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:


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