Category Archives: A – BLOG - Page 2

Fifth Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, November 5, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG FIFTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

It’s my con­tention that both hier­ar­chi­cal and egal­i­tar­ian behav­iour are equally “nat­ural” to human beings. These two meth­ods of inter­act­ing with oth­ers in a group have co-existed in all human soci­eties, from the ear­li­est stages of our evo­lu­tion as a species. It is also my con­tention that, while there is a lim­ited place for hier­ar­chi­cal think­ing and behav­iour in a good soci­ety, it is egal­i­tar­ian think­ing that has cre­ated civ­i­liza­tion and moral­ity. Any soci­ety that is dom­i­nated by hier­ar­chy is essen­tially back­ward, self-destructive, and immoral. Read more »

Image of the month: ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ (Aujuittuq) / Grise Fiord

#B (6570)Aujuit­tuq [ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ, also known as Grise Fiord] is Canada’s north­ern­most town, in Qik­iq­tani Region, Nunavut Ter­ri­tory. It is located at the south­ern tip of Ellesmere Island, which is about half the size of Cal­i­for­nia, or about twice the size of Por­tu­gal. 800km fur­ther north from the lit­tle vil­lage is Cana­dian Forces Sta­tion Alert, the north­ern­most set­tle­ment in the world but inhab­ited only by a rotat­ing pop­u­la­tion of mil­i­tary per­son­nel and sci­en­tists. Aujuit­tuq is a real town in which peo­ple are born, live and die, and one of the cold­est inhab­ited places on earth.

Fourth Meditation on Democracy [written Saturday, September 22, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG FOURTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYRecently, two Cana­dian high school stu­dents did a remark­able thing. It was remark­able enough to gen­er­ate a large amount of com­ment in the blo­gos­phere. Accord­ing to the orig­i­nal news item in the Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Her­ald [1], a grade 9 stu­dent “arrived for the first day of school last Wednes­day and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older stu­dents who mocked him, called him a homo­sex­ual for wear­ing pink and threat­ened to beat him up.” Any­one who has attended high school knows the usual out­come of such sit­u­a­tions. But in this case, it was dif­fer­ent. Two senior stu­dents, Travis Price and David Shep­herd, were dis­gusted by this crude bul­ly­ing. “It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do some­thing,” David explained. The two stu­dents bought 75 pink tank-tops and, ral­ly­ing stu­dents through the inter­net, per­suaded half the stu­dent body to wear them, or to sup­ply their own. When the bul­lies next came to school, they were con­fronted by an ocean of pink sol­i­dar­ity. “The bul­lies got angry,” said Travis. “One guy was throw­ing chairs (in the cafe­te­ria). We’re glad we got the response we wanted.” Read more »

Image of the month: You can’t have too many freckles.

#C (7326)

Third Meditation on Democracy [written Saturday, August 18, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


A convivial gathering of men and women in ancient Pakistan. The style of art, known Gandharan, drew on influences from India, Persia and Greece.

A con­vivial gath­er­ing of men and women in ancient Pak­istan, dur­ing the Gand­ha­ran era, a time of intel­lec­tual and artis­tic syn­the­sis. Gand­ha­ran art, drama and phi­los­o­phy drew on influ­ences from India, Per­sia and Greece.

West­ern Europe, and lands cul­tur­ally derived from it, have made some rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful approx­i­ma­tions of democ­racy and civil soci­ety, and com­bined them with notice­able pros­per­ity. Peo­ple both inside and out­side this favoured zone won­der why, and they have often sought the answer in two par­tic­u­lar areas: reli­gious tra­di­tions, and the dra­matic intel­lec­tual era called “the Enlight­en­ment”. As some­one who has writ­ten about the uni­ver­sal aspects of democ­racy, I’ve often felt some annoy­ance at what I con­sider parochial views of his­tory, and dubi­ous ideas of causal­ity. I feel great sym­pa­thy for peo­ple out­side the favoured zone, who are hope­ful that they can have a demo­c­ra­tic future, but are dis­com­fited by the “second-banana” sta­tus that it seems to imply for their cul­tural her­itage. This is espe­cially true in the Islamic world, where past cul­tural glo­ries and present embar­rass­ments com­bine to make the search for demo­c­ra­tic reform a touchy sub­ject. I think that an exces­sively car­toon­ish view of the Enlight­en­ment, and of the rela­tion­ship between reli­gion and democ­racy, is part of the prob­lem. Read more »

Image of the Month: Canadian Women’s Army Corps posed photo of Mary Greyeyes and Harry Ball, 1942.

18-05-31 BLOG 1 Mary GreyeyesThis pho­to­graph hung for decades in the National War Museum in Ottawa with its sub­jects labeled “uniden­ti­fied”, until Mary’s daughter-in-law learned of its exis­tence in 1995. The photo was taken to encour­age more women to join the army, and its staged “Indian bless­ing” prov­ing pop­u­lar, it was widely reprinted dur­ing the war, then forgotten.

Mary Greyeyes was from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. This tiny com­mu­nity (only 367 peo­ple live on the reserve) has a remark­able mil­i­tary his­tory. 56 of its youth served in the armed forces, includ­ing seven women, most of them named Greyeyes, Arcand or Lafond. Mary Greyeyes joined about the same time that my mother joined the Air Force. Muskeg Lake Cree have fought in Europe, Korea, and Afghanistan. Muskeg Lake is also the birth­place of the bal­let dancer, chore­o­g­ra­pher and film actor Michael Greyeyes.

Mary returned to Canada after fin­ish­ing her ser­vice in 1946, mar­ried, and made a career as an indus­trial seam­stress in Van­cou­ver. She died in 2011. The other par­tic­i­pant in the staged photo was Harry Ball, a Cree from Piapot First Nation, who was a World War I vet­eran. His Plains Chief regalia was scrounged up on that reserve, where the photo was taken.

Pho­tos of CWACS in action. Many were involved in dan­ger­ous work. They were not just clerk-typists and tea-brewers:

18-05-31 BLOG 2 CWACs18-05-31 BLOG 4 CWACS

18-05-31 BLOG 5 CWACSe3b2dff99d6d933a4e4a9ac9bfeb1fd4

Second Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, August 7, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elected par­lia­ment. Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elected parliament.

“Civ­i­liza­tion is the process in which one grad­u­ally increases the num­ber of peo­ple included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that cat­e­gory has no one left in it.” — Howard Win­ters, an Amer­i­can archae­ol­o­gist who stud­ied ancient set­tle­ment and trade pat­terns [quoted by Anne-Marie Cantwell in Howard Dal­ton Win­ters: In Memo­riam]

“Voice or no voice, the peo­ple can always be brought to the bid­ding of the lead­ers. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the paci­fists for lack of patri­o­tism and expos­ing the coun­try to dan­ger. It works the same in any coun­try.” — Her­mann Wil­helm Göring, sec­ond in com­mand to Adolf Hitler. Read more »

Image of the Month: Pluto

18-04-28 BLOG PlutoWe are in a great era of space explo­ration. This mag­nif­i­cent photo of Pluto (colour-enhanced, but oth­er­wise a true visual image) was taken by the New Hori­zons probe, which is now more than six bil­lion kms from Earth. New Hori­zons, launched in 2006, is enter­ing the vast outer regions of our solar sys­tem, which we are dis­cov­er­ing is far big­ger and more com­plex than was ever imag­ined. The heart-shaped plain called Sput­nik Plani­tia is an ocean of nitro­gen ice, which is semi-fluid and shows dynamic fea­tures sim­i­lar to those that occur in polar pack-ice on Earth. Adja­cent to it is a moun­tain­ous region charm­ingly named Cthulhu Mac­ula, which seems to be coloured by hydro­car­bon tars.

Friday, March 23, 2018 — Lóa fiðurgisin

Engis biður ein á strönd
— elsk að friði— þysinn,
Stor­mak­lið né lýð um lönd
lóa fiður­gisin.

[Alone on the beach, the feath­ers worn and shabby, the peace lov­ing bird tries to evade the noise and the storms that blow through the lands.]

̶ Guð­mundir Friðjónsson

The above is from an amaz­ing record­ing of rímur sung by Steindór Ander­sen, a renowned kvæða­maður, or tra­di­tional chanter. This verse is from an old record­ing, but it is fol­lowed by addi­tional verses in a mod­ern, rock-like orches­tra­tion by Hilmur Örn Hilmars­son. Both men have worked with Sigur Rós. The sen­ti­ment is appro­pri­ate to my inves­ti­ga­tions in Ice­land. This small, peace-loving island coun­try has weath­ered many storms blow­ing across the sea from pow­er­ful con­ti­nen­tal tem­pests. While mis­takes have been made, Ice­land is a place where peo­ple seem to believe that prob­lems can be solved. This atti­tude is in sharp con­trast to the mor­bid pas­siv­ity and defeatism that enshrouds some of the larger and louder nations. To under­stand this, I’ve been speak­ing with a vari­ety of Ice­landers. It is just a first step. I have been merely intro­duc­ing myself and estab­lish­ing some rap­port so that these issues can be explored in greater depth by cor­re­spon­dence. It has proven both infor­ma­tive and delight­ful. The egal­i­tar­ian Ice­landers care not that I have lit­tle pres­tige — I’m merely a curi­ous Cana­dian. Peo­ple rang­ing from civic and national politi­cians and civil ser­vants to aca­d­e­mics, musi­cians, and film­mak­ers, have all given me pre­cious time and hon­est talk. I must thank, among them, Ásgrí­mur Sver­ris­son, Kári Gun­nars­son, Sveinn Guð­munds­son, Herdis Sig­ur­jons­dot­tir, Ste­fán Bal­durs­son, Sibeso Imbula, and Sig­urður Bjorn Blondal. There will be oth­ers to thank in the days to come.

Solv­ing the prob­lems that face a nation is not served by con­coct­ing utopias, but by observ­ing sound prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and rea­son. I was delighted that every­one I spoke with seemed to take that approach. There was no whin­ing. As one of my infor­mants observed, in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008 some of the peo­ple respon­si­ble for the deba­cle were later instru­men­tal in cor­rect­ing it. Appar­ently, the well-being of the coun­try in the end over­ruled stub­born pride. This was a remark­able point to make. Every nation, like every extended fam­ily, has its fools, and even the wis­est have their moments of fool­ish­ness. But it is a strong fam­ily indeed that has fools who learn from their folly. When I was in Ice­land the first time, shortly after the cri­sis, I did not find peo­ple in a panic or a rage. I found peo­ple who knew that they had made mis­takes, and were deter­mined to cor­rect them. Now that I am back, I see the results of those efforts, and they are impres­sive. Cana­di­ans could learn from this. We are not a small, tightly bound together coun­try like Ice­land. Indeed, we are loose and sprawl­ing, with many fac­tions barely aware of each oth­ers’ exis­tence. But we are not a tor­pid giant like our neigh­bour to the south, and not con­demned to moral and intel­lec­tual paral­y­sis — unless we so choose.

We are now enter­ing a time of much greater per­ils than mere stock mar­ket crashes. We will have to step nim­bly to survive.

Friday, March 9, 2018 — Ghosts and Zombies

18-03-09 - BLOG DraugrAccord­ing to the Eyr­byg­gja Saga, when the Ice­landic penin­sula of Snæfell­snes was plagued with ghosts and zom­bies (specif­i­cally Thorir Wooden-leg and his undead com­pan­ions) dis­rupt­ing daily life and harm­ing the econ­omy, Snorri Þor­gríms­son solved the prob­lem by tak­ing them to court and sub­mit­ting them to trial by jury. Always the pro­ce­du­ral­ist, Snorri was best known for his fair judge­ments in cases of blood feuds, bound­ary dis­putes and the end­less squab­bles over fire­wood. The zom­bie prob­lem was just another such case. The Eyr­byg­gja Saga is not one of the best known of the Ice­landic sagas, but it would appeal to any lawyer or polit­i­cal jour­nal­ist. I read it in 1992, and then twenty years later I hiked exten­sively in Snæfell­snes, tread­ing foot­steps in most of the places the saga men­tions. I’m return­ing to Ice­land ten days from now, for another visit to that mag­i­cal lit­tle coun­try, so it’s much on my mind, and so is old Snorri. Today, Canada is men­aced by a plague of ghosts and zom­bies, orig­i­nat­ing south of the bor­der. The ghosts are an assort­ment of old and stu­pid ideas, the zom­bies are the march­ing morons of Trump­ism and the morally cor­rupt leg­is­la­tors of the U.S. (mostly Repub­li­can, but quite a few Democ­rats as well). We could use a Snorri to sort things out. Read more »