How I found the cover-up of an airline disaster

Full disclosure here.  Everything I know about a cover-up of the cause of the crash of Swissair 111 in September of 1998, the second worst air disaster in Canadian history, I learned from Tom Juby.   When I first met Tom, it was about a year after that crash near Nova Scotia’s famous Peggy’s Cove.  He was then a forensic identification investigator with the RCMP, having been assigned to examine the physical evidence of the crash. Continue reading “How I found the cover-up of an airline disaster”

A Street Cat and a Sad Song

Recently, there have been reports in some of the media saying that young people are now more stressed than before and are having more mental health issues than ever. Various reasons for this are proposed, including the addiction to social media.  I won’t dwell on these statements but whatever the state of youth stress may be, it has been an observation of mine for a few decades already that there seem to be fewer traditional Continue reading “A Street Cat and a Sad Song”

A few thoughts

A few thoughts as our neighbor to the south prepares to hand over the presidency to what is surely a clever and also troubled man.  I assure you, these are not political thoughts but just a few observations on some all-too-typical human situations.  The president who is leaving after two terms was, and is, an imperfect human, as we all are, but he spoke of hope and grace, including a divine hope and grace, to a distressed and divided nation.  In other words, he did what he could, in his talented but fallible way, in Continue reading “A few thoughts”

What’s in a name? (repeat)

If all goes well, we will be moving soon to a small town an hour-and-a-half away on the fast road, or several hours meandering through curvy little by-ways near the ocean, through thick forests, along many lakes and farm meadows, until we reach the village of Bible Hill.  I had thought the place might be the site of a Christian college or of an especially large old church, or even that the place was named after a settler family with the unlikely last name of Bible.  As it turned out, it was none of these.

Local people sometimes refer to a “Holy Well” that used to be there, just below the large but not very high hill on which the village is located.  I know there are many such holy wells in Europe, ancient places that were used even before Christian times for sacred rituals or healings, but I was surprised to learn of one so close to home.  It seems that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the French-speaking pioneers known as Acadians found a spring at that location of which the water was very pure and sweet.  It was therefore the place to get “holy water” for Roman Catholic ceremonies, particularly baptism.  And it is not impossible that the location held a similar special interest for the Mi’kmaq tribes in the area before the arrival of the Acadians.

A tragic scene played out starting in 1755, when British troops in response to competition and hostility from France, expelled most of the Acadians.  Their homes and barns were put to the flames, and a few years thereafter Protestant and British settlers were welcomed in.  One of the English-speaking pioneers then found the remains of a French Bible near the “Holy Well.”  And so the first hint of association was made between the hill and the Bible.

Over the next generation, a certain Matthew Archibald, an Ulster-Scot (and therefore usually called “Irish”) lived in a house at the top of the hill.  This man was what people would call an outstanding citizen — a farmer, tanner, justice of the peace, county coroner, and member of the provincial legislature.  He was also reputed to be very pious, often seen with a Bible in his hand.  This strengthened the association of hill and book.  Many area people believe it was mainly because of Matthew that the village got its name, and every year they still hold a festival to honor him.

That’s not the end of the story, because during the 1800s, a Reverend William McCullough of the Presbyterian Church lived in the old Archibald house, and he continued the practice of his father of handing out a Bible without-charge to any one who cared to walk to the house on the hill to obtain one.  For almost fifty years, the free distribution, a considerable expense in those days, spread Bibles through the village and beyond.  By then the connection we’re speaking of had become etched in stone.

Today, the community is more multicultural, being known also as the home of Atlantic Canada’s first mosque and first Islamic community center.  It’s the contemporary world, but it would seem that the name of the village has been proudly owned and accepted by most everyone in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.

If you like it, pass it on.   

Comment: black man shot by US police


Another week, another reckless shooting by a police officer.  Another citizen is dead.  I know that these instances do not represent the many police interactions with the public that turn out well, but a recent American report found that up to half of all people killed by the police are, in the study’s words, “mentally disabled.”  This was followed shortly by a Toronto study that showed that nearly half of the people who had been Tasered by the police were those who were “emotionally distraught.”  Police forces are often called into situations when mental health personnel would be more appropriate, or when both public services could be working together to resolve a challenging situation.

Even if the mental health system is inadequate, there is still something the police could do differently.  We are sometimes told that the average cop experiences fear on the job, and that is understandable, especially in some places. But what if, even with fear, the police were required to be peaceful?  That may sound odd, even inconsistent, but think about it.  What if the aim and guiding principle of a police force would actually be pacifist:  nonviolent intervention in order to maintain the peace?   Would insistence on that principle really be so much in conflict with what the perceived role of the police is now?

One of the chapters in a book of essays by C.S. Lewis, entitled The Weight of Glory, starts with the  heading “Why I am not a pacifist.”  Although boldly creative in his thinking, Lewis could also be quite conservative, and so it came as little surprise that he uses all his superior learning and powers of reasoning to tell us that pacifism is rationally inconsistent and not according to the best authorities in history, with the possible exception of Jesus.  But at the end of the chapter, he acknowledges that “moral decisions do not admit of mathematical certainty, (so) it may be, after all, that pacifism is right…”

This is what I appreciate about Lewis, a cracker of a sharp thinker but typically a humble one, who knew there were limits to his reasoned positions.  This could be called his “useful inconsistency.”  It is perhaps why he never considered as an enemy someone who had a different belief or idea from himself.  It did not stop him from being strong in his own views or persistent in advocating them with all the logic at his capable command, but throughout it all, he was able to see an opponent as a fellow human being who deserved respect.  It was not unusual for Lewis to share a friendly drink with him.  I could wish more people were like that.

Only a really peaceful principle can prevent the increasing unnecessary use of lethal force by “peace officers” in today’s communities.  For sure, a strong response is sometimes needed on our violent streets, but only if a police officer and his unit are basically committed to a pacifist understanding of the job, can it be safe to use a weapon when dangerous circumstances require it.  The thought of a “pacifist police” may sound inconsistent with a police “force,” but it’s a useful inconsistency, and it could be seen just as a matter of sensible balance.  While not implying any criticism of individual officers, the present difficulty is that more and more police detachments in the larger centers seem to be evolving a culture and excuse of fire-arm use.  The beat-walking boys-in-blue of yesteryear are becoming the helmeted men and women in black, almost a para-military force.

The sad truth in confrontations with the public is that a person with mental health problems may not be capable of a reasonable response to being surrounded by police officers who are shouting orders, especially not when illicit drugs or alcohol have been added to the mix.  And such a person may be suicidal, actually hoping that police will use their guns.  These people have their serious personal issues, but they are rarely the enemy of society.  They are part of the public that the police are sworn “To Serve and to Protect.”

In order to keep this popular motto of many North American police forces from becoming too abstract, it has to be applied in all specific cases.  C.S. Lewis said in that same essay of his, “You cannot do simply good to simply Man;  you must do this-or-that good to this-or-that man.”  It has to be specific or it is merely a slogan.  “Serve and protect” should be taken out of the realm of public relations management and brought back into the streets as the daily and hourly working principle of police forces in almost all situations they may face.  The next life this will save may be yours.

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How the Scots invented us

During my recent extended illness I got through the frequent bouts of pain and fatigue by reading lots of books.  Always finding literature of any kind to be an effective distraction from the problems of the body while at the same time stimulating the mind with better notions than one has while weary and worn, I picked up some of the second-hand books my wife had bought for me, as well as a few others.  As the illness and its lack of appetite wore on, I devoured and digested page after page, volume after volume.

As a Canadian, and as readers of this blog may know, I have a weakness for all things Scottish.  Mind you, I’ve never worn a kilt in my life, have never tried to play the Continue reading “How the Scots invented us”

Phil Harding’s DNA

Things are rarely exactly as they seem.  I remember watching just a few years ago the hugely popular archeology show from British TV, called “Time Team.”  I specially recall Phil Harding, the colorful field archeologist with the big hat, when he was getting his DNA tested. With the analysis complete, Phil was told he had been descended from the original hunter-gatherer-fishers who came to Britain thousands of years ago.  “I knew it, I knew it!” I can still hear him exclaim with much glee.  I guess it was a validation for Continue reading “Phil Harding’s DNA”