For the record
Your readers must be bewildered. One Saturday, you present my account of the 1981 constitutional conference (The Myth Of The Long Knives – Focus, Nov. 5). The next Saturday, you have former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford denouncing my "inaccuracies" (No Deal 'Cooked Up In The Kitchen' – Focus, Nov. 12).
Mr. Peckford has muddled my description of what most Quebeckers believe with what I believe. He must have failed to notice the section's heading: "A myth takes shape." And failed to pick up on the signal, "Once upon a time." And failed to heed my statement that "a close examination of the facts … suggests a very different story." Indeed, the whole point of my article – like his, ironically – is to tear the myth to pieces.
Caught in the crossfire is my book, The Last Act, to which he attributes a quote that appears nowhere in it.
More seriously, he accuses me of relying on the reports of people not present at the conference. In fact, I interviewed almost all of the key players, including Peter Lougheed, Allan Blakeney and William Davis. Mr. Peckford, who now complains his importance has gone unrecognized, refused to help.
Ron Graham, Toronto
Glass houses …
Re King Of Jordan Says Assad Should Step Down (online, Nov. 14): There's nothing more ironic than a bunch of dictators arguing over whose rule among them is illegitimate.
Jan Burton, Toronto
John Milton's renunciation of what Neil Reynolds calls "theocratic force" is not quite as unequivocal as he would have you believe (The Renunciation Of Theocratic Force – Nov. 14). Paradise Regained (1671) was published in the same volume as Samson Agonistes, a poem in which both the Chorus and Samson's father glory in the hero's suicidal martyrdom, the slaughter or "clotted gore" of God's enemies. In Paradise Regained itself, Milton's Jesus longs for the arrival of his kingdom that will hit the world "as a stone" and "to pieces dash/ All monarchies besides" his own.
In real life, Milton was notorious for the violence or "sacred vehemence" of his political pamphlets. In 1649, he prepared the way for Oliver Cromwell's bloody reconquest of the Irish by appealing to "their barbarism and obdurate willfulness" and, only a year before his death, he rejoiced in Parliament's refusal to extend religious toleration to Catholics.
The real problem is not Milton's, but the violent metaphors at the heart of Scripture – "I have not come to bring peace," says Christ, "but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). Milton believed him.
Paul Stevens, professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of English, University of Toronto
One would be impressed with Pope Benedict XVI's passionate renunciation of compulsion in religion if his predecessors had also come to the same conclusion when dealing with heresy. As it is, Benedict's fine words are yet another example of papal pronouncements that are too little, too late and less to do with a change of heart than belated recognition of reality.
The disconnect between the Pope's words and his suppression of internal dissent and continuing efforts to impose Catholic dogma through other means suggests that, if the Vatican had military divisions, it might still be tempted to use them.
Mike Hutton, Ottawa
Neil Reynolds is right to condemn the Catholic Church's historic use of "theocratic force" to settle disputes and burn heretics. Jesus's injunction "compel them to come in" (Luke 14:23) is no excuse for not asking why non-believers are hanging about outside in the first place.
Renouncing force of arms, though, doesn't mean there need be no conflict. It's impossible to be a thorough-going Darwinian (as I am) and a traditionally orthodox Christian. Any notions of an interventionist God, the uniqueness of homo sapiens or a detachable soul have to go. Quantum mechanics precludes anyone, even God, knowing what will happen tomorrow.
Because clergy are ill-equipped to tackle these issues – and congregations even less willing to accept their conclusions – a gulf has grown between so-called faith and non-faith: Believers imagine that ethics is their exclusive territory, while atheists claim, equally wrongly, that science is on their side.
Science and religion should be taught from Grade 6 and up, not to refill the churches but to enable young people to debate conflicting views without aggression.
Rev. Michael Skliros, Brandon, Man.
Another fine mess
Re Queen's Fine Arts Class Put On Hold (Nov. 11): A university is a place where intellectual inquiry ought to be positioned above all else. I've also learned, however, that it's a business, and running a business is at odds with intellectual inquiry. Extravagances such as art (and the humanities in general) are easy targets when accountants' spreadsheets demand reconciliation. Yet, art is the very thing on which the judgment of so many of humanity's great societies rest.
As a graduate of the BFA program, I will be forever indebted to Queen's for the panoply of opportunities it has afforded me. Pondering these events in my studio half a continent away, I am deeply, profoundly, saddened by the decision of my university to end its relationship with contemporary art.
Robert Truszkowski, assistant professor, Department of Visual Arts, University of Regina
Since cyclists are virtually always travelling on the right side of vehicles, it would appear that only a right-side guard would be needed (Cyclists Call For Truck Side Guards In Wake Of Toronto Cyclist's Death – online, Nov. 14). That should cut the cost in half.
John Owen, Dartmouth, N.S.
A cow's life
Naomi Loewith (My Connection To My Father's Dairy Herd – Facts & Arguments, Nov. 14) is correct in observing that dairy cattle "are really not so different from you and me." And just like humans, cows produce oxytocin at birth, causing them to feel intensely attached to their offspring.
On noting the similarities between us and them, I'm surprised Ms. Loewith went on to conclude in favour of dairy farming. Male calves are transported away from the farm shortly after birth to become veal, while female calves are kept separate from their mothers and fed formula. This ensures that the most cow's milk possible is produced for human consumption. Not surprisingly, the separation is psychologically traumatizing for the animals.
We may be similar in our physiology, but Ms. Loewith gets to keep her son. Cows aren't so lucky.
Annalea Pippus, Toronto
John Gardiner's column Still Like The Canary In The Coal Mine (Nov. 11), on the Occupy movement, reminded me of something I read years ago: "Reforms come from below. No man with four aces howls for a new deal."
Keith Richards, Winnipeg