Sunday, March 01, 2015

Mini History of Dunnville

Here's my article for the Free Press about a recent meeting of the Dunnville Heritage Association. It is a mini history of Dunnville.

Feb 25th - Dunnville 100 years ago.

By John Taylor

The Dunnville District Heritage Association presented a guided tour through the town’s photographic archives called "Dunnville 100 Years Ago," on Wednesday, February 25th at 7 p.m., at Grandview Lodge Auditorium.

Their researcher, Judy, showed in-depth knowledge of the lives of early Dunnvillians, including a prominent opera singer and a successful businessman whose enterprises marked the skyline of our town for almost a century.

Dunnville came into its own when in 1829 a feeder canal was built right through Main Street. Around this time, three millponds were excavated by the canal to give hydraulic power to two mills and a factory. In 1850 some five hundred vessels sailed through Dunnville and continued on upriver to Brantford. A dam was built across the Grand River here in 1837, along with a toll bridge. It cost one penny for a pedestrian to walk across the bridge to Bing. 

Judy gave us a taste of an upcoming lecture in this series when she showed a British gunboat, which was sent here to defend against the Fenian Raids. The railway came to town in 1852 with the Grand Trunk Railroad, which built a large and very beautiful terminal, which, like many of the large buildings here, eventually burned down. In 1884 the Dunnville Electric Light Company was founded, making us about the third town in Canada to be electrified.

A second railway, the TH&B line, was built in 1914 and made it possible to go by rail to Hamilton. One of its first jobs was to carry local young men off to fight as soldiers in the First World War. In 1920, the feeder canal within town was filled in, to be replaced by the present Main Street.

At the turn of the Twentieth Century the village reached a population of two thousand people and transitioned from a village to a town. It turned out to be a baptism by fire and water, however, as several major structures burned down and the entire town was inundated several times between 1910 and 1920. The entire bridge was wiped out by ice in 1918. Impressive photographs taken at the time show women in long dresses and parasols walking in raging waters on top of a stone structure at the corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets.

For many years the showpiece structure in town was the original Victoria Hotel, which gained international publicity when it was lost in yet another conflagration.

Judy told the story of several local businesses, which included the Monarch Knitting Mill, which started in 1903 and grew at one point to be the largest such business in Canada. When the wool market collapsed it was finally torn down in 1973. Other businesses included a hammock factory, a large ice collection facility, the Lalor Canning Factory (Grand River Brand canned fruits), the CanAm engine company, which built tractors, and a mill on the site of the present Optimist Hall. One of the oldest buildings still standing is the Queen’s Hotel, erected in 1840.

For me, the most impressive part was the story of Central Park. Sold to the town for 400 dollars, it had its finest hour when it was renovated for the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The two cannons in our park, I was surprised to learn, were moved there then, surplus from the Crimean War. If I had known that, I would have told my children, who loved to crawl all over these cannon, the story of the Charge of the Light Brigade and the pioneering work of Florence Nightingale, both of which took place in that war.

The next presentation by the Dunnville Heritage Association will be “World War One, The 114th Battalion, The Battle of Vimy Ridge,” on Wednesday, 25 March, 7PM, at Grandview Lodge, 657 Lock Street West, Dunnville.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ontario PC Leadership candidate visits Dunnville

Another assignment from my part time job stringing for the Dunnville Free Press, the original is at: The on site article includes a photo of Brown. My camera had dead batteries, so I could not take any. I was asked to go there at the last minute. I know, this is partisan politics at its purest, but I go where I am told by my benevolent boss. I hasten to add that Brown never used the word "commie," but, what is worse for me at least, he used the word "hockey," which is bad because everybody knows our national sport is golf, not hockey, as far as participation goes. But I guess it is appropriate that a candidate for elite politics should base his thought on elite sports.


Patrick Brown, a Conservative Party M.P. from Barry, Ontario, briefly dropped by the Thursday Free Trade Café at St. Paul’s Anglican Church to speak about his position and promises as one of three candidates for leadership of the Ontario PC Party. Haldimand Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, who was also present, explained that he is endorsing Brown as an “outside candidate” because the party has not won an election for almost twenty years, and there is clear need for a fresh perspective.
Brown promised, if premier of Ontario, to rip up the Green Energy Act.
Most of the powder puff questions seemed to come from supporters and even employees of the campaign. One was this: “Are you the leader of leaders for Ontario?” Answer: We should be team players, like the Canadian hockey team in the first Summit Series against the Soviets in 1972. The Soviet team was full of superstars, but the Canadians played so seamlessly as a unity that the Commies could not find an opening. The same way, a political leader, like a team captain, has to see to it that all players trust one another.
Two questions did not seem to come from partisans. One was about autism, which is increasing in the opinion of the questioner (this is by no means certain, since it is possible that means of detection are improving, not the disease itself). Why is funding staying the same? Brown stated that he supports the “Alberta model” for this, which apparently saves money by means of early detection and preventive intervention. He also mentioned a large study, just starting, which the National PC party is supporting. In addition to Brown’s hockey background, he pointed out that he started a half marathon society, with proceeds going to autism research. The other question was about the possibility of a superhighway along the north shore of Lake Erie, which would open up access to the large American market through Buffalo and Detroit. The questioner pointed out that this project would lead to great growth but unfortunately it has no traction because of the small population on the north shore. Politicians in Ontario governments find it expedient to cater to the large numbers of voters in Toronto. Brown promised to push for that development corridor if voted in as premier, but, contradicting himself somewhat, supported a plan to end gridlock in transport corridors by paying for infrastructure according to local population. Again contradicting his highly partisan stance in virtually everything he had said until then, he declared that “we need to take partisan politics out of infrastructure decisions.”
The party leadership election will be held in May. In order to vote, one must purchase a ten dollar membership in the PC Party. Applications were distributed after the meeting ended. Both Barrett and Brown admitted that, like every other political party, their membership rolls have shrunk over the past two decades, but they were hopeful that the tepid looking crowd response there indicated a sharp upturn. I asked about electoral reform, and Brown assured me that, although he is not pushing for it, he would conform to any changes brought about in due order.
John Taylor

February 26, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Struggle for Survival

Abdu’l-Baha’s Idea of “Struggle for Survival.”

The “struggle for survival.” You come across this expression periodically in studying the writings of Abdu’l-Baha. By it, He seems to signify that this struggle is a bad thing. His expression seems close to what Darwin’s bulldog, Herbert Spencer, called “survival of the fittest.” The poor are underfoot for a reason; we do not want the inferior to rise to the top. The scientific way is to let the natural mechanisms of evolution determine who gets to swim in the human gene pool. Eugenics seems cruel at first but in the long run we are all better off. This idea wove through and pervaded secular thinking for well over a century after Darwin died. It only seems to be subsiding now that violence is losing sway and women crowd into public life. Abdu’l-Baha pointed out the “struggle for survival” is the mark of the materialistic worldview. It causes brutalization and tyranny, but the spiritual mind set does the reverse.

“I hope that in this nether world thou shalt attain unto heavenly light, thou wilt free the souls from the gloom of nature, which is the animal kingdom, and cause them to reach lofty stations in the human kingdom. Today all people are immersed in the world of nature. That is why thou dost see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature. Few are those who have been freed from this darkness, who have ascended from the world of nature to the world of man, who have followed the divine Teachings, have served the world of humanity, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden. Strive thine utmost to become godlike, characterized with His attributes, illumined and merciful, that thou mayest be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the Kingdom of the incomparable Lord. This is Baha’i bounty, and this is heavenly light.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections, p. 206)

Interestingly, I just came across an entire “Tablet on the Struggle for Survival.” It makes his meaning by "struggle for survival" quite unambiguous. The letter has not been officially translated, but it is interesting nonetheless, being marked by the Master’s usual simple but brilliant exposition. Who could ask for a clearer picture of the difference between secular brutality and the compassion that marks the worldview of faith? If you know the name of the society is to which he addresses himself here, do let me know.

Tablet on the Struggle for Survival

Provisionally translated by Keven Brown, edited by Mehdi Wolf published in Khitabat, pages 711-3  Hofheim, Germany: Baha’i Verlag, 1984  originally written as “Lawh-i-TanA’zu’-i BaqA”. 

O honored society [for the advancement] of humanity!  All mankind should be grateful on account of your noble purpose and lofty intentions. All should be thankful and well-pleased that you are selflessly engaged in such a high endeavor, which is the cause of universal peace amongst mankind, inasmuch as the peace and tranquility of the entire creation depends upon improving the character of man; and the greatest means for training man to possess praiseworthy characteristics is noble aspirations and the expansion of the mind. Humanity must be invited to partake of this mighty gift.
Observe that the primary principle adhered to by every individual of the human species is to attract benefit to himself and to avoid injury. His aim is to secure his own tranquility and happiness. This is his sole desire in life, and he strives to distinguish himself from all others through the ease, wealth, and fame he has obtained. This is the goal of every individual of the human species. But, in truth, this is a base, dangerous, and inferior notion.
If man advances a little in his thinking and his aspirations become nobler, he will realize that he should strive to benefit his whole family and to protect it from harm, for he perceives that by bringing comfort and affluence to the whole family, his own felicity and prosperity will increase. Should his thinking expand even more and his aspirations grow in depth, he will realize that he should endeavor to bring blessings to the children of his country and nation and to guard them from injury. Although this aspiration and thought are for his own sake and that of his family, all the children of the nation will benefit therefrom.
But this aspiration will become the cause of injury to other nations, for he then exerts the utmost effort to bring all the advantages of the human world to his own nation and the blessings of the earth to his own family, singling them out for the universal felicity of humankind. He imagines that the more other nations and neighboring countries decline, the more his own country and nation will advance, until by this means it surpasses and dominates the other nations in power, wealth, and influence.
However, a divine human being and a heavenly individual is sanctified from these limitations, and the expansion of his mind and the loftiness of his aspirations are in the utmost degree of perfection. The compass of his thinking is so vast that he recognizes in the gain of all mankind the basis of the prosperity of every individual member of his species. He considers the injury of any nation or state to be the same as injury to his own nation and state, indeed, the same as injury to his own family and to his own self.
Therefore, he strives with heart and soul as much as possible to bring prosperity and blessings to the entire human race and to protect all nations from harm. He endeavors to promote the exaltation, illumination, and felicity of all peoples, and makes no distinctions among them, for he regards humanity as a single family and considers all nations to be the members of that family. Indeed, he sees the entire human social body as one individual and perceives each one of the nations to be one of the organs of that body. Man must raise his aspiration to this degree so that he may serve the cause of establishing universal virtues and become the cause of the glory of humankind.
At present the state of the world is the opposite of this. All the nations are thinking of how to advance their own interests while working against the best interests of other nations. They desire their own personal advantage while seeking to undermine affairs in other countries. They call this the “struggle for survival” (tanazu’-i baqa), and assert that it is innate to human nature. But this is a grievous error; nay, there is no error greater than this. Gracious God! Even in the animal kingdom cooperation and mutual assistance for survival are observed among some species, especially in the case of danger to the whole group.
One day I was beside a small stream and noticed some young grasshoppers which had not yet developed wings seeking to cross to the other side in order to obtain food. To accomplish their goal, these wingless grasshoppers rushed forward into the water and vied with each other to form a bridge across the stream while the remaining grasshoppers crossed over on top of them. The grasshoppers were able to pass from one side of the stream to the other, but those insects which had formed the bridge in the water perished. Reflect how this incident illustrates co-operation for survival, not struggle for survival. Insofar as animals display such noble sentiments, how much more should man, who is the noblest of creatures; and how much more fitting it is in particular that, in view of the divine teachings and heavenly ordinances, man should be obliged to attain this excellence.
In the estimation of God, distinctions of race, divisions of borders, favoring one people over another, and all individual limitations are unworthy and rejected. All the prophets of God were sent down and all the sacred books were revealed for the purpose of assisting man to achieve this heavenly grace and this divine virtue.
All the divine teachings can be summarized as this: that these thoughts singling out advantages to one group may be banished from our midst, that human character may be improved, that equality and fellowship may be established amongst all mankind, until every individual is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of his fellowman. This is the divine foundation. This is the law come down from heaven.
Such a firm foundation cannot be impregnated into human consciousness save by one universal and all-pervasive power, for every other power is helpless except for the power of the Holy Spirit. The outpourings of the Holy Spirit are such that they can transform man, imbuing him with all the virtues, bestowing upon him the second birth, baptizing him with the fire of the love of God, which is love for all created things, and quickening him with the water of eternal life, and the Holy Spirit itself.
The philosophers of old had the strongest resolve to improve human morals and strove to the utmost in this regard, but at most they succeeded in refining their own characters, not the virtues of all mankind. Refer to history and you will find that this is clear and evident.
But the power of the Holy Spirit brings forth the universal virtues with which man is potentially endowed, illuminates the human world, bestows true exaltation, and trains all people. Thus, the well-wishers of the world must endeavor to attract by this attractive power the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. My hope is that the members of this honored society dedicated to the welfare of humanity, like a mirror, may acquire illumination from the Sun of Reality, and become the cause of training mankind to acquire virtues. I pray that my utmost esteem be acceptable to that eminent organization.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

p13 Atheism Question on Quora

On quora, the following question was asked:

Why don't atheists believe in gods? (

This is an issue that bugs me, because of my personal path and history. I am never sure if my answer is registered there, so here, on my less used blog, is my answer:

Kind of an obvious point, but monotheists don't believe in gods either. Here is common ground with atheists. That is where it ends.

Imagine if school were optional. Kids could pull out in grade three, or four, or whatever and declare that they don't "believe" in knowledge. They would miss out on the entire heritage of humankind. All history, the hopes and dreams of all who have gone before us. All the discoveries made at great cost. They then would go through life with the same, stunted understanding of what they understood in grade three, or four, or wherever they were when they quit. 

If they are proud of their ignorance, and are fanatical, they will go about declaring it as a kind of belief, as opposed to something learned, understood and shared. They will try to convert more educated people to their fanatical limitations. These are atheists. If they have the humility to recognize their limitation for what it is, they are agnostics.

That is my understanding, speaking as a former atheist converted to belief in God. When I believed I recognized my ignorance, as did Socrates, a believer who even many atheists claim as their own. Then I learned a whole new language. The language of humility, the recognition that humans have limits and that God has none, but is willing to help. I saw the sacrifice that religious teachers and believers made through the centuries to advance this language of faith. This is the belief that sustains the poor suffering billions.

Mostly, I saw how elitist the atheists are. I call their faith "professorism." If you read Dawkins or any of the other new/old atheists, they are really saying, "I am a great mind, those who do not believe what I do are pathetically ignorant." The poor are suffering because they have not attained the summit of a professor. That, I must say, is a "grade one" level of religious understanding. Arrogance instantiated.

I encourage all my agnostic and atheist friends to swallow a little humility, recognize our inherent human limits, and learn a little religion.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Discussion of Anarchism Next Week (with prize)

I am offering a prize to those who can identify the guy in the illustration and say a fact about him that I do not already know.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Free Press Article about the next Philosopher's Cafe Meeting

I just submitted this article to the Dunnville Free Press. For those without access to that publication, here is the full text.

Title: Anarchy to be debated at the Wainfleet Library’s Philosopher’s Cafe Meeting in December.

By John Taylor, 29 November, 2014

This month's discussion topic for the Wainfleet Philosopher's Cafe is "Anarchism." Let me outline some of the ramifications of this topic here. If you have something to add or you oppose what I say, do come out to our next meeting, on the second Thursday of December, the 11th, at 6:30 PM. We want to hear what you have to say!
Anarchism is the belief that we do not need government. It comes from the Greek roots, "an" for not, and "archy," meaning rule, or more precisely, a public office or position. This idea is attractive because, on first blush it seems to express tolerance. An anarchist has faith in his fellow man, who he deems smart enough to rule himself without resort to bothersome outside laws and rules. This idea showed its face at our last Cafe meeting. I wanted to follow through on it in our next encounter.

As animator of our small but outspoken and opinionated discussion group for the last decade, I have gained expertise in anarchic rule. I am now a Laissez Faire anarchist in that, usually, I refrain from steering or even interfering in the discussion. I just sit back and watch as the participants go from order, each taking his or her turn expressing a moderate opinion, to disorder, breaking up into two or three separate, simultaneous, heated debates. Such anarchy, I find, rapidly burns up energy. One-on-one clashes of opinion flash out brilliantly but soon burn themselves out. After a few minutes of this, I find that exhausted members are happy to reunify into a common dialogue again. Rarely do they break up like this more than once.

That is not to say, though, that Philosopher's Cafe participants always cling to a single topic throughout the meeting. In fact, we do not always remember the given subject of discussion in the beginning. Even when we do, in the heat of debate it is soon forgotten. The real topic is what bothers the next speaker the most. As a result, our subject is up for grabs, minute-by-minute. Even if we remember what we are supposed to be talking about, it will change and transform with each new contribution. Everybody has to get a shot at redefining the question.

A more authoritarian mind than mine would feel nothing but consternation at such confused dialectic. For me, though, this is a good thing. It is a sign that things are as they should be. The real issue cannot be static. It is the speaker decides it is. If you cannot change the subject of debate, it is not really a debate, it is a circuitous lecture. How can you define the real issue beforehand? Without the ability to change the topic, what is the point of inviting everybody to speak? In that sense, I am very much an anarchist.

That is not to say that I approve of anarchism as a political philosophy. Like all "isms," anarchism is really a kind of idolatry. It is based on an unproven, in fact, an often-disproven assumption that if we leave things alone, everything will work out for the best. That may happen, but chances are, they will work out for the worst. Anarchism is a false faith that only continues as an option because it is useful to potentates seeking to divide and rule. Experience with anarchic rule shows that it leads only to disaster at worst, and weakness and violence at best. Generally speaking, those nations with strong governments, unafraid to intervene when needed, end up as the most just, prosperous and influential.

Thus, another word for anarchy is "power vacuum." As with a physical vacuum in the atmosphere, as soon as it is set up nature decrees tremendous, insidious pressure to break into and occupy it. Instead of rule by solid, fair, open and comprehensible laws and principles, anarchic leadership is immediately, explosively, invaded by the first windbag or thug close enough to break into the void. That is why the word "anarchy" is used so often as a synonym for self-destructive violence.

That said, it is always a mistake to assume that intelligent people will hold onto stupid, demonstrably false beliefs. No modern anarchist, surely, would hold onto an untenable position like what I just described. Perhaps they understand anarchy as a sort of autopilot for human governance. That is, just as automation has taken over most menial jobs in manufacture, eventually automatic processes will spread into management. Then, like the pilots who fly us around the globe, your boss or your prime minister will have an "autopilot switch" to run the government while they go off to the bathroom, or leave the controls for any other reason.

Actually, there is surely a switch for leaders already. How else could heads of state take time off from their work to chase every flood, hurricane, politically sensitive crime, or other disaster, in order to assuage our fears by expressing sympathy or "solidarity" with the victims? To me, though, that is crazy. If their job is important, how can they just drop it like that? How would you feel if your doctor suspended her practice to aid in disaster relief, or the teachers in your children's schools ran off to help out with every problem that hits the headlines? That would be anarchy indeed.

An anarchic government, then, would be one where computers and robots do most or all of the work of public office while humans relax, have fun and, when we feel do feel ambitious, take on less important and potentially dangerous tasks. It would be rule of the machines. If only science fiction writers had something to say about that, eh? Anyway, would you entrust your government to an automated leader? Are you an anarchist in this sense?