Sunday, October 04, 2015

All There in Black and White?

It seems incredible, but it looks as though CNN photoshopped pictures of Christopher Mercer in order to make the shooter in the recent Roseburg mass killing look more Caucasian. Besides the skin tone, look carefully at the nose and lips in the two pictures.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Just Another Godforsaken Highway in the Rain

I sought escape down random roads, but I sought in vain
For every town in every place seemed more or less the same
Just another Godforsaken highway in the rain.

These also were the words, no doubt, of Eriksson the Dane
As winter whipped his cabin, or the maelstrom came
He sought escape down random roads, but he sought in vain.

Or Cartier of St. Malo, who attacked the trackless main
He brought his wandering with him, to the land God gave to Cain
For every town and every place seemed more or less the same.

And some have sought for only love, like lovely Marion Crane
But found instead some old motel that bore the owner's name
Just another Godforsaken highway in the rain.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Roseburg and Guns

The deadly English longbow. For national defense, every English freeman was drilled in its use. It could take down a knight on horseback. Result: human equality.

Another mass shooting in the US, in Oregon, and another general call for tougher laws on gun control.

First point: appearances to the contrary, and for what it is worth, mass shootings in the US are not becoming more common. They are becoming less common. Nor are there actually more mass shootings in the US than in other developed naions. Apparently, there have been more proportionate to population in Finland and Norway.

Second point: tougher control of guns will probably do little to prevent mass killings. If it amounts to anything less than banning all guns, the killers will just adapt accordingly; they will use a different model. Security checks are of slight use; they will only catch previous offenders, who will then, being criminals, probably acquire what they want on the black market. As for the mentally ill, we are totally incapable of predicting who is dangerous and who is not. Banning all guns would obviously be unconstitutional in the US, even if desirable.

Nor would banning guns necessarily reduce mass killings. How many people were killed on 9-11? How many guns were used? How about at the Boston Marathon? How about suicide bombers? Why wouldn't the method simply adjust?

Third point: banning guns is not desirable. The Second Amendment exists because an unarmed citizenry is vulnerable to an oppressive government. The historical evidence is plain that a yeomanry armed with the longbow, effective against armoured men on horseback, was the critical factor in the development of human rights and then democracy in England. From there, the British right to bear arms, enshrined in the British as well as the US Bill of Rights, spread it throughout the Anglosphere. The right to bear arms was an important protection for blacks in the South in quite recent years.

Fourth point: if we want to reduce mass shootings, there is one simple thing we could do that probably would be rather effective. Ban publication of the name of the shooter, or his or her photograph, or any details that would allow him or her to be identified by the public. The public has no legitimate need to know these details; they probably have little interest. This would withdraw the single strongest motive behind the killings: the chance at fame.

Fifth point: it is no coincidence that these mass shootings always take place in advertised “gun free zones.” Such places are a natural magnet to mass killers. Would you post a sign on your front lawn saying “no guns in this house”? Why not “no dangerous dogs, no alarms, and doors are unlocked”? I suggest that any institution that enforces such a “gun-free” policy is implicitly taking responsibility for protecting the safety of all on the premises. If someone gets shot in a “gun-free zone,” they or their family should be able to sue the institution. Big time.

A recent Rolling Stone article claims, more or less against this, that no mass shooting has actually been stopped by a civilian bearing arms in the last thirty years.

Eh? Canadians will immediately want to say, “but what about Kevin Vickers?” The assault on Parliament, of course, like the recent incident on a train in France, happened outside the US, and so will not show in US statistics. But they also would not appear for another reason: something is called a “mass shooting” when at least four or five people are killed. When there is a civilian nearby with a gun, things are unlikely to go this far, and they did not in either of those cases. Rolling Stone's evidence actually works against its point, and shows what a disaster gun free zones really are. For what it's worth, BuzzFeed cites a variety of other cases in recent years where armed civilians prevented mass killings.

Two action items, then: ban all publicity for the killers, and put the kibosh on gun-free zones.

By contrast, just calling for more gun control is revoltingly cynical.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Irish Montreal

Homes, Goose Village

Jerusalem is built as a city
Strongly compact.
It is there that the tribes go up
The tribes of The Lord.

We left ship for land at Bonsecours
The little city shimmering with fever
A hundred suns reflected on tin roofs.
Yet angels welcomed us
And far and up away we saw a cross.

Spring flood in Griffintown.

Where we began, the land was so bog low
It flooded with the snow melt every spring.
Yet generation by generation, we have climbed toward the cross, always in our sight.
Block by block, sometimes with full barrow, against snow, sometimes on our knees.
Past better shops, universities, art museums, widening areas of green.

Until finally last fall we made the summit.
The city looked lovely below us,
More beautiful than we remember.
But around us,
We discovered only graves, as far as eye could see.  

- Stephen K. Roney

Children, Goose Village, 1910.

Politics and the English Language: The State of Play

The Emperor's New Clothes.

It is starting to look as though the long, ugly reign of political correctness may be finally coming to an inglorious end. Theoretically, it should have ended long ago, for long ago everyone started denying they were for political correctness. Yet there continued nevertheless to be a list of things you could not say, and indeed a still-growing list. Even in the last couple of weeks, there have been stories of university administrations urging the use of new sex-neutral pronouns like “ze” and “xyr.” We have been hearing more and more about “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions,” have we not? Only within the past few days, I have seen separate sources deriding the terms “niggardly” and “Eskimo” as racially pejorative, although neither is.

Yet, here are three signs that things may have just passed the tipping point:

1. Polling immediately after Ben Carson's “controversial” objection to a Muslim president showed his support rise sharply instead of falling. This was supposed to end his campaign.

2. The University of Chicago has, in cooperation with FIRE, issued a new call for the right to free speech on campus. This is a dissent from campus “speech codes,” coming from a highly respected institution.

3. A NYT report (yes, NYT, usually reliably to the left) says school boards across the US are moving away from “zero tolerance” policies.

When it happens, it should happen quickly. The whole thing has been held together by fear and repression. Nobody dared to buck these speech demands alone, because alone they risked being crushed. But let the secret get out that most folks are really secretly against them, and all heck can break loose. If one person gets away without without serious repercussions, others will be prepared to try it. There can very soon be such a large torrent that social justice warriors will have no hope of exacting a punishment for anyone.

Perhaps Donald Trump burst the bubble. He had enough money, he could afford to take the hit. He did, too—he lost a lot of business for his comments on illegal immigrants from Mexico. But he kept on regardless, refused to retract, the incident popped him into first place in the polls, and the social justice warriors haven't even tried to punish him for any comments since. They begin to understand it would only help him.

So now the jig is very nearly up. It will take a while for everyone to realize that the game has changed, but probably not all that long. Jeb Bush sure didn't get it, when he demanded Trump publicly apologize to his wife for pointing out that she was Mexican.

Being slow on the uptake on this seems currently to be hurting the NDP's poll numbers in Canada. They thought supporting the right to wear a niqab during a Canadian citizenship ceremony was an easy pander. Turns out the general electorate, not just in Quebec but across Canada, are overwhelmingly opposed, and see this as a key issue. It would seem to be purely symbolic, but that's the nature of politically correct tyrrany. It is as if Canadians are angry, not so much about the specific issue, but about PC-ism in general.

I can recall similar flips in the past: Oliver Stone's “JFK” unintentionally managed to almost instantly transform elaborate conspiracy theories from the supposedly smart and chic way to look at the world to a laughingstock.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Winter Cherry

after Chuei Hu

Last year, on this mountain,
Poetry was a cherry garland on her shoulders,
Redder as her face grew deeper red.

I return; she is nowhere, only dreams.
But look--in verses, cherries are in blossom.
Surprising, vivid pink against the snow.

-- Stephen K. Roney

The Munk Debate

I have now had a chance to see the Munk Foreign Policy Debate among the three main Canadian party leaders. Much less interrupting this time, but the clear offender again was Justin Trudeau. This to me made him the loser, even though he made better points than in the past. Canadians are too polite by nature to accept that.

Mulcair also lost in the likability stakes, I think, because his motions and the way he holds his hands look so unnatural. He seemed repressed. The camera caught expressions that looked angry when he watched Trudeau. He got in a few zingers that made him sound smart, but they were also harsh and undignified. Canadians famously love humour, but Canadian humour is conspicuously good-natured and unbarbed. This was probably not to the audience's taste.

On likeability grounds, by contrast, Harper turned in a performance that was almost flawless. So I call him the clear winner, on the grounds that usually most matter.

This debate was unusually substantive, so it is just possible that the parties' stands on the issues will make the difference. But here, I think, Stephen Harper also has to be the clear winner. It is almost inevitable for a party in power: being in power, and if they intend to stay there, the government can seize the more popular side in any current debate. If the opposition comes up with a new idea that gains interest and approval, they can co-opt that too. They do this by actually introducing legislation; which the opposition cannot do.

As a result, the opposition parties are generally left saying they would do mostly the same things, but do them a little better.

Accordingly, it is always hard for the opposition to win on the issues. If an opposition wins, they usually win, in Canada, because of a good, juicy scandal, or because of a general odour of corruption in the government. Or they win because the sitting government has given an impression of general incompetence.

Harper has done pretty well at looking competent, and certainly did in the debates.

The opposition must rely on a general odour of government corruption.

Is it there, and is it there plainly enough? Either way, this debate did not show it. On its own, it has to help Harper's Tories.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Although I know all 'mantical love’s a mare-drawn pantomime caravan,
Casting fortunes in the dust, leaving settled acres bare;
Although I know possession's one point love, and nine points testament,
And testimony must not love a face;
Still I know the sorry angel that's in Bethany's blue eyes,
And, though suffering is no excuse for love,
Her eyes are on my wallpaper tonight.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Fiorina Lies. Or Not.

Carly Fiorina had the most memorable moment at the second Republican candidates debate, everyone seems to agree, when she said, of the Planned Parenthood videos, “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Planned Parenthood, in response, quickly declared that “every part of what she said was false.” Gloria Steinem wrote that it was a “100 percent lie.” George Stephanopolis demanded she retract, saying a fact checker had been through all ten hours of the tapes and found no scene anything like this. And on and on. Just yesterday, Chuck Todd confronted Carly Fiorina on Meet the Press demanding that she admit it was not true.

This strikes me as odd, because when she said that in the debate, I knew immediately which scene she was describing. How can that be so if it is 100 percent untrue? If it is nowhere on the tapes? For that claim to be fair, there would have to be no live foetus, and no brain harvesting. Both were featured in that segment. Fiorina, I admit, did have one detail technically wrong: the voice said they had to keep it “intact” to harvest the brain, not “alive.” But in the situation, the two amounted to the same thing. If the child was not crushed in utero, it was born alive.

Based on comments by Todd and Christopher Wallace, I gather that the claim among pro-lifers that the whole thing is a lie is based on the argument that the baby we see with its legs moving is not the same baby being discussed re brain harvesting. Wow. Big, meaningful difference. But if you read the transcript of what Fiorina actually said, she did not even make this claim. Her “it” may have referred to “the foetus” as a generic entity.

So why this strangely intense insistence that it was all a lie? Indeed, what would it prove or even matter if Fiorina got some detail wrong?

I am reminded of a quote from Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The “lady,”in this case, being not Fiorina, but all the backers of Planned Parenthood. It's like O.J. Simpson, on the stand, stating that he “absolutely” did not kill his wife. An innocent man would not have thought of that “absolutely” as appropriate or meaningful.

Nor “100 percent,” nor “every part” a lie, nor “nowhere on those tapes.”

They know they have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Their conscience is after them.

It is an odd element of conscience, too, that it tends to crave exposure. Their insistence that Fiorina is lying is, in the end, self-defeating. It is keeping the Planned Parenthood issue in the limelight, and prompting many more people to look at the videos. Fiorina's campaign has even seized the opportunity to feature the relevant parts in a campaign ad.

Eventually, they will have to admit the truth about Planned Parenthood, and about what abortion means. And will find themselves miraculously sleeping better at night.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sijo of the St. Lawrence

Morning on the river.
As I launch my boat
Four herons rise and circle.
I alone believe
There is somewhere to go.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Clinton Looks for a Cloth

In her email scandal, Hillary Clinton is consistently breaking a basic rule of PR: if there is bad news, get it all out at once, so you can then beyond it.

Do you remember the Chicago Tylenol murders? Perhaps not. Seven people died from taking store bought Tylenol that had been laced with poison by a serial killer. Within a week after the first death, Tylenol pulled all its product, issued a warning not to use it, ceased advertising, stopped making it in capsule form. They and everyone else starting putting seals on the pill containers. A year or two later, Tylenol was back on top. Quick and smart PR prevented what could have been a permanent association of Tylenol with poisonings.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign have been doing the exact opposite. They keep putting out lame falsehoods minimizing the affair. These then serially get disproven step by agonizing step, keeping it all in the news for one more cycle. Just last week, we learned that her private server was not, in fact, “scrubbed,” or not competently. Her emails were probably recoverable. Friday, we learned that a large new cache of emails regarding Benghazi has been discovered, were missing from her previous “full disclosure.” She is establishing one fact clearly in the public mind: she cannot be trusted.

Why would she do this? Unless …

It is impossible, ultimately, to rule out pure incompetence. Most people find it difficult to admit guilt, even minor guilt. For a similar political PR disaster, we have the example of Watergate, a supposed “third rate burglary” which nevertheless brought down a president.

But frankly, I suspect Watergate was far more than that, there was a reason for all the covering up and stonewalling, and there was more than altruism in Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. The preemptive pardon ended the investigation. Who knows what it might have turned up?

So too with Hillary. The simplest explanation is that something hiding in those emails would, if known, kill her presidential hopes, if not have her fitted for an orange jumpsuit. Why else would she have opted for a private server in the first place? She is just hoping against hope it isn't found.

The fact that she did not hand over al lthe emails regarding Benghazi specifically may be a clue...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Legend of the Emilie Bell

What is it about big bells?
The thrill of the deep sublime
The terrible voice of iron
Remembering fire?

Each big bell, the aged women say
Requires a sacrifice;
Something young and virginal to keep the metal supple; or it cracks.
An unwanted child, perhaps.

Listen carefully, then, when you hear the toll of bells:
Or for that matter, any lesser music.
Listen for that sweet high undertone.
You hear a small child set aflame
Crying for a heedless mother.

-- Stephen K. Roney

The Lion and the Unicorn

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town

Trudeau and Mulcair have both now said, publicly, adamantly, that they will not prop up the Conservatives in a minority situation. This, pundits prognosticate, means that the Conservatives must get a majority, or they are out.

Not so fast. At this stage, neither alternative party wants the public to think that a vote for them is a vote to keep the Conservatives in. Simple principle: anyone who wants the Conservatives in is voting for the Conservatives.

But what actually happens if the Conservatives win more seats than anyone else?

Harper would have the right to be appointed Prime Minister by the Governor-General. It would be a public scandal if he were not. Then it is up to the other parties to vote him down. Let's say they vote him down. Then, if the election has been quite recent, the Governor-General would properly go to the leader of one of the other parties to see if they can form a government. He might instead violate tradition and call an election, but if he did, the waste of money and apparent lust for power would be a big issue, and the Conservatives would not be the ones blamed.

Now, while it may not be in the interest of either the Liberals or the NDP to see the Conservatives stay in power, it is much less in their interest to see the other alternative party given a chance at government. Since they compete for more or less the same ideological constituency, this would be a crippling blow, perhaps a death blow. It tags their rivals as the apparent alternative.

Therefore, it becomes in their interest not to force it to this point. Given that the Conservatives do not bait them with something they cannot support without looking duplicitous, the party in third place when the election is over is pretty sure to vote with the government for the first six months at least—until it would look as if the Governor General would have to call an election if the government fell.

They could insist, of course, that they are not "propping up" the government at all, but merely supporting this or that specific measure which they feel is in the best interests of Canadians.

You Don't Talk Politics When You're a Guest

A lot of folks are irate that Pope Francis did not mention abortion or gay marriage explicitly in his speech to the US Congress. The same folks are irate that he did not mention human rights or political prisoners while he was in Cuba.

These people still do not get Pope Francis. He is a pastoral pope. His approach is not to confront, but to find common ground.

As wise grandmothers tell us, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.