I don't write these posts to frighten or depress anyone. But a number of my readers have higher priorities than chasing down news stories, so I like to raise awareness when I come upon something important, interesting, or even just fun. This one's not fun, but it is important.

Why should I care what's happening in Canada? Leave aside for the moment that Canadians, too, are human beings made in the image of God and therefore we should care about them, and that Canada is the huge neighbor covering our entire northern border and one of our major allies. We should also care about what's happening with our near neighbor because the United States is not as far from this creeping danger as we might like to think.

One of our daughters and several of our grandchildren have for years been taking lessons in karate. One thing I have learned from them is that the first, and possibly the most important, key to self-defense is awareness of your surroundings. Never forget that a far better source also proclaimed wisdom as an essential accompaniment to innocence.

 


 

Half a century ago our family discovered Ontario's Arrowhead Provincial Park. We had only intended to spend one night there on our way to Michigan, but were so enchanted we stayed for three. It was quite primitive at the time: there wasn't much to do, and the bathroom "facilities" were a latrine. But we were almost alone in the park; most of the other tourists were staying in nearby Algonquin Provincial Park, which was more developed and very popular. Never have I breathed air so clean and invigorating. More memorable than that, however, were the stars. Not in all the rest of my life have I seen such a display, and such a show, as we lay on our backs on a huge woodpile and watched shooting stars streak across the sky at a rate of perhaps one every two or three minutes. I knew then that if I couldn't live in the United States, I'd want to go to Canada. Later Switzerland moved ahead, and that was well before we had family living there. But Canada stayed a solid second.

Well, that was then and this is now. There are many reasons why Canada has slipped far down on my list, but the following video would be enough.

A government (Ontario's, in this case) went too far with its pandemic restrictions, and finally the citizens—including medical practitioners and the police—rebelled, forcing the leaders to back down on the most egregious of the new rules. That's good news, but be sure to watch to the end to see the clips of Ontario's authorities and their "this hurts me more than it hurts you but it's for your own good" act. And their "it's your duty to snitch on your neighbors" response.

Ontario is a province of 14.5 million people, and 650 of them are currently in intensive care units. This minuscule percentage has caused such panic that the provincial government's response was (among other things) to issue a stay-at-home order, to close playgrounds, boat ramps, and other outdoor recreational activities, and to authorize law enforcement to stop and interrogate any people caught outside of their homes. Canada takes enforcement of these rules very seriously: the fine for violating Quebec's 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, for example, starts at $1500.

Part of the problem is that Canada's health infrastructure is not good. An ordinary flu season overwhelms the ICUs. I've known for years that Canada's healthcare system is broken, despite the fact that it has its passionate defenders. (Much of my information comes from Canadian nurses, who fled to the U.S., bringing horror stories with them.) Even a bad system—healthcare, government, business, church, marriage—can look reasonable when times are good. It's times of crisis, pressure, and stress that reveal the truth and call into account the leaders we have elected (or been saddled with).

I used to look at historical happenings in other countries—e.g. Austria-Hungary 1914, pre-WWII Germany, Communist Eastern Europe, the Rwandan genocide—and smugly think, "That could never happen here, not now." However, the past year has shown that it can, indeed, happen here and now. We're not there yet, but we've come a lot closer, particularly in the area of what ordinary citizens will do to their neighbors.

American has no call to feel smug—or safe. We may not be as far down the road as Canada is, but it sure looks as if we are heading in the same direction. Should we panic? Despair? Absolutely not. But we'd darn well better be paying attention.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 19, 2021 at 9:45 am | Edit
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I've posted quite a bit already about and by David Freiheit and his YouTube channel Viva Frei. But he certainly deserves a part in this series, so here it is, along with some new (to here) videos.

David Freiheit is a Canadian lawyer in Montreal, who, worked several years with a big law firm, then started his own commercial litigation practice. During this time his YouTube presence grew, and in 2018 he gave up his practice and took his YouTube channel fulltime. He calls his vlog (video blog) a VLAWG, because his video commentary on current issues from a legal standpoint is what really took off for him. I love seeing American politics from a Canadian point of view, and learning more about life in Canada, especially in Quebec. Occasionally one gets a chance to practice French, but the vlog is in English and Freiheit is good at providing translations.

His style is a little on the crazy side, but he makes legal issues and legal documents interesting, which qualifies him as a miracle worker as far as I'm concerned.

Although Freiheit pulls no punches he is also generally happy, positive, and willing to see more than one side of a situation. He retains his lawyer's caution and willingness to go beyond the surface of a story. Sadly, the pandemic—or more precisely, governmental reaction to the pandemic—is taking its toll on his optimism, but as with much these days, we live in hope that "this too shall pass."

Note: This is a caveat appropriate for all YouTube videos, but especially ones that touch on politics: you may want to avoid the comments. Freiheit is a reasonable and generally even-handed commentator, but not all his followers are so polite. 

Another note: You may notice that he uses his own euphemisms for certain words. I don't mean for profanities—he's quite good a keeping his vlog clean without that—but for otherwise normal words that tend to upset the YouTube algorithm and lead to the demonetization or even taking down of videos. Words like "coronavirus," "COVID," and "fraud," for example, have at one time or another been YouTube no-no's. Sometimes he'll also just leave a legal paper or a tweet or letter up on the screen for the audience to read, since apparently YouTube is more likely to object to the spoken word than an image of words. The things you have to do for freedom of speech these days!

There are several different kinds of videos on Viva Frei, and he films in a few different locations. Many of his vlogs are recorded in his car, a concession to the pandemic reality that there's no quiet place in the house. Some are nonetheless done from his basement, and right now he is being quarantined in a family cabin because someone in one of his childrne's classrooms tested positive for COVID. He also vlogs while ice fishing, which I find both interesting and distracting—I tend to worry because even a New Hampshire native would consider the conditions very cold, and he often has bare hands!

My introduction to Freiheit's work was his legal analysis of current issues; even after all this time, I'm still tickled that he can make legal language and legal proceedings interesting. The following video about a lawsuit against Facebook is a good example of that kind, including a short explanation of class-action lawsuit, and it's less than 10 minutes from start to finish.

Here's another, also from his car, showing not so much legal matters as applying a logical legal mind to reveal the facts behind the news story—or in this case, the tweet. (Just over 10 minutes.)

Then there's his "Viva on the Street" series, in which he vlogs while walking along the streets of Montreal with one or both of his dogs, because walking a dog is one of the very few ways in which it is legal for a Québecois to be out after the "temporary, one-month" curfew was imposed back in mid-January. (Spoiler alert: the curfew is still in place.) Since one of his dogs has paralyzed hind legs, and the other is a puppy going blind, he actually spends more time carrying them than letting them walk, but so far the officials haven't fined him—as they've done to those who have been walking their cats, and the one intrepid woman who had her husband on a leash. Dogs only, please.

But I digress. Here's one of the "Viva on the Street" episodes about the curfew (11 minutes).

He also does live streams with American lawyer Robert Barnes, which are fascinating, but who has time to watch for two hours? I wait for the excerpts that he publishes afterwards. I'd post a sample here, but I'd rather not include more than three videos in an introduction. If you get interested in the channel, you'll find the live streams.

And there's more. All in all, it's a fascinating channel, with more videos than I can keep up with—or even want to. If you'd occasionally like to get out of your American news bubble, or your mainstream media bubble, or to know more of the stories behind the headlines, this is a good place to be.

For less in the way of politics and more on everyday life in Quebec, Freiheit has another channel, Viva Family.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 26, 2021 at 9:58 am | Edit
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I like the Viva Frei video law blog, in part because although David Freiheit pulls no punches he is also generally happy, positive, and willing to see more than one side of a situation. But this pandemic—or more precisely, governmental reaction to the pandemic—is taking its toll on his optimism.

I haven't said much here about the horrendous rules now in place for anyone who dares try to enter Canada—Canadian citizens included—but I'm posting the following because, as Freiheit says, people need to know.

I've set the video to start part way through. The first story, about employees at a Canadian Tire store going vigilante on a man who was not wearing a mask, is definitely concerning. Here in Florida we had someone in a convenience store check-out line actually pull a gun on a woman who was standing too close for his comfort. But in the Canadian Tire event there is stupidity on both sides, and I think its inclusion distracts and detracts from the main story, in which the Canadian government is the problem. 

In short, in the name of safety, the Canadian government has taken the authority to compel people, including Canadian citizens, to be taken off to undisclosed locations and detained for an indeterminate time without due process. Heinous enough, but more harrowing is that these people are not told where they are going, and their families are not told where they are going. What's more, once they arrive at their "quarantine hotels," they are not allowed to use social media, and not allowed to disclose their locations.

So there you go. Innocent people with every right to be in Canada, whisked off to detention facilities, and no one knows where they have gone, other than that government officials have taken them. They can't leave, and they can't tell the world what's happening to them. Presumably all this is done in the name of public health, in fear of COVID-19. (I can't, however, imagine how the communications blackout is contributing to anyone's well-being.) This means that in addition to being "disappeared" and alone, these people are likely sick and alone. Even in the best of times we all know how closely their families must watch out for people in hospitals and nursing homes, because if they don't, bad things happen. They just do. I've lost track of the number of such incidents I know about personally. What are the odds these people are getting good medical care? As you can tell from the news story, they're not even getting decent security.

I'm aware that some people reading this will find Freiheit a bit too excitable. As I said, he's always enthusiastic about what he says, but as the situation in Canada gets more and more oppressive, he's getting more and more upset.

Perhaps rightly so.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 28, 2021 at 7:45 am | Edit
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O. J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, Donald Trump ... pick your favorite villain. There's someone out there who you are certain "got away with murder." It rankles, doesn't it? Makes you doubt our system of justice. Me? I'm just as guilty, though I worry more about the uncounted criminals who "get off on a technicality" when everyone involved knows they're guilty—including their own attorneys.

In the court of public opinion, we are all vigilantes. And that's a problem.

We have a lawyer friend who has seen our criminal justice system from several angles, having served for years as a prosecuting attorney, and for years as a defense attorney. I well remember a somewhat heated discussion with him, which started when I mentioned that I like the British system, in which a defense attorney, if he becomes convinced his client is guilty, must step down. (As I understand it, that was at least the case in the past. For all I know it might have changed.) Our friend is a gentle, mild-mannered man, but he vehemently disagreed, insisting that even the most guilty person is entitled to the best possible defense his attorney can provide. Maybe that's why the British attorneys stand down, figuring they can't do their best if they believe their client guilty. Apparently American defense lawyers have no such inhibitions. At least not the good ones.

All that to say, when a lawyer takes on what we believe to be the "wrong" side of a case, that doesn't make him a villain. And when a jury returns a verdict we disagree with, that doesn't make them wrong. They're all doing their jobs, and vitally important jobs they are.

In litigation, sometimes even when you win, you still lose. — David Freiheit.

In the American justice system, one does not need to be proven innocent to be acquitted. Because "innocent until proven guilty" is a bedrock principle, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, who must show the accused to be guilty "beyond reasonable doubt." Small wonder that We the People, inflamed by media coverage, believe we know better than those who have seen the evidence and heard the arguments. We want to see our version of  justice done without any respect for or patience with the due process guaranteed every one of us. Yes, the system sometimes fails, sometimes makes mistakes; I've seen it fail among our own family and friends. But vigilante "justice" is a terrifying prospect. It's time to reprise A Man for All Seasons again.

Current society is taking vigilantism to new heights. It's long been true that many of those found not guilty in law courts have nonetheless had their lives ruined (or even ended) by the opposite verdict from the court of public opinion. Now, however, the "String him up!" reaction extends not simply to the former defendant, but even to his attorney, as you can see in the following video.

If you are thinking of becoming a lawyer, and you are so sensitive to the thoughts of others that you sometimes require protection from them, you probably want to find a new line of work. — David Freiheit.

I never had aspirations of becoming a lawyer; I don't think I have the right personality. But even I can see that what this unnamed law school did to attorney David Schoen—rescinding a teaching offer in fear that Schoen's previous job as an attorney for President Trump would make some students and faculty feel uncomfortable—is doing a tremendous disservice to the students they hope to prepare for legal practice. Not to mention to society as a whole. Don't take my word for it; Freiheit says it better.

People don't seem to fully appreciate how dangerous a practice this actually is. — David Freiheit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 22, 2021 at 7:09 am | Edit
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I'm beginning to sound like a mother: How many times do I have to tell you...?

I said it in my review of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. I said it again in "We Can Do Better," my reaction to the political theater idea that one should fight illegal behavior with illegal behavior. If you resort to evil to fight evil, don't claim the moral high ground.

Yet Time magazine is doing just that. Brazenly. Proudly.

A friend sent me this link to an Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) record of Time's February 4 article, "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election." I include both links because (1) the Time article may disappear behind a pay wall, or just disappear altogether, or (2) the article may be altered beyond recognition, à la Orwell. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but then again, maybe it's time for a little healty paranoia.

The article is long. At first, only the length made me doubt that its source was the Babylon Bee. Alas, no. If someone can prove to me that this is not an actual Time article, please do!

I'll admit it took me a while to finish reading, fascinating as the story is; I got bogged down by my own mind's refusal to believe what I saw. Now that I've read it all, I say, most remarkably, that I believe it—because of its source. Not that I trust Time magazine all that much, since I think it has become more openly biased, as well as less interesting than it once was.  But when a left-wing publication reports something extremely negative about left-wing actions, I believe it's time to sit up and take notice. Just as I do when the shoe is on the other foot with a right-wing publication.

It's hard to report interesting stories when news sources are so biased. If I find something in a right-leaning publication, my left-leaning friends will dismiss it, probably unread. Ditto my right-leaning friends with stories from a left-leaning publication. Hence my delight with this story from Time, despite its appalling nature.

I was not surprised that my favorite Canadian lawyer was also blown away by the Time article. He explains it well in just under 22 minutes. You could read the article in less time, and I recommend it—but this is more fun, and I appreciate the clarity his legal mind brings to the verbiage.

I was reminded of the famous quote from the Vietnam era, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Not wanting to include that without checking its origin and veracity, I found a much better quote in this Bloomberg article on the subject. It is from the Atlanta Daily World, in 1940, making the point that fighting facism abroad was no excuse for suppressing dissent in America.

We won’t save democracy by killing it ... and we won’t make American democracy worth saving by destroying it in the so-called attempt to save it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 8, 2021 at 6:31 am | Edit
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With the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution now joining the First and Second under attack, it's time for a brief review of the first ten, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

That's the bare bones; I leave analysis of these amendments as an exercise for the reader.

Just for fun, here are a few Sporcle games (roughly in order of diffculty) to help keep the bones of these amendments (and more) fresh in our minds. 

Click Your Rights

Bill of Rights 1

Bill of Rights 2

Constitutional Amendments 1

Constitutional Amendments 2

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 7, 2021 at 8:25 am | Edit
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What does it say when a Canadian lawyer is more concerned about violations of the U. S. Constitution than we are?

This one's only 11 minutes, and important.  Slightly off-color in a couple of places, but no grandchildren for whom it matters will be watching this, anyway.

He who denies the Constitutional rights of my worst enemy denies them to me.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 6, 2021 at 9:56 am | Edit
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They say it's the winners who write the history books, implying that what has been written is untrue.

Nonsense. What it does mean is that it is not the whole truth.

But the solution to not enough truth is more truth. Labelling what has previously been written and taught as false—or erasing it altogether, and substituting another version with its own biases—only compounds the problem.

(I can hear the teachers now, pointing out that it's difficult enough to get students to learn any history at all, much less to absorb and ponder more than one point of view. But no one ever said good teaching was easy.)

I've mentioned before that one of the gravest consequences of simplifying the very complex Chinese written language is to cut off the common people of China from their literature and history. That is a very powerful tool in the hands of a totalitarian régime.

Nor are people living in a democracy safe. In the end, is there much difference between a people who cannot read their historical documents and those who do not? If free people don't care to keep their minds free, can tyranny be far behind? As President Ronald Reagan said, Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for and defended by each generation.

Having just re-read, and reviewed, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, I was especially struck when I came upon Larry P. Arnn's essay from last December, "Orwell’s 1984 and Today." As usual, I recommend reading the original; it's not long.

The totalitarian novel is a relatively new genre. In fact, the word “totalitarian” did not exist before the 20th century. The older word for the worst possible form of government is “tyranny”—a word Aristotle defined as the rule of one person, or of a small group of people, in their own interests and according to their will. Totalitarianism was unknown to Aristotle, because it is a form of government that only became possible after the emergence of modern science and technology.

In Orwell’s 1984, there are telescreens everywhere, as well as hidden cameras and microphones. Nearly everything you do is watched and heard. It even emerges that the watchers have become expert at reading people’s faces. The organization that oversees all this is called the Thought Police.

If it sounds far-fetched, look at China today: there are cameras everywhere watching the people, and everything they do on the Internet is monitored. Algorithms are run and experiments are underway to assign each individual a social score. If you don’t act or think in the politically correct way, things happen to you—you lose the ability to travel, for instance, or you lose your job. It’s a very comprehensive system. And by the way, you can also look at how big tech companies here in the U.S. are tracking people’s movements and activities to the extent that they are often able to know in advance what people will be doing. Even more alarming, these companies are increasingly able and willing to use the information they compile to manipulate people’s thoughts and decisions.

What we can know of the truth all resides in the past, because the present is fleeting and confusing and tomorrow has yet to come. The past, on the other hand, is complete. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas go so far as to say that changing the past—making what has been not to have been—is denied even to God.

The protagonist of 1984 is a man named Winston Smith. He works for the state, and his job is to rewrite history. ... Winston’s job is to fix every book, periodical, newspaper, etc. that reveals or refers to what used to be the truth, in order that it conform to the new truth. 

Totalitarianism will never win in the end—but it can win long enough to destroy a civilization. That is what is ultimately at stake in the fight we are in. We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.

To present young people with a full and honest account of our nation’s history is to invest them with the spirit of freedom. ... It is to teach them that the people in the past, even the great ones, were human and had to struggle. And by teaching them that, we prepare them to struggle with the problems and evils in and around them. Teaching them instead that the past was simply wicked and that now they are able to see so perfectly the right, we do them a disservice and fit them to be slavish, incapable of developing sympathy for others or undergoing trials on their own.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 12:12 pm | Edit
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No, not our government, though part of me thinks it might not be such a bad idea. A Québécois lawer is suing the provincial government over their draconian lockdown restrictions.

As you can see, I'm not yet tired of Viva Frei's glimpse into Canadian politics and American politics from the viewpoint of a Canadian lawyer. Plus, I'm still tickled that I can actually find legal language and legal procedings to be interesting.

Even in French.  I do appreciate the translations, but even more the chance to exercise my minimal knowledge of that language.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 21, 2021 at 10:15 am | Edit
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I enter this new year feeling unsettled and, I must admit, somewhat fearful. The best I can offer you on this day (but it is good!) is one of the most inspiring songs I know for uncertain, difficult times. The inspiration comes as much from knowing the author's situation as from the song itself. "Von guten Mächten" is based on a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written to his family as a Christmas greeting from prison, not long before his execution by the Nazis.

There are several settings of Bonhoeffer's text, as well as a few textual variations and of course differences in translation. Below is a popular version that I find incredibly moving. The first is sung by the composer and is beautiful in its simplicity. Best of all it includes English subtitles, at least if your YouTube settings are correct.

The second has no subtitles, but is an absolutely gorgeous orchestral version.

Enjoy, and take hope. Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.

Here is the full German text, followed by what Google Translate has to say about it. Don't miss the additional verses.

Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.

Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.

Laß warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen,
die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist bei uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.

 

Faithfully and quietly surrounded by good powers,
wonderfully protected and comforted,
so I want to live with you these days
and go with you into a new year.

The old one still wants to torment our hearts
We are still burdened by bad days.
Oh Lord, give to our frightened souls
the salvation for which you made us.

And you hand us the heavy goblet, which is bitter
of sorrow filled to the top,
so we gratefully accept it without trembling
from your good and beloved hand.

But do you want to give us joy again
in this world and its sunshine,
then we want to remember the past,
and then you own our life entirely.

Let the candles burn warm and bright today,
that you brought into our darkness
bring us together again if you can.
We know that your light shines in the night.

When the silence now spreads deep around us
so let us hear that full sound
the world that invisibly expands around us,
all your children high praise.

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
we expect confidently what may come.
God is with us in the evening and in the morning
and certainly every new day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at 12:06 pm | Edit
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For the record, I decided to stop using my Fitbit at least a week before they announced the sell-out to Google.

First, it started acting erratically. Twice I thought I had lost it forever, which happened because I grew tired of wearing it on my wrist, and began keeping it in my pocket or purse. But each time, I managed to find it again, and what's more it started working better. However, the die was cast. Having had to face the prospect of no longer having my Fitbit, I decided that after two and a half years I'd already gained about as much as I was going to, in the form of new habits and awareness. Continued use had become more annoying than helpful.

Thus last Thursday, when I received an e-mail from them with the subject line, "Fitbit Joins Google," I knew I had made the right decision. See my recent post, "Big Tech, Big Brother."

It's only one small step. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft still own far too much of my life. As always, the goal is to minimize the damage without totally cutting off the benefits. How long can I ride the wave without drowning?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 18, 2021 at 6:18 am | Edit
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Never have I been so close to wanting to acquire a gun ... and a dog.

Just kidding. Mostly. If you know me, you are well aware that I try to stay away from both dogs and guns, though I fully support the right of others to enjoy either or both. But just so you know that our good neighbors to the north aren't any less inclined than we are to throw personal liberties under the bus, if an ordinary Québécois wishes to leave the confines of his house during the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., he'd better have a dog with him. And maybe a gun, too, since the night has now been turned over to those whose activities involve both darkness and a built-in willingness to break the law.

It's meant to be funny. Sort of. This guy understands that humor can say what anger cannot. Plus it's very good for diffusing tensions, as well as for one's own mental health.

The funniest line is in the comments, however. Set aside the obvious objections, including the fact that North America technically comprises many more countries than Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and just enjoy the irony: Who would have ever thought that the best-governed country in North America would be Mexico?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 15, 2021 at 8:22 am | Edit
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I've never liked Apple. No, that's not true. A very long time ago, in a small room at the University of Rochester's Goler House, we were treated by Byte magazine editor Carl Helmers to a preview of the "Apple 1" computer. As I recall it was a prototype, not much more than a circuit board attached to a cassette tape recorder. We were blown away and walked out of that room with a strong desire to invest. Alas, that was not possible. When Apple finally went public, it was already popular and far too late to get in on the ground level.

That meeting was the last time I liked Apple: I've since been turned off by their "our way or the highway" attitude and what I considered to be strong-arm tactics. I miss the early days of personal computing, where there was lots of competition. It wasn't long, however, before Microsoft became Apple's only reasonable competitor, and started using strong-arm tactics of its own.1

To take just one example: WordPerfect had long been my word processor of choice—indeed, it was the first to have that name, rather than "text editor," and I was thrilled. That's when the writer in me really began to take off. I had no reason to leave it, except that Microsoft's Word took over the world, and I adjusted to the switch. I still like most of Microsoft Office, though I've seen no reason to advance beyond the 2010 version. But eventually I tired of putting all my eggs in one basket, especially since Microsoft was moving to a subscription form of Office, which I had no intention of buying into.

So what did I do? I began the process of moving most of my work to Google Docs and Google Sheets. If they didn't have everything I liked about the Microsoft versions, they were good enough. And it was handy to have everything accessible and shareable online.

Ah, but it is Google. The little underdog I had enthusiastically supported last century has become a monolith. The wild-and-crazy upstart has become The Man. I'd had warnings before that it was not what it appeared to be, thanks to some inside information from a friend of a Google employee. But it was when they took over YouTube that I really started to dislike Google. Not for any particular reason, but simply because it gave them still more power.

Once upon a time there were many social media platforms. Now Facebook, Twitter, and Google (through YouTube) control and define the world. I've never been all that upset about what they call Big Data. It's mostly seemed about advertising, and I'm fairly resistent to that. But now it's beginning to feel more sinister, and I realize that with the kind of power that amount of data confers, there's a lot more at stake than my puny purchasing power.

Short of physical superiority (think being on the wrong end of a gun barrel) or spiritual authority (think being on the wrong side of someone you believe has the power to condemn you to hell), is there any more dangerous display of raw power than the control of information? Is there anything more dangerous to those in power than free access to information? Ask the Catholic Church what the printing press did for Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Ask our Founding Fathers how the written word fueled the American Revolution. Consider the effect of Twitter and cell phones on the Arab Spring. Now, in the Information Age, it is more true than ever that Knowledge is Power. And he who controls the availability of knowledge controls us all.

I know there must be limits to First Amendment freedom of speech. The classic example is that we are not free to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I personally think "freedom of speech" is severely degraded when it is used to justify cross-burning, flag-burning, and obscene and/or hateful art and literature, though there's a long history of acceptance of that argument. What is arising now, however, is something much bigger and much more dangerous: suppression of reasoned, rational political speech, with the Powers that Be setting themselves up not only as the arbiters of what thoughts are allowed to be expressed, but specifically of what is truth. Whether these Powers are a repressive government, a monopolistic educational system, media outlets that conflate fact and editorial opinion, or an oligarchy of information technology companies, we've moved into the Red Alert zone.

It takes a certain amount of courage to give people the power to sift through competing ideas and make up their own minds about an issue, but it is the price of freedom.

David Freiheit is my new favorite Canadian lawyer.2 He makes legal issues more understandable; I love hearing a Canadian perspective, especially on American politics; and he's usually calm and reasonable. I like what he has to say about this issue in the following video. Start around 4:10.

If you give them the reaction [they are trying to provoke], all that you do is play exactly into ... their hand, and you in fact further aid them in the pursuance of their ultimate objective. There are ways to usefully protest and to usefully object, and there are ways to counter-productively object and counter-productively protest, and if one succumbs to the counter-productive methods of protest, not only are they going to be further from achieving their own goal, they're actually going to assist their adversary in achieving their goal. And that is something that too few people truly appreciate, is that it's not a question of rolling over and accepting the unacceptable; it's a question of fighting it in a useful manner that does not actually compromise your goals and further the goals that you don't agree with in the first place.

It's not a slippery slope; it's a free-fall.

Freiheit records his videos in some unusual places. In this one, he's ice fishing, and I kept getting distracted by the thought, "Aren't his hands freezing?"

 


1There are those who will insist that Linux remains a viable, independent choice. But practically speaking, for most of us, it's too technical to bother with.

2I recommend many of Freiheit's videos, but as with most online forums, from YouTube to our local newspaper, I recommend avoiding the comments. Anywhere there are unmoderated comments, the crazies will come out.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 at 5:41 am | Edit
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Remember what I said in my recent review of Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Most of the analyses I read online consider the climax of the book to be where Winston Smith and Julia betray each other. It seems clear to me, however, that the true climax occurs much earlier in the book, when they believe they are joining the Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to opposing the ruling Party.

"In general terms, what are you prepared to do?"
"Anything that we are capable of," said Winston.
O'Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.
"Yes."
"You are prepared to commit murder?"
"Yes."
"To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?"
"Yes."
"To betray your country to foreign powers?"
"Yes."
"You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?"
"Yes."
"If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face—are you prepared to do that?"
"Yes."

At that point any hope for the future is lost, those opposing evil having shown themselves to be no better than their opponents. Everything after that is dénouement.

That.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 10, 2021 at 7:57 am | Edit
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altNineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel by George Orwell (1949)

A friend of mine recently observed, "I re-read 1984 a few weeks ago. The first time I read it in high school, I thought it was good science fiction. Now it reads like a documentary."

So I decided re-read it myself. In high school I read both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, and about all I remember is how much I disliked them both. I am a purist for science fiction. By that I mean not fantasy, and not merely stories set in the future, but stories in which plausible future science plays a more important role than social commentary—think Isaac Asimov and early Robert Heinlein. Thus I wouldn't have called either of the above books science fiction. I personally wouldn't call them good, either. But I thought it was worth another try.

I stand by my original assessment of Nineteen Eighty-Four, though I will acknowledge that Orwell was remarkably prescient in many areas. I know what my friend meant when he said it sounds like a documentary. Just as interesting were the places he got wrong. For example, he completely missed the sexual revolution of the 1960's. He also missed computers, the Internet, social media, and the Information Age—but television served his purposes well enough for "Big Brother is Watching You."

Curiously, I found that most of the analyses I read online consider the climax of the book to be where Winston Smith and Julia betray each other. It seems clear to me, however, that the true climax occurs much earlier in the book, when they believe they are joining the Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to opposing the ruling Party.

 "In general terms, what are you prepared to do?"
 "Anything that we are capable of," said Winston.
 O'Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.
 "You are prepared to give your lives?"
 "Yes."
 "You are prepared to commit murder?"
 "Yes."
 "To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?"
 "Yes."
 "To betray your country to foreign powers?"
 "Yes."
 "You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?"
 "Yes."
 "If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face—are you prepared to do that?"
 "Yes."

At that point any hope for the future is lost, those opposing evil having shown themselves to be no better than their opponents. Everything after that is dénouement.

Here are a few more quotes I found interesting.

Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the dsicipline of the Party. ... It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own 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 its parents to the Thought Police.

If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?

As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of "The Times" had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. ... Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. ... All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means.

"The proles are not human beings," he said carelessly. "By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be."

It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreation: to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous.

What kind of people would control this world had been ... obvious. The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people ... had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition.

Even the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was tolerant by modern standards. Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. ... The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.

What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect. In a Party member, on the other hand, not even the smallest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated.

[The vocabulary of Newspeak] was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member would properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings.

When Oldspeak had been once and for all superseded, the last link with the past would have been severed. History had already been rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here and there, imperfectly censored, and so long as one retained one's knowledge of Oldspeak it was possible to read them. In the future such fragments, even if they chanced to survive, would be unintelligible and untranslatable.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 26, 2020 at 8:09 pm | Edit
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