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The Bright Countenance and the Obscuring Clouds

Beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies --Poet John Milton (pictured, left) (1608 – 1674); inscribed on McGill's Redpath Library. ...There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which [mass man] does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing his"opinions." ..Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. --Philosopher, Ortega y Gasset (pictured, right) (1883–1955). in Revolt of the Masses (1930). ...In today's climate, it's all -too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture....Think for yourself. --From an open letter of advice addressed to incoming university students everywhere, by a group of liberal professors teaching at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, August 29, 2017. __________________________________________________ Milton formulated his pleasant description of scholarly activity a few years before he wrote Paradise Lost. It was a visionary ideal, not an empirical account; in the actual colleges of the early 1600s, there was bitter conflict between supporters of the absolutist Stuart monarchy and the champions of Parliament, culminating in civil war. There was also plenty of more general riotous behaviour, much of it drunken. Francis Bacon claimed that students were made violent 'for want of sufficient maintenance', a little like the debt problem of students today. Nonetheless, it was widely understood that the pursuit of truth was the university's fundamental concern, however temporarily wayward the paths to it. For almost three hundred years after Milton's death, 'the bright countenance' in his mind's eye remained the central justification of university life. But by the late 19th century, the very idea of truth itself began to be undermined… Read More

Quebecers could benefit from a new linguistic social contract

  During the twentieth century, Montreal became increasingly shared between anglophones and francophones, the latter abandoning rural life in order to get work in the city. Add to this a constant influx of immigrants from all over the world, and it was inevitable that the questions would begin to arise as to how the city’s ethnic composition would impact language. As francophones began to fear that their language might come to be marginalized, they clamored for regulatory protection. Such was the backdrop for the passage of Bill 101 forty years ago this month. Consider the Anglophone community’s experience since then. Bill 101 ushered in a vision of Quebec as “unilingual” French, rather than the community’s preference then for bilingualism. Yet, Quebec’s English school system at that time was generating graduates, many of whom who were neither competitively bilingual nor bi-literate in French, so many of them were unable to thrive in either scenario. Since then the situation has evolved as anglophone bilingualism has improved significantly. Nevertheless, some of us have come to look for new approaches such as common bilingual French/English schools like that proposed by Julius Grey in a May 25 submission to the Montreal Gazette on Bill 101 (Also see It’s high time for bilingual schools by co-author Giuliano D’andrea in the Montreal Gazette August 24). Moreover, one can ask if the existence of linguistically–based segregated schools (even the French immersion programs) act to fracture Quebec society like religious-based institutions do in Northern Ireland. One way to address this issue and explore other new ideas would be to develop a new holistic language social contract which could comprehensively address how language groups in a more cosmopolitan twenty-first century now interact on all levels: business, social and educational. Imagine, for example, if the Montreal region had a level of autonomy where… Read More

Atomic Bombs: The Real and the Might-Have-Beens

The history of the Second World War continues to be written and rewritten, with continuing present relevance. New perspectives from the present aside, the war studies have highlighted two larger themes in all history. The first is that important 'now it can be told' revelations in documentary sources have kept on appearing. The second and often related one is the emergence of fresh 'counterfactual', 'what if?' speculations about how the war evolved and ended. The best of all examples have come in re-examining the conception, design, and development of atomic bombs in the major powers from 1939 to 1945. Niall Ferguson once edited a whole anthology of historians writing counterfactual essays about great historical events, but his enthusiasm is not universally shared. Richard Evans, another famous British historian and a leading authority on Nazi Germany, regards these ventures contemptuously, as no more than a mildly amusing game. However, all great wars, with their big winning and losing gambles, have always produced 'for want of a horse' speculations. Tales of the Bomb, both real and imagined, combining elements of geopolitics, European scientific genius, American engineering ingenuity and scale, espionage, and war both hot and cold, have inevitably been irresistible. Above all, the possibility of Hitler's Germany coming first with the Bomb (a fear driving on the Manhattan Project scientists themselves) has been mulled from 1945 to the present. Two notable examples are Heisenberg's War (1997), by Thomas Powers, on the top German nuclear physicist, and The Winter Fortress (2016), by Neil Bascomb, about the successful British and Norwegian sabotage of the indispensable German heavy water plant in Norway. But an equally fascinating 'what if?' has been the conceivable possibility that Churchill's Britain, which unlike Nazi Germany, was actually well ahead of the U. S. in atomic research in the first two… Read More

Our sick and twisted ivory tower

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So goes the timeworn expression. But the cynical wisdom of that phrase endures. The best example of the law of unexpected consequences— tender sensibilities division— resides with Canada’s Charter of Rights. When proposed in the late 1970s by Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau— and celebrated by many politicians and media— the Charter was heralded as a protection for Canadians against the vagaries of foreign powers, unlawful search-and-seizure, prejudice of every kind. Put simply, it was sold as a code that Canadians could count on to protect them and their rights. In the gauzy days of 1982— when civil libertarians rejoiced that the Charter was enshrined in Canadian law— who could have foreseen a Canadian terrorist, captured by American soldiers after killing one of their own, being awarded $10.5 million by a Canadian prime minister? And the PM of the day saying the Charter left him no choice? No one, of course, could have anticipated the Charter as being anything but a force for good. Guided by the wise hand of the Supreme Court, what could go wrong? Yet, the Omar Khadr debacle has instead demonstrated the vagaries of a Charter that protects rights but defines no obligations on citizens. Americans, who are nothing if not believers in individual rights, are plainly baffled by the spectacle of Canada’s prime minister saying, “No mas” in the face of a terrorist who killed one of their own soldiers and blinded another. Yes, Canada’s activist Supreme Court’s definition of torture is far more liberal than the American definition. Yes, there is some debate whether Khadr threw the grenade that killed medic Christopher Speer (he’s never denied taking part in the fight). Yes, he was 15 years old, brainwashed by his jihadi father. But how does all… Read More

Supply management should offend left and right alike

Under the rules adopted by the World Trade Organization’s 1995 Agreement on Agriculture, a cartel system like that of Canada’s supply management - were it created today - would be illegal. The global community has decided that policies which artificially inflate domestic prices, and protect them with outrageous import tariffs, are a thing of the past. Ironically, public opinion in Canada still favours supply management, even though it perfectly embodies the protectionist policies that Canadians love to hate when they come from the White House. Canadians roll their eyes at Donald Trump’s “America First” economic policies. Yet most Canadian politicians continue to support their own archaic system of supply management. Consumers are forced to pay nearly $600 more per year on groceries than their American counterparts. Import tariffs have made it nearly impossible for Canadians to buy foreign dairy products, forcing low-income families to pay a huge price to provide their children with a healthy diet. Prior to supply management’s introduction in 1971, Canada had over 140,000 dairy farmers who were struggling to break even, due to price volatility in the dairy market. Fast forward 46 years, and we can see that the Canadian dairy industry has undergone a great change. For starters, the number of dairy farmers in Canada has dropped by over 90 percent to less than 11,000 nationwide. More importantly though, over this 46-year period, the average wage and net worth of Canadian dairy farmers have increased dramatically. According to the 2008 OECD Economic Survey of Canada, the average Canadian dairy farmer had a gross income of over $250,000 and held over $2 million dollars in assets, in the form of dairy quota. Today, the average Canadian dairy farmer is a millionaire, yet policy makers still believe we should be taking money from low income families to… Read More

Were election rules broken at the CPC convention?

The Conservative Party of Canada is currently under fire for potential voter fraud stemming from discrepancies in its claimed voter turnout, compared to the strikeout lists sent to each campaign. There was a 7,466 vote discrepancy between them. This has cast doubt on the legitimacy of Andrew Scheer’s May 27th victory, especially by Maxime Bernier’s supporters. However, after having attended the leadership convention last month, another potential voting scandal that no one has yet addressed looms in my mind: passive electioneering. Passive electioneering involves wearing or distributing campaign materials within polling stations. Section 166(1c) of the Canada Elections Act explicitly states that “no person shall, in a polling station or in any place where voting at an election is taking place, influence electors to vote or refrain from voting or vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate.” Yet at the 2017 Conservative Leadership Convention in Toronto, I was handed a “Voters’ Guide” a mere 20 feet from the voting booths, inside the polling location. This Voters’ Guide was not obvious campaign material, and only bore its organization’s name—Campaign Life Coalition—in small font on the bottom of the pamphlet’s back. This pamphlet “disqualified” all but two socially conservative candidates—namely Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux. Campaign Life Coalition, a social conservative organization that promotes pro-life and traditional values, created the pamphlet for its own supporters and distributed it to them by mail and online. Jeff Gunnarson, a representative from Campaign Life Coalition, said, “when designing the guide, there was no discussion at the time how we would be distributing it at the convention—except that we would bring copies with us.” “We designed the guide’s front page in such a way that it would not be immediately identifiable coming from Campaign Life Coalition.  We wanted people to pick it up and… Read More
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