Monday, November 09, 2015

Magna Carta

I've seen it.

The Magna Carta... well, one copy of it, from Durham Cathedral... is touring some of the major cities of Canada. This autumn was Toronto's turn, and we almost missed it. P-Doug brought it up some time ago but for some reason, we didn't catch on. He saw it. Larry and I realized a weekend ago we were about to miss our chance, and so we got tickets for the very last day, this past Saturday, and the three of us went. The Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest were on display at Fort York in the west end of the city.

The new visitor centre just west of Fort York itself. You can see the Gardiner Expressway that very nearly destroyed the fort in the in the 1950s till the people of the city demanded the course of the Gardiner be slightly diverted.

Looking east to the wall of the fort, and new condos beyond, and the downtown core in the distance. Rather a different view from the 1790s.

The shoreline of Lake Ontario actually used to be right here when the fort was built, and during the War of 1812. Several hundred feet of the shoreline have since been reclaimed and the fort is now several minutes' walk inland.

I think it's amusing that the Magna Carta has a "beer sponsor", seen at the bottom of this placard. But thank you, Muskoka, for helping make this day possible. :)

The first place we were ushered into was a 12-minute video presentation about the Magna Carta and its legacy, presented by Prince Charles. It also featured statements by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer. It went into a clever, compelling, and gently educational animated segment narrated by Gordon Pinsent. I wish I could show it to you, but I haven't found it online.

Sorry for the low contrast in the photos that follow. Flash photography was forbidden. But my phone seems to have handled the situation well enough; the detail is there and nearly always good enough. Anything you'd care to look more closely at can be viewed by clicking on the photo and looking at its larger version.

Below is one of the surviving copies of the Charter of the Forest, a statement of the rights of the commoners to the use of the forests for their living. It's a key document in securing the idea of the rights of people in the general sense, and it was issued a few years after the Magna Carta.

And below, the Magna Carta itself. This copy belongs to Durham Cathedral in England.

Displays around the Charters talk about their enduring legacy and applicability in Canada in particular, and in other countries shaped by the British tradition.

There was an interactive display listing a dozen principles that can be arguably traced to the Magna Carta, and visitors were asked to select the three they thought mattered most. I chose, in order, Freedom and Equality, Right to Vote, and Freedom of Expression. As it turns out, those seem to be the biggest three in general, and in pretty much that order. I think it's because of those, like Winston Smith said in the novel 1984 of being able to say that 2+2=4, "if that is granted, all else follows."

Below is the original book of statues for the Province of Upper Canada (now Ontario), established in 1791. It's open to one of the very first statues passed in Ontario, forbidding the importation of slaves, and manumitting all slaves born in Upper Canada from then on at the age of 25. The card accompanying it remarks the law was the first of its kind in the Empire. I've actually held this book in my own (gloved) hands at the Archives of Ontario, many years ago.

Larry was astounded to see this... the bullet-proof vest worn in 2001 when a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church performed the first legally-sanctioned same-sex marriage in Canada. It seemed un-Canadian, he remarked, to imagine that such extreme measures were necessary... and that's probably because, fortunately, they turned out not to be. What would we think if the police hadn't made this suggestion, and a shot had rung out?

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Revisiting the empty chair

I happened to notice that in March I blogged, kind of sadly, about the empty chair here at my left elbow (I'm actually blogging this from the ass groove chair in the living room). Well, as it turns out, just in the last two or three weeks, Seth has actually begun making some use of that spot when I'm working on this little portable EP121 here, sometimes spending upwards of an hour sitting there. It's the chair, and the cat bed, in which Bonnie breathed her last, two and a half years ago... has it really been that long?... but it's not a shrine. It was, and is, intended as a place for the cats to come and keep company. It's nice to see that finally being taken up. It occurs to me that the cat tree I bought around the time I got Seth, and of which he's tremendously fond, is probably the main impediment to him making more use of the chair beside me, but I'll take what I can get. :)

Addendum: the following Sunday

Erasing Hate

I've just finished watching one of the most astonishing documentaries I've seen in a long time. Available on Netflix, the movie is called Erasing Hate. Bryon Widner is a young man in his 30s, who, having turned away from the skinhead and white supremacy movements, is trying to get his life back on track. What's holding him back is the considerable amount of facial tattooing he accumulated during the life, making it difficult to secure employment, or even the trust of others.

Bryon is married to Julie, whom he met while they were both in the racist movement. They've both turned away, and have left Michigan to get away from the people they once associated with, and moved to Tennessee, where Julie's father lives. Also a former member of a white supremacist movement, he has become a Christian, and Bryon and Julie and their growing family find a place there as well.

The documentary tells the story of how Bryon, thanks to the financial assistance of the Southern Poverty Law Center, begins the process of having the facial tattoos removed. The process turns out to be rather longer and more painful than anticipated, taking a course of a year and a half. During that time, Bryon recounts what drove him to the life in the first place, what it was like, and how he and others came to reject the toxic precepts. The slow fading of the tattoos, and the pain it causes Bryon, are an obvious metaphor for his own spiritual transformation. Hearing Bryon talk about the abuse he dished out over the years, it's no stretch to see his redemption coming at the cost of this literal purgatory.

What I found most surprising, and rather disturbing, is how intelligent and eloquent Bryon is. One is tempted to attribute such movements as succeeding by preying on the dullness and ignorance of some members of society. What are we left to think when listening to Bryon speak thoughtfully about his experiences and feelings pulls the plug on that assumption and empties the tub? If such notions could once have made sense, to the point of being life-guiding principles, to someone like Bryon, how much greater is the threat than we might be comfortable admitting?

Erasing Hate is an uplifting story about what's best about the United States in particular, but also of people in general. Bryon and Julie are fascinating people and this is a movie worth seeing. For what it's worth, I wish Bryon and Julie all the best.