Monday, January 31, 2005

Still Recovering from the Sixties

A recent religious newsletter to which I subscribe bemoaned TV as the cause of the modern trend to random violence.

I beg to differ.

Violence on TV is not to blame. Mother Goose, or Grimm's Fairy Tales, are at least as violent. Kids have always loved violent stories. So this cannot account for any recent change.

Note too that the rise in violence over the past generation or two is now leveling off and declining. Whatever _was_ causing it seems to have receded. That again lets TV off the hook.

My guess is it probably had and has mostly to do with the dislocations of rapid urbanization/suburbanization. In the immediate postwar years, in North America, people suddenly no longer knew their neighbours, were far more mobile, more rootless and transient, and generally more separated from their traditions and extended families.

Societies seem to go through traumas at such dislocations: Nazism and Communism, for example, can and have been accounted for by the dislocations of rapid industrialization in Germany and Russia.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, North American life changed dramatically: suburbia was invented, and the population as a whole went from rural to urban very quickly. Kitchens became automated; for the first time, almost everyone could afford a car. From this, I believe, along with traumatic shock and culture shock from the Second World War, came the Sixties and all they entailed, including the sexual "revolution."

It all seems pretty clear to me when I read Kerouac's _On the Road_. It, along with _Dharma Bums_, includes everything we have since come to know as modern sensibility, including the random violence. But it predates TV, at least as a widespread phenomenon. It was written in 1947-49.

And the real hero of the book is the automobile.

With greater transience, random violence becomes both more possible and more thinkable. And it may respond to the trauma of dislocation.

So I blame cars more than TV.

It follows, if I am right, that this will self-correct. Things really will return to something closer, in moral terms, to what they were before, as they have in previous such upheavals. We are already seeing this, with the decline in random violence in North America and the rise of "neo-conservatism."

Of course, new shocks will come. Computerization, for example, will surely have profound social effects too, and soon. I am just hopeful these will be happier than those of the automobile.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Lost in Translation

Just as the Muslim world is misunderstood in the West, and gets a bad press, so the Western world is misunderstood, and gets a bad press, in the Middle East. One of my students complained about getting a drivers’ license while he was in the US, on which was printed a warning that he must not drink and drive, and when he brought it back home, the authorities refused to recognize it, because they were convinced that it actually said, coming from the West, that you must drink and drive.

The form for my health card asks for the names of family members. There is a check box to identify each wife, one through four.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Icky Words and Tired Phrases

To birth; Birthing
To gift; Gifting
To enthuse; Enthused
To deplane
To sauce (v.)
To munch (for “to eat”)
Talent (as noun to describe people)
Pant (the singular used for trousers)
To voice; Voicing (for acting as the voice of an animated character)
To source

X from hell
To dodge a bullet
To be a rock star; like a rock star (of people who are not rock stars)
Diva (for any female singer)
Icon (in non-religious or philosophical uses); cultural icon
Avatar (in non-religious or philosophical uses)
Lady (for any woman, indiscriminately)

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Canadian Election on Gay Marriage?

There have been rumblings of an election fought on the issue of gay marriage, although Paul Martin seems wisely to be backing down from it now.

I think it would be a good move for the Conservatives to fight an election on the issue of gay marriage. They'd probably win. Look at what happened in the US: moral values came to the fore. Decima did a poll just before Christmas, and it showed 39 percent in favour, and 37 percent opposed. Within the margin of error. And how many of those 39 percent are like me, in favour of gay marriage but still opposed to making equality for gays a constitutional right?

COMPAS did a poll at the end of 2003 that showed a 63% majority opposed gay marriage, and a plurality also favoured a constitutional override, if necessary, to prevent it. COMPAS tagged it a “sleeper” issue that could have taken down the Liberals had it been made a campaign focus.

Worse for the Liberals, according to the polls and reports from constituency offices, those who are opposed are far more vociferous about it than those who are in favour. This affects volunteer efforts, hence can shift public opinion during a campaign. And it affects turnout. Exactly the calculus that Karl Rove relied upon for Bush last time out.

Worse still for the Liberals, this would put the election focus squarely on "moral values," on which, as Rove has shown, the left is vulnerable with the public. Gay marriage, and the stats on that, may be less significant than a general impression that the Liberals are less concerned with morality than the Conservatives--playing nicely into the Liberal record of corruption and scandal.

Worse still, the Liberals are seriously divided on the issue. They were historically the party of Catholics, and some of their own members are still fierce opponents of gay marriage. There'd be a strong fifth column, infighting, possibly defecting candidates, and a lot of Liberal constituency workers sitting on their hands.

Worse, the pro-gay marriage vote is split among three parties: the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc all support it. Only the Conservative oppose. If the support for gay marriage is 50-50, or even 45-55 against them, and the election is decided on that issue, that means a Conservative landslide.

The Conservatives would also, by making this the core issue, be making a good play for pulling the Catholics permanently over to their side. This has been crucial in the US in creating the "new Republican Majority," and it is potentially even more important in Canada--unlike the US, Canada is a 50% Catholic country, at least nominally. Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto and Archbishop Henry of Calgary have both now publicly told Catholics to oppose the Liberal bill.

It could also pull a lot if more recent immigrants away from the Liberals and into the Conservative fold. Recent immigrants tend to be socially conservative, conservative on moral values, and it is anomalous that immigrants have tended to vote Liberal. This could crack that Liberal stronghold. During Martin's recent trip to India, Sikh head priest Joginder Singh Vedanti declared that Canada's proposed same-sex marriage legislation was an "idea that originated from sick minds'' and called for all Sikhs to oppose it.

On top of the great value of the immigrant vote and the immigrant volunteer armies--the Sikhs, for example, are extremely politically active--this could put the kibosh on the Liberals' traditional and very open smear that the Conservatives are somehow "racist." Winning the Tories an indeterminate number of additional votes among those concerned on this score.

The issue also plays well to Canada's innate conservatism. A constitutional right to gay marriage involves an obvious change. So the Conservatives get to look like the custodians of the status quo, and the Liberals like the wild-eyed radicals. This is a stick the Liberals have generally been able to beat the Conservatives with: "put them in power, and they'll change everything."

Man, if I were Stephen Harper, I'd be delighted if Martin handed me an election on the gay marriage issue. If an election comes soon on this issue, I’d expect a Conservative victory.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

More on Ecole Polytechnique and Lepine

Dear Abbot:

Memorializing the women of Montreal [shot by Marc Lepine at the Ecole Polytechnique in a famous incident in 1989] is like mourning freed slaves who were murdered after the [US] Civil War for being uppity - for taking employment from whites. I think that helps contextualize this. Should we not particularly mark and mourn lives lost in that particular struggle, versus the lives lost say by Confederate soldiers?

New Man


Dear New:

Good that you brought up the parallel with the civil rights struggle in the US South. I think this is historically crucial, because modern feminism arose at the time of this struggle, in the Sixties, and, I think, based its claim of the oppression of women on perceived analogies with the condition of blacks in the US South.

So it probably really does matter whether we see those claimed parallels as valid or not.

Now let's look at the specific one you raise here: the lynchings of blacks versus the killing of women at EP. Are they comparable?

This from “History of Lynching in the United States” (http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/ACLAText/USLynch.html)

"The lynching era encompasses roughly the five decades between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the Great Depression. During these years we may estimate that there were 2,018 separate incidents of lynching in which at least 2,462 African-American men, women and children met their deaths in the grasp of southern mobs, comprised mostly of whites.”

That’s 2,018 separate incidents, involving mobs, in addition to church burnings and murders of blacks by other means. It seems to me a stretch to see that as equivalent to one act by a lone gunman.

In fact, the early suffragists went to some lengths to try to get themselves killed in their cause--throwing themselves in front of carriages and so forth--and rarely succeeded. I do not think blacks in the US South had such difficulties getting themselves lynched.

Another interesting parallel occurs to me, because I am living now in the United Arab Emirates, where older traditions prevail. You may recall that the civil rights struggle was largely set off by Rosa Parks trying to sit at the front of a bus.

But in places where segregation by sex is practiced, it is the women who sit in the front of the bus; the men must move to the back. And it is the men who must yield seats to the women in case of shortage.

If, therefore, the parallel is taken as valid, it shows women to be the ruling group, and men to be oppressed. Either that, or blacks were the ruling elite in the US South.

But to answer your specific question: I believe Confederate soldiers should be remembered, and honourably. As I understand it, few of them believed that they were fighting to defend slavery.

To remember the death of a black man, because he is black, more than the death of a white man, because he is white, is racist. To remember the death of a woman, because she is a woman, more than the death of a man, because he is a man, is sexist.

And to say that these women at EP died as martyrs to the feminist cause, is to give the event Marc Lepine's interpretation, and so promote his views. It is not a proper memorial to those women in any case.

On Men’s Clubs

It is a serious current “gender equity” problem that females are permitted, encouraged, and aided to have “women only” associations, and males are not permitted to have “men only” associations. Besides the equality aspect, and the practical matter of limiting men’s ability to organize to protect their interests, it is a breach of the right to freedom of association/assembly and the right to privacy.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Sheep and Goats

One of the advantages of living here in the Middle East is that it gives some new insight on Biblical metaphor.

This morning, my young son and I were out with the local natural history group, trying to find an old way station on the caravan route. We never found it, but while we were there scouting the dunes, a herd of goats passed by.

There was no goatherd. Nevertheless, the goats kept to a group, moving like a wave, almost in lock step. Like sheep. I had seen goats do this in the souk before, but had imagined they might have been particularly well-behaved goats, or intimidated by the strange surroundings and the presence of the goatherd with his staff.

Nope. Conformity is instinctive with goats, just as with sheep.

And this completely destroyed my previous understanding of the parable of the sheep and the goats.

I had always assumed that the point was that sheep herded easily, while goats tended to be individualistic. I didn’t take this from whole cloth either: when I was a kid I had a pet sheep and a pet goat. The goat always led, and the sheep always followed. Therefore, I thought the point was that good folk were obedient.

Not so, obviously. It just happened that my goat was dominant. Whatever Jesus was saying by contrasting sheep and goats, he was not advocating conformity or obedience per se. It was not the same sense we intend colloquially when we speak of people being “a bunch of sheep.”

The association may be more that in “better to be hanged for a sheep than a goat.” Sheep are meatier, woollier, hence more valuable animals. For Eid, you slaughter a sheep if you can afford it. If you can’t, you slaughter a goat.

I’ve often thought it would be a great idea for a retreat to spend some time in the hills as a shepherd. It would give you a better appreciation for the Gospel image.

Eid Mubarak.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Islamism is Not Islam

Interesting article by Francis Fukayama on the roots of radical Islam:

http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110002251

I disagree with his take on traditional Muslim culture and his notion that there is something creative about the destruction of Fascism, but he makes clear that Bin Laden and "Islamism" have very definite Fascist and Marxist roots. It is not an orthodox Muslim movement. It is Lenin in a dishdash, Hitler in a chador. It is the same adversary the liberal West has faced over the past century in Germany, Russia, and China; and predictable, although not inevitable, at a certain point in a country's development.

Hang onto your hats, folks. History is not over after all.

Monday, January 17, 2005

CBC Bias Watch

From the Web edition of CBC news:


'MCKENNA DENIES 'COZY' RELATIONSHIP WITH WASHINGTON

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, who was officially named to
be Canada's new ambassador to the United States on Friday, refuted
critics' claims that he has strong ties to the White House and other
political and business leaders. '


"Denies" is okay. "Refuted" is editorializing.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Equal Protection before the Law

Dear Abbot:

You are wrong to defend the status quo between the genders. Haven’t women always been lesser citizens before the law?

New Man


Dear New:

It is hard to speak at once of all times and places, but it seems to me that generally, while men had some advantages in law over women, women also had some advantages in law over men.

For example, in various times and places,

- Women were de facto or de jure exempt from prosecution for most crimes. In Korea before the modern era, for example, a women could not be prosecuted for anything but treason. And almost universally, women are less likely to be charged, less likely to be convicted, and receive on average lighter sentences, for the same crimes. This is a pretty significant advantage at law, to my mind.

- Women are usually exempt from both military conscription and conscript labour.

- Some man—a husband or a father—has usually been legally obliged to provide for a woman’s material needs. Most often, women have not been legally liable for any particular quid pro quo in return.

- Women have had resort in law to charges of rape, sexual molestation, assault, or sexual harassment against any man. At least as a practical matter, men generally do not have this remedy against women.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Prostitution

Dear Abbot:
How are men capable of using other beings as though they are trash? The "trafficking of … women all over the world - they are being bought and sold by men for use by men. What does this say about men in general and how they are dehumanized by society?

A Feminist


Dear Feminist:

You are referring to the aspect of selling sex specifically? That is, the fact that prostitution is involved, that women are “bought” and “sold” in this sense?

Leaving aside the question of kidnapping, in the general run of things, who do we consider more responsible for the morality of a transaction, the buyer or the seller? The dealer, or the druggie? The bootlegger, or the drunk? The bookie, or the gambler? The corporation, or the consumer? Why is the normal equation commonly reversed only for the case of the prostitute? Why do we so rarely hear of the drug dealer with a heart of gold?

And if it is a question of treating another human being as an object, who is more guilty of that? The woman, who will feel or feign intimacy with anyone and only for money, or the man, who is prepared to pay for intimacy or feigned intimacy with this individual?


Beware too of blaming all men for the actions of a certain small percentage of men. Of saying the actions of a few men speak to the nature of all men.

Are you prepared to accept the same standard of judgement for women? Are you prepared to accept that Imelda Marcos’s acquisitiveness, for example, says something about all women? Or Catherine the Great’s sexual appetites?

And are you prepared to equally give all and only men credit for the good that any man does? Do they also all get full thanks for Shakespeare, Einstein, Mandela, and so forth?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Blond Guy Joke

The following joke is pasted verbatum from an email list to which I subscribe:


Two blonde guys were working for the city works department. One would dig a hole and the other would follow behind him and fill the hole in.

They worked up one side of the street, then down the other, then moved on to the next street, working furiously all day without rest, one guy digging a hole, the other guy filling it in again.

An onlooker was amazed at their hard work, but couldn't understand what they were doing. So he asked the hole digger, "I'm impressed by the effort you two are putting into your work, but I don't get it --why do you dig a hole, only to have your partner follow behind and fill it up again?"

The hole digger wiped his brow and sighed, "Well, I suppose it probably looks odd because we're normally a three-man team. But today the guy who plants the trees called in sick."


These things are always a good measure of who is discriminated against currently: whom it is okay to make fun of. Once it would have been blacks, once Poles, once Newfies, once Irishmen. Now it's "blond guys." Northern European males.

QED

Joe Clark: A Wise Fool

The Economist has asked recently for examples of “wise fools.” James I is their classic example.

The type is the opposite of the idiot savant. An idiot savant looks stupid, but uncannily seems to do clever things. A wise fool looks clever, but uncannily does stupid things.

I think Canada has a truly world-class example: Joe Clark.

Joe was a complete unknown, “Joe Who,” when he won the Tory leadership in 1976.

As it turned out, there was a reason.

Good old Joe loved words like "specificity." On a visit to a farm, he asked the pastoralist, "What is the totality of your acreage?"

His wife Maureen was quoted, in a piece just after he won the leadership, with the tactful comment "Joe and I don't suffer fools gladly."

I wonder how they get on?

He won because he was unknown: all other candidates has too many negatives. And he won the next election on the strength of not being Pierre Trudeau.

Nine months after winning power, Joe forced an election on a raised gasoline tax. Good move. Everybody expected him to lose. And he did.

When his leadership then became shaky, he called a party vote, and declared he needed not just a majority, but 66%. He came in just slightly below that figure, and had to resign. Even though he was first choice for leader. Brilliance.

To his credit, Joe survived the Mulroney years as almost the only senior member of cabinet with his reputation intact. Still, his time in cabinet will be most remembered for a failure: the Charlottetown Accord, which was supposed to amend the constitution to satisfy Quebec. It was rejected in a national referendum, including in Quebec. Many think it led to the collapse of the Tory Party a year later.

Then, instead of retiring from public life with dignity, he came back years later, in 1998, to lead the Tory Party on the edge of oblivion. Nobody but Joe thought he could save the Tory Party, and he didn't. He did nothing but tread water for them, in the end, but managed to barely retain their official party status and thus hold off a union of the right, keeping the Liberals effortlessly in power for years. His last hurrah was to shear off five MPs from the Canadian Alliance during a leadership crisis. They abandoned him a few months later.

When the Tories and the Alliance finally merged, in 2004, Clark declared his support for the Liberals.

Arguably, Canada might have been a far different country without Joe Clark. And, arguably, a better one.

As somebody once said of him, "ambition without talent is a terrible thing."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Revolution Comes to Canada

An interesting straw in the wind: the editor of Maclean's Magazine has just resigned, two months after the publisher.

Note to foreigners: Maclean's is "Canada's National Newsmagazine," a charter member of the Canadian liberal media establishment.

Rumour is that Ken Whyte is being courted to become its new publisher and editor.

Whyte is a former editor of Alberta Report, Saturday Night, and the National Post. He probably has the best journalistic credentials in Canada for the job.

He is also a neo-con.

Sounds like Maclean's management is trying to get ahead of the curve. They may also be troubled by competition from the new Western Standard as a right-wing competitor.

With this, plus the NatPost, plus Fox News finally allowed in, change in Canada could start coming fast.

Fasten your seat belts.

The Captains and the Mounties Depart

There seems to be a lot of wringing our hands in Canada these days on the notion that we have lost profile in the world over the last few years. Canada's image and presence on the world stage has declined.

But this is not surprising. Canada had importance during the Cold War as a kind of a bridge between the US and Europe: someone both the Europeans and the Americans could understand and would listen to. When we stayed out of Iraq, we ceded that role to the British, and became irrelevant. The more so since, with the end of the Cold War, maintaining relations between the US and Europe becomes less important.

Even more striking than the decline of Canada is the rise of Australia on the world stage. I think this may have to do with Australia taking up something like Canada's traditional role now, as a bridge between the US and Southeast Asia.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Danish Muslims

Someone has pointed out with alarm that the majority of gang rapes in Denmark are by Muslim immigrants.

But this is not that surprising to me: a sad clash of cultures and cultural signals. Remember, good Muslim women are supposed to cover their legs and hair at all times. It is not surprising if someone raised in a traditional Muslim culture supposes that a woman who is walking by showing, say, the clear outlines of her breasts and buttocks, and exposing her legs and stomach, is advertising that, for her, anything goes. It would imply not just consent, but eager desire. Why hang a flashing neon shop sign if you’ve nothing to sell?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Animism and Plato

“Aminism: the doctrine that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls.”

This belief is shared by just about all “primitive” societies, by all “shamanistic” religions.

I have heard some dopey explanations for this: that it is a primitive way to explain gravity, why a rock moves downhill. It must be alive. Such theories to my mind have a fatal flaw: they require us to believe that primitive people are individually not as smart as we are. Surely they are.

I see a far simpler and more credible reason for animistic beliefs. I bet they are thinking like Plato. Plato believed that anything we perceive in the physical world, in order for us to recognize it as anything at all, must correspond to some mental original, eternal, preexistent in our minds.

In this sense, any physical thing must have a soul—a mental original that endows it with its being and its identity.

This mental original differs from the physical instance in that it does not come into being or die. Its identity is complete and perfect, by definition; and so it does not come from or become anything else. So it must be immortal, eternal. So it must preexist any specific instance of it, and cannot be generated by abstraction from our experience of the physical.

Now, “primitive” tribes also, interestingly, do not worship all physical things equally. They invariably have a special reverence for rocks and trees.

And this stands to reason, and confirms my thesis. Rocks and trees, among physical things, most closely approach this spiritual ideal form, because they are least prone to change and decay, most inclined to preserve the integrity of their identity.

Therefore they represent the spiritual generally. They are models of spirituality, have stronger spirits.

Extend this principle, and you hit most of the things held most sacred by animists and shamanists: mountains, turtles, preservatives like salt and spices, preserved foods, the sun and stars, the North Pole, gold, diamonds, evergreens ...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Inclusive Language in “O Canada”

A correspondent objects, as Senator Poy and many feminists have, to the reference to “in all thy sons’ command” in “O Canada.” This, they argue, unjustly excludes women.

But consider what is happening here: men are being commanded, given orders. Is it really a greater subjugation for women not to be subjugated?

And again, they are being given orders by Canada. Is Canada male or female? At a minimum, why assume she is male? I have always assumed she was female in this anthem. Like Marianne, Britannia, Athena, and Columbia.

If it were a male giving the orders, and women who were to obey his commands, would the feminists be happier?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Childrearing Filipina Style

The Filipino attitude to children is quite different from ours in North America. I am able to observe this closely, as my wife is Filipina. There is less romanticism about a gulf between childhood and adulthood. Children are small adults, just as I have heard they were in Europe before the Romantic period.

Remember this when you next read about "child labour" in the Third World. Cultural bias: it seems obviously the right thing in most such countries. It would probably be seen as a violation of children's rights to prohibit them from working.

My wife treats our three-year-old son roughly as an equal. He has his responsibilities: he is expected to fetch and do errands. But he also has a say. They have arguments, and big fights, but it is like two kids or two adults arguing with each other; there is no patronizing. Frankie gets to talk back. There is no "because I said so," or "because I'm your mother." He even gets away with slugging her.

But this is not a matter of pampering or spoiling. I think she is even too hard on him. Rights and responsibility, asap--what better training for real life?

First I get a chance, I'm sending him down the mines.

Monday, January 03, 2005

More on the Inalienable Right to a Prompt and Free Abortion on Demand

I think a general problem reflected in the current Manitoba ruling (see “Canada Death Watch,” below), is that people misunderstand the original doctrine of human rights. We are “endowed by the Creator” with such rights; they are inherent in being human and inalienable. They are therefore necessarily not things given by governments, things that could not exist without government, but rather things that governments may not take away.

So, for example, for “security of the person,” the human right at issue in the present case. This means properly that government must not itself violate our security of the person; it does not mean that government must protect us from all harm. In the present case, not only harm from others, but from acts of God and even—in the case of abortion-- from our own actions.

Had we the latter right, to have government protect our security of person from all possible harm, for example, any government would be in a Catch-22. They would have to provide an infallible police force and armed forces for the majority of citizens, but also somehow guarantee that no actual member of such forces were harmed themselves in the line of duty.

This seems unlikely. More unlikely still, the government would apparently be liable should any citizen ever sicken or die.

This seems untenable on a purely actuarial basis, particularly over several centuries.


Note too how minor a supposed risk to health triggers this constitutional right. In the Manitoba case, there was no question of not being able to get the abortion, and no question even of not being able to get it free.

“At the time of their procedures, both Janes would have had to have waited between four and six weeks for an appointment.” “Believing that waiting would pose medical and psychological risks, both women opted to have the procedure done at a private clinic.”

A matter of three to five weeks; the private clinic did it in one week. It was not a matter of abortion being de facto unavailable at the public clinics due to the delay.

Imagine if the right to such prompt service were extended to other procedures. Anything from a hip replacement to a heart transplant within a week.

Unless the courts really intend to set free abortion on demand apart as a right above all other rights, this could be devastating to our medical health system. Already obviously straining under its obligations.