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.