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What Is Literature about?

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Can literature be about life? When I was teaching a course on American Literature, one of my students, a woman in her twenties, was a mother of five children.  I would occasionally see her and her husband with the kids in the park where my son played soccer.  One evening her husband was alone with the kids and approached my son and me as we were tossing a Frisbee.  He emanated an intensity that I associated with being the young father of five.  Nodding hello, he said, "My wife is in your American literature course."  Honestly, I assumed I was in trouble and braced myself.  "At night we sit at the kitchen table," he said, "and my wife tells me about your course."    Then he told me, "I thought a literature course would be just about books, but yours is about life." He went on to express his regret that he couldn't take the course.

The Rules of postmodernism It was a supreme compliment, and I cherish it to this day.  But, at the time, I rem…

"Judicial Independence" in Canadian Extradition Law

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The Canadian Extradition Act There is no "judicial independence" in Canadian extradition law.  Louise Arbour,  former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals, has been trying to educate the Canadian public on this basic fact in Canadian law. The Canadian Extradition Act is available online and is clear (and I encourage you to click the hyperlink), in Canada, extradition is, ultimately, the responsibility of the executive branch of government (meaning the politicians we elect) not the judiciary.  Despite the obvious letter of the law, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to stubbornly repeat the fallacy that "judicial independence" must be maintained in the Meng extradition trial. His use of the phrase "judicial independence" is proof that he has never looked at the Canadian Extradition Act.  Imagine: in a matter of minutes, anyone with an internet connecti…

How Did Canada Lose to Norway and Ireland in Its Campaign for a UN Security Council Seat?

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The Basics:  The United Nations was formed in 1945, at the end of World War II.  There were 51 member countries.  Harry S. Truman was President of the USA and the UN's home was established in New York City.The goal of the United Nations is world peace and security.The Security Council is the power center of the UN.  It has five permanent members, the "big" winners of WWII:  the USA, France, the UK, Russia, and China.On a rotational basis, other countries are elected by all 193 members of the UN General Assembly to occupy temporary, 2-year positions in the Security Council.There are currently 10 temporary (non-permanent, 2-year) positions in the Security Council. The permanent members have remained the same since 1945.The non-permanent positions are elected on a geographical basis, so Canada was competing against Ireland and Norway in what is known as the "Weog block" (Western Europe and Others).In the 2020, three-country competition for two Security Council se…

The "We" Vote in Quebec

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Les Patriots 
Today is la Journée nationale des patriotesin Québec.  (Prior to 2003 it was Dollard des Ormeaux Day in celebration of the garrison commander who died fighting the Iroquois [Haudenosaunee]  at the Battle of Long Sault in 1660. Times change.)  In the ROC (the Rest of Canada) today is Victoria Day (in honour of Queen Victoria).
In popular lore, les patriots are remembered as French peasants battling their English overloads.  This version of history is at least partially true; however, some leaders of the rebellion in Lower Canada (today Quebec) were English (notably Wolfred Nelson and his brother, Dr. Robert Nelson), some members of the upper class--opposing les patriots-- were French Canadian seigneurs, and, at the same time (1839), a similar rebellion of English-speaking farmers was taking place against the ruling-elite Family Compact in Upper Canada for the same reasons--demanding representational government.
In Quebec, history is often retold as a battle between English…

Ethics by Numbers

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Ethics by numbers:  We might imagine that numbers can resolve an ethical dilemma.  Faced with two inescapable ethical choices, A and B: A will cause two deaths and B will cause one.  B seems the obvious ethical choice.  In the real world, ethical choices are rarely so straightforward.  In fact, even in the hypothetical world the choice isn't so clear.


Ethics 101When I was a student in Ethics 101, Professor Glass presented us with this standard thought experiment. You are on a boat cast adrift at sea with six other passengers. You have supplies enough for six people to survive. There is no hope of rescue. If you do nothing all seven people will die. What do you do?  How do you decide the ethical or moral course of action?  The scenario allows only four options:
Do nothing.Save yourself.Sacrifice yourself"The greatest good for the greatest number of people."I used this scenario in a number of classes for varying reasons: sometimes as a “values clarification” exercise;…

The Grapes of Wrath

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Number 10 on the list of top 100 novels John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath is number 10 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 Top Novels of the 20th Century.  After a couple of years trying to convince my students of the virtues of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (#6 on the list), I gave up and substituted the more accessible, single-third-person narrative, not-stream-of-consciousness Steinbeck novel.  In the process of teaching it, my admiration for the novel grew.  But what does "Grapes of Wrath" mean?


The title was suggested by Carol SteinbeckIt is widely reported that the title was suggested by Faulkner's first wife, Carol Henning Steinbeck. The expression “Grapes of Wrath” comes from the Bible: Revelation 14:19–20 (New Testament) and Isaiah 63 (Old Testament). The expression was re-used in the lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” written during the American Civil War.
"Wrath" means anger  In the simplest of terms, "grap…