Thursday, August 23, 2012

"It's just a book"

Pornographers claim that you cannot judge a book unless you have read it. By that standard, we would spend our entire lives reading pornography. No, we are entitled to judge a book from reviews, other opinion, and authors' earlier work.  On August 19, 2012, a Toronto Star reader defended the latest porn offering by stating, "It is just a book." My unpublished response to the Star:

In defending the Shades of Grey trilogy, Paula Berry makes two errors. The first is the implication that books have little or no influence for good or ill.

Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe caused the Civil War. Slight exaggeration, but it did fire up Northern antagonism against the South. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair brought about a revolution in the U.S. meatpacking industry, and lead Theodore Roosevelt to create the Food and Drug Administration. Yes, a book, even fiction, can have great influence.

Ms. Berry's other error is to equate the New York Times bestseller list with quality, along with the belief that "smut, prejudice or whatever" would keep a low-grade book off such lists. Bestseller lists are not endorsements. They merely indicate sales, and not literary, social or any other value.

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To the list of highly influential books we might add the fiction of Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. The anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque was so influential that Adolf Hitler ordered it burned. A hot topic in the current U.S. election campaign is the door-stopper novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Other significant works of fiction appear in any history of Western thought, such as European Intellectual History since 1789 by Roland N. Stromberg.

And in the The Globe and Mail of September 22, 2012, scholar, author and broadcaster Kenan Malik commented on the fatwa placed on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. Malik wrote, "Rushdie was in effect sentenced to death for writing a story. Many were to be killed for translating and publishing that story. Bookshops were bombed for stocking it. It is a measure of the strangeness of the world in which we live that storytelling can be such a hazardous craft."  Even Rushdie himself, just before the novel's publication, said,"It would be absurd to think that books can cause riots."

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code slithered into best-sellerdom. This work of fiction defied logic and history, yet became truth to the unwary and to those unfavourably disposed toward the Catholic Church.

On the death of Pole Pius XII in 1958, the secular media accorded him great tribute. This ended with the 1963 appearance of the fictional work The Deputy. In it, Communist playwright Rolf Hochhuth portrayed the pope as having done nothing to save Jews from the Holocaust.. This has gained such currency that today many accept it as truth.

What's strange is the surprise some of us have at the power of the written word.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Church and State -- Both Necessary

Email to the National Post, August 4, 2012, in reply to an earlier letter. Unpublished.

Roy Haina writes "it really bothers me" when the church talks politics (Would you like some church with your state? Aug.3).  He seems unaware that Christianity existed long before any state in the world today, and Judaism long before that.

It was the Christian church that got western civilization through the turmoil following the collapse of the Roman Empire by creating universities, libraries, hospitals, and much more. It was Judeo-Christian teaching that created the rights we enjoy today. Until relatively recently, education was the exclusive domain of religious institutions, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic. Would Mr. Haina oppose putting that experience in education and government to profitable use?

Every great civilization in history has religion at its base. Compared to religion, the state today is shallow and lacks moral depth.

Mr. Haina should know that those who believe in nothing will believe in anything. Those with no religious belief today follow every ephemeral cult that pops up, inevitably to great frustration. The current popularity of cult films and certain television programs and best-seller books tells us that those with no belief are searching for a spiritual anchor. Unfortunately, they are groping in the dark.

Mr. Haina describes the expression of church opinion as sticking "its nose into politics". Thou shall not kill was a Jewish injunction long before the existence of any state. Similarly, thou shall not steal, or bear false witness. Emerging states realized the benefit of these and other religious commands, and turned them into crimes. There remains much the state, any state, could learn from religion.

From Catholic Canon Law, our courts have adopted or adapted such rules as: You must not condemn an absent person who may possess lawful means of proving innocence; the judge cannot be a witness; a single disposition, no matter from whom, is not sufficient for a conviction.

The state should welcome religious comment on state affairs, as it welcomes comment from secular sources. It's the message that counts, not the messenger.

The absence of a religious basis explains the disintegration, unrest and longing for something better that pervades our world today. The remedy is at hand. Everyone, including Mr. Haina should explore it.

Corporations: Invest or Pay Back

Email to the Toronto Star, August 3 2012. Unpublished

In his Opinion Piece, Reid Rusonik raised many significant points (Where bullets won't fly this summer, Aug. 2). I was particularly distressed to learn that corporations which were given tax concessions are merely sitting on the extra income. These corporations now have cash holdings equal to our national debt.

It was these same corporations that once begged and pleaded that lower taxes would motivate them to invest. Canadians are waiting for those investments. This money must be invested or returned to taxpayers for whom such concessions amount to subsidies, that is, corporate welfare. This money can be recouped by a 100 per cent claw back on the amount of the lowered tax. 

In the hands of citizens, this same money would immediately circulate through the economy, resulting in expansion and lower unemployment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympics No; Expo Yes

Email to the Toronto Star. Published August 7, 2012

Re Olympic games an opportunity we can't pass up, Aug. 2.

Royson James is right and wrong. He is correct in advocating an extravaganza that involves financial support from the provincial and federal governments. He is wrong in opting for the Olympics.

There is more to life that hyper-developed athletes and their groupies. Rather than a grunt and groan sweatfest, Toronto deserves something for the mind -- an Expo.

Anyone who witnessed the brilliant success of Expo 67 in Montreal fully appreciates the value of such an event. It was a shining moment in Canada's history when more than one million visitors passed through the gates.

It's time for another shining moment. This time in Toronto.

Olympics last only a few days (thank goodness). Expos last months (thank goodness). And the Expo legacy vastly outshines Olympic leftovers, especially after the boys from Switzerland have taken their share. Olympics no; Expo yes.