16 June 2017

Any input would be greatly appreciated.

This is for those two or three of you who have read the Brief History. 

I am in the process of setting up the first part- dealing with arrival of Father William O'Grady in Toronto in time for the 1837 rebellions, to the arrival of Bishop Michael Power, to the arrival of the Famine Irish and the death of +Power in 1847- for self publication. Part of what I have to do is come up with a blurb for the back cover of the book. Here's where you come in.

I am drawing an absolute blank on this one.  My description of the book (Entitled: A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Toronto Part One: 1827-1847) currently runs thusly:  "It's a book.  About the Archdiocese of Toronto.  Between the years 1827 and 1847."

I think I need something better than that.

13 June 2017

On adapting other nations' educational policies into our system

I've had several notes in my feed lately about education in other countries. This country does this, that country does that, and they are all doing very well, and the implication seems to be that we should do this one thing or that one thing or perhaps both things, and then everything would be hunky dory.

Unfortunately, there are two problems with that: First, many of the things showing up in my feed are mutually exclusive. Second, these things are completely removed from their context. Education exists as a whole in itself and also as a part of and an expression of the society and culture that created it. What works to educate the children of one culture may not work to educate the children of another. Our schools are messed up to a large degree because we are messed up. To go back to something I have pointed out repeatedly as an example: I would love to bring back shop class and home economics, both of which have mostly disappeared from our schools. But our schools will not bring them back as long as we live in a culture where parents react to their children getting burnt or cut because they broke the safety rules by calling up their lawyer and trying to sue the school into oblivion. Shorter school days and no homework like in Finland is difficult if not impossible in a culture where both parents work and daycare is expensive. And as long as we're on the subject, parents treating schools as daycare further hamstrings our educational system.

Personally, I think what hamstrings the system most of all is the fact that it is a system in the first place, but that's something for another time

6 June 2017


Today is the seventy-third anniversary of D-day. Canadians, British and American soldiers stormed ashore under heavy fire to gain a foothold in France. Their courage and sacrifice helped bring about the end of the Nazi Tyranny, and should never be forgotten.

Most of the popular culture portrayals of D-Day are focused on the American experience, and usually at the disaster of Omaha beach. Saving Private Ryan, for instance, begins with a graphic depiction of the landing at Omaha. I have heard many people say it is the most graphic and realistic portrayal of the battle. In actual fact, the battle was far, far, worse. The movie makes it seem as though the Americans were hung up on the beach for twenty minutes or so, when in actual fact they were pinned down for hours. Take what happened in the movie, and multiply it by ten, and you will begin to have an inkling of just how little you will ever comprehend what the men went through on the beach. Through shear guts and determination they waded through the bloody tide and took control of the beach. By the end of the day they were one mile inland.

Less attention is paid to the other American beach, Utah. That was the cakewalk of the entire operation, with the fewest casualties and the farthest advance inland. It was also a mistake. The boat guiding the landing craft in hit a mine and sank. The rest of the craft got caught in a crosswind and strong current, and landed far from their original target, in a spot where the Germans had barely begun to construct their defenses.

The Americans had the extremes of experience on D-Day, both the best and the worst. The British and Canadians forces fell somewhere in between. Of the three British/Canadian Beaches, the most successful was the landing at Juno, the Canadian beach. They pushed far inland and were second only to the landings at Utah.

Yet the landings at D-day failed to achieve the lofty goals of the planners. The troops were to rush inland, link up with paratroopers who had been dropped to secure vital points and throw a defensive perimeter around the city of Caen. The men who sat far from the battlefields and drew lines on a map had set impossible goals for the troops. Caen was not captured on D-Day nor D plus ten nor D plus twenty. It fell over a month after the landings, and then only after it had been obliterated. The month in between had been full of hard fought inches and massacres on both sides. The landings of D-Day were a prelude to slaughter.

The old men who gather today on the beaches and remember lost chums and old friends have lived through horrors none of us, who live under the shadow of safety and peace their sacrifice provided, will ever understand. Their courage and devotion should never, ever be forgotten.

31 May 2017

A Saint for Toronto?

Thomas Cardinal Collins, archbishop of Toronto, has announced that he plans to begin the process that may lead to the canonization of our first Bishop, Michael Power.

I am thrilled by this news.

For those who may wish to read about Michael Power, you may look up Mark McGowan's Michael Power: The Struggle to Build the Catholic Church on the Canadian Frontier.  There is also the scribblings of your humble blogger in his Brief History of the Toronto Archdiocese,  beginning here.

29 May 2017

You can never go home

I went tonight to my family home for the last time. In a few days it will pass from our hands. At best it will become the home of another family. At worst, and probably more likely, it will be torn down and replaced with another house.

I walked in the rooms of all my earliest memories. Here is where my father sat, there my uncle, my aunt, and there my mother. I walked through the basement, and saw or the last time the stones my grandfather had piled to make the foundations strong. Here the trees he planted to provide shelter from the sun and the wind. Here was the window where coal used to be poured through. Here the box where the milkman left his wares. Here the trees I once climbed. Here the rosebushes my father planted. Here's where my grandmother's Hollyhocks bloomed. Here my mother's garden. Here the place where she liked to paint.  Here the dip in the lawn that marked the spot where my grandfather dug a well. I filled my car with what relics I could, though I have little room for them here.

All that will be swept away, as though it had never been. They now live in an increasingly distant past, to the current generation they are those from another time they cannot imagine, roughly contemporary with Shakespeare and the Roman Empire. There is no longer even the illusion of going back, finding the comfort that only one's true home may bring. The elder generation is gone. We are now orphans, and homeless.

However, I do have memories and some relics.  Among the things I have brought home were some old photos. Here's one of my old aunt and my eldest daughter. I am glad to have found it. My relationship with my aunt was complicated: she had many sides to her. But in this photo I see the aunt I wish to remember.

Here is another photo I found in a box I was about to throw out. I am so grateful I stopped long enough to take a look to make certain what was in it. I had no idea this photo even existed.

The month of June is approaching, and with it we are drawing nearer to Father's Day. Inevitably, there will be calls to end the day, and reminders that not everyone had a good father. Indeed, from the newspapers and other sources it appears good fathers are few and far between.

But there are those of us, we supremely lucky ones, who had it otherwise, and I am among the luckiest, for the best man I ever knew or ever will know was the first.

28 May 2017

Prayer request

I'd like to request prayers for a certain cousin of mine.  I imagine he could do with them.

26 May 2017

When does an adaptation become an imposition?

Sometimes, during dark times, it is pleasant to consider trivial matters.

I was thinking of the recent adaptations of Anne of Green Gables, one of which I thought merely terrible, and the other was worse.  For some reason, people keep asking me about the one I believe to be worse: Anne with an E, as shown on CBC and Netflix.

It is always tricky, adapting a book to a movie, to go from one art form to another.  Changes to the source become a necessity- but what changes and why?  I confess myself to be something of a purist in this matter- I prefer the adaptation to be as close as possible to the original.  There are some exceptions to this, but, on the whole, I like the adaptation to hew close to the source.  The Anne of Green Gables series from the '80's, starring Megan Follows, did quite well.  I enjoyed that first little series very much,  and its sequels less so.  Unfortunately, that series left a bit of a difficult legacy: first of all, it left Canadian programmers stuck in the 1880's, producing one butter churner after another, trying to recapture the success of Anne. They drove the genre into the ground, yet they are still stuck trying to revive it.  So they revisit Anne, only to run into the second problem of the earlier Anne's legacy: since the story  had already been done about as well as it could be, what would future adaptations do?

Enter Anne with an E.  The producers announced from the beginning that their Anne would be the Anne of the books, only they would have her dealing with the issues of our time- and they used the example of bullying.  In other words, they intend to diverge from the original story, but it will still be Anne.

Or is it?  Anne's character in the book comes from the things she says and the things she does.  If you change her words and change her actions, then the character itself must change as well.  At one point can you say that this new character, who neither does as Anne does nor says Anne's words is still Anne?  At what point is she no longer Anne?

Why don't they simply create a new character?

That last question is at least simple and straightforward to answer: because no one would care.  Anne has a ready made fan base and following.  A new character does not and would not. They would be left with the task of creating a new likeable character, make her interesting enough that people wish to watch, and then try and build up their popularity.  It's easier to just take someone else's creation and run with it. So they must use Anne, even if she becomes unrecognizable.

Let's go back to what the producers said: Anne would be dealing with issues that contemporary audiences will find relevant.  In short, Anne will now be carrying a political message.  She is not saying her own words any longer, she will be saying the words the new producers will put into her mouth.

I will admit that I have not and will not watch the series, and it is for this very reason: political preaching.  You may ask: how do I know that is what is going on if I haven't watched the series?  Well, I did watch a little bit of it, about a minute. It was put out on the CBC website as a fine example of how the story would now be told and what they hoped to do with the series.  This was a part they wanted people to see because they believed it would draw viewers to the show.

What was that scene?  It was not a scene I recognized from the book, not even as an altered scene.  It was a tea party or sewing party.  Anne, the character who speaks whole paragraphs to other characters sentences, who essentially never holds her tongue, sits silently and does not say a single word in this minute.  She is silenced so the others may speak.  Marilla sits beside her.  There is a person addressing the ladies at the tea on Important Topics of the Day, and her topic of the day is the word 'Feminism'.  She spends that minute telling the other women what a lovely word feminism is and all  it really means is that women want a better life for their daughters.  That is all, nothing more.  The scene concludes with the woman congratulating Marilla on adopting a girl, which she was "very forward thinking."

So much wrong in such a short little scene. Where to begin?  Let's start with the last anachronism first: the term 'forward thinking' only appeared in the '90's- that's 1990's, not 1890's- at the very earliest.  She is speaking words that would have been gibberish to Lucy Maude Montgomery. 

Also an anachronism would be her use of the word 'feminism'.  The word was not in common usage at the time, and it is very unlikely such a tea would have been addressed by a self identified feminist.  There were several proto feminist movements occurring at the time.  They could have been addressed by a suffragette- but her talk would not have been about how benign her desires were- she would have wanted to change things.  But, while suffragette may have been much more likely, she would not have been likely as such.  The suffragette movement was taking root in Canada around that time, but it was rather in a fledgling state. It is more likely that the tea would have been addressed by the movement that the suffragettes grew out of- the Women Christian Temperance Union.  It is quite likely a few of the women at the tea would have belonged to it themselves.  It was around this time that the WCTU realized that men were never going to vote to banish the demon rum, so they were starting to try and get the vote so they could take the matter into their own hands. 

I am, of course, oversimplifying, but I am playing the odds.  Why wouldn't they use the proto feminists of the time?  Well, first, using the WCTU would require them to speak positively of 'Christians', and there's no way a CBC show is going to do that.  Secondly, it allows them to rewrite history as well as the book. The scene they were portraying was not in the books, it was unlikely to have occurred in the time and setting, and it was impossible to have happened in the way and in the terms that it was presented here.  It was an attempt to make a complicated and diverse and frequently radical movement seem merely benign, and dedicated to an utterly unobjectionable goal- and also make it has a much longer history than it does, and is beholding to nothing that came before it.    It is not merely an imposition.  It is also really bad history shown to a people increasingly devoid of their own history, apart from the warts, and who also increasingly get their 'history' from partial- in every sense of the word- sources like this.

I dislike such blatant impositions. The show was called Anne, so where was she?  There she was, sitting silently.  Anne, the spirited and fiercely independent young girl in the books, the girl who, when confronted at school by a male rival for the top academic spot refuses to back down and fights tooth and nail to best him, is placid and silent as she is instructed in what is to be best for her. The character who has been an inspirational figure to many feminists over the last century needs to have feminism explained to her, and seemingly takes her inspiration from it.  And this, I feel compelled to repeat, was the scene the producers apparently most wanted us to see.  the scene they chose to represent Anne to the potential viewer. Not an iconic scene, such as Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert Blythe's head, or Anne talking in her odd way. No, it was Anne silenced, so the viewer may be lectured about the politics  of our time.  They created a scene not in the books so they could stop telling the story to deliver a lecture. 

When is the character no longer the character? Here's one way: when they no longer speak their mind, but yours. Anne was no longer Anne.  Her story was no longer an end in itself, but a vehicle for others to impose their politics and desires upon.  Quite frankly, I've had enough of that.

The makers of it should have had enough of it, too. They have taken the work of another time and another place, and used it to their own ends. They have a [phrase for this sort of thing: 'cultural appropriation', and I had thought they were against it. I suppose they are only against it when someone else with another political agenda does it.