Sexual Transformers

two gender imageNo, this is not a review of an X-rated version of the Transformers movie which, felicitously enough, I have never seen (the Transformers…there is no X-rated version, so don’t go looking).  Rather, a comment on a report I heard last Monday, January 26th, 2015, that Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (how’s that for a handle?) decreed that so-called ‘transgendered’ inmates could be placed in a correctional facility of their choice, whether or not they have had ‘reassignment’ surgery (oh, the euphemisms!).  Of course, the Globe and Mail’s law professor columnist Kyle Kirkup was gushing in his approval, as a matter of advancing human rights.

 

Before we discuss rights, I wonder first how that’s going to work out on a practical level?  Let me guess:  This will by and large be men who ‘think’ they are women (i.e., a woman somehow accidentally in a man’s body) being transferred into female prisons.  There may be a few women who think they are men permitted into men’s prisons, but that, I would imagine, be rare, and would create a lot of, shall we say with our own euphemism, ‘problems’.

 

Of course, they will be permitted to bring their prosthetics with them, to complete this fantasy, rubber and all.

 

Some Like it Hot

Will the real woman please stand up?

I am not sure one would have even thought of making a comedy along these lines in the eighties, or even the nineties.  There have always been cross-dressing ‘transvestite’ movies and shows:  Of Shakespeare’s 38 surviving plays, one-fifth purportedly involve cross-dressing in the plot.   Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis pretended to be girls (alongside Marilyn Monroe, who did not need to pretend) way back in the innocent apple-pie days of 1959 in Some Like it Hot (which, curiously enough, was one of the only American movies to receive a ‘C’ or condemned rating by the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency…boy, how times have changed); Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982), the lamentable early-eighties sitcom Bosom Buddies, with a young Tom Hanks; and the then-avant-garde The Crying Game, with its infamous ‘reveal’ at the end, that the black woman with whom the Irish I.R.A. protagonist falls in love is, get this, actually a man!  I am still scarred (no, not ‘scared’, for I am no homo-phobe, but scarred, yes, I will admit to that).

 

One reader has warned that I should add a note of caution on the last movie, which crosses a kind of rubicon:  In every other cross-dressing movie, play, novel, we generally know the protagonist’s real sex.  I mean, just look at Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the poster above:  It is obvious that they are men dressed up as women, and that is part of the joke.  Who would actually be convinced?  And we laugh at those who are.  Not so in The Crying Game, where we are led to believe all the way through the film that the ‘female’ lead is in fact female, and the movie tries to draw us in to the attraction felt by the tough IRA man, in a sort of a paternal,  only slightly sexual way.  She is revealed in the end as really a ‘man’ in a rather explicit, graphic scene, a humiliation for the tough Irishman, and I would warn any reader to avoid having that image in their memory; indeed, just avoid the entire movie.  (I usually mention in class, when referring to a movie, or any media, as an example that I am in no way recommending them).

 

Now, after the now-quaint innocence of the Bard, the hidden-gay eighties and the more-publicly-gay nineties,we are entering realms of idiocy that only governmental bureaucracy could devise.  Their decisions are beyond satire which, I lament with others, is dead or dying swiftly.  As soon as you make a joke, you realize the next day that it is actually true.

 

Oh, how quaint the term ‘transvestite’ now even seems!  I recall dimly that some of the Roman emperors and mediaeval kings engaged in this practise.  I even recall a photo of one of my brothers as a child dressed up as a woman for Hallowe’en one year, many moons ago, and all in fun, of course.  Underneath the clothes, like the she-male in The Crying Game, they were as male as you could be.  Now, with ‘advancements’ in transgender surgery (who said anything about a health crisis and waiting lists for surgery?), one is never quite sure.  Not, of course, that I check (that reminds me of a scene from the first Crocodile Dundee movie…), but, since it came up, just wondering.

 

Such transgenders (I will stick to the men ‘becoming’ women, as the norm, by and large) are now permitted into all-female colleges, female washrooms, and, now, female prisons, for how dare we discriminate?  Would not that be imposing our own paternalistic, heterosexual, two-sex worldview upon these questioning individuals, who prefer to exist on a ‘spectrum’ of gender?

 

I am all for mercy and compassion, but these two oft-misused-and-abused terms cannot be used to violate the more fundamental virtue of justice, which is giving others what is owed to them.  We owe to the other inmates of the uni-sex prison, or the other co-eds, or the other users of the washrooms that dot the restaurants of our fair land, at least some modicum of privacy and decorum.  To have a middle-aged ‘man’ walk in to a female change-room, claiming he is a ‘woman’ is, not to be too punny, a travesty.

 

Here is the rub:  Our sexuality is determined by our body, and our soul grows and develops along with the body.  We are body-soul composites, and there is no ‘inner’ person-soul hiding within the body, an error stemming from a certain reading of Plato, and Descartes’ subsequent ‘ghost in a machine’ version of human ensoulment.

 

Rather, the soul and body cannot be separated (except in death), and we are a unitary ‘person’, composed of this unity between soul and body.  When we are conceived, there is a genotype that determines what sex we will be (XX or XY as our 23rd pairs of chromosomes).  Our hormones, the development of our bodies, and all of our psychosocial attributes, flow from this genetic determinacy, shaped in turn by our environment and our social interactions as we grow up and mature.

 

Thus, we go from being ‘male’ and ‘female’ to being ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, a husband and a wife, a father and a mother, under parental and societal tutelage.   At least, it used to be so.

 

There are very rare physiological disorders that disrupt this process, most of which can be ameliorated by modern medicine.  One may have a genetic disorder in the sex chromosomes (too many or too few), or one may have a hormonal imbalance, both of which may lead to some kind of hermaphroditism.  These are usually corrected at birth, or at some stage of early development, after determining the true sex of the individual (based on genetics).

 

But these rare disorders are just that, medical anomalies, and cannot be used as a norm to justify, in the present case, expensive, irremediable and maiming surgeries, nor social experimentation of the most radical kind.

 

The transgenders, almost to a ‘man’, do not suffer from these rare physiological conditions.  They are confused individuals, suffering from psychosocial maladjustment of complex etiology, who for such a variety of reasons, have never fully accepted their sexual role.  Of course, this disorder is a ‘spectrum’, in the sense that our society is confused in general on what it means to be a man and a woman.

Marine Pull Ups

One down, two to go…

 

Our culture is dismantling the complementarity of the sexes, man and woman, both top down and bottom up.  We are denying philosophically that there is such a thing as masculine and feminine, and that one’s role in life is whatever one makes it.  If there are parts of army training, for example, that women cannot do, such as climb over a wall fully encumbered, or the requisite three chin-ups for women in the Marines, then such obstacles are quietly removed; so much for Private Suzie escaping from ISIS on a tactical retreat.  The National Post reported recently on the problem of transgender (or, as some put it, ‘transitioned’) athletes competing in sports.  How do female athletes compete with females-who-were-once-males, and who still have male upper-body strength and endurance?  As one transitioned athlete put it, “the flaw with gender testing is that it attempts to put everyone in one of two boxes”.  No kidding.  The all-gender Superbowl may be next…

 

Washrooms are now being labelled ‘unisex’ to avoid discrimination.  I am not sure if it is connected to this tendency, but our new local Tim transgender washroom signHorton’s has two one-person-only washrooms for either sex.  Gone are the days, it seems, of men’s communal washrooms with their convenient urinals.  That, dear boy, would be discrimination, for a transgender may not be able to use a urinal.  We will soon see signs like the one at the left, with perhaps even more ‘images’, so that no one feels left out.

 

The claim is made that although we are born with bodies of a particular sex, this must not determine our, well, our ‘sex’.  Must we live under the constraints of our 23rd chromosomes?  Now our bodies can be surgically modified, at public expense of course, to fit any point on that spectrum that fits in with our desires, our proclivities and our sexual imagination.

 

I will predict, here and now, disastrous consequences for such a course, not least in the short term for the confused individuals who ‘question’ their sex to the point of trying to change it (most need spiritual and psychological counselling, not surgery and hormonal therapy), but also for society striving to re-form itself to accommodate their disorder.

 

Queer times indeed.

 

January 29th, 2015

All Children of the State

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, and a candidate for future Prime Minister (whose chances in making that job, somewhat fortunately, are bleak.. .I say ‘somewhat’ since, alas, and alas again, another more likely option is Justin Trudeau, but more on that later).  Anyway, Mr. Mulcair wants to raise your children.  Well, not him specifically, but the Canadian State over which he deems himself fit to govern.   Although the most vocal of the candidates for the P.M. job in support of taxpayer-funded daycare, all three federal  parties support a vast expansion of the current daycare program, so-called ‘universalized daycare':  Harper and Trudeau have both proposed increasing the already-generous 2.5 billion dollar funding daycare already receives.

 

Ponder what ‘daycare’ means at a very basic level:  Someone else is raising your children.  And not just your children, but a whole lot of other children at the same time.  The daycare providers may, in the current rules, be private, which means one can start a daycare in one’s home, but the State is creeping in.  The daycares have to be licensed and monitored; of course, if one admits the necessity of daycare, some oversight is good.  You don’t want the recently paroled sex offender setting up shop.

 

But even with the most maternal of daycare providers, there is still something fundamentally wrong with the whole notion, namely, the relinquishing of the duties, and the natural desires, of a mother to raise her own children, especially through the early formative years, and the rights of children to receive such love and care from their own mothers.   Daycares now admit infants as young as three months, veritable babes in arms, barely out of the womb.  To whom does one think these babies will bond, with the woman who feeds and snuggles them for six to eight hours of the day, or the woman who drops them off at 7 a.m. and picks them up at 5 p.m., for a quick cuddle, fit into the smartphone schedule, just before bedtime?

 

Of course, older children also bond with the daycare provider, and with the other children in daycare, with whom they likely share little or nothing in common, except age and the proximity of being dropped off at that particular daycare.  Besides the lack of their own mother, who is to ensure the innocence of these children, who may be jostling day in and out with other children, who may come from broken homes, abuse situations, and so on?  Should not children be with their siblings, and raised in the environment consistent with the moral values of their own family?  But, I suppose, many of the children in daycare have no siblings.

 

Pope John Paul II once described emigration as an ‘evil’, not a moral evil, but sometimes a ‘necessary evil’ in the sense of a privation, or something less than ideal.  People leave the land of their birth, to which they owe primary allegiance, to find work, or to escape intolerable conditions.  So too it is sometimes necessary for mothers, especially single mothers abandoned by the fathers of their children, to utilize a ‘daycare’ service, and suffer the privations thereof.  Even a babysitter is a kind of small, quasi-daycare, but few would argue against the desire of parents to have an occasional ‘night out’ together.  If parents were to use such a babysitter every day of the week, well, then we’re into the realm ‘daycare’.

 

Even if sometimes necessary in certain, hopefully rare, cases, long-term daycare  should, and must, not become the norm, nor should such long-term abandonment of children that daycare entails be expanded or, as the government lingo puts it, ‘universalized’.  The philosophy of our benighted leaders is that it should.  Their stance, apparently, is that women have the right to work, with which I have no disagreement in principle.  However, sometimes ‘rights’ have to be relinquished when other ‘duties’ intervene.  Women also have the right to marry and start a family, and with that follows the duties they have to their children, and the rights the children have from their mothers (and, of course, in a different way, their fathers).

 

Here are the words of Pope John Paul II, in his masterful encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), which he completed soon after the assassination attempt on his life 1981, and which are worth quoting an length:

 

Experience confirms that there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother’s role, of the toil connected with it, and of the need that children have for care, love and affection in order that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons.  It will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother -without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalizing her as compared with other women- to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age.  Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother. (emphasis added)

 

One of the tasks of the State is to ensure that family life be protected and supported; sadly, our State is doing just about the exact opposite.  I will give kudos to Mr. Harper for his recent income-splitting initiative, which allows stay-at-home mothers to claim their work on income tax, a welcome move.  For work it is, one of the most important of all works:  The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world…

 

We do not need the Church to discern that ‘universalizing’ daycare is not good, and will not have beneficial consequences for our society or future generations.  Not only is it yet another fantastically expensive boondoggle that our society cannot possibly afford, but it will lead only to the further breakdown of the family.    A generation raised by the State in State-approved-and-run daycare homes will not be a ‘civilized’ generation, but one ever-more conditioned to the coddling, yet distant, arms of the bureaucratic machine, rather than the loving, if haphazard and slightly more chaotic environment of a ‘home’, with a mother and father, a hearth and a piano, home-cooked meals and stories told by Mum and Dad, and, of course, the warm embrace of a mother from whose womb the child was begotten.

 

Why doesn’t our government try to universalize that?

family around the piano

 

January 24, 2015

 

Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Bourne Again?

Bourne LegacyI just finished watching the most recent Bourne movie.  For those of you not up on the franchise, a secret agent-assassin loses his memory, and runs from shadowy CIA-types who are trying to kill him.  That was the trilogy with Matt Damon.  In the newest one, the Bourne Legacy, the protagonist, played by a less-charismatic Jeremy Renner, far from losing his memory, has been given an enhanced memory (and intelligence in general) by chemical means, specifically by blue pills.  He also takes green pills to enhance his musculature, reflexes and balance.  Or perhaps it is in the other way around.

 

As the reader can glean from reading these blogs, I don’t watch many movies, and this is only my second review.  In fact, that recent Bourne movie came out in 2012, so you can see how far behind I am.

 

My avoidance of movies, one may also glean, stems from what I discussed in the review of the Avengers, namely, a lack of drama.  Sure, the visual spectacle is impressive, but, without the dramatis personae, the basis of all plays, movies, novels and literature, there is no involvement of the viewer in the story.  One may as well be watching a video game, or someone else playing a video game.

 

Now, the Bourne movie is not completely bad.  One does, to some small degree, identify with the characters, but not much.  Aaron Cross, the agent played by Renner, was originally ‘Kenneth Wingstrom’, or something.  Originally, he had been an army recruit who had to have his I.Q. faked by 12 points just to make the minimum for the infantry (and that is saying something).  Well, for reasons untold, he is chosen for this program to turn such unlikely material into a highly trained soldier-operative; hence, the green and blue pills.

 

There is the presumption here that intelligence is a function of the brain’s chemistry; dose a few extra neurotransmitters and, voila, a genius.  Metaphysics, however, (the science of what lies beyond the strictly material) requires that intelligence be not so much a function of the brain, for how we could a material thing know itself?  Then there is the theory of the mathematician Kurt Godel, which states that an algorithm (a material entity like a computer) could not transcend its own operations, and be aware of itself.

 

This raises what has been called the ‘transhumanist’ question:  Can our humanity be perfected, and ultimately transcended, by artificial means?  There is an interesting discussion of this at First Things, with some of the bizarre a priori principles of some of these transhumanists, most of whom believe in more or less extreme forms of computerized and mechanical perfection (similar to the chemical-genetic means in the film).

 

This is a constant temptation of man, ever since Adam ate the forbidden ‘fruit’, the tower of Babel, and every race or tribe that considered its blood more pure and perfect than its neighbours.  We now have more technological means to perfect certain of our powers.  One could argue that such ‘perfections’ do not really perfect us as humans; they are simply technologies superadded to an always-imperfect human nature.  That is, you are perfecting the machine (which cannot think) and not really the person (who can think, but who may choose not to, or choose to think and act badly).  Ponder:  Does having a smartphone, and instant access to much of the world’s knowledge, make one more intelligent?  The question answers itself.  Intelligence, whatever it is, somehow transcends the material, and cannot really be enhanced materially.

 

Regardless, for I will discuss this further in future posts, I am willing to live with the limits of the ‘perfection’ given to Agent Cross, whose special brain powers seem to be limited to the ability to make really good fake I.D.’s.  Such skills would have come in handy back in high school, trying to buy a 24 at the beer store.  Certainly, his conversational powers in this film’s lame-o dialogues, a lament of most movies, consisting here of emotional shouting matches and pounding various objects, do not evince deep intelligence.  They should have given one of those green pills to the screenwriter.

 

Of course, no one seems capable of defeating Aaron, who dispatches his protagonists with ease; somehow, the pills give this formerly-dumb-as-a-stick army recruit highly enhanced ju-jitsu skills.  There is not even a hint of vulnerability.  I would rather one fight scene with drama, than ten without.  Question:  Why and how does Aaron Cross show up at a deserted house just before the ‘evil’ agents are about to kill the innocent female doctor with a faked suicide?  How did he get past at least three highly-trained agents guarding the house?  Did he drive there, or run all the way from the city?  Why wait until the last second, except to provide a contrived tension, which, like love, is no tension at all?

 

Watching movies like this is like a Road Runner cartoon:  The Runner and his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote, break the laws of space and time on a regular basis, but no one cares, well, because it’s a cartoon.  I expect at least a little more consistency from a film aimed, presumably, at adults, even if the rules for space and time are ‘bent’ somewhat.

 

Bourne female

On the Road Runner theme, once they escape, there is lots of running in this film; somehow, the skinny-thirty-to-forty-something female doctor keeps up with Cross, who with his enhancements could presumably outrun Husain Bolt (like he outruns a wolf earlier on).  Speaking of the female ‘lead’, she spends most of this film looking somewhat lost, with blank, panicked stares, and, her biochemistry Ph.D notwithstanding, apparently even less intelligent than her supposedly super-intelligent hero.

 

She does use her smarts once to help him regain his powers, done vaguely through a ‘virus’, this time permanently, a process that seems ridiculously easy.  If so, why wasn’t this done earlier on, and forget all those pills they have to carry in their dog-tags?

 

Bourne IdentityThe now-permanent ‘genetically’ enhanced Cross does set up the basis for a franchise, but I read recently that the producers are bringing Matt Damon back for the next Bourne movie.  Perhaps even the producers were turned off by Renner’s lack of charisma (one may blame the screenplay…see above).  I thought the getting-on-the-older side Mr. Damon was not returning for what he once quipped would be the ‘Bourne Redundancy’, but money talks, I suppose.

 

At least Damon’s original character, Jason Bourne, enhanced his skills through training and discipline.  Developing one’s potential to assassinate people mindlessly for the U.S. government is not the best use of one’s life, but at least the effort implied in the original Bourne series gives the viewer a stronger sense of involvement, and a more dramatic sense of vulnerability and tension.

 

Or perhaps a new transhumanist Matt-Bourne will be back better than ever, with pills in hand.  Then again, maybe this time it will be smartphone with an enhancement app.

 

January 21, 2015

Saint Agnes (a real heroine!)

Miscellany

jim prenticeJim Prentice, the recently elected Premier of Alberta, taking over the reins from Allison Redford, whose economic excesses, especially in lavish gifts presented to herself and her own family, recall the halcyonic days of Catherine the Great and Cleopatra…well, where was I? oh, yes, Mr. Prentice has apparently admitted that Alberta is living well beyond its means.  I am glad that at least one political leader in our country is acknowledging stark economic reality, and we will see what he plans to do about it:  Cut the bloated spending spree of our modern governmental regimes, or raise taxes even further?

 

So far, I have only read of his plan to introduce a sales tax to Alberta.  So much for cutting spending.  Of course, in the news this evening, the public sectors unions have refused any possibility of a wage-freeze, to contain their ‘unsustainable salaries’, as Mr. Prentice says, I presume including his own.

 

garage32432.jpgAs things spiral on, apparently, somewhere in Alberta, a beautiful house was built for a zamboni to the tune of $832,000, but with no arena in which to utilize said zamboni.  Maybe the zamboni can find a pretty zambona to produce little zambonettes and live off Albertan welfare; if not, I would not mind living in the fine wooden A-frame, which seems a shame to waste on an inanimate object.  At least move some elk in there.

 

 

Gord MillerBack here In Ontario,’Environmental Commissioner’, Gord Miller, who looks a lot like the tv shrink Dr. Phil, with the same ‘calming’ hand gestures, and who also apparently knows how to solve our energy woes, wants to ensure Ontarians ‘conserve energy’ by reducing their use of electricity during what are dubbed ‘peak hours’.  I am not sure how this reduces overall energy consumption, especially after the $2 billion spent on smart meters that don’t always work, but, well, whatever their intentions, they have a plan:  As you are all likely aware, energy use in Ontario costs more during the day (peak hours) than the evening and early morning (off-peak), to incentivize off-peak use (they are currently on a 1 to 1.8 ratio).  Well, after an examination of world-wide energy markets by their presumably well-paid energy consultants, the benighted Liberals have determined that this incentive between peak and off-peak only really works if the on-peak is four times more expensive than off-peak.  I thought, well, maybe, just maybe, they will reduce off-peak rates by a fourth, and we could all happily save lots of money doing our laundry and blasting our furnaces around midnight, then, sipping my coffee, carefully brewed before 7 a.m., I woke up from my reverie.  Ha, ha, of course, they will not only continue to raise off-peak rates, and then quadruple the on -peak costs, for an ever-more geometric increase in electricity rates.  And they expect companies to move here?

 

Target logoSpeaking of which, Target has suddenly decided to pull up stakes and move out of Canada, leaving hundreds of acres of empty stores, which served as anchors for many malls.  Sic transit gloria Target.   A sad day for the 17,500 or so employees about to be laid off, but I would not mind seeing these big-box stores going the way of the Brontosaurus, and getting back to small, family-friendly businesses, who know their local consumers, and who employ people much more efficiently.

target empty shelvesI guess bad stocking practices (not a female sartorial fault!), empty shelves, and high prices did not do the trick.  So, likely, we will all continue to buy China-made baubles from Amazon, delivered by drones.  Why have stores at all?  Or does the seller deserve his wages?   Do we want to buy from real people?

 

el capitain

Two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, have conquered an uninterrupted free-climb of El Capitain Yosemite National Park in California, considered the most difficult rock face in the world, a sheer, smooth wall of granite the height of three Empire State buildings, and a feat long considered impossible.  I like some good news stories of human courage and sheer doggedness.  Humans are always striving to perfect themselves, and find new challenges to test their near-unlimited potential, one of the signs of our insatiable spiritual nature, very different from easily contented animals.  Although I both love and hate heights, and of course could not attempt this climb unless I want to meet my God (even these experts fell numerous times, saved by their ropes), I have heard there is an eight-mile trail to the top, and the view, I am sure, would be a sheer delight.  There is always great beauty to be found in this world, a reflection of the infinite glory of the Creator.  Semper altius

 

January 15, 2015

 

Wynne’s University Woes

wynne at uniPremier Kathleen Wynne has begun her ten-day tour of Ontario’s universities and colleges, just after finally getting her meeting with Prime Minister Harper.  Say what you like about Ms. Wynne, but she should not have to wait a year to meet with the Prime Minister.  No man should be that ‘busy’, regardless of his own views of the current Premier of Ontario.  However, I might suggest that Mr. Harper’s dilatoriness in meeting with his provincial counterpart(s) (the other ministers are in the same boat) is explained in part by the provinces’ insatiable appetite for money.  Wynne and her fellow premiers show up at Parliament Hill with their hands wide open for hand outs.

 

On the topic at hand:  One of the largest economic millstones around neck of provinces is the bloated university and college system, one of the largest beneficiaries of governmental largesse, and growing each year.

 

Students, and the public at large, do not seem to grasp this.  There was a young man on the radio this morning bemoaning his $40,000 student debt; he completed a Master’s degree in some forgettable subject or other, and now, lo and behold, cannot find a job remunerative enough to even begin paying it off (he is working for the university, but apparently not making very much, and is soon to seek a merciful ‘loan-repayment plan’).   He, with a multitude of other students, claim that tuition fees are too high, and must be lowered, so that students do not graduate with so much unsupportable debt.  One may presume that they would desire no debt at all, with the entire cost, and subsequent debt, carried by Joe Public, you and me.

 

I have a vested interest in university education, having spent a good portion of my life in what some might say is a quixotic attempt to help found a Catholic liberal arts university, so I will have more to write on this topic.  For now, we will focus on some basics of the economics of education.

 

Tuition fees too high, you say?  Students at the University of Toronto, as a representative example, currently pay $5,865 to $12,363 for an undergraduate program, and $7,160 to $42,908 for graduate programs.  Most students pay in the lower cost-range, with the latter, more expensive tuitions generally reserved to the ‘elite’ economically-advantageous programs like dentistry, medicine and law, whose student numbers are highly restricted.  The tuition of the many thousands of undergraduates and graduates in general programs provide the economic ‘fodder’ to run the university.

 

But how much fodder do they indeed provide?  Whether one considers these tuition fees ‘exorbitant’ or not, they do not come close to covering the true costs of the running the programs and the university itself.   The operating budget of the U of T is $1.9 billion dollars.  Doing some elementary math, one may presume that the tuition costs of the 83,000 or so undergraduate and graduate students bring in roughly $600 million or so (and this assumes they are all paying full tuition, which rarely happens with scholarships and bursaries).  That leaves a shortfall of about $1.3 billion.  Some of that is covered by donations, but by no means all.  Who pays the many hundreds of millions left over?  Yes, you guessed it, the taxpayer, funnelled in from the federal coffers in the form of ‘transfer payments’.  This is the same story with all of the 98 or so publicly-funded universities dotting our landscape from coast to coast, with their nearly 2 million students; and this does not count all of the colleges and training programs which are, of course, also publicly subsidized to many millions of dollars.

 

The ‘debt’ that the young man and other students carry pales in comparison to the debt put on the taxpayer, subsidizing each of these students’ education to the tune of many thousands of dollars.  As one reporter in the Globe and Mail argued, when one counts all the tax rebates, subsidies and so on, we more or less have free university education in this country.

 

But that comes at quite the cost, with our modern universities evolving over the past few decades into yet another governmental, socialist economic sinkhole.  Yes, I agree, some of the money goes to good use, with valuable research and teaching, but even that could be done more efficiently.  Much of the teaching is substandard and the research relatively useless or esoteric.  What they teach (or should teach) I will leave for another column.

 

We should ask ourselves, what is the purpose of a university?  Without a clear idea of their aim, universities will continue to flounder and squander money on a truly gigantic scale.

 

For a comparison, consider tuition at private universities in the United States, where students, theoretically, are asked to pay a larger portion of their educational costs:  Princeton’s tuition is $38,650, Harvard’s  $43,938, and even small, Catholic schools like Ave Maria, which strive to keep costs low in the spirit of poverty and helping large, struggling families, charge $17,196 for tuition (their professors make far less, and they depend more on such things as donations and student work-study).

 

So, in our effort to keep tuition artificially low, we in Ontario and throughout Canada are already funding universities to the tune of billions of dollars each year.  This cost is compounded by the modern, egalitarian principle that every young person has a right to a university or college education.  Of course, talents, gifts, and inclinations are not distributed equally, and many, if not most, of these young people are not cut out for university-level academic work.  So rather than maintaining high standards and restricting the numbers, we lower the standards, and just funnel more and more students and money into a system that provides, in general, a woefully inadequate education, ensuring a persistently low standard, and one that is dropping with each passing year.  Universities have become a four-year-plus continuation of high school, but without even the nominal supervision of family life and on-site teachers to moderate the passions of young adults, with the obvious consequences:  rampant sex, drunkenness, laziness, drop-outs, absenteeism. Of course, those who do try to study face a rigid,politically-correct agenda that ensures conformity in an atheistic, hedonistic post-modern thought-system.

 

This is in an era where trades are under-represented, and entrepreneurism at a low ebb.  Everyone, it seems, wants to remain in the warm embrace of our socialist government as long as possible, graduating from the government-funded university to a lavish government-funded job, before retiring in their mid-fifties on a gold-plated government pension, to enjoy full government-funded health care and benefits.

 

As I mentioned in the column on debt, this is a problem on a number of levels, moral, spiritual and, not least, least financial.  I will reiterate, with the late Mrs. Thatcher, that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.  Canada is is danger of becoming an economic basket-case, a spiral that is becoming most evident in bankrupt Ontario, which, unless something is done to stem the tide, will face a rather severe economic crunch.

 

And I have little hope that this tide will be stemmed by the likes of Ms. Wynne, who has little if any idea how to fix the problems, except to beg more of (our) money from Stephen Harper, and then throw more of this money at the ‘problem’, which, like oil on fire, will only exacerbate it.  No wonder Mr. Harper, with his own economic woes, wants to avoid meeting with her.

 

There is not much on the agenda to redeem the modern university, which have become places of mediocrity and even vice in both the intellectual and moral sphere, and sinks of countless millions of wasted dollars.  It will take more than Ms. Wynne can offer to clean out these Augean stables.  We need a moral and intellectual Hercules, and, perhaps, a subsequent deluge, of one form or another.

 

January 10, 2015

Allah, the Merciful and His Invisible Prophet

hostage-takingIt was just reported in the news that the two alleged gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo massacre have been killed by police, after a standoff with a hostage in a printing shop.  The hostage has survived, but three others were killed in another hostage-taking at a kosher market; all of the gunmen have gone to what they believe, at some level, to be their reward, 72 virgins and an eternal, sensual paradise.  They are in for a rather rude awakening when they come face-to-face with the one true God, Who I hope is more merciful than their own version of ‘Allah’, and certainly more merciful than they were to the cartoonists and other victims.

 

On the CBC over noon hour, there was a debate over whether or not news outlets and magazines should display the Muhammed cartoons. As readers may know, images of ‘the Prophet’ are forbidden, not just to Muslims, but to anyone, according to Islamic law and tradition.  Violations of this proscription are made worse when the images make fun of the founder of Islam, especially with biting and often crass French humour.

 

A number of callers argued that we should not deliberately offend others, especially their religion.  Other said that we should avoid ‘offense’ studer-300when the penalty is being the victim of one or another form of murderous jihad.  That was, apparently, the opinion of David Studer, CBC’s ‘director of Journalistic Standards and Practices’ (whose image, thankfully or not, can be shown), claiming that his decision was not based on censorship, but on ‘respect’.  Hmm.  That is curious coming from the CBC, which has declined to show such ‘respect’ for, say, Christianity over the years in any number of articles and shows.  A number of Quebec newspapers did print them, along with the National Post.

 

Is this deliberately provocative?  Well, it depends on one’s intent.  What is the purpose of printing the cartoons, or doing anything in itself not wrong, but that may ‘offend’ another?  If the purpose is simply to give offense, then it may be best to avoid it.  This is compounded by the imminent threat of death.  Would you walk down the streets of Mecca, wearing a large crucifix and preaching to the Saudis that they must accept Christ and repent?  Saint Francis did something like that 800 years ago, but, well, he was Saint Francis, and survived with the good will of the Sultan, taken with the slightly crazy (in a good way! un fou pour le Dieu) guileless figure clad in poor robes who was brought before him.

 

However, if the purpose is to demonstrate that one will not be cowed into submission, or, more to the point, to teach others the truth, well, a stand sometimes has to be made.  I am not sure of the motivation of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo; probably, it was a mixture of many, but poking self-important figures in the eye seemed to be their specialty.

 

Whether right or wrong, such perceived satirical ‘insults’ to religious figures should not be illegal, as one imam is already calling for.  We should be permitted to question the actions and motivations of any person, religious or not.  Why should the image of Muhammed not be presented?  Was he invisible?  Would his visible image make him seem too ‘human’?  Should we not criticize aspects of his life, his multiple marriages, his allowance of forced conversion, of pillaging and the capture of women and children as the booty of war?  Let’s not stop at Islam, but should we not question the polygamous doctrines of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, the weird, alien fantasies of the Scientologists, the witchcraft of Wiccanism, and so on.

 

Of course, the ideal is to engage in thoughtful and reflective give-and-take discussion, preferably after prayer, then over some single malt Scotch and a cigar (if one’s religion permits, that is).  Although satire has its place, and is sometimes an effective way of initially getting the truth across, I would rather Charlie Hebdo had ‘provoked’ Islam in a different, more objectively charitable and rational way.  That may not have changed the outcome (see my last post in quoting Pope Benedict), but it may have changed their own dispositions towards the truth, for which we should all strive.

 

That said, we, in what remains of Christian civilization, should stand in solidarity with what is good in their intent, each in our own way.

 

For if we do not make a stand in little things, we will never do so in the larger things that radical Islam, or any group overly-sensitive to ‘offence’, may demand.

 

January 9, 2015

Charlie Hebdo, I may disagree, but after all, r.i.p.

charlie hebdoI had never heard of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo before today.  Glancing at some of their more outrageous covers, it seems they spared no one:  The Pope, Mohammed, political leaders, even Christ Himself, all were fair game in their lampoons.  I hesitate to provide a link to these images, for as readers know, I hold Christ as God, and a blasphemous representation of One I believe to be the Son of God is offensive.

 

Yet, although one may argue over the rightness and prudence of their images and captions, the brazen massacre of the editor, a number of the cartoonists, two police officers, and other staff members today is a tragedy.  The primary and immediate grief is over the needless loss of life, and the sorrow of their families and loved ones.

 

We must be aware, however, that the reverberations from this yet-another act of Islamic violence du-jour will extend for some time to come.  As Mark Steyn has expounded so well, free speech, a cornerstone of any free society, is on the decline.  Even the President of the United States decreed in a speech to the United Nations that the ‘future does not belong to those who insult the name of the Prophet Muhammed’.  Would Mr. Obama say the same for Christ?  Why is a 7th century Arabic prophet given special consideration?

 

One reason is that Christians and Jews, as a rule, do not murder and firebomb those who disagree with them, nor even those who denigrate their own prophets.  Mr. Obama is covering his own rear-end.  Or perhaps he is more sympathetic to Islam than to his own professed Christianity.

 

The unique protection afforded to the name  and image of Mohammed  also extends to his supposed book of revelations, the Qur’an, the only work of literature now given specific protection by law.  One can do what one wants with a crucifix or Bible and the law does nothing, but woe to you if you desecrate a Qur’an, as one British man found out, after chewing and then throwing a Qur’an into the toilet, posting the whole thing on YouTube.  Dumb and disrespectful?  Yes.  Should it be illegal?  No.  Yet, he was charged, and also moved to a ‘secret location’ to protect his very life.

 

British police have now come out publicly, stating that they are monitoring the internet for any evidence of similar ‘hate speech’.  We all know what that means:  Any speech directed against politically protected groups, specifically Muslims and ‘homosexuals’, two groups that do not often overlap.  What happens, I wonder, when a Muslim denigrates a homosexual, or vice versa?

 

The limits of free speech have always been a contested point in society.  We all agree that there should be some limits.  One cannot spread malicious and damaging lies about another; confidential information must remain secret; yelling obscenities in a movie theatre, and so on are socially and legally unacceptable.

 

These limits, however, must be very carefully circumscribed, for the weight should be given to freedom, not to the censorship.  Following Saint Thomas, we should limit the proscriptive power of law only to those things that are to the ‘harm of others, without which society could not function’.

 

Any religion, any society indeed, should be able to withstand criticism, the denigration of its policies, its members, and, yes, even its founders.  The Truth will win out in the end.  To shut down debate with violence and murder is to give evidence, to put it mildly, that one is not entirely comfortable with the truth of one’s own claims.

 

This perhaps, in part, explains the violent nature of Islam, at least in its historical origins, and in some of its modern manifestations (usually termed as’ radical Islam’, which literally means ‘to go back to the root (radix)’.  Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his ever-more prophetic Regensburg Address in 2006 declared,  even Islam’s own holy book reads: “There is no compulsion in religion” (surah 2, 256).  To understate the case, Mohammed and his followers did not exactly follow this principle.  As Benedict continues, quoting the 13th century emperor Michael II Paleologus, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.  As Mohammed, so his followers…

 

Benedict declares forcefully that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”.  Faith, and the love which follows upon it, must be free, or it is not faith, and it definitely is not love.  Until Islam formally renounces violence as a means of propagating its faith, and chooses to engage in peaceful and rational dialogue, it and its members will and should be viewed with extreme suspicion, and any utterances or postings supporting such violent behaviour be subject to the requisite proscriptions of law.

 

Mr. Steyn claims to be ‘Islamed-out’, and I sympathize, but we must never give up the fight.  Even if they are not willing to engage in reasonable debate, we can live our lives undaunted, and keep the door open for their return to sanity.  In the meantime, we should not be cowed into submission (as the very name of ‘Islam’ implies).

 

I would disagree with much of what the editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo wrote and drew, but I admire their courage to stand up to the threats made by those quite willing and ready to carry them out.  As their editor said after receiving one such fatwa a few years ago, “I would rather die standing than kneeling”.   I would qualify his statement that it depends to whom one is kneeling, for we all must choose our God, but I agree with him that I would not bow the knee to Islam.

 

It is a sad irony that his unwitting prophecy was fulfilled.  May their souls find the mercy of the God they perhaps did not believe in, but Who finds the good in all things, and in all men.

 

Requiescant in pace…

 

January 7, 2015

The Hot Air of Wind Turbines

There was a recent report from Health Canada that wind turbines prove no harm to health.  So sayeth the medical establishment, and could they ever be wrong?  A few weeks ago, I was listening to yet-another conversation on the CBC on green energy and the environment, and  the interviewee, a rather radical environmentalist, decreed in a shrill voice that these turbines have now been proven to be harmless, period, end of story.  One could hear the steely determination, the quasi-religious zeal, in her voice, that would brook no contrary opinion which, by the magisterial authority bestowed on ‘Health Canada’, must be false.  Heretic!

wind turbines

 

Yet, and yet…I was driving over Christmas through the area of Shelbourne, Ontario on a dark, grey and snowy evening, and there through the mist loomed these gigantic, monstrous turbines, swishing their futuristic-looking blades in rhythmical patterns; there were seas of these monstrosities (I suppose I am admitting my bias), stretching across the horizon through the mist, in stark contrast to the rustic, pastoral farmland on which they stood.

 

Here’s the thing:  Even the sight of these turbines gave me the creeps, which, if I had to stare at them day in and out, especially if I had to work on a farm within direct eyesight, would be a ‘harm to my health’, at least the mental variety.

 

Also, I have a little 7-inch metal fan on my woodstove, which helps circulate the hot air by convection.  Even this small guy produces a slight, but audible, hum.  Now imagine a turbine which is about 300 times the size, and the constant whishing sound it would make all day, all night, without cessation.  That also would get on someone’s nerves.  Think back to Chinese water torture, where they would drip a drop of water on the immobile, tied-down victim’s forehead, every couple of seconds or so.  Drip, drip, drip…It does not seem like much at first, but eventually, after the thousand-and-first drop, one cannot stand it, and begs, screams, for the faucet be turned off.

 

One does not need a medical degree to realize the negative ‘health effects’ of these gigantic turbines; just basic common sense and reason will do.

 

Would you want one of these behemoths in your backyard?  The government is threatening to put them on the picturesque hills around my own area, effectively vitiating the view and skyline (the cell-phone towers are bad enough, but at least they are difficult to see from a distance).  There is a reason why energy-producing centres, from coal-fired plants to nuclear reactors, are usually put ‘out of sight’, in places where no one lives.

 

This says nothing of the ineffectiveness of these turbines to produce energy, dependent as they are on variable wind patterns and their relatively low-yield even when the wind doth bloweth, nor their rather limited life-span, before, by sheer entropy, they become ineffective.   For just one example of many such sober studies of the economic and thermodynamic downside to wind energy, see today’s piece in the Telegraph.

 

And, not least, under Dalton McGuinty’s inept leadership, we are now under contract to pay exorbitant fees for so-called ‘green energy ‘ under the 2009 legislative Act of the same name.  Ontario went from having some of the most reasonable energy rates in Canada, to the most expensive, and counting.  An article in June of  last year in the Financial Post outlined that hydro rates tripled under the tutelage of the Liberal government, from a total of 6.5 cents per kWh in 2003 (when Mr. Guinty took power) to 15 cents per kWh in 2014, with the Energy Minister then announcing a further increase of 33% over the next three years, and 45% over five years.  We will be warming our hands over candlelight before much longer.

 

Ponder how much ‘energy’ was used in building these turbines, to keep them going, and to fund the companies (Samsung and others) lining their pockets with the jacked-up electricity fees.

 

And what happens to these hulks of plastic and steel when they inevitably rust and become useless?  Chop them all down and trash them?  They would not even make good firewood.  We would have to expend even more energy to get rid of these ridiculous monuments to political correctness.

 

Yes, these Quixotic turbines, against which we, with the original Don, may tilt in vain, are an emotional means to placate the guilt-plagued conscience of modern man, in his attempt to ‘heal the earth’ and placate what strange gods he worships.  But it is a truism that as man loses the true faith, he in time loses his reason also (as Aquinas, Chesteron, Belloc and others have written), a principle upon which I will have more to write.

 

Speaking of reason:  Other, more stable and effective, forms of energy make far more sense.   So let’s get back to such common-sense science, both in the realm of thermodynamics and health.

 

January 6, 2015

A blessed Epiphany to all who celebrate on this day!

Theotokos and the Joy of Motherhood

Besides Sundays, there are two other holy days of obligation in the Catholic Church in Canada.  In the universal Catholic Church, there are, in fact, ten such days on which Catholic must attend Mass, but in Canada, for various pastoral reasons (one may presume), the bishops have reduced them to two (sometimes transferring other days of obligation to Sundays).  I’m not sure most Catholics are even aware of this, and I have my doubts they would attend all ten if required.

Mother of God

 

Anyway, the point being that both of these ‘days of obligation’ fall within a week of each other in this , both falling in the season we now celebrate:  December 25, Christmas and January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, also known as ‘New Year’s Day’.

 

The title ‘Mother of God’ would may sound strange to secular, and non-Catholic, ears.  Can God have a mother?  Is He not eternal, with nothing, and no one, preceding Him?

 

The early Church always believed that Christ was, and is, God.  That battle came to a head in the struggle against what came to be known as ‘Arianism’ in the fourth century.  Arius, a deacon in Alexandria in north Egypt, denied that Christ was God; rather, Arius taught that he was an exalted, indeed the greatest , of all God’s creatures, sort of a great angel.  The saints we celebrate today, Basil and Gregory, were great foes of Arianism, and fought hard to maintain the truth of Christ’s divinity.

 

The term eventually chosen to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father was homoousios, ratified at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, in 325 and 381.  This philosophical-sounding word, translated into Latin as consubantialis (the same in English), which literally means ‘same substance’, declared that whatever the Father was, the Son was also, ‘God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God’, as the creed from those two Councils taught.

 

Christ is indeed God, but what of His mother?  Did she, a human, give birth to God?

 

Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople in the early 5th century, thought not.  Rather, he said, Mary gave birth to the human person of Christ, while the divine person remained in heaven.  In other words, Christ was ‘two persons’, united in some kind of moral, existential bond, and Mary could be described as Christotokos, the ‘bearer of Christ’, but not Theotokos, the bearer of God.

 

When I ask students if Christ is a human person, almost all of them respond in the affirmative, after which I jokingly call them heretics.  For Nestorius’ doctrine forced the Church to examine who indeed Christ was, besides what he was.

 

After much wrangling and reflection, the Church declared that there not, in fact, two persons in Christ, but one, the divine Person, in Whom the two natures, divine and human, were united.  Thus, in the one divine Person (in Greek, hypostasis), there were two natures, without mixture or division.  This union, therefore, is called the hypostatic union.

 

Thus, at Christmas, we celebrate the human birth of a divine Person, and one week later, we celebrate the woman chosen to give birth to this divine Person.  Thus, Mary is indeed Theotokos.  After the declaration of this truth at the Council of Ephesus in 431, there was great rejoicing, with icons of Our Lady paraded through the city (and you will often see the term Theotokos on icons of Mary).

 

By extension, since we are all now in some way joined to Christ, all mothers share in the dignity of Mary, the Mother of God, for every birth is a bringing-into-the-world of a new image of God.

 

Motherhood is the greatest natural vocation a woman can receive (besides spiritual motherhood in religious life).  It is a sad that in our current culture motherhood is seen as something secondary, that a woman may do once her career is established; and even once established, to fit around her work schedule.  I recently read an insightful article by Elizabeth Corey that argues that the mind-set required for raising children is entirely different from that to advancing in ‘professional life’.

 

As I have witnessed in visiting families with lots of children over this holiday season, there is great joy in raising children that can never be found out there ‘in the world’.

 

Our Lady saw this, dedicating her life to here divine Son, and mothers around the world share in this joy.

 

So happy Mother’s day, and a blessed new year, to all!

 

January, 2015