Category Archives: Truth and Beauty

A Scurilous attack on the Meanderer

For the past week or two, the Meanderer has been pestered by a serious cyber-attack that has made it impossible to post. Some say these attacks were launched by Vladimir Putin. Others blame Donald Trump and his band of Trumpsters.  What is clear is that the attack was caused by enemies of truth and beauty.

I am happy to report that the forces of evil were unable to permanently silence the meanders, despite their best concerted efforts. As I travelled to the USA, the land of liberty, nefarious actors launched an all-out cyber-attack on this Blog. While it is still unclear who is responsible for these hideous actions, it is clear that the goal was to silence the meanderer and all lovers of truth and beauty.  Briefly on our annual trip to the southern parts of the US these forces of oppression tried to shut down this blog. They were briefly successful until heroic forces of good managed to shut down the shutdown. I am not sure that all of my earlier posts have been retrieved to the new site that was established, but this voice for freedom and justice has not been stilled, though I know, some will not be pleased by this report.

For security purposes I will for the time being keep confidential the name of the truth warrior who helped rescue the Meanderer. I don’t want to give an unearned advantage to the enemies of truth and beauty.

So I look forward to sharing truth and beauty with you faithful readers in the future. Happy belated New Year 2024.

Parallel Mothers



This is a Spanish film that Canadians in particular should find resonating.  The background to the story is the discovery of long hidden graves that suggest Spain’s fascist past has not disappeared. It is not even past, as William Faulkner might say. And as Canada is learning, perhaps against its will, a horrific past cannot be ignored, it must be faced. Canada and Spain find themselves in similar circumstances for uncomfortably similar reasons.


The background of the film is the the ugly fact of hidden graves, but the foreground is deeply sensual and beautiful. The director Pedro Almodóvar uses that background to deliver a film about 2 similar (or parallel if you prefer) mothers. As the Guardian’s film critic  Peter Bradshaw put it, “Here we have convergent mothers; intersecting mothers whose lives come together with a spark that ignites this moving melodrama, which audaciously draws a line between love, sex, the passionate courage of single mothers, the meaning of Lorca’s Doña Rositat the Spinster and the unhealed wound of Spain’s fascist past.”

In this film two single mothers—one young and the other about twice as old— meet and clash with electric results. Their two stories illuminate each other as they also hide the truth. Ultimately, that is what the film is about. It is important to uncover the truth disaster can follow a hidden truth that will not stay hidden and the redemption that is possible if it is revealed with honesty.

Penélope Cruz plays the part of Janis the older mother a glamorous photographer. The younger mother, Ana is played by Milena Smit a teenager with a troubled family past. Arturo ((Israel Elejalde), is anthropologist who works with a historical unit that was formed under Spain’s memory law that traces people killed by supporter of the fascist leader Fanco during the civil war. Janis believes her grandfather was one of the victims and beseeches Arturo to help her discover the truth. While they search for truth, they are less than honest with each other. And that makes all the difference.

The scenes are saturated with beauty. The interior scenes and clothes the women wear are transfused with spectacular colour, the food looks just as sensational, the art on the walls is transfixing.  I got the feeling that the colors and foods were characters in the film. Every colour feels as choreographed as classical ballet. The sensual reality behind the abstract search for truth. The colours tell their own parallel story.

In the end the townspeople, carrying photos of their ancestors, to honour their dead, lie in the graves as the dead must have done.  Like our indigenous Canadians they want to honour the dead.

The film is summed up, in a quotation from Eduardo Galeano at the end:

“However much they crush it,

However much they falsify it,

Human history refuses to stay silent.”


We would do well to acknowledge that and give up trying to deny it or hide it.


The Mind’s Sweet Shipwreck


The American philosopher Jeff Sharlet described an encounter with Cornel West in his own office. West told him that many people read and took spiritual nourishment from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  There is nothing wrong with  that he said but people should go deeper than that. He thought Steinbeck let the reader off too easy. I admit I loved that book, but he made an interesting point.  Did he let us off too easy? I don’t think so but maybe I need to reread that classic? West  recommended instead the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, a 19th century Italian poet-philosopher revered in Italy but little read in the U.S—“he starts with what he calls, ‘The mind’s sweet shipwreck.’ To which West added, “ Ain’t that a beautiful phrase?” Sharlet told how in West’s office West was digging through his books to make a point about Leopardi and finally found the book he was looking for. This is how Sharlet told the story:

“Leopardi should be the poet of our times… West prescribes Brother Leopardi for “deep-sea diving of the soul,” a process’s not just personal but essential to understanding “the paradox of human freedom”: that we must summon the strength to resist and endure oppression even as we acknowledge that we are ultimately weak in the face of death and despair. “We are organisms of desire.” West defines the human condition, “whose first day of birth makes us old enough to die.”


“Now, this, this is the greatest one,” West says, getting a page of Leopardi’s poems and looking at me with giant poem eyes as if to communicate the gravity of the words in his hand, the necessity of their immediate recitation.  He resumes rocking and reading:

That man has a truly noble nature
Who, without flinching, still can face
Our common plight, tell the truth
With an honest tongue,
Admit the evil lot we’ve been given
And the abject, impotent condition we’re in;
Who shows himself great and full of grace
Under pressure.…


West closes his book and stands still. His head shakes back and forth with admiration. That’s too polite a word for the emotion flooding over him: it’s relief, gratitude.”

To know the wretchedness of who we are,” he says. “Yet the fact that we know it, is itself a noble thing, because that kind of knowledge means we can know a whole lot of other things.”


The minds may be ship-wrecked but it can achieve knowledge. Sacred knowledge of truth.  That truth can set one free. It won’t be easy but will be free. I call that tragic vision. That is what the religious quest is all about. Seeking truth when it is hard.


The Classics: Wisdom Speaking


For Cornel West the search for wisdom is also a spiritual search. Cornel West wrote an article in the Washington Post in response to Howard University and other universities getting rid of their Classics Department.  In fairness to Howard it is a university that does not have the massive dnowments that some of the Ivy League schools have. Howard University is not Harvard. Yet West thought they could do better in their search for wisdom.   Walter Isaacson interviewed West on Amanpour and Company on the dispute.


Cornel West believes it is important to preserve and read the classics. He said,


“I am convinced we are living in a moment of spiritual decay and moral decrepitude in the American empire. We have to come up with countervailing forces and countervailing weight against the rule of money, rule of mediocrity, rule of military might, rule of narrow conformity, and rule of indifference and callousness. The best classics of any civilization, of any empire, of any culture have to do with trying to convince ourselves to get involved in a quest for truth, and beauty, and goodness, and then for some of us like myself, a Christian, the holy.”


To me that sums up the best of the humanities—i.e. the wisdom of civilization. But West believes there has been a deep moral decline in the west and a deep intellectual narrowness has crept in, and that the classics can help us to resist this trend. He says, the reason it does that is


“The classics force us to come to terms with the most terrifying question we can ever raise which is what does it mean to be human? The unexamined life is not a life of human according to Plato in his Apology in line 38a. “Human” comes from the Latin humando which means burial, we are disappearing creatures. We are vanishing organisms on the way to bodily extinction. Therefore, the question becomes, ‘who will we be in the meantime?’ What kind of virtue can we enact? What kind of vision will we pursue? What kind of values will we try to embody? And once you raise that question what it means to be human, then you begin to see on the one hand what Shakespeare and Dante have taught us, like Toni Morrison, and John Coltrane have taught us, it’s dark in our history! Most of our history is the history of domination and oppression. The history of hatred. The history of contempt. It is the history of fear driven cruelty. What is the best of our history? Counterweights against that. And that is everywhere you look. Every civilization. Every continent. Every race. Every religion. Every gender. Every sexual orientation. And once you come to terms with that, then the question becomes how do you become equipped? What kind of spiritual and moral armour do you have that allows you to think critically? That allows you to open yourself to others. That allows you to act courageously.”


Now if that is not a spiritual quest, I do not know what is. West used Frederick Douglas as an example of a man who did that. He teased out truths from foreign languages as anyone can do. He was already a freedom fighter, but the classics of other countries helped him to find the truth, beauty, and the good. According to West, “He teased out an eloquence. And what is eloquence? “Eloquence is wisdom speaking,” say Cicero and Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (often referred to as Quintilian) a rhetorician and educator.


According to West, the essence of wisdom speaking is having the courage to know how to die by questioning your presuppositions. Every time you let a presupposition go that is a form of death because it allows you to be reborn. It allows you to grow. It allows you to develop. It allows you to mature. If you can learn that, from religion, philosophy, music, or the classics you have the necessary spiritual armour.

As West said,


“We live in an empire my brother that has grown powerful and rich but has not grown up. F.O Mathieson used to say, America would in some way be distinctive because it could move from perceived innocence to corruption without a mediating state of maturity.” The nation believes it is innocent. How can you be authorizers of devastation of indigenous people and African slaves and then view yourselves as innocent? “


In many ways that is the problem many people have—particularly those who have been privileged and fail to recognize that privilege. How can you fail to look at the crimes produced in the name of your civilization? We all need to grow up and see that we are not innocent, no matter how much we would like to be innocent.

My Kind of Christian: Mother West and the Kingdom of Heaven


Cornel West  has been a professor at Princeton, Harvard and  Union Theological Seminary recently talked about his mother in an interview broadcast on PBS. It was clear that she was the most important woman in his life, and always had been, even though he was married 3 times.


On PBS West said his mom was,

“kind of a walking truth and beauty and grounded in the holy, because she believed fundamentally as a Christian woman, as a black woman coming out of Jim Crow Louisiana…She wanted to open herself, to empty herself, to donate herself, to give herself to make the world a better place. She understood if the kingdom of God is within you that everywhere you go you are going to leave a little heaven behind. And any time anybody sees me, they see her because I have to try to do that in my life–leaving a little bit of heaven behind. It could be Socratic heaven, it could be prophetic heaven, it could be a little Richard Pryor comic heaven, but somehow we have to help empower somebody to make the world better and to come along.  Make sure you leave the world just a little more sweet and joyful then when you found it. That’s mom. That’s Irene B. West. Nobody like her. One of a kind.”


I only have one small addition to that, because I never knew his mother. I don’t know him. I have heard him on radio and television a few times and I have heard him speak in person at Arizona State University. But one thing I do know, he sure loved his Mom.

Sometimes you don’t have to go very far on a religious quest.  Look close to home. In fact, West made me think of my mother and my mother-in-law. They are the two most amazing women I have ever met. Neither of them ever made grandiose statements about what great Christians they were.  And they were great Christians. In simple everyday ways, both of them were transfused with the best of religion and by that I mean simple but unequalled compassion for others. Thats what I think it means to walk truth and beauty and be grounded in the holy.


Pursuing Truth and Beauty


I decided when I retired that I wanted to do something. Not work. Not chasing the all mighty dollar. Nothing wrong with that, we all have to do it, but I have done that for nearly 40 years (really more when you include the 7 years of post-secondary school education I had to do in order to qualify for my profession). Of course, given current market tribulations I might have to return to work again.

This next phase of my life was inspired by the English poet John Keats. In particular it was inspired by his famous poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

He wrote about an old urn that has an image on it showing Dionysian revelries. It showed young lovers in flight and pursuit. That urn freezes a moment in time. It is a moment of time—an instant—forever frozen by the artist’s art, which in turn is celebrated by the art of the poet. It opens like this,


“Thou still unravished bride of quietness,

Thou foster child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst express

A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape

Of deities or mortals, or both”

That bride that Keats refers to is forever pursued; forever uncaught, and hence eternally virgin. The bride never loses her luster. Her beauty lasts forever. Only true beauty can do it. The beauty of artistic achievement is forever. Keats always longed for permanence, but of course in life could never find it. He actually died very young. I think he died at 29 if I remember correctly. Only in art could permanence be found.

Eternity is inexplicable. It mystifies us. Everything of this world is subject to change, decay, and disintegration. Keats wanted more than that, so he lamented this fact but acknowledged the only way out, was art. He found permanence in an image on a Grecian Urn :

“Thou, silent form, dost tease out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

That is what I mean.  I think Keats meant beauty in a wide sense. He was not talking only about the beauty of a young woman—though that too. After all there is beauty in old women too. Even old men have a faint streak of it from time to time.

Keats wanted to include the beauty of artistic achievement. That is the beauty that lasts forever, or at least a long time. As close as we can get. A young woman’s beauty turns old. It is still beauty, but it is different it has changed. The beauty of the image on a Grecian Urn remains the same forever unchanged forever avoiding decay.

Now as I enter the time of my degeneration I notice the changes more deeply. Until recently I thought I would be healthy and powerful forever. I believed I would never decay, never diminish. Sadly, I now know clearly that this is not to be. I am not to be. I am draining away. But in my last years, I want to pursue truth and beauty, even though I know I will never catch up with them. Beauty and truth will be forever unravished by me at least. There will be no consummation. Keats urges the lover not to grieve for his lover will never “fade”, because even though the lover will never get to kiss her,

“She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss

Forever will thou love, and she be fair!’

Yet the pursuit, I hope, can be filled with grace, and wonder, just like the lover pursuing his bride of silence, forever uncaught, but forever beautiful. I will pursue truth and beauty because that is all I know and all I need to know. It will be part of what Keats called “a mad pursuit.” Yet he also says it is “wild ecstasy.”   That’s what I want—wild ecstasy.

Of course the next question is how to do that? How does one pursue truth and beauty in the modern world? There are many roads to truth. Art is one source of both truth and beauty. Keats knew that. Philosophy is also one. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom through thinking. Reason is the instrument of philosophy. When reason shows the truth, it is beautiful. Music is a source as well. An important one is nature. It is the unedited manuscript of god. Religion can be a source, though often it is a restrictive source of narrow thinking, that leads to falsehood not truth. Then it leads to exclusion, superiority, and hate. And then it ceases to be religion. An expansive religion—one, which connects us to the world, and to each other is a deep source of everything that is true and good and right.

Northrop Frye said that he had carefully arranged his life so that nothing ever happened to him. That gave him time to do what he really wanted; to read and think. What a great goal. To many it seems absurd. But it is not absurd; it is a delight. That is the way to pursue truth and beauty. That includes moral as well intellectual, artistic, musical, truth and beauty. And it’s all beautiful. And its all true.

Bernard-Henri Lévy: Nouveaux Philosophes

I spent about 45 minutes listening to a French philosopher courtesy of the CBC radio app.  The philosopher was Bernard-Henri Lévy. I had downloaded an interview with him by Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current. I had also heard him recently on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Lévy is a is a French public intellectual, philosopher, media personality and author. In Europe many just call him BHL because he is so well known. In France philosophers and artists can be rock stars. I love France! Lévy was one of the leaders of the a group started in 1976 known as “Nouveaux Philosophes” no doubt after the famous wines.  According to The Boston Globe he is “perhaps the most prominent intellectual in France today.” Famously he also said, “I am more afraid of Puritans than those who admit the weakness of the flesh.”

Sometimes we just need a French philosopher to set things right. For me, basking in the hot sun, listening to CBC radio all the way from Arizona, was one of those days. He is currently flogging his book The Empire and the 5 Kings. Based on this interview I think it would be worth a read. Being a cheap Mennonite I will wait for the paperback of course.

Apparently the 5 kings of the title of the book are 5 countries that he calls “totalitarian,” namely, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and Turkey. I think the “empire” he refers to is the United States, since Lévy lamented the fact that the US was pulling out of Europe, leaving the way open, he believes, for the 5 dictators. He admitted that the US as an empire was far from perfect, but it was much better than the 5 kings that will inevitably take its place. He may have a point.

Lévy said that the 5 Kings (I would add Trump here) have declared war on truth. He reminded us what Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda said, “I will decide who is a Jew. I will decide what is truth.” This is not unlike Donald Rumsfeld’s famous remark when he talked about the War in Iraq. Rumsfeld was George W. Bush’s Mininster of Defence who said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” This is the madness of some political  political leaders and Lévy wants to expose it.

Lévy is also critical of the Internet. He once said, “There is no better instrument for incubating idiocy than the Internet. Nowhere is this more clear than in the United States.

In the interview Lévy passionately set out his critique of contemporary political life and his philosophy: “There is a battle between wisdom and idiocy; between the courage of moderation and the cowardice of extremism, between the respect of art, and beauty, and intelligence and the idea that all these values have to be torn to pieces.” Bernard-Henri Lévy also said, “Populism is a new word for fascism. Lévy said that when he was young, in 1968, he and his friends were fighting for all the people to have access to beauty, wisdom, and truth and now the populists, or fascists, want to destroy that. When they want to eradicate the elites, they also want to rid the world of truth and beauty. That is what he is fighting against, and that is why I like him so much.

Sedona: Pursuing Truth and Beauty


We finished off the day in Sedona at Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Park, one of my favorite spots. From there you can get spectacular views of Cathedral Rock and some lovely old buildings.

The water was also pretty murky after the recent heavy rains. We were just happy that we could walk to most o four favorite spots. We could not cross the river, as it was too high and moving too fast.


I love old buildings. I was really pleased that Stef and Charli chose to visit Sedona. Any excuse to come here is all right with me. I love Sedona. Sedona is a special place. Maybe there is truth to the claims that there are spiritual vortexes here. And not just for charlatans either. Why not?


I was a little disappointed that the water was high and rushing so there was no opportunity for a great shot of Cathedral Mountain reflected in an Oak Creek puddle. Well, you can’t have it all. You gotta dance with the girl you brung.

Today we really did pursue truth and beauty. That is my retirement goal. To pursue truth and beauty every day. This life of pursuing truth and beauty is fantastic.