Saturday, June 28, 2008

You should have seen the one that got away!

It was THIS BIG!!!!

So might the Canadian Human Rights Commission recount their aborted investigation of Maclean's and Mark Steyn. I agree with the prevailing opinion in the blogosphere: Maclean's and Steyn were just too big to reel in without a lot of sweating and broken rods, so they opted to toss them back. David Warren predicts in today's Ottawa Citizen
It is against this background the CHRC decided that the better part of valour is discretion, and that it truly did not need to be prosecuting such high-profile targets as the bestselling author Mark Steyn and the mainstream newsweekly Maclean's, at the present time. The CHRC can retrench, and return to its bread-and-butter business of destroying little people who command no publicity -- biding their time until circumstances are propitious to "extend their mandate" again.

I agree with him that these revolutionary tribunals were set up by zealots while Canadians were sleeping. I just don't have that much optimism that Canadians are now waking up, or even wish to. There's a certain strain of passivity and fatalistic submissiveness that Canadians have always had, a feeling that the government must have good reasons for what it's doing, and it's unseemly to object. It's certainly upsetting to actually thrash about and fight back - we have an innate prejudice in favour of the authority figure who wields the big stick, and are embarrassed by someone else's active opposition. Wouldn't it just be easier to yield the point for the sake of a quiet life? Surely that's the reasonable thing to do! Unfortunately, we're no longer living in a reasonable country, or dealing with reasonable people. We are dealing with megalomaniacs, who have an endless list of "quiet life" activities that they want to punish us for.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Between routines

The kids are all off school now - Emma finished her exams last week, Thomas finished on Monday, and James had his little graduation from elementary school on Wednesday. Next year he goes to the BIG school with Thomas! He did very well at the graduation, marching up onstage with his teachers to shake hands with the principal and vice-principal, and the applause didn't faze him one bit. As I'd come with the other kids to watch him, we took him home with us after the assembly; he wouldn't have liked it if we'd just gone home and left him behind!

Now there's a week off before summer camp starts for the boys. They've started out by monopolizing the computer - I'm only able to type this because they're both taking naps right now! It's still rather unsettled weather, with rain showers predicted most days, but it is getting warmer. Yesterday afternoon we had a thundershower which resulted in a 2-hour power failure! Dean arrived home from work to find the house very quiet - no computer, no TV, no sound of fridges operation, nothing. He said to me, "I assume you'd just listened to 6 straight hours of The Three Stooges, which accounts for taking such extreme measures." I laughed - I haven't yet been driven to the extremity of climbing an electric pole and cutting the wires to the entire neighbourhood in order to get some peace and quiet, but it was getting close. Thomas and James LOVE the Three Stooges, and watch it all the time on YouTube (I'm not stupid enough to buy them any videotapes or dvds of them!). They especially adore the loudest slapstick moments, and play them over and over and OVER again. "WHAK-AAAUUUGGHHH-CRUNCHCRUNCHCRUNCH-EEEEK-VAVOOVAVAVAVA-NYUKNYUKNYUK" 20 times in a row. You try it, I dare you, and see how long you last.

There was a rabbit in the backyard this afternoon - how do they get in? I've put metal rods in all the gaps under the fence, but there must be another one I've missed.

The sour cherry tree is coming into season; I picked a cup of the earliest ones today, because I didn't want them to just fall off and be wasted. Not enough to do anything with on their own, but I had frozen cherries from last year, so I mixed them in and made a pie. Sad news about the damson tree - all the dampness resulted in a blight. Galls, or cankers formed on the branches, and the only thing you can do is cut them off; I had to cut off 8 branches, including the branch that had (sob!) the only two plums on the whole tree. I'm convinced it's all the rain that resulted in the disease, and I just hope I stopped it in its tracks. The tree is still strong, and it grows quickly, so I'm sure it will make up the loss of branches, but it's still disappointing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chesterton on insults

More than 100 years ago, "the right not to be offended" was already snivelling its way through western society:
I see that Mr. Bernard Shaw has again got into hot water, if indeed he can be said ever to get out of it... Mr. Shaw writes a letter in which he says that he thinks that most amateur theatricals are pretentious and silly. He may be right or he may be wrong; but manifestly he has a right to criticise private theatricals, as much as he has a right to criticise the clouds in the sky. It is perfectly childish to talk (as I see numerous journalists are talking) about "an insult to amateur actors." What is an insult? In one sense, a critic only exists to offer insults; he is a professional insulter. If he is not there to object to the mental or moral condition of certain people, what is he there for? Of all the weak-minded manifestations of the modern cowardice, perhaps the most contemptible is this assumption of a collective sensitiveness, this banding of a class together against its critics. If you think the London drama dull, it is an insult to actors. If you think the London streets ugly, it is an insult to architects. If you suggest that the London streets are dirty, it is an insult to the sacred Guild of Crossing-Sweepers. The whole of our moral indignation is to be reserved, apparently, to those who point out an evil; we are never to insult anybody except when we insult the insulter of wrong. We want to get rid of the whole idea of "insult" in this sense. A state of freedom ought to mean a state in which no man can silence another. As it is, it means a state in which every man must silence himself. It ought to mean that Mr. Shaw can say a thing twenty times, and still not make me believe it. As it is, it means that Mr. Shaw must leave off saying it, because my exquisite nerves will not endure to hear somebody saying something with which I do not agree. Freedom means that we cannot oppress each other. But unless we insult each other we shall never do anything.

G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News March 17, 1906

And the delicious irony is, that Canada proudly hosts a Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake every year. We flatter ourselves that WE appreciate the genius of George Bernard Shaw, when in fact, we're the sort of morons about whom he'd have written caustic plays, and then we'd have dragged him before a Human Rights Commission to justify himself.

Summer Chesterton project

This summer, I intend to re-read all of Chesterton's articles for the Illustrated London News - 10 volumes, published by Ignatius Press, and 30 years' worth of essays. I always enjoyed these volumes, because they're an interesting time capsule of life in England (and Europe) just before, during and after the Great War, filtered of course through Chesterton's sensibility. He was interested in so many things, he provides a window into what was making the headlines at the time, and what people were thinking and talking about at that time.

This time, I'm going to copy out all the passages that I really enjoy. The first time through, I just dog-eared the pages of essays that struck me, but there is so much to read, I find it's now almost impossible to find again a quote or essay when I need it. So this will be a sort of Commonplace Book, but only devoted to one author. I found the most interesting years of Chesterton's journalism were the early 1920s, when he was converting to Catholicism (those are the volumes with the BIGGEST number of turned-down pages). But even the early essays, from 1905 and 1906, which I'm reading right now, contain very good insights. Often they're of the plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose variety; the urge to suppress freedom of speech was strong 100 years ago. I'll post any that strike my fancy as worth sharing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Autism in the schools, part 2

Meanwhile, today's Ottawa Citizen contained this story from Quebec in the newsbriefs section:
A coroner's report released yesterday revealed a nine-year-old autistic boy likely died of suffocation. On April 17, a teacher wrapped a weighted blanket, sometimes used to calm autistic children, four times around Gabriel Poirier, who had ignored warnings to stop misbehaving in class. With his head covered for more than 20 minutes, Gabriel eventually stopped making noise. When the teacher checked on him, he was "listless and blue in the face," the coroner's report said. Already in a deep coma, he died the next day in hospital.
All hail the "professionals".

My friend the witchdoctor

Stories like this are what set the heart pounding when you're the parent of autistic children:
BARRIE -- The mother of an autistic girl says the public school board was "completely unprofessional" to formulate a theory that her daughter was being sexually abused based on a psychic's perception.

Barrie resident Colleen Leduc wants an apology from the Simcoe County District School Board, which called in the Children's Aid Society (CAS) to investigate...

Leduc said they advised her that Victoria's educational assistant (EA) had visited a psychic, who said a youngster whose name started with "V" was being sexually abused by a man between 23 and 26 years old. Leduc was also handed a list of recent behaviours exhibited by her daughter.

Unbelievable. Reading the Bible, saying the Lord's Prayer, forming Christian clubs - verboten in public schools. Psychic readings - acceptable, and usable as a pretext for state intervention in family life.
Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, a school board superintendent whose portfolio includes special education, said the school was just following protocol, adding the board is bound by the same legislation (Child and Family Services Act) as the CAS when it comes to suspected neglect or sexual abuse.

"It is clear in all cases that this (information) must be reported," Zaretsky said.
No matter how bogus or imaginary the information might be. Oh, can I say that in Canada now? Or will I be hauled up before a Human Rights Commission on charges of discriminating against and spreading hatred against members of the Psychic community?
The local CAS won't comment on specific investigations, but said the legislation stipulates that all cases of suspected abuse be reported "if there are reasonable grounds."

"The schools are our eyes and ears in the community," said Mary Ballantyne, executive director of the Simcoe County chapter. "They are with children more than anyone else in the community and are the first to spot a child who may be in need of our protection."
Just as it all comes down to who gets to swing the "hatred" stick, it depends on who gets to decide what are "reasonable grounds". A psychic's visions? Sure! The lady in the lunchroom has a bad dream? Why not? The school secretary has a funny feeling? Go for it! What ISN'T a reasonable ground under these circumstances?

And notice the comfortable assertion that the schools are the primary caregiver for all children, even above the parents. I'm sure that wasn't an accidental allocation of superiority; these people really DO think that a child is the property of the professionals, and the parents come a distant second when it comes to influence and importance.

It's coming to a point soon where we all know that IF we step out of line in any way, the state has already set in place all the excuses they need to strip us of our homes, our families, and our livelihoods. You don't need to have public floggings to intimidate a populace when we know that there's a greased slope to ruin at our feet at every moment.

(Hat tip: Small Dead Animals)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

They don't make them like that anymore

Couches, that is, and I'm glad. I finished disassembling our overstuffed 1930s couch today, and found it a very difficult task. Not only was the dust inside half an inch thick, the whole thing was simply COVERED with springs - along the top, the back, the sides, and of course the bottom. Springs wherever you looked, and they were attached in the old-fashioned way: clamped onto a metal frame, stapled down with WICKED star-shaped pronged thorns, and sewed onto the fabric with unbreakable thread. Then they were all tied to each other with elaborate interlaced cords. There were about 3 layers of strapping on the very bottom, and the stuffing was a combination of horsehair, cotton batting and straw. I was completely covered with dust by the time this was over, and I managed to damage myself by slashing my thigh with the prybar, and then kneeling on a tack!

However, it's all over now. I ended up with 3 garbage bags full of horsehair, which I'm thinking of putting in the compost and maybe using as mulch, if I can keep it from matting. There were 8 or 10 more bags of cloth and cotton (I didn't count them), one garbage can full of springs, and then just a few sticks of wood. It's funny to realize that no matter how solid and heavy a couch is, in fact it's really mostly hollow, and breaks down to a small pile of solid materials. The TV room is now delightfully open.

Dean and I have been watching HGTV, the house and garden channel, a lot recently - mostly the shows about buying and selling homes. We call it "real-estate porn", and it is sort of titillating to look at other people's houses and vicariously experience the drama of buying and decorating a place. We also like watching Colin and Justin abuse the admittedly bad taste of people whose homes they take over and redecorate. I seldom like their ideas of redoing a place, but I find I always agree with them about what the problems are that they start with. I've learned a little, though - mostly that we have way too much furniture, and would benefit from thinning out the collection a bit, especially as our stuff tends toward the shabby vintage stuff. Now that the couch is gone, I can go ahead and repaint that wall that it stood against.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Clematis morning

This was the view out the front door this morning - that clematis has really taken off this year! Actually, there are two clematis growing together there, but only the red one really produces flowers. The other one might surprise me later in the summer with one lavish pink flower, but that's about it. However, I shouldn't give up hope; the mock orange at the front of the house is finally producing a few flowers this year, more than 5 years after I installed it there! I'll keep feeding it during the summer, and maybe next year will bring more; it worked for the lilacs, at any rate.

Yesterday was Father's Day, and we got a new TV! We had to; the old one was giving out. The picture was almost white, and even the kids found their cartoons were becoming unwatchable. We got a Vizio flat-screen, and the nice thing about it is, it's so complicated the kids don't know how to use it! So on the one hand, they have to get me to turn it on for them, and set it to the VCR setting, but on the other hand, they can't jack up the volume to 11! I know they'll figure it out eventually, especially Thomas - he's very clever with electronics - but for now I have ultimate control over the TV!

As the new set was coming in, we had to get rid of the old one. The problem is, it was a console set that I'd bought used at an auction several years ago, and it was VERY heavy. I can't even remember how we got it out of the van. I figured it was too heavy for the garbageman to lift and throw into the truck, and I didn't want to call someone to haul it away, so the natural thing to do was to disassemble it, and throw it out in pieces.

I like taking things apart - I took an upholstery course several years ago, and stripping furniture was the thing I enjoyed the most. I like to see how things were put together. It took me about 5 hours altogether, spread over Saturday and Sunday, to get it all apart. The hardest part was the plastic molding across the front - I couldn't find the right size screwdriver, so I thought I'd just break it. Big mistake - it was incredibly hard plastic, that would just bend under the prybar then snap back into position. When I DID break it in place, it snapped like a gunshot, and left sharp edges! Finally I was able to unscrew the rest of it, and then it came off easily. It turns out the cabinet was made of solid wood - the base, once the big glass cathode-ray thing was off, by itself weighed almost as much as the entire new TV! I found a date stamped on it inside - September 1985. That was an OLD tv! But it's all ready for the garbage on Thursday now.

The next job is to take apart the old couch in the TV room. I'm sorry to have to do it, because it's another well-made piece of furniture (from the 20s or 30s), but the upholstery and seat are shot, and because of the huge size of it and all the deep tufting along the back and arms, it would cost us $1000 to get it reupholstered and restored, and we just can't afford it. Instead of a couch, we're just going to have chairs in there, which allows much more flexibility when it comes to placement. The couch demolition will probably take me a few days, but the room will look much bigger when it's done.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Enemies of the people

This is the proper place for Christians in Canada, according to The Alberta Human Rights Commission. We join conservatives like Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant in being suitable candidates for totalitarian repression, humiliation and forced recantation.

Americans have to wake up to this. I know there's been some coverage in the U.S. media (even the New York Times!) which certainly is better than what we've been getting in Canada, but I think you're missing a big point. Even when there is notice and concern, it sort of peters out into good-natured musings about "our good friends to the north", as if Canada has come down with a mild case of the mumps, and doesn't look quite herself, but will be back to normal in a week or so.

It's not like that. Because we look like you, talk like you, dress like you, shop for the same things and watch the same movies, you're convinced that we really ARE basically Americans, with just the odd funny accent and a few flaky foreign policy preoccupations. We used to be like you, but not because of any of those physical things.

What made us alike was a shared belief that we lived in a pretty good country, and it was good because the people who started it had built it properly, with rules and laws that worked and made sense. Those rule and laws had come out of a long, long history of trying things, making mistakes, going down blind alleys, figuring out what really works and what doesn't. They were our heritage, traceable all the way back to England in the Middle Ages and even further back to the Romans and the Jews. We came of a long and honourable lineage, and we knew it.

By and large, you still have that belief - but we don't anymore. Now we're in a place where every day brings a new project to remake, reconstruct, retool and revamp Canada; where any rule can be abandoned and reversed for the sake of a fabulous new vision by some group of determined zealots who've managed to wangle themselves into a position of power. Where what we approved of yesterday is torn up and stamped on today, and we're like marionettes, finding out every day that someone else has grabbed a new string to jerk us by.

Watch us and learn, because Americans have some naive assumptions about the rest of the world and about yourselves. Since America has been so spectacularly successful in a material way, and has not fallen to the tyrannies that engulfed so much of the rest of the world, especially Communism, many drew a false lesson. They thought that it was material success that kept you safe, and if other countries could be helped along and kept from poverty, they too would reject collectivism. A little wealth would work as an innoculant, stimulating the defenses. But now you can look at Canada and see that that's not true. We're wealthy, western, techologically advanced, etc. but we're still sliding into the pit.

It wasn't your wealth that kept you safe, it was your belief in the goodness of your country and your people. We've lost that, and you could lose it too, so beware. As Lucien Bouchard said, "Canada is not a real country." Everyone protested, but it turns out he was right. There's an empty space where the idea of Canada used to be, and an empty space will be filled by something. Right now, we're like the man in the Bible, possessed by many demons - one day one grabs us, then another, and we jerk and lurch about as one after another gets control. Eventually one powerful one will overrule the others, and you'll see a determined, coordinate effort to stamp out and silence dissent, especially on the part of Christians. Watch for the signs of this happening in your country, and stop it before it eats away your culture the way it has ours.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Auntie May called from Victoria, to tell me that Auntie Fern died in her sleep early this morning in Pasadena. She'd struggled against cancer for a long time, and I'm glad the end was peaceful. She's the second sister in that generation to die; my mom was the first, very prematurely, over 20 years ago (she was only 55). It makes me sad to think that they're all in their 70s and 80s now, and this is something that is going to keep happening. They were seven sisters and one brother in my mom's family - they've always been the mountain around which my little life has pattered about, and now...they're starting to leave. I've always felt young with them; now I realize that I'm nearly 50, nearly the age my mom was when she died. Well, I'm a little depressed about this, even though we knew it was bound to happen soon.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Better dead than rude

Small Dead Animals had this excerpt of a debate between Ezra Levant and Ian Fine of the HRC. If you haven't been following this story, it's hard to get everything Ezra is saying - he's trying to educate noobs in just 5 minutes, so he talks fast and packs tons of information into a direct address to the audience. He's also excitable and energetic, so there's just a torrent of words and gestures coming off him.

What's interesting about this piece is the thread that follows it, especially the discussion over whether Ezra was too over-the-top to do any good. The discussion divides those like Lori who think that
Ezra (and I'm his biggest fan and a very substantial donor so far) comes off too strongly sometimes. Not for us, who are into the battle with four limbs and our hearts, but for the average calm non-engaged Canadian for whom this is not a big issue. But those are the people we need to influence. We don't need to sell this to other Blogging Tories....

We have to keep our end of the debate civil. The comments on that blog are often excessive, and Ezra's own words can be as well. At other times, the blog is incredibly eloquent.

This is a war for public opinion and public perception. Our demeanor counts. Just like we teach our children about making good impressions on people they have just met, we need to do the same on those who are tuning into the debate for the first time.

and those like richfisher:
If he would have stood up and turned the table over after he read Richard Warman's racist slur, while shouting "and these are the people that would censor us" two or three times, while pointing at Ian Fine, I believe his testimony would have been more compelling and forceful, as seen by the typical disinterested Canadian.

The same disagreement over tactics crops up in the TEC-wars south of the border. (Not much in the ACC, because I don't think there's anyone still left in that church who has the energy to do what Ezra does.) There is a sizable chunk of the "conservative" side of TEC that still thinks that being unmannerly is almost as alarming as being wrong. It goes beyond mere rules of discussion on blogs; the whole "Windsor bishops" idea seems based on an unshakeable conviction that good old boy collegiality and good naturedness can see them through the storms battering their church. It certainly calls forth immediate and often self-righteous rebuke (if David Virtue didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him). Perhaps this provides some relief to people who find themselves helpless to shift any of the other goads that are tormenting them.

I think the best response on the thread to this tendency to value soft voices is this one by EBD:
With greatest respect, I disagree strongly with the views of Lori and Sheila G regarding Ezra's putative over-the-top aggression. Personally, I am sick of the Canadian and very catholic notion of tolerance and respect that took us to this revolting process in Vancouver, this politeness that insists that being respectful to anyone who wears the robes of officialdom is more important than protecting ourselves and our children and our neighbours.

Politeness is essential in the realm of common grace, but not in any absolute sense; not 100% of the time. When it comes to the point where a group of people are taking away something ineffably valuable -- in this case, freedom of speech and thought, although it could be your relatives, in a cattle car -- those people do not deserve respect, they deserve vilification, regardless of how mundane and bureaucratically composed they are.

Ezra wasn't emotionally incontinent, he wasn't firing off ad hominems, he was exasperated, laughing, and delighted to have a chance to show the rest of the world what sort of big-state crimes against conscience are occurring behind the polite evasions o polite-sounding bureaucrat.

(BTW, I'm as respectful a person as you'll ever meet, in my day to day dealings with people of any race, nationality, religion, etc etc.)

I'd even go so far as to suggest that if people are turned off by Ezra, they are not parsing the significance of events. If his excitement and his truth-telling makes people turns people off, then they should join the LPC.

To me, criticizing Ezra's communications at that press conference is a bit like saying to the guys in the Danzig Post Office in 1939 "You know, you're on the side of right and everything, but you're just turning people off when you discharge weapons."

He's right. When men wore swords and an offense to one's honour was worthy of death, it was a good thing to cultivate high manners and controlled speech. But today we ape these manners without any currency to back them up - there is no risk involved in expostulating with energy, as Ezra did. A fistfight wasn't about to break out on the podium, or Fine challenge him to a duel. It's sheer feebleness and cowardly inadequacy (and believe me, as a Canadian, I've seen plenty of both) that makes us shrink before a full-throated argument, and then cover our nakedness with the borrowed shreds of a stronger tradition.

People will pretend that they're trying to "win over" the bewildered, who flutter away in fear when they hear a raised voice, but those people will never be worth anything to whatever side they end up drifting to. People that cowardly will not turn into warriors for righteousness if only we pitch our murmurs at the right decibel level.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Something cheerful

Ugh. I need something nice to cheer me up after the depressing news from Vancouver. Here's something really sweet - HOCKEY DANCING! I wish life in Canada were still this innocent and happy:

The Steyn showtrial begins

Mark Steyn's kangaroo court showtrial began today in Vancouver. Andrew Coyne is live-blogging it for Maclean's, Ezra Levant is also there and commenting on it, and it's shaping up to be a putrid disgrace, as expected. Meanwhile, Canada's journalists find it most becoming to hold a clove-studded orange to their noses and affect an All Is Well™ attitude. As Deborah Gyapong pointed out, no mention of this story in the Ottawa Citizen. But they did have space for another show trial: the start of the five-year hearings of the appropriately phony-sounding Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This morning, when three commissioners gather for the first time in an Ottawa office to begin their monumental five-year task of leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into aboriginal abuse in the residential school system, Canada takes its historical place alongside such tarnished regimes as South Africa, Chile, El Salvador and Sierra Leone.

I wonder if they consulted an advertising agency to come up with that selling point? Like a new exhibit being added to Madame Tussaud's Murderer's Row, Canada is now being slotted into "its historical place", with countries that fielded murder squads during civil wars. Why wasn't Rwanda included there? Why isn't this being billed as Canada's Mini-Holocaust? Oops, mustn't go there, at least not yet. A few more years of normalization of anti-semitic pathology, (which we can count on the Human Rights Commissions to furnish) and that little parallel will no longer be considered taboo.

I think that this is what liberals have been longing for for years - the ecstatic climax of their self-loathing, self-annihilating existence. Finally, Canada is in the BIG leagues! We're world-class racists and criminals, and we are going to have a five-year wallow in sorrowful breast-beating, grovelling and abasement. It's hard for psychologically inadequate activists in Canada - the place has always been so darn NORMAL, it's almost impossible to get up a head of steam about anything. But just like global warming, which I never believed could achieve enough critical mass among intelligent people to be taken seriously, the activists found that if they clung long enough to some mildewed grievance and kept yelling about emergencies, people would surrender and treat them with importance.
"To think that we can somehow engineer reconciliation when we are not even doing the most basic things we should be doing towards native people, like treating them like they are equal citizens," said Kevin Annett, a former United Church minister who is a counsellor for aboriginal people in Vancouver.

"The problem is, a lot of the people I work with on the ground, the survivors, are not asking about reconciliation. They are asking: When are we going to get our day in court? When are the people responsible going be brought to justice? And from the looks of it, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not set up to do that."

Well, I don't know, Kevin. What do their lawyers say? When are they planning to file a complaint with the police and have the abusers charged with the crimes? That's the only way they're going to get their day in court, if in fact that's what they really want, instead of just a nice cheque from the government in the mail. Justice is something you have to fight for - ask Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant.

Anyway, the last time I heard of Kevin, he was planning some showboat stunt to uncover mass graves of Indian children slaughtered by Victorian Christians - nothing much came of that, as it turned out. He had to content himself with making a scene at a Catholic church on Easter Sunday.

Just as with the HRC phony trials, there is no attempt to go through the courts to prosecute real criminal activity. No, it will be 150 years of Canadian history, with philosophies and theories that changed continually all that time, which will be grandiosely tried by the modern-day Goodthinkers. We will all be invited to gasp with horror at impolite letters from school administrators written in 1880, and pretend that life wasn't cold, uncomfortable, exhausting and disease-ridden for everyone in the raw pioneer society of that era.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Beautiful Machine

This was my big find at the Carp auction - a Victorian machine for...well, nobody was quite sure just what it was for. Even the farmers were a bit perplexed. It has a set of teeth at the back, which push whatever is put between them forward, and then the wheel has a large blade that goes round and slices it into pieces. We finally figured that it must be for corncobs or even cornstalks; the teeth squash and mangle them a bit (but they stay intact, because the rows of teeth are pretty far apart) and then the blade cuts them into pieces. Probably a way of breaking down large items into order to feed to the livestock. The flywheel originally had 2 blades; one is missing. Also, the crank is missing the large wooden handle that must have been originally there to turn it. It doesn't matter for my purposes, but eventually I may be able to find a handle to replace the one that's gone.

What I liked about it was its elegance. It stands about 4.5' tall - it's a big machine - but it looks almost light, because of the flowing lines. I think it looks like a big cast-iron spinning wheel. Look at the graceful lines of the flywheel, and the curve of the handle. Even the legs it stands on are a bit serpentine.

It's amazing to look at a piece of machinery like this, and think of those Victorian foundries taking the care to turn this into something beautiful. It's a machine for grinding feed for your pigs; it was destined to spend its existence in a barn or storage shed somewhere, never near the house, and yet it's built with an attention to aesthetics that manufacturers today spend on luxury items like cars. If you look at some of the other pictures from the auction, you can see the same thing - iron wheels with curved spokes instead of straight, just so they seem to be surging forward when they turn. There's no real purpose for it - it's just that they could do it and they wanted to.

This machine (which cost me $50) is going to go in the garden. My oracle on gardening matters is Dianne Benson's 'Dirt', and she writes early in her book that every garden needs "garden bones". That's ornaments of some kind, to attract the eye and blend with the garden so that it's more than just a series of plants. I've always felt my garden lacks good bones - we've got the stone birdbath in the front, but nothing in the back. I just couldn't get excited about any of the ornaments for sale in the garden places - Buddha heads or gazing balls or sundials or whatever. I wanted something different from anybody else, and also substantial. A little stone or resin figurine would be overwhelmed by the foliage by the end of the season - I wanted something that would stand as a sentinel over the garden. Well, this will do the job. The roses and daisies will grow around and through it in the summer, but it will still be visible because of its size.

We unloaded it from the van today and stood it up in the front yard. I'll have to take my dolly to the gas station to get the wheels inflated, and then Dean and I will try to manhandle it into the back yard. It's not so heavy it can't be moved - I'd guess 120 lbs or so - but it's got the solid stand and "teeth machine" part on one side, and so when it's not standing flat on the ground, it's lopsided in its heaviness. I'm sure we'll manage with straps. Once it's installed in the back garden, I'll take another picture of it. I think I'll remove the blade, just for safety's sake. It's still rather sharp, and the wheel turns very easily, so James could get hurt if he started meddling with it. I don't think it would affect the appearance at all - it might even improve it as it will be more symmetrical.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know? I did a websearch for the name of the manufacturer, R.A. Lister in Dursley, and found this. Scroll down the page, and right there is a picture of the very same machine, from an 1878 advertisement. It's a Chaff Cutter - as we thought, it's to chop up animal fodder.


First auction of the year

Yesterday I went to my first country auction of the year. There may not be that many this year; the price of gas is so high, I just can't afford to spend 50 dollars on a daytrip, even though I don't get any other holiday.

For my first one, I went to an auction in Carp, which is not very far from Ottawa - it's really becoming a bedroom community, though it used to be a small rural town. Lots of people from the city have moved there and commute to work; it's only a 45 minute drive, so it's really hardly even "country" anymore.

This auction was for a gentleman who'd collected country antiques for years, and had wanted to start an antique village, but never lived to do so. I think I would have enjoyed meeting him; he worked for Bell Canada, so he had lots of old phones (and even an ancient switcboard!). The other thing he must have really liked was elaborate Victorian ironwork. The yard was FILLED with 19th century farm tools, engine, and parts, as you can see from some of the pictures.

There were "household" antiques as well - a row of old coal stoves, and several patented washing machines.

We laugh at these old washing machines now, but I'll bet the invention of the mangle was a great day for the typical housewife. There was one contraption that was rather simple but ingenious: a large wooden tub with a metal frame above it, and attached to the frame and hanging in the tub was a sort of cradle, made of wooden slats. You filled the tub with soapy water, put your laundry in the cradle, then turned a handle which rocked the cradle back and forth in the tub - an early, hand-operated version of the agitator. I'll bet it could be rigged with a pedal, too. That's a big improvement from having to slosh the fabric through the water with your bare hands.

There were some high-end pieces, though I thought in general the prices at this auction were high, considering the venue. That's the drawback of going to an auction near to Ottawa; the really good bargains are way out in the country, where only the farmers tend to go.

This stoneware butter churn went for $975! I'm not knowledgeable about these things, but it must be very rare and collectible, because there was an interested bidder on the phone from Kingston while the bidding was going on. That doesn't happen too often at a country auction. There was also a nice red cast-iron coffee mill from New York that sold for $275. That's not a bargain; it's the higher end of an estimated price at auction that I found when I looked it up online.

For myself, I picked up a few more old phones from the 60s that I can amuse myself rewiring, and one very beautiful item - a Victorian farm machine that I'm going to put in the garden. It deserves its own post, so I'll put up the pictures for that next.