Augustine on Innocence

Hearken, O God! Alas for the sins of men! Man says this, and You have compassion on him; for You created him, but did notcreate the sin that is in him. Who brings to my remembrance the sin of my infancy? For before You none is free from sin, not even the infant which has lived but a day upon the earth. Who brings this to my remembrance? Does not each little one, in whom I behold that which I do not remember of myself? In what, then, did I sin? Is it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry—not indeed for the breast, but for the food suitable to my years—I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I then did deserved rebuke; but as I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor reason suffered me to be rebuked. For as we grow we root out and cast from us such habits. I have not seen any one who is wise, when purging anything cast away the good. Or was it good, even for a time, to strive to get by crying that which, if given, would be hurtful— to be bitterly indignant that those who were free and its elders, and those to whom it owed its being, besides many others wiser than it, who would not give way to the nod of its good pleasure, were not subject unto it— to endeavour to harm, by struggling as much as it could, because those commands were not obeyed which only could have been obeyed to its hurt? Then, in the weakness of the infant’s limbs, and not in its will, lies its innocency. I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak. It became pale, and cast bitter looks on its foster-brother. Who is ignorant of this? Mothers and nurses tell us that they appease these things by I know not what remedies; and may this be taken for innocence, that when the fountain of milk is flowing fresh and abundant, one who has need should not be allowed to share it, though needing that nourishment to sustain life? Yet we look leniently on these things, not because they are not faults, nor because the faults are small, but because they will vanish as age increases. For although you may allow these things now, you could not bear them with equanimity if found in an older person.

Confessions I.vii.11 (trans. Pilkington).

The Private and the Public

George Jonas on sex-selective abortion:

They say God works in mysterious ways. Not being religious I wouldn’t know, but maybe he does. His “choice” may be to combine modern technology with a preference for male babies in some ancient cultures to demonstrate that the whimsical elimination of life inside the womb isn’t a private matter, or even a mere social concern, but just as it would be outside the womb, it’s profoundly spiritual. It’s all grist to God’s mills, which, according to the poet Longfellow, grind slow but grind exceedingly small.

I’d add that almost nothing is just personal. We just like to say that because we’re selfish and don’t care what happens to society at large.

An African in Greenland

Ferdinand reviews a Jamaican man’s book on Japan, and I’m reminded of Tete-Michel Kpomassie’s An African in Greenland. As a teenager, Kpomassie ran away ran away from his home in Togo with the unusual aim of going to Greenland, and indeed he eventually gets there and has various fish-out-of-water experiences among the Intuit. It’s a great book because you’re simultaneously being exposed to two very foreign cultures at once, and because Kpomassie is an insightful and sympathetic observer. And unlike Ferdinand’s author, Kpomassie is also an excellent writer. Altogether one of my all-time favourite books.

Could This Make Prisoner Treatment More Humane?

Robot guards!

Also: a bunch of prison-related articles in the Globe today, including: high concentration of Hell’s Angels credited for orderliness of Quebec prison (lesson: homogeneity is good for order); Canada’s new tough on crime laws apparently haven’t yet led to a big upswing in incarceration (encouraging news); life in Kingston Penitentiary.

A Woman’s Desire for Children Is a Diagnostic Tool

The Thinking Housewife talks about married couples who choose not to have children.

There’s a personal aspect to this. Lots of women say (and no doubt believe) that they aren’t interested in having children, until they find a guy they’re enthusiastic about. The pretence (and even the self-deceptive acceptance of your own pretence) is a normal part of relationship negotiation—in particular, a woman doesn’t want to seem too eager. But if you’re married and your wife still doesn’t want to have your children, then she just doesn’t love you.

So Much More Prison Misery

Miami MegaJail; Russia’s Black Dolphin; Zambia’s ‘death traps’; Malawian high-security prisons:

Since Nov. 10, 1999, Lackson Sikayenera has been incarcerated in Maula Prison, a dozen iron-roofed barracks set on yellow dirt and hemmed by barbed wire just outside Malawi’s capital city.

He eats one meal of porridge daily. He spends 14 hours each day in a cell with 160 other men, packed on the concrete floor, unable even to move. The water is dirty; the toilets foul. Disease is rife.

But the worst part may be that in the case of Mr. Sikayenera, who is accused of killing his brother, the charges against him have not yet even reached a court. Almost certainly, they never will. For sometime after November 1999, justice officials lost his case file. His guards know where he is. But for all Malawi’s courts know, he does not exist.

“Why is it that my file is missing?” he asked, his voice a mix of rage and desperation. “Who took my file? Why do I suffer like this? Should I keep on staying in prison just because my file is not found? For how long should I stay in prison? For how long?”

The Globe Finds a Racial Disparity

Of 100 new federally appointed judges 98 are white, Globe finds.” The first thing the reasonable reader thinks is, of course, “I wonder what the composition of the candidate pool is like.” The Globe does address this, at the very end of the article.

In some locations, the pool of minority lawyers is modest. For example, just five per cent of Nova Scotia’s 2,000 lawyers belong to a visible minority; while a 2006 B.C. survey found that just 18 per cent of Vancouver’s lawyers were from a visible minority, compared to 42 per cent of the city’s population.

In Ontario, a similar survey conducted by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2009 found that 693 of the province’s 20,000 lawyers were black. It found that 979 were Chinese, Japanese or Korean; 101 were Hispanic; 1,312 were South Asian; and 290 were of Arab or West Asian descent. The province had 281 aboriginal and 96 Métis lawyers.

 It’s surprising to me how few Asian lawyers there are, but anyway that pretty much explains the situation. And yet the Globe thinks this needs to be fixed for some reason. Why? Obviously Asians especially are over-represented in other areas, so try to get proportional representation in the places where they aren’t just amounts to an effort to prevent whites from getting jobs.

Plato on Reading

The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Phaedrus, 274e–275b

Forty Years in Solitary


I’ve never believed that incarceration is more humane that corporal (or even capital) punishment. The only reason anyone does believe it is that locking someone away is less personal. We feel like our hands are cleaner, even if prisoners go mad or are turned into sex slaves once we’ve shut them away.

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Here’s The Neville Brothers’ “Sons and Daughters,” which features Angola prison.