Remember: History Proves Everything

Nellie McClung caused World War Two. Yes, the McClung after whom Victoria’s Cedar Hill library is reverently named. Lest we forget.

Maybe that’s not obvious. Let me back up, and talk first about nature, history and proof.

People often use nature to prove points. Whatever their points are. Is cut-throat competition “natural”? Show fish eating each other. However, interspecies cooperation is essential for some trees and fungi. “Natural” sexuality? Pick your species to demonstrate virtually anything.

I recently read someone seriously arguing Victoria’s practice of dumping sewage directly into the ocean is laudable because it’s natural; don’t whales use oceans as toilets? Gee, why not use seagulls as the example, then? If they do it, shouldn’t all Victorians defecate on other people’s rooftops?

Such infantile arguments are equally common when we use history to prove points. Like nature, human cultural history is vast and diverse, and doesn’t often reasonably reduce to single, definitive exemplars. Nevertheless, one feeble memory of one event is all some people need to establish “the” definitive proof of something. Meanwhile, more complex truths are lost.

We’ll find no better example of selective remembering than, ironically, on “Remembrance” Day.

Continue reading

Misquoting the Way to War

News stories with conflict generally stir more interest than those without. That’s why top news stories are wars, murders, scandals, intense disagreements and the like.

One problem with this is that news professionals emphasize, accentuate, exaggerate and even sometimes deliberately aggravate differences and conflicts to make their stories more gripping. In the end, we may see polarized perspectives that bear little resemblance to reality. This can be entertaining or upsetting, but it doesn’t help educate the public or solve any social problems.

Consider August’s raft of heated articles, letters to the editor, radio phone-ins and TV coverage about panhandling hurting Victoria tourism. All of that erupted from a Times-Colonist story about a man who’d written to the Empress hotel, indicating he’d never hold a conference here because of the “homeless people” constantly “hounding” him.

One catch: The letter had been misquoted. Continue reading

When Money-making Meets News-making

The hushed firing and re-instatement of Victoria Times-Colonist columnist Vivian Smith was, in some ways, just juicy gossip to media insiders. But its significance echoes through every news story.

As reported blow-by-blow in 24 Hours journalist Sean Holman’s blog “Public Eye“, Smith penned a column criticizing the high cost of many local Victoria, BC tourist attractions. T-C publisher Bob McKenzie subsequently met with irate tourism representatives who spend many advertising dollars in the daily, and immediately fired Smith without explanation. T-C freelancers Janis Ringuette and University of Victoria writing prof Lynne van Luven quit in protest, and the Canadian Association of Journalists started probing. CanWest Global execs stepped in, reassuring everyone they “vigilantly” protect “unencumbered” journalism in their empire. McKenzie then assured his staff that “we do not allow advertisers to influence the content of this newspaper”, and admitted his “error in judgment“.

Fans of honest, independent journalism might find reassurance in Smith’s re-hiring; an unusual situation resolved appropriately.

Unfortunately, what truly makes this unusual is not reassuring: Unlike most similar situations, this battle was stacked in the writer’s favour. Continue reading

Is That God Calling?

I think I’m on some sort of special religious phone-missionaries’ hit list.

I don’t mean they want to kill me. I just think maybe they really, really want to convert me. Or else they think I’m close enough to the light to be worth some extra effort. I really don’t know. But I get many more calls from them than my friends do.

You might think I’m exaggerating. Suffice to say, I’ve been called often enough that now, right away, I give him or her a fair warning of what’s coming.

Which they invariably never heed. Continue reading

An Interview with Dr. Abram Hoffer

At 88, Dr. Abram Hoffer is still dispensing wise nutritional advice and damning critiques of our health care system. On beginnings, orthomolecular medicine, psychedelic research, a revolutionary treatment for schizophrenia, and the state of present-day psychiatric care.

No Canadian psychiatrist has been simultaneously more dogged by controversy and more beloved by his patients than Victoria’s Dr. Abram Hoffer.

In an era when most psychiatrists believe in medicating for life, Hoffer has been a one-man “underground railroad” helping unchain patients from tranquillizing drugs.

Yet that’s not the reason he’s controversial.

Upon going to work as Director of Psychiatric Research for the Province of Saskatchewan in 1950, Hoffer and colleague Dr. Humphry Osmond became trailblazers.

They were one of the earliest institutional teams using psychedelics for therapy. They provided Aldous Huxley with the mescaline that led to his famous treatise, “The Doors of Perception”, which in part inspired Timothy Leary’s Harvard research and the psychedelic 60s. Hoffer also visited Prague, helping spark the 20th century’s other major psychedelic researcher, Dr. Stanislav Grof.

Teaming with Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling, they then became internationally renowned for research into “megavitamin” treatments, and founded “orthomolecular medicine“.

But most controversially, Hoffer and Osmond were the first to develop a biochemical theory and proclaimed cure for schizophrenia.

Continue reading