The Book!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It May Be Happening

The movement the Conservatives need to win this election just may have begun.

George Bush's poll numbers are up in the US: up eight points in two weeks, apparently because of the success of the Iraq election.

This is what was needed: it has been Bush's unpopularity that was the main drag on the CPC.

And, Bob's yer uncle, up the CPC poll numbers are coming already. Or rather, the Liberals are coming down. Liberals 33, Conservatives 29. Within striking range now. I think Harper is also very clever to be pushing the idea of the Conservatives as a federalist alternative in Quebec. Surely there's an opportunity right now to take over that banner from the discredited Liberals. And, perhaps, an obligation, for the sake of Canada's future. If he can close a sale on that in Quebec--something that can happen quite quickly in Quebec--it could have massive implications for Ontario as well. Ontario bases its vote in large part on who it thinks can "handle" Quebec.

Remarkably, seat projections based on the latest poll suggest Paul Martin could actually lose his own seat. Should that happen, even if the result of the vote was not otherwise decisive, he would probably have to resign. And that too would be good news for the Tories. Frankly, Paul Martin seems to me to be the best they've got.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Paul Martin Comes Out in Favour of Canada

“I will defend the Canadian position and I will defend our values and I will defend our interests against anybody." Paul Martin.

"You are not going to take my country away from me with some trick, with some ambiguous question." Paul Martin.

"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." Samuel Johnson.

Jean Chretien was a past master at wrapping himself in the flag. But the growing tendency to do this, to dwell on supposed "Canadian values" and anti-Americanism, growing through the Chretien and now the Martin years, is a direct measure, as such nationalism and anti-Americanism is in the Third World, of the growing corruption in Canadian government and in Canada's elite.

How long are the Canadian people going to be suckered by it?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I Can't Bear to Look

Sorry, folks, I'm still too depressed to comment much on the Canadian election. Still no sign of movement in the polls.

I think the problem is that the current unpopularity of George Bush is actually hurting Canadian Conservatives. Canada follows the US politically in lock-step, with about a five to seven year delay, except, if by that point the American move is not looking like a good idea, Canada balks.

Canada is balking on swinging right.

Meantime, I'm vacationing in an undisclosed secure location in Sri Lanka, and trying to forget about it all.

Worst case scenario: this election ends almost the same as the last. Stephen Harper will probably have to step down as leader. I suspect Ralph Klein will be waiting to take over, and he could be formidable federally. There is nobody else on the Liberal side as strong as Martin. If he steps down instead of facing another minority-- doubt he will--that would be all to the good for the CPC.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Concerned Voter Writes

A recent discussion on an email list brings out some popular misconceptions:


Concerned voter:

Unless you want to be paying for health care out of pocket, tax cuts are undesirable.


Abbot:

If there were no government health plan, it is unlikely that most Canadians would be paying for health care out of their own pockets. Anyone who was employed, and their family, would probably be covered by an employer’s plan. This is the case in other developed countries that do not have government-run health care plans.

We’ll get to taxes a little further on.


Concerned voter:

People argue that government is wasteful; but if these services were performed by for-profit businesses, we would not only have to pay for the basic cost of the service, but also for the profits collected by a corporation's shareholders.


Abbot:

Sounds good in theory, perhaps, but the proof is in the pudding. When, in the past, we’ve had government-owned enterprises competing directly with private concerns--Air Canada vs. CP Air, CBC vs. CTV, CN vs. CP, and so forth—the government entity has usually required big subsidies to hold its own in the marketplace. How come?

The discipline of the market forces efficiencies that more than make up for the profit margin. The profit taken by shareholders is nothing compared to what an established bureaucracy can squander in empire building and feathering its own nest.


Concerned voter:

What about the cost of running their marketting and advertising departments which, in a for-profit company, suck a good portion of the operating costs to ensure profitability?


Abbot:

Advertising is not a drag; it is a legitimate service to the public. It is educational; what you do not know about is not available to you.

As to the cost, do you really find that the cost of long distance services has gone up, and the quality declined, since Bell Canada lost its monopoly and the various providers had to start advertising and marketing?

Discipline of the market.


Concerned voter:

It is meaningless to speak of tax cuts without talking about program cuts. If you want to pay lower taxes, then look at the federal budget and decide what you would like to cut out.


Abbot:

Not so, according to the current “supply side” economic theory. (Not so according to Keynesianism, either.)

First, if the government has been running surpluses, as it has, it follows that you can cut taxes immediately without cutting services.

Second, according to the theory, if you cut taxes, you stimulate the economy. Greater economic activity means that your revenue stream does not go down—it is more likely to go up, over time. You will collect more, not less, money in taxes.

Third, by privatizing the provision of some services, thereby introducing market discipline, you can probably provide the same services at lower cost. This would be an argument for things like school vouchers, the Conservative plan to remit money for child care directly to families, or allowing more private provision of medical treatment.



Concerned voter:

We need more, not less, money in government services. Look at the long waits for medical care.


Abbot:

Simple rule of economics: when you fix prices, you get shortages. You are short-circuiting the supply and demand equation.


Concerned voter:

True, in a private hospital, you won't wait as long. Then again, unless you're well off, you won't get inside either. That's what makes them "efficient".


Abbot:

No, it isn’t. A survey in Manitoba actually showed that the wealthy are no more likely than the poor to resort to private provision of medical care. Again, it depends on what is covered in your employer’s plan.


Concerned voter:

…Promises to cut taxes are cheap. Promises to cut spending better reveal the true intentions of a candidate.


Abbot:

There’s truth in that. But to be fair and balanced, you need to remember the corollary. Promises to improve services are cheap. Promises to raise specific taxes better reveal the true intentions of the candidate.

The Canadian Election

Now is the time, no doubt, for all good men to come to the aid of the party. Yet I am still silent. My apologies. This has a lot to do with getting ready for Christmas and more to do with getting ready to go off on vacation to an undisclosed location in Sri Lanka.

But it is also that the Canadian election is just too depressing. As the polls sit, it will just be another Liberal minority about as before. The only movement I've seen so far is between the Liberals and the NDP. And the media have begun their usual full-court press against the Conservative leader and his message.

Of course, things could change after Christmas, once people begin focusing more on the election.

Hey! That could go for me as well!

But even if Harper gets a minority, it isn't enough to break through. He'd have to count on the support of the BQ for legislation, and there is very little those two parties have in common. I can see the Liberals losing the election, yet still hanging on to power by making a formal coalition with the NDP. Or another short minority like Joe Clark's.

I have already voted, by the way. Kudos to Elections Canada for making it possible. The ballot arrived from Canada by courier.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Filipinos for Harper

The Liberals may have trouble this time playing the racism card.

A recent Globe poll points out that support for the two parties among visible minorities is now just about the same as it is in the general population.

It’s about time. In terms of policies, those of the Conservatives have long been more favourable to recent immigrants than those of the Liberals. And the Conservative stance on moral issues is much closer to the views of most immigrant and visible minority families.

The Globe theorizes that the ongoing Tory-ward shift among visible minorities has a lot to do with the corruption issue. It could well be. Nobody knows better than folks who have grown up in the Third World how devastating government corruption can be.

Personally, I suspect a lot of it has to do with what was called, in the recent American election, “values.” Not just corruption, but gay marriage, abortion, and secularization.

I also think visible minorities must have become sick of being patronized by the Liberals, with their “Boys’ Book of Empire” concept of smiling brown natives dancing in colourful traditional costume that was “multiculturalism.”

The Globe story is here:

http://tinyurl.com/dsme8

The Family Compact

If anyone doesn’t believe that the Canadian political elite is a small, incestuous clique, note that Jack Layton’s Liberal opponent in Toronto Danforth in this election is Pierre Trudeau’s former mistress, Deborah Coyne. Layton’s wife, Olivia Chow, is running in nearby Trinity-Spadina. Layton is the son of former Mulroney cabinet minister Robert Layton.

I won’t get into the McKay—Stronach—Desmarais—Chretien—Mulroney crossovers.

This kind of intermarried clique is just not healthy in a democracy. It tends to the establishment of an aristocracy, and a government neither by nor for the people.

We need fresh blood. I’d say Alberta, the West, and the Tory Party is our greatest hope for that. The old Red Tories are as nepotistic and elitist as anyone; but the CA faction is pretty open to newcomers. Of the three main leaders outside Quebec, Stephen Harper is the only one whose father was not also a prominent politician. And the Tories have the most diverse caucus.

Romantic Love Lasts One Year

Romantic love is a crock. Real love comes only after marriage, and with time. The following story confirms this yet again:

http://www.insidebayarea.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp?article=3268292

The sad thing is how many marriages break up because one or the other partner has been swindled into thinking that romantic love is essential, and the real thing. Then when it fades, they think something is wrong.

Here's the kick: romantic love is a delusion based on a misreading of Medieval Christian allegories. They used romantic, or erotic, love as an allegory of the love between the soul and God. Eros was used as a metaphor for agape. Too many took the whole thing literally, and missed the referent.

Romantic love is a type of mental unbalance. They might as well have used the allegory--and did--of wine, or the dream.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Genocide League Tables

Historian R.J. Rummel has tried to put figures on the great genocides, and comes up with Mao as the greatest murderer of all time.

The tolls:

Mao: 77 million killed
USSR: 62 million killed
Hitler: 21 million killed

Hitler was a relative piker; and Mao beats not only Stalin, but all the leaders of the USSR combined--remembering that Lenin also had a good many people killed.

Most remarkable is that, although Hitler is considered the personification of evil along world-wide, Mao is nevertheless socially acceptable. Not just among leftists in North America and Europe: he is still extremely popular in China. From the Chinese view, he put the nation back on its feet, after centuries of humiliation; and it perhaps took someone utterly ruthless to do this.

Makes you wonder how everyone would now think of Hitler had he won the Second World War. It's always easier to flog a dead horse.

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=47616

Boycott Quantas

An example of how far prejudice against men has gone: apparently Quantas and Air New Zealand will not sit an unaccompanied minor next to a man.

The logic seems to be that all men are child abusers, and no women are. Any any man is liable to molest a child in any public place, given half a chance.

http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=%5CForeignBureaus%5Carchive%5C200511%5CFOR20051129a.html

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I Left My Heart in St. Francis

Why do we write “Vienna,” and not “Wien”; and yet we have switched “Peking” to “Beijing”?

Okay, you may not care. But I am, among other things, a professional editor.

It is a puzzlement. The proper rule is this: if a place name has an established spelling in English, that spelling is authoritative. How the people who actually live there, who speak a different language, say it in their language, is not relevant. This is the same rule followed by other languages: the French say “Londres,” not “London.”

The English name for a number of Indian cities has also changed: Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, Poona to Pune, and so forth. But this is defensible: a significant number of people living in those places speak English, and their usage therefore arguably changes English usage.

But what is the argument for changing “Peking” to “Beijing”? Or, to cite other recent examples, “Burma” to “Myanmar,” “Ivory Coast” to “Cote d’Ivoire,” “Congo” to “Zaire,” “Saigon” to “Ho Chi Minh City,” or “Cambodia” to “Kampuchea”?

What do all these examples have in common? (Other than most of them having been changed back a few years later, adding to everyone’s confusion.) Hint: think left-wing dictatorships.

The chattering classes in the West are too ready to bend over, frontwards or backwards, for any leftist dictatorship in the Third World.

And have been for some while. English-language publications generally also swallowed St. Petersberg to Petrograd to Leningrad, in its day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Enter, Pursued by Bear

People make a lot of fuss about the violence kids are exposed to these days on TV. But was it ever thus?

Innocent Victorian children’s rhymes were perhaps not that innocent after all. This one is from Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense:

There was an old person of Tartary
Who divided his jugular artery;
But he screeched to his wife
And she said “Oh my life!
Your death will be felt by all Tartary!”

I can’t see that one getting past the average contemporary nursery school teacher.

How about this one:

There was an old man of Jamaica
Who suddenly married a Quaker;
But she cried out “Alack!
I have married a black!”
Which distressed that old man of Jamaica.

Or this:

There was a young lady of Clare
Who was sadly pursued by a bear;
When she found she was tired,
She abruptly expired,
That unfortunate lady of Clare.


The truth is, as Disney knew well, kids love being scared. And they love anything that seems a bit subversive. Rob them of this, and you are robbing them of some of the best fun of childhood. I suspect you are also stunting their souls. They need to ponder these questions.

Pleasant dreams, kids!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

What Was Fascism Really All About?

Among the many falsifications of history, none is more dramatic than the way our memories of the Fascists have been falsified. For example:


* Currently, too many folks see any sort of rules and regulations, and cry “Fascist.”

Fascism was not excessive order: it was chaos. It was the elimination of all settled rules and regulations, replacing them with the personal whims of a leader.

When Hitler came to power, he abolished the German constitution and instituted personal rule. He also made no provision for a transfer of power on his incapacity or death. “He deliberately destroyed the state’s ability to function in favour of his personal omnipotence and irreplaceability,” writes biographer Sebastian Haffner.

Similarly, on the level of personal morality, Fascism rejected conventional ethics, as “sermonizing hypocrisy and Philistine stuffiness.” The German and the Japanese government supplied their elite troops with whores.

A settled government of laws is the very opposite of Fascism.


* Many folks also think that Fascism was all about an elite oppressing the vulnerable. They forget that the original idea of Fascism was that the Germans, or the Italians, were the oppressed. In this, it presents uncomfortable parallels with, for example, feminism, or Quebec nationalism. Mussolini called Italy a “proletarian nation.” Hitler called Versailles “the vilest rape that nations and human beings have ever been expected to submit to.” The Jews, conversely, were seen as an international elite—rather like men, or white men, or Anglos, today. The average Jew was indeed wealthier and better educated than the average German or Pole. In Berlin during the Weimar Republic, writes Haffner, “they even formed something like a second aristocracy.”


* Many now claim Fascism was right-wing. But Mussolini and Hitler both claimed to be socialists. Recent Hitler biographer Haffner agrees: “Hitler undoubtedly was a socialist—indeed a very effective socialist.”

Conversely, it was the conservatives, both inside and outside Germany, who presented the stiffest opposition to Hitler. Churchill was a conservative. De Gaulle was a conservative. Stalin was, until directly attacked, his ally; Mitterand collaborated; in Spain, according to George Orwell, the communists formed Franco’s boasted “Fifth Column.” In Germany, Haffner writes, “the only opponents or rivals whom Hitler had to consider seriously and whom at times he had to fight in the domestic political arena between 1930 and 1934 were the conservatives. The liberals, the Centre people, or the Social Democrats never gave him the least trouble, and neither did the communists. And this is how things remained…” It was conservatives who attempted his assassination in 1944.


* Many—like John Ralston Saul—try to make Christianity responsible somehow for the Holocaust. But Hitler was no Christian: “He was,” writes Haffner, “not only irreligious himself, but also had no perception of what religion can mean to others.” As a movement, Nazism was enthusiastic about reviving German paganism and similar “New Age” ideas. Hitler emphatically did not see Jews as a religious, but as a racial, group.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Klein for PM?

It sure looks like Ralph Klein wants the Conservative leadership. Considering his track record, it is hard to believe he has tripped Stephen Harper up twice, in two different election campaigns, inadvertently. It looks instead as though he is doing what he can to ensure Harper does not get a majority, so that the party may turn to him--Klein--as its saviour later.

Stockwell Day may, after all, have been his stalking horse, intended to keep the federal seat warm for him. Day was his lieutenant in Alberta, after all.

And what's this about doing a national tour to "promote Alberta" on the eve of a federal election campaign? Including a foray into Quebec to test the waters?

Klein has, after all, announced his intention to retire as Premier. He's done all he can provincially. And he enjoys politics too much; he is too much of a political animal, I suspect, to retire voluntarily to a quiet private life. His type of politician rarely does: populists like Diefenbaker, Chretien, Caouette.

Could he win?

I think so. We are overdue for a Conservative and for an Albertan as PM. People are afraid of the Conservatives; but Klein's folksy image is very reassuring. He is the sort of personality the Conservatives need right now; genial in the way Reagan was in the US. If he took the Conservative leadership, I would expect a Conservative sweep in the next election.

Of course, he is not bilingual, and that would hurt in Quebec. But the BQ will probably ensure that the Liberals are not too strong in Quebec either. If he can storm Ontario, that should be enough; enough even, perhaps , to get Quebec to come on board too, as they did for Diefenbaker.

It looks as though he is now consciously remolding his image to fit the national stage; just as he recreated himself in the move from mayor of Calgary to provincial premier, going from a "progressive" Liberal to a right-wing Tory. Hence the national tour. Another heavy hint: he has declared Harper "too right-wing" to win.

It's going to be interesting if Harper does not win this time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Happy Fall Feast

PBS has apparently rechristened--sorry; redubbed--Thanksgiving "Fall Feast." I guess giving thanks might imply a higher being. And the spirit of thankfulness has been replaced with the more communal-minded "spirit of sharing."

No kidding:

http://pbskids.org/clifford/caregivers/activities/act_p119a.html

Sgt. Preston Rides Again

Preston Manning's new right-wing think tank now has a web page:

http://www.manningcentre.ca/

Christianity Resurrected in Britain

A recent BBC poll shows a sudden increase in the percentage of people in Britain identifying themselves as Christian—almost a doubling in the past year. The figures now stand at 59% of men and 75% of women; 67% overall. It seems the winds of revival, so evident in the US, may be beginning to blow in Europe as well.

This might be a reaction against militant Islam. But perhaps not: even fifty percent of British Muslims, in the survey, endorsed the notion that Britain should base itself on Christian values. It looks more like a revival inspired by Islam than a revival provoked by Islam.

More likely, it merely springs from the same original source: an awareness, deep down, that secular humanism is off the rails; and a rebellion against what has become its suppression of religion.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Larry Summers in Winter

A report on the Larry Summers affair appears in the latest newsletter from the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

You may recall, Larry Summers, former US Secretary of Commerce and current President of Harvard, got into hot water by suggesting factors other than discrimination may account for the shortage or female professors in the hard sciences.

According to the report, from one who heard the speech, Summers discussed two possible reasons, other than sex discrimination, for the disproportion here:

First, that women may more often avoid “high-powered” jobs that require long hours and total dedication to career.

Which of course they do.

Second, that there are more men than women who are extremely adept at math, physics, or chemistry.

This is empirically so; at more than 3.5 or 4 standard deviations above the mean, in standard tests on these subjects, men outnumber women 5 to 1. It should follow, on this factor alone, that men should outnumber women 5 to 1 on science faculties, if there is no discrimination at that level.

Feminists, of course, are now the first to insist there are real differences between men and women. Women are more “nurturing,” and so forth. But even if this were not so, even if this were all caused by social expectations or discrimination against younger women, it is still impossible to correct it at the level of university faculty hiring. You necessarily have a much smaller pool of highly-qualified female candidates from which to choose.

But, of course, all hell broke loose. Summers was obliged to apologize repeatedly, reputedly almost lost his job, and was obliged to announce $50 million in new funding to get more women into such jobs.

“The good academic value,” Summers said, “of challenging and provoking thought just went where it should not have gone.”

I guess that says it all.

Some things we are not allowed to even think.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Les Canadiens Errant

According to CP, the Canadian government is planning a new drive to convince “highly-skilled” Canadians living and working abroad to return home.

Unfortunately, the plan seems to simply involve ads run in the media worldwide.

The Liberal government has a fondness, after all, for ad companies.

But is it likely to work?

Highly skilled probably means well-educated. What is an ad going to tell them about the advantages of Canadian life that they do not already know?

According to government figures, seven percent of Canada’s most educated now work abroad: 500,000 Canadians. Among developed countries, only Sweden and France have more high-end expatriates.

As a result, we are forced to bring in more immigrants to make up the loss.

But why are so many Canadians eager to get out?

One obvious answer: we are overtaxed. That would explain Sweden as well.

Another, as I have noted in this blog, is the repressive Canadian political climate.

Another, no doubt, is winter.

Another is the boredom and loneliness of Canada’s vast distances.

Is a newspaper ad going to change any of this?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Canada: It Was Fun While It Lasted

According to this blog

http://futureuncertain.blogspot.com/2005/11/no-canada.html

several Canadian provinces are already more economically integrated with the US than with the rest of Canada, and the integration with the US is growing.

The pocketbook is not the only issue, but the pocketbook will argue increasingly in coming years for preferring full membership in the United States to the continued separate existence of Canada. Moreover, separation of Quebec (or Alberta) would matter far less economically to the rest of Canada now than it might have a few years ago.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mission Abort?

Something strange is going on. According to this site

http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/nov/05111502.html

64% of Canadian women support some kind of restriction on abortion. And yet, of four major federal parties, not one calls for anything like this.

As has been apparent at least since the days of Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord, there is a significant disconnect between the actual opinions of Canadians and what is on offer to them from their political leaders.

Only recently, the Conservatives backed down from any kind of change to Canada's current policy of free abortion on demand. Why? On the face of it, it looks as though this, along with the gay marriage issue, should be a sure winner for Stephen Harper.

I expect the problem is with the media. The mainstream liberal media will savage the Conservatives if they run on this, and they will have no chance to get their message out. A gifted orator like Diefenbaker or a genial personality like Reagan might be able to get the message through this screen; but it's a big gamble.

Is it worth trying anyway? Perhaps, as in the US, the new factor of the blogosphere might make it impossible to suppress the Conservative message this time. Along with relatively new presences on the media scene like the National Post.

Unfortunately, I don't think Stephen Harper, a man I greatly admire, has the right image and public persona to pull it off.

Jes' Plain Folks

The point of folk music, as the name implies, is that it is the music of the common people. Yet the great irony is that it is not; not any more. The common people listen to pop music or country music. It is hard to find others interested, as I am, in folk. Mostly they congregate around college campuses. Hardly the common folk.

What we call folk music is therefore not folk music; but what is it? It’s a kind of romanticism; a rich educated person’s fantasy of what it might mean to be poor and unlettered.

Like romanticism generally, it misses all the gritty bits; the mosquitoes and the foul smells of country life, the grime of the fields and mines.

Take that old folk standby “Goodnight, Irene.” I have an original recording by Leadbelly. Some of his verses are never heard any more:


I love Irene, Lord knows I do;
Love her till the seas run dry.
If Irene turns her back on me
Gonna take morphine and die.

I asked her mother about Irene
She told me she was too young
I wish I’d never seen her face
I’m sorry she ever was born.


Funny, that, eh?

And the original chorus wasn't quite as we've remembered it. I'm used to singing "I'll see you in my dreams," as the Weavers did. But Leadbelly actually sang "I'll get you in my dreams."

And that familiar children’s song, “The Cat Came Back?” In its original, as a turn of the century pop song, the lyrics were rather different than we now remember:

De cat it were a terror and dey say it wer be best
To gib it to a nigger who was going out West.
De train going 'round de curve struck a broken rail,
Not a blessed soul aboard de train wer left to tell de tale.

Little boy took de cat away, he got a dollar note.
Took it down to de ribber in a little open boat.
Tied a brick around its neck an' stone about a pound;
Now dey're grappling in de ribber for a little boy that's drowned.


Kind of sounds more like Eminem and less like Sharon, Lois, and Bram.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Adam's Spare Ribs

Living in the Middle East—especially in a bedouin area—is an eye-opener in understanding the Bible. Semitic culture is Semitic culture, and much in the Bible becomes clearer in light of Arab customs.

For example, the riddle of wives for Adam and Eve’s sons. How did Cain or Seth find wives if there were no other people before their parents? Yet there would be no mystery here to a bedouin, and so I presume to an ancient Hebrew audience.

Today, as I generally do at least one a year, I had my Arab students drawing family trees, for practice in English words for relatives. Nobody has ever included a female relative in these charts. Not, by the way, out of discrimination against women, in my opinion. Because to speak of one’s female relatives is ungallant.

So there is no mystery that no daughters of Adam and Eve are mentioned in the Bible’s begats.

Nor would there be much surprise or horror at the thought that brothers might have married sisters. My class was surprised when, in showing family photos, I explained that I could not marry my first cousin. That is not just a common, but a preferred match in the Middle East. Keeps the bloodlines and the clan loyalties clear. Among Egyptian pharaohs, brothers usually married sisters.

To an Arab, and perhaps to an ancient Hebrew, the whole thing would go without saying.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

On a Catholic email list recently, a wise comment: scientists are really just one more special interest group.

We need to remember that.

When the alarm is raised over global warming, or environmental degradation, or species at risk, or the obesity epidemic, or bird flu, or skin cancer, or the ozone layer, or smoking, or SARS, or wife abuse, or discrimination against women, or spreading illiteracy, or a comet striking the earth, we need to, and we do not, take it with more than a grain of salt.

Ulterior motives are at work. Causing a big stir about some impending public danger scores the jackpot in research funding. It makes careers and personal fortunes. It makes you famous. “You're fixed for life, qualified to appear on NPR and PBS [and CBC, and BBC] philosophizing on politics, economics, and social issues, because you are now a ‘respected authority.’” It gives you power: as the authority, you can dictate to the public and even governments on the issue. You can get an area cordoned as your exclusive preserve, figuratively or even literally. It’s too dangerous for others to trifle with. If, for example, the mountain gorilla is found endangered, first thing is the creation of a preserve, with the rabble excluded, and the scientific experts in charge. A lot better than a cottage by the lake. Declare a drug dangerous, similarly, and you have a monopoly on dispensing it.

The press are willing accomplices. It makes easy news, just a matter of rewriting press releases. It also makes easy “in depth” features, all the data spoon-fed to you by the scientific authorities. The public, sadly, eats it up. It’s almost a kind of blackmail: “you are going to die if you don’t…”

The politicians too love it, because it convinces the public to hand more power to them. For politicians or civil servants, as for scientists, a good public scare can make careers and personal fortunes. It is the stuff bureaucratic empires are built of. It gives them power over others; and they are usually in it for power.

Woe unto you, ye scribes and Pharisees.

For the rest of us, try to believe every now and then that the sky is not really falling.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Rectification of Terms

As many, from Plato to Confucius to Orwell, have pointed out, in politics words are commonly used to deceive. It is important, therefore, to keep checking terms against their ordinary meanings.

“Progressive” I take to mean wanting change, believing change is generally an improvement. Merriam-Webster: “making use of or interested in new ideas, inventions, or opportunities.”

“Conservative” I take to mean wanting to preserve, believing change is generally not desirable. Merriam-Webster: “advocates preservation of the established order and views proposals for change critically and usually with distrust.”

Neither have anything to do with big or small government: government can be either an agent of change or an agent of preservation.

However, almost by definition, over the longer term, those who are out of power are those who will want change. And, almost necessarily, those who are out of power want less government (there are other sources of power than government, but government is the prime locus of power). Therefore, most often, progressivism means wanting small government.

“Liberal” can mean spending a lot (and “conservative” can mean spending little), but this is trivial. I think it more literally, especially when used of politics, means a commitment to civil liberties: “liberal” as in “liberty”; from the Latin. Merriam-Webster, describing the British Liberal Party as normative: “…with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and administrative reforms…”

This associates liberalism too with smaller government: powers given to government are, in principle, powers taken from individuals.

By this definition, Mike Harris is to the liberal and progressive side, as was Reform and are the current federal Conservatives. John Tory is more conservative; as was Joe Clark. Broadly, the current Canadian Conservative Party is liberal and progressive, and the current federal Liberal Party is conservative; although they do trade places on a few social issues. The old Ontario Tory party, of Bill Davis, John Robarts, and George Drew, was conservative.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Remembrance Day

A BC teacher has written an article for The Tyee explaining why he refuses to wear a poppy for Remembrance Day.

View the article at

http://www.thetyee.ca/Views/2005/11/09/DontWearPoppy

Whether or not The Tyee prints it, here, FWIW, is my response.


Why I Wear a Poppy

Clay McLeod’s premise (“Why I Don’t Wear a Poppy”, Nov. 9) is that the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers in World War I and II and in Korea are not worthy of remembrance because “wars are never completely black-and-white.” This is an extravagant example of what is currently called “moral equivalence,” of failing to see any distinction between degrees of right and wrong. This is a critical failure, because in the real world, moral choices are always between degrees of right and wrong. Real life is never black and white.

But to equate the actions of Hitler with the internment of Japanese Canadians, and the wearing of a poppy with the wearing of a swastika, is to smash one’s moral compass and hide all the pieces.

McLeod claims “Unarguably, WWI was ‘for king and country,’ not freedom and democracy; its causes were rooted in European imperialism and nationalism.”

I’m afraid that view, although currently fashionable, is in fact quite arguable. It is perfectly reasonable to claim they did, as they believed they did, fight for democracy and that small nations might be free.

In World War I, it remains true that all the great democracies were aligned on one side, and the other side was solidly autocratic. Had the autocrats cleanly won, they would presumably have imposed autocratic governments; their loss, conversely, produced democracy, for a time, in Germany and the former Austrian Empire. So how was it not a fight for freedom and democracy? It also remains true that the war was started by the autocrats, by invading Serbia, and it was also the autocrats who invaded Belgium without a casus belli. Had they won, it would have been a severe blow to the freedom of small nations.

McLeod then denies that even WWII had any preponderance of morality on either side: “WWII was a complex conflict based in the context of the resolution of WWI. Although that context gave fertile soil to the most notorious example of evil known to history - Hitler and the Nazis - the resulting conflict was more a continuation of imperialist rivalries and nationalistic competition than it was a legitimate battle between good and evil…”

This is double talk. If the most notorious example of evil known to history is on the one side, supporting the other side is, necessarily, a moral issue.

Nor did Britain, France, the US, or Russia go to war in order to expand their empires or to crush Germany as a nation. Without looking at each case, the claim is absurd on the historical facts.

McLeod considers the Korean conflict his coup de grace: “The fact that we recognize the efforts of our soldiers in the Korean War … conclusively demonstrates that we are not just recognizing the efforts of soldiers to protect freedom and democracy.”

Freedom and democracy were not at stake in Korea? This is possible to believe only in hindsight. Whatever his later crimes, Syngman Rhee was then a democratic leader, democratically elected. Kim Il Sung refused to hold scheduled UN elections in North Korea, and instead invaded to seize the South.

And perhaps not even in hindsight. Compare the situation, in terms of either personal freedom or democracy, in North and South Korea today. Can McLeod believe a different result to the Korean War would not have mattered, for either?

Finally, McLeod argues that, in any event, war per se is evil: in confronting evil, we should instead use tactics of passive resistance.

To be consistent, though, he should advocate the same approach for the criminal justice system. Faced, for example, with a rapist and slasher plying his trade in our stairwell, the proper response is not to call the cops, but to get out there and bare our breast to him to shame him into better behaviour. To a child molester, in turn, we should offer our own children so that he comes to see the error of his ways.

That ought to work.

But even if all this were not so, it would still be beside the point. McLeod is labouring under the false premise that Remembrance Day is a day for celebrating the victory by force of “freedom and democracy.”

“Remembrance Day uses the veneer of virtues like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ to glorify military solutions to the world's problems.” It is not, and nobody I know understands the poppy in this way. The point of the poppy is that they grew amid the graves of the fallen.

Certainly, if I were going to make the case for war as a glorious and a good thing, I would not take the vast death toll of WWI trench warfare as my symbol.

It is a day, rather, for remembering the sacrifice of soldiers who suffered and died in war.

McLeod believes it would be apt to commemorate the sufferings of those killed in the concentration camps. They manifestly did not die for “freedom and democracy.” Yet he refuses to honour the sufferings of soldiers who fought and died in war, because, in his opinion (not theirs) they did not die for “freedom and democracy.” Is this not inconsistent?

Indeed, even if McLeod is right about the real causes of this or that war, it is surely relevant that the average soldier believed that he was fighting and perhaps dying in a noble cause. Isn’t it both illogical and cruel to claim that, because they were mistaken or misled, their sacrifice is to be discounted?

And what of the special virtues of the soldier? Courage, loyalty, forbearance and persistence in the face of adversity, self-abnegation. Greater love hath no man, after all, than one who will lay down his life for his fellow man. What is the justice in ignoring such things? If war is wrong, it is wrong to blame the soldier.

“Regardless of whether I'm right or if I'm deluded myself,” McLeod concludes, “the fact is that violence is a never ending cycle.”

Unfortunately, this too is McLeod’s delusion. Violence does not, in fact, self-perpetuate. Germany and Japan, for example, have not returned to war as a result of the violence used against them in WWII. Uganda has not gone to war again because of the violence used to unseat Idi Amin. Arresting and imprisoning criminals does not visibly cause them to reoffend.

As some wag once observed, “violence never solved anything—okay, except maybe Fascism, slavery, American independence, the survival of the Jewish race…”

Wear the damned poppy, McLeod. Your morals are showing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

All Hallows Eve

It is common knowledge these days that Hallowe’en is a pagan festival.

No doubt it does have elements taken over from paganism; as do Christmas and Easter.

But it is also perfectly legitimate as a Christian holiday.

Hallowe’en is the evening of All Saint’s Day—“All Hallows.” It makes as much sense to mark it as a prelude to the day itself as to celebrate Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Good Friday, or Mardi Gras.

It has, it is true, overshadowed the day itself. This too is not so odd: the same is true of New Year’s Eve.

It is a pity that in Canada we do not properly celebrate All Saint’s Day, though. This is when we remember the souls in heaven, which is to say, the good people who have gone before us. In the Philippines, for example, a thoroughly Catholic country, the day is spent at the local cemetery, at the graves of ancestors. It is especially associated with family members who have died in infancy. If they have died after baptism and before the age of reason, they are known to be in heaven. Other saints are officially declared by the church; these are honoured on their own special days. On this day, we can make our own private assumptions about those we knew when alive, and knew to be good people.

This day, we commune with them—honour them, remember their lives, and ask for their intercession.

The next day, November 2, is All Souls’ Day. On this day, traditionally also spent at the cemetery, you pray for all, especially relatives, who are assumed to be still in purgatory. Those not so good; the general run of folk.

It is sad to me that in Canada departed relatives tend to be forgotten and their graves left unvisited.

But so far, we have accounted for only two possible fates for souls after death: heaven and purgatory. As every Catholic knows, there are really three. That’s where Hallowe’en comes in. Souls in hell do not belong, of course, on All Saints’; and there is no point in praying for them on All Souls, as they are already lost.

If Hallowe’en is not clearly identified as this, as All Damned Day, it is because the reality is too unpleasant to face so squarely. It is the sort of thing we prefer to cloak with a euphemism. In any case, it is appropriate to mark not the day, but the evening: day means good, and night means evil.

Why should we mark such a sorry thing? The damned are beyond helping or being helped.

Because, like Medieval murals showing the Dance of Death, it is a useful caution for the living.

Why the pagan elements? Because pagans, presumably, from the Christian perspective, are on the road to hell. The word “hell” itself is taken from a pagan word for the afterlife.

The event, like most such things, has been sanitized over time: just a bunch of little kids trying their hand at deceit and gluttony. Back in Irish Gananoque, where I grew up, Hallowe’en night still involved more. Older kids—teenagers—soaped up windows and performed other acts of mischief. The forces of chaos had been unleashed.

Why is Hallowe’en celebrated on the last day of October? The conventional explanation is that it is the old Celtic New Year; but that, if so, is incidental. There is a fairly narrow window in which a day of hell can fit into the liturgical calendar. Advent in November through to Pentecost in June or so is sacred time. And it must be soon before this, instead of soon after it, to convey salvation history.

October 31 falls close to the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. It can be seen, therefore, as the first night of winter, given the same logic that makes June 21, the summer solstice, “Midsummer Night”; and Groundhog Day the first day of spring.

Winter is the season of cold; but, more important in celestial, which is to say, metaphorically, heavenly, terms, it is the season of darkness. Hence, October 31 roughly marks the moment when darkness becomes triumphant over creation. Christmas is the rebirth of light, at the winter solstice; Easter, at the vernal equinox, marks light’s ascendancy.

Hallowe’en is therefore the anti-Easter; directly across the year from, six months before, Easter’s salvation.

You have to give the devil his due.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Toronto vs. Dubai as Multicultural Mecca

I sometimes wonder who Toronto slept with to get designated by some UN body “the world’s most multicultural city.”

There is a lot of ethnic variety in Toronto, it is true. But for my money, Dubai seems at least as multicultural. Toronto may be over fifty percent foreign born now. Dubai is well over eighty percent.

I was up in Dubai with my four-year-old on the weekend. We went to the “Global Village,” a sort of permanent outdoor cross between Toronto’s Caravan and CNE. Unlike Caravan, which seems to have been a passing enthusiasm, it is growing bigger every year.

In a real sense, Global Village is how Dubai defines itself. It and its region, the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, has always been, and always considered itself, a crossroads. It was for millennia, since the days of Sumer and Mohenjo-daro, a crucial link in the trade routes between Europe, the Middle East, India, and China. And Africa: until quite recent years, neighbouring Oman and Zanzibar were one kingdom. Many Omanis and Emiratis look African today. For Toronto, by comparison, the enthusiasm for the international is only a generation deep, and may be gone tomorrow.

In the “Global Village,” each nation has its own permanent pavilion: traditional shopping, traditional food, traditional performances. This year, it is open for six months. Starting next year, it will be open all year round. Dubai is the world in miniature, and the Global Village is Dubai in miniature.

But not the only one. It is a motif repeated again and again. After the Global Village, we also visited the new Ibn Battuta Mall: divided into six sections, each recreating the traditional architecture and d├ęcor of a different civilization. China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain. Again the same metaphor: Dubai is the world in miniature. Again, appearing slowly on the Dubai waterfront is something simply called “The World,” a series of artificial islands that together form a world map. Cottagers can own their own country. Rod Stewart has already bought England.

Toronto’s Chinatown is big? Dubai has Chinamexmart, a shopping mall 1.3 kilometers long in the shape of a dragon, the largest outlet for Chinese products outside China. It is the centre of a Chinese high-rise residential community in what is called “International City.” Similar malls and settlements at similar scale from other regions are projected. “Vancouver” is currently, I hear, under construction.

Another project on the drawing board is “Falcon City,” which is to feature reproductions of great world landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and so forth. Not miniature scale models, mind: more or less full size or, in the case of the Taj Mahal, larger.

The big local newspapers too balance their news sections by region of the globe: the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, the Far East, Europe, the Americas, each get two pages each day.

My wife, who is Filipina, can generally actually do her shopping in her native language. You can’t do that in Toronto, although you could probably manage it in Chinese or Italian. She also gets the full range of Filipino foods here, and Filipino restaurants; that’s not easy to find in Toronto. I can get whatever I crave from Canada. I can also get any ingredient I might want for South Asian cooking, the full range of cuisines north and south; all the array of Middle Eastern foods, of course; plus things from Europe I never see in Canada.

Toronto might have the edge in terms of the range of countries represented: last time I was back, it seemed to have even newly sprouted a Burmese neighbourhood. But for my money, to be multicultural to one’s soul really requires being a major seaport, and being more or less disconnected from any large hinterland with a solid majority culture. Dubai and Singapore fit that bill. Hong Kong used to. Beirut could. Montreal once did. Toronto does not.

Toronto has enthusiasms, and goes on moral crusades. Right now it is multiculturalism, and Toronto has grown very intolerant of anyone who is not tolerant. Next year it may be colonic irrigation or something else.

But I have a feeling Dubai will stay the course.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Oppression of Muslim Women

An insight into the oppression of women in Muslim countries: the Gulf News reports that currently, twice as many Emirati women as men hold college and university degrees (“UAE women prove their mettle,” Gulf News, November 4, 2005).

Meanwhile, Reuters, in what is represented as a straight news story, cautions against putting too much faith in the “big brothers” who are trying to stop the violence in the Muslim areas of France. After all, Reuters explains, “the term ‘big brother’ also evokes a brother who guards the family honour by terrorizing his sisters to wear modest clothes and keep away from boys.” (“’Big brothers’ try to calm Paris tensions,” Gulf News, November 4, 2005).

God forbid.

It is hard not to sympathize with Muslims over this sort of comment.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Everybody Knows There Were No WMDs in Iraq

What most people believe is usually the opposite of the truth. Robert Fulford taught me this: “If everybody knows something,” he said, “it is sure to be wrong.”

This article argues that there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And that this is actually public knowledge:

http://www.theconservativevoice.com/articles/article.html?id=9594

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Human Rights Watch: This Just In

Didn't I say the situation was worse in Canada?

In Manitoba, a woman can get a restraining order against any man by just picking up the phone. Any man--not only her husband.

http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/11/04/protectionorders-051104.html

Friday, November 04, 2005

Human Rights Watch

If you care about human rights, you have to read this.

Executive summary version:

"Jim Crow Days for Men"

http://www.theconservativevoice.com/articles/article.html?id=9408

Full version:

"Time to Defund Feminist Pork"

http://www.eagleforum.org/column/2005/july05/05-07-20.html

And remember, bad as it all sounds, this is the US version of feminism. It is much worse in Canada.

A Letter from Anonymous

Dear Abbot:

I would like to add to this post to the best of my working class ability, or at least present the working class perspective.

Our government is run by rich capitalists.

Many government workers up ‘til the recent deregulation of utilities are working class.

I have noticed that most employers in similar industries pay close to the same wage, and sell their product for similar price. There is not competition when the choices are pre-agreed upon by the "Competitors"

Slight differences is wages are not worth the effort when you may have to move your family or spend most of you time away on the road.

Most people I know who spend their careers on the road are divorced or in dismal relationships.Management does have the opportunity to underpay labour when it can make labourers compete with each other for the work.

I may work for 20 dollars, but what do I do when the next guy will work for 16?

The rich capitalist will never lose. Even when "let go" from a job their compensation, share options and salary earned while in the job is enough for anyone to live on for several lifetimes. What incentive is there to pay the workers well when the result would be a loss in your own chunk or the cash?

Anonymous


Dear Anonymous:

First, thanks very much for writing. It is great to hear different views.

You blame the plight of the working class on “rich capitalists.” To begin with, “rich capitalists” in the Marxist sense are a bogeyman. It is too much to say they do not exist—Theresa Heinz Kerry is certainly one, and you might have a case that “our government is run by rich capitalists,” in the person of Paul Martin—but they are rare, and much less influential than you seem to think. Blaming everything on a conspiracy of “rich capitalists” is the class equivalent of blaming everything on the Jews.

A capitalist is supposed to be someone who makes his living on the investment of capital, instead of working for a living. I guess that describes the average retiree, but not a separate class. It is contradictory to speak of a “rich capitalist” being “let go” from a job. Such a person is by definition an employee, not a capitalist.

I guess technically he’s a member of the working class… but to put it so makes essentially everyone in Canada “working class.”

When you look at this sort of thing, the thing that becomes obvious is that Marx’s ideas and Marx’s analysis of society has been proved completely wrong over time. But you are apparently still basing your world view on it.

It is more useful to talk of the “blue collar” and “white collar” distinction. Blue collar workers work largely with their muscles; white collar workers work largely with their brains. Our government is indeed run by white collar workers, and by a party whose support comes from white collar workers. The blue collars favour the Conservatives; white collars vote Liberal and NDP.

On this basis, it is fair to say that “many” government workers used to be blue collar: the postmen and the cops on the beat, the linesmen at hydro, the street sweepers. But surely they have been a minority of government workers for a long time. You cite utilities in particular. I used to work for Ontario Hydro. Two giant office buildings in downtown Toronto, full of people working at computers and pushing papers. No doubt there were linesmen out there somewhere in the field, but we never heard saw them, heard of them, or thought of them. Similarly, for every cop on the beat, how many desk jockeys are there in a provincial police force? I wonder.

You say, of the private sector, “There is not competition when the choices are pre-agreed upon by the ‘Competitors,’” and that similar products are always offered at about the same price.

Note that, if you could prove that competitors are agreeing in advance on products or prices, you would have a case against them in law: this is illegal restraint of trade. But even if it were not illegal, they could not get away with it over time, because a new competitor could enter the field and destroy them with a cheaper or a better product. When there is restraint on new products—and there is—this is necessarily something imposed by government. This is why we should be suspicious of government regulation and government interference in the marketplace. Big government tends to protect vested interests.

I think you are factually wrong to say that similar products always have the same price. Do you do the shopping in your family? I find wide variety in the prices of quite similar products: toilet paper, say, can vary in price 100% depending on brand. The one place where price does not seem to vary is, again, where government has fixed prices: for eggs or cheese or milk.

You object to having labourers compete with each other for work, and ask, what can you do if you want $20 an hour, but the next guy will do the work for $16?

While businesses may not collude to fix prices, labourers are already completely free to collude to fix wages. That’s called a union. Unfortunately, though legal, it still does not work. Any company that sees its wages forced up to the point that it is no longer competitive is out of business. Any government that intervenes to prevent this—as most have—just loses an industry. Because they cannot impose their wages on foreign workers.

But there is an alternative. In a free market, one’s wages really can vary, based on your market value as an employee. If you can make five widgets an hour, while the next guy makes only three, you can expect to get $20 an hour, while he gets only $16.

One way to do this, of course, is to work harder. Another way is to increase your productivity by developing better work skills. Another way, indeed, is to move to a new market where there is a labour shortage. You are free, of course, to decide that the boost in wages is not enough to make you want to move; or the increase in wages is not enough to make you want to work harder, or to improve your skills by, say, taking a night course. That’s your choice.

And this, in turn, is the incentive to pay workers well: because it gets and keeps more productive workers. This increases their profit, or their market share.

Good luck.

Abbot

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Never Ask a Chimp for a Favour

A fascinating bit of science that seems to bear out what the church has always taught: what distinguishes humans from the rest of creation is their moral sense, their free will to choose to do good or evil:

http://www.world-science.net/othernews/051026_chimpfrm.htm

I see this in my dog. Dogs know what you want them to do or don't want them to do; but this is not ethics. It is obedience. If you wanted them to rip out your neighbour's throat and eat him, it would probably be all the same to them.

With thanks to Eugene Craig Campbell for the link.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fourscore Years and a Hundred

I heard exactly this claim a few years ago from a friend who works in the field. Now here's a current article fleshing out the idea. It's the sort of thing scientists say in private, I gather, but do not like to say in public, because it does not pay in academics to stick your neck out:


"... in the next 10 or 20 years science will have advanced sufficiently to allow people to live for, say, 150 or 200 years. And then by the time those people turn 200, science will have figured out how to allow them to live to 500."

http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i10/10a01401.htm


Who knows? It's bound to happen sooner or later.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Call for Freedom of Movement

The Economist recently argues that it would be of tremendous benefit to all if the developed world let in huge numbers of “guest workers.”

This is an issue that has been eating at me for some time. It does seem a fundamental violation of human rights to restrict freedom of movement across borders the way we do.

Many are afraid of being buried in a wave of new immigrants. But this program would prevent that: they would be _guests_, obliged to return to their homes once their work stints are over.

Others might worry that they will take jobs away from locals. Perhaps they would; but why not? All men are brothers; giving a job to one person and not another on the basis of nationality or national origin is not commendable. And a Canadian thrown onto welfare still lives far better than a Filipino or a Sri Lankan does now.

And what’s the alternative? We know we are facing a crisis of depopulation, all over the developed world. Without some form of massive migration, there will be no way to support and care for the aged as they retire.

The advantage of this programme over immigration per se is that the people coming will be coming specifically to work, and will not add to the burden of the system in their own retirement. They will be obliged to retire back to their country of origin, or to a third country.

Is this unfair? If so, it’s still better than the present system. Half a loaf is better than none.

In fact, in my experience, most immigrants want to retire back home anyway, if they can. And why not? It is a solace for most to end where you started, and a hardship to die in alien corn. Invariably, they can have a more comfortable life in retirement back home than they could manage in Canada or America or Western Europe, with their higher living expenses. Giving them Canadian citizenship may seem vaguely noble; but is probably entirely excess to their own requirements. It may even be--may I say it?--a bit chauvinistic. We are saying, if they want to stay and work, they have to change allegiances. That is not necessarily a welcome demand. It made more sense in an earlier day, when most migrants could not hope ever to afford the long journey back home.

Meantime, by making them citizens, we are doing a disservice to the Third World. We are stripping them of their best and most enterprising, and of the capital they could produce. With a guest worker programme, they invest their earnings back home, boosting the home economy. The Economist estimates that letting just 3% of the developed world’s labour be performed by guest workers would give the developing world $200 billion per year.

We in Canada currently favour those with the best educational credentials for immigration. These are the people least in need of our assistance. These are the people most needed by their home countries. And, if immigration does throw locals out of work, locals are losing the best and highest-paying jobs to new immigrants. Better to open the doors to everyone; if we really do lose jobs, at least the loss is more fairly distributed. More likely, though, an overall boost in economic activity, and a more competitive work force, based on merit rather than place of birth, will mean more jobs for all.

It’s time we tried this. It seems to work pretty well in the UAE--with a system of preferences for locals to compensate for possible job loss.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Free Speech in Canada

I had not heard of Neil French before today, but his story illustrates how little free speech there is now in Canada. A top adman, he was asked at a public forum in Toronto why there were not more women employed as creative directors in advertising. He apparently answered that they did not work hard enough. They were always dropping out to have children.

Never mind that women themselves--women lawyers, for example--have been demanding shorter hours for years now, because of their supposed family responsibilities. Never mind that employers are obliged by law to give women maternity leaves. This obvious truth cannot be spoken these days, at least in North America. But what employer in his right mind is going to prefer a woman in a crucial job, given that she is so much less committed?

French has apparently had to resign.

http://www.mediabuyerplanner.com/2005/10/20/french_resigns_wpp_takes/index.php
http://www.adweek.com/aw/national/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001348797

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Rich Get Richer

Linda McQuaig notes in the Toronto Star that “Canada is becoming a much more unequal society”: the top one percent doubled their share of income from 1980 to 2000. (“When all taxes are factored in Canadians all pay the same relative amount,” Star, October 16, 2005).

This same week, The Economist laments that Britain is becoming less socially mobile: fewer people are able to move up the ladder (“Land of Hope and Glory,” Economist, October 8, 2005, p. 42). People born after 1970 are significantly less likely to have “escaped their class origins” than those born twelve years earlier.

Why?

Note that both nations have, at least for the last twelve years or so, been governed from the left. It is left-wing policies that are producing this result.

No surprise. A free market allows fortunes to both rise and fall. Greater government regulation protects vested interests and makes it harder for newcomers to break in.

But there’s more. This should freeze people at their income levels, but not give the richest such a big boost. Note that Canadian stat: double their share of income.

That, I submit, is probably the effect of feminism. A generation ago, working class women already worked outside the home, because they had to. Wealthy women did not. Today, upper class women also work outside the home, effectively doubling incomes at the top level.

This in itself would not be so bad; one woman’s wealth does not detract from the next person’s. But there is that matter of class mobility. When we double the number of upper-class people flooding in the workforce, there are a lot fewer crumbs to spill down to the unwashed. It becomes less likely for anyone to move up off the loading dock.

Affirmative action: welfare for the very wealthy.


McQuaig goes on to point out that, when all taxes are included, rich and poor currently pay about the same percentage of their income in tax. While income tax is progressive, property taxes and sales taxes are regressive. It ends up roughly a wash.

She thinks this is an argument for higher taxes on the rich.

But for the rich, taxes are always more or less voluntary. The rich are mobile. Tax them too heavily, close their loopholes, and they, or their taxable assets, are on the next westbound train. You cannot soak the rich without getting everyone else very wet.

To the contrary; if McQuaig is correct that rich and poor both pay the same proportion of their income in taxes, raising the tax burden harms everyone, and reducing the tax burden helps everyone.

The rich, indeed, probably still prefer big government, as they always have. Unlike the poor, the money they pay in taxes is excess to basic requirements. It is worth it to protect their social position and their assets; never mind the argument that government spends more on the priorities of the rich than those of the poor.

Everyone who works for government will, of course, also want bigger government.

And this is the coalition that rules us. This is the Liberal Party: the wealthy, and government employees.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Support Global Warming

I found a beautiful new screen saver on-line:

http://www.primeminister.ca/images/nasa_earth_winter_2004.jpg

It is a composite photograph taken from space, showing Earth in the depths of winter. Here in exile, it reminds me of home. There is Canada, literally a big white mass. The great white north. Snow and ice stops almost exactly at its southern border.

Mon pays, c’est l’hiver.

But one other thought strikes me.

Global warming, if it is happening, is a good thing. Man has an effect on the environment? It is about time. Why shouldn’t we improve the environment, just as we have improved on nature in other ways?

Science fiction authors talk about “terraforming” other planets. But in fact, the Earth is far from ideal for man now. If we got seriously into tinkering with the climate of Earth, we could probably support many times the population we have, in far greater comfort.

Those big white areas, north and south, can be dealt with by global warming. So far, so good. Some of it becomes habitable, when it was not. Some becomes pleasant to live in, when it was not. Some can support two crops a year, instead of one. All to the good. Not to mention opening new shipping passages and so forth.

Nor does this mean the tropics become unusable. The hottest places on earth, the tropics, are the most fertile. Global warming, they say, will mostly affect the poles, not the tropics; but change here would presumably not reduce yields anyway.

Yes, there are vast deserts at the edges of the tropics: most of Africa is pale, sandy brown; all but a small fringe of Australia; a big swath through Central Asia.

Here we come to another advantage of global warming: they say that, with the polar ice caps melting, more water will be released into the ecosystem.

Well, darn it all. Now we have what we need to make the deserts fertile as well. At worst, all that is left is a problem with transport. Somebody one of these days is going to develop a really cheap method of desalinization, or cloud-forming, and we’re off to the races.

But, they say, water levels will rise in the oceans. Maybe so—I suspect we can use all the water in the deserts, but there may be some residue.

So what? It is high time we started colonizing the sea anyway. In the southern hemisphere, most of the temperate belt, the most pleasant climate to live in, is under water, under the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. How terrible would it be if everyone had their own island in the South Pacific?

Floating islands, I’m presuming. With desalinization to supply water, and fish farming for food. At present, we only hunt and gather the oceans; imagine if we were still hunting and gathering on land.

At present, looking at that satellite photo, we are really using only in small strips of that satellite image: two thirds of the earth is ocean. Of the remaining third, perhaps one third is ice, and one third is desert. We are left with one ninth of Earth to live on. If that much can support six billion, we should be supporting fifty-four billion.

Which leads to one last observation: we’ve got to start having more children.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Why Catholicism is the Truth

Recently on an email list to which I subscribe, two Protestant Christians considering conversion asked why those of us who are Catholic believe Catholicism is the truth.

It is unfashionable in some circles, of course, to say anything at all is true. This position, however, is ridiculous. The statement "there is no truth" is self-contradictory. Among the various doctrines held by mankind, one must be truer than the rest.

Catholicism has been tested and proven over time; its teachings have survived two thousand years of general scrutiny intact. Buddhism, by contrast, seems to lose vitality after about five hundred years, and has disappeared from nations where it once was prevalent. Islam, Christianity, and Marxism have all been able to cut through Buddhism like butter.

Individual Protestant denominations seem to lose the spark in a generation or two; I did grad studies in the “burnt-over district,” in Syracuse New York. There wasn’t a trace of the ferment that had been there just a century or so ago. Compare Lourdes, or Monte Cassino.

Hinduism is older than Catholicism, but current Hinduism bears little relation in doctrine or ritual to what was called Hinduism two thousand years ago. Even the gods are different.

Islam has not undergone the same testing as Catholicism, if only because it is younger. It also prohibits apostasy on pain of death, which adds factors other than intellectual conviction into the mix.

Only Judaism seems comparable to Catholicism in terms of historical durability.

In a similar vein, Catholicism has been tested and approved by some of the greatest minds of all time. Choose your field: Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Erasmus, Thomas More, Copernicus, Mendel, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes. Not everyone you might cite as the best minds of all time; but more than any other doctrine known to man. Many names often cited as dissident, actually became convinced Catholics in the end, presumably as they grew older and wiser: Oscar Wilde, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Voltaire, Carl Jung, Hermann Hesse.

Purely as an intellectual doctrine, Catholicism seems to have the strongest claim to truth of anything we know.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Those Who Control the Present...

The things popular opinion gets wrong about history are legion. A quick scan of a copy of History Magazine prompts the following random collection:

- Britain is commonly accused of rapaciousness in trading opium to China. Not fair. Opium was a common medicine; nobody considered it harmful. Britain was the first country to ban it, in 1878.

- The Catholic Church is commonly painted as intolerant for the Albigensian Crusade, the crusade against the Cathars. It is worth remembering that the Cathars, not the Catholics, were the aggressors. The Cathars seized control of Toulouse and murdered the Papal Legate.

- The West is commonly portrayed as a band of racist bandits in the sack of Constantinople in 1204, who could not tell the difference between Muslims and Eastern Christians. The truth is more complex. The throne of Constantinople was held by a usurper. The Western crusaders had been invited in by the rightful heir. They returned him to power, and withdrew. He was then deposed and murdered by the usurper’s faction, which refused to pay the debts he had incurred to the crusaders. They sacked Constantinople to get their pay.

- Magna Carta, the foundation of all the liberties of modern liberal democracy, is usually described strictly as a rebellion by the barons of England. But the primary instigator, and the true author of our liberties, was the Catholic Church. The dispute was caused by John’s demand to name the Archbishop of Canterbury. And just check out what the Magna Carta actually says: Article 1 guarantees the freedom of the church.

http://www.cs.indiana.edu/statecraft/magna-carta.html

- Note another thing, in relation to the common claim that women were accorded a lesser status than men throughout history. Several of the articles of Magna Carta grant special rights to women (article 7, 8, 11). There seem to be no special rights granted to men.

- Europeans are commonly blamed for introducing all sorts of diseases to the Native Americans—as if this were something intentional on their part. But it is probable that syphilis went the other way. It quickly infected about 13% of the European population in the years just after Columbus’s voyage; and was, in those days, as fatal as AIDS today..

- Canadians are commonly under the delusion that they scorched the White House in the War of 1812. It was the British Navy.

- The Catholic Church is commonly blamed for insisting for many years that the sun revolved around the earth. In fact, Copernicus was a Catholic clergyman, and the church raised no objection to his work. The religious objection to the heliocentric thesis was raised by Martin Luther; and the Protestant John Donne puts Copernicus in hell as a lieutenant of the Devil himself in Ignatius His Conclave. The Catholic reaction to the new theory was altogether much milder; Catholics had never believed in a literal interpretation of scripture.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why I Don't Live in Canada

This week, by mischance, I was reminded once again why I do not live in Canada. A colleague had acquired a video jointly produced by the CBC and NFB. The subject was “Stupidity.”

For some reason, the CBC-NFB believed this subject was best illustrated by showing a lot of naked bottoms and penises. I would have thought the CBC logo was enough.

They also interviewed, of course, the CBC’s usual favourites: Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Rick Mercer. These, mind, were supposed to be experts on stupidity, not examples of it.

From this, you can probably guess the climax: their ultimate examples of stupidity in the world today. The first, of course, was religion, which was supposedly a matter of adopting “rigid beliefs” instead of thinking. This was illustrated visually by scenes from “A Passion Play Written by Pope John Paul II,” as a subtitle helpfully pointed out to us. “Religions can be very stupid,” the voice over explained.

And the second, equally inevitably, was George W. Bush. “Could the leader of the Free World be the lowest common denominator?” the narrator asked. Rhetorically, it seems. For Bush was then described as “the stupidest president ever--with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan.”

Good solid objective journalism; no political axes to grind here. And, whether I choose to watch it or not, I must pay for it.

Finally, the documentary complained about the media giving a free ride to George W. “The media raises no questions [about what he says]” the narrator concluded.

The unintended ironies here are beyond counting. One of the greatest ironies of the left, indeed, is that the left believes it has a sense of irony.

But what also struck me is how obvious it has become that the factors behind Bush-bashing in Canada are the same that fuel it in the Third World. It comes from a lack of free speech.

If, after all, a Canadian journalist wants to treat of stupidity in politics, why not a Canadian example? Is Jean Chretien’s magnificent intellect truly beyond all question?

No; the CBC knows, and to a lesser extent, all Canadian journalists know, that what they can and cannot say is tightly proscribed. The federal Liberals can and do exact vengeance against those in the media who seriously challenge them; ask Conrad Black. Speech codes, never mind libel laws, can put you in prison pretty fast if you say the wrong thing.

So, if you want to give the sham appearance of being more than a political lapdog on a short leash, the only possibility is to slam Americans hard. It looks good, but they, unlike your own government, cannot touch you.

So social consensus is preserved by scapegoating the other, the foreigner. Hitler knew this well; so does Al Qaeda. So does the Canadian left.

And so I do not live in Canada. In Canada, I must always be careful what I say or write. Even things apparent to all cannot be said. This produces an intellectual atmosphere more oppressive than any I have encountered anywhere else I have been, short of the People’s Republic of China. And that back in the early nineties, not today.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Global Warming: Canada's Great White Hope

According to this NYT article, global warming could be a real bonanza for Canada. For one thing, the Arctic probably holds one third of the world's oil reserves:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/10/science/10arctic.html?th&emc=th

You may need to register to see this.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Contemporary Feminism in a Nutshell

The following sentence, a miracle of concision, actually appeared (in Swedish) in the Swedish journal Folkvett. It manages to capture in just a few words the essence of current feminist ideology:

"The argument that there exists a difference between the sexes is a typical male view."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Intelligent Design in the Schools

A colleague is urging fellow Canadian editors to sign a petition demanding that Ohio prevent the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes.

She argues that teaching intelligent design in science classrooms would be equivalent to having English teachers teach "ain't."

She calls instead for teaching science as we teach English, "in its pure form."


I’m not sure that’s the exact analogy. While every high school teacher may know it’s wrong, such prominent scientists as Bacon, Newton, Einstein, and Hawking themselves believe in some sort of “intelligent design” to the universe. So perhaps the devotion to Darwin alone is more like one of “Miss Thistlebottom’s hobgoblins”: like beginning a sentence with “and” or “but,” or ending one with a preposition. Something everyone believes, except, apparently, Shakespeare, Milton, Joyce, and Hemingway.

Now you may say that not everything a scientist believes is science; that intelligent design still belongs in philosophy class, not science class. (Though Einstein apparently did not think so: “God does not throw dice,” he said to dismiss quantum mechanics.)

However, it seems to me that the same argument, to the same extent, could be said to exclude Darwinism from the science class as well: defined as the “doctrine of evolution by natural selection of random mutations.” The concepts “natural” and “random” are surely just as philosophical and difficult to prove or disprove by the scientific method as that of “design.” But remove them, and there is no distinction between Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

In any case, the notion that science has a “purity” that must be maintained by avoiding reference to other subjects in science class is debatable. We do not, after all, avoid mathematics in science classes, although math is a different subject. We do not avoid historical context when reading Shakespeare in English class. We do not avoid issues of semantics and language in philosophy. We do not ignore physics in shop.

In the case of science in particular, the subject is hopelessly intertwined with philosophy. It really makes no sense without awareness of certain philosophical assumptions. Remember, what we now call science would, two hundred years ago, have been called “natural philosophy.” Scientists still aspire to the Ph.D. degree.

I would argue rather that it is a serious weakness in our educational system that we do not teach the philosophy of science in science classes. As one result, we tend to promote “scientism”: a popular notion that the current majority views of science are certain received truth, and sufficient to explain the universe. A sort of substitute religion. Bad science; almost the opposite of the scientific method.

As to the idea that science should not be tampered with by politics: I agree. Yet urging a group composed mostly of English majors to sign a petition demanding government legislate that certain things not be taught in science classrooms seems not quite in the right spirit.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Times Debunks Religion

TheTimes of London is showcasing a new study suggesting that religion has no good social effects:

"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1798944,00.html


In the same vein, a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star once made me laugh. It was a psychiatrist arguing that religion caused mental illness. His evidence was that the mentally ill were uncommonly likely to be religious. He proposed that religion should be suppressed as a preventative measure.

But the same evidence equally proves that psychiatry causes mental illness. The mentally ill are also uncommonly likely to be seeing a psychiatrist.

This latest study seems to me to work the same way. If I were living in a place with high rates of homicide, STD, and early adult mortality, it would probably inspire me to be more religious too. But it hardly follows that the people who are out killing each other or getting STDs are the religious.

So these findings are consistent with the thesis that religion causes social problems in about the same sense that aspirin causes headaches.

There are a lot of other problems with the study in detail: for example, the author correlates “being religious” with a literal interpretation of the Bible and with opposition to the theory of evolution. These have nothing to do with religiosity for anyone outside a fairly narrow range of Protestantism, and definitely are not meaningful for, say, a Buddhist in Japan. (Yet Japan is included in his study, accordingly, as a “secular” nation.)

As to the question at issue, whether religion has desirable social effects, I doubt it is possible to amass enough evidence to make a compelling case either way. Humans are too complex; it is not possible to eliminate other variables. But, if it were not intuitively obvious that religion does promote social cohesion and well-being, there are suggestive examples from history. How did heretofore insignificant Arab culture suddenly emerge in the sixth century to conquer half the world? How did despised Christianity rapidly conquer the Roman Empire? How have the Jews survived without a country for two thousand years?

And, as a rough and ready measure of the results of atheism and materialism versus religious faith, how do the stats on suicide, mortality, abortion, STDs, and so forth measure up between Western and Eastern Europe, the latter having been until recently officially atheist?

You tell me.


The Heritage Foundation claims:

- Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.

- Church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness.

- The regular practice of religion helps poor persons move out of poverty.

- Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.

- The regular practice of religion also encourages such beneficial effects on mental health as less depression (a modern epidemic), more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.

- In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief and practice are a major source of strength and recovery.

- Regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health: It increases longevity, improves one's chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many killer diseases.

Footnoted at:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Religion/BG1064.cfm

Tories Storm Back

According to the latest Decima poll--and, reputedly, Tory internal polls-- Conservative fortunes have picked up sharply since the summer.

Why?

Obvious. The CBC is on strike.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Canada As a Model for Emerging Democracies. Not.

An interesting parable from Rick Anderson:

" Suppose some person from Tajikistan came up with a plan and said: 'OK, we're going to elect a prime minister by an indirect process -- through an internal political party vote by a few thousand people.'

"That party had come to power by a first-past-the-post voting system whereby MPs from that party win a majority of the seats in parliament, usually with less than 40% of the popular vote.

" 'And then,' exclaims the excited Tajikistani, 'we're going to give that prime minister the right to appoint ALL of the members of the Supreme Court, we're going to have a second legislative body and we'll let the Prime Minister appoint ALL the members of that.

" 'We're also going to let the Prime Minister appoint the head of the army, the head of the national police force, the heads of all the government departments and Crown corporations and key government agencies and we're going to let the Prime Minister also appoint the official head of state -- the only person who can fire him. All subject only to another election, held at the whim of the Prime Minister.' "


Sound democratic?

Not very.

But it is, of course, the Canadian system.

The complete article, courtesy of Licia Corbella and the Calgary Sun, is at:

http://tinyurl.com/cuao2

Sexual Orientations 'R' Us

The Canadian Supreme Court has now “read into” the Canadian constitution a prohibition against discrimination on grounds of “sexual orientation.”

But do they really understand what “sexual orientation” means?

The DSM, the “bible” of psychiatry, lists the following as “sexual orientations”:

Homosexuality; bisexuality; pedophilia; transgenderism; transsexuality; transvestitism; transvestic fetishism; autogynephilia; voyeurism; exhibitionism; fetishism or sexual fetishism; zoophilia; sexual sadism; sexual masochism; necrophilia; klismaphilia; telephone scatalogia; urophilia; apotemnophilia; coprophilia; coprophagia; toucherism; partialism; frotteurism; and frattemism.

I’m not sure what some of these are. But they are now constitutionally protected from discrimination. And, under the Hate Laws, you must not criticize them, or you go to prison for two years. Perhaps we’d all better look them up, to be safe.

Thanks to Catholic Insight for the info.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sharia and a Woman's Right to Choose

I am not at all happy at the new plan to ban all religious arbitration in Ontario, in order to prevent the use of sharia law. Bad move; bigoted move.

It endorses and promotes prejudice against Islam. One reads outrageous claims like this:

“But fundamentalist Islam, in particular, can be harsh, [Homa Arjomand, an Iranian immigrant] said.

‘Divorces are happening behind closed doors and the woman is banned from having custody of her children,’ Ms. Arjomand said. ‘She is being sent back to her home country to live with her relatives.’” (Globe & Mail)

That might be happening, but not under sharia. According to sharia, the mother gets custody of younger children, the father gets older children. Much fairer than the Canadian system, in which the mother almost always gets full custody. The mother may choose to live with relatives, but she gets alimony or a lump sum settlement. Unless she is judged to be at fault in the divorce; but that is as it should be.

June Callwood raised the ridiculous canard that a woman might be stoned to death as part of a divorce settlement.

It also looks terrible that a system that has been used by other religious groups for fourteen years without trouble suddenly becomes intolerable when used by Muslims. What else is that but anti-Muslim discrimination? What else is that but intolerance of Islam?

Allowed for settling marital disputes outside the courts had several great advantages. First, the courts cannot or will not keep up with their caseload; and justice delayed is justice denied. Second, courts are terribly expensive for all concerned. Allowing independent arbitrators saved a huge amount of taxpayer money, and a huge amount of money for those seeking a divorce. Third the courts are set up to be adversarial. Religious arbitration is not. In particular, any sharia court works hard to keep the marriage together.

Accordingly, using religious arbitration kept families together. If the marriage broke up, it was far likelier to end on amicable terms. Both parties were more likely to end up with a settlement they were happy with. And both parties were better off for keeping their money instead of spending it on lawyers.

All benefits for the parties concerned, and all beneficial to society as a whole. A win-win-win situation. All lost due to prejudice.

Feminists argued that sharia law would be unfair to women. This claim is itself unfair to women. For application of sharia law was voluntary.

Literally, here feminists are denying women the right to choose, to make their own decisions, to control their own lives. They must not be permitted the right to choose to be Muslims.

The feminists argue that Muslim women would be unduly influenced to agree to sharia law. Even though decisions of a sharia court could be appealed.

But if women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, if they are so vulnerable to being “influenced,” what does this say about their ability to hold responsible positions, or indeed to enter into other contracts?

It would seem that, in the eyes of feminism, women should not be “persons” in law. They cannot be expected to behave responsibly.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Found Aphorisms

Shiny gems of insight found in recent received emails:


Only the devil wishes everyone to be his friend.

Living near Sedona, Arizona (an "enlightened" place) I get sick of not being able to converse with anyone because you can't say anything anymore. Conversation is strangled a by a billion politically correct restraints. I'd rather just offend you now and pray for you later.

I have a friend who complains all the time about "the rich" until I brought it to her attention that she was in the top 10% of income earners.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Oppressed Ruling Class

A correspondent on my favourite professional email list laments that the intelligentsia rarely or never hold power.

Indeed, the modern left, while mostly professionals with advanced degrees, have convinced themselves that they somehow represent the disenfranchised poor and working class. How’d that happen?

In the broad sweep of history, the intelligentsia have almost always at least had an important role in government. They may not always have been the nominal rulers—that has sometimes been the military class, or aristocracy—but they have largely been the de facto governors, those who have their hands on the levers of power day to day.

In hunter-gatherer societies, the intelligentsia, the learned class, would be the medicine men, the witch doctors, the shamans. They held a power at least rivaling, perhaps exceeding that of the chiefs.

In China or Korea, the mandarinate were more powerful than the aristocracy, than anyone save the emperor himself, and could even depose him if they felt it necessary.

In India, the Brahmins were the top caste, those who had studied the Vedas, “as they had the most to do with intellect.” Above the Ksatriyas, the aristocracy, let alone the Vaisya bourgeoisie and Shudra proletariat.

In ancient Palestine, as the New Testament reports, the scribes and Pharisees held the real power, subject to appeal to Rome (and to the equivalent Roman class): these were, in modern terms, teachers, clergy, accountants, and lawyers. The educated elite.

So too in Medieval and early modern Europe: the educated or intellectual class was the clergy, and they made most of the daily decisions of law and government, holding all bureaucratic positions up to and including the chancellorship. They ran all schools and universities. They ran the hospitals. They kept the government records.

We all know about the Third Estate, and the Fourth Estate. But who was the First Estate? The educated class, the clergy: above the aristocracy, let alone the bourgeoisie. In England, they were considered part of the aristocracy: the House of Lords is formally divided into “Lords Spiritual” and “Lords Temporal” the former holding civil power due to their ecclesiastical office. In Germany and of course in Italy, bishops were often also the civil rulers of their diocese.

Many of the major intellectuals of history have indeed also held official state power: Marcus Aurelius, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Thomas More, Yi Yulgok, Machiavelli, Disraeli, Andre Malraux, Havel, Pol Pot, Lenin, Mao. I suppose Mussolini also counts as a serious political thinker.

Traditional Marxist doctrine holds that, with the French revolution and its kin, power passed from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. Oddly skipping the intellectual class—Marx’s own class.

But a strong argument could be made that, instead, with the modern era, the highest power passed more completely from the Second to the First Estate. The bourgeoisie still wait for their day in the sun; let alone the proletariat or peasantry.

For who is really in charge of our law and government today? The lawyers. Some may be elected by the people as a whole—saving the courts, which wield independent power—but almost everyone elected is a lawyer. A holder of an advanced degree, a member of the intelligentsia.

Who is really in charge of our commerce? Not capitalists—not many of those, mostly just folks with pensions. It is the pension managers, and the MBAs who become corporate executives, all the way up to CEO. Again, holders of advanced degrees: the learned class; the intelligentsia. The bourgeoisie remain about what they always were, small shopkeepers making a middling living in their small shops.

Elsewhere in society, independent spheres of power are carved out by teachers and academics, medical doctors, social workers, journalists, scientists, and so forth. All have special privileges and powers. But all are members of the same professional or learned class.

So it is not that the intelligentsia is never in power; they continue in power now as they have always been, while other classes wax and wane around them. The old check from an aristocracy has been replaced, in some countries, by a similar check from democracy. In others, there is no longer any check—China, say; Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Vietnam, Laos.

Not that the best and the brightest of the intelligentsia are the ones with the most power. The brightest seem less attracted to power. As someone once said, “I have thought too much to stoop to action.” Research is more interesting.

Marxism, and especially Marxism-Leninism, is mostly a justification for the seizure of absolute power by the educated class (aka “the vanguard of the proletariat’).

This explains why it remains so popular in the universities, even when it has been thoroughly discredited in practice.

So, indeed, was Fascism.

The Pharisees we shall have always with us. Good people, too, most of them. But bad news when they lunge for total power.