Thursday, October 23, 2014

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Addresses The Nation: October 22, 2014


This is the full speech that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made last night, addressing the nation, following the terrorist attacks on the nation's capital, Ottawa and on two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu, Quebec, one of whom succumbed to his injuries: The two soldiers who were killed are Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, a 28-year military veteran. Our whole family, including our two boys, aged 12 and 6, watched this speech; afterward, we discussed it and its implications, including that one of the best ways that average Canadians can defeat terrorism is to not give in to fear, to live our lives in the Canadian tradition. This includes coming together in times of crisis.

My fellow Canadians, for the second time this week there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil.

Today, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Corporal Nathan Cirillo of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Corporal Cirillo was killed today - murdered in cold blood - as he provided a ceremonial honour guard at Canada’s national war memorial.

That sacred place that pays tribute to those who gave their lives so that we can live in a free, democratic and safe society.

Likewise, our thoughts and prayers remain also with the family and friends of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was killed earlier this week by an ISIL-inspired terrorist.

Tonight we also pray for the speedy recovery of the others injured in these despicable attacks.

Fellow Canadians, we have also been reminded today of the compassionate and courageous nature of so many Canadians, like those private citizens and first responders who came to provide aid to Corporal Cirillo as he fought for his life.

And, of course, the members of our security forces in the RCMP, the city of Ottawa police, and in parliament who came quickly, and at great risk to themselves, to assist those of us who were close to the attack.

Fellow Canadians, in the days to come, we will learn more about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had.

But this week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world.

We are also reminded that attacks on our security personnel and our institutions of governance are, by their very nature, attacks on our country.

On our values, on our society, on us, Canadians, as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all.

But let there be no misunderstanding, we will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.

In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies, to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats, and keep Canada safe here at home.

Just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores.

They will have no safe haven.

While today has been, without question, a difficult day, I have every confidence that Canadians will pull together with the kind of firm solidarity that has seen our country through many challenges.

Together, we will remain vigilant against those, at home or abroad, who wish to harm us.

For now, Laureen, Ben, Rachel, and I join all Canadians in praying for those touched by today’s attack.

May God bless them, and keep our land glorious and free.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Case For The Poetic Scientist

Faith in Science

While I am first to admit and agree that science continues to play an important role in our lives, notably in the field of medicine, I can also happily admit that its importance can be over-stated, allowing it to push non-scientific disciplines under the humanities umbrella outside the public eye. It can also create a faith in science, essentially describing scientism, which pushes/forces science to answer questions that it is incapable of answering.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emerita of history at the City University of New York, raises such a point in an excellent article  (“Evolution and Ethics, Revisited”) in The New Atlantis; she writes:
They persuade the world of what is false by urging upon it what is true.” That is John Henry Newman in The Idea of a University (1852) referring to the sciences of his day, which threatened to dominate and even overwhelm theological education in the university. A science’s teaching might be true in its proper place but fallacious “if it be constituted the sole exponent of all things in heaven and earth, and that, for the simple reason that it is encroaching on territory not its own, and undertaking problems which it has no instruments to solve.”

While Newman’s notion of science was far broader than ours, including even painting and music, his description of the overreach of science is still apt. We now have a term — “scientism” — for that fallacy, exemplified, as has been demonstrated in these pages, by Richard Dawkins’s pronouncement that genes “created us, body and mind,” and Edward O. Wilson’s claim that biology is the “basis of all social behavior.” If scientism has become so prevalent, it is partly because of the emergence of new sciences, each encroaching, as Newman said, on “territory not its own” (invading, we would now say, the turf of others), and each professing to comprehend (in both senses of that word) the whole. Intended as an epithet, the term has been adopted as an honorific by some of its practitioners. A chapter in the book Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized (2007) by three philosophers is entitled “In Defense of Scientism.

Newman’s book appeared seven years before Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which provoked the classic case of scientism — the mutation of Darwinism into social Darwinism. There had been earlier theories of evolution, such as Lamarck’s. And there had been earlier doctrines, most notably Malthus’s, that applied to society the concept of a “struggle for existence.” Indeed, Darwin had been inspired by Malthus, while opposing Lamarck. But it was the Origin that gave credibility to the theory of evolution and, inadvertently, encouraged others to extend it to society, making the “survival of the fittest” the natural and proper basis for human behavior and social relations.

The emergence of social Darwinism recalls the adage of another eminent Victorian. “Ideas,” wrote Lord Acton, “have a radiation and development, an ancestry and posterity of their own, in which men play the part of godfathers and godmothers more than that of legitimate parents.” Darwin, the unwitting godfather of social Darwinism, disowned even that degree of parentage. He dismissed as ludicrous the charge of one reviewer that he had endorsed “might is right” thereby justifying the idea “that Napoleon is right & every cheating Tradesman is also right.” Challenged on another occasion to declare his views on religion, he replied that while the subject of God was “beyond the scope of man’s intellect,” his moral obligation was clear: “man can do his duty.” Averse to controversy in general (even over the Origin itself), Darwin played no public part in the dispute over social Darwinism. That battle was left to Darwin’s “bulldog,” as T. H. Huxley proudly described himself — “my general agent,” Darwin called him. Huxley’s arguments against social Darwinism are all the more telling because they come not, as might have been expected, from a cleric or theologian, but from an eminent scientist and ardent Darwinist.
Perhaps Prof. Himmelfarb is herself overstating her case; yet, I do not think it is so. Social Dawinism in some new mutated form is in the air. Social Darwinism is a by-product of scientism, despite the strenuous and articulate objections of evolutionary scientists who protest that their research is serious science that can answer most, if not all, questions about humanity. A type of bravado that is telling, and says much. Digging deep into a narrow hole will only develop a longer narrow hole; it can also trap you in your own narrow thinking.

Most reasonable people accept the theory of evolution, but not everything that has the title of “evolution” attached to it, including the current work coming out of the fields of biology, psychology and neurology. People might be both fascinated and uncomfortable with some of its prime implications. When science reduces humanity to an accumulation of genes or atoms or similar ideas, it leads to the type of unconscious thinking common among to many evolutionary scientists that we are in a sense “deterministic beings. True, no serious scientist would admit to this, yet it is one of those unsaid things.

It is my view that science, and I have sufficient understanding of it, is important, but it alone cannot answer all of our questions, nor do I think it ought to; for example, there are moral questions that have developed independently of science, and require disciplines such as philosophy, religion, history, literature and other subjects of the humanities to inform us. (A close reading of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Eliot’s Daniel Deronda might help the scientist better understand the human condition.)

I agree with Prof. Himmelfarb that a little humility might be what scientists today need. And perhaps some poetry: Himmelfarb writes: “This may be too radical a leap for the scientist of our own day — to invoke not only morality but poetry as a corrective to scientism.”

For more, go to [NewAtlantis].

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Taxi Ride Home

Sharp Conversation

There was a time in my life when I was employed as a sales engineer for a medium-sized manufacturing company (high-precision aerospace & defense products); my position required that I travel often for business, and thus I used to take a lot of planes and a lot of taxis. This incident, in many respects unmemorable, took place during the late summer of 1990; I was returning from a business trip from the United States to Montreal, which is where I was then residing. It was late in the evening, and I was exhausted after a long day of meetings and travel

I  took a cab from the airport, and behind the wheel there was a middle-aged driver from the middle east. We spoke, and after some preliminaries of what I did professionally and where I was coming from, the conversation quickly turned personal and to religion, not a topic that I like speaking about with strangers; he spoke passionately about his wife's newly found beliefs in Christianity, which bothered him. “All she talks about is love and peace,” he said with disdain. “She has forgotten about Allah’s justice. In Islam, you have to be sharp like a sword,” he said, momentarily taking his right hand off the steering wheel, and chopping the air for dramatic emphasis.

Thankfully, we arrived at my destination; I quickly paid him. As I was exiting the cab, the driver helping me retrieve my suitcase from the car’s trunk, he said, “This is Islam; it's about justice.” He was not angry, but bothered, perhaps confused about Canada and its values, which in some important way conflicted with his, and his religious beliefs likely provided him some comfort in a land that he considered foreign in so many ways. Yet, he was in Canada for a reason; it provided him something tangible (freedom, opportunity, work, perhaps) not available in his home country.

I soon forgot this conversation, recalling it only recently; and yet this simple taxi driver from the middle east explained an important aspect of Islam that today escapes many sophisticated western academics, politicians and writers. People hold on to thoughts and ideas that give them comfort and meaning, only replacing these with new ones when these do the same. In the workings of the brain, changing one’s mind is never easy. Yet, it is at times necessary, and time and the fading of memory makes this easier.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Concert Pianist: Time To Refill

Youthful Ambition

“The paradox is that I love playing in concerts; the paradox is that each concert is an event for me. I can also say that each concert is a stress for me. …I give a lot; I give everything I have at that particular moment during my concert, and so I need some time to refill myself.”
—Evgeny Kissin

In this British documentary series Imagine, host Alan Yentob examines Being a Concert Pianist (2005), using British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor as the focus of what young pianists face in their desire to become internationally acclaimed musicians. Having good parents and teachers might be as important as luck, talent and a relentless drive and ambition to play music for the public to enjoy. Such are no doubt important in the early years, but later on, more mature thoughts and ideas take hold. It also takes a sense of what is important, an understanding of the limitations of human ability, and how to preserve it, says Evgeny Kissin, a child prodigy and one of the great pianists of today, who performs in less than 50 concerts a year: “The paradox is that I love playing in concerts; the paradox is that each concert is an event for me. I can also say that each concert is a stress for me. …I give a lot; I give everything I have at that particular moment during my concert, and so I need some time to refill myself.”