Mitch McConnell, the Bill Buckner of Politics, Drops Ball Again

Mitch McConnell just responded to Trump’s latest racist tweets. Here’s what McConnell said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women of conscience] to do [or say] nothing.”

mitch
Well done, good sir! So glad to hear human decency at least isn’t negotiable….oh wait…he didn’t say that. He actually refused to comment.

When is the breaking point, do you figure, when people stop giving such unqualified support to the President? You’re supposed to be loyal to the Constitution (not a Person). It’s okay to be critical of the government (even the administration you voted for…in fact…you’re kind of expected to do this to keep the whole democratic experiment and rule of law functioning as intended).

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Technology is Perplexing

Perplexing. Technology shrinks the globe and enables “democratic” movements like the Arab Spring. But does it also shrink the world and enable governments or oligarchies to control the denizens of the globe that much easier…?

Love Wins

The following is the commencement address I gave for the graduation ceremony at LCBI High School. I wanted to share it with everyone because I believe firmly in its central message: we are all part of a single human family and love will overcome hate.

Distinguished guests, faculty, colleagues, friends, families, and of course, the graduating class of 2019, welcome. I’d also like to acknowledge those who could not be with us today. You are in our thoughts and occupy a special place in our hearts.

You’re a special class: there’s a world ranked racquetball player in there somewhere; a budding poet, essayist, teacher and engineer or two; there are artists, athletes, musicians, mechanics, thinkers and builders; a provincial hockey champion; a soccer player turned slam dunk artist; the host of a popular hunting channel on YouTube; and of course, a sleepy and bespectacled would-be theoretical physicist whom we’ll call Stephen. I see you’re organized into rows: have you figured out which rows contain the smartest students yet?

All kidding aside, you’re a fun, quirky, insightful, frequently feisty and intelligent group of young people. I look forward to working with and challenging you every day. I’ve particularly enjoyed our time spent in English together: there’s something about this particular classlikely the philosophical and theological aspectsmaking me feel what we were doing is meaningful and important (even necessary).

Over the last 20 years I’ve taught at a variety of schools; and in that time I’ve come to appreciate schools are a lot like people: each one has a unique personality. Some you like more than others. Some you look forward to seeing every day while others you’d just as soon avoid. LCBI is one of those places a person looks forward to seeing; and I take a lot of pride in what we do here, and what God accomplishes through us. Despite teaching here so long though, I’ve found it nearly impossible to explain why this place means so much to me. I’ve always felt I loved it here but for one reason or another failed articulating exactly why (like when you fall in loveit just sort of happens, no conscious explanation is necessary).

At the end of the second semester back in 2014, I gave my senior English students an opportunity to write an exit essay. The essay’s question was “What does LCBI mean to me?” There was no minimum or maximum length. The essay wasn’t for marks. I just wanted to give students an opportunity to reflect on their time here knowing that, at least in my experience, it can be difficult for many to say goodbye. In the process there were a number of wonderfully written and heartfelt responses. One such response, in particular, has stood out for me over the years. Kayden Johnson wrote a single word: family.

In a single word KJ captured perfectly what makes LCBI so special. Whether you identify as Christian or not, whether you practice a religion or not, we are part of the same family, you and I; as the Apostle Paul observes in First Corinthians we are brothers and sisters belonging to a single family brought together by Christ Jesus; and that family is built on faith, hope, and above all, love.

With that said, and based on how big of a weirdo some of y’all can be at times, there’s something else about this school making me feel particularly at home and at ease. Martin Luther observed we are free because we are fully forgiven children of God. We are no longer compelled to keep God’s Law out of fear in order to obtain salvation. Paul tells us we cannot earn salvation anyways; it’s an underserved gift given freely to us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross by the grace of God. “A Christian,” Luther wrote, “is perfectly free, subject to none.” Yet, Luther presents us with a caveat: although we are “subject to none” we still have a responsibility to look after and care for one another.

The freedom of being Christian comes with responsibility. Thus, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to share some of my thoughts relating to that responsibility to love one another as members of a single human family.

Several years ago someone in Pakistan placed an ad in a newspaper offering a reward to anyone who killed a Canadianany Canadian. The ad was likely a response to then Canada’s involvement in the War in Afghanistan. Interestingly, an Australian dentist published an editorial responding to the strange request. He wanted to define what a Canadian was so non-Canadians would recognize them whenever they encountered one. I’d like to share part of that response with you today:

A Canadian [the Australian writes] can be English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. A Canadian can be Mexican, [Nigerian, Congolese, Cameroonian, Kenyan, or South African]. They can be Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean…Iranian, Asian, Arab, Pakistani or Afghan. A Canadian may also be an [Inuit], Cree, Metis, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Sioux, Dakota, or a member of one of the many other peoples known collectively as First Nations.

A Canadian lives in one of the most prosperous [countries] in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can [in part] be found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which recognizes the right of each person to [pursue their individual happiness in a society governed and secured under the rule of law].

A Canadian is generous and Canadians have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need, never asking [anything] in return. Canadians welcome the best of everything, the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best services and the best minds. But they also welcome the leastthe oppressed, the outcast and the rejected.

These are the people who built Canada.

You can try to kill a Canadian if you must…but in so doing you could [well] just be killing a relative or a neighbor. This is because Canadians are not a particular people from a particular place. [Canada is an idea.] Canadians are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, [is] a Canadian.

Now to my reckoning being Canadian means becoming a citizen of the world. Also, I think, as this short article implies, to be Canadian is to try and make a positive difference in that world. For example, in the wake of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, Canada accepted over 50,000 Vietnamese escaping communism. In 1956 Hungary unsuccessfully attempted to push out the occupying forces of the Soviet Union. Soviet tanks ruthlessly crushed the uprising displacing tens of thousands. Canada provided a haven for 50,000 Hungarians fleeing the subsequent reprisals and political repression.

During the middle of 20th century hundreds of thousands of people from every continent immigrated to Canada in the hope of making a new life for themselves and their families. Between 1890 and 1914 approximately two million people from countries like China, Japan, India, Ireland, Scotland, England, America, Poland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Ukraine immigrated to Canada; they helped build Canada while contributing to the evolution of a new kind of countryone not founded upon the Old World model of “blood and soil” but one constructed upon the New World principles of freedom and liberty.

It’s vitally important to possess an understanding of our history, like the process followed by our ancestors who made Canada their home, in order to appreciate what’s happening in the present. However, at the risk of sounding pessimistic and to quote Hegel, if there is one lesson history teaches us it is we do not learn from our history.

In 2011 a civil war broke out in Syria displacing millions. Between 2016 and 2017 Canada welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing an absolutely brutal conflict. Many Canadians felt a combination of compassion and unease in the wake of this particular wave of immigration. I’m not naive. I understand current events well enough appreciating the risks, actual and perceived, associated with Canada opening its borders in this way. Some Canadians, ones calling themselves nationalists, cautioned we shouldn’t accept so many Muslims. Nonetheless, the idealist in me, the Jesus in me, believes we did the right thing (despite the fear mongering).

And do not underestimate how thankful these men, women and children are to Canada for giving them a home. In May of 2016 a wildfire devastated the City of Fort McMurray. Rita Khanchet Kallas, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Calgary with her husband and son in December of 2015 wrote a message in Arabic on a Facebook page for a Calgary-based Syrian refugee group. “Canadians,” she wrote,”have provided us with everything and now we have a duty. We must help the people who lost their homes and everything in a fire in Oil City. Get ready, it’s time to fulfill.”

Within hours of posting the group was mobilized assembling food hampers, toys, clothes, and furniture to aid the families of Fort McMurray. This act was particularly gracious. You have to understand, the small Syrian community in Calgary had very little themselves. But they understood first hand what it meant for an entire city to lose their home. That’s something they could easily relate to because they went through the exact same thing themselves.

History teaches us is we do not learn from our history.

Social media is definitely new, but xenophobia (or hatred of the foreigner or the alien) is not.

I’ve watched, dismayed, as some Canadians with European sounding last names post fear-based stories to their social media timelines while complaining about how people with Syrian sounding last names were going to ruin the country.

We’ve been here before: many of the same Canadians complaining about Syrian refugees today are themselves the descendants of immigrants who were likewise labelled dangerous, strange, people who were going to wreck the country. The irony of this should not be lost on anyone possessing either a modicum of compassion or a basic knowledge of their own history; and just so we’re clear I’m not trying to be provocative or mean or single out how either this or that person is bad. I am just observing which, I suppose, is something of a resident hazard of being a historian.

And so we forget our history (particularly when times are difficult); and a country without a sense of its history is doomed to repeat its past mistakes.

There has been an unmistakable rise in the forces of nationalism and tribalism in the Western World over the last ten years; and it appears democracy and pluralism is in retreat everywhere. Populist governments are gaining more and more support because people can’t seem to come together to solve their problems. I find it troubling so many of us seem to be coming increasingly more tolerant of things a decade ago would’ve seemed impossible. I worry most in this moment for my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters. I wonder what the future holds for them if hatred and hate speech is ever again allowed to go mainstream or become “normal”.

A friend of mine was working at a fruit stand when a lady came up and asked if any of the cherries were grown by Muslims. She was asking because she didn’t want to support Muslim businesses. This is how you destroy the democratic spirit: unlike dictatorships which end with the death of a single tyrant, democracy dies the death of a 1,000 such wounds.

This Muslim cherry episode reminds me of how Roman emperors once persecuted Christians whenever Rome’s economic or political situation wasn’t favourable. If Romans were focused on hating Christians they’d spend less time worrying about the emperor’s ineptitude.

Does that sound eerily familiar? History doesn’t necessarily repeat but it seems to rhyme.

Since the American presidential election in 2016 Canada has seen a 30% increase in the number of hate groups in the country (six of which are right here in Saskatchewan); and hate crime rates are correspondingly increasing–jumping a staggering 47% in 2017 alone, according to Stats Canada, and there’s no indication of this trend reversing any time soon.

Homo homini lupus. This Latin phrase first appeared in the Third Century BCE but could just as well have been written in 2019; translated into English it means “man is a wolf to man.”

Whether we’re talking about the ancient or the modern world, societies continue reverting to the politics of division; they do this so complex social issues like immigration or identity can be boiled down into simple solitudes and simple hatreds. The two recent attacks on synagogues in the United States, and the mosque attack in Quebec last year, point disturbingly to the reality the West has a long way to go after all when it comes to justice.

To the Graduands: St. Augustine once observed “hope has two daughters whose names are Anger and Courage: Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see they do not remain as they are.”

Therefore, do not be apathetic when hatred shows its cowardly face; do not allow yourselves to become accustomed to or accept hate speech or meanness as normal; what and how we say what we say matters; and I’m not trying to be politically correct. I’m appealing to common decency and Jesus’ commandment: love one another as I have loved you.

Do not turn a blind eye to injustice: evil only succeeds when men and women of good conscience sit back and do nothing; be willing to think in nuances, not platitudes; do not dismiss out of hand those who disagree with you. Too many of us are too easily offended; understand disagreement doesn’t make us enemies, it makes us human. So don’t argue to win, argue to learn. Be willing to change your mind…

It occurred to me there’s another reason why I love LCBI: Jesus. Jesus taught me, more than anyone else, to include the excluded; to fight for the underdog; to defend those incapable of defending themselves; to show compassion, patience and understanding; to delight in the success of others; to encourage because I’ve been encouraged; forgive because I’ve been forgiven; and to love because I am loved. Be fearless then, and courageous, in the face of prejudice and discrimination wherever you encounter it; and if you remember only one thing from our time together this afternoon, and it is implied by the quote written so boldly on the wall behind me, remember this: love wins.

“Let us realize”, Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Thus, if you’re ever unsure what to do when confronted with any of the situations I’ve talked about the right answer is always to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Before closing I have one favor I’d like to ask of everyone gathered here this afternoon: whether you know them or not could you take the hand of the person or persons sitting next to you?

[Promote a figurative “crossing of the aisle” between the rows separated by the center aisle.]

One of my favorite moments in A. A. Milne’s The House on Pooh Corner is when Piglet is trying to catch up to his friend, Winnie the Pooh.

“Pooh?” Piglet whispers.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Building a better world means, at least in part, removing the barriers to our understanding and accepting one another. The awkwardness you’re possibly experiencing right now, holding the hand maybe of a complete stranger, captures perfectly the nature of that barrier towards building a better world: it is a mental and psychological one. Change our thinking and we can change the world. My challenge to you, right now, is to weaken that wall by turning a potential stranger into a friend. So gently squeeze the hand of your neighbors and reassure them, “I am sure of you.”

The transcendental quality of lovethrough even the simplest of gesturesfills me with hope because, even if you try to improve the world in some measure and fail, you can still take some consolation you’ve allied yourself with Something greater. I suspect love, in a certain sense, even survives the Cosmos’ end: hugs transcending time; joy outliving the joyful; gentleness and acceptance persisting past the end of all things; and the gravity of a deep upwelling of feeling flows even past the bounds of a finite physical universe.

And so here we are, at the end: grads do you recall back in September when I told you today would come faster than you thought? I told you not to be in too much of a hurry to finish the year because endings, when it comes to LCBI, are particularly emotional experiences. I know this because I’ve said goodbye to my fair share of colleagues and students who I miss, love, and who occupy my thoughts whenever the sentimental impulse takes me. Thus, “I will not say do not weep,” J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gandalf explains to his friends while preparing to leave Middle Earth forever for the Gray Havens, “for not all tears are an evil.”

Be thankful we’ve had this time together understanding that when one one door closes so opens another.

Thank you.

The Propaganda Value of evolutionnews.org

Evolution News is an arm of the Discovery Institute (DI). The DI is not a science-based institution but a creationist think tank from the United States. The DI, and their proxies like Evolution News, are well-known for promoting pseudoscience. Two of the most influential ideas coming from the DI are intelligent design—really a watchmaker argument for God—and Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity”, e.g. something as complex as the human eye could not possibly evolve over time because the rods, cones, retina, and such are, well, irreducibly complex.

Both intelligent design and irreducible complexity were used in the mid 2000s as part of the Discovery Institute’s “wedge strategy” for getting creationism taught alongside evolution in science classes in the United States. Unfortunately for the creationists, they can offer nothing but rhetoric in support of their positions, i.e. they have not conducted a single viable or peer reviewed experiment supporting their hypotheses (because their hypothesis is really just a fancy way of saying God did it which is entirely unfalsfiable). Since the DI offers nothing tangible in the way of research to back up its assertions they lack scientific credibility. I would not go to this site for scientific reasons; however, I would go to this site if I wanted to learn more about the “culture wars” raging in the United States. Sites like Evolution News don’t dabble in science but in theological and philosophical hand waving; it is a fundamentalist propaganda website.

Here are a couple links you might find illuminating as they relate to the DI (and by extension to Evolution News):

1). The “wedge strategy” I mentioned before is an important thing to be aware of, i.e. since the DI has repeatedly failed to use courts to push creationism into biology classrooms they have changed tactics. The tactic is now to attack science itself generally (not just evolution). If public confidence in science can be sufficiently eroded, the thinking is then evolution can be weakened and in the space created creationism can be seen as a more viable explanation. Wedge strategy – Wikipedia

2). For legal context, check out the Wiki on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School Board case. This was, I believe, the most recent attempt by the DI to get creationism into science classrooms. The DI failed, again, because they offer nothing concrete in the way of experiments, tests, and so on. Here’s a link to that case: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District – Wikipedia. Interestingly, I read a book written by one of the biologists who was called to testify in this case on whether or not irreducible complexity and intelligent design were “scientific” theories. The biologist’s name is Ken Miller—a Catholic who believes in God by the way—who argued that these were not scientific theories because they could not be falsified, i.e. a genuine science question must be capable of being either proven or disproven. Intelligent design, for instance, is really the equivalent of just saying “God did it” when it comes to life on Earth. You cannot prove or disprove the claim. Anyways, Miller wrote a book called Only a Theory. He talks about the case and about Behe and so on in this book.

If you aren’t the reading type, you could download and listen to the podcast Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (episode 190). Dr. Steven Novella interviews Miller and I believe they discuss the Kitzmiller decision and Miller’s role. Here’s the link to that: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

Again, Evolution News is nonsense from a scientific standpoint; it is an example of propaganda and little else.

She Died on a Saturday

The anniversary of my mom’s death is fast approaching. I wrote this piece twenty years ago and wanted to share it.

Looking Back
Looking back on my life I can barely recall a time when mom wasn’t sick or ailing in some measure. Don’t get me wrong I’ve got plenty of fond memories. In particular, I miss how she’d affectionately say things like “Rick, you’re such a geek” after I’d share one of my peculiar insights into life’s meaning when I was a kid.  Another memory that comes to mind is when I brought home Nintendo Golf. To play the game you had to swing a golf-club controller to hit the ball on the screen. Both of my parents were hardcore golfers so it didn’t take much to convince them to give the game a try. Dad liked it immediately.  When he got to the third tee he decided he wanted to hit the ball a little further so he swung the controller a little bit faster and in the process drove the club straight through a light fixture in the ceiling.

He was mortified.

I laughed so hard I could barely breathe (I actually fell to the ground). My dad was embarrassed by it all. Laughing at him didn’t help things. He wanted blood. You could see it in his eyes. He was a father of the old-school: one of those spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child types, a man expecting automatic respect and deference, a man who could not laugh at himself. And that’s why I found the situation so uncontrollably funny. (I felt like one of the palace guards from Monty Python’s Life of Bryan who couldn’t stop laughing because the governor kept saying the name Biggus Dickus to him over and over and over again.)  If it weren’t for mom dad would’ve killed me with that fake golf club.

She was an amazing woman. I went through something akin to a mid-life crisis around the age of twelve.  I specifically remember having a conversation with her on how life for me was irrevocably changing. (And I don’t mean changing in the sense hair started growing in places it hadn’t before.) I meant change in that I remained the same while everyone seemed to be growing more complicated; life was becoming inexplicably and un-necessarily harder; and peers—especially girls—made even less sense to me than before. She didn’t offer advice or attempt to explain away what I was feeling. I remember the exact words she spoke to me in the kitchen during that conversation 37 years ago. “You still want to be a kid.  I understand.” She was right.

Disbelief
I was the last of four kids to move out. I returned to visit only infrequently, and when I did, it wasn’t to visit my parents so much as to spend time with the neglected family cat or to play my drum set. I took my parents entirely for granted. I assumed they’d always be there. Perhaps that’s what made accepting mom’s death all the more difficult?

I couldn’t comprehend the loss.

I don’t believe it. That’s how I responded after learning she had cancer. I simply couldn’t believe it. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve thought disease and death only affected other people. Many of us—including me—just don’t learn the lessons childhood should teach us through the countless bumps, bruises and band-aids.

We are mortal.

Ignoring the fact we die prevents us from living realistically; and when we dodge the balls life throws at us we not only ignore reality’s perils we fail to explore its possibilities.

Certainly subtle hints of mom’s decline were visible (if only a person knew what to look for). Unfortunately the cancer continued growing undetected until the most terrible and obvious symptoms of the disease expressed themselves. Though the effects of cancer are very real, the lightness with which people treat it never fails to astound me—especially in the case of smoking related cancer. People justify a stupid habit like smoking by appealing to the myth of the ancient smoking uncle or that it’ll never happen to me.

What makes you so special? Nothing.

When you rationalize away the danger you disarm yourself and empower the disease and its known causes. And guess what?  You may not know it but the decisions you’re making today have future consequences for your family (some members you may not even have met yet). Mom never did get to hold even one of my three sons. She would’ve adored them. They’re geeks like me.

Some Bad News
After spending several hours reading in a quiet corner of the university’s main library, I packed up my things and headed home for supper. Passing through the heavy silver doors of the library’s front entrance I entered the winter night invigorated by the cold. Snow blanketed the ground a foot deep in every direction. Jumping from one foot impression to the next I reached my rusted out Chevrolet Malibu. Sitting in the car waiting for it to warm up I felt like I was forgetting something: earlier in the day dad said he’d taken mom to the hospital for tests. She was supposed to stay overnight for observation. I decided to visit her before heading home.

Driving northbound down University Drive the dark outline of the hospital rose slowly above the lighted silhouette of Saskatoon’s downtown. Too cheap to park at a pay meter I risked the law’s fury by parking illegally at a nearby lot intended for the exclusive use of contractors. I made my way towards one of the hospital’s side doors. A group of white coated and professional-looking people—nurses, doctors, technicians—stood huddled smoking together in front of the entrance. I took a deep breath plunging through them to open the door entering the building. I ascended a set of brick steps entering the cathedral-like hospital mall—a massive elongated room with a towering ceiling and a multitude of cascading windows. Moments later I was at the information desk where an older woman sat in the middle of an octagonal desk doing nothing in particular.

I asked the attendant what room my mom was in. She began prattling away at a dusty keyboard: 6-1-0-3.  Thanking the attendant I made for the nearest elevator. Entering the elevator car I pressed the button for the sixth floor.  I moved to the back of the car busying myself reading posters on a non-descript bulletin board. One poster read “Pastry sale.  St. Joseph’s Church.  January 26th at 12 noon.”  Another read “If you see someone with an identification band around their wrist leaving the building, please notify hospital personnel.” Although the posters were about as stimulating to read as the Periodic Table of Elements, the material served its purpose: while the body is stuck somewhere it doesn’t want to be the mind remains free. I discovered this time gobbling trick of distraction at church when I was seven. Too young to understand anything the priest said I occupied myself counting each individual page of every song book I could find in the pews. In fact, my siblings and I turned page counting into a competitive game racing one another to see who could count them all first. Although I didn’t turn into much of a Christian I did develop panache for counting.

The elevator rumbled to a halt and the door opened. Entering a darkened hall I turned right, then right again, and walked towards a nursing station. I saw the number to mom’s room. I stepped inside but was impeded by a wide green curtain hanging across its width: peeling back the curtain I saw my proud father lying prostrate before my mother, holding her hand, sobbing. Meekly I approached her bedside. Her face was beet red, cheeks speckled with tiny sanguine dots—a product of relentless coughing; her hair hung about her shoulders in hapless clumps; and a film of hardened mucous formed into sores on her lips. I must’ve startled dad because he raised his head abruptly trying to brush away his tears. Mom was almost unrecognizable. I knelt down to touch her hand. Dad spoke to her quietly, “Dawn. Dawn. Richard is here. He’s come to see you.”

She raised her head feebly to acknowledge me and my throat felt like someone was squeezing it from the inside. I choked out a, “Hey, mom…” and looked up at dad searching for some sort of explanation. He avoided eye contact. So, dispensing with the pleasantry of discussing death around the dying, I asked him point blank what was wrong. He explained she hadn’t been feeling well for at least two months and she was having difficulty speaking. She didn’t feel well around Christmas. The inability to speak, however, was a revelation. He should’ve told me sooner. The anger I felt towards him disappeared replaced by a tremendous sense of guilt at being such a distant, self-absorbed son.

“Let’s go for a walk.  Mom needs to rest,” dad said while we walked out of the room into a deserted hall. “Rick, it doesn’t look good. There’s a good to definite chance she has cancer.”

He explained the doctors believed her dementia was caused by pressure on the brain from a tumor. (That didn’t explain why she was having trouble breathing.) She had swollen lymph nodes all about her neck and under her arms (sure signs of the presence of the killer disease). An examination was scheduled to take place sometime in the next few days to confirm the diagnosis. Then they would determine the most appropriate course of action. Instantly, the thought of her smoking entered my mind and my hatred for it grew.

“Apparently the source of the cancer has to be found,” dad explained. “If it starts in the lungs, then they have very different treatments than if it were discovered to emanate from the ovaries.”  He squeezed the back of my neck and said, “We’ll just have to prepare for the worst.”

I returned to the room alone to giving dad a chance to grab a cup of coffee. Her eyes followed me slowly as I moved across the room. Her neck remained perfectly rigid. I sat on dad’s chair and smiled awkwardly. The scab-like build up on her lips looked uncomfortable, even painful.

“Would you like me to clean up your mouth?” I asked.

She nodded.  I grabbed a wet cloth from the bathroom wiping away as much of the hardened ooze as I could. I felt like a person holding a newborn baby for the first time—I didn’t know how to hold it and I felt like I might break it if I was too rough. Something didn’t feel right about the situation (it felt backwards). I’m supposed to be the one who’s sick and she should be taking care of me. This wasn’t right. Mom, you’re supposed to get me some ginger ale to calm my stomach and a Batman comic from the corner store; I’ll skip school and watch television on the couch. I’ll feel better, no problem. Stroke my hair that always made me feel amazing and loved. I put the soiled cloth on the bedside table and returned to sit down beside her.

Quiet.

I inspected her puffy hand lying on the other side of the bed’s safety rail. When I was little I used to watch the Amazing Spiderman during Saturday morning cartoons.  I’d be eating my cereal and she’d walk up to me and start stroking my hair with that hand. She made me feel so cozy. I always hoped it would never stop. Now that hand appeared so alien. I extended my trembling hand to hers and began to cry quietly. The unrecognizable woman transformed into the mother I knew in my youth, and she used every ounce of strength remaining to her to say, “I’m sorry.” I cried uncontrollably laying my head and broken heart on the bed beside her. Life made so much sense until then.

The Last Day
I didn’t visit her the next day. Instead, I broke hospital policy sneaking up to her room after visiting hours the following night. The hall and nursing station were empty. The door to her room closed. I hesitated momentarily and then opened the door. I discovered her lying in the middle of thought—her mouth agape, eyes fixed blankly on the wall, head hanging still as a doily off a piano nobody plays anymore. She took no notice of me. What goes on in the mind of someone who has so little time left to live? To me it is the thinking about, and not the actual, death that causes me the most trouble. I found out the next day mom wasn’t the scared one (I was).  Dad told me she admitted being ready to die, not fearing it, more concerned with the welfare of her children.

Three weeks later mom was admitted to the Palliative Ward at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the ward where you go to die. There are no more treatments. Instead, doctors just try to take the edge off the pain. Nevertheless, even at this late a juncture, I still held out hope she’d recover.

Hope abandoned my family on this final day. I remember walking into her room half-expecting to see her sitting up able to carry on a conversation. She barely acknowledged me when I stopped at the foot of the bed affectionately squeezing the shape of her sheet-covered foot. She was so much weaker now: the steroids she took controlling the growth of the tumor was destroying her immune system. The night before the final day she got pneumonia. Her breathing sounded like that sucking noise when you’re trying to get the last bit of pop out of a cup with a straw.

My wife Camille arrived a little later the same day. I remember this vividly because it was the last time mom ever spoke to me. I sat by a window facing 20th Street holding a novel called The Immigrants. I didn’t do much reading (I found it comforting to hold a book in my hand for some reason). I was watching mom literally drown as her mouth and lungs filled with mucous she couldn’t expel. Mom motioned for Camille to come a little closer and then spoke something inaudible into her ear. Camille turned and said to me mom didn’t want me to stare at her anymore. Embarrassed I turned my gaze back out the window where a collection of tears and brilliant sunlight co-mingled blurring the cars on the busy street below into indistinguishable moving shapes. Camille used a mouth swab wiping away some of the mucous choking mom. In my heart I was so grateful for Camille’s help because it diminished, temporarily at least, months of futility.

Mom died that night.

It was a Saturday I think around 1:50 am. She was surrounded by her entire family. Her children (and their spouses) eventually left the room as her breathing became increasingly shallower with every minute. Three-quarters of an hour later dad appeared at the doorway to the family room where we were all sitting talking. He said she was gone. When I entered the room her mouth was puckered as if stubbornly asleep and her arms were stretched at the sides abandoned of life. I laid my head on the bed beside her, lifted her left hand and placed it on my head one last time.

I kissed her one last time.

Epilogue
When I was around ten years old I had a remarkable experience. I decided to include this experience in the narrative because in retrospect it seems connected:

I was lying in my bed thinking about my Grandpa Wilson (my mom’s dad) who’d just recently died of lung cancer. His death scared me because my mom was also a smoker. I feared she’d die in the same way. I wept bitterly begging God to take some of my remaining days and give them to her. While I cried a beautiful female voice spoke from the corner of the darkened room. The voice spoke two words absolutely dripping in compassion, “Oh, Rick.”  That’s it. In complete and child-like awe I shut right up scouring the darkness for the voice’s origin. I fell almost instantaneously asleep.

Sadly 16 years later my fears were realized. Just like grandpa and Aunty Joyce and Uncle Billy and Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Maki, etc. mom succumbed to a disease that continues to kill millions.  Now older, stronger, and supposedly wiser, I’ve come to look back on this mysterious voice with scepticism and disbelief; that is, until a similar experience took place when I was 26 years old. Mom had been dead nearly a year and obviously I missed her. I missed her so much. I feared somehow that I was forgetting what she looked like. I tried remembering every detail, the sound of her voice, and I couldn’t.

And then I heard that same voice again.

A woman’s voice spoke my name into my right ear. I  swear I heard it two just two inches away clear as day. Yet, despite how concrete both experiences felt I remain skeptical. For good or for ill I’m just not hardwired to accept these kinds of things at face value. Many years ago I learned the Cree believe that when a person cries he or she is then closest to the Creator. Maybe there was something to this whole voice/crying thing after all? I don’t know. There are lots of things I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll meet mom again or a semblance of her or if this brief existence is all there is. Yet, I know and feel she lives on in my heart like a poem—a pure metaphor of the mother—an impression that will remain until her youngest son joins her.

 

Canada in the Age of Trump

Months before Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and then the U.S. Presidency, Matthew MacWilliams, a University of Massachusetts postdoctoral candidate, stumbled across a striking way of looking at a candidate who seemed to defy all the rules of politics.
 
His polling research had revealed that parenting styles were a powerful predictor of voter attitudes towards Trump. In particular, MacWilliams discovered that those who preferred authoritarian child-rearing approaches—who valued traits such as obedience and good behavior in their children over curiosity or independence—were much more likely to back Trump. Moreover, their support wasn’t strictly contingent on traditional party preferences. As MacWilliam’s polls showed, authoritarian parenting preferences can be found among both Republicans and Democrats.
 
To further confirm his hypothesis, he also looked at correlations between those with authoritarian outlooks and more specific political views, such as attitudes towards the protection of minorities, terrorism and immigration. The results further confirmed the distinct alignment of values and politics that allowed Trump to win over working-class Midwesterners, religious South¬erners and even some affluent younger people, among them voters who might have balked at his positions on LBGTQ+ rights or looked askance at his behavior.
 
Extracted from Michael Adams’ Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.

The Scientific Worldview

The ancients answered unanswerable questions by saying “God (or the gods) did it.”

Questions surrounding the mystery of why people got sick, comets flew inexplicably across the sky, and volcanoes blew their tops, and so on, were explained through an appeal to mythical and religious narratives. This appeal reflected the very human need to address uncertainty by exerting, however ineffectual, some modicum of control over the external world. Human nature has not fundamentally changed (so people continue resorting to magical thinking and metaphysical handwaving in the present day).

As it turns out, what the ancients lacked wasn’t control but knowledge and an effective methodology: they lacked the techniques, critical thinking, worldview and technology required to leave the safety of the cave and emerge into the light seeing the world as it is as opposed to how it ought to be.

Science, the scientific method specifically, reveals we get sick due to disease carrying pathogens (not demons); comets are not harbingers of doom but conglomerates of rock and ice orbiting the Sun with clocklike precision; and volcanoes don’t blow up because the god of the underworld demands a virgin as sacrifice (it erupts due to a series of naturally occurring geological processes).

Religion gave us formulaic reasoning like “God did it.” Not particularly informative or descriptive.

Science gives us dynamic reasoning like “X happened due to physical factor A, B or possibly C.”

Science has shaped us socially and morally, in that, we make moral decisions (in the West) based on appeals to experience and practicality rather than to prescriptions like the Ten Commandments; and socially we have, and continue to develop, new relationships with one another through rationality in the form of democratic institutions, the necessary separation of Church and State, and establishing societies governed through the rule of law (as opposed to the rule of caprice).