Archive for : October, 2016

Cultural Appropriation

A year ago, in my community of Farm Point, there was a controversy when a couple of European descent arrived at a community Hallowe’en Party dressed as Indians. I use the word ‘Indians’ to describe the costumes as more appropriate to old Hollywood films. Although I was not there, I was told that many people were offended by the clear cultural appropriation and implicit disrespect for a culture.

While I do not defend in any way those unfortunate costume choices, I think it is reasonable to plea for some calm in the consideration of cultural appropriation. I note that our Prime Minister, this Hallowe’en, appeared to be dressed in a desert Arab head dress. Is this not cultural appropriation of Islamic desert dwellers in the Middle East? His wife appears to be dressed as a witch; some might question the cultural appropriation of a Wiccan tradition.


We need to concede that the festival of Hallowe’en is itself a racist cultural appropriation of the Celtic Samhain. The Christian Christmas is racist cultural appropriation of Saturnalia, itself an appropriation of the Winter Solstice. Of course, capitalism engaged in cultural appropriation of Christmas itself, by turning it into a commercial festival. As a person of Scottish ancestry, perhaps I should object to the singing of Auld Lang Syne at the turning of the year.

Once you get going on cultural appropriation, it’s hard to stop. Many current cultural traditions or practices are built on previous traditions and practices from other cultures. Indeed our global society is built on adaptations and appropriations.

In what circumstances is cultural appropriation something to be censured? Perhaps a key distinction is the presence or absence of respect. The words of Robbie Burns are sung with fondness and revelry. On the other hand there is nothing respectful in capitalism’s exploitation of the birth of Jesus.

A precondition of respect is perception and sensitivity, an awareness of the meaning of what one is doing. Rather than censure of those who engage in cultural appropriation, one might try with better effect to build awareness in the reasonable expectation that respect would follow.


Should Our Courts ‘Make’ Laws?



The Prime Minister has recommended (to the Governor General) the appointment of Malcolm Rowe to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Judge Rowe had been serving on the Newfoundland Court of Appeal when he applied to the position.


In his application, Judge Rowe writes that “Supreme Court judges ordinarily make law, rather than simply applying it”.  Such an opinion is both profoundly undemocratic and deeply disturbing.  The essence of responsible government is that those who make the laws are elected by the people and accountable to the people.  Supreme Court judges are not elected by anyone and are accountable to no one but themselves.  Legislators make laws, not judges.  Judge Rowe’s condescending comment invites the response “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”: “Who guards the guards themselves?”


I have previously expressed my concerns about the tendency of the Supreme Court to make interpretations well beyond the intentions of Parliament and provincial legislatures in crafting the Charter of Rights and the amended Constitution.  The full argument is presented at:


In brief, my concern is that too interventionist or activist a Supreme Court disrupts the fine balance that must exist between the legislature, the executive and the courts.  It is the essence of democracy that the ultimate power rests with the legislature as elected by the people.  It was the proto-legislature of nobles who defined key legal rights such as habeas corpus, just as it was an elected legislature that approved the Charter of Rights.  If a Supreme Court judge maintains that the Court has the right to make law, as well as to reject laws made by Parliament, this is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the legislature.  That’s not democracy.


Those who are unelected and unaccountable bear a heavy responsibility for their actions.  Judges of the Supreme Court should exercise their powers with restraint; such restraint does not include ‘making’ laws.  If the Court continues to encroach on the powers of our elected representatives, then constitutional remedies will be required.



Canadian Values?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leadership Candidate Kellie Leitch have vastly different views on Canadian values. Mr. Trudeau believes “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada”. Ms. Leitch argues “I don’t think it’s intolerant to believe in a set of values that we expect everyone to share here and include those people who are coming to visit or immigrate to Canada”.


I’m not sure whether I agree with either view. However, there are some important characteristics to be considered.

• Mr. Trudeau’s view is inclusive of the population: in his view, our pan-cultural heritage is more important than our history or national origins; we are becoming a post-national state. Ms. Leitch’s view is exclusive of those who do not share Canadian values: she believes that, as citizens, we are expected to hold a particular set of values, which include equality of opportunity, hard work, giving back to the community, equality of men and women, as well tolerance for all religions, cultures and sexual orientations and the rejection of violence as a way to solve problems; potential immigrants should be asked whether they share those values.
• In fact Canada already has a set of official values: it’s called the Charter of Rights, part of our Constitution. The Charter has a theistic aspect to it (“supremacy of God”) and within that it guarantees: freedoms of thought, religion and association; equality rights; mobility rights; legal rights; democratic rights; language and education rights.
• Our laws and our regulations are required to be consistent with the Charter, and our adjudicatory bodies are expected to adhere to Charter principles. To the extent that we follow the law and adhere to legislated, litigated or adjudicated principles, we are expressing fundamental Canadian values.

If Canadians are expected to live by the values of our Charter of Rights, then it would not be unreasonable to assure ourselves that all other people within our borders – visitors, immigrants and prospective Canadians – also live by Charter values. But we already do just that through our laws.


The jurist Austin stated: “The law is one thing, its goodness or badness is another”. In this view, moral assessments are distinct from legal requirements. If one is prepared to follow the legal requirements, then the particular set of values one holds ought to be irrelevant. And this view is mandated in the Charter, which guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression”.


The idea of asking someone to disclose their values as a condition of entry to the country manages to be intrusive, exclusive and wrong-headed. The question is not what you believe, but whether you are prepared to follow Canadian laws, rules and practices in all aspects of your life while you are in Canada.


We already have rules against honor killings, forced marriages and discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. We don’t need thought control as well – even though, indeed especially if, we do not like the thoughts.

Facebook Click Bait

Facebook is already full of advertisements, both in the news feed and on the right of the page.  Over and above this, there is Facebook click bait, tempting headings which take you to a site where you are bombarded with more advertising, and get cookies, tracking software and possibly adware installed without your agreement.  The following list is just a sample of click bait invitations in my news feed from the last 36 hours:


“31 hilarious things only husbands would say”

“39 capitvating photos of actors in their final roles, before they died”

“Can you solve the viral fruit problem brain teaser?”

“A photo of Matt Damon from 1961 just sent the Internet into meltdown”

“31 hilarious tweets every Canadian will know to be true”

“21 of the most common words even educated people say wrong”

“Quiz: do you recognize these classic actors from a younger photo?”

“Scientists warn that drinking too much DIET soda can lead to heart attacks and strokes”

“Let’s see who can drive.  What’s the correct order?”


And of course there are well-known generics such as “You won’t believe what happened next  …” or “This is going viral for sure …” or “Only the really intelligent people can figure this one out” …


Finding the real posts from your FB friends can be a challenge among all of this commercial detritus.  Of course it isn’t helped when your friends also post items for sale.


But I find click-bait particularly distasteful.  I admit I used to fall for it sometimes.  But as many of you know, rarely is the information worth the click, even if you were not bombarded with advertising.  We don’t really need to know what actors looked like just before they died, or the latest viral video.  The steak is seldom the equal of the sizzle.


Moreover, click bait debases communication.  If everything is ‘amazing’ ‘viral’ or ‘only for the super bright’, then nothing is.  If you succumb to its siren call, it is a distraction to your thoughts.


Click bait is there because it works.  A lot of people in the FB community follow those links.  But for those of us who don’t like it, click bait makes a site or service for ‘friends only’ seem like it’s open to a sleazy and grasping world.


So “CLICK HERE to stop click bait” … oops.

Let’s make a list of of Trumpeters

“He’s got ’em on the list — he’s got ’em on the list;
And they’ll none of ’em be missed — they’ll none of ’em be missed.”

(The Mikado)


The Financial Post quotes Conrad Black as saying “Either Trump or Clinton would make a capable President”.  The argument in support of this statement rather gets lost in the glutinous opacity of his prose, but we can most charitably note that the opinions of an ex-convict and continuing British Lord provide a rather unique perspective.


Black’s comment puts me in mind of the need to keep a list of all those political, religious and celebrity figures who continue to support Mr. Trump, despite evidence of sexual predation, racism, cruelty etc.  They should not be let off the hook.  By continuing to support him, they are giving at least tacit support to all Trump has done and stands for.  I don’t think any of those people should occupy positions of influence on our society.  When Americans dump Trump, I hope they trash the rest of the crowd in that particular trailer park.

Dylan’s Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature has provoked howls of outrage: most entertaining!


It could be noted that the Nobel Committees don’t have a great record in some areas.  The peace prize has been won by Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama; with all respect to both gentlemen, their contribution to world peace was questionable.  Economics prizes have been won by Samuelson and Friedman, both now reviled.  The literature prize has gone to some great names such as Yeats, TS Eliot, Pirandello, O’Neill, Márquez and Hesse, but it has also been given to names we have never heard again.


I mentioned the first four literary laureates because they were poets and playwrights.  The prize was never limited to writers of fiction and non-fiction.  As to whether poems within songs qualify, we can say you can find some fine poetry in opera (and some dreadful stuff, bien sûr).  And the poetry of TS Eliot ended up in a Broadway musical.


One could have a good discussion whether Dylan’s poetry is superior to that of Leonard Cohen or John Lennon.  But Dylan’s work did something the others did not, or not so much.  Dylan captured the spirit of the times, which were “a-changin’”.


A thought worth exploring is whether the current cultural context enabled a different evaluation of Dylan’s work than that which would have taken place 25 years ago.  Literature today is appreciated (or ignored) in an environment of tweets and posts, of constant you tube and google.  Short pithy songs are perhaps more consistent with the contemporary and fashionable zeitgeist of cultural appreciation.  Many moan the loss of earlier cultures, suggesting they were superior.  And to that observation one might question: “ ’Superior’ under current standards or those of the past?”


So I have little difficulty with Dylan’s award.  Why not?  His work has survived in public consciousness rather longer than the works of many literary laureates over the last 40 years.  Congratulations, Mr. Dylan, well done.  On the other hand, awarding a knighthood to Rod Stewart is rather less persuasive.

A Provisional Glossary of Trump’s Fantastical Misstatements

A while ago I wrote some thoughts on bullshit, available here:


But candidate Trump has shown such an extraordinary talent for misstatement, that special consideration is justified.  Surely there is scope for a scholarly paper on the varieties of Trump’s fantastical statements. Just a few examples:

# Trump lies, when he knows what he is saying is false.  (The BS paper considered this to be simple ‘horseshit’)  For example: denying he said favoured the invasion of Iraq.

# Trump misdirection, when a topic unrelated to the question is presented as an answer. (See ‘Misdirection’ in the BSpaper)  For example: referring to Clinton’s e-mails in not answering a question about his tax returns.

# Trump BS, when he does not care whether what he is saying is false or true; he will say anything.  (The BS paper suggested, rather too charitably, that such statements might be ‘metaphor’).

# Trump confabulation, when he believes falsehoods to be true (The BS paper doesn’t really cover this, as I was not considering delusional behaviour).  For example, his belief that Russia did not invade Ukraine.

# Trump glossolalia, his word salad, babblespeak (the BS paper considered this simple ‘nonsense’ but strangely the remarks of Trump demean the word ‘nonsense’.

# Trump corporate BS, such remarks as “no one has as much respect for women as I do” (the BS paper likened this to “Your call is important to us”).

Such a rich variety of mendaciousness makes me yearn for simple times.  “Ou sont les temps de charabia simple?”  I feel nostalgic for les bons mots of Allan MacEachen. Just as an example (from memory): he was asked as Secretary of State for External Affairs whether he would make any significant announcements during his official visit to Damascus, he responded: “I am always looking for significant things to say, and if I find something significant to say, I shall certainly say it in Damascus” Now that’s quality obfuscation!

Trump’s Double-Down Defenses

Two quotes to start: political flacks attempting to minimize Trump’s latest sexual comments

“We’re electing a leader of the free world,” Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told CNN. “We’re not electing a Sunday school teacher.”

“This doesn’t surprise anyone. This is him,” said one Republican strategist aligned with Trump. “You lose elections when you surprise the electorate.”

These are extraordinary defences, masterpieces of the ‘double down’. Lewandowski suggests that Trump’s sexual assaults (what most view his actions to be) might be behaviour unbecoming for a Sunday school teacher, but that such behaviour is acceptable for a leader of the free world. Seems to me that those places where droit de seigneur is still practiced might not qualify for the designation ‘free world’.

The second double down is the assertion that the boastful admission of sexual assault is consistent with the candidate’s general behaviour, so no one will be surprised or upset. So we should react as follows: “I sort of thought you were a nasty piece of work before, but now that you have proven it with evidence, perhaps we should all just move on”. This argument suggests that consistency of any kind is good, even of assaultive and cruel behaviour: love your bully. Ecchh!!

Of course, when you defend the indefensible, the orthodox defenses are ruled out. The double down is a retreat to what the defenders hope to be a more defensible position. In the course of that they reveal a leadership character for the candidate: “Might is right; get over it”. Those invited to get over it include women, and Hispanics, some disabled, taxpayers, black renters, etc., etc. The candidate’s supporters appear to admire such characteristics in a leader. They would return us to a more feral society where, as Hobbes said, life is poor, nasty, brutish and short. Except for the 1% and especially for the 0.1%