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The Circle

Years ago, I lost a tooth after getting hit with a hockey stick while I was playing hockey—so I can claim to be a real Canadian. But I also broke a finger playing softball, so maybe I am just clumsy.

In the interests of full disclosure, the stick in the mouth was not deliberate. I fell in front of another player just as he was shooting the puck at the net. Neither the puck nor the tooth went into the net.

I haven’t played hockey or softball for quite a few years. Time took a toll on my body. But it can’t be said that my early retirement was a significant loss to the sporting world.

Some of the boys I went to high school with were obviously better athletes and stayed in better shape. They played a lot longer, into their fifties and even sixties.

I talked with one of them a few days ago. He had been playing in a community old timers’ hockey program for a number of years. He said he was finally forced to retire from hockey a couple of years ago due to an injury. He wasn’t hurt playing hockey. He fell while taking the dog for a walk and injured his arm.

My friend told me that he doesn’t miss the hockey so much, but he does miss “the circle.” Apparently, hockey players sit at their lockers around the outside of the locker room and face inward, toward each other. They talk and become a community. (Baseball and football players apparently sit in a similar circle but face outward, toward their lockers.)

The idea of the hockey circle reminded me of women’s sewing circles of a generation ago. Women, often connected with a church, would get together to make quilts or sew clothes for poor people overseas. While they worked, the women would share their lives and offer each other encouragement and advice. It was a community-building practice disguised as a charity project. Or a charity project disguised as a community-building practice.

Like my hockey career, I fear such circles and such community-building exercises are becoming a thing of the past. Today’s young men and women do not often sit in circles. They mostly sit alone, staring at their iPhones.



An Interesting Day

A while back, I had an interesting day, marked by some significant but mundane events.

Event #1: I went out and bought my wife an expensive birthday present. The romance is still alive. The present was a new freezer. It wasn’t planned. The compressor on our current 35-year-old one was still working fine, but we discovered that the insulation had gone to the point that one corner was badly rusted and leaking condensation water onto the new laminate floor. Three stores had the exact same freezer on sale, two for $798 and one for $799. We bought the more expensive one. On the assumption it might be a better freezer. Or maybe because the store is owned by a Canadian company that we have used before, that has been in business longer, and that we hope might be around long enough to honour the warranty. We made some concessions to our advancing age—it is a 17-cubic-foot, upright, frost-free machine, so we don’t have to bend over, lean in, and unload the whole freezer whenever we want to find a piece of meat or defrost the freezer. The old freezer lasted thirty-five years. Due to advances in technology, the new one is expected to last ten years. The salesman explained that this is because the new one was manufactured overseas, endured a long sea voyage, is made of cheaper materials, and has a computer. There is no reason to add a computer to a simple piece of proven technology that has worked fine for decades. But any system is only as strong as its weakest link, and in many cases that weakest link is now a fragile computer.

Event #2: To make the day even more interesting, I touched up the paint on our newly painted house. Apparently if you paint your house white, it is not a good idea to let the grandchildren play outside with a black marking pen.

Event #3: Our daughter is cleaning stuff out of her condo. Among the items she decided to get rid of was a top-of-the-line food processor that doesn’t work anymore. Maybe the computer in it crashed. She had brought that over to me a few days earlier so I could take it to the recycling facility along with some other stuff. But then she opened another cupboard and found the accessories for the processor. They included an attachment with razor-sharp blades. Her three-year-old son picked it up and asked, “What’s this?” She immediately took it from him—and cut her thumb badly on the blade. So, on the interesting day, when she brought some more stuff over to my house, she brought over the processor attachments, which she didn’t think it was safe to leave in her house. (I am not sure why decluttering her place means cluttering up mine, but I digress.) I very carefully lifted the blade attachment out of the back of her car and then reached back in to get a black plastic attachment. It apparently also had a blade on it, and I sliced a one-inch-by-half-inch flap off my middle finger. It bled profusely and throbbed painfully. I am thinking of disinheriting her. All of the grandchildren came rushing over to me—but not to offer sympathy or help; they just wanted to see the cut. I don’t know whether I am glad or embarrassed that of the three of us who picked up the attachment, the only one who didn’t cut himself badly was the three-year-old.

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The American West

The American West was an eight-part documentary series that ran on the AMC network last summer. With Robert Redford as executive producer, it focused on a series of prominent personalities, “heroes,” forceful men who “took what they wanted.” These men were described in this documentary series as representing the American character of strength and enterprise.

These men included “outlaws” such as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Crazy Horse, who took up arms against often unjust and corrupt government actions. They also included lawmen such as Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, and George Armstrong Custer, who tended to shoot first and worry about evidence and trials only if there were survivors from the shooting. In many respects, in this retelling of their stories, there was not that much difference between the outlaws and the lawmen. All were forceful characters who took bold action.

American culture still seems to revere heroic outlaws (from The Godfather to The Sopranos) and trigger-happy lawmen (from John Wayne to Dirty Harry and Luke Skywalker).

As Americans agonize over the current shooting war between young black men and white police officers, they should not be surprised. From the beginning of their nation, Americans have often chosen to solve problems with guns. Sadly, the current violence is very much part of an American tradition. It is just that, looked at closely, reality seems more sordid and less heroic than the legends.


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Theological Liberals

I have been thinking about theological liberals. Those are the people who no longer believe the old verities. Instead, they often espouse a philosophy built on vague concepts, deliberately ambiguous statements, indistinct images, and unclear metaphors, or they believe that all roads lead to the same place, that several contradictory ideas might all be true.

It struck me that theological liberals rarely build anything new. Building something requires deep, long-term commitment. The builder has to believe the long years of sacrifice will be worth it in the end. This is precisely what theological liberals can’t inspire. Why put in the work to build something that you are not really sure of?  “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8, NIV)

So, instead of building something new, theological liberals often move into an institution—such as a church or a school—built by someone else and take it over. This is possible because the founders of the institution are focused elsewhere—on the grand vision that stands behind and beyond the institution. Theological liberals, on the other hand, focus on the institution because they need it to lend weight and credibility to their ideas.


On The Monstrous Regiment of Women

People have long wondered why the Scots would send their armies into battle dressed in skirts. The reality is that these soldiers were not men in skirts but actually ugly women. This truth has been suppressed by the English, who write most of the history books and who don’t want to admit that their armies have been beaten in so many battles by a bunch of women.

This phenomenon was first described in a 16th-century book called The Monstrous Regiment of Women written by a man named John Knox. No one reads this book these days, but it likely contained a history of the Scottish army up to that point. Knox himself was a hard man who established the famous School of Hard Knox. He also established the Presbyterian Church, although no one remembers why.

The regiment was led by a person named Queen Mary, which has led to speculation that she was a he in drag. Whether actually gay or not, he/she was undoubtedly merry.

The distinct character of the Scottish army is demonstrated by the fact that while other armies travelled to the sound of drums and trumpets, the Scottish army preferred the bagpipes. This instrument is said to be modelled on knitting needles stuck into a bag of wool. The sound is thought to resemble untalented women trying to sing opera.

The preferred weapons for this women’s army included the aptly named broad sword, the halberd, the claymore, the pike, the dirk, and, of course, the bagpipes.

No one knows what the Scottish men were doing while the women were fighting their battles. They may have been herding sheep, drinking with the Irish, or throwing up in the heather after eating haggis, a traditional Scottish food. I would explain what is in this Scottish dish, but the extant historical descriptions are too fantastical to be believable, and in this article I wanted to stick to proven facts.

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Beyond Belief

“Every year, over 68 million Americans leave the safety of our borders.” For this reason, the FBI has an International Response Team that is called into action whenever danger strikes (that is, whenever an American is killed or kidnapped by a serial killer in another country).

This is the premise of CBS’s new drama Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

The team is highly competent and mobile. In fact, it is usually on the scene within 24 hours of a crime being committed. The team arrives on its own plane with its own guns and vehicles, which it presses into action without seeming to worry about whether they are licensed for use in the country they are visiting. Inevitably, the FBI team takes over the investigation from local authorities.

The show is built on some questionable premises.

First, the idea that such a rapid response is the norm is nonsense. Governments simply don’t act that swiftly, especially when it involves crossing borders and international diplomacy.

Second, the assumption that Americans are “safe” with in their own borders but in grave danger beyond them is nonsense. There are far more serial killers in the United States than any other country, the United States is a more violent society than almost any other nation Americans are likely to visit, and Americans are far more likely to be murdered in the US than anywhere else.

Third, whatever country the team visits, the local police are assumed to be incompetent, corrupt, or both. This, of course, justifies the FBI team in taking over the investigation.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is built on assumptions that Americans are less violent, more moral, and more competent than people from other nations and that this justifies the American practice of ignoring local laws and taking over whatever country Americans happen to visit.

With such an attitude, no wonder Americans are disliked almost everywhere they go.


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What’s Wrong with Americans?

I am 66 years old. I am, as my doctor says, in very good shape for someone my age. I still lead an active life. I can walk, shovel snow, rake leaves, and babysit grandchildren for 12 hours a day. My mind is still sharp enough that I can work as a professional editor, write books, teach, and learn new computer technologies. I have discovered that there is some wisdom that comes with age. (If good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions, then I have certainly made enough bad decisions to have learned something.)

On the other hand, my memory isn’t quite what it was, I don’t play hockey or baseball anymore, and while I can still put in a 40-hour work week, there is no way I want to return to working 60 to 80 hours a week. I certainly wouldn’t contemplate taking on the most stressful job in the world.

Which brings me back to Americans.

The leading Republican candidate for president is Donald Trump. He is 69. If he is elected president, he will be 70 when he takes office and 74 when he finishes his first term.

The leading Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton. She is 68. If she is elected president, she will be 69 when she takes office and 73 when she finishes her first term.

The second leading Democratic candidate is Bernie Sanders. He is 74. If he is elected president, he will be 75 when he takes office and 79 when he finishes his first term (if he doesn’t die of old age first).

What is wrong with these people that they think they are capable of taking on a ridiculously stressful job and becoming the leader of the free world at such an age?

And what is wrong with the American people that they are apparently convinced that these are the only viable choices for president?

The situation in the United States is such (the country is so large, so wealthy, and so technologically complex) that it takes enormous amounts of money to run for president. The myth that any American can grow up to be president is now nonsense. By the time candidates gain enough fame, money, political favours, and powerful connections to have a shot at being president, they are most likely too old for the job.

I am not saying that senior citizens should never run for president. But that does not mean that only senior citizens should run for president.