Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Plea for the CBC

Founded by the Tories under RB Bennett.

Non-Canadians can stop reading now.

Canadian conservatives tend to be anti-culture, anti-arts. This is a dreadful mistake. Shelley was right in saying that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world; the pen really is mightier than the sword. The culture wars will, inevitably, be won in the culture. All politicians are ever able to do, unless they are themselves, like Ronald Reagan, artists, is rush to the front of the mob and pretend they are leading. Leave the culture on the other side, and the right will always lose.

Nor is there any unwritten rule that artists are always going to be leftists. They are not. In the early years of the twentieth century, the finest English poetic voices were on the right: TS Eliot and WB Yeats. Jack Kerouac was a Taft Republican. Even supposedly counter-cultural figures from the Sixties have revealed that they merely felt obliged to keep to themselves essentially right-wing views: Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, and so forth.

So we should all shut up about shutting up the CBC. We need the CBC. We need it desperately in a country like Canada, not so much because we are threatened with assimilation by American culture, but because we are threatened, by a challenging geography, with regional, centrifugal forces. We need a megaphone to speak for Canada united.

On top of that, there is the issue of international branding. People outside France buy French products largely because “France” means something as a brand. So does “Japan,” or “Germany.” Canada too means something as a brand, but it is just good sense to advertise. A CBC concentrated entirely on Canadian culture and focused outward as well as inward, with the new fora of international cable and the Internet out there, would do this. It would also project “soft power” that might stand us in good stead in case of international conflict.

Wince all you want about exempting the arts from the free market. It works; and the arts have rarely, anywhere, been part of the free market. This is an exception to the general rule. We have seen government tinkering work in the remarkable growth of the Canadian popular music industry, unfairly subsidized, no doubt, in market terms, by Cancon rules. CBC radio, which unlike TV is all Canadian content, has also genuinely done a lot for Canadian culture.

Nor would this cost much—less and less with the growth of technology. The French auteurs used to talk of the ideal of a “camera-stylo”—a cinema that could be as intimate and personal as a writer’s pen. We have that now: everybody carries a video camera in their pocket, complete with means of instant transmission.

Foreign content.
The trick is to require that CBC broadcast only Canadian content, with a clear mandate for national unity and promotion of the Canadian brand. No shows from the US or Britain. Besides serving no national interest, such shows put the CBC in direct and unfair competition with private broadcasters. Bureaucratic bloat could be avoided by enforcing a budget requirement that limited percentages available for anything off-air.

And no money for anything the least bit “multicultural.” Canadian culture must belong to all Canadians.

Non-Canadians can now resume reading.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Growing Problem of Foreigners Not Knowing How to Think

German (left) versus Chinese techniques of exptressing an opinion, graphically illustrated. More at bsix12

Recently, I attended a conference for English teachers, and a talk on the need to “teach our students critical thinking skills.” This is a growing movement within EFL (English as a Foreign Language). And it is alarming.

We are not talking here, note, about grade school kids, or high school kids. These are college and university students.

Can we assume that these students really “do not know how to think critically”? Isn’t there an obvious danger that what we are really seeing, given the EFL context, is a tendency to think in ways unfamiliar to us EFL teachers as Westerners? Isn’t it racist, flat-out racist, to assume that we are the experts on “how to think,” apparently on no better grounds than that we Westerners?

But let’s suppose the students—EFL students everywhere, apparently-- genuinely do not know how to think. Should we, as English teachers, be telling them? If the average university student “does not know how to think,” on what grounds can we assume that the average English teacher does? We have no qualifications, and have never been tested ourselves, in the subject. How much do we really know about formal logic, logical fallacies, formal debate procedure, and the syllogism? You want someone with qualifications to teach you how to think clearly and incisively, you want a philosophy grad, not an English major.

Finally, where do we get off deciding what the students need to know? Our students have signed up to learn English. That’s what we tell them we are here to do, and that is what they are paying for. Where do we get the right to instead make them spend their time “learning how to think” as we would like?

German versus Chinese approach to problem-solving.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem we face in the EFL field. In the normal course of things, as the EFL field has grown, it is universities and linguistics departments in English-speaking countries have set themselves up as the "experts" to train aspirants for this "profession." With the trainers being the resident instructors there.

This means that those who are training people for careers in EFL either 1) have not themselves ever taught abroad, or, 2) if they have, have decided they would rather return home. In other words, they are self-selected for not being good at dealing with foreign cultures.

Among other problems, this bias means that the standard TEFL/TESOL training ignores altogether the one most important issue faced by people in the field: how to deal with a foreign culture.

Nor, catastrophically, do they learn anything about comparative lingustics, because their trainers know nothing about it. Asa result, the field tends to treat EFL students as though they have never previously known any other language; as if before they started learning English they could not read or write.Besides being terribly insulting, this means we spend a huge amount of time--about half of all class time, by my reckoning--"teaching" EFL students things they already know from their first language: skimming and scanning a reading passage, composing a paragraph, listening for details, and so forth. At the same time, we ignore any issues that are likely to cause them special problems: things like the difference in how tone is used in Chinese and in English. To teach at all efficiently, any teacher of EFL should have a basic knowledge of their likely students' first language--training should involve at leasto ne course in comparative linguistics. This need not require all the heavy lifting of vocabulary aquisition. But they should know the basics: word order, how stress is used, what phonemes are available, and so forth.

Ultimately, the solution is simple: TESOL training should be offered and taken, by native speakers, but at universities in non-English-speaking countries. Nor would this be difficult to do: the expence of moving abroad could be more than offset by the cheaper cost of living while studying in a country like Cambodia or Costa Rica.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Men Prefer Smart Women

The results of this study are significant, because feminists are always saying the opposite: that men prefer dumb women.

Males value intelligence most as it's a sign a woman will be a responsible mother | Daily Mail Online:

The truth is that men prefer smart women, but smart women are never feminists.

A case in point: It is hardly suprising that feminists get less attention from men than do other women.

What is remarkable is that feminists can't seem to figure out why.

Osama Bin Laden's Book Club

Move over, Oprah!

It is interesting to see what was on Osama Bin Laden’s bookshelf. The contents of his private library have just been released by US Intelligence.

The most notable thing is, as I would expect, his appreciation for Islam seems to have been rather superficial. He had the Qur’an, plus a selection of short tracts roughly at the “Islam for Dummies” level. These are primers, largely written for non-Muslims: “What Must Be Known about Islam”; “Muhammed, Messenger of Allah”; “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam.” They are the sort of short paperbacks commonly found free on racks in malls around the Gulf, for the benefit of non-Muslim tourists. Books that would be of no use to anyone who knew Islam well. Just enough context, I submit, to convincingly talk the talk.

Interestingly enough, his bookshelf also included another book on a religious theme: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, an early twentieth century “New Age” tract on Freemasonry and the like. Certainly not of any spiritual interest to any serious Muslim; Islam generally frowns upon such things. It is the sort of titillating book that appeals to those with sophomoric knowledge of world religions. The sort who want to go to Tibet to get their palms read.

The initiation of a Freemason.

But the most prominent theme in his reading seems to have been leftist writing of an anti-Western and anti-capitalist bent. Noam Chomsky scores two books: Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, and Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Other titles include The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. On the measure of his reading list, Bin Laden was more of a leftist than a Muslim, and certainly more of a political than a religious animal.

Which is probably generally true of all the suicide bombers and terrorists bizarrely now being called “religious extremists.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

About the Spanish Inquisition

An Old Hope

Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!

I am no expert on economics. It fascinates me, but it is, in the end, a social science. Which means to me that its data are unreliable. So I am not qualified to comment on this recent piece. But I include it because of its possible relevance to my own point that Western Civ died in the First World War.

Despite the title, its thesis seems to me to be hopeful. It argues that free trade and globalization make war increasingly unlikely. The century of relative peace between Waterloo in 1815 and Sarajevo in 1914, sometimes called “Pax Britannica,” was, it holds, no lucky accident. The First World War was a desperate rear-guard action by the traditional old landed elites, seeing their powers slip away. And, if we can ever shake off the last vestiges of socialism and Keynesianism, we may yet get back on track.

The argument seems to me to make some sense. After all, more land or even more resources means nothing in an industrial economy and given free trade. Let alone that, in modern democracies, you have to give any conquered people the vote. The one group to whom it would matter is the old landed warrior class, committed both to land and to war, who would see an expanding empire as an opportunity for their younger sons. Moreover, going to war would magnify their political power back home.

Germany was clearly more worried about Russia than France...

I note that the nations most responsible for the war’s outbreak were those in which the old landed warrior class were a) most dominant, and b) most threatened; yet also the nations that c) as nations, had the most to lose. The initial culprit was Austria: a terribly rickety aristocratic government already clearly in decline. Next to break the peace was Czarist Russia, by mobilizing in response: still run by aristocrats, but developing quickly. After that, industrialized but autocratic Germany. It was the ancien regime’s last throw of the dice, driven to desperation by their declining importance in the modern world.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Michael Coren Swims the English Channel

That was then ...

The time has come, The Walrus says, to speak of Michael Coren. He has raised much fuss, in Canada and abroad, by recently converting from Catholicism to Anglicanism on the issue of homosexuality. He has now explained his position in The Walrus.

I know how he feels. He is a part of literary Toronto. It is, in the end, a small place, and it would be socially terribly difficult to maintain Catholic teaching on the matter, surrounded by gay friends and colleagues. This, I think, the call of the world, is Coren's bottom line, and it shows in the way he begins and ends his Walrus piece. He as much as admits it in so many words at one point, in a backhanded way: “A mingling of income, self-perception, and reputation made it difficult to say what I truly felt.” (Was that really then, or is that now?) I, too, have gay friends and colleagues, whom I dearly love—in, I guess I have to add, the true, non-sexual sense. It is a painful issue, in the current social climate.

But that is not, in the end, an excuse. We are all tempted by the world. We must not succumb, even if our social life, or indeed our livelihood, might suffer. And any of Coren's other justifications are unconvincing.

He begins with the profoundly non-Catholic argument that “times change.” Later, he refers to opposition to homosexual sex as “outdated.” As he must, as a former Catholic, know, that holds no holy water. Eternal truth, faith and morals, cannot change, or else it was never truth. As Coren himself has pointed out in a recent interview, the Catholic Church simply cannot change its teaching on homosexuality, for this reason.

What Coren really seems to be saying here is that the social costs of maintaining the Catholic teaching on homosexuality are getting too high.

His second argument is that fellow Catholics have been unkind to him over the issue. This is irrelevant for a couple of reasons. First, since it came after his conversion on gay marriage, it cannot be a reason for it. Second, it is ad hominem. Truth is truth, quite apart from whether the person saying it is rude or gentle about it.

His third argument is that Catholicism has elevated homosexuality to an importance it does not deserve.

... this is now.

This seems completely disingenuous. It is not the Catholic Church that has been saying for the past several decades that homosexuality is important. It is the homosexuals, along with the secular society. If you consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you find homosexuality listed there right along with masturbation, fornication, and adultery. No worse, and no better. All four are wrong. But probably all Catholics have good friends who are guilty of at least one of these things, given the great improbability that they are not guilty of them themselves. Pope Francis sought to make the same point in his famous “Who am I to judge?” interview. So who exactly is pulling homosexuality out of the mix as some sort of poster child, and why? It is not the Church. Looks like it is Coren, for one, in his current conversion.

In any case, Coren is guilty of a big honking non sequitor. The claim that homosexuality is a relatively minor sin, does not mean it is not a sin.

As I pointed out fairly recently on this blog, most Christians would have no problem with homosexual civil unions that gave homosexuals the same rights as married couples. Many would have no problem with gay marriage as a legal matter. I have myself been in favour of gay marriage for much longer than, say, Barack Obama. This is not the issue. The issue is saying that homosexual sex is morally okay. And, beyond that, not even permitting anyone to say it is not okay. That is where we are heading now. And, frankly, if its advocates really thought themselves that it was okay, they would not feel any need for this third, profoundly radical, demand.

Coren's next argument is that homosexual orientation is more central to the homosexual's identity than alcohol is to the alcoholic, or adultery to the adulterer, and therefore cannot be treated as parallel. But this is surely a straw man: the Church does not condemn homosexual identity, but only homosexual sex acts. It condemns it in the same way it condemns heterosexual sex outside of marriage, remembering that not all heterosexuals will ever marry, or heterosexual sex among the clergy. Is homosexuality then more a part of a homosexual's identity than heterosexuality is of a heterosexual's identity? Is that some new kind of equality?

His next claim is that homosexuals are “born that way.” He combines this with a jibe that Christians tend to deny this. Another straw man, surely. The Catholic Catechism points out, correctly, that we do not know the true roots of homosexuality—it does not deny the possibility that it is inborn. But that is of no relevance. Having a temptation to sin, inborn or otherwise, obviously does not absolve one of the sin. If there were no temptation, no one would ever sin.

To be fair, Coren's deeper point is that it is “theologically dubious” that God would create some people with an inborn tendency to sin. Yet how is this case any different from, say, causing some people to be born into a rich family, remembering that “blessed are the poor”? Or letting them, innocent, be born into an oppressive regime like Nazi Germany, or a libertine one like North American today, where temptations to sin are bound to be greater? We have here no more than one more formulation of the old Problem of Evil; we need not get into it here, for it has been addressed so often. It is remarkable if Coren has spent his entire spiritual life to now without having to deal with it.

Coren then accuses Catholics or Catholicism of “dishonesty” or “hypocrisy” because, he estimates, one third to one half of Catholic priests are gay, “and by no means are they all celibate.”

First, we can eliminate from his complaint any “gay” Catholic priests who remain celibate. In this case, being “gay” is of no consequence. So the “one third to one half” estimate is a red herring twice over. For the rest, no doubt there are some gay priests who violate their vows; does this discredit the Catholic Church? Has the Catholic Church declared somewhere that Catholics, lay or clergy, are sinless? Actually, just the reverse: Catholics say we are all sinners.

Coren then claims, tiresomely, that Bible scholars are coming to a “new understanding” of scripture suggesting that the prohibitions of homosexuality there found are not really prohibitions of homosexuality.

This is no doubt partly true; although on the evidence of Coren's own exegesis said new understandings do require a pretty supple imagination. In order for Protestant denominations to justify dropping their historical opposition to homosexual sex, after all, their theological supporters and operatives must indeed reinterpret scripture somehow. This is an ever-present temptation, in the face of our own perceived present wants and needs; notoriously, even the Devil can quote scripture to his purposes.

To prevent rationalizing one's way to any sort of immoral behaviour or theological error as convenience demands it, Catholicism precludes this gambit. You learn something in two thousand years or so. We are not free to reinterpret scripture at will. We are obliged to understand it broadly in the same way the Church has always understood it. We need to consult the church fathers. It is relevant, therefore, that, in addition to the obvious meaning of the actual words of the New Testament, theologians and Church councils all the way back to the Didache clearly understood homosexual sex to be forbidden. No fudge here, lads.

Coren's next claim is a familiar one, that “love” requires the acceptance of homosexual sex. This relies on a gross though common materialism, which equates love with the sex act. Enough said there.

In the end, if you will pardon the phrase—it seems impossible to avoid double entendres on this subject--I suspect that Coren has been terminally frightened by the very rapid success of the current and growing anti-Catholic pogroms. Can't blame him too much for that: he is right out there. Things are moving so quickly that, in just the past few days, we have seen the bizarre anomaly of a small private bakery in Northern Ireland being convicted and fined for refusing to bake a cake expressly celebrating gay marriage--in a jurisdiction in which gay marriage is illegal.

They are coming for the Catholics. Coren sees this. He does not want to be home on that dark night when the knock comes on the door. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Woman on the US Currency?

Harriet Tubman.

Right; it seems that American feminists have caught the same bug as Canadian feminists, and are demanding that a woman at last appear on the currency.

At least this makes a little more sense than the Canadian case, in which there has virtually always been a woman on the currency. In the US, sisters have only been there now and then, as Colombia, Susan B. Anthony, Sacajewa, and so forth.

They have even chosen a candidate: Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman

Bad idea.

It is wrong in the first place to put political figures on the bank notes. Partisan political figures are divisive; they cannot represent the nation. At least the Americans have the excuse of not having had a monarch for head of state; presidents perhaps seemed like a necessary replacement, to one of little native imagination. But to feature prime ministers, or, worse, unelected people known only for their involvement in a political cause, is in terrible taste. It is like picking a fight.

The currency should feature either symbols of the nation as a whole, of the people, or cultural figures. The nation is the people and the culture.

Suppose the Americans want a woman on their currency, because of her sex—offensive as such sexual discrimination is. Suppose they also insist on a black woman—offensive as such racial discrimination is. It is still entirely possible to choose a worthy candidate—worthier than Harriet Tubman, whose life accomplishment was freedom for 70 African American slaves. Freedom in Canada, one might awkwardly note. A worthy thing, but her image tends to perpetuate the destructive myth that the African American history, experience, and culture is distinct from and not fully a part of the American culture. There are better candidates, without the subtext that Americans ought to be ashamed to be Americans.

For, as a matter of fact, if blacks (aka African Americans, Afro-Americans, people of colo(u)r, negroes, depending on when you first got drawn into the racial hassles in the US) have never been central to American politics, they have always been central to American culture.

Ladies and gentlemen, in no particular order, of whatever epidermal hue, I give you Bessie Smith.

Bessie Smith

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turnabout Is Not Fair Play

Heads LGBTs Win, Tails Christians Lose | The American Conservative:

'via Blog this'

The Waste Land

Dali, "The Persistence of Memory"

Western civilization has never recovered from World War I. It has PTSD and has been trying to commit suicide ever since.

We saw Yeats’ prophecy of this in “The Second Coming,” first published in 1920. But there was another great poem published just two years later, in 1922: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Many consider it the first great trumpet blast of Modernism. Which is to say, the general nervous breakdown of the arts in the West.


It was written by Eliot when he was himself suffering from what we now would call depression: "nervous exhaustion," they called it then. The poem is a profoundly accurate depiction of the experience of depression. If we really want to understand depression, we ought to be studying it carefully. It is hard to see spiritual things. We need someone with Eliot's talent to show them to us clearly.

Thomas Stearns Eliot. "T.S." to you.

The most notable aspect of the poem, of course , is that it is all frustratingly incoherent. That is the point; that is the essence of depression. There is no protagonist, no consistent sense of self: "depersonalization," the shrinks call it. Instead, a seemingly random parade of narrators take up seemingly random threads, as if an invisible hand were turning a radio dial. Sensible narratives carry on for a while, then are interrupted by something else. Shrinks call this "inability to concentrate." Most notably to my mind, there is a sense of meaninglessness: things seem to mean something, but the meaning always remains just beyond reach, ephemeral, like a will-o-the-wisp. A lot of dead-end allusions. "A lack of interest in anything," the good doctors will conclude. There is certainly a pervasive sense of anxiety: something bad is always coming. Sorrow? Perhaps there is sorrow; you decide, reading through. I do not see anything resembling ordinary sorrow. A sense of loss, agreed. But sorrow is not, in fact, the defining element of "depression."

It is, in sum, a "Waste Land." A barren landscape. It is the desert sands of Yeats' prior poem. But Yeats was foreseeing this state; Eliot is living in it. The image is so apt, for what Western civilization has been struggling through, that we have been writing about it ever since. Becket's Vladimir and Estragon inhabit the same landscape. So does Orwell's Winston Smith. Dali paints it in "The Persistence of Memory." Ginsberg's angelheaded hipsters prowl it in the predawn of "Howl." Steinbeck's Okies experience it as the Dust Bowl. More recently, it has appeared as Mad Max's Australia, Dylan's "Desolation Row," Blade Runner's decaying LA, Luke Skywalker's Tatooine, Katniss Everdeen's Panem, and the Georgia of The Walking Dead. Not to mention ten dozen other zombie matinees. Steppenwolf secretly lived there. The Waste Land, perhaps originally inspired by the No Man's Land of the World War I trenches, has become the ruling metaphor for the modernist era, and for modern life. It is also sometimes known as "the rat race." 

Duchamp's "Fountain," 1917.

We have been wandering these barrens for the past hundred years. Our art is at a dead stall; we cannot find our way out of this maze; we have never yet managed to discover a new centre for our cultural mandala, a new cosmic organization of truth, goodness, and beauty. There was a brief period of optimism, true, in the 20's, and a longer one after the Second World War, but things soon settled back into permanent twilight. We have been doing nothing but repeating Eliot's Waste Land and Duchamp's "Fountain" ever since.