007

Bringing men to church

This story appeared in the press the other day: More women than men are being ordained to Anglican priesthood. And then there's this from The Point blog: Getting men through the church doors. There has long been a problem in getting men to attend church along with their wives, who tend to be more devout. Persuading unmarried men is even more of a challenge. But it seems that increasing numbers of North American men are showing up at Orthodox churches these days. Why? Here's one man's view:

Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it's also about overcoming oneself. I am challenged in a deep way, not to "feel good about myself" but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor I find liberation. And you know, so does my wife.

And another's:

Christ in Orthodoxy is a militant, butt-kicking Jesus who takes Hell captive. Orthodox Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. (Males can relate to butt-kicking and fire-casting.) In Holy Baptism we pray for the newly-enlisted warriors of Christ, male and female, that they may "be kept ever warriors invincible."

Any number of observers have commented on the so-called feminization of the western church. However, the problem is not that churches are pushing feminine as opposed to masculine virtues; it is that they have caved in to the larger culture in refashioning the church into a marketable commodity in a consumer society. This is true of churches in a variety of traditions. "Take up your cross and follow me" is not exactly an easily saleable slogan for those valuing a comfortable life.

If churches are in the business only of making parishioners feel good about themselves — of simply affirming them in their current predilections rather than calling them to a life of holiness — they are failing in their central task. The life in Christ is a demanding one, calling for obedience to God's word in all walks of life. Over the centuries many believers have gone to their deaths for the sake of Christ. Women, no less than men, understand that being indiscriminately "nice" or boundlessly "inclusive", far from being the message of the gospel, is a cheap counterfeit that, over the long term, will end up alienating more people than it attracts.

14 November 2007

Paul confused?

A US presidential aspirant confesses his faith in Jesus Christ: Statement of Faith, by Rep. Ron Paul, MD. Paul opposes the abortion licence and believes in just war principles, to which he is convinced that the current American war on terror fails to conform. However, some Christians might conceivably be put off by his reference to "our divinely inspired Constitution," which he seems to be confusing with Holy Scripture. Someone needs to set him straight on this.

13 November 2007

St. John Chrysostom

Today marks the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. John Chrysostom, the "golden tongued" (Χρυσόστομος) Archbishop of Constantinople who lived from c. 349 to 407. A native of Antioch, John was educated by the pagan Libanius and went on to study theology under Diodoros of Tarsus. He was an ascetic who disliked the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy classes. When he was appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, the imperial capital, he reluctantly became an official of the highest rank, with privileges approaching those of royalty. Nevertheless, he opposed the lavish lifestyles of the city's élite and spoke with courage against abuses in high places. He preached regularly on the duty to care for the poor, among whom he was well-loved.

He is known as the greatest preacher of the early church. The Orthodox Church's Divine Liturgy is named for him, in recognition of his contribution to the liturgy by revising its prayers and rubrics. His famous paschal homily is often read in churches on Easter, as it has been in our church. St. John is honoured by both eastern and western churches, including those of the Reformation. For example, John Calvin admired his straightforward interpretation of scripture, as opposed to Augustine's more allegorical approach. St. John died in exile in the Caucasus, with these words on his lips: "Glory be to God for all things!"

Here is a final word for us from St. John Chrysostom:

Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being heard must be based on God's mercy and His love for men. Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.

Later: Coinciding with the anniversary comes this story out of Cyprus: Thousands queue outside Cyprus church after reports of miracle-working relic. St. John Chrysostom's skull is in the island and two miracles are being attributed to its presence.

12 November 2007

A healthy, delicious meal

Although this is by no means a cooking blog, readers may be interested in knowing about this wonderful combination of foods that we discovered quite by accident in our house. Try this for dinner one evening. Start with basa, a flavourful fish related to the catfish from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. It is also known as iridescent shark. Bake until tender. Then take red swiss chard, also known as mangold leaves, and boil/steam them until tender. (The red variety tastes better than the white.) Finally, cook jasmine rice, an aromatic rice from Thailand. Use two portions of water to one portion of rice and cook until the water has evaporated. Squeeze lemon over the basa and the chard. Dress all three with extra virgin olive oil, preferably from Greece. It's a delicious and healthy meal. Bon appetit! Καλή όρεξη!
Questioning authority

The Zylstra Lectures are over. I took the occasion of the evening lecture to unveil the latest addition to my wardrobe. This is the first t-shirt I've owned with a slogan on it — and one that is self-referentially incoherent at that.

11 November 2007

Did you know. . .

. . . that Miles Coverdale's 16th-century translation of the biblical Psalms uses the English word "luck" three times: in Psalms 45:5, 118:26 and 129:8?
A Byzantine Catholic university?

Because I teach at a university with a distinctive confessional identity, I am always interested to learn of new educational ventures that claim a foundation in a christian tradition. There are, of course, any number of Catholic universities in North America, one of which I myself attended more than two decades ago. But as far as I know Transfiguration College may be the only fledgling university in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. Gestating in Aurora, Illinois, it styles itself a Byzantine Catholic Great Books College, taking its curricular cues from Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins' 54-volume Great Books of the Western World.

Two observations are in order. First, it is somewhat surprising for an institution that claims to be in the Byzantine tradition to be touting a western-oriented great books programme. To be sure, they do have St. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and Fyodor Dostoevsky. But where are Gregory of Nyssa, the Philokalia and Nikos Kazantzakis? Second, because its website appears to have been updated last in 2005, it's not clear whether Transfiguration College is still in the planning stages or effectively dormant. If the former, then I wish them God's blessing in this new venture.
Sermon posted

This morning's sermon, delivered at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, has been posted here: Obedience.

09 November 2007


This coming sunday, 11 November, I will be preaching at the 9.30 am service at the Church of St. John the Evangelist at the corner of Locke and Charlton here in Hamilton. The subject is "Obedience" and the scripture text is I John 2:1-6, 3:19-24. All are welcome.

07 November 2007

Ron Paul for president?

Here is a name that until now was unfamiliar to me: Ron Paul, who on monday raised a record $4.2 million for his campaign for the US presidency. By most measures that should make him a serious contender for the Republican nomination next year.

What does he stand for? Among other things: smaller government, an end to the income tax, return to the gold standard, a noninterventionist foreign policy and withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Read this speech for further details. Is Paul a threat to the other Republican candidates, including frontrunner Rudolf Giuliani? Probably not, unless he becomes a third-party candidate, thereby siphoning off Republican votes and inadvertently helping the Democrats.

Here's one indicator of Paul's distance from the mainstream of his own party: "Paul backers tied their Nov. 5 fundraising effort to Guy Fawkes Day – which commemorates the day in 1605 when the British mercenary tried to blow up Parliament and kill the king." Taking a would-be regicide as one's model will likely do nothing to help his candidacy, despite his full-to-overflowing coffers.
Loonie > Greenback

This would have been difficult to envision a short time ago: Loonie retreats after topping $1.10 US.
Watch it, Stephen!

It seems I am not the only one to think Stephen Harper may be warming up too quickly to a referendum on the Senate: Vote on Senate 'premature,' PM warned. Here is Preston Manning's view:

Mr. Manning said Tuesday that he supports the idea of a referendum, but that the question cannot be solely about abolition. Rather, Canadians should be asked to choose between abolition and reform. He also said that a referendum can be fair only if the government were to finance both sides of the issue so Canadians could be well-informed about the options before they go to the polls.

And now Liberal leader Stéphane Dion:

Mr. Dion said a referendum would be expensive and almost useless because of the possibility it would divide the country. He noted that even if a majority voted in favour, some provinces would almost certainly be opposed and that a constitutional change of such significance would require unanimity among the provinces. He suggested that the Prime Minister convene a meeting of premiers before pressing ahead with a referendum.

I suspect that most constitutional scholars would hold that a referendum on such an issue could be at most only advisory, and that the issue would have to be decided according to the procedures laid out in section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982, requiring unanimous consent of each provincial legislature. Although the possibility of abolishing the Senate is not mentioned in this act, its existence is assumed in 41(1)(b). Of course, one might conceivably make a case, under section 42(b), that the general amending formula in 38(1) would be sufficient, viz., approval by both chambers of Parliament and at least 7 provinces containing at least 50 percent of Canada's population. Yet that subsection refers only to "the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators," which would seem to exclude abolition.

Thus I believe Dion is on solid constitutional ground, and both Manning and Dion are on solid political ground. Harper would be wise to heed their warnings.

06 November 2007

Referendum on Senate?

NDP leader Jack Layton and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal have proposed a national referendum on abolishing Canada's Senate, the unelected upper chamber of Parliament. Now Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated that he would support such a referendum if the Senate cannot be reformed. If Harper is serious about this, he could effectively alienate the west, which is a key Conservative stronghold. In general, westerners prefer to see a "Triple E" Senate — elected, equal and effective. By giving each province the same number of Senators, by having them elected for fixed terms and by empowering them to check the Commons, a Triple-E Senate would more closely resemble the American and Australian Senates.

Needless to say, there is no enthusiasm for such a Senate in Ontario and Québec, whose dominance of Parliament as a whole would be curtailed under the new arrangement. They and New Democrats alike would prefer to see the Senate abolished. However, in supporting such a referendum, Harper would take a potentially huge risk. If voters in Ontario and Québec won a victory for abolition through sheer numbers, and if westerners had voted overwhelmingly to oppose such a move on grounds that it would eliminate any possibility of their having a greater voice in Ottawa, it could conceivably exacerbate the regional divisions in this country and in his own party.

Yet Harper has proved himself to be a crafty politician. He must know all this. Which makes me wonder whether he might have something up his sleeve. Stay tuned.

01 November 2007

All Saints

Going ape

Those of us who have read of this primate's seemingly extraordinary communicative abilities will be interested in this item: Chimpanzee famous for using sign language dies. "Washoe, a female chimpanzee said to be the first non-human to acquire human language, has died of natural causes at the U.S. research institute where she was kept." May she rest in peace.

In the meantime, few may be aware that Cheeta, the chimpanzee from the old Tarzan movies of the 1930s and '40s, is still alive and reputed to be the world's oldest chimp.

31 October 2007


Four-hundred-ninety years ago today Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche at Wittenberg. On this occasion it is appropriate to alert readers to the Reformational wiki recently posted by Steve Bishop. (Here "reformational" is to be understood as a synonym for neocalvinist.)

Oh, and then of course there's that other occasion being observed today — the one dedicated to begging, the occult, gluttony and tooth decay.

27 October 2007

Subverting reform?

The CBC's Don Newman has an interesting take on Stephen Harper's likely ambivalence over the fixed election dates that were part of his package of constitutional reforms: Hard to Get a Date. Prior to adopting this reform, a government could easily time an election by requesting dissolution of Parliament at virtually any moment it deemed favourable to its own electoral fortunes. I myself have favoured fixed election dates because it promised to remove one more of the vast powers of the prime minister.

However, as Newman points out, a clever PM in a minority government may find a way around this. If the principal opposition party is in disarray, as are the Liberals at the moment, and if the opinion polls show the Conservatives in majority territory, the temptation will be great for Harper to engineer the defeat of his own government, as Trudeau did in 1974, in the hopes that he might receive a majority in the ensuing election. That may be what he's doing by proposing legislation he knows will be unpalatable to the opposition. Of course, this could all backfire on Harper if the public perceives him to be subverting his own reform for partisan purposes.

In a multiparty democracy, where coalition rather than minority governments are the norm, a prime minister would not be able to do this on his own, because he would have his coalition partners to answer to. Moreover, if he were leading a coalition government commanding the majority of seats in the lower chamber, the felt need to engage in this tactic would be unlikely to present itself.

This raises once again the issue of electoral reform. Ontario voters just defeated the mixed-member-proportional system (MMP), seemingly indicating that they are satisfied to be ruled by a government most of them opposed. As French political scientist Maurice Duverger demonstrated more than half a century ago, there is a causal connection between electoral and party systems. Proportional representation (PR) tends to produce multiple parties none of which by itself is likely to command a majority of seats in parliament. This forces them to co-operate in coalition governments, as they do in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, which adopted MMP a decade and a half ago, Thérèse Arseneau, a Canadian expat living amongst the Kiwis, defends the new system against its detractors: MMP still the better option.

24 October 2007

Off-putting auto

KIA Motors obviously did not have any Greeks working in its marketing department when it came up with the following:


I suspect I'm not the only person to read this as "kill", which could prevent its cars selling in Greece, Cyprus, Toronto's Danforth neighbourhood and Melbourne's Russell and Lonsdale district.

22 October 2007

Neoclassicism at Redeemer

The School of Athens

The School of Ancaster
Zylstra Lectures

I promised my Christian Courier readers that I would post the following information here:

Presents the annual

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Authority and the Image of God

Dr. David T. Koyzis
Professor of Political Science
Redeemer University College

Supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation

Chapel address
11:00 am - 12:00 noon, Auditorium
"Living as Image-Bearers"

Afternoon Panel Discussion
3:00 pm, Executive Dining Room
"What Now? Taking Stock of the Provincial Election Results"

Evening Public Lecture
7:00 pm, Room 213
"Can I? May I? The Reduction of Authority to Power"

Invitation is open and admission is free

For more information please contact

Marlene Raddatz
(905)648-2131 x 4414

19 October 2007

Redeemer in the news

My employer, Redeemer University College, is included in The Globe and Mail's University Report Card, as ranked by participating students at institutions across Canada. The highest scores are reported on Redeemer's website. One place where we scored low: On-campus pubs/bars, for which we surprisingly received a D. I wouldn't want to bring down our overall score, but I should think an F would be more appropriate, since ours is a dry campus!

Incidentally, I have just updated the alumni page at the Political Science Department's website — a task that has become immeasurably easier with the advent of facebook.

17 October 2007

Liberal woes

Remember George Perlin's Tory Syndrome, which kept the federal Conservatives out of power through most of the years after 1896? It seems that the Liberals have finally caught this political malady, suggesting that any threat to bring down Stephen Harper's government after last evening's Throne Speech is an empty one. Stéphane Dion would certainly be ill-advised to pick a fight right now.

Later: Oh yes, and then there's this: Chrétien's book revives spectre of house divided. Calling Paul Martin's supporters "self-serving goons" is probably not the way to revive Liberal Party fortunes.

16 October 2007

13 October 2007

Postmortem on electoral reform

Unlike many pundits who assume electoral reform is dead after wednesday's referendum, Andrew Coyne begs to differ: Electoral reform will rise again.

The 37% of Ontario voters who voted in favour of the proposed mixed member proportional (MMP) scheme is within a few percentage points of the 42% who voted for Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals..., who were variously said to have won a massive, historic, decisive majority. It was about as many as voted for the “majority” NDP government in 1990, or the “majority” federal Liberal government in 1997.

Unfair, you say: Mr. McGuinty had more than one opponent. But what is common to all of the other parties is that voters preferred them to Mr. McGuinty’s Liberals. In the race between Dalton and Not Dalton, the Dalton party suffered a decisive defeat. Yet Mr. McGuinty is today congratulated on his majority government, while MMP, in the words of a National Post editorial, “took a pasting.”

What is remarkable, Coyne observes, is that as many as 37 percent of voters in this province voted in favour of MMP, despite a "blizzard of misinformation." "If not quite a ringing endorsement of MMP, it suggests a significant level of dissatisfaction with the status quo — a conclusion amplified by the abysmal turnout, a historic low of 52%."

12 October 2007

Another day off

Newly re-elected Premier Dalton McGuinty is now demonstrating his impeccable pro-family credentials: McGuinty proclaims new holiday.
Kudos to ex-veep

Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize. The esteemed former US Vice President thus joins the ranks of Woodrow Wilson, Lester Pearson, Andrei Sakharov and Mother Teresa — not to mention those great humanitarians Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho and Yassir Arafat.

11 October 2007

Post-election blues

This is cause for melancholy the day after: Ontario rejects electoral reform in referendum. In the meantime Dalton McGuinty's Liberal Party has won another majority, the first time a Liberal government has won back-to-back majorities since 1937. Yet 57.81 per cent of Ontarians voted against the Liberals, thanks to the distortions of our first-past-the-post electoral system. Adding up these two results can only yield the conclusion that voters in this province like having a single party govern against their expressed wishes. Go figure.

10 October 2007

Dust in the wind?

It seems Dr. Minton's heirs live on, as contemporary researchers come once again to a reductionist conclusion: All we are is dust in the wind — from black holes, astronomers say. A Cornell University astronomer notes that this study is "an important step in answering a fundamental mystery of the early universe." One mystery yet remains: why we should pay heed to a study undertaken by so much space dust.

05 October 2007

Dressing appropriately
The latest in men's fashion
Although I can probably be said to have a somewhat distinctive sartorial style, I have written very little about clothing and fashion on this blog, except for the occasional light-hearted reference to the bow tie and to a certain vest reviled by my beloved wife and daughter. It's not as though I have no views on the subject; it's just that it doesn't interest me nearly as much as other things do. Once I'm dressed in the morning, I pretty much forget about it and attend to more important things.

That said, I thought I would call attention to an essay recently published in Comment that came out in the latest print issue: Making the most of college: The importance of dressing well, by Jeff Cavanaugh. Here's an excerpt:

The baby boomer generation who set the style examples and the corporate dress codes today came of age in the social upheaval of the 1960s, when students everywhere were shedding the styles of their parents—along with their social and moral outlook—for sandals, tie-dye, and free love. Since then, nonconformity has become the established pattern, and everyone tries to set himself apart from all the rest. It's difficult to be rebelling constantly, though, and one is faced with terrible dilemmas: Which, among the dozens on display at the casual clothing store chain of choice, will be the t-shirt with the just-right, witty slogan to display the proper insouciance and show my friends I'm a nonconformist, too—just like them?

There was a time, however, when colleges were the centre of the men's clothing industry. Haberdashers—that's an old word for someone who sells shirts and ties and such to men—spent big money trying to attract the business of college men. Partly this was because campus fashions were at the leading edge of the style world, and partly it was because they knew if they could get a man's custom when he was young, they'd probably have it for life. A certain "Ivy League" look that started at Princeton and Yale became the dominant look for men all over North America in the years after World War II.

I myself am part of the baby boom generation that rebelled against all the old symbols of "conformity" by donning the ubiquitous and homogenizing blue jeans, something I never really took to. When I began university as an undergraduate back in 1973, I deliberately shunned this mode of dress, not quite understanding why my peers preferred to look like adolescents rather than the adults we had so recently legally become. However, instead of adopting a more classic style, I indulged in some of the more bizarre fashions of the '70s, including platform shoes, colourful plaid bell bottoms, and even a paisley faux-velvet blazer! (I shudder to imagine my daughter's response to that.)

This quickly ended after my first year, when I began to take a more serious attitude towards my studies and became newly aware of the importance of issues of war and peace, justice and injustice, and the social and political implications of my christian faith. This still didn't put me into jeans, but I did abandon my youthful foppishness — much, I am sure, to everyone's relief.

I am old enough to confirm Cavanaugh's observation that earlier generations tended to dress better than we do. I can recall seeing old home movies of my parents from around the time I was born, my father wearing a jacket and tie, and my mother a skirt — to a picnic, of all places! People would dress up to travel by train or plane, or simply to go grocery shopping. (My understanding is that Argentines still tend to dress well for such ordinary activities.) From a certain aesthetic standpoint I could wish people still did this. Blue jeans and t-shirts are, quite frankly, dull and uninteresting, calling to mind the drab clothing once ubiquitous in maoist China. Surely we can do better than that? Here is Cavanaugh again:

[D]ressing well shows respect for others. I'm not a teacher, but I've talked to a number of professors who find it frustrating that their students, as a rule, come to class looking like they've just rolled out of bed and would really rather be there still. No professor likes it when students seem not to care, and you can communicate "not caring" by wearing a shirt that hasn't been washed in weeks as well as you can by staring out the window during the lecture.

The look that is common to college students and others today—cargo shorts, t-shirts, jeans, even pajamas—is mainly one that emphasizes comfort and individualism. Walking around in a hoodie and pajamas communicates, "I don't care what anybody else thinks about how I look; I'll wear whatever I want and whatever I'm comfortable in." Dressing up a bit, on the other hand, tells those around you that you care about the image you present to them, that you don't want to give offense, and that you take things seriously, including your studies.

As a professor who has taught for just over two decades, I can confirm much of what Cavanaugh writes above. No, I've never had anyone come to class in pyjamas, but I have had to teach some students who, from their appearance, seemed not to respect themselves, much less their peers or me.

Would I put men back into jackets and ties? Well, on some occasions, yes, but certainly not all. I would place the emphasis, not so much on dressing well (read: up), but on dressing appropriately. I generally do wear a jacket and tie in the classroom, but I would never expect my students to do this — the old Ivy League style notwithstanding. I would not dress this way for a picnic, which obviously calls for sturdier clothing that one is willing to have subjected to dirt or stain.

As for the bow tie, I see it as, not only a fashion statement, but a whimsical symbol of the teaching office, communicating at once the weighty character of that office and the unwillingness of its current occupant to take himself too seriously. Yet I don't wear it all the time, especially on days when I'm not teaching.

Though I may disagree with him on specifics, I'm with Cavanaugh on this central issue: dress does matter.

02 October 2007

Don't leave home without it

This is for one of my colleagues who claims not to be a card-carrying Dooyeweerdian:

30 September 2007

The theremin

The theremin is the only musical instrument that is played without touching it. Remarkably, it is not a new instrument but was invented nearly 90 years ago, appearing in the eerie film scores of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound and Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still, where it was employed to great effect by Miklós Rózsa and Bernard Herrmann respectively. Here is Leon Theremin's cousin Lydia Kavina playing Debussy's Claire de Lune on his invention:

Scottish Russians?

Due to the mixed origins of my own last name, I have a continuing interest in surnames from one country that clearly show roots from another. For example, the late Tad Szulc was born in Poland, but his name obviously indicates a German connection. The Dutch names Van Arragon and Antonides would appear to suggest Spanish/Catalonian and Greek roots respectively. Now we read of this intriguing possibility: Scot to bring DNA from Russia with Lermontov. It seems the well-known Russian name Lermontov may once have been Learmonth, with roots in Scotland.

29 September 2007

Anglican views on faith-based schools

I imagine I'm not the only one to find reading the Niagara Anglican a singularly unpleasant experience. Two articles in the current issue are typical in this regard: "Religion in Ontario public schools," by retired Archbishop John Bothwell, and "A religious education," by Peter Wall, Rector of Christ's Church Cathedral here in Hamilton. Both Bothwell and Wall oppose the funding of faith-based schools for all the predictable reasons, favouring instead "religious education," i.e., education about the world's religions, in the public schools. Here is Wall:

[John] Tory's suggestion is that faith based schools are just that — faith based, so we have, rather than religious education, religious indoctrination — potentially narrow and exclusive curricula which promote one religion over another. To my way of thinking, it leads to narrowness, intolerance, a lack of breadth of knowledge and awareness, and a preponderance of religious myopia which has in the past and continues today to cause problems between peoples and groups.

The solution? Keep religious instruction in the churches and religious education in the schools. Notably absent from their remarks is any vision for reclaiming education for the cause of Christ, for bringing the gospel to bear on the whole of life, or witnessing to the coming of God's kingdom. We had best keep our private faith in our churches and out of our schools — "our" evidently referring to Canadians, not Christians. Absent as well is an understanding of the reality that someone's worldview, whether or not overtly expressed, will infuse such teaching about religion.

Sadly, Bothwell and Wall appear to have accepted uncritically the secularizing worldview of the larger society. Accordingly, the church functions as little more than chaplain to that society, affirming it in its prejudices and keeping itself respectable within the eyes of its self-proclaimed opinion-moulders. It shies away from all perceptions of divisiveness, narrowness and intolerance, seemingly vindicating the outsider's cynical assessment of Anglicanism as an establishmentarian church founded to sanction a king's divorce. The offence of the gospel and the exclusive claims of Christ over our lives are obviously not primary considerations.

It is far from coincidental that the same issue of the Niagara Anglican contains this sad article: "Why did St. Philip's close its doors?" A church unable to distinguish itself from the larger culture will eventually become superfluous, as it seems bent on becoming in the Niagara diocese.

26 September 2007

MMP vs MPP reform

The Work Research Foundation has published two pieces in the run-up to the referendum on electoral reform here in Ontario. The yea side is defended (ably, one hopes) by yours truly: Why Ontarians should vote for MMP. The nay side is taken by my genial nemesis, Russ Kuykendall, Senior Researcher for the WRF: MMP? Or, intestinal fortitude? I can agree with Kuykendall here:

What Ontarians need is more MPPs [Members of Provincial Parliament] who set aside advancing their careers in caucus and cabinet and focus, instead, on advancing issues and policy perspectives. We need more MPPs who argue inside caucus, in committees and the legislative assembly, and in media and public meetings on behalf of issues. We need more MPPs who recruit pro-family volunteers, for example, to their campaigns and hire pro-family staff and interns so the next generation of activists is put in place. We need more MPPs who introduce pro-independent and home-schooling bills so that the law better reflects these concerns for fairness and human flourishing – to achieve what Augustine called “proximate justice.”

This is all well and good, but there is a need for institutional reforms that would facilitate these desirable outcomes, and they will likely have to be implemented within the parties themselves. Simply relying on the courage of individual MPPs will almost certainly be inadequate, because they will need a larger support system to overcome the obstacles posed by current levels of party discipline. I would welcome from Kuykendall more specific proposals for giving effect to this.

That said, these really are reforms for another day. The question now at issue is the one of fair representation, which I don't see Kuykendall addressing as such. I understand the objection to a party leader selecting list candidates. However, this is not so much an argument against proportional representation (PR) as it is an argument against the specific form on which we will be voting in two weeks. The single-transferable-vote (STV) would not possess this perceived defect. Might Kuykendall be more favourable to STV?

Finally, I do not see him addressing the injustice of a single party governing over the objections of most voters. There is wisdom in James Madison's belief that a multiplicity of factions will be less likely to harm a polity than a single faction taking power on its own:

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.

Madison would scarcely think it better for a minority faction to claim majority status and rule accordingly. By increasing the likelihood of multiparty coalition governments, MMP will help to address this danger.

I am sorry that the WRF has seen fit not to take a position on the issue, given that a number of like-minded organizations (e.g., the Center for Public Justice and Canada's Citizens for Public Justice) are in favour of PR. Yet I am pleased that they have disseminated these two essays to educate further the voting public in this province.

25 September 2007

How's that again?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association appears to believe that allowing parents to determine their own children's education is a violation of their civil liberties: Civil Rights Group Opposes Tory Faith-Based Schools. A number of high-profile people are willing to accept this rather odd reasoning.

There is, however, high-profile support on the other side as well. Canada's newsweekly Macleans has published an editorial arguing that Choice is good, and more choice is better. Bravo, Macleans!

23 September 2007

Dino's feathers discovered

Here's the latest from the paleontological front: Velociraptor was just a scary turkey, say scientists. It seems a certain nearby sport team could be in for a name change. I'm sure someone would buy tickets to see the Toronto Scary Turkeys. . . assuming they had nothing better to do that day.
Citizenship and the Cyprus Republic

The Cyprus Mail, located in the Greek-dominated south of the island, is to be commended for publishing this piece by Turkish-Cypriot Alkan Çağlar: Why the Republic of Cyprus is institutionally racist. As readers may recall from an earlier post, Çağlar has argued that Turkish-Cypriots are descended from converts to Islam from the island's Latin and Maronite christian communities after the Ottoman conquest in 1571. His current article calls attention to the plight of a mainland Turkish woman, married to a Turkish-Cypriot, attempting to gain citizenship in the Cyprus Republic. By behaving in such a petty way towards this couple, the legally-recognized government in the south is hurting its own cause by increasing the possibility of a permanent "apartheid" of the island and further tempting the international community to recognize the status of the TRNC.

In his mid-20s, Çağlar is still a young man. However, if Cyprus is ever to be reunified and its people reconciled, people like him will have to move into positions of influence on both sides of the divide.

21 September 2007

Rebel without a Cause

Nancy and I recently watched the classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause for the first time. With its young co-stars, James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, it was one of the first adolescent angst movies that would capture the imaginations of viewers in that world of fifty years ago. Although the genre has by now become something of a cliché, its contemporary impact can nevertheless be appreciated in retrospect as we recall the huge changes occurring in North American popular culture in the years following the Second World War. Rock and roll was just gathering steam, and a distinctive youth culture, reinforced by postwar prosperity and overindulgent parents and incubated in the ubiquitous public secondary schools, was exploding into a frequently unpleasant reality — both for parents and for the adolescents themselves.

Rebel captures this moment well. The three principal actors deliver impressive performances, and one can hardly equal the evident interpersonal chemistry among them. The main flaw is that the script's psychologizing is too obvious and heavy-handed. Dean is rebelling against an overly passive father unable to stand up to his mother's domineering ways. Wood is starving for affection from a father who withdrew his when she hit puberty. Mineo is hungry for parental love, living alone in the care of an ineffectual nanny while his divorced father and mother live elsewhere. Mineo fixates on Dean as a father substitute and, at one point, says to him, "I wish you were my father" — just in case we didn't already get the message.

The film is held together by a nihilistic thread and a preoccupation with death — from the morbid planetarium show to the tragic deaths of two teens. The planetarium lecturer, Dr. Minton, represents adult authority and authoritatively imparts this nihilistic worldview to his young audience:

And while the flash of our beginning has not yet traveled the light-years into the distance, has not yet been seen by planets deep within the other galaxies, you will disappear into the blackness of the space from which we came - destroyed, as we began, in a burst of gas and fire. The heavens are still and cold once more. In all the immensity of our universe and the galaxies beyond, the earth will not be missed. Through the infinite reaches of space, the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed, and man existing alone seems himself an episode of little consequence. *

While apparently believing in the ultimate meaningless of existence, the adults in the film nevertheless manage to live respectable lives. Yet in the larger scheme of things there is no compelling reason for them to do so, and the youth have picked up on this. They are simply living out their parents' worldview, even if their parents are unable to comprehend this. Constantly flirting with death, they live as if there is no tomorrow. Tellingly, in the film's timeline there is indeed no tomorrow. The action occurs over a period of just 24 hours.

All three of the film's stars died tragically. Dean was killed in an automobile accident in September 1955, a month before the film opened. Mineo was murdered in 1976. Wood drowned in a boating accident in 1981. The film's title is perhaps misleading: the cause of the adolescents' rebellion is, paradoxically, the ultimate lack of cause for acting differently - for conforming to their parents' expectations when the parents themselves can offer no justification for doing so.


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