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Dr. Dreimer's Drivel, January-June 2011
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|June 24, 2011
Lumpenbangen Piano Institute Launches Public Appeal; Demands thwarting of Google.
Hamilton, Ontario, June 24, 2011 (Special to Forward News) At a press conference called earlier today, Dr. Idel Dreimer, the President, announced the launching of a public appeal on behalf of the beleaguered Lumpenbangen Piano Institute. Wearing the traditional burka, and raising his voice to counteract the muffling effect of the heavy folds of cloth, he addressed the representatives of local media.
The Lumpenbangen Piano Institute is facing the gravest threat in its entire history. For the last several years we have made every effort to continue our important work away from the spotlight, freed from the constraints imposed by the searching glare of media attention, sequestering ourselves from the importunate demands of an undiscriminating public.
To avoid undue attention, we have personally taken the measure of wearing the burka for all our appearances in public; the Lumpenbangen Offices have been artfully disguised as a MacDonald’s Restaurant to foil the relentless cameras of a map-maddened Google. We have sought simply to continue to produce our melodies in mute-inglorious Miltonhood: unrecognized, ignored, and unappreciated. We have also written lyrics in which no one has evinced the least smidgen of interest.
As a sideline, we have written our Diary in an ersatz Eighteenth Century Style, to ensure that it will appear as Greek to almost anyone who should happen to stumble upon it. We have written Observations in a high style almost guaranteed to be incomprehensible to the generation of mindless twitterers and short-cut spellers currently in planetary ascendance. We have written at impossible length in our Drivel Section, using full grammatical sentences concerning matters so arcane, se recondite, so uninteresting to the average human being, that even our Aunt Myalgia–a graduate of the famed Bishop Strachan School--has complained.
|Further, we have quoted white males, so
long after their "best before" dates–indeed, so long after their
dead-and-gone dates that they are virtually guaranteed irrelevancy.
And to what avail?
At this point in his address, Dr. Dreimer seemed choked with emotion. His demeanour was that of one who is on the point of Despair.
My friends and representatives of the media: we are at our wits end! Recently (June 16) we wrote a Drivel piece–an imaginary conversation between Dr. Philip Baker, and Dr. Atul Gawande, the surgeon from whom Dr. Baker "lifted" his address to the Medical School graduating class at the University of Alberta. It was a slight piece, which should fluttered away like a feather, and then sunk like a stone in the Webosphere.
But alas! Just today, we were apprised of the fact that a googling of Dr. Atul Gawande velluvial matrix The New Yorker would lead to a Google page on which–half way down–was a reference to the Lumpenbangen Site.
Thus, we are launching this day an appeal: how can Google be avoided? How can we continue to be anonymous and unrecognized? How can the relentless search engines of Googlization be thwarted, deceived, or led astray? How can we preserve our anonymity in the face of the ceaseless preservation of useless trivia which Google seems to have taken on in its quest for world domination?
At this point, Dr. Dreimer appeared to collapse, weighed down with frustration and the heavy folds of the burka. An ambulance was called, and Dr. Dreimer was taken to Hamilton General Hospital, where he is currently under heavy sedation, but said to be resting comfortably.
|An Imaginary Conversation
June 16, 2011
We wish we could be more sympathetic to Dr. Philip Baker, who "lifted" most of his speech to the graduating class at the University of Alberta from an address by Dr. Atul Gawande made at Stanford University and subsequently published in the New Yorker. Dr. Baker’s ‘lift" was discovered because some members of the class recognized some phrases–such as the newly minted term "velluvial matrix"–and were able to find the text in the New Yorker, using their Blackberrys.
From our own perspective–from that of one who feels, almost obsessively, the need to be original–we find Dr. Baker’s public use of someone else’s speech to be extraordinary.
Dr. Baker has subsequently written: "I offered a sincere written apology to Dr. Gawande and subsequently spoke with him; he was flattered by my use of his text, took no offence and readily accepted my apology..." (National Post, June 14, 2011)
We can only imagine the telephone conversation went something like this:
Dr. Baker: Dr. Gawande?
Dr. Gawande: Yes.
Dr. B.: It’s Dr. Baker of the University of Alberta. How’s the world of velluvial matrix doing today?
Dr. G.: Ah! You’re referring to the Stanford address published in the New Yorker.
Dr. B.: Yes–and I gotta tell you-- when I addressed the graduating class here at U. Of A. just the other day–I just couldn’t find a better source on the velluvial matrix–and a lot of other things–than your piece in the New Yorker.
Dr. G.: Well, I’m flattered.
|Dr. B.: And Atul–you don’t mind if I call you
Atul?–your expression is just so–well I don’t quite know how to say
it–it’s just so gosh darn good that I ended up using great
gobs–no–chunks, really,–great sweeps of your wonderful prose in my own
little talk. In fact, I got so carried away, I clean forgot to mention
your name, the Stanford address, or the article in the New Yorker. But
they were lovin’ it! The wrapt attention in that room–everybody except a
few Blackberry types–I tell you, Atul–it was like a mystical experience!
Dr. G.: Geez! How much of my speech did you use?
Dr. B.: Hey, Atul–it was so good–it was good to the last drop, no kiddin’.
Dr. G.: Geez.
Dr. B. Now I’d like to make it up to you, Atul–a Statue in the courtyard, a scholarship in your name, or a new fence for your place right near the velluvial matrix.
Dr. G. Well, I wouldn’t take a fence!
Dr. B. Gee, that’s great to hear, Atul. Let’s make it the statue in the courtyard! And I’ll just note it down here: d-o-e-s n-o-t t-a-k-e o-f-f-e-n-c-e.
Dr. G. Huh?
Dr. B.: And just one other thing. I have my written expression of thanks and apology being sent by special courier to your office there–he should be getting there about 3 p.m. But, if he’s a little late–say as late as 4 p.m.–will you accept the letter as late as that?
Dr. G: O.K.
Dr. B.: That’s great! (Murmuring as he writes) W-i-l-l a-c-c-e-p-t a-p-o-l-o-g-y. Great talking to you, Atul; look forward to hearing lots more about the velluvial matrix!
Dr. G.: Whatever.
We note that the National Post article records that, "Dr. Gawande was unwilling to comment further on Monday."
|Hearts and Strokes
June 7, 2011
We have little doubt that anyone reading yesterday’s Diary diatribe against the Heart and Stroke Foundation may have found it excessive and absurd. Were we a Disraeliite, we might follow the dictum: Never complain and never explain. But we lack Disraeli’s wisdom.
We will attempt to explain.
A key to our view of the Heart and Stroke Foundation may be discovered in the name of its arrogant parade of cyclists: it is called the Becel Heart and Stroke Ride for Heart.
This linking of the Foundation to a manufacturer of margarine is revealing. In general terms, it suggests a committed relationship between what we would hope to be an organization conducting independent research, and a manufacturer committed to a particular viewpoint about heart disease.
Doubtless many have seen that absurd commercial depicting a gentleman from Oakville who discovers that his cholesterol levels are too high; he vows: "I’m not going to live like this."
He climbs to the railing of a high bridge, and jumps off. Is he suicidal over his condition? Not at all. He is merely celebrating the decline in his cholesterol levels achieved through his use of Becel margarine-- by doing a bungee jump.
The manufacturer of Becel margarine has a vested interest in a particular theory of heart disease. This theory goes back to the 1950's when Ancel Keyes produced a misleading and deceptive study suggesting that saturated fat was a factor in cardiovascular disease. "Nothing is more sacred than an old abuse" –this theory, flawed as it is, has become the accepted Gospel. From it has arisen our horror of saturated fat, eggs, and butter. The triumphant beneficiaries: the manufacturers of vegetable oils and margarine.
|We have not the time, expertise, or
inclination to write a complete research paper on this topic. But many
will have noticed the gradual change in official pronouncements:
saturated fat is not bad for you; egg yolks are no longer forbidden.
It is our contention that the whole cholesterol/saturated fat theory of heart disease is a gigantic mistake. There are many books on the topic, and, among much information on the web, there are some interesting writers atwww.thincs.org .
We would have more respect for the Heart and Stroke Foundation were it a little less cosy with the manufacturer of Becel, and were it to start examining the merits of fish oil, magnesium, and nattokinase. Perhaps it does–but it does not appear to be the focal point of their publicity. In fact the Foundation seems to make very little claim about what it actually DOES--any claims which would justify its appeals for funds. We suspect that any research it undertakes is to support the "establishment" view–the view espoused by the makers of Becel margarine.
We pretend to no expertise in these matters–but we know enough to recommend, with confidence, that anyone with a personal interest in heart disease should do his or her own research.
|Philosophical Advance in NDP Thinking!
(May 18, 2011)
We are pleased at the prospect that our founding of the New Equality Party (see below, May 13) has already had a positive effect. The raison d’être of our new Party was the provision of a political voice for those overlooked by the almost exclusive NDP focus on "hard-working families" a focus which ignores, in a quite shocking manner, the tens of thousands of families who are indolent, lollygagging, lazy, or lackadaisical.
According to this day’s National Post, Mr Layton recently gave a speech at a conference held by the U.S.- based Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, in which he referred to:
|...how the NDP is fighting to take back
Canada for working families..
The change may seem small, but, we believe it is significant. The families which have been Mr. Layton’s focus for so long are now merely "working" as opposed to "hard-working."
We do welcome this new dawning of NDP inclusivity, and look forward to the happy circumstance when the NDP will work for the benefit of desultory, part-time, or dawdling workers, and those whose position with respect to work is, like our own, that of conscientious objector.
|Some Notes on Health Care
May 16, 2011
We wish we could write amusingly on this topic, but we find it difficult.
Three recent articles have caught our attention. In the National Post of May 13, an item was headlined: Big Spending on health not getting results: report.
Apparently Canada ranks fourth in spending, but tenth in overall health performance. Having absolutely no expertise in the matter of health care we can confidently assert that the problem is obvious: centrally planned, command economy systems do not work very well. It’s largely a matter of human nature. The free market system, with all its terrible inequities, actually does a better job of allocating resources. Such a system gives power to the consumer, and allows freedom of choice. Inequities can be addressed by a public system which is additional to the free market one.
The second item is from the May 10th edition: Crack down on fake medical data: journal.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal expresses concern that "misconduct investigations are now cloaked in secrecy and protect the identity of people who break the rules." The Journal also says that "all too often" they encounter "common infractions" by researchers–such as "conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of authorship and manipulation of reports."
In the past we have had occasion to investigate the subject of heat disease, and it was our conclusion that the truth about such matters is difficult to determine, since the financial interests of drug companies, the personal prestige of theorists and their followers, and the opportunism of product manufacturers (consider the historical margarine or the current "plant sterol" crazes) are likely to overcome the facts.
|The last article is from the May 14, entitled,
The Expert Patient.
This piece notes the growing realization among patients that "expert-run medicine is itself less than flawless." Indeed, doctors are busy; they have less time than patients to do research on a particular topic. And, once again, any controlling "establishment" –because of human nature-- is apt to be stodgy and sclerotic.
One patient advocate, Marcel Gignac, is quoted:
The biggest problem we have with our decision makers is they don’t take patients into account. This is a mentality that is unfortunately drilled into doctors during the medical training that they are God...to get doctors to sit down and actually listen to you is hard to do.
To this we would add that when doctors are part of a government run system–it should not be surprising to encounter the bureaucratic disdain which is the hallmark of government officials who deal with the public–in every society.
Of course, there is a danger when patients may pursue their own theories, and their own paths to cure. But caveat emptor. We never promised you a rose garden. Let those who wish to patronize a centrally planned, government approved, certified and authoritarian system do so. But let those who prefer freedom–with the risks that it may entail-- be given that choice.
The Universal System in Canada is doomed to fail; in the meantime, patients would be well advised to think critically, and research their circumstances whenever possible.
|The New Equality Party
(May 13, 2011)
We are intrigued to see Mr. Layton ‘serving notice" to Mr. Harper that the majority government will be kept accountable by one of the "strongest and most united" opposition parties in decades. (National Post May 12.)
Speaking at the convention of the Canadian Labour Congress, Mr Layton said that the NDP had been given a "clear mandate" from voters to represent "hard-working families."
Ah those hard-working families! Ah, those connotative mantras so beloved of the NDP!
We are carried away on a wave of vision! There is Brad, the hard-working breadwinner, returning exhausted from another day at the salt mine, struggling to keep his eyes from closing under his briny brows. Amanda, of course has been working non-stop, taking in laundry and sewing to beat the band–and the deadlines of the Sew-at-Home Simon Legree Institute for Desperate Housewives.
Little Jenny, the eldest, is studying overtime for her rigorous course, Advanced Salt Mining Theory for Salt-Miners’ Daughters. Her younger brothers, Bill and Dick, are zonked out in front of the Television set, their tiny fingers numb from stuffing envelopes for the world-wide advertising conglomerate, Maria Duval Incorporated.
One should be careful about giving reign to one’s imagination. We happen to know Brad and Amanda. They are our next door neighbours. But it is a mixed family. Brad does, indeed, work at the salt mine, but Amanda spends her days painting her fingernails and watching soap operas. And although Jenny does, indeed, work hard at the Advanced Salt Mining Theory course, Bill and Dick are gormless layabouts.
What would Mr. Layton say about them?
Beyond that, our equality antennae give a little shudder of apprehension at this oft-repeated mantra. The NDP seems to have almost exclusive focus on "hard-working families."
|We think the emphasis on hard work, and on
families is much overdone, exclusive, and discriminatory.
Who is there to speak for the vast population beyond hard-working families? What relief is there for lollygagging, lackadaisical families–or mixed families like our neighbours, Brad and Amanda?
And beyond that, what of those who are not families? Who will stand up for indolent and carefree singles? What policy is there for unfocussed, desultory orphans? And what of the plight of somnolent slow-moving unwed mothers whose children have been appropriated by the Child Welfare Agency?
Does the NDP shed tears for laid-back, laissez faire widows? Is there any special program for lazily languorous divorcées? Can laggardly, slack-jawed widowers count on NDP support in the hard times which are currently upon us?
We think my friends, you know the answer to all these questions. While the Conservatives are there for the rich and successful, and the NDP has its eye out for hard-working Canadian families, it is clear that there are many cut adrift, and left to fend for themselves–lazy families and indolent singles–who have every right to have a political home, and political support.
It is for this reason that we are now in the process of establishing the NEP –the New Equality Party to fill the void, to focus exclusively on the legions of the lazy, the incompetent, and the misfit dreamers in our great land.
Sign up today! Send your $25 by cheque, money order, or cash (coins accepted) to the Lumpenbangen Studios at 103 Dreimer Ave., Hamilton, Ontario.
|What the World needs Now
(May 7, 2011)
Contrary to popular sentiment, what the world needs now is not love, sweet love.
What the world needs now is, in fact, a reliable, inexpensive, lightweight, easy-to-operate bullshit detector.
Think of the potential savings for you and your family! Think of the preservation of your valued self-esteem!
When Maria Duval offers you incredible luck and the winning of thousands with a modest cash outlay for one of her biomagnetic bracelets–think of the bother and disappointment that could be avoided if your detector could flash the warning light: "That’s Bullshit!"
When David Suzuki et al speak–in 2005--of fifty million climate refugees by 2010, and the need to retreat to caves and burn the furniture to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, think of the huge advantage for those possessed of a trusty detector, who could immediately pronounce: "That’s Bullshit!"
And again, when Jack Layton promises a Socialist Paradise, a Big Rock Candy Mountain just over the socialist rainbow, what a boon to the body politic if his listeners could conclude, upon zapping the Device in his direction: "That’s Bullshit!"
And when those of the Religious persuasion tell us that the world will end on May 21, or that there is a convenient afterlife, or that priests are asexual--how much better the world would be if the immediate response was: "That’s Bullshit!"
And when your doctor tells you to take a statin drug for high cholesterol, saying it’s a "risk factor" for heart disease, but cannot explain why some people with low cholesterol get heart disease, and others with high cholesterol don’t, and is unfamiliar with studies which show that, in the elderly, high cholesterol is associated with longevity–why–what a relief from your turmoil if you could point the detector at his white coat, and receive the comforting message: "This guy is talking Bullshit!"
|And when Human Rights Commissions make awards
for hurt feelings and-- rather than trying to ensure equality of
opportunity or treatment--attempt to engineer equality of result-- how
useful for our society would it be if the detector could be activated,
and the chorus raised: "That’s Bullshit!"
And similarly, in hearing those who would achieve "equality" through preferential treatment, and those who advocate multiculturalism based on the notion that all cultures are equal, and deserving of equal respect–how sweet the sound of the handy detector: "That’s Bullshit!"
Yes, what the world needs now is a handy, dandy, lightweight, hands-free, inexpensive and reliable bullshit detector.
Until that great day arrives, of course, we will have to make do with the originally installed equipment–the human brain equipped with a modicum of common sense.
We are the first to admit that the reliability of the original equipment manufacture is not perfect. Much bullshit is so powerful that it will always go undetected. There is also a danger of being carried away with too much skepticism. Yes, Osama bin Laden and Elvis are both dead; we did land on the moon; the twin towers were not destroyed when George Bush planted some sticks of dynamite and lit the fuse.
We will never detect all the bullshit, and we may see some where none exists. But, until the new magic device is invented, there are great advantages to be gained in using the free one we already have.
(Cf. Also Drivel: Why people believe in nonsense, June 17, 2010)
|NDP 101 (May 3, 2011)
From the difficult-to-obtain NDP Constitution Document:
That the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not the making of profit.
How did the NDP, with its “hidden” socialist agenda–the successful implementation of which would take us to a centrally planned socialist non-profit economy–that is–the destruction of the economy as we now know it--win so many seats?
Simple. Here is the Basic Guide–NDP 101.
I. Kit Essentials: Smile, charm, snake oil.
II. Pitch Structure:
(a) On the one hand.
Keywords: friends, hardworking families, young, elderly, pensioners, doctor deficit, daycare, making ends meet, struggle, water imagery.
Sample: My friends, and fellow Canadians. Throughout our great land, we see a great struggle taking place. Honest, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth Canadian families everywhere are having trouble making ends meet. They take one end, and pull really hard; then they take the other end and put the Ford F150 with a winch on it. But there’s always that gap at the end of the paycheque, that big hole of daylight that lets the rain pour through and all over the new sofa set.
Students–honest, hard-working, non-partying students do not have access to higher education, and are forced to work at Macdonald’s. Young, hard-working honest couples raising families cannot afford daycare, and must rely on Aunt Martha, who has a history of Psychiatric Disturbance. And elderly, honest pensioners, who used to be part of hard-working Canadian families are eating cat food. Not only do doctors not grow on trees, they are as scarce as compassion in a Conservative Government. My friends, it’s a hard rain falling.
(b) On the other hand.
Keywords: dark satanic mills, corporate kleptocracy, airless sweatshops, grindstones, coal mines, sulphur, usury, banks.
|Sample: And why is the ordinary hard-working Canadian depressed,
irritable, and out of sorts, his nose sharp as a pencil, his back bowed
like a boomerang? My friends–you have to look no further than the
grindstones of the airless sweatshops, the tunnels of the capitalist
coal mines and the usurious policies of the predatory banks!
( c ) The rainbow and the pot of gold.
Keywords: rainbow, pot of gold, evil trolls, satanic captains of industry, miserly megalomaniacs, Croesus, Harper Conservatives, animal imagery.
But, my friends, at the cessation of every struggle, and the end of every storm, there is always a rainbow; and at the end of the rainbow, there is a pot of gold. Today, my friends, that pot of gold is owned and jealously guarded by the evil trolls of finance, the satanic captains of industry, the miserly megalomaniacs of investment banking. These dark entities, rich as Croesus, heartless as hyenas, are nothing less than the long, suckered tentacles of the octopus head: the Harper Conservative Government.
(d) Somewhere over the Rainbow
Keywords: fighter, get the job done, rainbow, Big Rock Candy Mountain, doctors, day care, lobster in the pot, two cars in every driveway.
Sample: My friends, that Pot of Gold belongs to ordinary, average, hard-working Canadian families everywhere throughout this great land. I am a fighter who will sever the tentacles, crush the noxious head, and retrieve that Pot of Gold which is rightfully yours. And I won’t stop until I get the job done! On the other side–over that rainbow–the skies are blue. There’s a Big Rock Candy Mountain where doctors–yes–even specialists–grow on trees and are ripe for the plucking. There’s a free daycare facility within easy walking distance of your home, a lobster in every pot, and a Yaris and a Smart car in every driveway. Elderly pensioners, who used to be part of hardworking Canadian families, take long champagne-guzzling cruises to Shangri-la! Oh, my friends! Your troubles will melt like lemon drops! Over that Finian arch, on that great “Come and Get it Day” with an NDP Government, your dreams will come true. Vote NDP–and we won't quit till we get the job done!
What could be more simple?
Speaking of simple--we are reminded of our observation #55 in
|April 28, 2011.
A few years ago, Jack Layton came up with the wonderful idea
We understand that, subsequently, the idea has been brought up by
In view of Mr. Layton's recent popularity in the
All hail to Jack!
"That simple!" you exclaim?
For example–that Hitler chap–
And Jack the Ripper–wretched man–
And poor Lizzie of the forty whacks–
I hope that now, you start to see
With a little chat–some wine and cheese–
Now that you have seen the light,
"I hear a knock! It’s the K.G.B.!"
"Saddam Hussein is gassing Kurds!"
"Attila the Hun is bearing down!
In short then, you can see our beloved Jack
Now, from these just and timely observations
He’ll pull no punch:
(Out to Lunch)
|My Financial Career
April 25, 2011
We have no illusions about the trustworthiness of banks. Where money is concerned, piracy will always trump probity. Currently, our bank account is with the National Bank–we first opened an account with them in the 1970's. We have not, in the intervening years encountered significant problems–but we suspect that may simply be a matter of chance. In the old days–before bank machines and internet banking–one of the advantages of the National Bank was that it was relatively uncrowded, and transactions could be made fairly quickly. At our present branch, we are pleased to say that there are almost never significant line-ups.
For some years we had a brokerage account with the National Bank, but concluded that the fees charged were significantly higher than those at the Bank of Montreal. It is true that our BMO account was larger and more active–and such factors, understandably, tend to result in lower fees. We complained to the National Bank brokerage about the disparity, and, although they promised to lower our transaction fees, they seemed unable to come close to those at BMO.
For this reason, the National Bank discount Brokerage would not be a suitable alternative to our present BMO Investorline account.
At BMO Investorline, the fees are reasonably low, and we are able to get Level Two quotes at no extra charge. We cannot imagine attempting transactions without Level Two quotes. Up until the other day, our only real complaint has been their peremptoriness in dealing with insufficiencies in margin accounts.
At TD Greenline, there was a certain civility in the matter. One would receive a letter with sentiments appropriate among English Gentlemen:I say, old chap–sorry for this spot of bother– but as of April 22, your margin account # 2396 had a deficiency of $3,692.46.
Could you take care of this in the next week or so?
Nigel Witherspoon, CBE
No, of course–that was not the language used–but the attitude was
consistent with that language.
In contrast, at BMO Inverstorline–they always employ females to do the dirty work–we assume this tends to minimize confrontation--the practice is to telephone the unfortunate delinquent at market open.
With the sound effects of a marching Firing Squad–and the orders to "Ready, aim, fire" heard dimly in the background, the trained dominatrix demands that funds be restored no later than 2 p.m. that day. The blast of gunfire is heard, then an ominous "plop."
We have no doubt that sound effects from water boarding, nail-pulling, and the rack are also employed, according to the psychological profile of the account holder.
Excuses, of course, are not accepted. You mother died ten minutes ago? You are scheduled for a colonoscopy at eleven and kidney dialysis at one? Frau Peitschewielder does not care–we have tried these excuses to no avail. The conversation ends with the sound of a whip on bare flesh, and the warning: "Vee haf vays off meking you sell."
Our recent problem with BMO has been the mysterious disappearance of a large amount of buying power last Wednesday, and, after our complaint, its sudden restoration the next day. Friday was a holiday, but it is now 11:20 on Monday, and we have received no telephone call of explanation, although such a call was promised. Perhaps they feel the restoration speaks for itself–but we would still like to know the exact cause.
We note that the cheque written on the account–at a time when the funds disappeared–has, in fact, gone through.
Whatever the cause, the incident does suggest extreme wariness is in order, and that having a second account with another institution might be advisable.
|My Financial Career
(Part V) (April 24, 2011)
Lost Dreimer Account Triggers Rash of Bank Suicides
Special to Forward News. A wave of suicides in the upper echelons of management of the Beelzebub & Lucifer Consolidated Bank has now been traced to the loss of the important Dreimer Account. Mary Evil, Head of the Public Relations Department at Beelzebub & Lucifer acknowledged that the excoriating letters sent by Dr. Dreimer to a variety of high-ranking bank officials may well have been a factor in the recent suicides of many of the recipients.
"We wish to state at this time," said Ms. Evil, "that the Dreimer Account, while not huge in monetary terms, indeed almost insignificant in total bank operations, was extremely important to us in the psychological and spiritual senses we value so highly at Beelzebub and Lucifer. We do miss Dr. Dreimer’s warm and sunny personality at our Eighth Circle Branch, and wish to extend to him the offer of free cheques in perpetuity if he would consider reopening his account.
The excoriating letters are extremely hurtful to us and have caused gnashing of teeth even at the lower levels of management, and hence an unsustainable drain on the Beelzebub and Lucifer Employee Health & Dental Benefits Plan. We would also note that the prices of both Sackcloth and Ashes have risen to ten-year highs."
After reading her prepared statement, Ms. Evil refused to take questions, and retreated, weeping audibly, into the Sulphur and Brimstone Suite of the Dante Tower, from which she had emerged a few minutes before.
|So, of course, we know that closing an account
means absolutely nothing to the banks. There’s another sucker born every
minute. Of the four banks discussed so far, three are clearly evil, and
only one, the Royal Bank, simply foolish and incompetent. If we had to
do business with any one of them, it would probably have to be the
Royal. Of course it is foolish to hold against an entire organization
the insults perpetrated decades ago by the manager of a branch in
On the other hand, such gestures, foolish as they are, give a certain degree of emotional satisfaction. Why would we willingly do business with an organization which, we feel, has treated us unfairly? If sufficient numbers of people react in similar fashion, we can only hope that the organization will be encouraged to improve its relations with customers.
We will deal with the last two of the "big banks"– BMO and the National Bank anon.
These are the banks with which we currently deal.
|My Financial Career
(Part IV )
(April 23, 2011)
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
After we quit teaching–a move that seemed advisable to avoid complete burnout, and the irretrievable loss of our few remaining marbles-- we sold an income property in the aspirationally termed "golden triangle" of the "western beaches" in Toronto. With the funds we purchased a similarly sized property on Orchard Park Boulevard, in the exclusive and ritzy race track area, not far from the upscale Orchard Park Tavern. It was much cheaper than the property we sold, and had the added advantage of coming complete with five paying roomers, only one of whom was a denizen of the conveniently located upscale tavern.
A branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was just around the corner, and it was, for ten years, a perfectly satisfactory bank.
When the Ontario Government decided, in its infinite wisdom, to include roomers in the Landlord and Tenant Act–thereby guaranteeing that only the cretinous or the insane would provide rooms for rent–we sold the property and moved back to our very first house on Woodycrest Avenue. We moved our account to a nearby CIBC branch on the Danforth.
In order to speed up the processing of customers, this branch had adopted the annoying policy of occasionally having a teller call out "Anyone just want to make a deposit?" There would be an immediate rush to the designated wicket. Lumbering, slow-moving, slow witted, unfit for the bank jungle, we seldom won any of these competitive events. The frequent losses to nimbler, fitter, and more agile competitors soon took its toll. Our appetite declined; our sleep was impaired; we longed for the proximity of the Orchard Park Tavern.
Letters sent to the President of CIBC with a copy to the branch manager had no effect in changing the established culture. Our central point was that the queue was a significant symbol of civilization; the bank was destroying the queue in favour of the law of the jungle, and this was a BAD THING.
|We suspect that no one had the least idea of
what we were talking about.
We closed the account.
For its convenience, we retained the credit card associated with the account–and that, too was satisfactory until we noticed that our mailed-in credit card payments seemed often to arrive a day or so late, and we were being charged interest.
A detailed examination of the matter showed that it was a frequent practice of the CIBC to make payment due dates on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Not only were the branches not open for payment on those dates, there was an excellent chance–through failure to realize this fact–that a mailed-in payment would miss the due date.
Imagine that it is Tuesday, April 1. The due date for payment is Sunday, April 6. If one did not consider the calendar, one would make the assumption that a cheque mailed on April 2 would likely arrive by April 6. But, of course, it would have to arrive by Friday, April 4 in order to avoid penalty.
Another letter to the President of the Bank, brought a reply from a Public Relations person who employed the "aggressive FO letter" technique. Pointing out the myriad other ways in which we could pay our account, and implying that our lack of sophistication was the chief cause of the penalties, she neatly side-stepped the real issue: that CIBC policy with respect to due dates was misleading and quite likely to lure the unwary into making inappropriate assumptions, and suffering penalties as a result.
We cancelled the credit card.
So much for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
|My Financial Career
(April 23, 2011)
The Bank of Nova Scotia
While still teaching in North York, we made our next bank the Bank of Nova Scotia–there was a branch at a plaza near the school. Our relationship with that branch was uneventful, and it is possibly for this reason that we opened a Scotiabank discount brokerage account.
The problem we encountered there was primarily philosophical. The brokerage arm had a certain puritanical inflexibility, the very bank-like nannyish outlook of a strict English governess. Brokers–even those attached to dignified major Canadian Banks–are expected to have a certain freewheeling, swashbuckling, devil-may-careishness appropriate to the rather sleazy business in which they are involved. But not so at Scotiabank.
You see, other brokers tended to treat those with margin accounts as adults. If the value of the underlying securities goes up, the account holder may increase his borrowing–whether it be to buy more stocks or to take cash from the account. Of course borrowing against the value of volatile securities is a risky business, and it is very easy to borrow too much, and find that, when the underlying securities decline in value, the one must come up with more cash, or sell stock.
But the Scotiabank brokerage--while it was happy to allow more borrowing to purchase stock-- was not very keen on cash withdrawals. It would allow them only with a sort of finger-wagging reluctance which we found bothersome. They had obviously not made the appropriate mental switch from Banker to Broker, from Governess to Pirate.
So we closed that account and moved to TD Greenline and BMO Investorline, who were quite happy to let us go to our own hell in our own handbasket.
|Later, we obtained a line of credit on
Wind-in-the-Pines from a Scotiabank branch on the Danforth near our
residence. We chose Scotiabank because other banks were reluctant to
lend on vacation properties. In March of 2008, fearing a market decline,
we thought it prudent to increase the line of credit dramatically. We
did not, of course, anticipate the magnitude of the decline-- which
eventually threatened us with the realization of a life-long, haunting
spectre: existence in a room with a hotplate.
The rate for the line of credit was to be at prime. When we received the documents, the rate was designated as Prime +1%. When we complained, we were told that the rate would be at prime, but the documents allowed for a higher rate to be applied in case of default. We told our lawyer that we disliked signing a legal document which committed us to paying more than the agreed-upon rate–but we felt we did not have the time to explore other avenues.
Sure enough, after the financial tsunami hit in the fall of 2008, the bank declared itself to be nervous, irritable, and out of sorts, and would henceforth be charging Prime +1%.
This, of course, is treachery of the very first order. Because there is still a large amount owing on the line of credit, we are unable to say: "so much for the Bank of Nova Scotia."
But we eagerly anticipate that "great come-and-get-it day."
The chances of our having further dealings with the Bank of Nova Scotia are zero. (Unless we are desperate.)
|Seeing the Face, Touching the Mind of God
(Silver Lake, 1999) (Published April 22, 2011)
My novice cat,
Just this morning,
Disappointed at a game
Troubled at the indignity
My own plucked prey,
Pristinely packed in plastic and
A headless, gutless shell
Which I firmly stuff with
Mushroom, herbs and bread.
And yet the aroma must best
Beside me, the cat curls,
|My Financial Career
(April 22, 2011)
The Toronto-Dominion Bank
Our next teaching position was in North York, and we had an account with the Toronto-Dominion Bank.
It will be difficult for the modern reader to comprehend the primitive nature of banking in those far-off days. Bank Machines and internet banking were unknown. More importantly, the single bank line-up had not yet been invented. Customers would line up in front of the individual teller cages–much in the way that they still do today at cashier stations in supermarkets.
In the supermarket, of course, there are only three factors to be considered in choosing a line-up: the apparent speed of the cashier, the number of customers, and the number of items being purchased by each patron.
How much more complex the task in the multiple bank line-ups of the past! A great deal of speculation and estimation was involved. Is that little old lady what she appears–a pensioner with a limited fondness for chit-chat, who wishes merely to deposit her pension cheque, and hurry, wordlessly, away? Or is she in fact, the founder and Chief Executive Officer* of Good Gracious! Granny’s Gelatinous Jams Inc., who wishes to engage the teller in endless matters of byzantine corporate complexity? Is that young man in work boots and jeans simply making a quick withdrawal of funds to finance a case of beer for the coming weekend? Or is he in fact, the owner of Megalopolis Contracting, who, in addition to making deposits to various accounts, wishes to pay household and business utility bills, order new chequebooks, and buy travellers’ cheques for his extensively described Caribbean holiday?
Banking in those days was always a challenge!
On one occasion we had made our estimations, and chosen our line-up. Little by little, we inched closer to the wicket. Granny cashed her pension cheque. The young man obtained funds for his weekend beer. The secretary briskly transacted her modest business. Then, just as our turn came, the teller closed her wicket.
|We are not noted for coping well with
disappointment. Both physical and mental agility-- neither of premium
quality to begin with--are momentarily disengaged. We are rendered temporarily
immobile, and our faculties of speech succumb-- as if to a "Pause"
button. In this brief period, all the customers behind us moved with
alacrity to other lines.
Lumbering, slow-moving, slow witted, unfit for the bank jungle, we took our place behind the more nimble, fitter specimens. We did raise our voice in audible protest: "There has to be a better way of organizing this!" Nobody paid much attention. When we finally reached the teller, and made our complaint, she, in true Darwinian fashion, made no offer of generous compensation for our loss of time or dignity.
We did, of course, close our account.
Our second encounter involved a TD brokerage account.
We owned a security–the name of which escapes us at the moment–let us call it Consolidated Promises. It was a marginable stock, but at a certain point the brokerage downgraded it and either reduced the amount it would lend, or ceased to margin it entirely. It is our memory that no such downgrade was made at our other brokerage account at the time.
We sold Consolidated Promises, figuring that the TD downgrade would be unlikely to cause the stock to rise, and because our margin position had been compromised. A bit later, we started to buy back some Consolidated Promises as it recovered from its decline. And who, do you suppose sold us the stock? Why, yes,--none other than the brokerage firm that had caused its decline.
We thought it a pretty neat trick: trash the stock so that it will go down; buy it at the low; then reap the profit as it returns to its proper value. The brokerage that trades in a stock and is also powerful enough to affect its price has a conflict of interest. It is not acting in good faith with its customers, who are merely sheep to be fleeced.
We closed that account, as well. So much for the Toronto-Dominion Bank.
*also authoress of the famous jingle:
Skinnimus or fatimus,
|My Financial Career Part I
(April 21, 2011)
From many years of personal experience, we have come to the conclusion that Canadian Banks are not what they used to be. When Stephen Leacock wrote his account of depositing, and then withdrawing fifty six dollars, he felt "rattled" by the bank. The accountant was a "tall cool devil," and the manager was "a grave calm man." When Leacock wrote his piece, he assumed that his readers would share, in some measure, his sense of awe and respect for banks– their imposing edifices, and the cool gravity of the personnel.
Today, we, too are "rattled" by the banks. They are mean, grasping, unreliable, unhelpful and duplicitous organizations whose sole purpose is to separate us from our money. In a sense, this is fair enough–but we do wish they would stop advertising themselves as friendly and helpful. We think all those T.V. advertisements should come with Cigarette-label type warnings: Banks may be harmful to your financial health. Suitable images of the ragged destitute scrabbling for food in the garbage dumps, or the homeless begging from their sleeping bags at the corner of Bay and King should be required.
We envy Mr. Leacock who concluded: "I keep my cash in my trousers pocket, and my savings in silver dollars in my sock."
Over the years we have had bad experiences with all the major Canadian Banks.
The Royal Bank
When we taught high school in Scarborough, we had an account just across the street at the Royal Bank. Everything went smoothly until we took a year’s leave of absence. A leave of absence, by the way, is not the loss of a job–but simply a period of unpaid leave. The job is still there at the end of the leave. This was not readily explicable to the manager of the Royal Branch. During our period of leave, we had the misfortune to have a fire in an income property which we owned. A female tenant had significantly disappointed a former boyfriend, who decided that the best way to settle the score was to set fire to the house where she lived.
|It just happened to be a house that we owned.
We undertook some elements of the reconstruction of the building ourselves. We were unaware that we could ask for an advance on the insurance money, and instead went to our friendly bank manager to get a $5,000 loan to pay for some reconstruction costs.
The manager, a man in his fifties, who had never, himself, owned a home, looked at our circumstances with horror: no income, and three rental properties. "You are speculating in real estate," he gasped. We have no doubt that, after we had closed our account--which we immediately did-- he called in a fumigator--and an exorcist.
More recently, in Hamilton, we went to our nearest branch to discover the balance held in an Estate Account in a Royal Bank Account in Toronto. We were an executor for the estate, and had much documentation to that effect. We had a chequebook for the account. We had a copy of the will, but it was not a certified copy. We did not wish to withdraw money–we wished merely to ascertain the balance in the account.
We ended by speaking to someone at the Toronto Branch–who gave us the information over the phone without, of course, being able to see any documentation.
So much for the Royal Bank.
We will continue anon.
|Why Christianity doesn't make any Sense.
(April 12, 2011)
We have been intrigued to see that Michael Coren has written a book entitled Why Catholics are Right -- and an excerpt has been printed in the National Post. (April 12)
We have to admit to being quite astounded that apparently otherwise normal people can actually believe in religion; that someone should choose a title like Why Catholics are Right causes us a serious amount of discombobulation.
The excerpt printed does not really deal with some of the basics–some of those emperor-has-no-clothes sorts of child-like questions which have always puzzled us. We admit to being a less than sophisticated thinker, and doubtless sophisticated thinkers can answer–to their satisfaction–some of our simple concerns.
Let us reveal our hopeless naivete by dealing with just one tiny issue. As we understand it, according to the Christian Religion–the only one with which we have even a passing acquaintance –God sent his only begotten son, Jesus, to save the world. The scoop is-- that if you believe in Jesus, you get to go to heaven, providing your papers are otherwise in order. We have never been quite certain about hell–it seems to be going out of fashion now anyway–but if you believe in Jesus but have still been really bad–do you go to hell anyway? And what happens if you are a really good person, but just happen to have chosen the wrong religion–probably because you were born in the wrong place, and you just went along with the wrong religion that everyone else was practising?
We can only imagine how all this saving business started out:
Scene: Heaven. A typically cloudless day. Some angels are strumming on harps. Others are playing croquet. God is seated on his throne, clasping a telescope, and peering down towards the Earth; he seems mightily disturbed. He mutters, mumbles, and sighs. Under his breath, he exclaims: "Jesus! Holy Jesus!" Finally, as if in disgust, he calls to stage right:
God: Jesus! Hey Jesus!
Jesus: (entering from stage right, holding a croquet mallet) What’s up, Dad?
God: Y’know–this human race thing isn’t working out. Bloody wars, selfishness, envy, ambition, greed, gluttony, fornication and I don’t know what all. Mebbe something wrong with the formula. Mebbe not. Anyway, I want you to go down there and save them.
|Jesus: What does that mean?
God: O.K. Here’s how I got it figured: you go down there and get born as a human being, and spread my word. Those that believe in you get to come up here after they die – I figure they might be kinda useful what with the way Heaven is expanding. We’re gonna need a lotta harpists and Croquet Leagues. I think the Arcularis Avengers need some real competition for a change.
Jesus: O.K. How long’s the gig?
God: Not to worry. We’ll have you outta there in no time–a bit of unpleasantness, a kind of – er – crucial event–and you’ll be back in time for the Finals.
Jesus: (a bit tentative) Oh. But I will be coming back here...I’d hate to miss the Finals?
God: Have I ever lied to you before?
Jesus: No, of course not Dad. And of course I’d be glad to do my bit to save mankind. But what about all the people alive now–I mean before I go down and spread the word – they can’t exactly believe in me, can they?
God: No, they sure as hell can’t.
Jesus: So what happens to them – all those generations and generations of human beings trying to make ends meet, doing the best they can under all that rotten Earth development stuff: volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, tectonic plate shifting, and asteroid bombardment?
God: Son, it’s a tough world. That was the past. Screw them.
Jesus: Hey! Whatever, Dad. You’re the Boss!
|Of Climate Madness
(April 9, 2011)
"Men, it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."
Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness
of Crowds (1841)
We suspect–although we devoutly hope our suspicions are unfounded–that there are still a few Suzukiists around who are afflicted with finger-in-the-dyke syndrome. They think that if they take only every other breath, give up motorized transport for roller blades, and wear shoes two sizes too small, they will reduce their "carbon footprint" and save the world.
While we can see a certain Darwinian Justice in the matter–taking every other breath would seem likely to cause the fanatics to shuffle off the mortal coil prematurely, and tend to reduce the spread of fanaticism–it might be better were they able to be converted, and spread the glad tidings of their return to common sense.
We would be the first to admit that we have no expertise in the matter of climate change; however, we also understand that David Suzuki is an expert--an expert in fruit fly genetics, that is. Like most people, we are forced to rely on the "climate experts," and to use our common sense in trying to assess what they are saying.
In view of the vast changes in climate over the millennia, we have always thought that Doomsday Scenarios based on man’s activities were a bit of a stretch. We fully expect Doomsday Scenarios; they are nothing new. Indeed, the present population of man and animals is the result of catastrophic upheavals and changes in the habitability of the earth. To expect to alter the course of such changes seems foolhardy and arrogant.
|We have imagined the earth’s human population,
overcome with the terror that only a fruit fly geneticist can wreak,
returning to the caves, shivering in the dark, hoping to prevent climate
change–only to be wiped out by an unfortunate collision with a
somewhat careless asteroid. (Not to worry: the extirpation of mammalian
life might well result in a time of unrivalled peace and stability--the
era of the hegemony of the giant cockroach.)
So much for the best laid plans.
We were pleased to read an article in yesterday’s National Post by David Evans, a mathematician and engineer, a former consultant with the Australian Greenhouse Office. He confesses to being an alarmist-turned-skeptic. He states that:
"The whole idea that carbon dioxide is the main cause of the recent global warming is based on a guess that was proved false by empirical evidence in the 1990's."
According to Mr. Evans, the big mistake made by the alarmists was to assume that, when increased carbon dioxide raises the planet’s temperature–which it does–then the extra warmth would cause more water to evaporate from the oceans, and the moist air would hang around, and, because it is also a greenhouse gas, magnify–that is triple the amount of warming.
The evidence from hot air balloon experiments shows that this does not, in fact, happen.
End of story. Mr. Evans conclusion:
"Finally, to those who still believe the planet is in danger from our carbon dioxide emissions: Sorry, but you’ve been had. Yes, carbon dioxide is a cause of global warming, but it’s so minor it’s not worth doing much about."
Sigh. We told you so.
April First (2011)
We need no rhyme nor reason’s tool,
No gift sublime or guiding rule;
We need no time of hot, no tide of cool--
We need not April to be a fool.
The Pedant's Lament ( March 27, 2011)
Ah, brevity!–‘tis indeed the soul of wit–
But briefly, witless, must I here admit:
To live on brevity I simply cannot abide–
‘Tis lengthy explication feeds my pedant’s pride.
Pedantically, we note that the third line has a metrical problem, It might be solved thus:
To live on brevity, I simply can’t abide
But, alas, the contraction can’t is not really in keeping with the pedant’s 18th century style. Thus, we find it necessary to rewrite the line:
Ah, brevity!–‘tis indeed the soul of wit–
But briefly, witless, must I here admit:
To live on brevity alone, I never can abide–
For ‘tis lengthy explication feeds my pedant’s pride.
|Why are there Israeli Apartheid Weeks?
(March 26, 2011)
George Orwell was an astute observer of human nature. We make this conclusion based on his depiction in 1984, of the Two Minute Hate, a daily interlude in the regimen of Oceania, during which citizens are encouraged to express their hatred for Goldstein, described as "the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity." In this manner, the oppressed citizenry is able to unleash its pent-up dissatisfactions in a manner undamaging to the state.
It is but little recognized-- because it is so unflattering to our ideals--that hatred is an extremely satisfying emotion, since it gives a license, a carte blanche to rage, which is often present, but conventionally suppressed. For its most satisfying expression, rage must be pure--untempered by any logic, or considered reason.
It is not surprising that demons, therefore, are a constant creation of mankind. The first Demon–the Devil, described as Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost -- was a traitor –a model for Goldstein--one of God’s archangels who rebelled.
Demonization has, throughout history, been a useful tool in arousing powerful and destructive emotion. In war, the enemy is never seen as human; in Islam, apostates are deserving of death; in Germany, Hitler was able to demonize the Jews.
In the light of the above, the existence of Israeli Apartheid Weeks on University campuses is at least partly explained: there is a natural human satisfaction in the expression of hatred; the young because of their ignorance of the world, are easily led to see matters in terms of demons and angels, in terms of black and white.
But there must be more to these bizarre occurrences on University campuses. We claim that they are also a function of left-wing politics–the preferred politics of youth. You may remember the remark --often attributed to Winston Churchill--of Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929):
Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.
Mr. Day, the Rector of Queen’s University who is notable for describing "the genocide happening in Palestine" as "perhaps the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation," is said to have published his essay on "the left-wing website rabble.ca. (National Post editorial, March 25.) Left-wing philosophy in the universities is well supported in a land of Human Rights Commissions, socialized medicine, and anti-landlord legislation.
It has also been observed that lesbians and gays, traditionally left-wingers, seem to have hopped on to the anti-Israel bandwagon.
Phyllis Chesler, in a National Post article of March 22, quotes a group called Jews Against the Occupation-NYC; "It’s no coincidence that queers have been at the heart of Palestinian solidarity groups for decades..." Ms. Chesler notes that lesbian "activists imagine themselves to be outcasts, pariahs, ‘occupied’ by Western patriarchy. And so they long to be somehow ‘Palestinian’ in spirit, a posture that allows them to share in the Palestinians’ victim status."
We think this is perceptive. The left-wing is characterized by an unfettered idealism. They wish to right all wrongs; to make the weak, strong; the poor, rich; the marginalized centralized; the victim, triumphant. War, of course, is anathema to the left: since human beings are inherently good, all disputes can be settled over a couple of beers on a convenient patio almost any sunny afternoon.
It is hard to quibble with such idealistic aims of Biblical proportions, and Biblical propensities, but we would note that such exclusive concentration on mercy in human affairs--we are reminded of Mary in Robert Frost's, The Death of the Hired Man, who defines home as "Something you somehow haven't to deserve" -- leads to a significant distortion of perception: equality trumps all, and it becomes almost impossible to acknowledge the justice of success.
|If we admit that left-wing philosophy and
left-wing groups seem inextricably connected to anti-Israel sentiment
in general and Israeli Apartheid Weeks in particular, it is still an
interesting question as to how the left picks its targets. As Rex
Murphy asked in a recent column (National Post, March 12):
Did I miss Saudi Arabian Gender Apartheid Week? Or let's take another example: This very week in Libya, there is a zealous tyrant turning fire on his own people. Is there, or has there ever been, a Gadaffi Apartheid Week or its equivalent anywhere?
The questions are, of course, rhetorical. The left does not pick its oppressors from the Gaddafis, Saddam Husseins, the Kim Jong-ils of the world. Nor does it find its victims among the most unarguably mistreated. Interestingly, the homosexuals who identify with Palestinian victims conveniently overlook the fact that, as gays, they would be persecuted in Palestine. On the other hand, Israel has gay-pride parades.
We can only assume that the left prefers the luxury of relatively safe and highly visible tantrums: There is no point in throwing a tantrum about a murderous villain. First, his villainy is well-known, and is likely immutable. Secondly, real villains have a nasty habit of murdering their critics. Thirdly, recognized villains do not represent all the things that the left-wing abhors. They are rather grubby no-account thugs in rather marginal, no-account countries.
But Israel is another matter. Besides being a nation of those historically targeted, the traditionally "Goldsteined" Jews-- Israel is a symbol for everything that refutes the left-wing sensibility: it is successful; it is competent; and it is realistically self-defensive. If one were left-wing, one might almost call it traitorous–all that success, based on such hard-nosed realism! The egalitarian left, of course, is pre-disposed to distrust success, and sees no need for self-defence: in the world they inhabit, all disputes are--as we suggest above--easily negotiable.
Finally, unlike many countries in the west, Israel does not, outwardly, at least, appear to be affected by the mea culpa-ism which seems rampant elsewhere. Indeed, we have long been amazed by the anxiousness, in Canada, to modify our own relatively successful culture in favour of those evidently less successful-- in providing freedom, opportunity, and a high standard of living. If Israel had the mind-set of Canada, it would long ago have come under Palestinian rule.
This is the best we can do to explain the extraordinary phenomenon of Israeli Apartheid Weeks.
It derives from the natural human capacity for hatred; from the absolutism of youth; and from the idealism of left wing philosophy. The target, Israel is selected because it is a tantrum-worthy "traitorous" western democracy, embodying all that the left-wing abhors: it is competent, successful, realistically self-defensive, and unapologetic. Our observation ( # 116) reads thus:
Consider the beloved of the sappy, soppy-eyed left: the incompetent, the unsuccessful, and the unrealistic–all aspiring candidates for a Big Rock Candy Mountain world of sweetness and light. Is it any wonder that Israel–competent, successful, realistically self-defensive, and--horror of horrors!–unapologetic–is a target of their opprobrium?
Of Self-Esteem March 22, 2011
Our Observation number 37 reads thus:
‘Self-esteem’ acquired without accomplishment is nothing but a dangerous arrogance.
Thus we find it interesting that some are beginning to question the benefits of elevated self-esteem. An Article by David Brooks in the New York Times, reprinted in the March 21 Edition of the National Post, cites some interesting findings:
1. A survey of [American] high school students found that 70% of them have above-average leadership skills.
2. Students in the Middle East, Africa and the United States have the greatest faith in their math skills. Students in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan have much less self-confidence, though they actually do better on tests.
3. In the 1950's, 12% of high school seniors said they were a "very important person." By the ‘90's, 80% said they believed they were.
4. The number of hours college students spend studying has steadily declined. Meanwhile the average G.P.A. [Grade Point Average] has steadily risen.
Mr. Brooks speculates on the possible links between inflated self-esteem and the propensity to go into debt to acquire an appropriate life-style, and the decline of the idea of citizenship, in which citizens consider themselves components in a "national project."
|One of our constant themes in these musings is
the difficulty of squaring our ideals and aspirations with reality. A
recent CBC radio program, which illustrated the manner in which
children–at a very early age-- are programmed to believe that they are
"special," and "princess-like" suggests that such difficulties are not
being mitigated by a focus on self-esteem. Those who believe that they
are, magically, wonderful, must at some point be disappointed to
discover that magic works only in fairy tales.
Behind the doomed self-esteem project we see two elements of human aspiration: the desire to believe that people are born good, and the desire that equality should reign. These desires are, alas, focused on the chimerical.
The unfortunate truth is that true self-esteem is founded in accomplishment. As Stephen Leacock observed of happiness–"it comes at backrounds, so to speak"–so too of self-esteem. To gain self-esteem, the appropriate emphasis is on achievement.
The other kind of self-esteem, may indeed, be easily attained and equally distributed: but it means nothing, and will founder, eventually, on the shoals of reality.
|The Great God Murphy
(March 20, 2011)
It has probably not escaped the attention–of even the most casual reader of these musings–that we think that all religion is complete nonsense. Indeed, our observation number 17 reads thus:
All religion is bunk; it may be helpful bunk, comforting bunk, or, in some cases, necessary bunk. It is still bunk, nonetheless.
Note that we do not maintain that religion has no function–it is simply that its claims are untrue. Indeed, we have pondered of late of some of the benefits which we ourselves might derive from religion–particularly that sense of comfort from communicating with a great and powerful Being who has very much our own opinion of the issues of the day, and can be relied upon to be sensible and supportive. In short, we see no reasonable bar to the creation of our own religion.
|Casting about, so to speak, for a suitable
God–obviously none of the existing Gods seems quite to suit our needs--
we have decided the most consistently reliable fictional character of
our acquaintance is the Great Murphy–the Author and Architect of
Naturally, the creation of a new religion will not be the matter of an afternoon’s work; we expect long hours of planning, and considerable effort expended in the creation of scriptures, hymns, sermons, laws, and the like. But, just today, we thought we would start with a Prayer. (See below.)
To the Great God Murphy, the Grand Predictor
of the Outcomes of Human Enterprise ( March 20, 2011)
Click here for audio reading.
O Murphy, Murphy in the sky,
O hear us in our plaintive cry–
And do not think, O wisest Murphy
We’re being pushy, bold, or bloody nerfy–
We only ask you sometimes bend–
Or even better–flat out suspend
Thy sacred word and highest law,
Which commands our silent, dumbstruck awe–
The one that breaks our fond and idle dreams–
Confounds our countless witless schemes–
That law, which, for so very long
Has made things go badly–and turn out wrong.
Now favour us with gracious glance,
And grant at least a fifty-fifty chance–
O, take pity on our human plight,
Just let a few things
Turn out right!
Invictus (March 20. 2011)
Love, peace, happiness–
I was not meant for such as these–
Or other blessings of the Gods;
I was meant to last this long unease
Against all the Devil’s daunting odds.
|The Valley of Hythlos--Another Cautionary Tale
March 9, 2011
"The CBC’s Ombudsman has blasted businessman and commentator Kevin O’Leary for using the term "Indian giver" on his CBC News Network show, denouncing the term as "unambiguously offensive." (National Post, March 8, 2011.)
(Click here for Audio)
Once upon a time, in the land of Discadia, there was a large and fertile valley, called Hythlos. The situation of the valley and its surrounding mountains was such that the climate was temperate, and the skies most often clear, with rain in sufficiency for agriculture falling usually at night. The mountain slopes were forested, and provided excellent opportunity for hunters. Through the valley ran a great river, the Copia, from which, at almost any time of the year, an abundance of fish could be obtained with little effort.
In the light of this fortunate situation, it is not surprising that the inhabitants of the valley were exceedingly prosperous, and because of a relatively modest expenditure of time devoted to achieving the necessities of life, were much advanced in the arts of painting, music, and poetry.
Their ruler, Harmonious Equality, was widely considered to be among the kindest of men, and was highly praised and revered by the inhabitants of Hythlos.
We should hasten to point out that the valley was by no means Utopian. The human condition is always subject to the circumstance of variability, and, of all gods, the great god Murphy is the most reliably consistent.
Thus, we should note that the inhabitants of the valley were of two disparate tribes. One, the Fatheads, were distinguished by a stolidity of frame and facial features. The other tribe, the Flatfoots, were remarkable for their large, flat feet. There were a few cultural differences: the Fatheads worshipped the God Normity, while the Flatfoots prayed to the God Size Eleven. The Fatheads tended to engage in agriculture and music, the Flatfoots in hunting and painting. The Fatheads preferred a spicy salsa, while the palate of the Flatfoots seemed more compatible with mild.
Their ruler, Harmonious Equality, the kindest of men, was not entirely satisfied with the operation of his society. He was distressed to see, despite all the obvious benefits of the valley, dissatisfaction, bickering, and dissension among his subjects. A Fathead might speak disparagingly of the cruelty of hunting, or a Flatfoot sneer at the effeminacy of agriculture. Harmonious Equality, the kindest of men, was appalled to encounter, even among schoolchildren, such epithets as "fatso," "ugly," "four eyes," or "stupid."
|Thus it was that Harmonious Equality, the
kindest of men, set up a special arm of government: the Flagrant Or
Offensive Language Subcommittee–or FOOLS–which would deal
with the problem of offensive language.
At first the new subcommittee, which was enabled to levy fines and expropriate the houses of the offenders, and in similar degree compensate the offended, seemed to run smoothly. But, as time went on, more and more people found cause to take offense; the Subcommittee was flooded with complaints, and the redistribution of wealth which it decreed became a new social issue.
Thus it was, that Harmonious Equality, the kindest of men, decreed that, in the interests of inoffensiveness and polite discourse among his subjects, the tongues of offenders be surgically removed.
It was not long before the Law of Unintended Consequences, a commandment of the great God Murphy, began to take effect. Those without tongues became exceedingly sensitive to all remarks made by those still capable of speech. Remarks such as "I haven’t heard from you for a while," or "A penny for your thoughts," or "Why are you silent on this issue?" became matters for the consideration of the Flagrant or Offensive Language Subcommittee.
Indeed, in the fullness of time, it came to pass that the silent outnumbered those capable of speech, and were able to get the Subcommittee to deem speech itself as offensive, and have the entire population subjected to the necessary surgical procedure. The tongues of newborns were routinely removed, so that their hurtful weapons, their instruments of such potential cruelty and offense might not disrupt the harmony of society.
It should not come as much of a surprise that the valley was soon overrun by the neighbouring tribe of Articula, they having, in the matter of the operations of battle, the significant advantage of freedom of speech.
Observation # 110: One of the great difficulties faced by society is the fitting of large, square pegs of truth into very small, round holes of idealized perfection--the fond fashionings of human aspiration.
|Post Script to My Beautiful
Laundrette March 7,
(Please see the initial article below, dated March 6.)
In writing the comments dated March 6 below, we found it necessary to do some minimal research on Google to get the names of the characters straight. Oddly, in our admittedly brief search, we found no reviews which referred to the symbolism in the film.
As Francis Bacon would say-- a mixture of complexity doth ever add pleasure. We were intrigued when, a couple of years ago, the CBC had a discussion of Catcher in the Rye which focussed entirely on the character of Holden Caulfield. No one even suggested that there was a symbolic structure to the novel.
Hmm. You really don’t understand poems like The Death of the Hired Man or novels like Catcher in the Rye unless you aware of the symbolism.
We were not trying to read symbols into My Beautiful Laundrette when we saw part of the film the other night. But a little reflection brings up some possibilities.
The laundrette is in the title–so it’s not surprising that it’s the chief symbolic character. It is both transformed and transforming. The early immigrant, Nasser, peripherally connected to the drug trade, is the owner of a seedy and decrepit laundromat in a lower class part of Britain. His nephew, the "new" immigrant Omar, is symbolically blinded under the feet of Salim, the drug dealer–but his resulting clarity of vision does not lead him to take up drug-dealing: the drugs destined for Salim are diverted to an enterprise which cleans things up.
The laundrette is transformed by the "new" immigrant, Omar, and the reformed British thug, Johnny. It benefits both the immigrant, the thug, and the lower-class English neighbourhood where both characters live.
Johnny was once a member of the racist National Front–but one of his first tasks in the laundrette–in the new vision-- is to turf out some young disruptive boys–they are the potential thugs of the coming generation–and they have no place in the laundrette. The action is also a mirror to Johnny’s internal reform.
The chief interaction between the new immigrant culture and the reformed English culture is shown through the partnership of Omar and Johnny–and that partnership is symbolized by the laundrette. All the conflicts in the film but one take place outside the laundrette. No thug actually enters the building.
|The one conflict that does take
place is that between Tania–the new independent immigrant woman–and
Rachel–Nasser’s dependent English mistress. Tania criticizes Rachel
(England) for her dependence on the immigrant Nasser–the suggestion is
that, Rachael has sacrificed certain middle-class principles for
financial benefit. As the symbolism suggests, she has acted "rashly." But Rachel points out
that Tania, too, is dependent on the shady Nasser. Shortly after the confrontation,
Tania renounces her dependence, taking a train for parts unknown.
Rachel, too, leaves Nasser, afflicted with a rash contrived (such
unlikelihood suggests the symbolic function) by his wife. Nasser is dumbfounded and bereft: both these
events suggest a changing of the immigrant/English interaction. The old
dependence gives way to a new independence and interdependence.
It is significant that the opening of the laundrette is a celebration– a celebration of the new vision. The English customers–significant beneficiaries--are there–and so are elements of the transforming Pakistani culture. It is interesting that Nasser and Rachel "dance" at the opening–but it is only a dance–and–indeed-- their "last dance"--the one before the coach turns into a pumpkin, and in this case, the glass slipper becomes a zucchini.
During the dance, referring to Omar and Johnny, Nasser says something like: "Where are those two buggers?" They are in the back, buggering. Anyone who doubts that there is a symbolic structure to the film must be convinced by this somewhat contrived pair of pairings. The old relationship between Nasser and Rachel-- is passing; the new one between Omar and Johnny is a harbinger of the future.
The extremes of both cultures are not present: Nasser’s wife, in her revengeful witchcraft, is not part of the new vision; nor do the vengeful thugs appear within the building. Oddly, Hussein, Omar’s father shown throughout the film as a helpless and hopeless bedridden alcoholic, appears, late-- but entirely competent. His surreal appearance underscores its symbolic nature. In typically left-wing fashion, he sees the modest practical first step of the laundrette--of the new vision--as insufficient--a mere cleaning of underpants. His more general admonition for the future, however, seems sound: he realizes the necessity of education and the attainment of knowledge--and hopes Omar and Johnny will go to college.
One might argue that the trashing of Salim’s car and his retaliatory beating by the thugs represents another kind of cleaning up. Johnny is also attacked by the thugs, but he survives, and is able to retreat to the laundrette, to continue the new partnership.
Finally, at the end of the film, Omar and Johnny are seen, shirtless, symbolically naked, with a basin of water between them. They are playfully splashing water on each other. Can this be seen as anything but symbolic–and baptismal?
P.S.: Our initial objection to the film was based on a sense that the relationship between Omar and Johnny was not entirely psychologically convincing. Is this because it was distorted by a more primary concern with symbolic structure?
|My Beautiful Laundrette
March 6, 2011
As noted in our diary or this date, we had occasion to see some portion of My Beautiful Laundrette last evening on television--and were led to some reflections on the film.
You may remember the hero is a young Pakistani man, Omar, the Son of Hussein, an impoverished, alcoholic, left-leaning, once successful (in Pakistan) Journalist, who wants Omar to go to College. But Omar is drawn into the somewhat shady world of his successful Uncle Nasser, who owns rental properties, parking garages, and a decrepit laundrette–and his drug-dealing Associate, Salim. Through Nasser, Omar gets a chance to make a success of the unlikely laundrette.
The film may be seen as an examination of a clash of cultures in Margaret Thatcher’s 1985 Britain. Nasser has a big house and a nice car--he has taken full advantage of the capitalistic opportunities in Britain. He tells his brother Hussein, who longs to return to Pakistan, that the chief obstacle to success there is Religion. Yet, cultural strains show: he has a traditional wife and family, but an English mistress, Rachel. He would like to see his daughter in a traditional marriage, perhaps with Omar–but her ambitions seem anything but traditional-- she cannot wait to escape and conquer new worlds of her own choosing.
While Britain’s capitalism is welcoming, its mindless yobs are not. Johnny, a school friend of Omar, and once a member of the right-wing, whites-only National Front, hangs out with a group of thugs who resent the financial success of the Pakistani interlopers. It is their perception that the rôle of immigrants should be a secondary and subservient one.
While Tania confronts Rachel, and Salim injures one of the thugs with his car, it is through Johnny and Omar that the interface of the two cultures is chiefly shown. Their relationship confounds boundaries and breaks stereotypes on two levels: Omar hires Johnny to help renovate and run the laundrette, and Omar and Johnny are lovers.
|There is a logical neatness to this plot.
Moving beyond his father’s dreams of a return to Pakistan, and beyond
his uncle’s embrace of capitalist success in the new land, Omar, because
of his sexuality, represents a further fracturing of cultural
stereotype. Johnny, too, is shown as renouncing his previous life as a
racist National Front thug, accepting employment from an immigrant and,
because of his sexuality, betraying his stereotypical tough guy image.
The conclusion–showing Omar and Johnny playfully splashing water on each other in the laundrette–is a hard one to resist–love conquers all; there is hope for cultural integration.
While we do appreciate the neatness of it all, we must say that, on an psychological level, we found the story not entirely convincing. We have sometimes mused on the balance--or imbalance--of power in relationships–and we find the balance between Omar and Johnny somewhat puzzling. Omar first appears as a rather eager and naive young man, and it is he who first seeks to re-establish the relationship with Johnny. Johnny is an ex-con, hangs out with thugs, and is portrayed as the sexual aggressor. Yet, when it comes to the beautiful laundrette, Omar appears insensitive and demanding, rather "lording it over" Johnny and relishing the immigrant/native turning of tables. We find this somewhat inconsistent with his character as previously portrayed. Johnny, especially in view of his background, seems rather more passive in the business relationship than is readily believable.
We think that, consistent with the emotional relationship, Omar could have been shown as less arrogant in the business. Similarly, Johnny could have been allowed to show a little more dignity–--yet still work for Omar in the laundrette. One who is making a deliberate and considered conversion in his approach to life is, we would think, unlikely to be pushed around in the process. The risk is, perhaps, if he were more assertive, he would then challenge Omar as the hero or central character.
We are almost tempted to conclude that, because of the enigma of his personality as portrayed in the film, he already does.
McGuinty Green; Ontario bankrupt.
February 27, 2011.
The Lumpenbangen Dining Table is always messy–we attribute this fact to an unfortunate but absolutely necessary corollary to our creative nature. But just this moment, amidst the chaos, our eye happened to fall on a greeny (not a dark green, but a wishy-washy, McGuintyish mixture of white and grey-greens) brochure entitled: Electricity Prices are changing. Find out Why.
Changing indeed! I wonder in which direction? Let me think! Could it be–well--up?
No, that can’t be right! If prices were going up, the brochure would have the guts to come right out and say: Electricity Prices are Going Up. But it doesn’t say that. They are "changing." Perhaps that means there is an increasing variability in electricity prices. Today they are going up–perhaps a lot–but tomorrow they will be going down. Then they will be hippety-hoppiting all over the place. The brochure wishes merely to draw our attention to a new alternative to computer games, bird watching, or television.
During a long boring evening, we will be enlivened and reinvigorated by a study of the fascinating variability in electricity prices. Wow!
|Then, it says: Find out why. Could it
be that the McGuinty Government has taken flight on the concept of green
energy, and is spending, drunken-sailorish, our money on fanciful
feel-good schemes? Could it be encouraging the production of solar power
by paying insanely high and unsustainable rates to people putting panels
on their roofs? Could it be that the government has learned no lessons
from all the failed government-backed meddlings of the past? Could it be
that the government, the spear of folly in frenzied grip, is tilting to
windmills armed with more hope than science?
We turned the page. A bit of truth seeps through: "Like in a lot of places around the world, electricity prices in Ontario are going up."
But the impression of incompetence is reinforced. "Like in a lot of places" is the kind of language we expect from those in a rather inferior elementary school. The use of "like" as a conjunction is to be avoided. (The subject and verb "they are" are implied.) How much better to say: "As (they are) in many places in the world, electricity prices in Ontario are going up."
Well. We will read no further. We are dealing with incompetent illiterates in the Government of Ontario. What doth it profit us to read their drivel?
The Impulse to Fascism: Canada and 1984 Part II
February 12, 2011
Fascism --1984 and Beyond
Aldous Huxley, in his introduction to Brave New World, noted that the creation of Utopia involved making people love their servitude. It seems a reasonable proposition that living in an organized society does involve a certain amount of "servitude"– individual freedom must be sacrificed, in some measure, for the furthering of the common good.
We have always felt that capitalism does a fairly good job of making people love their servitude–because it harnesses the nearly universal human impulse towards competition and acquisition. Once people are hooked on having the television set, the automobile, the residence, and the envy of their neighbours, they can be organized, taxed and regulated to a significant degree.
In his novel, Huxley illustrated the potential of genetic manipulation, brain washing, and drugs in creating the desired acquiescence to servitude.
But the most common form of making people put up with their servitude is through fear. One could probably argue that fascism has been the predominant type of government throughout human history. We will not attempt too narrow a definition of fascism. We are using the term to suggest a rigid authoritarianism. We see it as a determined impulse to control citizens in their behaviour and thinking, in a manner which stifles dissent.
George Orwell’s Oceania of 1984–based in part on the repressive regimes of Hitler and Stalin-- is an illustration of the traditional use of fear –Party members are under constant surveillance, and live with the threat of being tortured and vapourized. But Huxley’s notion of the love of servitude is also present. The Party in Oceania wishes not merely behavioural compliance, but a control of the thought processes behind the compliance– a concept one associates with "re-education" techniques of Chinese Communism. The ultimate aim of the party is power, and the epitome of power is seen when citizens love their oppressor, Big Brother; thus, at the end of the novel, Winston Smith realizes, through his tears: "He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."
In part, the Party achieves its aim of "making people love their servitude" by systematically destroying both history and language, by requiring a complete acceptance of an ever-changing "reality." In this way, citizens are kept mentally destabilized and perpetually vulnerable to the accusation of thoughtcrime. As O’Brien, the party Torturer says: "Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing."
In his diary, Winston recognizes that "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."
Thus freedom, in its essence, consists of being able to state the truth. The Party, of course, insists that the truth is variable, and is determined by the party. Under torture, Winston is made to realize that when O’Brien holds up four fingers–"Sometimes they are five, sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once."
We would note that truth seems to be losing popularity in Canada. It is not, apparently, a legitimate defense in a Human Rights Commission hearing. Political Correctness is well established, and the term itself suggests that truth is being sacrificed to the greater good of inoffensiveness.
Similarly, as we noted in Part I, the concept of freedom of speech is hardly a priority at Canadian Universities. Jennifer Lynch--Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission is also less than completely enthusiastic:
"Freedom of expression is important because words and ideas have power. That power, while overwhelmingly positive, can also be used to undermine democracy, freedom and equality. It is for this reason that Canada, and many other nations, have enacted laws to limit forms of extreme hateful expression that have very minimal value in the free exchange of ideas, but do great harm to our fellow citizens."
Ezra Levant notes in Jennifer Lynch’s rage-filled speech in Montreal (June 22, 2009) that in the case Warman v. Lemire, commissioner "Dean Steacy testified that ‘freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.’"
Freedom of speech in Canada is best, apparently, when it isn’t-- well–actually free.
Similarly, in the Oceania of 1984, citizens must engage in doublethink–"a vast system of mental cheating." The slogans at the Ministry of Truth (which tells lies) are: WAR IS PEACE; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
We will not laugh. In Canada, we are expected to believe that the imposition of quotas in hiring–is not discriminatory, but the benignly euphemistic "affirmative action." The "equity chairing" referred to in Part I below is, perhaps, the most brazen example of doublethink. And how can anyone who has seen the evidence possibly believe that Human Rights Commissions are concerned with real Human Rights? On the contrary, they are concerned with promoting the causes of complainants over the rights of defendants. A more accurate description would be Victimhood Advocacy Commissions.
One of the great concerns of the citizens of Oceania is that their thoughtcrimes not be revealed on their faces–this, of course, would be a facecrime. Sorry–we may be full of baloney here–but we cannot help but think of the panelists on The Agenda referred to in Part I. The topic of cultural stereotyping was such a "hot potato" – that all the participants, through a wooden-faced determination not to discuss the matter-- betrayed their anxiety.
|In Oceania, children are shown as exposing the thoughtcrimes
of their parents, and other adults. Winston Smith, the protagonist is,
somewhat playfully, somewhat menacingly, accused of being a
thought-criminal by the nine-year-old son of his neighbour, Parsons.
Later at the Ministry of Love (Torture) Winston finds that Parsons has
been arrested--turned in by his seven-year-old daughter.
In Canada, the young are brainwashed to believe in the orthodoxy of the day. The six-year-old in Laval is barred from a contest because he has a plastic lunchbag. There is no word as to whether he will turn in his parents to the Suzuki Foundation, but we would not be surprised. Students at a variety of Universities feel that their particular versions of Political Correctness justify their banning of sumo wrestling suits or preventing speakers from presenting views with which they do not agree.
The tendency towards fanatical idealism in the young–a sort of universal verity–seems not to have penetrated the consciousness of University officials.
In Oceania, Winston Smith’s job at the Ministry of Truth is the revision of history on a daily basis. A colleague, Ampleforth, was engaged in producing "garbled versions...of poems which had become ideologically offensive." We are not sure whether there are specific Canadian examples–there may well be--but the recent announcement of a new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which changes the word "nigger" to "slave," is a fascinating example of the triumph of ideology over history.
Beyond the specific similarities--the use of doublethink, and ideological manipulation-- it has struck us that in both Oceania and Canada, there is a single-minded pursuit of an ideal. In Oceania the ideal is complete control–-the behaviour, thoughts, emotions-- of citizens. Despite the ending of the novel-- which Orwell uses to impress on us the dangers of Big Brotherism-- this aim is not actually achievable. As Dostoevsky noted: "a man is not a piano key."
Not surprisingly, the single-minded pursuit of power is costly. "Power tends to corrupt," as Lord Acton noted, "and absolute Power corrupts absolutely." Thus, in Oceania, freedom, justice, truth, even sanity itself are sacrificed to the pursuit of power.
In Canada there is also a single-minded pursuit of a more admirable* goal: the equality of citizens. Much as we might applaud the intent, we would note that, like complete power, equality is not achievable. A man is not a piano key.
The difficulty arises when equality becomes the greatest good, and merit, truth, justice and freedom are sacrificed in the doomed struggle to attain it.
The sacrifices in Canada are not inconsiderable. The Health Care System reduces the freedom of patients; Landlord and Tenant legislation favours tenants and discriminates against Landlords; Human Rights Commissions care nothing for the rights of the accused-- their aim is to advance the circumstance of those who perceive themselves as victims; government hiring practices ignore merit in order to favour some groups over others; universities uphold the notion that certain ideas should not be debated, and free speech should be inhibited; "equity chairing" is doublethink for discriminatory chairing; parking spaces are to be allocated--regardless of private contract-- by the government according to the obesity and determination of the applicants; truth is devalued as an insufficient defense--people have a "right" never to have their feelings hurt.
We can hardly resist noting the pursuit of an impossible ideal has a long history; possibly it is an natural human tendency.
Religion, as we see it, is in constant battle with reality-- and the nature of human nature-- in the pursuit of an idealized and impossible goal. How truly silly seem the Canadian Catholic bishops pontificating from their ivory and asexual tower that sex should be approached with a "purity of mind as well as body."
Have they never talked with Crazy Jane? She seems a bit more realistic. According to W.B. Yeats, (Crazy Jane talks to the Bishop):
'Fair and foul are near of kin/ And fair needs foul,' she cries, indelicately noting: ‘Love has pitched his mansion in/ The place of excrement.’
It is not true today, of course, but the Catholic Church has, in the past, terrified people with torture. The end justifies the means. (We will not even mention the Islamists of today.) The Party in Oceania, and the prevailing political correctness apparatus in Canada are merely following in the footsteps of the Church with their concern not merely for behaviour, but the thoughtcrime which may inform it.
There never was a Golden Age. The human circumstance has always been uncertain, muddled, and unfair. It is understandable that people seek respite from reality in an ideal.
The question that must be asked is: are the present attempts to achieve equality, sweetness, and light, more destructive, overall, than helpful? Does the unattainable end justify the reprehensible means? To what extent are we loving our servitude?
We would argue that the loss of freedom, the lack of justice, the patent inequality--and yes, the doublethink created by equality fascism require a return to common sense. But we are not optimistic.
*Well, perhaps we are being naive. It should not be overlooked that the devotion to equality involves massive amounts of government interference. Not only does government control of health care and landlord-tenant relationships restrict individual freedom, it creates dependency in the process. Human rights commissions encourage the notion that people are not independent and autonomous, but victims who require government assistance. Politicians--governments–increase their power and sense of importance in direct relation to helplessness and vulnerability of citizens. One could argue that in the creation of equality fascism, the fascism is as important as the equality–or perhaps equality is merely the excuse for the fascism. (It is hard not see Human Rights Commissioners as tiny tin-pot O'Briens, intoxicated, blinded, and corrupted with their power to compel assent to the proposition that two plus two makes five, three, six, or sometimes all of them together.)
The aim of the Canadian government, therefore, can be seen as identical-- though perhaps lacking the degree of conscious intent--to that of the Party in Oceania: power as evidenced by a dependent, adoring, and infinitely manipulable populace.
|The Impulse to Facism: Canada and 1984
(February 8, 2011)
Two remarks have led to the reflections below. Andrea Mandel-Campbell, last night on the BNN Program Squeeze Play said something like : “there are so many things we can’t talk about in this country.”
The second remark was from a friend, commenting on a recent Drivel piece-- Are Queers smarter than Niggers? (January 10, 2011):
“And surely to God, you did NOT post something on your website about
gays and niggers!!?? Do you really think no one notices? Big Brother
is watching you, and you'd better believe it. Conspiracy theories
aside, BB has an eye on the internet, and knows if you've been bad or
good. Freedom of speech be damned. Not in OUR lifetime.”
What these two remarks have shown is that our own perception–that Canada is no longer a very free country–is not just a personal and idiosyncratic response to current Canadian culture. Others, too, have the perception that we must walk on eggshells, lest we offend, lest the Thought Police discover us, lest we are hauled up before a Human Rights Commission.
If you think we are being somewhat over-dramatic, consider some underlying circumstances of the Canadian freedom landscape--and some recent events.
The free market system, of course, has its limitations: there will
always be those who are unable to function in a such a system. It
is those to whom government assistance should be directed.
2. Canada has a fondness for rent controls and landlord-tenant legislation. The impulse is the same as that behind the Health Care System: to provide accommodation for all at reasonable cost. The effect has been to create an adversarial relationship between landlords and tenants, to inhibit the provision of rental units, and to enhance and support one of the notable features of the Canadian landscape: the victimhood industry. An article in the National Post (December 7, 2010) by Iman sheikh notes some of the wonders of Ontario’s Legislation:
(a) A tenant can allow anyone to move into his unit indefinitely.
(b) A tenant does not have to provide a damage deposit. It is up to the landlord to pursue the tenant in Small Claims Court if damage is discovered. Tenants do not have to give forwarding addresses, making it difficult to serve papers.
( c) Leases restricting pets are not enforceable. Toronto municipal laws allow up to six dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits or combination thereof.
(d) Tenants can delay hearings for non payment of rent repeatedly.
(e) A tenant can disrupt proceedings with claims of deficiency in his unit–he does not even have to inform the landlord before the hearing. We can vouch for the fact that such claims do not have to be true. We once had a tenant who claimed, during a dispute, that his refrigerator was "not cold enough," and the water pressure "not high enough." Both these vague claims were completely untrue--by any reasonable standard--but money had to be spent to prove this. The motivation of the tenant was entirely malicious.
(f) Repeatedly asking for rent can be considered "harassment."
Another personal experience dates from the 1980's when an Ontario Liberal government passed a law which mandated approval by a government board of any rents set after an apartment had been renovated. This legislative change was not publicized, and doubtless many small landlords were caught in the trap: amoral tenants requesting a roll- back in rent because the landlord had not, through ignorance, complied with the law. Once a short deadline had passed, the landlord could make no request for an increase in the rent--EVER.
There are more tenants than landlords, and so, from a political point of view, landlords are easy and tempting targets.
Food is just as important as shelter. We suspect that it is only the complexity of enforcement that has prevented food price controls...a lamentable impediment to the fascist impulse.
It appears to us, that–we would like to call it “equality fascism”-- is woven particularly deeply into the Canadian social fabric. We cannot possibly list all the recent events which draw attention to the unjustified interference in the freedom of citizens, the spread of Orwellian doublethink, and the terror of thoughtcrime. But here are a few of the most egregious.
1. The Marise Myrand decision by a Human Rights Commission in Quebec in February of 2010 gave Ms. Myrand, who is obese, and suffers from ill-health, a parking spot already rented to another resident in her condominium complex. The Condominium association was fined $10,000 for refusing her request.
2. Another case (October, 2009–but in the news February, 2011))
involved a human rights commission which ordered Maxcine Telfer to pay
Seema Saadi $36,000, for firing Ms. Saadi after six weeks of
employment. Ms. Saadi claimed victimhood on the grounds that she was
discriminated against for cooking foul-smelling food in the microwave,
and wearing a hijab. The Commission apparently ignored the fact that Ms
Saadi visited the desks and used the computers of others. Ms. Telfer,
unable to pay, had a lien put on her home, and was in danger of losing
it until the Ontario Superior court struck down the ruling and stopped
a) Complainants have their legal
fees paid, while defendants pay their own.
(c) There appears to be no penalty for making false or frivolous claims.
|The Problems in Egypt
(February 6, 2011)
What is Truth, said Jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. (Francis Bacon, 1561-1626)
On February 2, Steve Paikin interviewed Mohammed Fadel, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. Mr. Fadel, although he was not raised in Egypt, has visited, the country, is of Egyptian background, and has relatives there.
We were not surprised to hear Mr. Fadel approve of the protests against the government of Hosni Mubarak, by all accounts a corrupt dictatorship. We were particularly struck with his optimism about the eventual outcome. In the absence of foreign intervention, he saw the Egyptians as having a "sophisticated civil society" with "competent, well trained and well educated" individuals who would be able to achieve a more democratic form of government. While he saw Islamic elements as having a rôle in a new regime, he did not see them as gaining control.
In the Saturday edition of the National Post (February 5), Lawrence Solomon notes that the Egyptian idea of democracy may be rather different from our own. The country has experienced only dictatorships in the last 5,000 years. He states:
|1. 59% of Egyptians view democracy as "very good."
2. Nearly three quarters want to see "strict imposition of Sharia law."
3. More than half want men and women segregated in the workplace.
4. 82% want adulterers to be stoned.
5. 77% view whippings and cutting off of hands as proper punishment for theft.
6. 84% favour the death penalty for Muslims who leave their faith.
7. 91% want to keep "Western values out of Islamic countries."
8. 67% want "to unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate."
We do not know the source of the polls quoted by Mr. Solomon; nor do we have any way of assessing their accuracy. But we do know that democracy is a form of government that has evolved over many centuries, and while there are many elements in human nature that work in its favour, there are many elements that are inimical to its success. It appears to be not so much a dandelion, which spreads easily, and at will, but rather, an orchid that needs benign soil, favourable climate, and judicious care.
We are not optimistic.
|The Problem of Authority.
January 24, 2011
(An authoritative View)
In a recent (January 21) column in the National Post, Lorne Gunter admits that his customary faith in police has been shaken by a series of incidents with which most readers will be familiar–the Dziekanski tasering and the Tavares face kicking are most prominent in our mind–but Mr. Gunter lists several others.
As a counter to these events, Mr. Gunter mentions the death of Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell–the circumstances of which "remind us that most police officers remain solid members of our communities who put their lives on the line to protect us and our safety."
We confess that we also have a more skeptical view of the police than ever before, and are led to speculate on the causes.
The first, no doubt, is simply a matter of available perception. This is the age of the video and cell phone cameras. It is almost certainly true that many ugly incidents in the past simply never came to light because there was no visual evidence.
Indeed, one might argue that a certain percentage of the population has a propensity for bullying others, and that the policing is more likely to attract such people than would – for example-- interior design.
But we would not be surprised if a general movement away from the acceptance of authority has played a rôle. In an earlier, simpler era, (we are thinking here of the 1940's and 50's) there was more deference towards authority. People knew less, and obeyed more. We remember playing tag during recess in an elementary schoolyard (Ryerson Public School in London Ontario) and inadvertently straying onto the girls’ side of the playground. It was made clear that this breech of the rules represented a violence against decency, a betrayal of the principle of order, and, quite probably, a subversion of all that was human, and much that was divine.
Doctors, who, in those days, did not prescribe statin drugs, and did not seem so often to be the tools of large pharmaceutical companies-- were often comfortingly authoritarian, and seldom questioned.
Even politicians–perhaps because they were responsible for the life-and-death decisions of the Second World War– were seen–on a scale of trustworthiness--as significantly above used car salesmen.
Religion, was, of course, more highly regarded. Since the authority of religion is based on nothing more than hope, supposition, and good intentions, it is susceptible to terrible distortions, and can cause more misery than it alleviates. The decline of this authority is a "good thing."
|Well, now we know more, and trust less. It is less comfortable to
be in a position of authority if people are always asking questions,
expressing reservations, and taking potshots.
We ourselves were, at one time, in the unenviable job of teaching High School students. When it became clear that the hierarchy had been reversed-- the student was the most powerful entity, (followed by parents) and the teacher was the least-- we picked up our marbles and refused to play.
It would not surprise us if the police, feeling despised and powerless, sometimes inappropriately express their frustration. Insecurity may lead to a mindless enforcement of the law when it is obviously a really stupid thing to do. It may seem better to follow the letter of the law in order to avoid criticism, than act with the confidence of common sense. The David Chen and Ian Thomson cases may be examples. Such responses by the police of course, only exacerbate the downward spiral of respect.
The problem of authority is a tricky one. It is necessary to have enough to prevent chaos, and as little as possible to be consistent with our desire for freedom. Authority can provide a sense of security. Living under a lot of authority can be quite pleasant, as long as you don’t tread on important toes. We are sure many were quite happy under Saddam Hussein–or Attila the Hun. But a lot of arbitrary authority is not the solution, since freedom is the losing element.
Our own view is that there is too little authority in the lives of the young. The schools of today, having retreated from the enforcement of petty rules, now encounter problems with guns, knives, and assaults. The failure, of course is that the religious concept of "original sin" has been entirely discredited, and has been replaced with a folly more egregious-- the belief in the inherent goodness of mankind. A more accurate perception of the nature of reality would, we suggest, provide a greater authority and sense of security in the lives of the young. We are not opposed to the challenging of authority–it should be susceptible to reasonable test. But challenges to authority in society at large are likely to be more reasoned and reasonable when rooted in an underlying sense of order.
The solution, as with so many other things, is some happy middle ground. The important thing is that authority be based on the most reasonable apprehension of reality, especially the reality of human nature. Authority based on the whim of a ruler, or a tradition based on fantasy will not likely long endure. Nor will the authority of Human Rights Commissions which attempt to create paradisal situations in which lives are led free from offense, insult, or inconvenience–since this aim is inconsistent with the realities of human nature, and the human circumstance. Authority based on attempts to enforce some reasonable approximation of "peace, order, and good government*" seems most likely to garner respect, and to endure.
*The devil is in the details.
|72 Virgins -- A Plea
(January 23, 2011)
"May God give you 74 to marry. We want the virgins of paradise, not the ones here." Thus reads an e-mail to Sayfildin Tahir Sharif, a 38-year-old Iraqi Canadian from a prospective suicide bomber in Tunisia. Sharif, who lives in Edmonton, (and who has now been arrested and is fighting extradition to the U.S.) responds: "You come short, brother. God is more generous than that. It’s supposed to be 76 instead." (Hamilton Spectator, January 21, 2011)
We do think that this discussion between two Islamic plotters is worrying. When one of the chief motivations for suicide bombers is a specific number of after-life virgins, we think it a matter of urgency that the number be definitively established. To allow this sort of fuzziness about the matter calls into question the validity of the whole concept.
|We have also been puzzled that the promise of 72 male virgins for
female bombers has not been widely publicized. Why not?
We recall with some trepidation that the translation of ancient texts has, on rare occasions, involved significant distortions of meaning.
In the event that a successful suicide bomber were to be greeted by a single 72, 74, or 76-year-old virgin, we imagine that his disappointment would be considerable. It behooves the Islamic suicide bomber community to investigate this matter at once, and arrive at some definitive conclusions.
(January 19, 2011)
As noted in our Diary of this Date, we are puzzled that Keegan Resources has been drilling on their Asumura Project for eight months, with no word on results. These results are, apparently, "backed up at the lab." This may be true, but, after eight months, it seems unlikely. We have dark suspicions that those providing $185 million of new funds at the low price of $7.50 per share have knowledge that has been withheld from shareholders. If not–this is what must have happened:
A paneled conference room at Moneybags and Moneybags Inc. (You’re in the hash–we got the cash.) Only three of the dozen richly upholstered chairs around the highly polished walnut table are occupied. Mr. Money and Mr. Bags are both men in their fifties; they appear confident and very fit–they probably work out at the gym daily and run marathons on the weekend. The third chair is occupied by K. Rep, an amiable younger man. The atmosphere is convivial.
Mr. Money: So you’re looking for about a hundred million?
K. Rep: Yes, that should about do it.
Mr. Bags: For the usual corporate purposes, I suppose.
K. Rep: That is correct.
Mr. Money: Well, everything seems to be in order. We do, of course, require you to sign this affidavit. It reads: "Everything is fine, as far as I know."
Mr. Bags: Oh, and one other thing–what’s happening at Asumura? Haven’t you been drilling there for about eight months?
|K. Rep: Yes, we have–but, unfortunately, all the results are
backed up at the lab.
Mr. Money: Gosh and Darn! Don’t you hate it when that happens?
Mr. Bags: You too! You may have noticed I’m wearing this old shawl and a pair of panty-hose. All my suits are backed up at the dry cleaners. Not a damn thing I can do about it!
Mr. Money: I think it’s a bit of an epidemic. Why do you think I’m wearing this pony-tail? There’s a line-up around the block at my barber’s. They say they’ll call me if it gets to less than half a block.
Mr. Bags: Holy Cow! But maybe, just to be on the safe side, we should amend the affidavit to read: "Everything is fine, as far as I know, and the results at Asumura are backed up at the lab." By the way, we could let you have $185 million, if you like.
K. Rep. (Signing) Sounds good to me.
The three men rise, shake hands, and leave the room.
(January 11, 2011)
My aim every day
(Does not apply to politicians.)
|Are Queers Smarter than Niggers?
(January 10, 2011--but written much earlier. See Diary of this Date.)
A consideration of powerful words.
Language is the great separator. It separates us, to a considerable extent, from the animals. It was a powerful tool for separating -- at first, we must imagine--things-- and then concepts and ideas; now it allows us to construct our own patterns of thought and imaginary worlds.
Words are not equal. One must imagine that the caveman equivalent of "I’m going to kill you," had considerably more impact than "Are we having rabbit again for supper?" or "I think I’m having a bad fur day."
One must suppose that there is something in human nature which is drawn to making of words which are marvellously powerful–words which are taboo–which name the Thing That Must Not Be Spoken–or–at least–spoken only by a very select group, or under certain circumstances.
In our society, there are powerful passwords and code words which allow us into the children’s fort, designate a secret mission, or enable us to get money at the bank–and these are carefully kept secret. Then there are words which are religious or sexual taboos. It has been pointed out that, as religion declines, the force of "blasphemous" words also declines. Much can be said about a society from an examination of the words which are considered taboo.
Currently, it would appear, the most powerful words are those terms which are considered insults, and which are based on an irremediable condition. We have all observed the frantic euphemisation of the terms applied to those with physical disabilities. While the term "crippled civilians" was in common use in my childhood, the word "crippled" has become, largely, taboo. I’m not sure whether "disabled" was next, but certainly "handicapped" has given way to "physically challenged," and "differently abled" –these last two terms yielding many results if you would care to google them. We can confidently expect that these terms will also prove uncomfortable –reality is often at odds with our preferences– and we will see such terms as--well--I was going to say "alternatively abled" – but I see it has already been thought of. Well, how about "triumphantly abled," or "functionally successful," or "achievementally admirable"?
|"But," you say, "the only reason I am reading this drivel is--
the title. What about qu--rs and n----rs?" (You see what I mean
about the power of taboos?)
Believe me, I do appreciate your delicacy. The genesis of this little essay was a reflection on our ability to change the power of insulting words, to blunt their destructive effects. I was much struck, a few years ago, on reading the account of a the prominent son of a prominent black Canadian, who, apparently, told his son: "Never let anyone call you a nigger."
At the time I considered the advice to be monumentally ill-advised. How much better, I thought, was my mother’s repetition of the old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Not true, perhaps, but at least a start in the right direction. My advice to the son would be: "Son, if anyone calls you a nigger, sneer at him with all the malice you can muster and call him a "flapdoodle" –or–even better– a pièce de résistance, or an omphaloskeptic. These terms are virtually meaningless in the context, but they will suggest you know a hell of a lot more than he does."
Probably even better, is to examine the approach of homosexuals. Instead of getting angry at terms considered pejorative, and thus making themselves VULNERABLE to insult, they have claimed the terms as their own. Quick–a word association test --what is the first thing you think of when you hear the word "gay"? I would be very surprised if you didn’t say "pride." And what about "queer?" The word has been enthusiastically claimed in slogans such as "We’re queer! We’re here! Get used to it!"
Well, I’ll leave it up to you. What is the best way of dealing with insults to those with irremediable conditions? Are queers smarter than niggers? How about a comparable mantra: "I’m a nigger, I’m a nigger–I'm way cooler than you figure?"
|Schizophrenia in the RCMP
(January 9. 2011)
Now that we have become used to inappropriately lethal tasering and unwarranted face-kicking by the RCMP, it appears that the dreaded Mountius Mentalis Contradictus, or Security Force Schizophrenia is beginning to pose additional problems. We quote two paragraphs from a news item in the January 7th edition of the National Post:
"On Aug. 25, the RCMP and Ottawa Police arrested two Ottawa men–Hiva Mohammed Alizadeh, Misbahuddin Ahmed–suspected of conspiring with others in Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit terrorism....
The next day, Aug. 26, the RCMP and city police staged an hour-long meeting with members of Ottawa’s Muslim community with the ostensible purpose of ensuring that their community was not regarded with undue suspicion despite the arrests. However, at least one officer was heard apologizing during the meeting for the arrests having occurred during Ramadan, which last year ran from Aug. 12 to September 9."
We anticipate the following item from Forward News:
|Ottawa, Ontario. Special to Forward News. At a news
conference held earlier today, Chief Superintendent Iman Idjit,
announced a new RCMP initiative with respect to world religious groups.
"After an extensive investigation of the twenty-two major religions,
including Zoroastrianism and Rastafarianism, and a lesser survey of more
than four thousand minor faiths including Taoism and Druidism, we have
concluded that it is no longer possible to hold conciliatory meetings
with religious communities who might take offence at the arrests of
those claiming particular religious affiliations.
Consequently, from this day forth, the RCMP will make arrests only on June 5th, and October 7th in regular years, and additionally on February 29 in leap years. It is only in this way that we can avoid arrests on days of religious holiday, celebration, and observance. We anticipate full co-operation from the religious faiths involved in forbidding their members to contravene any Canadian Laws, excepting on those days.
On June 5th, October 7th, and February 29th in Leap Years, the public may be well-assured that the RCMP will deploy an increased number of personnel, including equine (rear end), electronic zapper, and face-boot divisions, and will prosecute law-breakers of any religious affiliation without fear or favour.
It is anticipated that these measures will be applauded by Human Rights Commissions and Progressive Liberal Canadians from sea to conciliatory sea."
Following the announcement, Chief Superintendent Idjit declined to take questions, noting that the Druidical Holiday of Mystical Sunset was fast approaching, and an Explanatory Press Conference would be considered intrusive and defamatory by the significant Druidical community.
| Search Me
(January 7, 2011)
The cause of mankind might be considerably advanced, were the word "God" (or Allah, Jehovah, etc.) which has been so strongly personified, be replaced with the more neutral term Mystery. Thus, God–a handy, unthinking term for first cause--a straw man on a stick dressed convincingly in long robes-- the easy, but meaningless answer (but who made the scarecrow, daddy?) to the grand question: where does the universe come from–is better expressed as-- Mystery.
The creation of the universe--well it's a Mystery.
And how much less compelling it is to argue: The Mystery abhors condoms, denigrates women, approves of torture to compel belief, or is in favour of killing the infidel? How would we know? It’s a Mystery.
Hmm. Perhaps Unfathomable Mystery would be even better. Absolute Mystery, Complete Mystery, and Utter Mystery are also good.
Absolute, Unfathomable, Complete and Utter Mystery: "Go forth and do my bidding."
Humankind: Excuse us! Do we know you?