Friday, April 22, 2005

The Perfect Choice for Pope.

Part of the genius of choosing Benedict as pope--I mean genius in the literal sense, it was something not of human doing--is that it may finally put the kibosh on anti-German racism. Already the German press is apparently reacting with some anger to all the nonsense about "Hitler Youth" and a "Nazi pope."

As John Paul became a symbol of national pride for Poland, Benedict may become one for Germany. The perfect hero for modern Germany, just what the German soul needed: a hero of morality to expiate the sense of corporate sin.

God is pretty clever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Can Women's Liberation Make It in the West?

Excerpted from a note posted by a Western woman teaching at the all-women university here in the UAE. Someone asked her if her students envied her the opportunities she has had.

“The short answer is no, for the most part they pitied me. In their worldview I was a pathetic single woman... away from her family... no husband... no children... what could possibly be worse than that?

…These women feel sorry for Western women as we are obviously the most mistreated women in the world as our men have no respect for us at all. That is shown by the fact that even our husbands touch us in public - gasp, even kiss us (something that in their culture shows that the woman is a prostitute). The men allow their wives and daughters to run the streets with no chaperon to protect them... thus it is obvious that they do not love or respect us at all.

….The reality was that none of them wanted my life any more than I wanted theirs.”


That is the reality of the supposed “abuse of women” in the Muslim or Arab world. The Western demand that Arab women change their lives is simply cultural imperialism in its rawest form.


Another poster, an Arab who had lived in the west, chimed in:

“Women in the west are nothing more than sexual objects, that’s why you see them in advertisements for everything from soap to sofas, because in reality the executives view them as just one more studio prop.”

Women’s liberation may yet come to the West.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Papal Sweeps

The papal election is also interesting, but who knows anything about it? It is always unpredictable. My sense is that picking a black pope or a Latin American pope or an Indian pope to follow a Polish pope, as the press clearly wants, would be gimmicky, and starts to look like a racial quota system. I say go with Ratzinger, for his intellectual stature, or pick an Italian to prevent such a precedent.

An Irish bookie is taking odds. Cardinal Ratzinger leads (7-2), followed by Cardinal Lustiger of Paris (4-1). Both are "conservative." Leading moderate is Cardinal Martini of Milan at 9-2. Trailing are, in order, Cardinal Hummes of Sao Paolo, Arinze of Nigeria, and Tettamanzi of Milan.

Rumour is that Ratzinger has 50 votes going in.

But of course, none of this means anything. Nobody who is likely to place a bet has any inside information, and leading now does not mean you can get the two-thirds majority needed. This requirement favours dark-horse compromise candidates.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Maple Leaf Forever

I thought I’d test my patriotism with a little writing exercise. I’ve always loved the old tune “The Maple Leaf Forever,” and thought it was a darned shame you never heard it any more, because some of the words are no longer PC.

In the meantime, Keith Spicer a few years ago, as chair of a committee on national unity, lamented that there was not enough poetry in our sense of nationhood.

So why not write new words?

I was concerned not to knuckle under to the fashion for multiculturalism, and portray Canada as a hotel: I didn’t want one verse for Newfoundland, one for Sikhs, and so forth. That leaves Canada as nothing in itself: I think it is fatal to nationhood. Every verse had to be for every Canadian.

Here’s what I have come up with:


The Maple Leaf Forever
(new words to the old tune)

The sap may die,
The leaves may fall,
The winds may whip like leather;
Yet still on frozen nights recall
The maple leaf forever.

The shining sea
Dims off BC:
We see the darkness gather.
Yet soon the dawn’s off old St. John’s:
The maple leaf forever.

Brave Fox might fall
On roads unrun--
We’ll win this race together.
Ten million feet all rise as one--
The maple leaf forever.

From Vimy Ridge
To Stanley strand,
Red blooms anoint strange heather.
Beneath stone crosses lies each man
With maple leaves forever.

All blazes gone,
We portage on,
From known to unknown river.
What can’t we do if North is true?
The maple leaf forever.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Relative Wind

Last night I drifted off pleasantly to sleep with the lovely Buddhist thought that I am nobody. I felt the old twinge of depersonalization, and I rode with it.

I used to think I was somebody. But the older I get and the more folks I meet, the more I see I am no different from anyone else, that we are all mostly the same. And as I age, my memories seem less and less definite: did I really do that? Was I really there? Was that me?

I like to believe I am fading into the universe. Now I’m a raindrop falling in the gutter, now a spinning galaxy, now a crab on an ocean floor. Now a pattern of light on a sheer curtain moving with the wind. Now nobody at all. Nothing at all.

According to psychiatry, this is depersonalization, and it is a symptom of depression. Here’s where psychology does so much harm. It mistakes a cure for a disease, and seeks to prevent it. Usually successfully. Any Buddhist knows depersonalization is a psychic breakthrough. Psychiatry fearfully tries to drag you back into the wheel of birth and death.

Depersonalization is the cure. The disease is everyday life.

Both Christianity and Buddhism are mystery religions. Both see that the apparent world is upside down, that things are seldom as they seem. God suffers and dies. One consciously refuses Buddhahood once it is possible. Messiah comes, and nobody knows him. The greatest in this world are least in the kingdom of heaven. Life is death, and death is salvation. The stone that is rejected becomes the cornerstone of the temple. The least and most unlettered monk is chosen patriarch.

Taoism also has mystery; Hinduism and Islam have their mystical branches. But in Christianity, you can’t escape it.

In the next booth, two teachers are debating loudly and lengthily the meaning of the phrase “relative wind," an aeronautical term. They seem to be saying the same things over and over, without reaching any conclusion.

Is that mad, or am I?

Relative wind. The workaday world is not worth getting excited about.

Now the noise subsides. All I hear is the clicking of computer keys.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Curses My Grandfather Told Me

This post is probably of no interest to anyone. So just go about your business while I type it here. Because it makes me feel good, anyway.

My grandfather died when I was about eleven; I am now 51. Here are some of his curses as I remember them:


Liars, cheats, and thieves!

Hell’s bells and panther tracks!

Dirty old man with a busted crutch!

Judas priest and Jiminy crickets!


It's a pity nobody can curse like that any more.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Older Men and Younger Women

Everyone today knows there is something very wrong with men marrying women much younger than themselves, right? Especially, there is something very, very wrong with an aduly male marrying a girl under, say, sixteen, right?

But older man--younger woman marriages used to be considered ideal all over the world. It is perhaps only North America and Europe that have recently fallen out of step.

The prophet Muhammed married his wife Ayesha when he was fifty and she was twelve.

It was traditionally believed that Joseph was an old man (of ninety, according to the earliest sources) and Mary very young, twelve, when they wed.

These were always considered the ideal marriages in the Muslim and Christian world respectively.

Judaism? Check out the Song of Solomon: of the bride, the book says that her breasts have not yet developed. "Our sister is little: her breasts are not yet formed. What shall we do for our sister on the day that she is spoken for?" SofS 8:7.

In India, Africa, and across the Far East, child brides and May-December marriages are still common.

The interesting question is where the prejudice against mixed-age marriages comes from in modern times. If it is racism to condemn mixed-race marriages, isnt it equally ageism to condemn mixed-age marriages?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Oil's Well

A friend warns that, with China and India developing fast and sucking up more oil, the days of permanent shortage are here, and oil is sure to go over $100 a barrel.

But as of last year, The Economist was lamenting that proven oil reserves rose only slightly over the year before. But note this: they are still rising. We are not, by all indications, running out of oil. The year before, The Economist featured a memorable headline reading "Drowning in oil?"

I do not believe things have changed that quickly.

The UAE has more than a hundred years’ supply still in the ground, at today’s pumping levels, even if no more is found. And all this does not factor in unconventional sources like Alberta’s tar sands.

Whatever is pushing the price of oil up these dahys, it is more likely to be a temporary thing.