Thursday, October 20, 2005

My laptop is on the fritz, so blogging will probably be sparse for the next week.

happy trails to you... until we meet again...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Canadian Martyrs

Today we celebrate the memorial of the Canadian Martyrs: six priests, one brother and one layman who lost their lives teaching the gospel to the Indian tribes around the Great Lakes. Their mission started in 1639, and stretched about a thousand miles beyond Western settlement. Their mission to the Hurons was particularly successful, but the Iroqouis came up from the south, capturing, torturing and killing the missionaries. As an aside, St. Jean de Brebeuf wrote the Huron Carol, a lovely Canadian Christmas hymn. Bruce Cockburn sings it in the Huron in which it was written on his Christmas album.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Miscellany

The Post (now a shadow of its former self in its days under the wing of the felon Black) has a piece on Don Cherry (it's completely bizarre he's become my favourite subject). Anyways, the piece argues that Cherry is principally a moralist:
Cherry's most frequent subject of moral concern on Coach's Corner is honour. Hit from behind: no honour. Cheap shot: no honour. Gooning (which is to a fair fight as brigandry is to chivalry): no honour. Showboating, or showing a lack of modesty: no honour. Wearing a visor, hacking with your stick and then refusing to fight: no honour, times three. The rules of honour, which Cherry will also refer to as the "warrior's code" or simply "the code," reflect what a political scientist would call "natural law": Those who believe in the code hold that it transcends the written rules of hockey, and is superior to them. And to uphold the code, sometimes you have to break the law...
In other news, I got turned down for a date- in the pleasantest manner imaginable. Which, of course, makes me regret the loss all the more. But cushioning the blow is my suspicion that this is one of those times where providence & grace are acting. Very rarely do I feel that something is has happened for a greater purpose- but in this case I felt it almost immediately. A quite unusual sensation.

Lastly, I think I shall take up pen & ink, and write to some far-flung cousins (by which I mean, living in Victoria & Calgary). As much as this medium has some benefits, I doubt that there shall ever be a better way to communicate at a distance than the letter. Plus, nothing beats receiving letters- getting them in the mail, opening them, reading them a half dozen times before figuring out one's respnse. Now, if only I could get a nice fountain pen. Perhaps I shall ask for one for Christmas.
On Liking Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn isn't the artist I put on the stereo when I get home. I don't even own an album. I've really only heard one record (Nothing But A Burning Light), a few singles, and his Christmas album. So why does his music continue to resonate with me? Certainly, he is a Christian who hasn't separated his identity from his music, and that helps. But, oddly, I think it is largely due to his politics. "Mighty Trucks of Midnight", "If I Had A Rocket Launcher", "Wondering Where The Lions Are" are all highly political songs. However, they didn't easily fit into my politics (particularly when I first heard them). But within (and, in a sense, beneath) them, and in songs like "Indian Wars" I heard a human, rather than a political outrage. For Cockburn, people cannot be sublimated to class, economic, or geopolitical concerns. Perhaps due to that fact, Cockburn never comes across as posturing or lecturing (as, unfortunately, does Neil Young) but as honestly desiring the good without partisan precommitments. Now, I should probably say that the division I've made between Cockburn's political & religious elements in his music is not nearly as clean as I've treated them.

Cockburn's earnest, personalist songwriting has, I believe, helped me broaden my political horizons from a fairly narrow, ideological construction into a far more catholic (yes, and Catholic) view of politics, by helping to illuminate how one ought to approach the whole political endeavour.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The New Pantagruel

If I had regular readers, they'd probably notice that I've been fiddling with the links and my profile a fair bit as I've tried to get this thing going. As I was going about doing this, I came across The New Pantagruel, a fascinating (and very well designed) e-zine which appears to be truly conservative. Since I have a strong aversion to individualistic, rights-based liberalisms of both the left & right, there are few publications which don't irritate me greatly on occasion. So, I am happy to come across this one. Here's a taste of an article entitled Practicing the Discipline of Place:
Liberalism in this sense, characterized by individual freedom in markets and politics, is triumphant at “the end of history.” It is unquestionably the single greatest means human beings have developed of producing economic prosperity and political security. But liberalism’s successes naturally run downhill: safety and full stomachs, yes, but also consumption over charity; technology over art; and license over self-control. The great weakness of liberalism is that it cannot support the soul. Reflecting on what he called the “the wild gas” of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke wrote that the “effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may soon be turned into complaints.”

Burke understood that individual liberty is no friend of civil society. Individual freedom alone cannot shape what individuals may please to do. And freedom without responsibility is eventually not freedom at all. It becomes, rather, just another kind of mastery, subjecting people to the one thing liberalism cannot negate—the ever present I want. In a completely liberalized society, there is nothing left but appetite...

The flaw in the liberal temperament is its deep distrust of place owing to its impatient hunger for the eternity of the void. Both time and place restrict our ability to be whatever we choose, to find our “salvation,” as Quindlen would have it, in the actualization of our rootless selves. But particular times and places are, in fact, the essence of civil society, anchoring us to the real and the concrete instead of allowing our appetites to soar through the infinite expanse of possible desires.

So the restoration of civil society will require disciplining ourselves to this other temperament, one which draws its moods and tones from the “season and temperature” of its atmosphere. It is the temperament, or discipline, of place. And this discipline brings with it a concrete way of thinking. Instead of seeing through things, those who embrace the discipline of place see out from within them.

Of course, it's the quote from T.S. Eliot that really puts the argument away.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Calvin & Hobbes

I just saw this article in the Washington Post, looking back on Calvin & Hobbes, ten years after the last strip came from Bill Watterson's pen. I must have read every strip Watterson ever wrote a half-dozen times, and just reading about it now makes me want to go back and read them again. I'm not sure that even now I can express exactly why they appeal so strongly to me. Parts of it, no doubt were the linguistic cleverness, the appeal of a Calvin's relationship with Hobbes, the limitless expanse of discovery the Calvin discovered beyond the worlds of house & school. Perhaps a deeper attraction, however, was the fact that Watterson pointed towards what I felt just had to be true, in his critique of materialism, of television, and the wonder he pointed to both in nature and in the imagination. C.S. Lewis wrote of how, in reading George MacDonald's fairy tales, his imagination was baptized. I suspect Calvin & Hobbes had a similar effect on me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Madonna Speaks the Truth!

"My kids don't watch TV... TV is trash. I was raised without it." Apparently their (once a week?) Sunday movie gets taken away from her kids if they misbehave. Apparently even those who have contributed to our cultural dissolution are recognizing the effect it is having, and are taking measures against it. One more reason to suggest that perhaps the tide is turning.
St. Edward the Confessor

Yep, today's the feast of the only sainted King of England, the Confessor. Ruling England from 1042-1066, St. Edward oversaw a peaceful age. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "such was the contentment caused by 'the good St. Edward's laws', that their enactment was repeatedly demanded by later generations, when they felt themselves oppressed." Of course, as any schoolboy knows, after St. Edward died, Harold, Earl of Wessex succeeded to the throne, and was promptly invaded by William of Normandy, and it's been downhill ever since.

O God, Who hast crowned the blessed King Edward, thy Confessor, with everlasting glory: make us, we beseech Thee, so to venerate him on earth that we may reign with him hereafter in heaven. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Don Cherry

I don't think there is anyone else alive in Canada who commands as much affection as Don Cherry. Nor as much animosity. Not being raised in a hockey family myself, I never had much of an opinion on Don Cherry- perhaps a mild liking, but no more. The thing I couldn't quite understand was the distaste he stirred up in so many people. There seem to be two sorts of people who dislike Don Cherry.

Firstly, there are those who are ashamed that so violent and perhaps more to the point, uncouth a game as hockey would be Canada's national sport. Don Cherry is a symbol of all they wish wasn't a part of the game: the hits, the fighting, the missing teeth, the elevation of guts and hard work above skill & technique.

Secondly, there are folks who can't stand his local patriotism- the kind that gets him into hot water with the CBC brass when he slights European or Quebecois players. More than that, Don Cherry is a very visible Canadian of a type rarely seen anymore- the English Canadian, proud of his side of the nation, and joyous in its virtues. Don Cherry represents those Canadians who thought Canada was great before Trudeau as well as after; great not merely because of its niceness or gentle role in the community of nations, but also on account of what it has done and will do. Don Cherry is the problem, such people hold, to which multiculturalism is the answer.

What is most remarkable about these reactions is how much they show the inability of some to get over the differences a prior age represents. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Grapes turns out to be a much more interesting person than that imagined by either his admirers or detractors. An excerpt, but it's worth reading all of it:

The first historical book Cherry read was a novel. Golden Admiralby F. Van Wyck Mason tells the story of Francis Drake and the Armada... From historical novels (James Clavell was another favourite) Cherry turned to history itself, particularly accounts of Drake, whose mixture of toughness and kindness, not to mention an intuitive knowledge of his crew, he found irresistible. Drake’s gift, Cherry realized, was his ability to reduce everything to a personal, individual level; in a way he was the ultimate player’s coach. It didn’t hurt that the navigator was also a career rebel. Eventually Cherry read “pretty much everything that’s ever been written about Drake.” He also fell under the spell of T.E. Lawrence. ”I’ve been trying to get other people to read Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but they get bogged down at the start, because his description is so detailed, he talks about the sky looking this way or that for pages. I had the same reaction when I started myself, but I said no, there must be something there, this book’s still selling 1,600 copies a week worldwide a hundred years after it was written. You really have to work at it. And so I did, and halfway through, it was like he was talking to me.”

In the 1990s, when his finances permitted, Cherry started collecting original editions of Lawrence’s work, as well as other historical tomes. Today his son, Tim, who runs Tim Cherry Enterprises (which oversees the production of Don's hockey highlights tapes) regularly visits a rare books shop in downtown Toronto to pick up books for his father. Cherry recently had a rare edition of Lawrence’s work, one of the last “two or three left from the 1920s,” shipped from London. His home outside Toronto is filled with books, largely historical non-fiction. Like many academics (most of whom, mind you, have more than a Grade 9 education), he now considers novels a waste of time. “I think, there are too many good books to read, what am I wasting my time on novels for?”
I would bet that when Don Cherry dies, they'll have to open all the arenas in this country to have memorial services.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Why I love CBC Radio

Heard this afternoon, critiquing a policy of giving all students laptops, to replace schoolbooks: "Laptops don't grow on trees, whereas the paper in books does."

And yes, I realize the irony in celebrating an anti-technology sentiment by posting on my laptop.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

On Islam

Yesterday evening, after a rushed supper, the family traipsed off to L'Abri, to hear a talk on Islam from Doug Currie's brother, Don Currie. A doctor, he's worked off and on in Pakistan for nearly 20 years.

Anyways, he observed that Islamic societies are facing enormous social, cultural, and environmental stresses. He recounts visiting a village in the middle of nowhere in Pakistan- arriving at night, noting nothing to place the village in the 20th century (or 2nd millenium) even, but then noticing a blue light- turned out to be half the village gathered around an old black & white tv watching "Baywatch". As well as being confronted with the enormous social challenges of western entertainment and the global economy, Islam faces a much deeper challenge: having gone from military victory to victory for nearly 800 years (with slight bumps in Anatolia), Islam has been weakening and in decline for the last 500 years or so, a decline more evident than ever in a global world. Add to that the environmental problems (mainly demographic pressure and water scarcity) that many Islamic nations face. Put all together, the stress on Islamic society is enormous, and can easily result in such phenomena as Bin Laden, the Taleban, and so forth.

Aside from the observations regarding the stresses on Islam, the most intriguing observation is that Islam, as a ideological system, is enormously strong at keeping external ideas at bay. But Currie proposed that Islam really only poses an external defence, and that it is not culturally equipped to compete within a society. In short, once the defences are breached, the entire system might collapse. Noting that Iranian expatriates are one of the few Islamic populations to be converting to Christianity, Currie argued that Iran might be the first Islamic society to be breached. What precisely will transpire is hard to imagine.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Don Cherry's Return

I just caught the tail end of Coach's Corner this evening (for our foreign readers, Don Cherry is the maven of Canadian Hockey, and a perpetual thorn in the side of the national broadcaster, the CBC). Don Cherry didn't seem to be at the height of his game, but I suppose it's partly a matter of being rusty.

Does anyone else see Don Cherry as being a modern equivalent of Don Quixote? He's got the recklessness, fool to the world thing going on- he quite looks the part, and you might say that the cause of "good Canadian boys" is a trifle quixotic. Perhaps a subject for a longer post.

Regardless, it's incredibly comforting to see Don Cherry again on HNIC. All's right in the world, and the bluebirds sing sweetly.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pelham Grenville & Modernity

As promised, a reflection on the essay mentioned earlier: approporiately enough, Botttom writes a beautiful paeon to the Wodehouse's prose, emphasizing the role of joy in Wodehouse's stories. By isolating his fictional world from all of the upheavals and tragedies of the 20th century, Wodehouse provides a place in which joy can survive; and by doing so Wodehouse rejects the joyless ideologies of the century:

"'It was her intention to start you almost immediately upon Nietzche. You would not like Nietzche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.'
"And, really, that's the point. Nietzche is fundamentally unsound for a variety of reasons that will occur to the theologically minded. But here is another and possibly more telling proof of his unsoundness: Bertie Wooster, one of the great innocents in literature, wouldn't like at all to have read him, no matter how alluring Florence Craye is in profile. The best answer to Freidrich Nietzche we've managed yet to come up with is the prose of P.G. Wodehouse."

This may seem obscure, but Bottom argues that civilization best survives when it concerns itself with joy rather than engaging the forces of modernity with hammer & tongs.

"'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.' And it's true. Joy does come in the morning, and laughter from reading P.G. Wodehouse. That's a small grace, but a real one."

The same issue of First Things contains an article on Darfur, showing that joy is still needed; for joy is the strongest antidote against the low'ring darkness.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hello, non-existent readership! We haven't moved very far away from the Catholic theme yet- I suppose it's disputable whether I have anything to say other than on that topic. Anyhow, I just signed up to the VSO's student programme! $10 symphonies & concertos! After many years, I now have no excuse to avoid being cultured (or at least, the outward signs thereof).

Thanks, Alisha!
God & Bertie Wooster

Just picked up the new issue of First Things with includes the article with the best title ever, the aforementioned "God & Bertie Wooster". Just a taste:
"Suppose that words were all you had. Suppose the great edifice of Western civilization had collapsed around you- all its truths, all its certainties, all its aspirations smashed to meaningless shards. Suppose... oh, I don't know, suppose that it was 1919, and the Great War had just finished cracking Europe across its knee like a stick, and you were living in what the poet T.S. Eliot in one of his occasional sour moods called the Waste Land, and words were all you had: stray lines from lost poems, refrains from otherwise unforgotten songs, tags from half-erased sermons - fragments, only fragments, to shore against your ruins. What would you do?


"But in those dark days of the twentieth century, in the middle of the apparent collapse of it all, there was at least one man who had the courage, the intelligence, and the sheer persevering goofiness simply to ignore the whole mess, frittering away his days by writing books like Leave It to Psmith, Young Men in Spats, and My Man Jeeves."
Haven't read it yet, of course. I'll give my impressions once I have.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Oligarch is on hiatus- we'll miss him. Say a prayer for him and his family. Check out my favourite post of his: a philosophical allegory drawn from the Matrix. Now I've only to read these philosophers...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Well, I've decided that this full-on, uber-Catholic blog isn't quite going to work, but I thought I'd publish this review that was (mostly) caught in edits when I headed back to school. I've yet to figure out where this blog will go, or even if it'll get off the ground properly. Fits & starts; Aches & pains.

Children of the Last Days

Having just finished Michael O'Brien's Eclipse of the Sun, I have a multitude of thoughts running around my mind. For those unfamiliar, Eclipse of the Sun and its prequels Strangers & Sojourners and Plague Journal record the history of a family in British Columbia from just following the Great War to the near future. While the apocalyptic theme is introduced in Strangers and Soujourners, and quite present in Plague Journal, it reaches a crescendo with Eclipse of the Sun.

The desire to disbelieve- to hold that the last days are beyond possibility, or at the least far off is a profound temptation. It is difficult to recognize that injustice pervades our society since we are attached to it. We are safe. We are content. We are entertained. This attitude is what O'Brien is trying to remedy. We know neither the day nor the hour; and if the hour should come, shall we recognize it? Or shall we have been too busy piling up earthly riches to see that eternal salvation has slipped through our hands? O'Brien hints in his afterward that we are already within the shadow, and cannot recognize it- once you've read the books it will be a much more plausible observation.

Strangers and Sojourners is a very strong portrayal of a family, and of one woman's spiritual journey, and introduces the themes of Christian humanism which provide the intellectual counterpoint to the totalitarian ideology which underlies the apocalyptic dystopia expressed in the two following books.

Plague Journal is a more classically dystopic work than Eclipse of the Sun. The apocalyptic vision is not nearly as fully expressed as in Eclipse of the Sun, and the structure of the narrative- fleeing the agents of the government makes the work more reminiscent of classic dystopic fiction than the author's own Father Elijah.

Eclipse of the Sun follows a more elliptical plot, and its central characters are either minor characters or absent entirely from the first two volumes. Nevertheless, O'Brien succeeds in keeping threading the stories together and keeping us involved in the plot.

All three of the books require a tolerance for meditative musings, and there exist a certain number of didactic passages, but it was only in brief parts of Eclipse of the Sun in which I felt O'Brien moved from insight to overkill.