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Quebec’s paternalistic married-name prohibition

Some Canadians might view the PMO directive that Justin Trudeau’s wife be always referred to by her hyphenated surname as a gesture to gender equality. Despite her union to Canada’s most powerful man, Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau has challenged a paternalistic social construct by opting to keep her maiden name. Because it was 2015, right? However, what Canada’s “first couple” is actually doing is giving Quebec’s Civil Code the middle finger — and good on them for it. Since 1981, it has been illegal for women in Quebec to change their surname when they marry. Since Trudeau and Grégoire married in 2005 in Montreal, she has had no right to share names with her husband — or their children, for that matter. And so it goes for all mothers in Quebec. Legally changing one’s name in the province is notoriously hard. For many children with absent fathers, a name different from their mother’s can create an uncomfortable distance from their primary caretaker. (This is not trivial matter — single moms head 13 per cent of Canadian families.) Some families choose to hyphenate their child’s name, which may cause confusion when those children grow up and have children with other hyphenated individuals. What will Jean Tremblay-Laurier-Audet-Roy do when he has to name a child with Marie Simard-Bergeron-Belanger-Lavoie? Quebec’s odd decision to devalue tradition, marriage, and the family followed the passage of the Quebec Charter of Rights in 1976, which claimed to emphasize equality between men and women. It also protected the fundamental freedoms of conscience, religion, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and importantly, freedom of association. Despite these promises of freedom, the province decided that couples were not allowed to cement their lifelong commitment to each other by associating themselves with a common name. Quebec isn’t unique in the world — France and Greece… Read More

The futile effort to end bullying

Last summer, researchers at Simon Fraser University published a study about bullying, which supports the view that most schoolyard tormenters are acting upon a genetic predisposition. According to media coverage at the time, anti-bullying organizations dismissed the findings as a “step backwards”, chiefly on the (rather unscientific) ground it might be interpreted as a justification for such behaviour, or an excuse not to remedy it. Whether that is true or not, the study’s findings accord perfectly well with my memory of what bullies in school were like, in marked contrast to the common “personal insecurities” explanation. I don’t know much about genetics, so I’ll leave that debate to the scientists. But it was always obvious to me that the archetypal bullies, who according to the study comprise 80 to 90 percent of teenagers who behave this way toward their peers, had particular personality types, rather than some unifying social problem which, if solved, would make bullying a thing of the past. There was no apparent correlation between how they acted and other circumstances. I knew bullies who were good students and bad students, from broken homes and nuclear families, who did “popular” things and who did not, who had many friends and who kept to themselves, who were bright and who were dumb, and so forth. What set them apart was always their intimidating effect upon their targets, which needless to say they enjoyed and did anything they could to perpetuate. When I see a group of teenagers even now, I can still discern in little time the ones who are apt to bully others, as a matter of instinct, and obviously I know nothing about their own backgrounds or circumstances. Of course, the usual line about how bullies have personal issues, which motivates their abuse and rage toward others,… Read More

Will non-religious Jews survive into the future?

Can Jews remain Jews without a belief in God? The east European Jews who arrived as immigrants to this country and to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century were, in the main, steeped in traditional Judaism. They tried to hold onto their culture as tenaciously as possible. Of course acculturation, and even total assimilation, into the dominant culture, does happen, though it often takes two or more generations. Many of their children left the religious fold, and did not hold on to their lingua franca, Yiddish. Today, Jews who are secular and feel Jewish only by ethnicity and memory may marry non-Jews; their children, and certainly grandchildren, will probably be lost to the Jewish people. I know many such cases. The only Jews outside Israel of whom it can be said with some certainly that they will remain Jewish, barring some calamity, will be the Orthodox – and especially the so-called “ultra-Orthodox.” They adhere to the totality of Jewish faith, the written and oral law (the Torah) as revealed to Moses by God at Mount Sinai, followed by the Talmudic and other commentaries through the centuries, and codified in the rules of Halakha. And for them the world will only be redeemed with the coming of the messiah, not through utopian political ideologies of various stripes. Not until then will even the state of Israel be secure from destruction by its various enemies; these have been many in Jewish history. Indeed, were Israel to cease to exist as a state, it is conceivable that much of its own secular Jewish population might relocate to the Torontos and New Yorks of the world. Why not? Speaking Hebrew and living in Tel Aviv is not enough for one to remain Jewish; after all, one million Israeli Arabs speak the language –… Read More

Jewish College Students Face an Increasingly Chilly Climate

As pro-Palestinian groups proliferate at American colleges, student protesters have taken to shouting down invited Israeli guest lecturers at various campuses and disrupting other events organized by Jewish students. In early November, Assi Azar, an Israeli television personality and LGBT rights advocate, was interrupted during a discussion of his film “Mom, Dad, I have Something to Tell You” at Goucher College in Baltimore. Also in early November, noted Israeli philosopher and professor Moshe Halbertal’s lecture at the University of Minnesota Law School was delayed 40 minutes by shouts and chants until protesters were escorted out of the lecture hall; eventually, three were arrested. “This was not a West Bank settler, an Israeli soldier or a politician; this was a scholar, an ethicist, a writer. That is what’s distressing,” remarked Rabbi Alexander Davis of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. “This was not a demonstration or a rally; it was an academic lecture in a distinguished law school. That is what’s so troubling.” Later that month, a confrontation occurred between members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Israel Studies professor Ami Pedahzur at an Institute for Israel Studies event at the University of Texas in Austin. The students broke up the gathering with shouts of “Free, Free Palestine” and “Long Live the Intifada,” and later accused Pedahzur of Islamophobia. Pro-Palestinian groups participating in a student protest against tuition increases at the City University of New York in November blamed the high cost of education on “Zionists.” “The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education,” asserted Students for Justice in Palestine. Pro-Israel advocates have been pointing for years to a decline of discourse on… Read More

A 2015 Chorus Line

    Readers may sing along to the Can-Can [Apologies to Offenbach] and imagine assembled worthies below lined up and kicking high.           The polls still jump for Donald Trump! Trump is loud and blonde and plump! Each day brings new bump from Trump! Bush and other rivals slump! GOP in frightened lump, knows not how they can dump Trump! Dems now, also grump! Bernie Sanders bites their rump! Students mount stump! flee free speech to safe space clump; Toilets re-lump! She-hes must have private dump! British Tories back again! Cameron still at Number Ten! Scottish voters in the glen, slaughter Labour in their den! Merkel offers migrant pen! Putin bombs for Assad's men! France has more blood in the Seine! Hollande vows this time it's when! Migrants bang on every door! many lost on Lesbos shore! Borders back once more, Brussels shaken to the core! NDP once poised to sweep, in the end could only weep! Justin made a mighty leap, drama coach to top of heap! Says we'll take the hungry sheep, fleeing ISIS o'er the deep! Climate laws will no more creep, oil will no more flow or seep! Natives hope he'll keep, promises that don't come cheap! He and Sophie smiling peep, from the next Vogue, fans to reap. Movies now are toujours gai, on the LGBT way! Heroes all with feet of clay, villains, too, must get their say! Victims of the system they! From Macbeth to Brothers Kray! Ex Machina's android may, offer fifty shades of grey! James Bond both a fool and knave, Ian Fleming twirls in grave! Harry Potter's now a slave, in Frankenstein's electric cave! Grab your partners, join the dance! Wear your brightest skirts or pants! Life looks better when we prance! Even when we look… Read More

Mass shootings and the Cuckoo’s Nest

For many Boomers, Jack Nicholson’s performance as Randall McMurphy in the movie One Flew Over The Cukoo’s Nest was a seminal film moment of the 1970s. In the Milos Forman opus, Nicholson plays a free spirited drifter locked up in an asylum in the U.S. Pacific Northwest of the late 1950s. Expressing the human yearning for freedom, Nicholson leads his emotionally destroyed co-inmates in a bid for liberation from the regime of drugs and shock therapy applied by Nurse Ratched. Most of the patients embrace McMurphy’s defiance yet lack his courage to rebel. In the end, McMurphy’s encouragement frees only Chief, the mute Indian. But Nicholson’s character is lobotomized for his troubles. Last we see him. McMurphy is a drooling husk of his former self with lobotomy scars on his forehead. (In an act of mercy, Chief suffocates him with a pillow.) To liberal audiences in the ‘70s, Nicholson’s insouciant charm symbolized the fight against The Man in the era of Viet Nam and Richard Nixon. Channelling R.D Laing’s psychiatric work, the film preached that adapting to the world’s cruelties, not rejecting them, is the real insanity. Watching the hapless inhabitants of the ward, we were meant to believe that locking up mentally unstable people is cruel and unusual punishment. Certainly that was the take of the author of the 1962 book upon which the movie was based. Ken Kesey was an early hippy, an enthusiastic consumer of hallucinogenics and a precursor of the moral relativism about to sweep America culture in the 1970s. His influence was only amplified by the book and, 13 years later, the movie. (Kesey apparently wanted Gene Hackman, not Nicholson, for the McMurtry role). Audiences in the ‘70s loved the film and so did the Oscars. Nicholson won best actor, Louise Fletcher (Ratched) won best… Read More
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