For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Project!!!

I haven't posted in a little while, but I'm excited to share some amazing news about a new project I will be able to start!

For anyone who's been reading my blog for a while, you know that I grew up on the farm. It's there that I developed my love of guns.  To a farmer, guns are a tool.  We used them to dispatch animals quickly and humanely for butchering, to kill larger animals that attacked our cows and chickens, and for hunting to put food on the table.  Most farms in our area had at least 3 long guns - a .22 for general use, a shotgun for hunting birds and a heavier gauge for hunting deer, elk, moose, etc.  I have many happy memories of wandering through the bush with our .22, practising my aim on trees or shooting crows (though I stopped doing that when I discovered not even the barn cats would eat them).

I've long thought that, in Canada in particular, guns are greatly and unfairly maligned.  Especially with the formation of the wasteful long gun registry.  Yes, people do use guns to commit crimes, etc., but more people use knives and other weapons in crimes than guns.  There are thousands of gun owners that enjoy the skill required to shoot targets at a range, or the challenge and self sufficiency of hunting to put food on their table.  It's been my belief that, given the educational opportunity, people would learn to at least understand that gun ownership and gun owners are not as terrible as they've been taught to believe, and that maybe, just maybe, they'd learn to enjoy a new skill.

Well, thanks to a private backer (who wishes to remain anonymous), this dream may actually come true!  We've been able to acquire some property and get all the permits to build a gun education centre.  Of course it will have a shooting range, but that won't be the focus of the centre.  Anyone will be welcome to come in and visit a library and a museum housing some rare and beautiful old guns.  Some were truly works of art!  Visitors would be able to talk to instructors and facilitators and learn more about guns and gun history.  Those who are interested would be able to learn how to safely handle guns and use the shooting range.  More importantly, they'd be able to learn how guns can be used to protect themselves, should the unthinkable happen. I really think it would be a fantastic way to reach out to people and educate them about guns.

Unfortunately, I do foresee a few problems.  There is a very loud and vocal segment of the population in Canada that would see all guns banned.  Most of them are far-left extremists - quite bigoted and intolerant, but with powerful lobbies.  Some may also have problems with the location.  It's a great property, and we have the permits to build.  Being private property, they can't really stop us, but it happens to be in Montreal, just a couple of blocks away from the École Polytechnique.  Still, it's been more than 20 years since the Montreal Massacre.  I think, by now, people would be more open and understanding that not all gun owners are potential mass murderers.  What better place to remind people of that?  Most gun owners are responsible, peace loving people who would never dream of doing something so horrible.  I think the education centre would be an excellent way to reach out to non-gun owners and help them understand the truth about guns, even if they would never want to own one themselves.  One would have to be quite intolerant and prejudiced to have a problem with the facility, but hey... this is the far left we're talking about.


If you haven't figured it out yet, not a word of what I've written is going to happen.  I think it would be in extremely poor taste for anyone to build a gun range near the site of Canada's most infamous massacre, even though technically, it might be perfectly legal to do so - I just don't think anyone would ever get permits required to do so.  People would be, understandably and rightfully, up in arms over the proposal.  I do actually like guns, and do have happy memories of shooting (I was given a WWII Polish sniper rifle as a wedding gift, though we got rid of it before the long gun registry kicked in.  I miss that thing.  Wow, did it have a kick!!).  I would fully support an educational facility like that one I just discussed - but not one so close to the site of a mass murder.  It would be highly disrespectful and offensive.

Kind of like the "Ground Zero mosque" that is in the news right now.

No, I didn't come up with the shooting range analogy.  I borrowed that.  I still think it's apt, though.

When the "Ground Zero mosque" idea first hit the news, lots of people were up in arms over the idea.  Of course, the usual crazies came out of the woodwork and, also as usual, everyone who disapproved to the project was painted with the same brush as the crazies.  Lately there's been more of a shift towards people voicing their displeasure at those who voiced their displeasure.  I'm seeing the usual people jumping into that fray, calling anyone who's against the project intolerant, racist, bigoted... you know, far-right.  Because only the far right would be against such a lovely project, and we all know that far right equals undemocratic, racist, Christian, intolerant, etc.

Which is pretty ironic, when you think about it.  The far left is quick to make accusations of intolerance on the part of the right (and one doesn't have to actually be on the right; you just have to disagree with them to be instantly labeled a rightwing nutbar), yet they are incredibly intolerant themselves of anyone who disagrees with them.

What would be funny, if it weren't rather alarming, is that I'm seeing the people ranting against the anti-mosque people (yes, I know, it's not really a mosque, it's a cultural center or something, but mosque is the word being used on both sides of the issue) and making accusations that the right is "undemocratic," are the same people that were perfectly okay with the idea of our second-time democratically elected government get over-thrown by a coalition of losers that couldn't come up with a combined number of MPs to do so without jumping into bed with a separatist party.  The same people that don't really believe in private property (some actually believe private property is a crime) are now saying that, well, it's private property, so they can build whatever they want.

I've seen some writers mocking the opponents of the project on a number of invalid points.  They'll say, for example, that it's not really on Ground Zero, but two blocks away.  That would imply that Ground Zero is only where the twin towers stood, but in reality, it's quite a bit larger then that.  The location this complex was going to be built on had a building on it already - a building that was destroyed when a piece of one of the towers fell on it.  It, too, is part of Ground Zero.

Another writer mocked people for referring to Ground Zero as "hallowed ground."  Growing up Catholic, I learned that hallowed ground was land blessed by a priest, such as the land a church is built on, or land blessed for use as a graveyard.  However, I recognize that other places are considered hallowed without prayers being said over them or whatever is involved in the process of consecrating something.  After all, there are a great many land development projects being stymied because nearby Native groups claim that land is sacred to them, therefore no one should be allowed to build on it.  That they haven't had possession of that land or used it in any way for a few hundred years doesn't seem to make a difference.  It's still being successfully argued in the courts.  Can you imagine someone mocking these claims the same way people are now mocking those who describe Ground Zero as sacred or hallowed ground?

What really chokes in my craw is when I hear the folks using the private property argument.  When talking about this project they use the argument that, because it's private property and the owners have all the permits, no one has any right to object to this complex being built.

These same people's heads would explode over my gun education centre near the site of the Montreal Massacre idea, private property and permits be damned.

In this area, I actually happen to agree with them, even if they are being hypocritical about it.  I believe firmly in private property rights, and believe that people should be free to do as they wish on their own land, so long as no one is harmed because of it. People aren't free to do what they wish on their own land, though.  We are constantly controlled and regulated over what we can or can't do on our own property.  We need permits to build, which makes sense to a certain extent, but I think the regulations have gone too far in many places.  Our properties are zoned, controlling how we use our land as well as what we can build on it.  Just recently on the news, there's a family being prosecuted for allowing their son to use their land for an event, which he's been holding for the past 10 years.

While we may be somewhat free to build what we want, once our permits are in order, we can still be stopped by others who have have nothing to do with our property.  The monster house craze was in full force when we lived in Richmond, BC, where people would buy a piece of property, raze whatever house was already on there, then build a new house so big, it would cover almost the entire plot of land, with multiple stories.  There was a huge outcry against them, with people working to change regulations to prevent more of these houses being built. We moved away, so I don't know if they ever succeed.  People are constantly trying to tell others what they can or can't do on their own private property.

For those currently using private property as a reason why no one should be complaining against the building of this complex near the site of the twin towers, I say this.  Never again do I want to see them complaining over some old building being torn down to make way for a Starbucks, even if it is historically significant.  Never again do I want to hear about people complaining about their neighbour's back yard firepit.  Never again do I want to see people trying to prevent someone from cutting down a tree on their own property because the roots are damaging their house, even if it is  100 + years old and they really, really like it.  Never again do I want to hear them complaining because people are watering their lawns when they think it's a waste of water.  Never again do I want to see them fighting to block development on land that they think should be used to grow food.  Never again do I want to hear complaints because someone's got vehicles parked in their yard, on or off blocks.  Never again do I want to hear of them supporting the prevention of development on private property because the rare, possibly extinct Woolly Spotted Sapsucking SomethingOrOther might be living there.

When it comes to the "Ground Zero Mosque," the people who own it have every right to build that complex, once they've got the permits for it (though I find it curious that they got those permits for this project cleared so quickly, when you consider that an existing Greek Orthodox Church damaged during 9/11 still hasn't been able to get the permits necessary to rebuild).  It may be offensive and disrespectful, all things considered, but they can do it.  And others have every right to object to it and try to stop it, just like other people have been able to successfully object to and prevent people from cutting down trees in their own property.

For those people who've suddenly discovered private property rights and democracy over this issue, they'd do well to remember that those rights extend to BOTH sides of the issue, not just the side they support.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A bit of a change

I find it hard to believe I've been writing this blog for over 5 years.  So much has changed, yet it doesn't feel like I've been blogging that long!

Still, the focus of my writing has changed quite a bit.  I'm not writing quite as much about day to day activities and more about my thoughts on things much farther afield.  While I'm still moving on in a figurative sense, and hope I always will be, it's not what I'm writing about quite so much anymore.

As I thought of the things I've been writing about, trying to define more or less what my blog is about these days, the thought of heresy same to mind.  When the word first came about, it was defined from a religious point of view.  Especially when it came to Roman Catholicism.  Heretics were the ones who questioned Church dogma. 

These days, questioning religion - or more specifically, Christianity - is de riguer.  In fact, there are so many former heresies in our modern world that are now status quo that holding a differing opinion is now the heresy.

One of the new religions is secular humanism, and the modern heretic is the one that doesn't scoff at the belief in a Deity.  The new dogma is anti-capitalism, while the modern heretic acknowledges that capitalism and free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty and despair than any other system.  Environmentalism has become a new religion as well, and to suggest that modern environmentalism might actually be doing more harm to the natural world than good is a modern heresy.  The modern heretic is the "conservative."  The modern heretic questions anthropogenic global warming.  The modern heretic doesn't think humans are a virus or a plague that should be destroyed to protect Gaia.  The modern heretic hears the "progressives" talk, then questions how they came to those conclusions, rather than just falling into line and doing what they want.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am a modern heretic...

... and I kinda like it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not quite what we've been told

One of our regular habits that had gone by the wayside lately was our weekly library trips.  We've kinda-sorta started them up again.  One of the things I enjoy about going to the library is just browsing through the various sections of interest and discovering related books I would never have known about.  One such gem I've since been able to buy and am happily re-reading is The Gospel of Food: Everything you think you know about food is wrong, by Barry Glassner.  That's a book I would put on my "everyone really ought to read" list.  A new discovery I'm working on right now is looking like it belongs on that list, too.  Consumed: Why Americans love, hate and fear food, by Michelle Stacey.

My long time interest in food from an historical and cultural perspective has probably been the greatest buffer that has protected me from falling completely for the many food myths that permeate our current North American culture.  As a home schooling parent, I've been able to indulge my love of research even more. 
What I've found over the years is often in complete contradiction of what we are being told in the mass media or by special interest groups to the point that they have become truisms.  People accept them because "everybody knows" that they are true.  This is especially true when it comes to comments about how, never before in human history, have we been so inactive/eaten so much food/been so fat/etc, etc, ad nauseam.  At the same time, there is often painted an image of how we humans did things in the past that isn't as accurate as we're lead to believe.  When it comes to food (and the environment), the past is often talked about as some sort of utopia, where our ancestors (or sometimes current non-western cultures) lived sustainable lives, at peace with nature, eating all those healthy, organic, whole foods that we need to go back to if we are going to survive as a race.

The only problem is, most of these assumptions turn out to be little more than bovine excrement.

Take, for example, the idea of eating out and fast food.  The truism is that back in the romanticised "old days," we all had these regular family meals of home cooked, home grown or locally produced, food that came about through sustainable, organic practises.  People didn't eat out, and they certainly didn't have "fast food."  Of course we used to all eat smaller portions, too - except for those who did laboured hard in the fields and needed the extra energy, therefore they could eat larger portions and not get fat.  Fat people were, of course, a rarity.  These same ideas are often applied to modern cultures in third, and sometimes second, world countries (I won't even touch the mythology we in first world countries have developed about these cultures; I'll leave that for the sociology blogs).

The reality doesn't quite fit these notions.  For starters, ancient cultures didn't always eat at home (assuming they even had individual homes to begin with).  Many homes in ancient Rome, for example, didn't even have kitchens.  Only the wealthy could have a house big enough to include a kitchen, plus the slaves to cook for them (only the poorest of the poor didn't have at least one slave, and slavery in itself was not the same as we picture it today).  Most people ate street food, which is still popular in many countries around the world where they haven't been regulated out of existence.  Street food is, essentially, fast food.  There were a great many food vendors, and people ate what they could, when they could, wherever they could.  They had no choice but to buy fresh food daily.  Without refrigeration, people often ate food that may have started to rot, and a great deal of effort was made and regulations written to try and prevent vendors from selling bad food and drink.

"But wait!" I can hear some people cry.  "Food back then wasn't loaded with fat and salt and sugar like modern fast food."  Actually, it was.  Our ancestors placed a high value on all three of those things.  Fat of all kinds was used a great deal.  Salt was expensive, highly prized, and used in rather shocking quantities.  Refined sugar wasn't invented until fairly recently, but sweets were highly prized. Some years ago, the girls and I cooked a recreation of an ancient Roman favorite, honeyed dates.  First, several types of nuts (high in fats) were pulverized with a mortar and pestle.  Dried, pitted dates (high in sugars) were stuffed with the nut blend, then rolled in salt.  The sticky surface of the dates picked up so much salt, I was rather alarmed.  I thought the salt would be so overwhelming, they'd be inedible.  The dates, now white with salt, were then cooked in a frying pan with honey (even more sugars).  Once cooked, they were put on a plate and the honey they were cooked in was drizzled on top.  Much to our surprise, they not only didn't taste too salty, we found them quite delicious.  We can completely understand why this dish was such a favorite.

Foods like dates and figs were prized for their sweetness, as was honey, of course.  Salt was not only used in large quantities in cooking, but invaluable as a preservative in a world without refrigeration.  I have some recipes for preserving vegetables in salt.  They involve layers of salt about 2 inches thick surrounding layers of vegetables in similar thicknesses.  Foods preserved like this needed to be rinsed with cold water several times before they could be eaten, but they remained incredibly salty.  Meats were preserved with dry salt, in brine or in fat.  Fat itself was both eaten and drunk.  One medieval treatise included a quote from a anonymous peasant saying, "if I were king, I would drink only fat." 

The ancients had their food myths, too, many of which would be right at home in the modern world.  Some of it seems just plain silly now, others rather disgusting, and still others are now known to be quite dangerous. Vegetarianism has always had its proponents, and they could be just as obnoxiously superior as some modern vegetarians. Clearly there were plenty of fat people thousands of years ago, as there was plenty of weight loss advice to be had, along with a long list of other body and health related advice. It seems humans have always obsessed with our diets.

Food was central to our lives for most of human history, and is why I have found that the best way to learn about a culture is to learn about their food.  We humans have fought a constant battle to get enough of it, and when we did, we had a tendency to gorge while we could, because starvation was always just around the corner.  Unfortunately, food could also be quite dangerous, as we had no knowledge of bacteria or mold or any number of others things potentially dangerous or deadly.  Our efforts to preserve food was a matter of trial and error.  We had no way of knowing why salt kept food from going bad, or why keeping food sealed away from air in honey or fat allowed us to store it for future use. we only knew that it did. The methods weren't perfect, and often people had little choice than to eat whatever was available, making food borne illnesses and deaths were fairly common.  For those of us fortunate enough to live in first world nations, never before has our food been so safe for consumption.

Quantities of food we eat now compared to the past is another favorite talking point.  People claim that today we eat so much more than in the past.  The reality is that when our ancestors ate less, it was generally because there was less food to be had.  Given the opportunity, we had a tendency to not just eat a lot, but eat to the point of vomiting.  No, I'm not talking about the gluttonous feasts of ancient Roman nobility, though that was certainly true of them.  In the Europe of the middle ages, the poor rarely had enough to eat, but there were a great many feast days.  Food was provided by the lords and nobility, available to all.  Woodcuts and other art of the period occasionally show such feasts with a diner still at table, vomiting onto the ground beside him, and a dog handily cleaning up the mess.  When people had no idea when they'd next be able to eat, binging was often the result.  

There is a tendency for us to project how we do things now onto the past.  One such assumption is the idea of three squares a day.  A fascinating book I read (but cannot remember the title of anymore or I'd be searching it out to buy), includes comparisons of meal times and menus.  In reading it, my confusion over the terms lunch, dinner and supper was finally cleared up.  For a long time, I wasn't sure if the noon meal was lunch or dinner, or if the evening meal was dinner or supper.  It turns out that they were all separate meals.  For a time, it was common for people to have 4 meals a day, with significant evolution in the times they were eaten, and what was eaten.  Breakfast, for example, wasn't eaten until about 10 am (and in many cultures today, still is eaten quite late).  It would a large repast, with a selection of hot and cold meats, breads, porridge, vegetables, fruits, a selection of drinks, with creams, jams and jellies.  It was a social affair, where one could expect visitors to drop in without notice.  Dinner was in the late afternoon or early evening.  Supper would be eaten at about 10 pm.  Over time, breakfast time migrated to earlier in the day to about 7 or 8 am (with town folk eating later than rural folk). Dinner became a noon meal, but supper remained a late meal, leading to the invention of an afternoon tea.  In another period, dinner became a later meal, into the early evening, while the late supper was eventually dropped.  Luncheons for a noon meal for women became all the rage (men often skipped the midday meal, though eventually they had their own, separate, light meal at the same time).  Like breakfasts of another time, luncheons were social gatherings.  A woman would let people know that she'd be home for luncheon an a certain date and her friends and family knew that they could stop by for a meal and socializing, with the meals being shared in different homes.  These could be quite elaborate affairs, with extensive menus.

Then there was High Tea and Low Tea.  High Tea was actually the meal of the lower classes, named for the high table they tended to stand and eat at.  It was a hearty and substantial meal.  Low Tea, with was eaten by the wealthier set while sitting at low tables, included lighter, if not lesser, foods.

Perhaps most interesting of all was the comparison of menus typical for town folk compared to rural families.  One would expect that the farmers and labourers would eat larger meals, but they actually ate far less, with fewer meals spread farther apart.  It was the town folk that ate so much more.  I've heard it said that even town folk "needed" more calories than we do today, as they had to walk so much more than we do to get around, but again, this doesn't reflect reality. 

Another interesting comparison was between these typical meal times and menus of European and Western countries with other nations.  There is quite a variety between them, and some curious consistencies.  Some dishes or ingredients, for example, had to be part of every meal.  It didn't matter how much a person indulged in other foods, if that particular dish or ingredient wasn't part of the meal, then there was no meal, therefore they had not eaten.  It's difficult to understate how much of a role culture plays in what and how we eat.

The production of food is another common source myths.  The current truism is that in the past, humans lived in sync with nature, sustainably growing food, eating only locally produced food and, of course, there were no dangerous artificial fertilizers being used.  What people are forgetting is that, for most of our existence, humans were constantly battling against nature for survival.  Nature is, to use the gamer's parlance, Chaotic Neutral.  It's beautiful and ugly, kind and cruel, glorious and horrifying.  The main concern has been to get enough food in the first place, and early humans (not to mention many people today) didn't have the luxury of caring if they were causing permanent damage to the ecosystem - a modern concept we still don't fully understand and perhaps never will - or if they happen to hunt some creature out of existence.  Archaeological evidence shows that early agricultural practices damaged the local area so badly that, after thousands of years, they are still infertile and can no longer sustain most plant growth.  This is hardly an isolated example.  In the Copper Age, smelters were so inefficient and used so much wood, a large section of Europe was permanently deforested.  Why permanent?  Because the soil now has so much copper in it, it can no longer support tree growth.

From my experience and observations, few things are more environmentally destructive than agriculture.  Even gardening does its damage.  It involves tearing up the soil and reducing it to a state fine enough for seeds to be planted and roots to establish themselves, but opening up the way to soil loss due to winds.  Monoculture agriculture leaves crops more susceptible to species specific insects and disease.  They require larger amounts of water that needs to be brought in from somewhere else, with its subsequent increase in loss to evaporation.  Compare the growth of crops to raising grazing animals.  They require pastures, which require leaving the soil intact, and can be done on marginal land incapable of supporting crop growth.  Grasses grown for feed in the winter are perennial, again protecting the soil from erosion.  Animal feces fertilize the land as they graze.  They can travel to water themselves for the most part, and if water needs to be brought to them, it's in containers leaving less surface area to evaporation, and so on.  Only when animals are being fed annual crops such as grains do the environmental costs begin to increase, since those are the same costs as food grown for human consumption.

The point being, there has never been any idyllic utopia of humans living in perfect harmony with nature.  If nothing else, nature has never been consistent enough to allow that to happen.  Many of these idealistic images require a fair amount of revisionist history.

Oh, then there's another myth that's my favorite: the local food myth.  People, we are told, used to eat only those foods they either grew themselves, or were produced locally, and for that, they were so much healthier than we are today.

To put in bluntly, no.

Humans have always sought out new foods from far afield.  If they could get seeds or seedlings (which were often protected quite vigorously in order to maintain monopolies of supply) and grow these new foods themselves, great, but otherwise, imported foods were eagerly sought after.  Only the most isolated of communities relied solely on locally produced food, which often led to malnutrition and hunger.  Even areas that could grow a large variety of foods could see their entire potential supply for the off seasons wiped out in a single storm.  Insects infestations and disease could also completely destroy food supplies, and without an outside source of food, this often meant death for the weakest of the community, if not the entire community should these conditions continue for too long. 

Many important foods had to be imported, while others were simple highly desired.  Salt, essential to life, is perhaps highest on the list.  Olive oil was a highly prized commodity.  The spice trade made many people very, very wealthy.  Citrus fruits were eagerly sought by northern nations, craved for by people long before we understood vitamins and their importance. 

Now, I have nothing against the local food movement.  It's a great way to support local producers and, being a supporter of capitalism and free enterprise, to me that's a good thing.  All other things being equal, I will choose a locally produced item over an imported one.  The problems is, all things are rarely equal and my budget doesn't always allow me to pay premium prices for produce just because it's from a local source. 

Putting aside the myths about locally produced food being better for the environment than imported food, or the difficulty in maintaining a healthy variety of foods, I have two major problems with the locavore movement.

One: it's can be remarkably selfish.  While there are other issues of concern that I won't touch on here, buying food from grows in, say, somewhere in Africa, I am helping people living other nations improve their lot in life.  Buying imported goods is giving people a hand up, rather than a hand out.  Hand outs have a tendency to backfire, leading to dependency on charity while destroying independence and self esteem.  Someone who produces something and sells it at a profit gains many benefits beyond the material.  By refusing to buy imported goods in the mistaken belief that it is somehow bad for the environment, or because of some political anti-capitalist ideology, I don't think people quite understand how much more harm they are causing.  If nothing else, it can leave large numbers of people wallowing in a level of poverty we in developed nations have never experienced.

Two: it's protectionist and isolationist.  Those who object to international trade and capitalism seem to forget something important.  International trade in goods is also international trade in ideas.  Early caravans didn't just travel with spices, gems, cloth and other tangible goods in a vacuum.  In the process, they dealt with people.  They exposed themselves to new cultures, new ideas and new technologies.  Then, as they travelled to other places to buy and sell more goods, they told stories about their travels.  They shared their knowledge.

What was true for thousands of years remains true today, though with more accuracy of information.  In order to trade with other nations, we need to know about them. We need to know who they are and what they have to offer.  We need to have open lines of communication.

It is my belief that hatred, at it's core, is fostered by fear of the unknown and unfamiliar.  We fear what we do not know, and we hate what we fear.  By learning more about other peoples, other cultures, other nations through trade, the more we get to know them, the less we fear them, the less likely we are to hate them.  People tend not to do war on their partners. 

A side effect of the locavore trend is that by looking inwards, to our small corner of the world, we are in fact turning our backs to the rest of the world. We are shutting it out, "othering" anyone outside our circle.  In doing so, not only to we harm them, but we harm ourselves as well. 

Food is so much more than fuel for our bodies.  Food brings us together as people.  As cultures.  As nations. Sharing food overcomes barriers and brings people together.  It is a sharing of experiences and ideas.  We do ourselves a disservice by using food as a moral compass, by obsessing over it as nothing but fat and calories; by labelling it "good" or "bad."  We certainly aren't doing ourselves any good by perpetuating myths or revising history about food to fit our current notions.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Over the past few years, from when I first started exploring this whole "blogging" thing people were doing, I started reading political blogs - or at least blogs where people voiced their political opinions along with their other opinions on things.  Fairly early on, I encountered a phrase on conservative/right leaning blogs.  "Liberalism is a mental disorder."

At the time, I thought of it as hyperbole.  Rhetoric.  The deliberate baiting of opposing opinions.

As time went on, I found myself on facebook, which put me back in touch with a number of people I was no longer in contact with - after moving 17 or so times, there's a fair number of those - and met new people as well.  With my kids needing less of my attention, I've become more involved with groups both online and in real life.

Of course, I've also been writing my own blog, doing my own research, and exploring ideas I would probably not have encountered were it not for this grand virtual world that exists on the Internet.

In the process, some of my opinions on things have grown and changed, while others have solidified into something more cohesive and less ambiguous.  Writing things down has a way of clarifying thoughts and ideas in a way that speaking or just thinking about them doesn't.

Personally, I am a political agnostic.  While I tend to lean towards the libertarian side of things, I'm not completely libertarian.  Currently my views are considered right of centre - at least in Canada - but there are things on the left that I agree with, too.  The definition that best fits my views is Classical Liberal, which is more what the Conservatives are now than the Liberals, but neither truly fits it.  When it comes time to vote, I try to educate myself on the parties that are running in my area, as well as the individuals, and try to vote for either the person or the party that best represents what I believe to be the most beneficial to Canada.  So far, I haven't found myself having to choose between a person I want to support, running for a party I don't, and vice versa.

I've noticed a few things over the years, and I'm finding them increasingly disturbing.

After years of the Liberal Party systematically destroying the country, I had some hope when the CPCs finally drove them out.  I saw it a bit like a lot of experienced home schoolers say to new ones; no matter what the challenges, it would be awfully hard for any parent to do worse than the school system already is.  The Conservatives have their problems, but they'd have to screw up pretty badly to be worse than the Liberals were.  So far, I haven't been completely disappointed, and have even felt somewhat pleased by how our current government is doing.  Especially when the economy started to fail.  There is no doubt in my mind that, had the Liberals or a coalition government been in power, Canada would have tanked quite spectacularly.

Clearly, enough Canadians agree - Canadians not only voted the Conservatives back in again, but we gave them a slightly stronger minority, even with the Quebec-only Bloc messing up the numbers.  (As an aside, I think that if a party wants to run federally, they should have members running in at least 2 provinces.  Otherwise, stick to provincial.)

Among my various contacts, though, you'd think it was the other way around.  Conservatives or right of centre folks tend to be a rather quiet lot, I've noticed.  Considering how many times I've bit my tongue to keep the peace myself, I can understand why.  Leftists are awfully good at shouting down dissent, and if they can't do it that way, they will manipulate things in the background to drive out those who disagree with them - and I don't mean just for political views.  Conservatives and those on the right, who value individual liberty so much, are more willing to live and let live, and I notice that leftists take full advantage of that.  Liberal, Green and NDP supporters tend to be much more vocal and public.  They're more likely to have loud, boisterous demonstrations, or start up facebook groups against whatever conservative viewpoint they disagree with.

They also tend to have a knee-jerk reaction against anything proposed by the current government, no matter what it is.  The left has never been able to accept their loss against the CPC, and have been trying their hardest to sabotage anything they can, while at the same time trying to manufacture scandal after scandal.  While the Libs were in power, these same people would completely ignore or accept far worse, but a Conservative can't put even a toe out of line (and only they get to decide where that line is) without huge, dramatic outrage.

Just an example of the leftist contradictions, many of these people fully supported the idea of overturning our elected government with an unelected coalition - one that we later found out was in the works before the election.  They are perfectly okay with having a new Liberal leader appointed by the party elites, rather than elected by members.  Yet these same people say that the Conservatives are anti-democratic, authoritarian and elitist.
It doesn't matter to them what's good for the country.  It doesn't matter if their actions cause more harm to our country.  As far as they're concerned, only their views matter, and if fighting the Conservatives means things go badly for ordinary citizens, well, it's clearly the Conservative's fault for not rolling over and doing what they want them to do.

I sometimes wonder how the cognitive dissonance doesn't result in their heads exploding.

As I've heard and read various self-identified leftists go on about this or that thing done by the Evil Conservatives, I was at first amused.  Then I started to feel disgusted.  Now I'm increasingly alarmed.  It seems like they've turned off their critical thinking skills completely, and given themselves over to their own personal prejudices against anyone they consider conservative (which seems to be anyone who disagrees with their views).  If it's from the Conservatives, they not only automatically reject it, they vow to fight it.  Loudly.  Publicly.  Preferably through mass media, which happily laps it all up.  Whatever it is, no matter how benign, or even beneficial to the country, it might be, it's twisted to become yet another proof of the Terrible Conservative Hidden Agenda.  Strangely, no Conservative I have encountered seems to have any idea what agenda they're talking about.  Only the leftists seem to know what it is. 

In the end, watching their behaviour and listening to their rants, I've noted a strange similarity to my mother, who is a textbook example of paranoid schizophrenia, even if we can't get an official diagnosis.  I've found myself coming to an inescapable conclusion that disturbs me as much as their actions.

Liberalism really is a mental disorder.

Monday, August 02, 2010

One Month

It's been a month.

Though we didn't know it for several days, it was a month ago that my youngest brother, the one I was closest to, was killed in an accident.

One month.

Thirty one days.

I've mentioned before in past posts that death in itself has never really bothered me.  I grew up in a culture that didn't hide death away from children.  My earliest memory of death is sunshine and green grass and playing among the headstones - the only memory I have in connection with my grandfather. 

We went to funerals as a family.  We grieved the loss of our loved ones while celebrating their lives and feeling gratitude for having them with us in the time we had.  Funerals would be filled with laughter as well as tears, my brother's being no exception.  As a child, I even remember posing with family members beside the open casket for photos, which would be sent back to family in the Old Country who couldn't be there.  We received similar photos in return.

This time, however, is different and so much harder.  Not just because this is the closest person to me that has died.  Even the tragedy of his death, as horrific as it was, is not fully what's made this death more difficult.  My greatest solace was learning he was killed instantly; my mind had been recoiling in horror at the thought of what his last moments would have been like otherwise, whenever the idea skittered through my consciousness until the police report came in.  In the past, I've seen death due to age and illness, accident and suicide, and even murder, though that, at least, was not someone I'd known directly.  As horrible as his death was, it wasn't the worst I'd encountered.

I've discussed my own death with my family.  They know what I want, should I be unable to make decisions for myself.  They know I want to be buried in the tiny cemetery of my home town.  Mine is a small family, but the number of us represented in that cemetery has increased rather steadily over the last few years. 

One of the reasons I've discussed this with them is because of the one type of death that concerns me.  It's the bolt out of the blue.  The sudden and unexpected.  Picture one of those old cartoons, where someone is jauntily strolling down the sidewalk, whistling a merry tune, when suddenly WHAM!! an anvil drops out of the sky.  No warning.  No preparation.  No chance to say good bye.  No chance to make arrangements.  One minute you're there, the next you're gone.

My brother's death was just such a bolt out of the blue.  What has made it all so much more difficult is that ... well, he wasn't there.  There was no casket, open or otherwise.  I understand why he was cremated as soon as the coroner released his body.  I understand why no one was allowed to see him (and my heart goes out to the friend who found him and identified him for the police).  Still, we had a service for my brother, and he wasn't there.  That wasn't my brother in that black box I at first mistook for a car battery (which seemed entirely appropriated to me, among the other mementos, and an error my brother would have found hilarious).  How could that little container be my brother?

Of course, no casket meant no hearse and no funeral procession.  One of my other brothers drove to the cemetery with the urn in his car.  During the internment, the urn was dwarfed by the bouquets provided by the funeral home.  That tiny hole in the ground was no grave.  That couldn't be my brother, who loomed so large in my life, reduced to a spot so small, it was completely covered by a small wreath.

All the usual trappings that made saying good bye easier weren't there.  He wasn't there.  Just a small box and a photo.  There was nothing tangible to grasp.  There was no him.

Getting out to the funeral at all was a hurried affair, and I am eternally grateful to my in-laws for helping us make the trip.  Missing my own brother's funeral would have been a heartbreak I don't know how I could have handled.  We did have an overnight stop on the way out, but drove straight through on the way back.  Once home, we were immediately busy preparing for an event, squeezing a week's worth of work into a few days.  Then there was the event itself.  Then there was something else... and something else... and something else.

Being so far from the rest of my family meant that for us, nothing changed.  There was no missing presence, because he wasn't there to begin with, any more than the rest of my family is.  Then suddenly I'd remember - usually while in a public place, of all things - and the wall of busyness buffering me would tremble and shudder.  I'd find myself choking inside, but the tears, the grief, couldn't break through.   It wasn't real. 

Now, finally, the busyness is slowing down.  At the same time, it's allowing the walls to finally crumble.  The tears are finally flowing.  The grief is finally showing.

One month later.