Monthly Archives: April 2010

Don’t Canadianize our history

I don’t know what effect defenders of our historical tradition are having on its enemies, but by God they frighten me.

Consider Andrew Cohen’s column supporting renaming Wellington Street for Sir John A. Macdonald. And he’s president of the Historica-Dominion Institute, “the largest, independent organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship.” So what’s he doing whiting out our past? (Uh, sorry, kids, a pre-computer reference about as relevant to you as Harold Godwinson’s offer to King Harald of Norway.)

His most revealing argument was that having a street named for the Iron Duke reflected “the insecurity of an adolescent nation trapped in its neo-colonialism.” Actually, adolescents are those who cannot bear to be in the presence of their parents because they yearn to be independent but lack the capacity. Hence Mark Twain’s comment “When I was 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. When I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Adults may not always like where they came from, but they don’t pretend it’s not there. Continue reading

Souls for sale

Once in a while you hear an idea so remarkable you can’t believe you didn’t think of it. The light bulb (Edison), telephones (Bell), telephone soliciting (Satan), teaching grade six kids vaginal lubrication (Dalton McGuinty). But the one I’m currently kicking myself for missing is Canadian Anglicans’ plan to cope with declining membership and revenue by soliciting corporate advertising. Why didn’t Jesus think of the Sermon on the Billboard?

Yea, verily. Michael Valpy wrote in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail “The Anglican Church of Canada is inviting corporate sponsorship of its national convention this year, selling space for brand logos on delegate documents, advertising signs in its meeting spaces and a private lunch for executives with the church’s senior archbishop. It’s the first time in its 117-year history that the Canadian church made its governing synod available for a mess of pottage… Asked about the genesis of the sponsorship idea, Vianney Carrière, the Anglicans’ national director of communications and information resources, said: ‘The genesis is the need for money.’… The synod agenda is described as ‘timely, relevant and important and includes debates, resolutions and presentations on major global issues such as poverty, human sexuality, the rights of indigenous peoples and the care of the environment.’”

OK, that’s a tough sell. But I still think turning religion into an advertising rather than a spiritual venture has enormous untapped potential that not even Bruce Barton recognized when he depicted Christ as the world’s greatest ad man back in the 1920s. Continue reading

Britannia, where art thou?

[First appeared on]

Whatever happened to Britain? I realize a map of Europe still shows it sitting off the north coast of France. But what happened to the land of Kipling, Drake and Horatio Nelson, and for that matter Edward Coke and William Blackstone?

This melancholy thought was underlined for me the other day by a Raffles story. Raffles, for those of you not familiar with second-rate vaguely seedy Victorian crime writing, was a “gentleman thief” created by Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law E.W. Hornung, whose escapades are narrated by his faithful sidekick “Bunny.” (No cheap shots about public schools please.)

One might find the stories morally as well as aesthetically disagreeable. But they are permeated by a special kind of Britishness, an assurance of cultural strength and resilience so profound that elegant misconduct by a superficially respectable member of the elite merely added spice and depth to British life. This atmosphere of effortless excellence lingers as late as, say, the mid-20th-century’s The Avengers or James Bond. But it was dissipating fast even then, and seems to me to be all but gone today. Continue reading

See no evil

Two years ago, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal aptly called former U.S. President Jimmy Carter “an international nuisance who aspires to be a menace.” But it is curious how often the current president, despite all the powers his office gives him to do real harm, seems to be stuck merely being annoying.

Consider Barack Obama’s new nuclear doctrine. He claims the United States would not retaliate with nuclear weapons against a nation that attacked it with chemical or biological weapons but was in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This assertion probably isn’t even true. But it’s certainly worrisome.

It is made worse, not better, by its misleading veneer of good sense. The ostensible idea is to give nations an incentive to comply with the NNPT rather than go about providing terrorists with radioactive material. The goal is appealingly rational: Nobody wants terrorists to have nuclear devices except terrorists and their more deranged sympathizers. And the method looks rational, too: It relies on incentives rather than exhortation.

The difficulty is that it only affects people who are seriously considering attacking America with weapons of mass destruction. And the only change from their point of view is that if they pick the right WMD, they supposedly face far less devastating retaliation than before. So making such an attack now appears more attractive while not making it looks just the same. Continue reading

Uncover yourself

Can we think about the niqab issue a bit? The answer may be no. We may be either unwilling or unable to make sense of the matter. But as stupidity is undignified let’s give it a try.

On Monday a Globe and Mail columnist snootily pronounced Quebec’s niqab debate “just more proof, if it were needed, that minority rights should never be left to government”. Who does she think should protect them? Corporations? Newts? Space aliens? It is hard to talk sense in such an environment but I am determined to try.

My starting point is that cultural habits matter. I realize this contention is itself controversial. Some people, including me, say culture is a set of working tools.

And when we encounter a widespread habit, we ask what this particular tool is for and how well it works. Others say cultural habits do not matter, that superficial differences in the ways we do things have no more bearing on what we do, who we are or what we’re like than the colour we happen to paint our house. Continue reading