Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are we missing the boat here?

GM and Chrysler are asking for a new number on the loan request to the Canadian government. Guess what, it's higher than the earlier one. Would you personally lend $900.00 to GM and Chrysler, given the fact that they're teetering on the brink of bankruptcy? If the number ends up being $9,000,000,000 (nine billion) and if there are 10,000,000 (ten million) serious income-tax payers in Canada (which I doubt) than the loan to the failed car companies would amount to $900.00 per taxpayer. If we include every man, woman and child in Canada in the count, it amounts to about $300.00 per person.

Now I know these are loans, but if they fail to stave off bankruptcy in the end, they will be repaid by us, not by the functionaries of the car companies. And there will be little to show for it, like paying for a wrecked automobile because we borrowed money to buy it.

Here's my plan: the government of Canada expropriates all the GM and Chrysler facilities in Canada, takes over their work force and pensions, puts the workers to work retooling these factories with the object of building energy-efficient vehicles especially designed for the Canada, Russia, Scandinavian markets . . . a real winter/summer car. I'm sure both companies would be happy to see them go; it would make the best plank in their restructuring platform to the American government. And if Canada paid them the 9,000,000,000 (nine billion) it would help them recover their profitability in the US.

Agnes and I would be happy to invest our $1,800.00 share in a venture like this, and we would buy one of those cars and wave an unregretful good bye to our Taurus.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Men, control your womenfolk!

A couple of anecdotes arrived almost simultaneously in the inbox of my consciousness this weekend. I was teaching an adult Sunday school lesson on the book of Esther, and I had the radio on as I drove the 30 Km. to church.

First: Xerxes I as portrayed in the book of Esther is a drunken sot of a king who—although powerful—is swayed this way and that by his advisers. When his wife Vashti defies him one day, he asks his advisers what he should do to respond to this impertinence. Basically, their advice is that he divorce her, replace her with a new queen and make sure this action is noised abroad, so that “each man might be master in his own house and control all his own womenfolk (Esther 1: 22, NEB). Now we need to remember that Xerxes’ chief adviser at the time was Haman, portrayed as an egotistical, self-serving tyrant who would later connive to initiate a pogrom against all the Jews in Persia. We need to remember also that these events were reported by Jewish storytellers, not Persian.

As I was driving to church with these thoughts roiling around in my head, the dialogue on CBC 1 was about gender equality in corporate board rooms and government. By some measure—and I didn’t quite get by whom and how the measuring was being done—Canada was ranked 85th of 160 or so countries on the matter of working toward gender equality, i.e. ensuring that the halls of power had equitable female representation. Haman would probably have been appalled at the suggestion that men folk should even consider giving up any authority to their womenfolk.

(Typing this just now, WORD informs me that there’s no such word as menfolk, but that womenfolk is quite all right. Now what do you make of that?!)

For the sake of modern readers of the Christian Bible, I wish that a part of Mordecai’s objection to Haman’s and Xerxes’ behaviour had been directed toward their suppression of women. Unfortunately, no such objection is noted there.

We still have a lot of Hamans in positions of power, men who see it not only easier, but also scripturally sanctioned, that “each man might be master in his own house and control all his own womenfolk.”

copyright 2009, ge

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fundamentalist vs Educator

Fundamentalism is a way of looking at the world in a severely simplified form. Ordinarily we apply it (these days) to religious fanaticism, but that kind of thinking can exhibit itself anywhere. Take patriotism, probably one of the most pervasive and deadly forms of the disease. In Belleisle, New Brunswick, principal Erik Millett was ordered by the superintendent to reinstate the daily playing of O Canada after numerous complaints, threats and vitriol had been hurled at everyone who was seen to have authority in the situation.

Fundamentalism could be defined as a form of deductive reasoning, “the inference of particular instances by reference to a general law or principle (Oxford). In a patriot, the applicable law or principle in the Belleisle case might look like this: “People show their loyalty to their country by singing the national anthem; ergo, the non-singing of the national anthem obviously proves disloyalty.” Poor Erik Millett; the rage against his perceived disloyalty resulted in one parent coming to his office and threatening him with physical harm, or worse.

Deductive reasoners don’t hold with a lot of dialogue, and certainly not with the consideration of exceptions to the rule. If they did, then Erik Millett would have found himself in a much better situation; as it was, what he got was: “Don’t bother us with the explanations. You used to have O Canada every morning. You’ve reduced it to once a month in assemblies. That proves you’re un-Canadian. There’s nothing more to talk about. I should beat you to a pulp!”

Erik Millett was responding to a sound educational principle. Segregating young students from their peer activities should be avoided because it can lead to stigmatization and damage to self image. In his school were a few children whose parents believe that patriotic symbols are hypocritical in a people whose allegiance is—first and foremost—to God, not to a state. Millett didn’t want to make these kids stand in the hallway with their hands over their ears while the anthem was being played and everyone else stood at attention.

Millett’s actions were based on compassion for his students, not disloyalty to Canada. He saw some of the children caught between their parents’ (deductive) logic and the public’s (deductive) reasoning, and he sought to reach a compromise in the interest of the children. He was reasoning inductively: Logic characterized by the inference of general laws from particular instances (Oxford). Millett was showing the characteristics of a good educator; what he failed to do was to appease the fundamentalists before making the change. They’ll kill you for that. Millett may never go back to his job.

That’s the problem with deduction. It invariably sees compromise as a bad thing, a way down a slippery slope. In religion as well as in patriotism, liberal, inductive reasoners are at a disadvantage; they don’t have a Bible verse or a flag to nail their conclusions to because they are thinking from the notion that the principle is derived from the events, not the other way ‘round. What’s more, threats, vitriol and worse are typically fundamentalist tools. They have this built-in urge to clean up the environment, particularly of the deviance they see in their opposites.

Too bad. We probably lost a great teacher. I don’t know how the superintendent for the region can live with herself; she acquiesced to the fundamentalists when leadership was called for.