Sunday, December 28, 2014

Parting Words

"It is obvious to the whole world that a service is better than an injury, that gentleness is preferable to anger.  It only remains, therefore, to use our reason to discern the shades of goodness and badness." So wrote Voltaire in the eighteenth century.

In his television series and book, Civilization, Kenneth Clark elaborated on this theme: "I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction, I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable the ideology . . . I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people's feelings by satisfying our own egos . . . Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible."

Clark, nevertheless, concluded his beliefs on a note of pessimism: "One may be optimistic, but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us." This was in the 1960s.

And  three decades or so later, historian Eric Hobsbawm writing of the family, social and political institutions as the foundations of civilization: "Their future is obscure. That is why, at the end of the [twentieth] century, I cannot look to the future with great optimism."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

That "S" word again.

Among too many others, the word "sexist" trips off the tongue rather easily in this age of hyper-political correctness and sensitivity. The latest example comes from the Ontario Legislature. The issue at hand was a report from auditor general  Bonnie Lysyk critical of the government's handling of matters pertaining to electricity.

Energy Minister  Bob Chiarelli questioned the financial data in the report. "Why are my numbers more credible than hers?" he asked. "Electricity is very complex, is very difficult to understand. Some of our senior managers, in discussing these issues with some of the representatives of the auditor general's office, had the feeling they did not understand of some of the elements of it."

New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath claimed these remarks were "patronizing" and "sexist."  Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott described the tone of Chiarelli's remarks as "completely condescending and sexist."

The Minister maintained that his criticism of the report was aimed at the auditor general's staff, not her personally. The auditor said she did not take offence at the comments, "I didn't even read anything into it."

When Premier Kathleen Wynne defended her minister, Horwath asked,"how can this premier, the first women premier of this province . . . not only support but pile on to this minister's arrogant and sexist behaviour."

Wynne's delightful reaction was to plead "Honest to God."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Important Work Calls for Big People

Letter published in the Toronto Star, November 22, 2014:

Re PM's jab at Putin brings chill to talks, Nov. 16:

Never send a boy to do a man's job. Prime Minister Stephen Harper may pick up political points at home with his undiplomatic attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit.  On the international scene, it is an unfortunate and possibly costly gaff.

Putin is someone Canada will deal with in regard to Arctic sovereignty and oil rights. Harper's finger in Putin's eye will not help negotiations.

Here's how I imagine what Lester Pearson would have said; "Vladimir, you have an opportunity to become peacemaker in Eastern Europe. If I may suggest how you might go about it . . .

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Here's Why Rob Ford shuns the Pride Parade

October 2, 2014, letter to Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume. A similar letter sent to Edward Keenan, also a Toronto Star columnist. No reaction from either. A similar letter to The National Post was not published.

In your column of Sept 26 you correctly describe Rob Ford's refusal to participate in the Pride Parade as his unwillingness to alienate his base. 

What is that base? It comprises approximately one-third of the voting population and includes (perhaps its majority) those who object to naked men walking down the main street of their city, who object to men on floats clothed only in underwear simulating masturbation, and who object to others simulating anal sex. For objecting to what they, and I, honestly consider indecency, you label us bigots, and that meaningless word, homophobic. Is that why Ford shuns the event?

The Star billed the Pride Parade as a family event. I challenged Editorial Page Editor Andrew Phillips to take his family to the parade, have their picture taken with naked men, and publish it. He refused. Doesn't a family newspaper report on family events?

Know that I voted for George Smitherman and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, and will vote for for her again. So long as a candidate's political views are more or less in accord with mine, I don't care if they are polka-dotted aliens. Would that the Toronto Star extended such forbearance to those with whom it disagrees.

In spite of all, I wish you, Andrew and the Star, continued success.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Obliterating history

 Letter to the Toronto Star, Aug. 11, 2014:
Along with many others, I was disappointed to learn of the re-naming of Cawthra Square Park. That action by city council erases the last recognition in downtown Toronto of one of our pioneer families. Have politicians no awareness of our city’s history? All in all, a disgraceful performance by elected representatives.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

No accommodation in human rights?

Letter to the Toronto Star published August 19, 2014:

Your Aug 11 editorial, "One rule for all," betrays a dated mode of thinking, as false as "one size fits all." 

The issue in this case was the request by a group of visiting Hindu priests to be cleared by men only of the Canada Border Services Agency. Denial of this request bespeaks an ideological and absolutist frame of mind. Would you say the same if a group of Muslim women requested clearance by women only?  

The ham-fisted "one rule for all" is another example of "human rights" gone barking mad. Surely there is room for accommodation? Surely accommodation of legitimate and reasonable requests is the Canadian way?

*  *  *
Letter to the Toronto Star, August 25, 2014
Re: Human rights gone mad, Letter Aug. 19
Letter-writer Raymond Peringer misdescribes the situation when he says that visiting Hindu priests asked Canada Border Service Agency to be cleared by male employees only. What they asked for was to not be cleared by women. When seen in this light, it becomes obvious that the request contradicted Canada’s commitment to gender equality, and should not have been granted.
(Name deleted), Toronto
                                                                               *  *  *
RP comment:
The writer exemplifies that frame of mind which allows for nothing beyond the letter of the law. This utopian, absolutist, zero tolerance, ideological approach to human behaviour has produced more than its share of  nonsense at our human rights commissions. 

Inspiration for my comment ---  A Truth Telling Manual and the Art of Worldly Wisdom, 1653, by Baltasar Gracian S.J.  "Drink nothing to the dregs, either of the bad or of the good. To moderation in everything has one sage reduced all wisdom. Too great justice becomes injustice. The orange squeezed too hard becomes bitter. He draws blood instead of milk who milks too hard. Even in enjoyment, do not go too far. The spirit itself grows weary if worked too long." 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Only the news the Toronto Star wants you to know

No one challenges the right of a publication to print what it wishes, that is to publish only what it wants its readers to know. It becomes offensive when the publication poses as being open to all reasonable viewpoints. Instances of selective reporting by the Toronto Star:

In 2006, a survey by the Toronto District School Board indicated that the bullying of gay students was not even on the radar of complaints. The Star did not mention it. 

* * *

The Star believes all races should be represented in public bodies in proportion to their numbers. The Star disagrees with Martin Luther King Jr whose dream it was that people would "not be judged by the colour of their skin but by their content of their character." The paper did not publish my letter advocating ability as the only necessary quality. 

* * *

The Star made no mention of the death of Heather Robinson. It was she who waged a successful legal campaign against certain media, including the Toronto Star, seeking compensation for artists whose work was used by the Star and others without permission or compensation. Nor did the Star report the results this multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit.

* * *

The issue is Liberal Party Justin Trudeau's banning of pro-life candidates. My plea for democracy:

Justine Trudeau disappoints (No choice but pro-choice, Trudeau tells candidates, May 8). Polls consistently show that most Canadians favour at least some control over access to abortion (Angus Read January 2010, Harris-Decima March 2010, Ipsos Reid, July 2012).  The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that with certain conditions an abortion law might be constitutional and not in violation of human rights legislation. Justice Bertha Wilson found the state has "a perfectly valid legislative objective" in seeking to protect the fetus. The fetus has a DNA distinct from that of the mother indicating a different life, to some a different person. There is no law dealing with attacks against womanhood by gender-selection abortions or the rights of still-born babies. The issue is hardly "settled" as Trudeau contends. All this deserves debate, especially in Parliament. It is undemocratic for the Liberal leader to snuff out debate of this important topic among would-be candidates.

On May 20, the Star ran an opinion piece which flies in the face of the truth. The writer, Ottawa professor Paul Saurette, denied, or was unaware of, the results of polls mentioned above. My May 21 letter to the Star:

Re Pro-choice advocates should welcome new abortion debate, May 20: The writers claim that "polls consistently" support abortion, but offer no proof. On the contrary, polls consistently show that a majority of Canadians favour at least some control over access to abortion. Here are three of them:  Angus Reid January 2012, Harris-Decima March 2010, Ipsos Reid July 2012. 

A 2012 Angus Reid poll found that 60 percent of Canadians (66 percent women to 54 percent men) believe a law should be enacted on sex-selection abortions. An Environics poll in 2011 found that 92% of Canadians thought sex selection abortions should be illegal in Canada. In an Ipsos Reid of June 12, 2014, 75 per cent disagreed with Trudeau's refusing admission into the Liberal Party of pro-life candidates. 

This too did not appear in the Toronto Star.

An e-mail to Professor Saurette remains unanswered.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The messenger apologizes for the message. Wrong.

Canada Post has issued a public apology. What did this bedraggled enterprise do that demanded such an action?  It learned that it had delivered to residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay flyers that condemn gay marriage and homosexuality. 

This gives rise to the obvious question -- With all its current problems has Canada Post also become an censorship agency? Is the messenger now responsible for the message?  Must it read and approve of every flyer it delivers? 

A letter to the Toronto Star that expressed similar reaction to the newspaper's report (Canada post sorry got anti-gay flyers, March 6) was published March 16, 2014.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

None of the Above

Members of the Russian Duma (parliament) have been urged to support a bill allowing voters to disapprove of all candidates in an election.

The final slot on the ballot would read "None of the Above."

Should a majority so indicate, there would be a re-run election with all of the present candidates disqualified.

Something to think about in Canada.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Corporate Conscience?

What ever became of Sundays?  The former "day of rest" and family get-together is being destroyed by big business. Employees of banks, supermarkets and big box stores are forced to work on Sundays, and at the same pay as for week days. If the worker does not like that, the employer points to the lines of unemployed knocking at the door, people who would take jobs on any terms the boss dictates. Big business thrives on big unemployment. It thrives on rendering voiceless employees wanting to present a united front against exploitive conditions. It allows corporate bosses to play off one element of society against the other, with the result we are all losers, except the short-term gain by shareholders and bonuses for the bosses.

It is estimated that up to 300,000 people currently work unpaid in some of our largest and wealthiest corporations. The Toronto Star reports on the exploitation of interns (Interns decry all work and no pay, March 3, 2014). The article tells of university graduates working at no pay for a variety of companies such as a Toronto-based think-tank, certain marketing companies, the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, Bell Canada and untold others.

The interns are warned that if they refuse unpaid work including overtime of up to 60 hours a week, they will not get a reference. This blackmail works. Corporations get labour at no cost, all in the guise of giving young people business experience. They render benefit to the company, a benefit that deserves pay, including benefits.

Anyone who deposits food in the collection bins in the the big box stores is, in effect, subsidizing the store. Low salaries force their staff to frequent food banks, to retrieve the food purchased from their employer who has made a profit from its sale.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Law and the Attorney-General of Ontario

Feb. 11, 2014 email to J. Gerretsen, Attorney-General of Ontario. Unacknowledged. A follow-up sent April 15, 2014.

Mr. Attorney-General,

With regard to the Ontario government no longer enforcing prostitution laws, I would appreciate learning your concept of the Rule of Law. Is it pick and choose which laws one will obey?  Is that what you wish to teach young people? Your decision plants the seeds of anarchy.

I request a reply.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Name-Calling is not Argumentation

Bravo Richard Gwyn (Sir John A. wasn't a racist, Toronto Star, Feb 7). The term "racism" must be limited to the true ideologue whom Gwyn defines. He speaks out against an overly-developed sense of righteousness and political correctness. 

A comment or disagreement too often results in one being labelled  a racist, homophobe, bigot, prejudiced etc. Such compartmentalized thinking stifles free expression. It ignores the possibility that the other person may have a valid point, however disagreeable. Name-calling is not argumentation.

Democracy demands the right to disagree even to the point of offence and insult. Only the Criminal Code can set the standard when expression becomes harmful.

Criminal Code versus Bible

Letter to the national Post. Published February 19, 2014

"Protecting children everyone's job, jury says," (Feb 15). The jury in the Jeffrey Baldwin case is indulging in wishful thinking. There is no law that demands I throw a life jacket from the bridge on which I am standing to the drowning person below me. There is no law that demands I call the fire department should I see my neighbour's house on fire. Love of neighbour and parable of the Good Samaritan are in the Bible, not the Criminal Code.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Care and Feeding of Surveys

We once received a questionnaire about the cost of our telephone service. It was acceptable, we answered. Then the key question whether we were happy with the local and long-distant rates. We mistakenly answered we thought them quite good. Others must have replied likewise. Several months later, all rates were increased.

Recently, Netflix conducted a similar survey. Almost ninety per cent of Netflix users answered that the eight-dollar monthly subscription fee was "excellent" or "good value for the money." Guess what is about to happen to Netflix fees?

When such a question if asked, the best response is that one's interest is marginal and that a fee increase will likely trigger a cancellation of the service.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unwarranted Apologies

Letter in the Toronto Star, January 21, 2014

By declaring John A. MacDonald as "racist," the writers of an op ed have fallen into the error of "presentism" -- judging the past by today's standards. Some today may consider the actions of Sir John A. racist. We do not know if that was the case 150 years ago.

In her book, The Uses and Abuses of History, historian Margaret MacMillan asks, "Is it healthy for societies to apologize for things that were done in different centuries and under different sets of belief?"

She cautions, "It is all too easy to rummage through the past and find nothing but a list of grievances."

Sir John was a person of his time. Judge him only by the standards of that time.
* * *
"One should not demand that past epochs conform to current prejudices, and thus commit the sin of excessive 'present-mindedness,' distorting the past by forcing it into a mould of recent construction."
     Roland N. Stromberg
     European Intellectual History since 1789

* * *
Was it necessary 2007 for a tribe in Papua New Guinea to apologize for eating missionaries in the 19th century?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Crusades Mythology

Letter to the Catholic register published January 19, 2014:

There is much mythology surrounding the so-called Crusades. Fr. Ron Rolheiser alludes to this when he speaks of the faults of the "many saints who supported the Crusades" (The blindness in misguided loyalties, Jan 12).

To clear away historical debris: the Crusades were so named years after this series of wars occurred. Their numbering was also a later embellishment. Muslim historians named them after the nation of the invading force. No one has numbered Muslim invasions of Europe and once-Christian Middle Eats and North Africa.

The objectives of these wars varied. Originally intended to make the Holy Land safe for pilgrims, they deteriorated, as wars do, into campaigns of looting and atrocity. In one case, the invading Christians plundered Christian Constantinople. 

The attacked lands were once Christian. Muslims have no cause of complaint for European attempts to recapture them. It wasn't misguided loyalty that inspired Christians to support the expulsion of Muslims from France, Spain and the Balkan peninsula, 

Nor need Muslims apologize for their failed attempts to conquer Malta and Vienna. In the 1529 siege of Vienna, so great was the fear of Muslim expansion into the heart of Europe that Martin Luther urged Protestants to help defend the Catholic city. All of which is history with no current application and no need of apology or explanation.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Geography Lesson in the New York Times

It's always fun to tweak the nose of New York Times editors. Their latest foray into chasing their own intellectual tail appeared in an editorial "Pesticides in French Wine (Jan 12, 2014). \

The offending  sentence: "Despite this progress, France is still the third largest user of pesticides in the world after the United States and Japan, and the highest user in Europe..."

If France is the third largest user in the world, then obviously it is the largest user in Europe. The writer felt it necessary to inform the reader that neither the United States nor Japan is in Europe. Worthy instruction,

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Practical Restaurant Operation versus Ephemeral Human Rights

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has once again muddied the waters of reason in awarding $100,000 to disgruntled employees (December 18, 2013).

This award was based in part on the dismissal of an employee for refusing to taste the food he had made. The food pork, the employee Muslim.

An employer cannot refuse to hire due to one's religion.  What if the prospective employee's beliefs render him unqualified for the job?  Is it unreasonable to expect the head chef to taste the food from his own kitchen?  Does this conviction give prospective employees the right to be hired along with the right to set the menu?

To accommodate the chef's beliefs, say, the employer appoints a non-Muslim taster.  Should the latter prove wrong, who is reprimanded, the taster or the chef responsible for the meal's creation?

At human rights trials, the accused is presumed guilty and must prove innocence.  He must pay for his defence, while the costs of the accuser are borne by the taxpayer.  If awards were paid into general revenue, rather than being a cash cow for for the disgruntled, tribunal workloads would decline dramatically.

An e-mail of December 20, 2013 to the Toronto Star expressing these view was not published.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Animals are not Humans

"Cousin, we need to talk."  So begins a full page advertisement in local newspapers, under a photograph of a chimpanzee.  The chimp continues, "It's been seven million years since we shared a mother, but we still share almost 99% of our DNA. Since we're family, I'm asking for your help."  This is a well-intentioned request for funds for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.

Unfortunately, the attitude inherent in this advertisement contributes to the current campaign to demean the human species.  The incentive to de-humanize humans, or humanize animals, has a long history. In his 1975 book, Animal Liberation, Princeton professor Peter Singer argued that highly aware animals, such as the chimp, are owed more respect and protection that mentally-challenged humans, more than babies unaware of their existence.

Animals and their environment deserve protection, as the well-intentioned ad advocates, but not at the cost of equating animals to human beings.