banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Toronto's ugliest building makes a lousy museum

It's no secret that I hate the Royal Ontario Museum's new addition, the Michael Lee Chin Crystal. Not only is it ugly, but it leaks and it's dangerous in the winter. Now comes news that the building's design by World Famous Architect Daniel Libeskind makes it unsuited for it's principal function - displaying artifacts.

Today the ROM opened the last of its new galleries in the Crystal - the Patricia Harris Costume Gallery. The new space will display artifacts from the ROM's extensive collection of costume and textiles, but it has been poorly designed for that purpose. Curator Alexandra Palmer explains in an article in today's National Post:

Palmer is likewise ambivalent about whether the space designated for the textile collection is suitable. From the shape of the room to the threat of light leaking in through the strip-like windows, the curators fell victim to architect Daniel Libeskind's pursuit of fashion.

"This is a very glamorous setting, but it's created difficulties," Palmer said. "We had to sort of work within the frame. It's a Daniel Libeskind building and that's what you've got. It's not a normal gallery with straight walls, which is what we need to hang textiles."

The solution, bringing in vertical cases to place along the walls, ended up reducing the volume of the space. The result is a room that looks considerably more closed-in by casework than airy artist's renditions had foretold.

Whereas some have complained that the Crystal's galleries are too dim, Palmer's team actually found that the fourth floor leaked too much light.

"We've blacked out the light with all these blinds," said Palmer, gesturing at the angular ceiling and its skinny windows. "We've had to do that because textiles are so light-sensitive. It's the one thing that will absolutely permanently damage them."

So, the ROM commissioned World Famous Architect Daniel Libeskind to design a World Famous Building to display its collection, and he produces a hideous monstrosity that makes it difficult to display the collection. Go figure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Green thoughtcrime

The voluntary participation of thousands of right-minded citizens in last month's Earth Hour is turning out to be not so voluntary after all. I kept all the lights on in my house during Earth Hour (as did many other people in my neck of the woods), and sure enough this Letter to the Editor of the local weekly, The Community Press, appeared a week later, written by a certain DJ Sproat:

Dear editor:

Many thanks to those of you who participated in this past Saturday's Global Earth Hour. Your honourable effort, concern and statement were noticed. Congratulations!

Stirling's performance in general, however, was nothing short of dismal. And embarrassing.

As 8 p.m. approached and I turned out my lights and lit my candles, I was pleased to note the windows in some neighbouring houses also going dark. Excellent, I thought. Good for them! I proceeded to unplug unnecessary appliances (coffee maker, toaster oven) power bar of the TV, VCR, stereo and computer, even shut off the furnace and the light in the aquarium.

At 8:30 p.m. I decided to take my dogs for a walk, so I could see how other people were doing and see how the downtown might look somewhat darker. As we stepped outside, I could see lights in some houses farther up the road. Oh well, I thought, perhaps they forgot or were unaware. It happens. The dogs and I turned and headed towards the downtown.

In some places, you could see the glow of a television. In others, the flicker of candles. A few seemed to have one light visible - perhaps for safety? A number of houses were darkened, but this was because no one was home. Fair enough. Yet, as we proceeded, lights were visible in more and more houses. Some people appeared to have gone out of their way to turn on every light they had. I almost wanted to knock on their door and ask if I could help them find any they had forgotten.

Still, I was sure the situtation would be different downtown. I had faith the businesses of Stirling would do us proud with their participation and show of concern for the principle behind the activity.

Was I in for a disappointment! It did not appear as if even one had made any effort at all. A couple of stores were darkened, but they normally are anyway. Most others were lit up like proverbial Christmas trees, even ones I had definitely expected to participate. External signs, internal lights, the works. One store even had all the lights inside its deli counter fully ablaze. Sure wouldn't want those cheeses to spend the night in the dark.

Our public buildings were little better. Did you think no one would notice? Did you think your interest (or lack thereof) doesn't matter? Do you truly not care at all?

Certainly, in the larger scheme of things, the actual impact of the Earth Hour action on our energy use and environmental impact is irrelevant. That wasn't the point of the event. The point was to make a visible demonstration to governments, corporations, and to each other that we recognize there is a problem, we think it is important, we care, and we want to do something. Evidently, many residents, business people and public officials in Stirling do not fall into this category.

Shame on you.

DJ Sproat

OK, I get it. We now have self-appointed posses of concerned citizens who consider themselves the Conscience of the Community roaming the streets in righteous indignation, prepared to publicly shame their thoughtless neighbours into compliance. I knew it would come to this, and it was for this reason alone that I kept my lights on during Earth Hour. You know what, DJ? It's not that I think that saving energy is a bad thing, but I really resent sanctimonious twits like you (and your ilk in various government agencies & NGOs) telling me that you know what's best for me. Excuse me if I think that the whole Earth Hour hysteria was getting a little ridiculous and I didn't feel like participating in the Global Group Hug. It was voluntary, after all (at least for now).

I agree with blogger Eric Scheie at Classical Values:

I'm not so much into Global Warming denial as I am Global Warming Defiance. That's because the [anti-Global Warming] political campaign is the largest attempted power grab I've seen in my life, and if there's one thing I do know, it's that bureaucratic attempts to solve problems are worse than the problems the bureaucrats attempt to solve. Basically, we the people emit carbon, and they the bureaucrats want to squeeze us and punish us any way they can, and tell us how to live. Nothing in the Constitution gives them such power, but they'll try to grab it anyway.

George Orwell understood how this works. In his novel 1984 he explained how citizens are kept under the thumb of the state by the Thought Police:
A party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in his bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity , however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected. He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever. On the other hand his actions are not regulated by any law or by any clearly formulated code of behaviour. In Oceania there is no law. Thoughts and actions which, when detected, mean certain death are not formally forbidden, and the endless purges, arrests, tortures, imprisonments and vaporizations are not inflicted as punishment for crimes which have actually been committed, but are merely the wiping-out of persons who might perhaps commit a crime in the future. A Party member is required to have not only the right opinions, but the right instincts. Many of the beliefs and attitudes demanded of him are never plainly stated, and could not be stated without laying bare the contradictions inherent in Ingsoc. If he is a person naturally orthodox (in Newspeak a goodthinker), he will in all circumstances know, without taking thought, what is the true belief or the desirable emotion.

Which brings me to David Suzuki. He appears in a series of annoying commercials where he pops up at various times to lecture poor slobs about their wasteful beer fridges or their drafty windows. However, there's one called "Club House" which is truly creepy:

In this video, Suzuki is in a treehouse with a bunch of cute little kids. There is a sign on the door saying "No (Wasteful) Parents Allowed". The kids are all tattling to Dr. Suzuki ("Please - call me David" he tells them) about their parents and their energy-wasteful ways. At one point one little urchin says "David - I have a friend and his parents don't believe in conserving. But it's OUR future!" David kindly replies while a halo of beatific light radiates from his saintly face "And YOU have the power! It's up to you to say 'Hey - remember!'"

Wow - has it come to this? The Suzuki Foundation is enlisting kids in the Suzuki Youth to spy on their hapless parents and report them to the Green Police? Here's Orwell again on the subject:
With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organisations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected to it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother - it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak - 'child hero' was the phrase generally used - had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police.

So, my neighbours are spying on my house during Earth Hour and writing letters to the editor denouncing my thoughtless treatment of Mother Earth, and David Suzuki is enlisting the little kids in the area to turn me in for Enviro Crimes. Isn't this getting a little out of hand?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This explains a lot

Do you wonder why lots of people have lost faith in the ability of journalists to report the news competently? Try this, from a study done at Case Western Reserve University:
"Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries - China, Cuba, India, and Japan - not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses - half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975."

And these were journalism students.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sauce for the gander

MP Tom Lukiwski did a stupid and offensive thing in 1991. He has apologized, and I accept his apology. That's not enough for opposition MPs - they want his head on a platter. Fair enough - but I'll start demanding that the Prime Minister take responsibility for Tom Lukiwski when Stephane Dion and the Liberal Party take responsibility for Tom Wappel.

Wappel is the Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest, and has been in Parliament since 1988. He has announced that he will not be seeking re-election in the next general election. Much to the embarassment of fellow Liberal travellers, Wappel is a notorious social conservative and has vigourously opposed both abortion and gay marriage. His views on homosexuality are well known. These statements are taken from a policy paper he wrote in 1994 called "Sexual Orientation":

This portion of the paper makes clear the reasons for my objections to those who would force society to regard homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and why I see this as the inevitable result of recklessly (albeit with the best of intentions) adding "sexual orientation", howsoever defined, as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
It further outlines my thesis that matters which deal with homosexuality are deeply moral, upon which a free vote must be permitted.
Finally, let me reiterate that my aversion to homosexuality, which is shared by the vast majority of Canadians, does not mean that we hate homosexuals, and certainly not any individual homosexual simply because he or she is a homosexual.
Logically, one can abhor war, without abhorring the individual participants in the war. Similarly, one can abhor homosexuality, without abhorring individual homosexuals.
For anyone who professes belief in any religion, this should be a moral issue.
—all major world religions declare homosexuality to be a sin and contrary to the laws of the supreme Deity.
It is not a question of "fundamental human rights". It is, however, a question of deeply held moral convictions for the vast majority of Canadians.
Most Canadians view homosexuality as abnormal. They are prepared to tolerate legal sexual activity behind closed doors, but they are not prepared to accept homosexuality as normal.
FACT: Groups that condone and promote paedophilia associate themselves with homosexual organizations
FACT: Homosexuality is a promiscuous lifestyle
FACT: Homosexual activity can have adverse medical consequences
There has been much scientific research done on the medical dangers of homosexual behaviour. Some of the diseases caused by or exacerbated by homosexual activity are listed hereafter, with references.

Read the whole discussion paper to get the context for these excerpts and the full flavour of Wappel's moral revulsion towards homosexuality. And ask yourself why Liberals rise up in righteous indignation against the "knuckle-draggers" in the Conservative Party while a long-serving MP from within their own ranks is, according to the CBC, simply taking "outspoken positions against abortion and gay rights".

Tom Lukiwski made an offensive off-the-cuff remark about homosexuals while on a drunken binge at a party nineteen years ago. Tom Wappel has a history of making anti-gay statements right in the House of Commons and cloaks his hatred in quasi-scientific "policy papers" issued by his constituency office in his name, under his authority as a Liberal Member of Parliament. Tell me, whose head should be on a platter?