29 March 2007

'War' in Europe

How did our domestic media manage to miss this story: Switzerland invades Liechtenstein?

27 March 2007

Ravel's G Major Concerto

This is from a post I wrote almost exactly one year ago:

On the first nice spring day I love to listen to Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, a personal favourite. I've observed this ritual virtually every year since 1973, when I was in my final year of high school, and I did so again today. This is one of two piano concertos created by the great French composer (1875-1937), the other being the single-movement Concerto for the Left Hand. Although they were written virtually simultaneously in 1929-31, their respective moods could hardly be more contrasting. Given that it was written for Paul Wittgenstein (philosopher Ludwig's brother), who had lost his right arm in the Great War, the Left Hand Concerto is sombre and dramatic.

By contrast, the G Major Concerto is lively and even daring. The first movement, Allegramente, opens with what sounds like the crack of a whip and the release of horses onto a parade ground. The middle movement, Adagio assai, is quiet and reflective, bearing some resemblance to Erik Satie's Gymnopédies. The final movement, Presto, is frenetic in its pace, with obvious jazz influence. This time the horses appear to be in a race, slowing not in the least even to show off for the crowds, as they did in the first movement.

Today is the first nice springlike day of the year in Hamilton. So here are the three movements below, in a wonderful interpretation by Argentine pianist Martha Argerich:

A watershed election

A new era has begun in Québec provincial politics, as Premier Jean Charest's Liberal government slips to minority position and Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec unexpectedly becomes the official opposition in the National Assembly. As for the previous second-place party, André Boisclair's Parti Québécois came in third, its worst showing in nearly four decades. Does this put an end to the old separatist dream of a sovereign Québec? Stay tuned.

24 March 2007

Speaking of Holland. . .

Few North Americans are likely aware that our modern orange-coloured carrots were first bred by patriotic farmers in the 16th-century Netherlands in honour of the House of Orange.

Mennonite Central Committee
Holland turning the corner?

The light of Christ continues to shine in an overwhelmingly secular Netherlands, as indicated here: Seeking security, Dutch turn to Bible Belt. (Hat tip to Joshua Eriksen.) Figuring prominently in the article is the small christian political party, ChristenUnie. This report comes on the heels of a recent Weekly Standard essay: Holland's Post-Secular Future. Perhaps the Netherlands really is turning the corner. May God grant it.

22 March 2007

A shorter book than planned

In memory of my recent health crisis, I have determined that my next book will not contain an appendix.
Liberty threatened

Are the traditional liberties enjoyed by English-speaking countries endangered in the motherland itself? Writing in Australia's The Age, this is what Melanie Phillips argues in Liberty fades as rights talk grows. Here's Phillips:

Real human rights — such as the equality of every human being and the intrinsic value of human life — are indeed universal and should be unarguable. The problem, however, comes with the "rights" that are enshrined in human rights law. These also claim to be universal and unarguable. But they are not. Indeed, the very act of codifying them makes them eminently contentious and divisive.

This is because almost every "right" in the convention is balanced by a rival "right". Judges have to decide between them. The way is therefore open for ideological, tendentious or prejudiced views to be set in judicial stone.

It has created a grasping "me too" culture that is as divisive as it is undemocratic. It has galvanised special interest groups to make demands, created a burgeoning industry of human rights lawyers and — despite acknowledging the ultimate supremacy of Parliament — effectively transferred much political power from Parliament to the courts. Instead of the rule of law, Britain now has rule by lawyers.

Though I disagree that "[h]uman rights law has nothing to do with true liberalism," I certainly concur with her belief that human rights has become "a religion for a godless age."

20 March 2007

PR for Ontario

I just discovered today that my submission to the Ontario Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform has been posted to the Assembly's website. As the group's work continues, we have reason to hope that the province's first-past-the-post electoral system may eventually be supplemented or replaced by some form of proportional representation. If so, it would set a precedent for the rest of the country.
A dark horse candidate

François Bayrou, leader of the Union for French Democracy, is making a surprisingly strong showing in the public opinion polls in the runup to his country's presidential election, as indicated in this report: French voters discover the third way. Bayrou is a practising Roman Catholic with six children and 12 grandchildren. He is sometimes labelled a christian democrat, due to UDF roots in the old Mouvement Républicain Populaire of the Fourth Republic.

Nevertheless, despite his Catholic faith, he is a defender of laïcité, a principle embodied in a 1905 law separating church and state and undertaking to privatize ultimate religious commitments.

18 March 2007

The end of Britain

Could Tony Blair's policies, including British participation in the Iraq war, inadvertently lead to the breakup of the 300-year-old United Kingdom? The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders weighs this possibility in Vive le Scotland libre?

17 March 2007

Mediaeval tech support

16 March 2007

Prayer request

I have just returned from hospital where I received an emergency appendectomy on tuesday. There is still some cause for concern of infection of the mesh that was implanted at virtually the same spot back in 2000 to repair a hernia. I will be on antibiotics for the next 14 days. In the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers for healing and for no complications that might require further hospitalization and surgery. Thanks so much.

10 March 2007

A controversial decision

Could a court inadvertently contribute to a rise in violent crime? It's possible: Court rejects Washington, D.C., handgun ban. The Metropolitan Police will likely not be pleased.

09 March 2007

Nicosia barrier dismantled

The internationally-recognized government of Cyprus has removed the barrier at Ledra Street in the divided capital of Nicosia, in response to a similar move last December by the Turkish Cypriot authorities on their side: Greek Cypriots remove wall, seek Turkish pullout. I took the photograph below at the Ledra Street barrier in 1995.

Ledra Street, Nicosia, Cyprus

Is this a move towards reuniting the island, or is it an effort to embarrass Turkey during a European Union summit? Unfortunately, reunification will likely remain stalled as long as Tassos Papadopoulos is president. I would much prefer to see Nikos Rolandis hold that office, for reasons I've indicated before.

08 March 2007

Un jet d'eau pour Hamilton?

When in 1975 I visited Geneva, Switzerland, I was charmed by this lovely, clean city at the western end of Lac Léman. One of the city's landmarks is the famous jet d'eau reaching skyward from the placid waters of the lake below.

Jet d'eau, Lac Léman

Now Hamilton city councillor Bob Bratina, of CHML radio fame, thinks we need one of these in our harbour: Giant geyser floated as way to market city. Not everyone is enthusiastic: Readers not gushing over geyser. The new mayor, Fred Eisenberger, is open to exploring the idea. While they're at it, they might do well to look up the word geyser.
EU candidate bolsters case for entry

First the Armenians, then Cyprus, and now this: Turkey blocks access to YouTube.

07 March 2007

Parenthood times two

Congratulations are due to my good friends Brian and Nicole Dijkema, who became parents for the first and second time late monday afternoon, 5 March 2007. Elias Richard and Micah Abraham were born at 6 ½ and 7 lbs. respectively at McMaster University Medical Centre here in Hamilton. Thanks be to God!

05 March 2007

Stay away from Hogtown

We've had water seepage in our basement in recent days, but that's nothing compared to the hazzards on the byways of the country's largest city: Falling ice shuts down busy Toronto street, expressway. In the meantime, we're heading for another severe cold snap. Let's just all stay home.
St. Julius?

The Roman Catholic bishops of Tanzania are spearheading an effort to have the country's late president, Julius Nyerere, declared a saint. Why? Here's one account:

The son of a tribal chief, Nyerere was said to have remained true to his mission upbringing, becoming a devout Catholic who often fasted, attended Mass on an almost daily basis and translated parts of the Bible into his native Zanaki language.

He earned respect for his integrity and his lifestyle was modest to the point of austerity -- in stark contrast to the excesses of his contemporaries, including Uganda's Idi Amin, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko and Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam.

On the other hand, there are obstacles to his canonization:

In 1967, Nyerere issued the Arusha declaration, which announced a program of collectivization called Ujamaa or “familyhood.” Nyerere’s vision of African socialism won the admiration of many in the West. As the Cold War intensified, many saw it as the best alternative to Soviet-style Communism in the Third World. Moral and financial support poured in.

When Tanzanians didn’t move into the ujamaa villages the way he had hoped, Nyerere began losing patience with voluntary socialism. Nyerere veered toward Mao Zedong’s China as a more appropriate model for a developing country. In 1973 he began forcefully relocating villagers, uprooting communities in the middle of the agricultural season and moving them to new locations that didn’t always have a supply of water. The harvest suffered. By 1976, Tanzania had gone from being one of Africa’s largest exporters of agricultural products to its largest importer. Clashes with Uganda in the 1970s and the global oil crises only exacerbated the failing cycles of agricultural production. Nyerere retired in 1985, and Tanzania began to reverse some of the socialist policies that led to Tanzania’s economic collapse.

The Vatican would probably be wise not to rush his case.

03 March 2007

Overextended superpower

Is the United States, with its hyperactive (and expensive) foreign and defence policies, heading towards third-world status? Neil Macdonald raises this possibility: Washington's reluctance to pay the piper. If he's right, Canada can hardly afford to gloat. Our federal budget may be in a surplus position at the moment, but our economy is heavily dependent on that of our closest neighbour. What happens to the US will inevitably affect us as well.

01 March 2007

Trudeau's Catholic influences

Last autumn I was invited by the Canadian Journal of Political Science to review a book by Max and Monique Nemni, Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada, 1919-1944. This is the first of a projected three-volume biography of the late prime minister by the authors, who were given unprecedented access to Trudeau's personal papers. I didn't at first know why I was selected to review this book, since I am hardly an expert on Trudeau. But as I began reading, it became clear: the biographers touch on Catholic social and political principles, as they developed from the time of Pope Leo XIII into the 20th century. This is a topic with which I am indeed familiar.

The surprise in this book is that, far from the antinationalist contrarian he portrayed himself to be in the context of interwar Québec, Trudeau was very much a product of the political climate of the times. Like many of his compatriots and coreligionists, he distrusted democracy and embraced the corporatism of Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal and Mussolini's Italy. And, yes, he was a separatist. The review should be out shortly, but one of the things for which I take the authors to task is in drawing a more or less straight line from Catholic social teachings to the antidemocratic corporatism of the 1930s.

However, it looks as though the Nemnis are having second thoughts about this assessment as they research the second volume, which one assumes will cover the years 1944-1968. Indeed Jacques Maritain's personalism apparently had a major impact on Trudeau as he matured. This can be seen in a new article by Max Nemni: La Charte canadienne des droits et libertés : reflet d'un humanisme chrétien, an abbreviated English translation of which appeared in The National Post a few weeks ago: The Charter's Christian roots. Nemni appears to have changed his tune from Young Trudeau, where Maritain is little mentioned and Trudeau's Jesuit education at Collège Jean de Brébeuf is credited only with moving him towards fascism. Now Nemni argues that it was Maritain's emphasis, unusual amongst Catholic intellectuals of his era, on the rights of man that eventually moved Trudeau to adopt a Charter of Rights and Freedoms when he patriated the constitution 25 years ago. Indeed, as Nemni sees it, the one value he retained from his theology courses at Brébeuf is the primacy of the human person.

Is Nemni persuasive? Is the Charter less influenced by liberal individualism than by a christian humanism? I myself doubt it, except in so far as individualism represents a secularization of a certain strand of Christianity. (The translator of the English abstract of the article incorrectly renders personnaliste as "individualist.") A perusal of the key guarantees of the Charter reveals a preponderance of expressions such as "everyone," "every citizen," "every person," "every individual" and "any member of the public." Conspicuously absent are any references to the integral place of communities in any society, except for the mention of the French and English communities of New Brunswick in section 16.1.(1). By contrast, the German Basic Law contains this provision: "Marriage and the family shall enjoy the special protection of the state" (article 6[1]), something which would certainly conform to Maritain's notion of subsidiarity. By contrast, Trudeau himself was a centralizing federalist championing an expanded state to advance individual autonomy in the face of a variety of institutions and traditions inhospitable to this vision. (See, for example, Daniel Cere's comparison of Michael Ignatieff and Trudeau in this respect.) Maritain would not have approved.
Third month; fourth snowday

March comes in like a lion: Freezing rain warning for City of Hamilton continued. For the fourth time this semester classes have been cancelled. Spring arrives in 20 days.
St. David's Day

In the Greek-speaking world people do not generally celebrate their own birthdays; instead they observe the feast day of the saint for whom they were named. We do not follow this custom in our own family, but if we did, today would be my day. St. David is the patron of Wales. I have Welsh ancestry on my mother's side, going back several centuries to the early pre-English princes of Wales. (Then again, so do most, if not all, the readers of this blog.) There are a few other saints named David in especially the eastern church calendar, and these are mostly associated with the ancient kingdom of Georgia. Happy St. David's Day, everyone.


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