"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The above, in a nutshell, is my down-home philosophy when it comes to deciding on whether to support initiatives designed to change the way the City does business. In other words, if there's no evidence that the current way the City is going about its business is failing, then there's no good reason to enact a new policy or program to change.
Coquitlam business. (from coquitlam.ca)
And this is one of the main reasons why, at last night's council meeting, I opposed Councillor Bonita Zarrillo's motion to have the city adopt some sort of ill-defined "buy-local" policy. Thankfully, Councillors Asmundson, Reid and Hodge agreed with me, while only Councillors Wilson and the Councillor In Permanent Opposition sided with Ms. Zarrillo, so her motion failed.
Nowhere in the lengthy preamble to her motion and, moreover, nowhere in her lengthy prepared speech supporting her motion did Ms. Zarrillo present any evidence to suggest that local businesses did not support the City's current procurement policy--a policy that seeks to find the best value for the City of Coquitlam through open and competitive bid opportunities.
As our manager of financial services, Sheena MacLeod, said last night, it is proven that such competition leads to lower prices.
Moreover, as I pointed out in my speech on the matter, enacting some sort of buy-local campaign could actually end up hurting local businesses. This would occur because such an initiative would spark a mini trade war, one that would see other local municipalities enacting buy-local initiatives as well, thus limiting business opportunities for Coquitlam companies.
It's also clear to me that a "buy-Coquitlam" policy would add red tape to the City's procurement policy, placing onerous, time-consuming and expensive burdens on staff time. Ironically, the only jobs a "buy-Coquitlam" policy might, then, create would be within City Hall's administrative staff.
During her speech, Councillor Zarrillo expanded on her initial motion by suggesting that it implied that a "buy-local" policy would only kick in "when all things were equal." Well, if she meant that, she should have said so in the first place.
But, even if she had, I pointed out that "all things being equal" was either an extremely subjective criterion or, if it applied merely to the exact figure in a bid, likely to occur very rarely indeed. This being the case, it was hardly a compelling reason to support the motion.
The bottom line is that the current "best value" policy ensures that the City gets the best bang for the taxpayers' buck, while also creating a market in which good local suppliers can succeed both near to and far from home.

Here's a link to the Tri-City News' story about the debate. And here's a link to the Tri-Cities Now's story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Conscience first, politics second

Last year, I attended a speech in Vancouver by the eminent Roman Catholic leader, Thomas Cardinal Collins, and was very impressed by his ability to simplify and clearly communicate complex subjects. A letter made public today, below, is another example of Cardinal Collins' expert way with words, communicating very clearly the import and impact of a political decision Liberal leader Justin Trudeau recently enunciated. It certainly should cause Trudeau, a Catholic himself, to question the controversial edict to which Cardinal Collins is referring.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The essential nature of the humble fact

Mowat exposed as a fabricator of 'facts.'
What is "true?" I am no philosopher or theologian, but it's still a question that I've attempted to answer scores of times over the past 20 years at conferences I've attended, speeches I've given, and articles I've written.
Of course, knowing absolutely what is true is beyond the scope of we mere mortals; nevertheless, I've long believed that we humans should strive for the truth, and that truth does exist. (In stating this, I am deeply at odds with moral relativists.) We strive for the truth, I say, by collecting facts and then organizing them into a coherent whole--a coherent whole that we might describe as providing at least a window on the truth.
This issue comes to mind with the recent death of writer Farley Mowat, the much-lauded Canadian writer who had a rather different view on telling "true" stories.  As revealed in an historic Saturday Night cover story, Mowat made up substantial parts of one of his most famous "true" accounts of living in the North.
When confronted with this fact, Mowat's answer was that his story was still "true" in that it conveyed a view of the world that he considered to be the correct and true one. In other words (his own, as a matter of fact), he never let facts stand in the way of a good story.
Here's how one recent obituary  described his approach to story-telling:
 "My m├ętier lay somewhere in between what was then a grey void between fact and fiction," he wrote.  
He delivered an even stronger defence during a 1999 Harbourfront International Festival of Authors discussion with Peter Gzowski, the then CBC host who passed away in 2002.
When Gzowski challenged Mowat about the volume of facts needed in writing non-fiction, the passionate writer declared: "F--k the facts!"
I would argue, however, that Mowat was wrong and that one is doomed to fail in one's attempt to tell a true story or make a true assertion if one attempts to do so by building one's arguments on a foundation of distortions, falsehoods and, well, lies.
Consider two builders setting out to construct a brick home. One has bricks that are sound and well-formed, the other uses bricks that are shoddily made and irregular. I don't need to tell you whose house will be "truer".
Getting the facts right is essential. A reader or an audience member should not trust a conclusion (that is, an assertion of truth) if it is known that the facts that support that conclusion are fantasy.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cory Sater and the existence of evil

We learned last week that a judge had sentenced Cory Sater--the drunkard whose monumental selfishness led him to drive without a licence, to drive while inebriated, to run over and kill Charlene Reaveley and Lorraine Cruz as they stopped to help someone at the side of the road along Lougheed Highway, and then to flee the scene of the accident--to 7 1/2 years in jail. So egregious was Sater's criminal actions that even a major newspaper in Great Britain reported on the sentencing.
The conclusion of this sad and terrible case reminded me of a column I wrote at the time of the killings--a column about one particular social scientist's repulsive ruminations about why the then-unknown motorist might, essentially, be excused for having fled the scene of his crime. Ultimately, of course, the sentencing judge had a completely different take on Sater's criminal responsibility. Here's that column from three years ago:

Convict Cory Sater. (DailyMail.co.uk)
Does anyone other than a dwindling minority of procrustean traditionalists recognize evil anymore—personal evil, that is? Oh, sure, there’s plenty of the geopolitical variety to go around these days, especially in North Africa. And there’s more than enough being identified on the national stage by perpetually outraged critics within this country too, most notably by those on the political left, who eagerly attach the E word [Evil!] to everything from corporate profits and free trade to the oil sands and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s piano playing.
But we rarely hear about individual Canadians doing “bad” things, exhibiting sinister behavior, acting wickedly, or carrying on immorally, let alone sinning.
Instead, there’s always some sort of exculpating explanation for bad behaviour. Shoplifters suffer from kleptomania; corrupt officials have succumbed to stress or have manifested a previously undiagnosed psychiatric disorder; prostitutes are victims of the patriarchy, poverty or both; juvenile delinquents are the recipients of inadequate parenting; inner-city gangsters are victims of racial discrimination; and thieves are impoverished or addicted, and, if the latter, are surely not responsible for the burden of the illness under which they are labouring. You get the picture.
Look at the website promoting the recent Pink Shirt Day/anti-bullying campaign—a cause that should easily give rise to descriptions of bullies acting wickedly, etc.—and you’ll see therapeutic twaddle aplenty along with much vigorous exhortation to get to the root of the problem, etc., but nothing about the plain and simple fact bullies are acting immorally.
Which brings me to Exhibit A, otherwise known as the spark that gave life to this particular column. You might have heard of a horrible hit-and-run accident in Coquitlam, B.C., two weeks ago which left two young women dead. In covering the aftermath of the crash, which included the laying of several charges against a suspect, including two counts of impaired driving causing death, a local newspaper turned to a clinical psychologist from Simon Fraser University for some “insight” into “what might lead someone to flee the scene” of a serious accident without giving help.
Dr. Joti Samra is quoted thusly: “Assuming that it’s a true accident, the reality is… even from the perspective of the person that caused the accident, it can be quite traumatic and cause an acute stress reaction.” Got that? Acute stress reaction.
The good doctor goes on to explain that the brain could be flooded with information and emotion that would cause a person to act unusually. “The fight or flight response is something we’re exposed to when we are faced with extreme traumatic events,” Dr. Samra concludes. “Our body kind of goes into a shock, it doesn’t know what to do.”
Notice the focus on the culprit’s body and not his mind? I suppose it’s true that this human-as-hormonal-machine answer is what you’d expect from a clinical psychologist, whose business, of course, is to produce exactly this sort of pseudo-scientific analysis. But there’s no excuse for the news media to limit their probing into human behaviour to “experts” such as Dr. Samra. Why not someone with some grasp of the profundity of human existence, someone like a novelist, a moral philosopher or a religious leader-- someone who recognizes we’re more than just pre-programmed biological machines?
To my mind, it would be a welcome relief—and far more enlightening—to hear some real  insights into moral character, the dark origins of personal cowardice, or the nature of evil in circumstances such as these. And so, for example, when asked why a driver might flee the scene of an accident in which he had struck two innocent people, a priest might comment that such a person had become alienated from God, had too easily succumbed to temptation, and had become a sinner in need of redemption.
This would be really useful information as far as I’m concerned, and might also help many readers reflect more deeply on their responsibility—indeed, their duty—to act in a moral fashion.
But, of course, in this secular, humanistic era of ours, we see very little serious discussion about evil in the public square. Perversely, one is more likely to find scintillatingly descriptive words, purring about the concept of evil, in advertisements attempting to induce a consumer to indulge in some sort of deliciously sinful wickedness for an affordable price. Moral inversion to sell chocolate pudding.
A recent full-page newspaper advertisement for Volvo is a perfect example of this lamentable trend. Emblazoned above an image of a shiny red S60 model, the ad copy informs us, “There’s more to life than a Volvo. Like raising a little hell with 300 horses, spanking corners with your all-new sport-tuned chassis. And feeling a little dangerous in a car tricked out with safety technology. That’s why you drive the all-new naughty Volvo S60.” (Emphasis added.)

A 16th-Century proverb holds, “Evil doers are evil dreaders.” Today, however, evil doers are either the next patient for the couch or a target market.