31 May 2016

Today in Parliament

So, today, parliament is going through the third reading of the euthansia bill, but what is really controversial is that they want to change the word of 'O Canada' from "in all thy sons command" to "In all of us command". I think we may consider this what's wrong with this country in one easy view.

But, okay, let's talk anthem. The person who is suggesting this change, whatever else they may be or may have, has a tin ear. "All of us" is a terrible phrase for a singer. It is clunky and not euphonious in the least. If they want to change it, there was another early version that had the words: "In all our hearts command." If nothing else, it flows better as music than the other change.

On the whole, I sadly think it is no coincidence  that parliament lacks both a grounded morality and art.  Ugliness and immorality have always gone hand in hand.

Today (and tomorrow) in history

Today and tomorrow are the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

Jutland is one of the few battles of the First World Ward that I feel I can wrap my head around. So many of the land battles are so utterly incomprehensible. I read about them, and I think to myself 'that can't possibly be true. I must have misread.' But it was true. It did happen. Jutland, at least, is comprehensible.

The lead up to Jutland was simple. The first and most important maneuvre of the war by the British was the Naval blockade. While one of the main causes of the war may have been the naval arms race, the British admiralty didn't actually want to use their expensive new ships. They would institute a distant naval blockade, and ultimately starve the Germans out of the war.

By 1916 the Germans were starting to feel the effects of the blockade. The German High Seas fleet was smaller than the British, and their high command knew they would lose in a straight fleet on fleet action, so they sought to draw a small portion of the British grand Fleet into a battle where they could be overwhelmed, thus balancing the scales a little. For that reason, German units began slipping into the English Channel and bombarding towns and other targets along the shore in a series o hit and run attacks.

The plan worked. The Commander of the British Grand Fleet, Admiral Jellicoe, was asked to send a detachment of the Fleet south from Scapa Floe to a more southern port in England. Jelicoe resisted, unwilling to break up the Fleet, but at last was compelled to do so. He sent two squadrons of Battlecruisers and a squadron of super dreadnaughts, along with escort cruisers and destroyers to a southern port, under the command of Admiral Beatty.

It was exactly what the Germans wanted. They sortied the entire Fleet under Admiral Scheer.. Target: Beatty's squadrons. But what the Germans did not know was that the British could read the German Naval codes. The British knew the High seas Fleet would be making their move, and the British Fleet set out to sea an hour before the Germans.

The battle began with a meeting of Battlecruisers. Beatty, sailing to met the British Grand Fleet, ran into the advance German forces. Beatty somehow left the heavily armoured Super Dreadnaughts behind as he chased the German Battlecruisers in his own. The rival ships formed into rapidly moving parallel lines, firing broadsides at each other. Two British ships exploded and sank in the fight, either from falling fire or mishandled gunpowder charges. When the second, the Queen Mary, blew up, Beatty turned to one of his aides and famously remarked 'There's something wrong with our bloody ships today." Beatty was in a dreadful position now, and his position got worse when he realized the Germans ships were leading him right into the guns of the entire High Seas Fleet.

Beatty had commanded badly so far, and very nearly lead his squadrons into a disaster. But when the High Seas Fleet coming into view, Beatty realized he had a chance to turn the tables on the Germans, for the Germans were unaware the Grand Fleet was out of port. He turned around, and began leading the Germans into a British trap.

Jellicoe was steaming towards a rendezvous point with his fleet. With the Germans coming, he had to arrange the British lines from a cruising formation into a battle formation. If he called for the maneuvre too soon, he would be out of position when the Germans arrived. Too late, and the Germans would fall upon the British before they were ready. Jellicoe had only one chance to get it right, and he got it exactly perfect.

The Germans chased Beatty right into the British battle lines. Jellicoe had performed the classic naval maneuvre and crossed the German's 't'. His ships could fire full broadsides while the Germans could only fire their forward guns. Jellicoe had the High Seas Fleet exactly where he wanted it.

But Scheer was no fool. Realizing he was in exactly the position he did not want to be in, he called for his ships to perform a handbrake turn. In this maneuvre, which the British did not practice, each ship turns and heads in the opposite direction. The British, in comparison, preferred to turn in a continuing line in order to preserve formation.

The German Fleet appeared to be retreating when elements of the fleet returned, sailing towards the British for a torpedo run. Jellicoe had three options: Maintain his battle formation, and take what hits came, turn towards the attacking ships in order to present a smaller profile to their torpedoes, or turn away from the attackers, which would also present a smaller profile, but disengage the British Fleet from the Germans. He chose to turn and outrun the torpedoes. By the time the British turned back, the Germans had made good their escape. Some isolated elements slashed off and on for the remainder of the day and into the evening, but that really was the end of the battle.

In terms of damage, the British lost more ships and men. In terms of achieving goals, it was a British victory, though a costly one. The Germans sought to end the naval blockade, and the British sought to keep the blockade intact. In Jellicoe's words: "They have assaulted their jailer, and they remain in jail."

The two fleets never clashed again. The ships started the war, in a fashion, yet they spent almost the entire war in port. The Battle marked the end of an era. It was the last time Fleet would clash gun to gun with Fleet. Germany would continue to starve, and, ultimately, it would be starved out of the war.

Ah, My Dear Union Brothers

My work area has been moved to another building, so we had to make arrangements with grounds to transfer the stuff back to the main store. Yesterday I had a pile of about twenty not terribly large or heavy boxes for the store. The man grounds sent refused to move them. 'No way," he said. "I'm not killing myself over this stuff." And then he drove off.

To put it another way: he refused to do his job, and he did so because he knew there would be no repercussions. After all..., he's a union man.

I am a member of a union. Most of the jobs I have ever worked have either been unionized, or I was working alongside union members. I respect unions, and I am grateful for their accomplishments. I know the history of just how bad it sometimes was in the past, and why unions were needed. But, at the same time, every union with which I have ever had dealings (in addition to eventually screwing me over) has had guys like these. They are people who know the collective agreement not so they are aware of both their rights and their responsibilities, but so they know what they can get away with.

These people are, in a word, poison. Other workers look at them and wonder why they are working hard to earn the same wage as that guy over there who is doing nothing. Sometimes the other people decide they'll do nothing as well, because why should they? And, worst of all, these are the people management use to beat up the union. In the popular mind, these people are the only kind of people who work in unions.

On the one hand, there isn't much to be done. Their protection is also my protection. But, on the other hand, unions need to do something about this, and recognize that some people have either not earned or have forfeited any right to the protection of the union as a whole.

30 May 2016

Yesterday was both

Yesterday, the feast of Corpus Christi, was both Puff and My anniversary and Elder's birthday.  Though there have been times, many many times, when we have all been frustrated with each other, and we have fought, my wife and my children are the most precious things to me in my life.  You have enriched me in ways I cannot describe, and because of you I am wealthier than Crassus.

12 May 2016

Are we getting infinite yet?

.An interesting video about the various versions of Sherlock Holmes. 

The writers claim their view to be more rich and satisfying than that of the purists, who believe the one true  Sherlock is the Sherlock of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The writers claim that Sherlock is a 'palimpsest' (the word comes from the study of medieval manuscripts.  A palimpsest is a manuscript who's original text has been scrubbed off and the pages written over.) and that each version of Sherlock is, in it's own way, a true version, as the character takes a little bit from each new interpretation and moves forward.

The authors claim their answer to this problem is a more satisfying, but fail to contextualize and explain this answer by saying for whom this answer will be more satisfying.  Clearly, not the purists. This is typical of many academics: those who disagree are misguided nonentities.  They may be discounted without apology or explanation.

This is the sort of stuff I used to be taught back in the day.  Authorial intention is gone, no interpretation is perfect, therefore any interpretation will be in part a misinterpretation, and therefore, with a breathtaking and colossal leap in illogic- a misinterpretation is a valid interpretation.
I disagreed with this at least in part, and therefore got roundly condemned by my fellow scholars who believed that disagreeing with them in part was the same as disagreeing with them in the whole.  Logic, I am afraid, was never their strength.  When we say that a book or poem or- to use their over used buzz phrase- 'text' is open to any number or even an infinite number of interpretations, that  may be true, although I cannot say for sure. To the best of my knowledge we have not yet reached infinity in our interpretations, but I am sure someone from the academy will inform us when we do.  But- and here's the catch- any number of interpretations is not the same as any interpretation. 

It seems to me that there comes a time when a new representation of a character is not a representation of that character at all.  He may be called Holmes, or Conan, or Hamlet, or Superman, but he has wandered so far from his originals that he is no longer himself, but a fraud and an imposter, a fanfiction.  Someone has written down the name of a favourite character, and applied it to their own manikin.

At heart, this idea that we can create our own versions of the characters is both liberating, but also stunningly narcissistic.  We are say to the past: what you wrote and what you said is no longer of any consequence to us.  You may have thought what you had to say was important, but we believe that what we have to say is more important.  We don't want to listen to what you have to say, and now we will put our words in your mouth."  Rather than venturing out to encounter the past and to seek out other minds and encounter new ideas,  we have decided to stay at home, and stare into a mirror.

No. Next Question.

NLM asks:  "Is “Contemporary” Church Music a Good Example of Inculturation?"

11 May 2016

Reflection on today in History

Today is the 203rd anniversary of the assassination of Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. No conspiracy theory here: he was shot by a lone nut.

As I said, he was the only one to be assassinated, but, gaging from the heated political rhetoric that pops up from time to time, there are those who would like to revive and expand the practice, perhaps raising it to the level of tradition.

I feel a twinge of envy for Britain on this matter: though they had but one, they had at least one. We have had none. The only political assassination I remember was that of D'Arcy McGee, a father of Confederation, but officially a member of parliament. George Brown, another 'Father of Confederation' (perennial leader of the opposition, and Prime Minister/Premier of what is now Quebec and Ontario for a few hours) was also killed, but that was after he had retired from politics and gone back to be the chief editor and publisher of the Globe. He was shot by a disgruntled employee he had fired the week before. It is perhaps a measure of the worth of our Prime Ministers that, throughout all our history, no one thought any of them to be worth the price of a bullet.

10 May 2016

Wishing black were blacker

One of the nastier aspects of our politics is the need some have to hate the other party at all times in all things and at all costs. It drives our political discourse into the dirt and degrades us all.

For instance, I have seen a series of posts in my inbox of people condemning Trudeau for not accepting help from Russia and the US. How dare he not accept help in this crisis. Then it came out that Trudeau was acting on the advice of the fire crews actually fighting the fires. Extra help would not be helpful. The crews would start interfering with each other. So, in other words, Trudeau asked the opinion of the experts and acted on their advice. He did what he was supposed to do.

But point that out to some of these people and they still want to hate him. Apparently, he should have acted against the advice of the experts. And should that have backfired, then what? condemn him for ignoring the advice of experts?

I believe I have made it clear that I don't like Trudeau, and I oppose many of his policies, but I can't fault him in this case. He has done what he was supposed to do. He does enough wrong to provide plenty of material for us to oppose. There is no need to oppose him when he is not wrong. Stop standing for parties, and start standing for truth. Listen to CS Lewis writing in the heart of the Second World War:

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred."

8 May 2016

Mother's Day

I suppose I should say something sappy about my mom here, today. I mean, as a mother, she was decent. I know a lot of people whose mother's were flat out awful, and occasionally narcissistically and psychotically so, so through no virtue or merit of my own, I lucked out in that matter.

I speak often of my father, and less so of my mother. That's because dad lived out loud and larger than life, and he was a master story teller, so even the less than epic events in his life sounded fascinating.  It is easy to talk about him. Mother tended to be quiet and lead a life devoted to less dramatic pursuits. She painted, she knitted, she sewed, she prayed and went to church every day. Hardly the stuff great tales are made of. And as for telling her stories- well, Dad was a master. Mom often derails her own stories as she spends five minutes trying to remember some irrelevant character's name.

And yet, in her own quiet way, mom has accomplished great and wonderful things. She has executed thousands of paintings, including portraits of every Canadian soldier who died on the afghan mission, as well as many police and firemen who have died in the line of duty, as well as portraits of people who died in tragic circumstances, all of which she sends to the families free of charge. We- my brother and sisters- all have many samples of her work, family treasures which we will cherish, and, when our time comes, pass on as heirlooms.

And the greatest gift she gave to us was our father.  According to the man himself, Dad was a wild, hard drinking man heading to an early grave before he met mother. Such a man may live a life that makes for great stories ( and many of his best came from that time in his life) but such a man would have made a poor father. I didn't have a poor father. Mother told that hell raising wild man in no uncertain terms not to ask her to marry him, unless he cleaned himself up and quit drinking. I have known many women who have tried to reform men, and I have told my daughters in the strongest terms possible not to try it, because it almost always fails. I know of only one woman who pulled it off, and that was mother. I had a great father, but that was because I also had a great, perhaps a greater, mother.

And so it is that I owe everything to my mother. Any good that I have done in my life, any good that I may achieve, has its roots in her. Thanks, mom.

Sappy enough for you?

6 May 2016

Universities: where reason, logic, common sense and accountability go to cough up blood.

Last night I found myself talking about work to a few friends. I don't often dicuss work. When I do tell a story, I find I am frequently interrupting the story with the words "...and I'm not making this up..."

Case in point: my workplace's official standard of cleanliness. Some years back, the administration commissioned grounds and cleaning staff to conduct a feasibility study on what it would cost... to clean this place. Grounds examined the matter, crunched some numbers, and gave a report. The report listed various levels of cleanliness, and they gave each level a name and a cost. The levels were, as I recall, in descending order: "Pristine" ,"Very Clean", "Clean", I don't know, "Cleanish", I guess. the report was submitted to the administration. They went down the list, saying: "No, no, no. no, no, no," flipped the page "No, no, no....there. That's the one."

And thus the matter was settled, and our official standard of cleanliness is called- and I'm not making this up- "Moderately Dingy".

You read that correctly.

Even better. Moderately dingy is an average. Some places- mainly those used by the administration are pristine. Others, like my area, are almost totally neglected. The level of cleaniliness in my area is somewhere around "Absolutely Disgustin'" and "Well, Those Guys Are Probably Going To Die From Exposure To The Crud Down There Already, So Why Bother?"