Thursday, December 28, 2006
The first principle to remember here is that Democrats almost never nominate the early frontrunner. Republicans almost always do.
Obama looks to me like a flash in the pan. He doesn't have the resume, and his inexperience is likely sooner or later to show. Hillary Clinton has no growth potential and too many negatives; and her support for the Iraq War will kill her with Democrats. I suspect John Edwards starts out with few enemies in the party, thanks to his upbeat run last time. Everybody's second choice: that's a good place to be. He should do well in Iowa, and he stands a good chance to clean up in the Southern primaries. Obama and Clinton may wipe each other out in the big "liberal" states.
Among Republicans, Guiliani is probably too liberal to win the nomination. He may also be rusty.
And I expect McCain to ultimately win the contest with Edwards. If Iraq goes well, as a Repuublican, he is more likely to get the credit. If, on the other hand, it goes badly from here, he is lucky enough not to be closely identified with the current administration. And he might appeal, with his military background, as a steady hand on the tiller in such a situation. Just as Eisenhower once did, or Nixon, in their day.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
In a sense it is--and this is why it is currently unpopular. It nags at us. It reminds us we are not doing as we should.
"I come not with peace, but a sword."
Not resting from mortal strife, in an Internet Cafe in Butuan, Agusan del Norte, the Philippines.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Friday, December 08, 2006
But whose mistake? America's, or Vietnam's? After all, if the Viet Minh and Viet Cong had just laid down their arms, wouldn't the country be in about the same position today--but more prosperous?
It seems to me the crucial factor that tripped the Americans up--that they did not understand, that led them to make wrong decisions--was the Asian issue of face. Even if the Vietnamese believed in the American system, face was against the Americans. And a Vietnamese will die rather than lose face.
The problem was originally with the French. Vietnam might be content to accept French tutelage so long as France had prestige internationally--so long as it had face. But when France was beaten by Germany and Japan, and had to have Vietnam handed back to it by Britain and China, it lost all face in Vietnamese eyes. For Vietnam, a return to French control would then be a terrible loss of face for Vietnam, especially in comparison to the Japanese and Chinese. Intolerable.
The US then had the misfortune and lack of savvy to back the regime France left behind. It was never going to go right with the Vietnamese. Korea was a very different story: there the Americans were clearly the victors over Japan, and so there was some prestige for Korea in accepting American patronage.
Had America understood face, they would probably have, wisely, stood back and let the French fail on their own, and bit their tongue and accepted the new Vietnamese Communist government. They could have won it over--Vietnam and China do not make natural allies.
But that was a mistake Eisenhower made. Not Johnson, not Kennedy, and not Nixon. I suspect when the chips all fall, history will see Eisenhower as a great bungler of American foreign policy.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Today I went to see the "Reunification Palace," which had been the "white house" of the presidents of South Vietnam until 1975.
I was expecting to see a display of decadence. I had been told to expect this by an Australian academic I met in Bangkok some years ago, who had just come from a tour of Vietnam. He and his family said they had been shocked by the tasteless extravagance they had seen there.
In the event, it did not really strike me as over the top at all--not for a nation's seat of government. Sure, the official halls were lush, but that's an issue of national prestige. And no lusher than, say, the halls of University of Toronto. When it came to the actual quarters of the first family, they were just three rooms--a master bedroom, one shared bedroom for the children, and a dining room. This is decadent luxury? I live in larger and more luxurious quarters; and so, I warrant, do most Australians. Certainly any Australian academics past graduate school. The president's office--the local equivalent of the "Oval Office"--was smaller than that of your typical corporate president, in my experience, or, say, that of the president of a university.
There were also, it is true, in the more public areas, a bar, a small movie theatre, and a small dance floor.
Was this over the top? I don't think so. No more than you'd see it a typical private club; which is exactly what it was, for the country's high officials. Indeed, it was no better rigged out than the average faculty club.
In other words, this Auistralian academic seems to have been criticising as wildly extravagant a lifestyle quite comparable to his own.
Leaves me wondering. Does modern higher education serve to make you blind to the real world around you? Is it actually a matter of indoctrination, something like a cult?
Or was his objection, possibly, to someone of a lower class acting uppity?
I suspect all of the above.
Friday, December 01, 2006
But this is interesting: Pinnacle Sports is taking bets online on the outcome.
This little variant of the free market, the betting pool, generally proves to be very accurate.
And the betting pool gives the best chance to Bob Rae. Stephane Dion is close behind; Ignatieff is fairly far back at third likeliest leader.
Too bad; I will be sorry not to see what Ignatieff might be like as Liberal leader.
But if I were voting, I would probably be voting, myself, for Dion.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
In the meantime, Keith Spicer a few years ago, as chair of a committee on national unity, lamented that there was not enough poetry in our sense of nationhood.
So why not write new words?
I was concerned not to knuckle under to the fashion for multiculturalism, and portray Canada as a hotel: I didn’t want one verse for Newfoundland, one for Sikhs, and so forth. That leaves Canada as nothing in itself: I think it is fatal to nationhood. Every verse had to be for every Canadian.
Here’s what I have come up with:
The Maple Leaf Forever
(new words to the old tune)
No sap may rise,
The leaves may fall,
The winds may whip like leather;
Yet still on winter nights recall
The maple leaf forever.
The shining sea
Dims off BC:
We watch the darkness gather.
Yet soon the dawn’s off old St. John’s:
The maple leaf forever.
Brave Fox might fall
On roads unrun--
We’ll win this race together.
Ten million feet all rise as one--
The maple leaf forever.
From Vimy Ridge
To Stanley strand,
Red blooms anoint strange heather.
Beneath stone crosses lies each man
With maple leaves forever.
All blazes gone,
We portage on,
From known to unknown river.
What can’t we do if North is true?
The maple leaf forever.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
This is a Nazi propaganda picture from the thirties. Note that the rap against the Jews was essentially the same rap used against WASP males today: they are portrayed as wealthy and advantaged. The illustration on the left shows the "typical" Jewish family: a bunch of rich capitalist pigs. On the right is the "typical" Aryan German family: poor and proletarian.
Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.
Contrasting that with the near-unanimous vote in the Commons shows, once again, that Canada has a ruling class with its own agenda that is heedless of the opinion of the mass of Canadians. “Like being in the court of Bourbon kings,” Coyne suggests. As with Meech Lake, something’s gotta give.
My suspicion is that, this time, it’s going to split the Liberals. The contrast, after all, is most dramatic there: 72% of Liberals nationwide reject Quebec as a nation. A lot of Liberals are Liberals because of Pierre Trudeau, and his doctrine of federalism. Imagine, now, Michael Ignatieff getting the leadership, with his strong support of the idea. Or, for that matter, Bob Rae, almost as supportive, and identified more or less with the Chretien wing of the party. With the factionalism already evident, after years of feuds between Chretienites and Martinites, the temptation may be very strong for some to either sit on their hands next election, or walk away, or start their own party.
An interesting possibility: what if Ignatieff’s vote actually goes down on the second ballot? It could happen. Delegates are pledged for one ballot only. Ignatieff’s campaign has had troubles since delegate selection. The “nation” issue is an emotional one, the sort of issue that, for some, trumps all others. What if his vote actually goes down?
A rumour has it that the rival Rae and Ignatieff camps are so afraid of Dion that they will tell some of their supporters to vote for Kennedy on the first two ballots, to make sure that he is ahead of Dion on the crucial third. Interesting, but risky, strategy. With the “nation” issue, Kennedy may see a late rally to his side anyway. So what happens if he does much better on the first and second ballots than anticipated, while Ignatieff’s vote actually goes down?
Ignatieff speaks last at the convention. In this fluid situation, the speeches could be crucial, and speaking last is a big advantage. If Ignatieff can pull off a good performance, it could make a big difference.
nation - noun; a large body of people united by common descent, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.
nation: 1 a (1) : NATIONALITY
nationality: 5 a : a people having a common origin, tradition, and language and capable of forming or actually constituting a nation-state b : an ethnic group constituting one element of a larger unit (as a nation )
It’s hard to see what the controversy is: by my reading, Francophone Quebeckers are indeed a nation by the most common definition. They share a common descent, a common language, and a common culture, and they inhabit a particular territory. They are theoretically capable of forming a state; the whole referendum issue assumes that. Yet there is no reason to believe this involves recognition of some particular political status: the nation-state is only one possible form of state.
So I did not see in advance the firestorm Ignatieff would unleash with his support for the concept of Quebeckers as a nation. Probably for the same reason: I’ve been out of the country for a while.
In any case, it’s now with us. And the very suddenness of the vote in parliament, plus the near-unanimity among the political class, was sinister. It reminds us again that Canada is a very class-ridden society, that the country’s elite assumes it always knows best, and does not trust or feel a need to respect popular opinion.
It was fast footwork on the constitution very much like this that led, I think, to the split of the PCs and the rise of the Reform movement. I would have hoped we had learned better. I would have hoped Stephen Harper were smarter than that.
Perhaps this time, though, from the looks of it, it will be the Liberal Party that splits.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Now, we have a live professor, plus a textbook. Soon, we will also have canned lectures from the leading expert, or most inspiring teacher, in each topic. Not to mention great multimedia demonstrations, as in this clip of Hans Rosling. I think the classroom will survive, because we enjoy doing things in groups; but it will be open to the world.
And graduate school will be a worldwide email discussion group.
Dion’s opportunity depended on his alliance with Kennedy, and with surpassing Kennedy by the third ballot. But now Kennedy, by coming out against the “nation” concept, may attract a lot of last-minute votes, as the only candidate keeping the Trudeauvian faith.
Leaving Bob Rae, Stephane Dion, Gerard Kennedy, and Michael Ignatieff with, to my eye, just about equal chances at this moment.
Nothing better for a politics junkie than such a good old fashioned open convention. Sadly, I'll be in the air somewhere between the Persian Gulf and the Far East as the first ballot votes come in.
I wish Canada luck.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
But I love that town, and the whole region of western Leed’s County. It is, physically, one of the most beautiful places on earth. And the people are even better: primarily Irish by ethnicity, really a southern tongue of the larger grouping called “the Valley.” They are warm, funny, down-to-earth, independent-minded, and honest.
They are my people.
I recently found this list of Valleyisms on Wikipedia. They caused me a warm wave of nostalgia. Although I don’t think I ever actually spoke the Ottawa Valley accent as my native tongue, for some reason, I switch into it without thinking whenever I am talking to anyone else whose own accent varies widely from standard American English. I guess it’s my second accent. When I do it with anyone from the British Isles, they are convinced I’m from Ireland.
• Sledin' - to go snowmobiling
• g'day - good day, hello
• Get'er - To go after it
• Got'er - You know you are going to come out on top
• Boot Scoot - To go somewhere
• Let her Whistle - to go fast
• Let her dance- To go fast
• cairp - carp, either the fish or the town of Carp
(Od: this one rings false. Of course it’s cairp. That’s just the correct vowel sound. Same as cair for car or ciaw for cow.)
• lad - person, neighbour
(Od: I dissent; you cannot call a female a “lad.” For women or for mixed groups, you must say “guys.” There is no singular form. If speaking of only one woman, you must simply use her nickname—“fat Cathy,” “fast Susan,” “dark-eyed Molly,” or “Black Jade.”)
• pie-eyed - drunk
• are ya dry? - are you drunk?
• pinned - to be drunk
• tuned - to be drunk
• pin 'er! - go faster!
• Givn'er! - Faster
• Smoked - To be hit hard
• Slammed - Drunk
• Pritnear - Nearly
• Shinin'er - Masturbating
• Hick - "Red-neck" Canadians, The people or farmers who inhabit the Ottawa valley or live in the region of Killaloe
• Hammed - Drunk
• Pulling your Goalie - Masturbating
• Hamboned - Drunk
• Loaded - Drunk
• Plastered - Drunk
• It's a far piece - it's far from here
• Hoofn'r - To walk somewhere
• Pitch Dark - It's very dark
• Pitch Black - It's very dark
• Unthaw - intended to mean to thaw something out
• Work'n it - To show off
• Kittle - regional accent to describe a kettle
• Feeling the flow
• Yous guys- Applying to more than one person
• the Ottawa Valley "2 Step" - to stagger wildly while intoxicated
• give'r - try it, or, give it your best
• Git 'r dun! - Get it done, or, carry on
• Boot'r - To run or escape from a compromising situation
• muddin - To drive a truck (usually 4x4) through an extremely muddy area for excitment
• 4by - Any truck with four wheel drive
(Od: I remember this one as “fer be fer.” That “e” in “be” is what is called by linguists a schwa.)
• up the line a tad - To be north or nothwest of the current location
(Od: you can also be down the line—generally, in Gananoque, in the direction of flow of the nearest river. Same as upriver or downriver.)
• gettin' a lil funny there? - getting high, smoking a joint
(Od: this one’s new to me.)
• geno- to score a goal
• hack a dart - smoke a cigarette
Certain words are often pronounced differently, for instance:
• coo'cumb'r - cucumber
(Od: I’ve never heard this.)
• patadas - potatoes
• melk - milk
The Ottawa Valley is affectionately known by both young and old as 'The Valley." Another term used mainly in the Ottawa Valley is Der or Derr- for the use of the word there as in Get over derr
End of quote from Wikipedia.
More Ottawa Valleyisms I think they’ve missed:
- “didn’t hardly” means “yes, a lot.”
- “tamarrah” for “tomorrow”
- “Sa’erdei” for “Saturday.”
- “weasel” is someone who does something cunning and sneaky; but said in ironic praise.
- “chips” for “french fries.”
- “chips ‘n gravy” – even better.
- “run like the wind” – run fast.
- “the back forty” – any relatively inaccessible field.
I'm hoping other Valleyites may be able to add more examples.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Walt Disney is the obvious example. Steve Jobs, of Apple and Pixar, is another. Thomas Edison, P.T. Barnum, Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner—all these men are artists. They ought to be understood as such, and, for the sake of future generations, ought to be held up to the young as models. They should be considered culture heroes.
Worse, the Marxist blindness makes us largely incapable of distinguishing such creative entrepreneurship from the real robber barons, the Carnegies and the Gateses. I hear the same rumblings against Google now that we used to hear about Microsoft. But Google has genuinely improved the world, while Microsoft has really only benefited Bill Gates. We ought to be wise enough to tell the difference.
Besides changing the world, and being a thing of beauty to watch, creative entrepreneurship can benefit everybody. This seems to be difficult to grasp, but I don’t know why it should be. People assume that, if Wal-Mart is wildly successful, they must be underpaying their employees—if they are getting richer, someone else must be getting poorer. If McDonalds is able to sell a burger for less than anyone else, they must be using worm meat. Either the employees must be being cheated, or the customers, for a business to succeed.
But this is a fallacy. Worse; it is the opposite of the truth. Business is not robbery. A good business deal can easily benefit all involved—it almost has to, in order to work.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
But they seem unable to account for this. Why would business fund a stance that is publicly anti-business?
Part of the answer is here:
“Some-usually larger businesses-might actually benefit as their competitors suffer more from regulations.”
Exactly. Big business benefits from regulations. They raise start-up costs and difficulties for potential competitors. In effect, they enforce a cartel of those already in the market. So big business has every reason to support left-wing causes; and does. Small business and entrepreneurs, conversely, will oppose them—and do.
But this is not the only reason. As the article notes, “that does not explain why a group representing Europe's entire chemical industry supports a regulation when it may put many of its members out of business”—i.e., the smaller fry.
And this, the article cannot explain.
But this is simple to understand once one is aware of the existence of a self-interested professional class. It stands to reason that, the more complicated business becomes, the greater a market there is for the skills of this class, regardless of the particular corporations involved.
And it is, of course, this professional class that makes the decisions in almost all businesses. They have a vested interest, as a class, in greater regulation.
And the “capitalists,” far from being the ruling class, are powerless. Their own money is being spent against their interests.
Monday, November 20, 2006
The principle is simple: as nations develop, and their people become richer, they stop cutting down as much timber. The turning point is a GDP of $4,600 per person per year.
This means, of course, that efforts to stop deforestation by limiting development are entirely counter-productive for trees--in addition to the human misery they cause.
BBC has the story.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Do our departed relatives help us from heaven?
Your Old Men Shall Dream Dreams
We will have jobs to do in heaven. Partly, this can be deduced by the nature of heaven, partly from the nature of the created world. Surely heaven would not really be heaven if we were cut off from all that we loved in this world. Nor could most of us be happy with directionless idleness. A vision of eternal idleness is no vision of heaven.
And, if this world were merely something to be left and forgotten, why would God have created it? Does he create anything in vain? No, we know that this world as a whole is bound for redemption, at the end of time.
Therefore it follows that the souls in heaven do not leave it entirely, but are still intimately involved with it, working along with those of us still here to perfect it at the end of time.
So the saints act as intercessors, in a way familiar to any Catholic. And remember, anyone who has died and gone to heaven is a saint. Therefore, if your ancestors are in heaven, it follows that they can intercede for you. This includes the possible ability to perform miracles on your behalf.
Saints are understood to have special spheres of interest: they are patrons of this and that. An architect in life will be considered a special patron of other architects. A Frenchman will be considered a special intercessor for the French.
And so saints might well assume special concern and care for members of their own family. It would be the expected thing.
The only problem is that we cannot be certain that family members are in heaven; if they are still in purgatory, it is we who can help them, not the other way around. The only people we can be certain are in heaven are those officially declared so by the Church, because on this the Church is understood to be infallible.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
"For too long, liberals have been claiming they are the most virtuous members of American society. Although they usually give less to charity, they have nevertheless lambasted conservatives for their callousness in the face of social injustice."
This is not a bad idea—depopulation is a pending crisis throughout the developed world, and something must be done.
But surely the money should go to the Dad? He’s the one who pays the bills, after all, in most families. And doing it this way might keep families together. Dad might hang around for the sake of the money, and so might Mom.
And should single women who bear three children without a father earn the money? After all, this could then encourage poor women to have children without Dads for the money—to the detriment of the children.
In somewhat related news: Ignatieff has criticized Stephen Harper for presuming to lecture China on Human rights, calling China a “superpower of the 21st century.” I think that, like most experts, he’s wrong here. China may be growing like blazes now, but there are obvious limits to its growth.
China has stopped making people. Thanks largely to vigorous government action, its birth rate ha dropped well below replacement level long before this tends to happen in developed countries.
This means China is likely to follow the same cycle as Japan: growing rapidly to a point, then going into dead stall as it runs out of productive workers. Worse, it will hit this point at a lower level of development than Japan. Worse still, unlike America and, to a lesser extent, Europe, Chinese culture is not built to manage immigration. It cannot make up this declining birthrate by letting in people from elsewhere. And worse still, China has some structural problems, such as lack of transparency and lack of rule of law, that still need to be fixed. The lack of these may mean that China’s development is largely done with mirrors, and might come crashing down. The need for these, and long delay in implementing them, may mean a big bump on the road ahead, with economic setbacks.
More broadly, the impending shortage of people should be factored more carefully into everyone’s calculations. UN figures currently suggest the population of the world will top out around 2050, and then begin to decline. As this happens, the shortage of workers will become a critical development factor.
For example, Spain’s record growth recently has a lot to do with the ready availability of immigrants from Latin America. Because the language is the same and the culture very similar, they can integrate quickly. The same large pool of immigrants also helps the US.
Make no mistake: people have always been our most precious resource.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I think this has to be because he is by his very nature the most mysterious member of the team.
He was present at the creation. Genesis 1:2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” As Jesus, the Logos, is the embodiment of the Law, the Holy Spirit has spoken through the Prophets; he is the spirit of prophecy. If we see the Father as the Creator, and Jesus as the Logos, the structure of creation, then the Holy Spirit is the Pneuma, the vital spark, the principle of movement and change.
All three seem logically necessary to creation. If one thinks only of the Father or Creator, then one faces a logical impossibility. If God created the universe, then he changed. Before he created the universe, he was not a creator. After he created the universe, he was a creator. If God can change, then surely he is not eternal. Nor can he, apparently, be perfect—before he created, was he not necessarily incomplete? After he created, was he not, necessarily, lesser, as he was no longer all?
To solve this paradox, it seems necessary to posit two “persons” of God, one eternal and the other changeable. If the former “eternally begets” the latter, i.e., is always in the act of creating him, then the former remains eternal. But the latter can then possess the capacity to change and become lesser. Creation is then mediated through him.
But then there is necessarily a third thing that is also eternal, and coexistent with the Father and the Son, is there not? There is the begetting, the act. This, by its nature, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” From their very being, it must be.
So it seems logically necessary to posit the Holy Spirit, were he not given to us by the scriptures. There, as noted, he is first seen moving eternally over the waters: the spirit of change. Much later, he appears as a flame above the heads of the apostles at Pentecost; flame too speaks of change. It is the paradigm of transformation.
He is also present, of course, each time we make the sign of the cross; and this seems suggestive. On the word “father,” we point to our forehead—the Father corresponds in us to our intelligence or mind. “Son,” we touch our chest at about the midpoint—he is the incarnation, corresponding to our physical being. And for “Holy Spirit,” we point to either shoulder in turn: he is the active principle, the principle of doing; our temporal being. As the spirit of time or change, he is also naturally the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of the future. As the future is to us mysterious, so is he.
In terms of our lives as Christians, the role of the Holy Spirit is both mysterious and crucial. He is the being that actually transforms us. He brings the charismata, as in “charisma.” These are very cool. They are what the charismatic movement has been on about.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Mistake. Inevitably, his American Government class was taught by a doctrinaire left-winger. This was the final exam:
"Dye and Zeigler contend that the Constitution of the United States was not `ordained and established' by `the people' as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who were representative of powerful economic and political interests. Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded the majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America's elite interest."
Bravely, the student wrote an essay that defended the US Constitution. This, of course, was not an option, or an opinion, his professor had allowed him. The prof refused to grade the essay. Instead he told the student to seek psychotherapy. Indeed, he threatened to go to the Dean of International Admissions and demand this. The student feared his student visa might be revoked.
He contacted the local media.
The professor then filed a complaint with the college’s human rights board, claiming the student had harassed him by talking to the press.
The most disturbing thing in the whole story, to my mind, is the gobsmacking hypocrisy of the professor—claiming the US constitution was elitist while he is a member of the same elite, and himself eager to use his power and privilege to bully any comer. A classic pharisee.
Who really was responsible for the US Constitution? A convention, but all elected by popular vote. That professor might object that suffrage in those days was less universal than it is now: with women and blacks not voting, these people technically represented a minority, only about forty percent of the adult population.
About the same proportion who voted in the recent US midterm elections.
Sketches of the actual delegates, recorded by one of them at the time, may be found here.
Abraham Baldwin: major qualification seems to be that he graduated from Harvard.
Dayton, "a good education."
Dickinson, "a scholar."
Ellsworth, a judge.
Few, a lawyer.
Franklin, "the greatest philosopher of this present age."
Hamilton, "reputed to be a finished scholar."
Houston, a lawyer.
Ingersoll, "well educated in the Classics."
Johnson, "one of the first [in] Classics in America."
King, "good classical as well as legal knowledge."
Livingston , "extensiveness of his education and genius."
Madison, "blends together the profound politician with the scholar."
Morris, lawyer, “acquainted to all the sciences."
Paterson, "a classic, a lawyer."
Pinckney, “intimately acquainted with all species of polite learning."
Cotesworth Pinckney, "very extensive degree of legal knowledge."
Randolph, “all the accomplishments of the Scholar”
Read, lawyer and judge.
Rutledge, “bred to the law.”
Strong, a lawyer.
Williamson, “a gentleman of education.”
Wilson, “among the foremost in legal and political knowledge.”
Wythe, professor of law, College of William and Mary.
That’s 35 apparent members of the educated professional class; out of 53. There seems to be a larger representation of merchants that one would see in the present Congress; but this may simply be due to a relative lack of professionals. When a member is well educated, this is apparently cited as his main qualification to be there. And educated professionals do form the clear majority.
So the professor is a member of the elite class he describes as forming the US Constitution. And, were the Constitutional Convention held today, he might well be a member.
Let’s go a bit further, and acknowledge that the professional class has always been the elite; this has not changed throughout history. Marxism is no more than a smokescreen to conceal this fact. In the French Estates-General, which ruled France before the Revolution, who was the First Estate? No, it was not the big landowners. It was the King plus the clergy, which is to say, at the time, the educated class. The landowners were the Second Estate, the bourgeoisie lumped with the peasants in the Third.
Similarly, in India’s caste system, who was the highest caste? The Brahmins—the educated, priestly, class. Nobles were second, merchants third.
You can trace this all the way back to hunter-gather societies: authority is commonly split between a war chief and a shaman, the latter’s authority based on his knowledge of the tribal lore. Who outranks whom varies.
In the French Revolution, the old clerical profession was simply replaced by a new, secular profession—the lawyers. But the same class remained in charge. In the American Revolution, American lawyers replaced British lawyers. In the Russian Revolution, or the Chinese, the professional class got rid of the landowners and bourgeoisie altogether, not to mention the clergy, and got to rule with no checks, balances, or restraints. No wonder Marxism is most popular among the professional class. It is their ultimate model: absolute power, corrupting absolutely.
The professional, educated class is the elite by simple dictionary definition. Oxford, “1 a group of people regarded as the best in a particular society or organization.” Webster’s, “1. d : a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence.” Note that the word actually comes from the Middle English for “a person elected to office” (Random House). Who gets elected to office? Overwhelmingly, in Canada or the US or anywhere in Europe, educated professionals.
This makes educated professionals the ruling class: Random House, “the class of people exerting power or authority.” They not only run government and the civil service; they run big business. The decisions in corporations are made by MBAs.
While the old landowning class’s titles have now been banned in many countries, and have no legal standing in most others, the professional class’s titles are preserved, and still enforced by the state. Titles like “Dr.,” “Professor,” P. Eng,” “C.A.” The old landowning class, and the bourgeoisie, may have to go through the same courts as the proletariat or the peasantry; but the professional class has its own courts, and special privileges in others. They are judged by their peers in their professional associations. In the regular courts, they can claim special rights to testify or not to testify. While merchants or capitalists are prohibited by law from meeting together and coordinating their business interests, professionals have the absolute right to do this--and even to have their decisions enforced in the courts. They can fix fees, defend monopolies, restrict competition, discipline dissent.
Let’s look at prestige. Harris has a poll claiming to determine what jobs Americans consider most prestigious. The Top Ten: scientist, doctor, firefighter, teacher, military officer, nurse, police officer, clergy, congressman, engineer. I count seven or eight professions, “congressman” being ambiguous. Two are working class occupations. “Merchant” or “entrepreneur” do not appear.
Again, in any list of the best-paying jobs, the top five are medical specialties.
Having a ruling class is not all that terrible; there are arguments for it. Plato had some in the Republic. But when a ruling class tries to pretend it is not the ruling class—that’s sinister. That speaks of fraud.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Not because the Democrats gained ground; they are really the conservative party. I use “liberal” in its proper, traditional sense: believers in small government and in individual liberties.
Here’s why: historically, if the Democrats control both the White House and Congress, the size and scope of government grows. Conversely, if the Republicans control both the White House and Congress—the size and scope of government grows. The highest rate of growth in US government expenditure over the past forty years was under Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic congress—4.6%. The second-highest rate of growth in US government expenditure over the past forty years was under—George W. Bush.
Conversely, the two lowest rates of government growth were under Bill Clinton and Bush Sr.—both facing opposition Congresses. The president vetoes the profligate bills from the other side. His own profligate bills do not get passed. Everybody wins.
Interestingly, it works the opposite way in Canada: minority governments tend to be the biggest spenders. This is thanks to the NDP, as the inevitable informal partner. We are unlucky in this way.
In fact, this alone might account, over time, for the significant political differences between the US, on the one hand, and Canada and Europe, on the other. The US system is built so that, in case of disagreement among the people, the default is less government and less spending. A parliamentary multi-party system, as favoured in Canada and Europe, is built so that, in case of disagreement among the people, the default is more government and more spending.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Andrew Coyne clinically dissects Michael Ignatieff’s definition of Quebec as a nation today and makes Ignatieff look positively muddled in his thinking.
It’s a thing of beauty, a good Coyne column. It is not that Ignatieff is not extremely bright, either. It’s that Coyne is even brighter.
Lorne Gunter theorizes recently in the Post that Ignatieff, who almost had the race tied up, has now blown it with his gaffes. Just rookie inexperience, perhaps, but it does remind folks he’s a rookie, and may need more practice before he’s ready for party leadership. As a frontrunner, there is the danger that all his most likely supporters are already behind him, and those who are not currently backing him may be scared off by his gaffes or, indeed, horrified by what he appears (and only appears, I believe) to have said: that Quebec is a nation, that Israel is guilty of war crimes, that the deaths of Palestinians are not worth losing sleep over, that he will not stay in the party if he does not like the new leader, that torture is useful…
Then there's Bob Rae, a bit ahead of the pack among his rivals. Yet Bob Rae has his own serious negatives. A while back, when he seemed to be getting some momentum, this seemed to be killed quickly by increased media focus. It becomes apparent, most notably, that the Conservatives could have a lot of fun referring to his record in Ontario. Another issue is that, as I noted here, Rae looks a bit like the Chretien candidate, which alienates Martinites and resalts old wounds.
Which leaves—Stephane Dion. It seems to be his turn for a boomlet. Latest polls suggest he has the most growth potential. He is running fourth in delegates, but a close fourth. And where was Joe Clark on the first ballot back when he first won the PC leadership? Where was Dalton McGuinty?
Fourth can work. Fourth keeps you out of the firing line until the strategic moment.
Those who crave in Ignatieff an intellectual leader, a second Pierre Trudeau, could be happy with Dion. They lose nothing with him on that score. Those who want the political experience of a Rae also lose nothing with Dion. Those who fear reopening the Constitution can feel secure with him. He would alienate neither Martinites nor Chretienites.
Rumour has it that there is a deal between Dion and Kennedy: whoever is ahead on the third ballot, the other comes to him. If true, this works hugely in Dion’s favour. If he has the greater growth potential, he is more likely to be ahead on the third ballot. So Kennedy comes to him. Unless Ignatieff or Rae is very close at this moment, or unless one of them goes to the other at about the same time, this could give crucial momentum at a crucial moment.
Why does it work for Kennedy? Because he probably can’t get the leadership himself. His French is not good enough, and his support in Quebec is not good enough. This matters, because the Liberals just cannot do without Quebec. On the other hand, if he is kingmaker for Dion, he probably gets to be his Anglophone lieutenant and heir apparent, meanwhile dusting up his French for the next round. Dion needs someone in this capacity—his own English is not stellar.
Of course, many things could go wrong with this scenario. If Dion instead goes to Kennedy, I think they both go down. It might not get as far as a third ballot. Someone may get cold feet at the last moment, as happened with Hellyer and Winters back in '68. A brilliant speech at the convention could change the math. Or a sudden endorsement—Brison going to Ignatieff on the eve of the convention, for example.
Ignatieff may well still pull it out. But Dion's chances are looking better than they were a few months ago.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I have a personal interest here: my wife is Filipina, and though my son is a Canadian citizen, born in Canada, we were hoping to arrange dual citizenship for him. This would involve obvious benefits: he could own property in the Philippines, as non-citizens cannot, and still go to university in Canada at the lower local tuition.
But fair is fair. Dual citizenship means that there are two classes of Canadian, something that should be anathema in a democracy like Canada. It is, in effect, a colonial arrangement, with Canada the colonized.
As I have urged here before, dual citizenship should be ended.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Watching the film, I could not help feeling, personally, that this result, true to life as it no doubt was, was a travesty of justice and of humanity. The notion that his doctor had more claim to him than his family nauseated me. The assumption that an institution could do better for someone disabled than a caring family seemed madness. And not just any institution—one a continent away from his surviving family, so that he would get no visits. Nobody would check on his welfare—everything was left to the trustworthy doctor.
Further, it seemed obviously unjust to have a dispute between a layman and a doctor decided by another doctor—with whom there had obviously been prior communications, professional to professional. It reeked of power and privilege, not to say corruption.
All of this was compounded, mind, by my own conviction that the medical profession really have no idea what they are doing with an autistic savant—what business do physicians have dealing with mental, which is to say spiritual, phenomena? What business do they have making critical life decisions for someone obviously more intelligent than they are?
Nevertheless, taking care not to reveal my own feelings, I asked my class whether they thought the ending was right—whether Raymond Babbitt was better off going back to the institution. I was hoping for some kind of discussion of the philosophical issues.
But, without discussion, every single one of them said it was not. They could not conceive of any justification for what actually happened in the movie.
Of course, this is not real life, but the writers presumably selected it as, in their minds, the most plausible outcome. Nor did Western audiences apparently feel that it was unrealistically gloomy—despite their notorious preference for happy endings.
In this, as in not a few other things, Western culture is on the wrong road. For all the shouting on both sides, for all the wearying prejudice, the Arab and the Muslim world does have things to teach us. And I fear we are not listening carefully enough.
Monday, November 06, 2006
It is a bit surprising that there are still Marxists around. Haven’t they heard? It’s not just that the Berlin Wall has fallen, that the Communist experiment has been declared a failure in Russia, Eastern Europe and, de facto, China. I mean that Marx has been conclusively disproved in theory as well as in practice. Science lives and dies on reproducible results, and Marx claimed to be scientific. And Marx’s predictions have been completely wrong. Wealth has not become more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands; the proletariat has not grown larger and larger, and ever poorer. More or less the opposite has happened since his time. In developed countries, the proletariat is now much smaller, the grand capitalist class has disappeared, and it is the professional “middle class” that has grown. A class Marx did not even realize existed.
So why this odd and touching faith, by those who should be well-educated, in a theory that is now about as credible, on the face of it, as the idea that the earth is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth?
But more than that; it ought to be morally difficult to be Marxist. After all, few would admit today to being Fascists, certainly not educated professionals in polite company. Yet Marxism is, as we have pointed out before in this space, more or less the same thing. Fascism was one interpretation of Marx; and in practice, Hitler was quite literally no worse than Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot. Stalin and Mao killed more people than Hitler did, and Pol Pot holds the record for highest percentage of a country’s population. Hitler is considered evil incarnate; yet people like my friend still seem to remember Mao, at least, quite fondly.
The only real difference between Comintern Marxism and its Fascist variant is that Fascism identified the various classes in racial terms. The grand bourgeoisie was, for the Nazis, essentially Jewish. The Italian race was, for Mussolini, essentially proletarian.
But is it really more moral to kill millions because of their supposed class than for their supposed race?
Indeed, even if it were, the identification of race with class keeps resurfacing. For American Marxists, for example, white Anglo males seem to be racially and sexually “bourgeois,” just as were the Jews. Poor white males are not worthy of the same socialist support as poor black women.
The error is the same, and it is deceptively attractive. Both Fascism and Marxism feign morality by talking of solidarity and of putting away selfish aims. But they limit this supposed altruism to members of one’s own class or race. This is in the end no more moral than pure selfishness—only more harmful. It is merely egotism speaking in chorus, and carrying a bigger stick. And the necessary corollary to its mock brotherhood is the need to crush Samaritans.
True morality, like Christianity, makes clear that one’s solidarity must extend beyond class and race; that all men are brothers.
This same error shows up in many forms. Feminism calls for solidarity only with one’s own sex. Same callousness, same inhumanity, same result: the abortion holocaust. “Islamism” (which is not true Islam) calls for solidarity only with one’s co-religionists. “Kaffirs” one is free to kill. Same error, same inhumanity, same result.
And more: “family values.” Just another form of the same error. An extreme adherence to one’s own family is just as wrong as to one’s race, nation, or class. Nepotism is a serious problem is many parts of the world. For if this is morality, Eve never sinned. She was not thinking only of herself, after all, in taking the apple. She was thinking of Adam as well. She wanted her entire family to “be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Self over other is merely the second generation of the same sin.
Marxism is this same sin. It invites everyone to put the interests of their class ahead of the interests of all mankind. It does this in part by arguing, “this is simply the way things are; everybody else is doing this.” But that is the same argument Fascism uses. Even if true, two wrongs never made a right.
Why does it remain so attractive to a certain group? Because, like fascism, feminism, and “family values,” it is a wonderful alibi. It can allow you to do whatever is best for you and yours while claiming morality—and believing one is moral is, in the end, a basic human need.
Of course, Marxism holds little or no attraction to the proletariat—the “rednecks,” to use the current Marxist slang. Rednecks mostly vote conservative. They are the declared enemy of the modern Marxist. Even if Marxism were true, it would be of no value to the proletariat. They have no power and no influence, and Marxism can’t give it to them even if it wanted to. Being powerless, naturally their main concern is to get government to leave them alone. They dislike Marxism because Marxism is conspicuously against doing this.
Who are the Marxists? The group it attracts is an elite: the educated classes. Indeed, this is the elite, throughout history. Despite Marxist claims, they have always ruled. This, the group my friend belongs to, is the same group that, in India, is called the Brahmins, the highest caste. In China, they are called Mandarins, and they have always run the Chinese government. In ancient Israel they were the scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees; in ancient Greece, the sophists. The well-educated professionals. My Marxist friend is a well-educated professional from a wealthy family. So was Marx himself.
These are the Marxists; and these have always been the Marxists, from Marx through Lenin and Mao and Pol Pot and Che Guevara to my friend and the professional association he helped found.
While useless to the proletariat, Marxism is fantastically useful to this ruling elite. Most importantly, it diverts the finger of blame. It denies that this ruling elite is the ruling elite, and posits instead some shadowy “capitalist class.” Which, if it never actually existed, was always supposed to appear in the near future if we weren’t all very careful. Kind of like global warming. Nothing unites behind the present leadership like a common enemy.
Marxism helpfully gives this elite permission to grab all the power and money they want, while claiming to be the good guys and demonizing their opponents. Professional associations, for example, can pursue the interests of their members against all comers, and claim it is somehow for the greater good. They are merely protecting the unwashed against the evil capitalists. They must be strong and wealthy in order to do that.
It’s a great gig. Too good to give up just because it has been objectively disproved. That’s quite beside the point.
Not that I believe my friend, or most of the folks in the professions who are Marxists, are consciously and cynically doing this. Most of them are perfectly decent people; good Germans. All they know, I suspect, is that by thinking this way they can feel good about themselves, and are getting what they want. They have not thought it through—albeit they may not want to think it through, and may be unreasonably hostile to any suggestion that their theory is false. For if they actually see it to be false, they lose the good feeling that they are behaving morally.
Hence the hostility.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Let’s consider, if we may, the great genocides of history.
Or at least, of the 20th century, because it is the golden age of genocide, because it offers us the most reliable figures, and because it suggests what is a current clear and present danger.
Here are the figures of R.J. Rummel, who has specialized in trying to come up with hard figures:
- Mao: 77 million killed. Atheist government.
- USSR: 62 million killed. Atheist government.
- Hitler: 21 million killed. Atheist/neo-paganist government.
- Pol Pot: 4 million killed, out of a total population of 7 million. According to Guinness, the worst genocide ever on a per capita basis. Atheist government.
- Imperial Japan: 3-10 million. Shamanist (Shinto) government.
- Armenian Massacre: 4.3 million, Armenians and others. Partly under a Muslim government, but secularist movement (Young Turks). Mostly under an aggressively secularist government.
- Polish expulsion of Germans: 2 million. Atheist government.
- North Korea: 1.6 million. Atheist government.
- Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh: 1.5 million. Muslim secularist government.
- Revolutionary Mexico: 1.4 million. Atheist (Marxist) government.
- Tsarist Russia: 1 million. Christian government.
Is there perhaps a pattern forming here? Let’s see; I count:
- Atheists: 7
- Muslims: 2 (both secularist governments)
- Shamanists: 1
- Christians: 1
Seems striking to me. It is not as if atheist governments form anything like that proportion of total governments in the 20th century. Indeed, it even seems proper to say that genocide, while otherwise rare, is a defining feature of atheist governments.
For earlier periods, figures are far less certain. A few of the biggest seem to be:
- Genghiz Khan. 30 million. Atheist/shamanist government.
- Taiping Rebellion. 12 million. Confucian/Buddhist government. Because this happened only in the mid-nineteenth century, figures are fairly reliable.
The worst massacre in history in which Christianity figured prominently seems to be the Thirty Years war: estimated by R.J. Rummel at 6 million killed.
And note that this is not unambiguously religious in nature either: “Catholic” France fought on the “Protestant” side.
Looking at the record, I think I’d rather try my chances with an overtly Christian government than with any New Agers or atheists. The great advantage of a Christian government is that it allows an objective check on the morality of its actions.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Let’s take a look. For we have had enough women in power, here and there, that a statistical sample is probably possible.
Let’s check that record:
Margaret Thatcher – war with Argentina.
Indira Gandhi – war with Pakistan.
Mrs. Bandaranaike – civil war.
Golda Meir – war with Egypt and Syria.
Catherine the Great – war with the Ottoman Empire, Poland-Lithuania, Sweden; not to mention deposing her husband.
Queen Anne – “Queen Anne’s War,” against France and Spain.
Queen Elizabeth I – war with Spain, Ireland, annexation of Scotland.
Queen Mary – war with France, religious persecutions-“Bloody Mary.”
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – not significantly involved in war—albeit insurrections in the southern Philippines, which had seemed to be resolved under Ramos, continue. Deposed predecessor.
Let’s keep going, shall we?
Cleopatra — civil war with Rome.
Tzu-Hsi, dowager empress of China – war with Japan, civil war.
Zenobia – war with Rome.
Christina of Sweden – no wars while ruling Sweden. On the other hand, she did try later to seize power in both Naples and Poland.
Maria Theresa of Austria – War of the Austrian Succession, Seven Years’ War with Prussia.
Empress Irene of Byzantium – war with the Franks, Slavs, Arabs. Deposed and blinded her own son.
Catherine de Medici – French Wars of Religion.
It seems to me there’s a pattern forming here.
I submit that any similar random list of men in power would look at least somewhat more peaceful. Women seem, if anything, by nature more partisan, less inclined to compromise, than men. This may come from a biological tendency of animal mothers to fiercely defend children.
This may, indeed, be why it is in most parts of the world considered wisest to leave political power to the men. Men, being the ones obliged to go out and get killed in a war, are probably naturally less inclined to start one.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
For suppose everyone can just deal with God on their own? Then suppose, a friend asks, a voice in your head claiming to be God one day tells you to kill someone?
For after all, it is the plain truth that God has the right to kill. He kills everyone. Remember the story of Abraham and Isaac. So how do you know it is not God?
But, on the other hand, there are many spirits. How does one at the same time avoid Eve’s error, taking Satan instead of God as authoritative? Or believing a mere hallucination? I had a good friend who was schizophrenic, and he often heard a metallic voice claiming to be God ordering him to jump off his apartment balcony, or in front of a subway train.
Accordingly, we need checks and balances. Possible individual revelation must be tested against some standard. In other words, we need some kind of organized religion.
We must “test the spirits,” as St. Paul says. For Catholics, any supposed “voice” that tells us to violate the Ten Commandments, or the Golden Rule, or established morals or doctrine, or reason, or the Bible, or to deny Jesus Christ, is thereby known not to be the voice of God.
Other organized religions, no doubt, have their own tests, developed from the experiences of those who have gone before. This is not a game: there is life and death, and worse than death, in the balance.
And among religions, it is to Catholicism’s great credit, it seems to me, not just that it has stood for so long the test of time, but that it adheres so faithfully to doctrine and morals, to the testing of spirits. So much so that, rather than ever striking out anew, even at its inception it took pains to incorporate and test itself against earlier scriptures: its Bible incorporates the Jewish Bible. No other major religion does, and that makes them, I think, relatively less trustworthy. They admit less objective checking of their veracity. It is also greatly to its credit that, as Benedict pointed out recently, Catholicism does not allow faith to supersede reason. Both criteria must be met; that is it in accord with faith, and that it is in accord with reason. And Christianity welcomes science, and open debate, to an extent few religions have. All truths are tested and found sound and true.
It can be frustrating at times; many priests are not really very spiritual. Some are even child molesters. And there are a lot of times when God seems more accessible on a quiet lake than in a cathedral. And by all means, we should talk to God where we find him. But anyone who supposes we do not therefore need organized religion, or priests, or cathedrals, is wet behind his spiritual ears. I fear for their safety, as I might fear for a toddler playing with an electrical outlet and a fork.
Monday, October 30, 2006
But has he? This would come as a surprise to David Hume. He himself claimed to be a theist and a Christian, and, specifically, to accept the proof from design as conclusive. It is hard to believe that he did not understand his own philosophy.
The passage the atheists commonly point to is Hume’s piece on miracles, chapter ten of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Here Hume defines a “miracle” as a violation of the laws of nature, and then argues that this is so intrinsically improbable that no report of any such thing can be taken as sufficient proof.
But there are several problems with this argument. First, as noted, Hume did not himself consider this a disproof of God. And why would he? It is, if correct, a disproof of miracles, not of God.
Does the argument for the existence of God rely on miracles? It does not. None of the philosophical proofs do; and neither does Christian teaching. Jesus says “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe”: expressly, a faith based on miracles is not true faith. And Hume himself states this; and he himself notes that bishops tend to be skeptical of such things.
Christianity seems to share this view with other religions: Buddhism, for example, considers miracles a rather tasteless sideshow, not something to be emphasised.
But it seems to me that Hume has not even disproved miracles. For, even if Hume’s argument holds, that no testimony of miracles can be persuasive, it is really epistemological, not ontological. That is, it only addresses our ability to know whether a miracle has happened—not whether it really has or not. It demonstrates, in other words, only that we cannot prove a miracle; but, by the same token, neither can we disprove one. For all Hume knows, miracles may be happening all the time.
And even to get this far, Hume seems to me to have played a few tricks. For one thing, Hume’s definition of a miracle is not quite the dictionary definition. He defines it as something that defies the laws of nature. Oxford defines “miracle” as “an extraordinary and welcome event attributed to a divine agency.” There is a wide gulf between being “extraordinary” and “violating the laws of nature.” The burden of proof is much lighter to prove that a thing out of the ordinary happened than that something happened that broke the known laws of nature.
Moreover, is Hume right to reject anything that violates the known laws of nature as too improbable to be true? Because if he is, it is not just miracles which are disproved. So is science. For science progresses by observation—observations that seem to contradict the laws of nature as thus far recognized. Thus, Newton’s proposed model of the universe was superseded by Einstein’s when it was realized that the observed data did not properly conform to Newton’s thesis, albeit in a small minority of cases. Similarly, Copernicus’s model succeeded Ptolemy’s on the observation that the observed data did not conform as well to Ptolemy’s system. But given Hume’s principle, any such deviation would merely be dismissed as too improbable to be true; Ptolemy and Newton would still rule.
In one striking example, Hume rejects all prophesy as obviously impossible, despite any evidence to the contrary. We cannot, he avers, know the future.
But can’t we? If so, science does not work, Science is based on reproducible results, which is to say, on its ability to foretell future events.
As this suggests, Hume’s claim seems to depend on circular logic, on tautology—a fault to which Hume seems prone. He dismisses all testimony of miracle as too improbable to believe. But how does he know the probability, unless through observation? And how can his observations be accurate, if he is dismissing some of them? And aren’t those he has not dismissed then logically just as likely to be inaccurate? So how does he know the probability of anything in the first place?
Hume has been called a philosophical dead end. He is, for atheism. They need to find another champion.
A Tale of Two Cities in six words:
Better me than him. It’s a—
On the Road in six words:
The road has no end. Satori.
The Titanic in six words:
Boy meets girl. Boat meets iceberg.
Every Hollywood sports film ever made in six words:
Underdogs win in overtime. Roll credits.
Oedipus Rex in six words:
To do: kill Dad. Marry Mum.
Moby Dick in six words:
Where’s that damned whale? Oops. Here.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
It seems to me a very pleasant art form; as valid, say, as a haiku. The trick is to evoke a narrative, ideally an interesting narrative, without using more than six words. Extra points, I think, for natural-sounding diction.
Here are a few I’ve come up with:
A six word romance:
I came. I saw. She conquered.
The Bridge at San Luis Rey in six words:
The bridge broke. Five fell. Silence.
A murder mystery:
December snows: no corpse until spring.
A Hemingwayan novel:
We saw Niagara together. She jumped.
Slice of life: the story of every marriage:
Honeymoon: the lady, or the tiger?
Melodramas, the sort that become made-for-TV movies:
She aborted before the DNA results.
“Darling,” she whispered, “I have AIDS.”
A boy’s book in the grand old tradition:
“Lost. No water.” His last entry.
A psychological thriller:
I conquered Europe. Why this straightjacket?
An end-of-the-world sci-fi epic:
Stalemate? Checkmate. Bombs fell. Bloody hell.
Anyone else want to try?
Thursday, October 26, 2006
1. Managerial competence; and
2. National unity (more specifically, ability to handle the Quebec brief).
This strikes me as spot on. Moreover, it may be the key to political power in Canada for anyone. Canada is a conservative country; Canadians do not like the boat rocked. Hence managerial competence is important to us. And what is more important to any country than national unity? Take these two overriding considerations, and I don’t think ideology plays the same part in Canadian politics that it does in many other countries.
Let’s theorize, then, that Canadian governments succeed or fail with the public to the extent that they deliver on these two goals. Diefenbaker’s government failed on 1, collapsing into infighting; but also to many did not seem to understand Quebec. Mulroney’s failed on 2, by putting the nation through the crises of Meech Lake and Charlottetown to no effect, and also developed more than a whiff of corruption. Martin’s inherited Liberals failed on both 1 and 2 with the Quebec corruption scandals. Turner perhaps failed on 1, with the appointments scandal and by, generally, appearing bumbling. And, by contrast with Quebecker Mulroney, his ability to handle the Quebec brief did not look that formidable.
Given all this, the task before Stephen Harper is clear, and simple—and just what he has been doing so far. He must maintain a coherent Quebec policy, and he must run a tight ship. Moreover, the scales may have tilted somewhat in the Tories’ favour on issue 2. Keeping Alberta happy is becoming significant as well, as its population and economy burgeons. On that, the Tories have the historic advantage.
Now let’s look at the prospective Liberal leadership candidates by these measures. Bob Rae’s baggage would be a big problem on managerial competence—he did nothing to burnish his managerial reputation in Ontario. Kennedy runs into problems on the Quebec front, because of his low party support in that province.
Either Dion or Ignatieff, however, look promising in terms of this mandate.
Kinsella thinks Ignatieff has hurt himself on 2 by saying that Quebec is a “nation.” I don’t think so. This might have been so twenty or thirty years ago, but I don’t think it’s that controversial an idea now. If we can talk of “First Nations,” as we commonly do now, then the currency of the term “nation” has been debased enough in Canada that it can readily refer to what elsewhere might be thought of as an “ethnic group.” And how can we refuse “nationhood” to Quebec when we readily give it to small Indian bands?
Ignatieff does run the risk, with his political inexperience, of putting his foot in his mouth. This may or may not concern Canadians; I have some hopes that we are politically mature enough not to take this too seriously. Either he or Dion will have to come up with a coherent and saleable Alberta strategy, and do their best to surround themselves with what looks like a competent managerial team.
If so, we should have a very interesting fight on our hands next time at the polls.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Teacher testifies he had sex with students
UCC denies that it knew of boy's rape
Quebec private school sued over abuse allegations
Did anyone really think it only happened in Indian residential schools, or among Catholic clergy? Not at all; surveys always suggested it was no more common there than anywhere else.
We'll be seeing a lot more of this in future.
The good news is, if the government compensates us all at the level it's been compensating natives who attended the residential schools, we'll all be rich.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I found somewhere recently on the Web a proposed listing of the greatest artworks of the Twentieth Century.
This got me thinking—in my own readings and travels, what would I select for my own list of the greatest artworks of all time?
I use the term “art” in its broadest sense here—I’m thinking in terms of works of culture generally. In case of doubt, my criterion was: did it or could it bring tears to my eyes with the sheer beauty of the thing?
Of course, my list is only partial—I have only read, seen, and done so much, and must have missed some worthy things. And forgotten others.
Here’s my list:
The Book of Law
- The British parliamentary system
- The American Declaration of Independence
- The Ten Commandments
- The (US) Bill of Rights
Stories—The Book of Myths
- Krsna Gopala cycle
- Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
- Animal Farm, Orwell
- 1984, Orwell
- Shakespeare, MacBeth
- Shakespeare, The Tempest
- Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
- Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrranos
- Life of the Buddha
- Book of Genesis
- John 1
Wonders of the World:
- Jiu Hua Shan – one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism. I expect the other three are as magnificent; this is the one I’ve seen.
- Kyoto, Japan.
- Sinulog (annual celebration of the Feast of the Child Jesus, Cebu, Philippines)
- Sigiri, Sri Lanka—for the architectural feat of the castle on top of a sheer mountain, plus the magnificent gardens, plus the Sigiri Maiden frescos, plus the poetry of the mirror wall.
- Sistine Chapel
Book of Wisdom:
- Analects, Confucius
- Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
- Anselm’s Ontological Proof of the Existence of God
- Plato’s cave analogy
- Pascal’s Wager
- Occam’s Razor
- Descartes’s Meditations
- Sermon on the Mount
- Catechism of the Catholic Church
Book of Songs:
- Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge
- Kublai Khan, Coleridge
- Frost at Midnight, Coleridge
- Li Bai, corpus
- Sailing to Byzantium, Yeats
- The Second Coming, Yeats
- The Circus Animals’ Desertion, Yeats
- Lapis Lazuli, Yeats
- Ash Wednesday, Eliot.
- Goodnight Irene, Huddy Ledbetter
- 1 Corinthians 13
- “Oh Westron wind, when wilt thou blow…”
- Michelangelo, Pieta
- Vermeer, Girl with Pearl Earring
- Blake’s miniatures
- Van Gogh, Starry Night
- Beethoven, Ode to Joy
- Si Bheag, Si Mhor
Your results may vary.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Why only violence against women? Doesn’t violence against men matter?
The Governor-General was speaking at a conference in Montral dedicated to Athanasie Mukarw. Mukarw’s claim to this distinction? That, sixteen years ago in Rwanda, she was threatened with rape and death.
I have no doubt that such a threat must have been deeply traumatic for her, too. But I wonder why no similar thoughts are spared for her husband, who was tortured to death.
Threatened violence against women, it seems, is much more memorable than actual violence against men.
To cap it off, representatives of Fathers for Justice buttonholed Jean as she left the conference, asking for a hearing. She would not even agree to speak to them.
Is it proper for a Governor-General to so openly prepresent the interests of only half the Canadian population?
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Most people seem to believe that the existence of the spiritual realm is dubious; while the existence of the physical is unquestionable. Philosophically, the opposite is true: the existence of the word of thought is unquestionable and self-evident: cogito, ergo sum. The existence of the physical world, on the other hand, ultimately cannot be logically demonstrated. It is an act of faith.
Most people think the existence of God is an open question. It is not. Philosophically, it is about the strongest certainty available.
Most people think that science has some special handle on truth. It does not; science is a process, and its conclusions change as long as it still lives, internally consistent but without ever arriving at anything properly called “truth.” The philosophy on which science is primarily based, moreover, that of Sir Francis Bacon in Novum Organum, has been conclusively refuted.
Most people think that science and religion are at loggerheads. The opposite is the case: science began as an effort to demonstrate the proof of God’s existence from design, and the fact that science works at all continues to buttress this contention.
Most people think life is freer in the developed world, in North America or Europe, than in most of the Third World—say, in China or Iran. In practical terms, the opposite is the case: there are far more restrictions on what the average person can say or do in America than in China.
Most people think that Nazism or Fascism was extremely efficient. It was not; it was chaos. Most people think that people’s lives were far more regimented under Fascism. The opposite seems actually to have been the case: soldiers could buck orders, for example.
I could go on—but a pattern is clear.
Why should it be so, that the common consensus should be so consistently not just wrong, but the opposite of truth?
I suspect it is because the average person has something to hide. As soon as anyone has something to hide, they have a vested interest in steering as far wide of the truth as possible. So, by common consensus, we work to promote convenient lies; not just because they are convenient, but sheerly because they are lies. A lie, for being a lie, is more valuable to us than the truth.
This is why the devil is called “the father of lies.”
A prophet, by contrast, is merely someone who speaks truth.
Truth is in this sense the essence of all morality. This is an insight shared by creeds as far dispersed as Christianity and Confucianism. English uses the word “honest” as a shorthand for morality generally. Jesus says “the truth shall set you free.” John the Baptist says his task is “to make the ways straight for the Lord.” Confucius, in turn, asked what he would do if ever in power, said that the first task would be “the rectification of terms”: that is, making sure words meant what they were supposed to mean.
Friday, October 20, 2006
That, apparently is within the realm of civil discourse. Indeed, it is tossed off by what is supposed to be a neutral source.
In the story, McKay reputedly—he denies it—referred to Belinda Stronach as a dog.
That, apparently, is outrageous and beyond the pale. Even when said in partisan debate.
What’s the difference?
Could it be simply that Stronach is a woman? After all, if a man called another man a “dog,” let alone “Pissy Pete,” would anyone get upset? Or if a woman called a man a dog? Or a pig?
But let a man call a woman a bitch...
There’s an interesting double standard here. If women must be given such special consideration in debate, is it fair to men?
I say Fuddle Duddle.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
But in fact, are leftists giving money to the poor? Or clothing them, or visiting them in prison? They are not. Instead, they are asking government to do it for them. This could instead be seen as a desertion of duty. If we, ourselves, give food to the hungry, clothes to the needy, care to the sick, comfort to prisoners, or money to charity, that is one thing. It is a very different thing to demand that everyone else be forced to instead.
Worse, such giving to the poor is expressly not supposed to be a political act:
Matthew 6:1-2: “Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
So there is zero value, morally, to the modern left as a political position.
Of course, one might suppose that the means of giving is less important than the goal, of ending poverty.
But is this even possible? Marx thought so. But not the Bible. And Marx has been proven wrong.
Jesus says, “The poor you will have always with you.” If he is God, he ought to know. Poverty is apparently a permanent part of creation, barring the Second Coming.
Which, logically, it is. Poverty is relative to wealth. You cannot have one without the other. Nobody would realize they were poor except in comparison to someone else who is richer. Without that, the concept would have no meaning.
That being so, there is no way ever to get rid of poverty. The issue is to do our best personally to give when we see someone in need, no more or less.
And, for that matter, is it even desirable, beyond that minimum, to eliminate poverty? Jesus says, after all, “"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20).
Again, we should assume he means what he says. The poor are ultimately more fortunate than the rich.
The reason is simple: as Jesus himself explains, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”’ (Matthew 6: 19-21). The poor will find it easier to make it into heaven.
Wealth does not obviously bring greater contentment—this is more than a maxim, it has been tested scientifically and broadly been found to be so. At the same time, is a source of worries and care.
The wise, therefore, in all times, have tended to actually avoid great wealth—from Diogenes through the Buddha. Many religious take their vows of poverty today. Poverty is freedom.
Friday, October 13, 2006
“Diplomats had generally agreed the next secretary general should come from Asia because of a tradition that the post rotate among regions. The last Asian to hold the post was Burma's U Thant, who served from 1961 to 1971.”
Another quota system in operation. This I find terribly offensive, as a violation of human rights, which the UN ought to be there to uphold, and a violation of the merit principle. Like all other employees, UN Secretaries General should not be chosen for the colour of their skin or where their parents came from, but for the content of their character.
And, like other quotas inevitably are, this one too is made to discriminate against someone. It was Asia’s turn, since there had not been a Secretary-General from Asia since 1971? Right. Can you name the last Secretary-General from North America?
Here’s the full list so far:
Trygve Lie – Europe
Dag Hammersjold – Europe
U Thant – Asia
Kurt Waldheim – Europe
Javier Perez de Cuellar – South America
Boutros Boutros-Ghali – Africa
Kofi Annan – Africa
Ban Ki-Moon – Asia
That’s two for Africa; two for Asia; three for Europe—Germanic Northern Europe, specifically; one for South America; and none for either North America or Oceania. What gives?
Other than, perhaps, that those last two regions are overwhelmingly English-speaking?
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Nevertheless, the following quotations are interesting. They come from a very respectable source: the Gulf Times, a responsible newspaper of record in a responsible, modernizing country, Qatar. This is Wahhabi Islam, specifically, but at least this is Islam presented by Islam itself, in an Arab society, and so is presumably undistorted by prejudice. It may help illuminate the current clash of cultures.
The editorialist writes:
In a country ruled by Muslim authorities a non-Muslim is guaranteed his freedom of faith. …. Muslims are forbidden from obliging a non-Muslim to embrace Islam, but he should pay the tribute to Muslims readily and submissively, surrender to Islamic laws, and should not practice his polytheistic rituals openly.
This is freedom of conscience in Muslim terms: non-Muslims are free to follow their own religion, but Muslim law must apply to all, non-Muslims must still financially support the Muslim religion, and all non-Muslim observances must be behind closed doors.
There are further limits to freedom of conscience:
“Apostasy from Islam is a grievous crime punishable by death.”
“The Muslim must charge idolators, Jews, Christians, atheists and magians with unbelief.”
Apparently, a Muslim is obliged to speak out against other religions.
But may non-Muslims speak against Islam? No:
“Allah ordered the Muslims to … restrain those who call people to [false opinions]from committing this grievous sin. Such a system based on respecting the opinions of others so long as their opinions are not violating the law of Allah is most magnanimous… Opinions contrary to the laws of Allah result in nothing but corruption and falsehood, therefore these should not be communicated.”
Freedom of speech does not extend to any statement that contradicts Muslim beliefs.
It is possible, then, for Wahhabi Islam to coexist peacefully with the doctrine of human rights? Can we all just get along?
The question is important to me, at least, since I am both Catholic and Clear Grit. As a Catholic, I must admire the Muslim insistence on truth and on centring life around religion. But then, as a liberal, in the proper sense of that word, I cannot see Islam as respecting human rights here, or as following the basic precept of morality, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
It seems to me that, when two systems both claim universal applicability, and contradict, one or the other must be wrong. And I must cast my vote with the notion of inalienable human rights, and with the Golden Rule.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
We perceive bird song as beautiful, do we not? Indeed, we perceive nature as a whole as beautiful, don't we? This aesthetic response is recognizably the same response we get from a great work of art, which is to say, of designing intelligence. Indeed, what is beauty but the perception of an intelligent pattern, a design, in an object?
I submit that, if there were no design in nature, it would not be beautiful. It would appear to use like random noise, or random paint splotches on a wall.
Each sparrow is a message from God.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
“What has feminism made me think about? In the past 24 hours, mainly about pure expressions of evil, like this. And how the common denominator always seems to be the same: violent men. Men attacking, or killing, or hurting, women. Over and over and over.”
He represents this as a personal reaction, not an established fact. But is it really true? Is violence by men against women the story of our times, or all times?
Isn’t it bosh, and isn’t it dangerous, malicious bosh? Isn’t it on the same level as “Jews poisoning, cheating, or swindling Christians. Over and over and over”?
Any quick check of crime stats shows that violence by man against women is only a small proportion of violence committed. Violence by men against men is far more common. Violence by men against women is the shocking exception. Shocking enough to get big play in the papers. It is on the order of “man bites dog.”
Okay, so violence by men against women is actually quite rare. The more common thing is violence against men. But it is still men committing the violence, right? Isn’t it at least fair to say that men are more violent than women, and that without men around, violence against women would be even less?
Probably not. Many studies have now shown that, in domestic situations, women are just as likely to be violent towards their partners as men. This probably accounts for the vast majority of “violence against women.” There is no reason to suppose that violence outside domestic situations is different; apparently men are no more violent towards women than women are towards men.
But even that is not the whole story. Kinsella, as a good Catholic, should not forget about abortion. Is that not violence of the most extreme kind, and is that not violence done by women? Add in these numbers, and all of the following statements are obviously true
1) women commit more violence than men;
2) women commit more violence against men than men do against women;
3) women commit more violence against women than men do.
This is true with unrestricted abortion. But even before legal abortion, abortion and infanticide was apparently fairly common. My wife, who grew up in the Philippines where it has always been illegal, says abortion there is nevertheless almost routine. And, when discovered, largely unpunished.
So Kinsella’s notion, and that of feminism generally, that men are somehow intrinsically violent towards women, is based on a profound sexism: if women do it, we don’t define it as violence. Women, to put it bluntly, have a license to kill.
And now, may I take this opportunity to give my own reflections on the Pennsylvania case?
The motive seems to have been sexual: the murderer-suicide was apparently haunted by desires to sexually assault young girls. It looked like the whole point of the exercise was to do this, but he panicked or lost his nerve or ran out of time. He was ready to both kill and die to fulfill this unnatural desire.
That early sex experience, then, must have held incredible power over him.
Doesn’t this illustrate graphically the folly of our current permissiveness towards premarital sex? What he did, he seems to have done at the age of twelve. These days, it is apparently very common for twelve-year-old girls to be sexually active.
If early sexual experiences are indeed that powerful, if they can imprint a person that strongly, it would certainly be wise to stay well away from them. Lives could be in the balance. It is surely reckless then to simply drop your knickers for the first boy or girl who shows interest.
Moreover, if the first sexual experience so imprints us, or even if it so imprints just a few of us, then it makes the most sense to reserve all sex for the confines of marriage. Otherwise one could be left with a craving that can never, throughout life, be fulfilled—because that first sex partner, to whom one has bonded, is long gone.
We used to understand this very well. We used, for example, to believe that fetishes in general were caused by early sexual experiences. Including homosexuality.
Surely this, on the evidence of the Pennsylvania case, is indeed sufficient to explain for the phenomenon. One early sexual encounter with a fellow man or fellow woman; and some people might be, like this man, imprinted for life.
By contrast, the currently popular explanation, that homosexuality is inborn, faces a serious logical problem: since homosexuals do not breed, old Darwin’s random God should have seen them and their genes packing within a generation. Even women with any genetic predisposition to gay children would have lost, over time, in the survival stakes.
But then, it would be highly politically incorrect to suggest that homosexuality might be contagious. Or that premarital sex is a very bad thing.
No, the lesson drawn by the powers that be will be something different. There will be more money for feminist causes, more laws discriminating against men, and more restrictions on guns.
And more children shot.
Friday, October 06, 2006
I think, indeed, its existence too can at least be considered likely.
What do we know of what happens at death? Without experiencing it ourselves, only one thing, really: that the body ceases to animate. It does not follow at all that the soul ceases to exist. The same result could just as readily be explained by supposing that the soul, that is, the animating “I,” or consciousness, and the body part company. There is no reason to choose one explanation over the other, on the evidence of watching others die.
There is, to be sure, some further evidence: reports by people who have been “clinically dead,” who actually do find that they remained conscious, when the body was inanimate, that their consciousness separated from their body, but continued to function. This is intriguing, although not proof—it is always possible to suppose that they were not really dead, but only appeared dead, and were experiencing something else entirely.
There is also the intriguing parallel of sleep, in which consciousness seems to manage well enough every night without the bodily senses—in dreams. If here, why not there? But then, the analogy might not hold.
But if we assume the soul, the animating principle, the self-consciousness, at any point ceases to be, isn’t this a novel idea? What evidence or experience do we actually have of things ceasing to be?
None, really. No matter ever ceases to be: it simply changes state. This includes the body. So, if the body does not cease to be, and matter does not cease to be, why would we assume differently of the spirit? Can we assume such a thing is even possible?
It is philosophically virtually inconceivable that something can become nothing.
Ah, but then there’s more. Our actual experience of the intellectual realm is that it is much more durable than the natural one. Indeed, the defining characteristic of the physical world is that it begets, is born, and dies—this is what the word “nature” means--while the mental world seems permanent. The thoughts of Aristotle still live; as do the feelings of Homer. Memories endure long after the thing remembered has passed from view. We remember dreams from childhood as vividly as those last night.
And, as Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, we also cannot really imagine our own death, in the sense of our consciousness ceasing to be.
Ergo, life after death must be the default hypothesis. At a minimum, the onus is on those who believe the consciousness does not survive to make their case. But their case also seems to be an impossibility.