Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Things Fall Apart

There seems a general sense that Canada is falling apart. Rail lines and other facilities are being blocked by protesters. Alberta is talking separation.

We are dissolving into tribes and special interest groups. Nobody is thinking of the national interest or the good of all.

But this is the inevitable consequence of multiculturalism and intersectionality. Canadian politicians and Canadian governments have been aggressively promoting tribalism for decades. The prime minister himself has declared that there was no Canadian mainstream.

Where else was this going to lead?

We are now on the verge of violence.

The Growing Socialist Threat of Sanders

It is funny to watch a lot of commentators suddenly panicking at the prospect of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee, including especially many on the left.

After all, he came reasonably close to becoming the nominee in 2016; he was the logical frontrunner for 2020 as soon as Clinton lost that time. How can they have only realized now that he is a “socialist”? How can it only be important now?

And not only is he suddenly discovered to be a socialist. It now turns out that he is, like Trump, another Russian plant. And he’s too old, and he’s hiding how bad his health is.

To some extent, every clearly established frontrunner draws fire. We just went through the taking down of Bloomberg by the other candidates. But Sanders, by comparison, is being taken down by the commentators and the backrooms. And Sanders ought to be already thoroughly vetted, since this is not his first run, and he has been the frontrunner before. It seems hysterical.

The fact that he is a socialist should not sound alarm bells for any Canadian or European. We have avowedly socialist candidates in contention all the time. The US system has checks and balances, as well, preventing any sudden political lurches. Sanders would have to get his initiatives passed by two houses of congress, then vetted by the Supreme Court as constitutional.

As for Russia backing him, it is hard to understand why it is news that Russia tries to influence American elections. After all, America tries to influence elections elsewhere all the time. Former president Obama openly endorsed Justin Trudeau during Canada’s recent federal election. It is hard to believe that only Russia interferes in the US. If the various foreign diplomatic corps and intelligence agencies are not always trying to influence elections anywhere for what they perceive as their interests, they’re not doing their job.

As to Sanders being too old, that concern is only significant if the alternative is Pete Buttigieg. Biden, Warren, Bloomberg, or Trump are almost the same age. 

An underlying and more reasonable concern might be that Sanders cannot win in the general election--because he is too far out of step with the average voter. That may be so; but by the same token, I thought Reagan was too far right to be elected. I thought the same of Stephen Harper. For the most part, people do not vote on ideology or even issues, but on their perception of the character of the candidate.

I suspect the real problem is not that Sanders is a socialist, or a Russian plant, or anything else, but the shock among the commentariat at realizing they are no longer in control even of the left. They had decided that Sanders would not be the nominee, had already taken ruthless measures to make this so, and neither the voters nor the dice have fallen in their favour.

Now Sanders is going to win the nomination at least. He will take over the party, if not the White House, and he will have reason to bear grudges and to clean house.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Come Gather Round Me, Carmelites

St. John of the Cross
Come gather round me, Carmelites,
And praise our chosen man;
Stand upright on your legs awhile
Stand upright while you can.
For soon we go where he has gone,
His bones are underground;
Come sling those holy rosaries
And let the chant resound.

And here’s a cogent reason,
And I have many more
He shunned all use of footwear
Preferring to be poor
Whatever light a dark night’s got
He brought it all to be
And here’s the happy reason:
That St. John saw no “me.”

Spanish Johnnie was a poet;
And one of such a kind
Each Spanish man that sings a song
Keeps St. John in his mind.
Yet Johnnie was a humble man,
Who fought the devil down,
And a humble man's a mighty man,
So pass the wine cup round. 
The Prior and his party
A tragic story made,
This martyr throw in prison
And twice-fortnightly flayed;
But poems that live longest
Are written in distress,
And St. John wrote his Canticle
And St. John passed his test.
-- Stephen K. Roney (after W.B. Yeats).

When Kiples Cease Their Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

There used to be a movement in Canadian poetry called “people’s poetry.” Perhaps it still exists; I can find no trace online.

The idea was to bring poetry back to the common people.

But the group was resolutely left wing. As all official Canadian poetry has become.

This is a fatal problem, because the common people are not left wing.

In fact, the most popular poem among the UK general public is Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” Calling for personal responsibility in the manner of Jordan Peterson. But Kipling was a fellow who wrote poetry from the working class perspective; sometimes in cockney dialect.

In Canada, the only poetry readings that draw crowds are for “cowboy poetry.” Expressing a world view akin to that of country music, in the manner of Robert W. Service—the bestselling poet of all time, not just in Canada, but it the world.

And ignored or rejected by the poetry establishment, including the “people’s poetry” people. Again, the thing about Service is that he wrote from the working class perspective.

It seems that “their people,” as Hamilton is supposed to have said of Jefferson, “is a great beast.” It is an academic construct, quite unlike any people you might meet in the subway or on the 401.

Robert W. Service is perhaps rejected only for speaking for the lower class and being unforgivably accessible to people without an English degree. Despite the fact that he is, in technical terms, an exceptionally good poet. As is Kipling.

Kipling is rejected for his full-bore advocacy of empire. You could hardly be less politically correct than that today. Worst of the lot, no doubt, is “The White Man’s Burden.”

Let’s have a look:

Take up the White Man's burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
That sounds pretty offensive. Non-Europeans “half devil and half child”? “Fluttered and wild”; “caught”? These are terms to describe animals.

Yet the criticism seems to be that these non-Europeans do not raise their children properly—“breeding” is mentioned. They are wild in that sense, still children in that sense; they lack morality.

This might be true or false, but it is not racist. The Victorians believed they had reached a pinnacle of morality. This conviction was shaken then by the experience of the world wars, but there was and remains evidence behind it.

Take up the White Man's burden—
In patience to abide,
To evil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain.
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.
The conventional idea today is Marxist—that the point of Empire was to exploit the foreign people for profit. Kipling sees empire as, instead, a sacrifice in financial terms, for the benefit of the colonized.

It turns out that Kipling is right. The Empire was a financial burden on Britain, and the same was true of the other European empires, with perhaps the sole exception of Leopold’s Congo, which Conrad so richly condemns in Heart of Darkness. After the Second World War, Britain could no longer afford their empire. If it were actually making money, this would not have happened. Empire is expensive; more recently, we saw the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact collapse for financial reasons.

The European empires were indeed entered into, as Kipling says, as a civilizing mission. They might have been misguided, but they were well-intentioned. They were acts of charity and of civic responsibility.

Take up the White Man's burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

“Heathen” here might make one suppose Kipling was speaking of the spread of Christianity. He cannot have been; the immediate occasion for the poem was the American acquisition of the Philippines. The Philippines had been Christian for centuries—for longer than the USA.

He seems instead to be speaking of what might loosely be called “Enlightenment ideals.” Empire brought peace, ending the endless local wars; it brought greater prosperity, it brought medical advances.

Take up the White Man's burden—
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead!

Again the idea is of service: of building ports and roads for others to use.

And in this, surely, Kipling is right. The British built the rail system, the ports, of India, and then left them for the Indians. They dug the Suez Canal, and then left it to the Egyptians. The Americans built the Panama Canal, and then left. They built Aramco and the Saudi oil industry, and then left. Others generally reaped the benefits. 

Railway bridge,  British India, 1900.

Notably, the UK pulled out of the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia right when the oil industry was making the area profitable. That makes no sense if the prime motive of empire was profit. It makes more sense if the prime motive was service; at this point, the area could look after itself.

Take up the White Man's burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

The stanza seems to disprove the charge of racism, since it describes the colonized as equivalent to the Hebrews, God’s chosen people. And it implies that these “subject races” are as capable of development. The problem, then, is not genetics—race—but the bondage of cultural backwardness. 

Take up the White Man's burden—
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

The use of the plural, “Gods,” here, seems to preclude a Christian interpretation. If he were speaking as a Christian, he would be speaking heresy. The Gods would presumably be the values cherished by Victorian English culture: equality, democracy, discipline, duty, honesty, justice, good manners, and sound accounting principles. 
Take up the White Man's burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly profferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!
It seems to me that Kipling escapes the charge of racism. He is being read uncharitably here because the modern left hates him for something else: for being an unbending moralist. This, of course, is the reason why they are opposed to the suggestion that any culture might be superior to another—because it implies that any moral stance might be superior to any other. Morality is an unpleasant suggestion to the immoral. 

Indian custom of suttee--widow burning.

I have no problem with Kipling’s moralism. On the other hand, I find him unpalatable because he consistently bases it on the trivial: on “the judgement of your peers,” or being “grown-up,” or “manly.” These are worldly baubles.

One ought to behave morally out of a commitment to morality, to the good, and out of love for God and one’s fellow man; not out of pride, which is to say, so that others will think well of you. Prestige. Kipling’s ethics are pre-Christian pagan ethics.

I suspect that this failure of transcendence was, in the end, what caused Europe to lose its appetite for empire. Eventually, once you eventually thought it through, it all seemed so pointless.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Welcome to the Plague Years

The Dance of Death: souvenir of the Black Plague.

Things are getting worse regarding the coronavirus. In fact, I think “assume the worst” might have been the right advice all along.

Here is what I think we know:

1. The virus escaped from a Chinese lab. This, which originally was scorned as a conspiracy theory, is pretty clearly true. This might explain why it has such sinister characteristics. It seems possible it was being worked on as a bio weapon.

This would explain the draconian measures undertaken by the Chinese authorities. They knew more or less what they were dealing with, and knew it was alarming.

2. It is extremely contagious. Perhaps it was designed to be extremely contagious. A recent report has one Korean carrier infecting over 40 people.

It can spread through the air; it can remain live on surfaces for an unknown time. The Chinese have been spraying everything in view with bleach.

3. It can spread before the victim shows symptoms. This makes it virtually impossible to stop by quarantine. You don’t know who to quarantine.

4. It has an incubation period of perhaps 24 days, during which the victim may show no symptoms, but be contagious.

This is unfortunate, because, until now, the Chinese and other governments have been quarantining people for 14 days before declaring them virus-free.

5. Some reports suggest that a victim can remain contagious even for an undetermined time after recovery.

6. It produces a death rate on first infection 20 times greater than the flu; about at the level of the notorious Spanish flu a century ago. And that is assuming the health care system is not overwhelmed. Wherever the virus takes hold, we can expect the health care system become overwhelmed.

7. Surviving the virus does not create immunity. It is apparently possible to become reinfected. The second infection is worse than the first. It looks as though it can cause sudden death. There are videos of people in Wuhan collapsing in the street.

Leaving open a further question. If you survive the second infection, could there be a third infection, and so forth? This seems probable.

8. Nobody has immunity, because the virus is so new. If the virus spreads, sooner or later, everyone gets it.

9. It has escaped containment in China. It is now loose in South Korea, Japan, and Iran. Italy also looks worrisome.

The Iranian medical system and government structure is probably incapable of an effectively quarantine, because of its relative underdevelopment. It is likely to spread from there.

Add this up, and we might have a doomsday weapon.

All is not lost; the virus might spontaneously mutate, and someone might at any moment come up with a more effective treatment.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Life in the Bubble

The current housing market defies logic.

As I see it, the baby boomers should have been retiring for the past ten years, and downsizing. The generations that follow them are smaller. So the demand for housing should be easing.

The need to live in large cities, where the housing shortage is extreme, should also have been declining, with the increasing feasibility of telecommuting. And the attractions of convenience that might attract people to the cities have also been declining: with the Internet, you can get all the entertainment you want anywhere; with Amazon, you can purchase anything you want, and have it delivered anywhere. The cities should be emptying out.

The cost of housing is also rising much faster than incomes. This should be pushing people out of the market, at least for larger homes.

Given all these considerations, housing costs should be declining. Instead, they are skyrocketing.

It seems to me it has to mean we are in a speculative bubble. And it is, sooner or later, going to pop, with devastating results.

We even already saw it happen, in 2008.

People are buying property on speculation. When housing prices dip, as they will, a lot of folks are going to stop paying their mortgages, and a lot of money is going to disappear.

The current COVID-19 crisis has almost shut down China’s economy. It may get worse. That is sure to have consequences for the world economy. This might be the shock that starts the run on housing.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Max Bernier Show

Maxime Bernier and the People's Party of Canada have launched their own YouTube channel. I found the first episode unexciting, pretty wonky, but it should be worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Shootout in Nevada

I’m sorry I skipped the Democratic debate last night. They had been getting tiresome and predictable. But this time, with most candidates facing elimination, they came with the brass knuckles.

And just when it looked as though they might have found a plausible candidate after all, in Bloomberg, the rest of the field have critically wounded him.

A lot of people are alarmed at the idea that Bloomberg might buy the election in any case. I am less so—I think that risk is self-limiting. Nobody can compel people to vote for them; and big spending can turn people off as well as on. Mulroney lost his first bid for the PC leadership because his campaign looked too slick and well-funded. Hillary Clinton outspent Trump last cycle, yet he won.

I think Bloomberg might be a formidable opponent for Trump, too, if the economy goes sour by next November—with the COVID-19 virus, a likelihood. He could come across as a steadier hand at the helm.

But I suspect now there is no way he can sneak past the Democratic primary voters.

I think Buttigieg got off the best lines of the night, on neither Sanders nor Bloomberg being actual Democrats, and on Klobuchar not knowing the name of the President of Mexico. Warren’s opening barrage against Bloomberg seems the most posted clip, but I’m not sure it helped Warren as much as it hurt Bloomberg. It was too obvious a line of attack to make her look impressive in using it. I’m also reminded of Harris landing a solid body blow on Biden re school busing, but not gaining any benefit; and Tulsi Gabbard absolutely ending Harris, and gaining nothing by it.

The strong performances of Warren and Buttigieg may boost both past Biden. I predict a Nevada caucus finish of Sanders first, but I really have no idea who will come in second, third, fourth, or fifth.

Given that Sanders comes in with a convincing first, it is going to be hard for anyone to beat him going forward.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Trump the Comedian

A commentator I watched recently predicted that Trump would dominate Bloomberg on a debate stage. The reason, he argued, is that Bloomberg has no sense of humour, while Trump is spontaneously funny.

He pinpointed another Trump superpower, that I had overlooked. Trump is actually a first-rate improvisational standup comic.

That is the draw at his huge rallies. He goes on without a script, and he is consistently funny. He is doing a monologue.

This is another proof that Trump cannot be, as so many claim, a narcissist. Narcissists lack a sense of humour. They cannot relax enough for that. They might laugh at a pratfall, but they cannot make a spontaneous joke.

People who are not narcissists can lack a sense of humour; but if you have one, you cannot be a narcissist.

A sense of humour can be faked, it is true, by hiring a speechwriter and reading the lines. But Trump is clearly not doing that.

Is there any evidence of a good sense of humour among the Democrats?

Biden quips like “You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier” do not seem to me to qualify. They seem more like slightly masked abuse. This is actually a typical narcissistic “joke”: an insult, but one disguised as a “joke” so that you cannot respond without opening yourself up to further abuse.

You will protest that Trump also uses insults; that they are his typical joke.

But there is a difference. He jokes about people in their absence, so the immediate point is not to abuse them. He also seems scrupulous in not insulting anyone who is not a declared enemy, and so fair game. Biden was speaking to a supporter. 

Trump’s insults are also artful, like those of Don Rickles. They are enjoyable on that level. Pete Buttigieg as Alfred E. Newman? Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man”? There was nothing artful or intrinsically humorous about calling a female supporter about whom he knew nothing a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.” It was evidently just a memorized line, a stock insult.

The only Democrat I have noticed who will sometimes seem to say something spontaneously funny is Bernie Sanders. He can sometimes give a funny response to a question. Asked if Hillary Clinton was right to say that nobody in the Senate liked him, he responded, “on a good day, my wife likes me.”

These might be scripted too, but at worst, he has good timing. That suggests he gets the joke. There is a reason why so many popular stand-up comedians began as comedy writers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Dawkins and Eugenics

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is apparently in trouble for saying that eugenics would work.

I am no fan of Dawkins’s philosophy.

But he is a geneticist, and he is simply stating a fact, obvious to anyone who knows genetics. Or any farmer or gardener.

If your political views require denying reality, there is something wrong with your politics, not with reality.

Of course it is possible to selectively breed for desirable characteristics. We do it all the time, and have always done it, with plants and animals. Why would it not work with humans?

The rap against eugenics is not that it would not work, but that no government has the moral right to decide who may breed, and with whom. Government belongs to the people; the people do not belong to the government.

To make it turn on purely practical issues—that it would not work—is to endorse it, the moment it is plain to you that it does.

In fact, we all practice eugenics individually. What attracts us in a member of the opposite sex? Whether we are aware of it or not, we are selecting what we think will be the best genes. We are deciding what characteristics we want to pass on to our children.

And it is not just individuals. Cultures also spontaneously practice genetics. Whatever that given culture values, it is breeding for.

This accounts for that other scientific fact nobody is allowed to mention now without being declared a racist: that different cultures have different levels of average IQ.

In the tribal societies that until recently dominated sub-Saharan Africa, those who rose to the top socially would be the best hunters and the best warriors. These cultures therefore selectively bred for fast physical reflexes, physical strength, and physical endurance. It is not simple “survival of the fittest”; but such a man would be widely admired, have his choice of marital partners, and be able to raise more children in better health. So sub-Saharan Africans dominate in sports and athletics. High intelligence has little value in a tribal society; so they did not breed for IQ. Sub-Saharan Africans have a relatively low average IQ, and that is now part of their genetic makeup.

In the Confucian system in China, by contrast, those who rose to the top socially did so by passing rigorous academic exams; or, failing that, by success in trade. So the brightest got their choice of marriage partners, and were able to raise more children in better health. Athleticism and fast reflexes had little value in such a settled society; so they did not breed for them. East Asians have a relatively high average IQ, and that is now part of their genetic makeup.

Ashkenazi Jews had similar views: social prestige was based on learning, or success was in trade. As a result, they are the second cultural group with an unusually high average IQ.

And so it goes. Every culture practices eugenics informally as part of the culture. Some cultures breed for courage, some for physical beauty, some for even temper, and so forth.

To admit this obvious truth is “racist” only to people who do not understand the concept of human equality. It does not mean that everyone is the same; that is obviously untrue. It means that everyone is equal in intrinsic worth, equal in the eyes of God, and so must be treated equally by government.