Saturday, January 31, 2015

The State of the US Race for 2016

It may not be too soon to say that Jeb Bush will be the Republican nominee in 2016. I'd say he is now the odds-on favourite.

Romney has pulled out. He saw little breathing room for his candidacy. That means the Republican establishment is closing ranks. They have made their choice, on the traditional basis: it's Bush's turn. Romney has “had his chance,” and Bush is old enough that he is unlikely to get another. Other candidates are young enough that they will.

The Republican establishment, the professionals, almost always get their way in the end.

Christie will probably stay in as an establishment backup in case Bush stumbles. Huckabee will probably hold down the Christian right, Ted Cruz or perhaps Rick Perry the Tea Party, Rand Paul the Libertarian wing, assuming they all go in, all able to make good showings. But with the planned big bang in the South very early on, there probably will not be time for the rest of the field to shake out quickly enough to leave a clear alternative to Bush, until the nomination is all but locked up.

In the meantime, word is that Hillary Clinton's numbers are starting to fall rapidly. This was predictable. In fact, I predicted it here. She was riding high on sheer name recognition, with people not yet focused on the race. Now that the race has tentatively begun, with Jeb Bush virtually in, people are beginning to pay attention and to look around.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Christian Revival in Europe?

A writer living in Paris claims he sees early signs of a Christian revival: the churches in that city are now, he says, SRO.

Purely anecdotal, but I would not be surprised. In fact, I am surprised it has not happened already.

A lot of commentators, especially on the left, argue that with increasing prosperity and development, religious faith inevitably wanes. And there is something, no doubt, to that: blessed are the poor. But America has for a long time shown itself to be much more religious than Europe, and America is also more developed and prosperous, on the whole, that Europe; so that cannot be the only factor.

Christianity is currently under attack, in direct religious terms: on the one side from militant Islamism, massacring the Christians of the Middle East, and on the other from militant atheists, questioning traditional religious rights. It would be very strange if there were not, in response, a large-scale rallying to the cross.

And if this giant wakes—its current attackers would be dwarfed by it. It would immediately become the single most significant factor. There are simply a lot more Christians in the world than either atheists or Muslims.

It is quite likely to happen.

It would be a very good thing. It would be the revival of Europe and the West; it would be a matter of rediscovering their raison d'etre, their meaning and purpose. Christianity is the rock upon which Western civilization is built. Anything not built on the slopes or on the pinnacle of that rock is built only to be washed away.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

At the Post

Mr. Charisma.
Things are happening early and fast in the US Republican 2016 field. A number of hands seem to have been forced by Jeb Bush's pretty definite signs he is in. Others now need to move to prevent him from locking up an insurmountable lead among donors and operatives.

As previously noted in this space, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney promptly signalled they are in. Both are, as is the way, immediately being attacked as entirely unsuitable candidates. This is an indication of just what strong candidates they really are. If they were not genuinely potential nominees, nobody would care this early. Now we've seen Bobby Jindal signal that he is in, and Paul Ryan that he is out.

Ryan: It makes sense for Ryan to stay out this time. He would have been a second-bet establishment candidate, in case first-bet Bush bumbled. With Romney in, that position is now filled. He has no regional base if Scott Walker, from his own home state, comes in. Most importantly, he is young; establishment donors would feel int is “not his turn,” and he can indeed afford to wait. A weak third-string bid this time would only damage his future chances.

Jindal: Jindal has a snowball's chance in Louisiana of winning. He has been an extremely good governor, and deserves the exposure. But he has first call on no obvious party constituency. Nor does he have the sort of charisma that might allow a dark-horse candidacy to catch fire. My guess is that he will get funding and backing from Republicans who want to see a display of the party's diversity in the race. He will be given enough to make a decent show, but is really running for vice president or the cabinet. That is why his recent foreign policy speech sounded tough: that is the role of the bottom of the ticket, to talk tough and rally the base. To speak loudly and carry a small stick.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Charlie Hebdo or the Terrorists: Choose One

Trust me: this Kool-Aid, you don't want to drink.

Most of the discussion of the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre seems to be caught inside a particularly terrible fallacy of the false alternative: either Charlie Hebdo is in the right, in publishing their satiric cartoons, or the Islamist terrorists were, in shooting them all dead. The Pope's recent remarks, that insulting someone's religion is like insulting someone's mother, ought to have been helpful. But it seems the Vatican had to follow up by patiently explaining that this did not mean he was endorsing murder as the proper response to bad manners.

Is that clear enough? It was pure evil to shoot the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, let lone the random customers of a kosher supermarket. On the other hand, Charlie Hebdo was and is a disreputalbe publication nobody should want to glorify. I say that even as someone who despises Canada's “hate laws” as an intolerable intrusion on freedom of speech. If the French government, or any government, sought to ban cartoons showing the dangly bits of a prophet who shall not be named, say, or art showing Jesus in a jar of urine, this could probably be justified as a matter of public peace, and could easily be done without infringing on freedom of speech. The matter is parallel to laws against pornography: this too is not a free speech issue. In fact, such things are barriers to freedom of speech, which perhaps are in the public interest to remove.

The classic defense of freedom of speech in its most extreme form is John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. And he does not shy away from the topic of religion specifically. In fact, he takes it as his example, to show that religious beliefs are not exempt. We cannot know the truth of anything without full presentation of all relevant arguments and evidence. To have all the evidence is most especially important in the case of the most especially important truths, which would be religious truths. Therefore, there must be open and unrestricted religious discussion, without any censorship of anyone's arguments or opinions.

And I agee absolutely with John Stuart Mill. This makes me a radical advocate of freedom of speech, a libertarian on this issue in current political parlance. But note that Mill is speaking of “arguments,” “evidence,” and “opinions.” Pornography, for example, is none of these; no democratic discussion is curtailed, no possible truth is suppressed, no freedom of speech is impeded, if a government passes laws against public indecency. Contrary to common current belief.

Surely simple insults against others' religions or religious opinions fall into a similar category. They are not in themselves arguments, evidence, or opinions. They are just provocations, as the Pope says, like saying "your mother wear army boots."

Unfortunately, Charlie Hebdo seems generally to fall into this latter category. Just provocations; just insults.

Personal insults do not advance a good debate. Instead, they tend to poison the well, so that any real debate gets derailed and forgotten. You might have seen this yourself online: the notorious “flame war” phenomenon. As a result, all the world's parliamentary systems, with the apparent (and perhaps here significant) exception of some in La francophonie, have the established tradition of prohibiting “unparliamentary language,” words one is not permitted to say in a debate. These things are generally personal insults, and they are considered beyond the pale even though the regular laws or libel and slander are suspended.

In Westminster, for example, you cannot call your opponent a blackguard, a coward, a git, a guttersnipe, or a hooligan. You cannot say he is a sod, or slimy, or a wart. In Wales, you may not refer to the Queen as “Mrs. Windsor.” In Dublin, you may not call another honourable member a brat, a buffoon, a corner boy, a scurrilous speaker, or a yahoo. In New Delhi, you must not say he is a bad man, a bandicoot, a goonda, or a rat. In Hong Kong, you must not tell him to “stumble in the street,” or call his speech “foul grass growing out of a foul ditch.” In Ottawa, where we are especially sensitive to such things, you must not call him a parliamentary pugilist, say he is inspired by forty-rod whiskey, that he has come into the world by accident, is a dim-witted saboteur, a trained seal, or "the political sewer pipe from Carleton County." "Fuddle duddle," whatever it means, is also not allowed. In New Zealand, where they are less sensitive, you will nevertheless be ejected from the chamber for calling your worthy opponent's last comment “the idle vapourings of a mind diseased,” noting that “his brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides,” or observing that he seems to have “the energy of a tired snail returning home from a funeral.”

It is easy to see, I think, that deliberate insults slung at someone revered by others for religious reasons could and perhaps should be treated in the same way in the public square, and could be prohibited without in any way interfering with honest debate, including debate over the truth of religions. An insult to Mohammed is not a legitimate comment on the teachings of Islam. It is ad hominem, irrelevant, and unworthy of the right honourable member.

It should go without saying that any such law or rule should apply equally in the case of all recognized religions.

Does saying this mean I believe you have the right to kill people who insult you or your religion?

Er, no. I'm also against killings in the House of Commons, actually.

Neither does it justify the hateful Canadian “Hate Laws,” which do indeed criminalize the statement of specific opinions or the mention of well-known facts. Nor does it justify European laws against “Holocaust denial,” and similar matters, like the current mad case that it is illegal in Turkey to say that the killings of Armenians in Turkey in the early 20th century was a genocide, and it is illegal in France to say it wasn't. These laws, by contrast, clearly violate John Stuart Mill's concept of freedom of speech. 

But an insult is not an opinion, and established parliamentary practice makes it fairly clear that the distinction can be made consistently.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Curses My Grandfather Taught Me

Gerald Vanluven Roney

My grandfather died when I was 11 or 12. I wish I could have known him better.

He had the Irish reverence for words and wordplay. His specialty was making up colourful mock curses. Here are the ones I remember:

"Wouldn't that just rot your socks!"

"Hell's bells and panther tracks! Dirty old man with a busted crutch!"

"A pox on you!"

"Liars, cheats and thieves!"

My father reminds me that whenever asked where something was, it was "down cellar behind the axe."

He also had his own wise sayings. One was "God hates a quitter."

I cherish these words; they give such a picture of the man. He was one of nature's poets.