The Book!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Diversity in Academics

The stock argument these days for affirmative action in the universities is that it is necessary for “diversity.” This was the claim of the University of Michigan, in a recent case, in which their admission policies, which favoured certain designated racial and ethnic groups, were ruled nevertheless to be constitutionally permissible.

This is largely because the policies are unsupportable on any claim of helping the disadvantaged. Were that the goal, means tests would work far better. The students who benefit from the current policies can rarely claim any kind of historic disadvantage: more often they are the children of immigrants.

Still, “diversity” sounds like a worthy goal, something universities should work towards.

But does the current policy really produce this? After all, a mere diversity in flesh tones is irrelevant, unworthy of consideration in a university. Diversity in sex, while desirable, can only go so far: there are only two sexes, and “diversity” requires only a small representation of either. What we want, surely, is diversity in life experiences, and diversity in thought.

And from exactly this perspective, the current drive to diversity in mere skin tone is ill-considered. Skin tone is irrelevant to real diversity. If real diversity were desired, preference should instead go to students who actually grew up in different societies, different cultures; that is, to international students, not to people of different ethnicity who all grew up in North America. After all, the real difference in life experience between a Chinese-American and a Mexican-American, who might well have attended the same schools, baseball games, and movies throughout their childhood and adolescence, is far less.

Assigning special preference to international students, then, would be the better solution. But in fact there should be no need to do this. There are a lot more non-Americans than Americans in this world. Drawing on this much larger pool, it should be a simple matter to recruit students as good as locals without needing to lower academic standards.

In fact, it is generally the schools with the highest academic standards that attract the most international students currently. So the route to true diversity is simple: raise your standards for everyone; do not lower them.

So too with hiring faculty: it is the best schools that have the most international faculty. Schools that opt for affirmative action tend to sacrifice this for mere diversity in colours of skin.

But most important of all to a university is diversity of thought. In the attention to skin colour, precisely this seems to have been lost wholesale. A recent editorial in the International Herald Tribune warns that good students in the humanities and social sciences who hold conservative views “are advised … to stay in the closet.” The world of academics is currently, to them, “hostile and discriminatory territory.”

And this seems to me to be more or less directly linked to the drive to cosmetic “diversity.” For with it comes the “speech codes,” severely limiting the scope of permitted discourse on campuses, in exactly the place where freedom of speech and thought is most important.

Beyond this, certification, hiring, and advancement throughout academics is collegial: it comes, that is, with impressing your colleagues. This really works only on the premise that one’s colleagues are the current best and brightest. An acceptance of a principle other than merit in academics, in other words, over the longer term, discredits and destroys the entire enterprise, unto the tenth generation.

That is the direction we are headed now.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Times They are a-Changin’

This from the files. Original provenance unknown:

“Another factor in the new atmosphere is that conservative students are now a bigger presence on campus. A Harvard poll in the fall found that 61 percent of U.S. college students supported President Bush, at a time when only 53 percent of all Americans supported him. Last fall, in the annual UCLA survey of college freshmen, 21 percent of students identified themselves as conservative, compared with 24 percent who said they were liberal -- down from a peak of 38 percent liberal in 1971.”

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Persons Case

Contrary to the popular belief throughout Canada, women did not become “persons” in law only in 1929. (See http://library.usask.ca/herstory/person.html for the standard account). Indeed, the claim that “women were not persons under the law!” was just as obviously shocking a statement then as it is now, which is just why the self-named “Famous Five” made the claim. Good propaganda, good spin, good PR. That does not make it true.

The actual question put before the Privy Council, by a government clearly sympathetic with the women—Emily Murphy fully expected it to appoint her to the Senate on a positive judgement--was “Does the word ‘Persons’ in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867 include female persons?"

Note the question itself really presupposes that woman are persons in law, and asks only if there is some reason to believe differently in this one particular statute.

But this was already spin. What the BNA Act actually said was: “24. The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen's Name, by Instrument under the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate; and, subject to the Provisions of this Act, every Person so summoned shall become and be a Member of the Senate and a Senator.”

Note that modifier: not “persons,” but “qualified persons.” This was the real issue, as noted by Lord Esher:

“There can be no doubt that the word ‘persons’when standing alone prima facie includes women. (Per Loreburn L.C., Nairn v. University of St. Andrews21)…. Hence the propriety of the restriction placed upon it by the immediately preceding word ‘ualified’in ss. 24 and 26 and the words ‘fit and qualified’ in s. 32…”

It therefore seems deceitful to claim that the law of Canada did not recognize women as “persons” before this decision. Indeed, the BNA Act itself clearly means to include women in other sections of the same act: “(a) by a comparison of s. 24 with other sections in the B.N.A. Act, in which, he contended, the word ‘persons’ is obviously used in its more general signification as including women as well as men, notably ss. 11, 14 and 41.”

The real question was therefore not the meaning of “persons,” which was not in dispute, but of “qualified.” Whether among the other listed qualifications for being appointed senator was an implicit or common law qualification that one must be male. To suppose there might be implicit, common law qualifications is not strange: the BNA Act does not specify that lunatics cannot be appointed to the Senate, for example, but it is understood common law (or common sense) that they cannot. And there was indeed a common law tradition that women could not or did not serve in Parliament.

Moreover, the reason the Canadian Supreme Court gave for the exclusion of women from the Senate was not that they were in any way lesser than men; rather, it interpreted public life as a burden from which they were exempt as a privilege, as they were exempt, for example, from military service. “…Chiefly out of respect to women, … they have been excused from taking any share in this department of public affairs.” “…The exemption was founded upon motives of decorum, and was a privilege of the sex (honestatis privilegium): Selden's Works, vol. 1, pp. 1083-1085.”

According to the legal reasoning, men were persons in matters of pains and penalties, but women were persons only in matters of rights and privileges.

Let me just quote that phrase again from Lord Esher: ““There can be no doubt that the word "persons" when standing alone prima facie includes women…”

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Clerihew

John Forbes Kerry
Is really rather scary.
I wonder what he’d do
If he were president of you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Clear Grit

What was “Grit”? Remember the ads? I wonder if anyone ever subscribed.

Is anyone else as worried as I am about this rush to put all US intelligence agencies under one director? I fear this concentration of power. It may become hard at some point for a president to resist the wishes of a head of intelligence who has his hands on all the dossiers. I am amazed there has been no debate, no concern expressed, on this issue.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

1984: Oldthinkers Unbellyfeel Postmodernism

Many have debated whether Orwell was a prescient prophet: after all, the world he warned of in 1984 did not come to pass, did it?

It did. It happened in 1948. The very year the book was written.

As William Blake said, true prophets do not predict the future. They point at tendencies in the present and draw them to their logical conclusion. This often ends up forecasting the future, but that is not the point. The point is to warn of present behaviour.

Orwell’s references to eternal war in 1984 are actually transparent references to the Second World War, just concluded as he sat down to write—and segueing naturally into the Cold War. The great victory on the African Front towards the end of the book is El Alamein. Oceania is the Western Alliance: Roosevelt and Churchill. Eurasia is Hitler. Eastasia is the Japanese Empire.

Ingsoc, “English Socialism,” was in fact in power in England when Orwell wrote: the activist Labour government of Clement Attlee.

And many things really have gone on the way Orwell feared in 1948, when the book was written. Remarkably, Orwell seems to have predicted the inevitability of such a three-cornered power struggle. Stalin easily replaced Hitler for the Cold War, and Mao took over from Hirohito; and the alliances continued to shift. In the “War on Terrorism,” a similar three seem to emerge: Bush’s “coalition of the willing” matches Oceania well, the France-Germany-Russia bloc at the UN matches Eurasia, and the “Axis of Evil” looks like Eastasia.

The relativism that is the dogma of the modern elite, now called “postmodernism,” is exactly the philosophy of Ingsoc in Orwell’s book. The postmodernists would be very happy to agree with O’Brien that two plus two does not equal four, but whatever is convenient for the sake of achieving power. As Allan Sokal demonstrated in his famous hoax, postmodernism does not any longer even accept scientific truth: “The law of gravity is nonsense,” as O’Brien explains to Winston Smith. “If I think I float, and you think I float, then I float.”

So too we have Newspeak, the language devised in 1984 to make it impossible to express any politically incorrect thoughts. That is exactly what “politically correct” language is all about, starting with the elimination of all references to sex—sorry, “gender.” To speak or write in Canada now requires the acceptance of certain specific political dogmas.

Note again the current pedagogical insistence on “collaborations” or “group work.” As O’Brien explains, “no book is individually produced.” Last summer I sat in on a lecture on the very latest educational philosophy. All work in the classroom, according to the now-dominant “contructivist” approach, must be collaborative, and anyone not going along with the group is declared a “bully.” With punishments for that offense fast becoming quite serious.

This makes it easier, as Orwell explained, to enforce a dominant ideology. “Lunacy,” in the world of 1984, “is a minority of one.”


Friday, September 17, 2004

According to Luke

Imagine this scene. You have travelled all day, on a very hot day, on foot, to hear someone speak. Once a crowd has gathered, he appears. He clears his throat and says:

"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then he steps down from the podium and disappears with a small group of close followers.

You want radical? I call that radical.

It is a parable explaining the point of parables generally: rhetoric about rhetoric. Parable, figurative language, poetry, is difficult to understand—if you do not have the ears. But if you can hear them, they are much more powerful than ordinary expositions; instead of passing one bit of knowledge on, they return a hundredfold. It is in this sense that Jesus says, soon after explaining the parable, “Take heed then how you hear, for to him who has more will be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18). This seems a paradox in another context, but it is true of figurative language, of “how you hear a parable.” If you get the gist wrong, it is nonsense. But if you get the gist, you get more and more out of it by further contemplation.

Jesus makes the point forcefully that figurative language is not obscure. It seems obscure to those who do not get it: but the point is not to conceal. As he says in his exposition, “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8: 16).

So let us meditate on this parable. One thing: if seeds are words, and words are meant to be multiplied a hundredfold, it is our task too to be rhetoricians. To spread the word.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Teflon

In the end, I think Bush is made of the same kind of Teflon Reagan was. His public persona is likable. People identify with him. He seems like a regular guy. An important part of that is that he goofs up, like the rest of us.

A politician with that kind of persona is just about scandal-proof. People will forgive him for goofing up time and again. All he has to do is say he's sorry, and all is forgiven.

Reagan had it. Clinton had it. JFK had it--remember the Bay of Pigs? Harry Truman had it. Ralph Klein has it in Canada.

Another reason Kerry can't win. This National Guard stuff was going nowhere in the first place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Father and Son

In all the controversy surrounding Bush’s National Guard service, note one interesting detail for which Bush is never given credit: he volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was refused. He can hardly be faulted, therefore, for not going to Vietnam at the time. Or accused of being cowardly.

It also rather looks as though he lost interest in the Guard right after being refused Vietnam service. I could forgive a young pilot for thinking at that point that the military obligation was less important than other things in his life: the military was saying they did not need him anyway. He was not going to be able to be a real combat pilot like his father, whom he idolized.

News flash: George Bush is a human being.


Ben Barnes

Ah, Ben Barnes. He says he helped Bush get into the National Guard. Originally, he said he helped Bush get in when he was lieutenant-governor. Problem: turns out he was not lieutenant-governor yet when Bush got in. So in a later interview on good old 60 Minutes, he says it was when he was Speaker of the Texas House. Problem: while the state executive branch might have some special influence on the Guard, someone in the state legislature would have no special pull. Or at least, no more than Bush Senior would already have had himself, as a Texas congressman. So now the problem with Barnes's story is that, if Bush Sr. wanted his son in the Guard, Barnes (a rival Democrat to boot) would not have been the man to ask.


Kerry’s Strategy from Here

Why is the Kerry campaign dwelling on Vietnam? It seems mad.

But perhaps they have no choice. What other issue do they have?

The war in Iraq?

This is a big problem for the Kerry campaign. While there might be popular discontent with it, Kerry cannot exploit it. Because he has no clear position himself, and cannot have one. His own record on the war is too vulnerable: he voted against the first Gulf War, which everyone now approves. He voted for the second, so cannot plausibly fault Bush for it. Then he voted against funding it, which ruins his image as a hawk. Even during the campaign, he seems to have been both for and against the war, at different times, depending on whether he was positioning himself against Dean or against Bush.

So there's nothing left for Kerry here except the claim that he would somehow handle it more "sensitively." Without specifics. The only basis for claiming this is either a) that he had combat experience in Vietnam, or b) that he has better rapport with foreigners.


That French Look

B is not a promising tack. It probably gives the Republicans their very best campaign issue: raw patriotism. Kerry then "looks French." He "would give Paris a veto on our foreign policy." His wife is foreign; he grew up partly in France; he speaks French; he visibly lacks rapport with the average guy. Remember how much Bush Senior was hurt merely by being involved in the Trilateral Commission? Kerry is far more vulnerable. He looks like the Manchurian Candidate.


What about the Economy, Stupid?

Many seem to think this is Kerry’s opening. After all, it worked for Clinton in ‘92, right?

Also not a good option. First, there are mixed opinions on whether the economy is doing well or badly.

Second, the economy is traditionally a Republican issue. It takes special circumstances to sell the notion that the Democrats can better with it. And it takes a fairly right-wing Democratic candidate. Kerry talks better times ahead, and the Republicans have their ready response: look how much he’s talking about spending. Your taxes are going up!

For a very special reason, this line was not available to the Republicans in 1992. Bush Senior had said, “Read my lips: no new taxes”—and then raised taxes.

There is no such special circumstance this time.

Road closed.

Nor is Kerry plausible as a manager in the way Clinton could be, with his executive experience and centrist pose.

So the Dems, as far as I can see, are left with no possible line of attack, except that Kerry would be a better manager of national security because of four months experience in Vietnam when he was a young man.

I hear the Kerry campaign is about to launch a new week of TV ads questioning Bush's Vietnam record. This looks like suicide at this point; but they seem to be stuck. There's apparently nothing else in their quiver.


The Decline and Fall

Kerry is amazing to watch. He never opens his mouth without insulting the intelligence of his audience. And, when you watch, remember this: this guy was the choice of the Democrats' establishment. This was not an insurgent candidate. Even when Dean looked likely to run away with the nomination, Kerry was the guy the party bigwigs felt could best carry the torch. This was their best and brightest.

Someone once traced the steps in the acceptance of a new idea: first, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they try to silence you. Then, they fight you openly. Then you win.

I think we can add one further step: then, you laugh at them.

It happened to the American establishment during the Vietnam era: at one point in about 1968, they all started to look pretty stupid and out of touch. And then everything changed. I think "neo-conservatism" has traced this arc in recent years. They are now at the point that the establishment they are replacing--the old liberal establishment, the Dan Rathers, the John Kerrys, the Howard Deans--is beginning to look ridiculous. The times they are a'changing.

In America, that is. In Canada, as usual, we're a few years behind the curve. We're still somewhere between the "they try to silence you" and the "they fight you openly" phase.

I predicted at this point Bush would be up five points over Kerry. Most polls now show at least that.

And Bush and the Republicans have little reason to fear the debates. Failing a major gaffe--and even that might not matter--Bush should win, because what matters most in a TV debate is who comes across as more relaxed and likable, and Bush probably beats Kerry on that nine days out of ten.

The polls are still reasonably close, but even so, at this point, I can't even think of a random event or October surprise that could win it for Kerry.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Bush Killian Memos

CBS's defense seems weak.

CBS’s expert relied heavily on the signatures, and declared them real. But CBS itself says he was working from photocopies. Could anyone tell the difference between a twice-photocopied and a once-photocopied signature on a photocopied document? The thing could have been cut and pasted, or digitally lifted, from elsewhere. What about the typsecript?

The CBS defense of their story ends: “If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it.”

That seems to mean it is true unless proven false. And this is the tone throughout. They are setting themselves an extremely low bar. Is this really their standard on other stories: they report anything that might be true, as true?

I can't wait for their update on the Loch Ness monster.