Wednesday, August 31, 2005

From the Conning Tower


Ras Al Khaimah
Originally uploaded by sroneykor.
Your humble correspondent emerges briefly from his secure location somewhere in the Middle East.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Born Again Mice

If this story is accurate, it's bigger than cold fusion:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,16417002%255E30417,00.html

I Laughed Until I Nearly Froze

The linked interview with William Shatner reminds us once again of a timeless truth: humour is Canada's national art form, and all Canadians truly believe that humour is the highest form of art.

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/story/341623p-291714c.html

Think too of Leslie Nielsen, who gave up serious acting as soon as he could.

Recall that for a generation, Wayne and Schuster were national symbols.

Recall that Canada's most loved writer, Canada's Shakespeare, is a humourist--Stephen Leacock.

For a couple of generations now, Canadians have dominated world humour. And not just through Hollywood; there is also China's top jokemonger, Da Shan.

Canadian political cartooning is also the best in the world.

We're a funny bunch.

And I give full credit to Canadian politics.

You just have to laugh.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Spare Us the White Ribbon Attack

By popular demand (no, really), I am reprinting here a column I wrote some years ago for good old Report newsmagazine. Note that it was written back on December 6, 2001:


It was damned embarrassing. Just inside the door of my church, someone tried to pin a white ribbon to my coat. I grabbed it, thanked her, and jammed it in my pocket.

I know the woman; a good woman. She said it was against pornography. I'm as against pornography as the next red-blooded Canadian male. But I don't wear white ribbons.

I checked the Internet to see what a white ribbon might commit me to these days. Apparently, any of a dozen things, from protesting "gay teen suicide" to supporting those “whose life has been touched by a nonprofit organization."

That last seems most plausible. White ribbons witness to a lack of imagination in nonprofit fundraising. Still, in Canada and elsewhere, white ribbons in December are most often in remembrance of the "Montreal massacre," the shooting by Marc Lepine on December 6, 1989 of 14 woman at l'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.

I would gladly wear a ribbon in their memory. As I would in memory of those killed more recently by Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, or the 2,395 who died at Pearl Harbor, their anniversary this same week. Or the 2,000 killed in the Halifax Explosion, their anniversary on this same date. Or the 26 killed in Israel by suicide bombers as I write. But this one mass murder is singled out from others. Why?

For a wider symbolism. The white ribbon represents "men's violence against women." It is "a personal pledge never to commit, condone, nor remain silent about violence against women."

I am against men's violence against women. As I am against men's violence against men, women's against women, and women's against men. But again we seem to be selective: is other violence okay? Worse, we make all men guilty of Lepine's crime.

Was he other than a lone gunman? Am I also responsible for Vlad the Impaler and Sweeney Todd? Is this not blood guilt? Is it different from asking all Jews to wear gabardine, because some Jew supposedly killed someone once?

"We recognize," the white ribbon pledge explains "that most violence among adults is committed by men." This is statistically true of criminal convictions. Most stereotypes are true, as far as they go. But if men are thus more violent than women, African-Canadians are statistically more violent than whites; First Nations more violent than Europeans; the poor more violent than the rich. Should Cree be asked to wear ribbons to protest their violent nature, or blacks to protest violence against whites? It seems tasteless. Is it morally worse to ask women to wear ribbons to protest female vanity, or in pledge not to gossip?

Is it, indeed, even a fair generalization? In a recent New York Times, Maureen Dowd writes: "If the U.S. can bomb a path to victory for the Northern Alliance, we can lay down some terms for what women can attain in the new Afghanistan. And if the U.S. can go to war to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait, we can move up the bar a notch for women there, too. So why on earth don't we?"

Why not, but for the violence of the thing?

All God’s children want peace; but are women more apt than men to put peace before justice? I see no evidence. Mad Albright was reputedly the hawk in Clinton's administration, Colin Powell the dove, on Bosnia. "What's the point of having an army," Albright is reported saying, "if you don't use it?" And so it goes: have women been less forthright in demanding an end to slavery, or the drug trade? Are they more pacifist, or merely accustomed to men doing the heavy lifting?

Kipling had it pegged, speaking as always, love or hate him, for the working class: "It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!' But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot." At least, Tommy was once given that much credit.

Women have not often held political power. But as a group, they have not distinguished themselves for non-violence: Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Mrs. Bandaranaike, all warred tolerably well. Even little Dominica, under Mary Eugenia Charles, managed to invade neighboring Grenada. Probably nobody has done the math, but I doubt women leaders would come out on the demure, sweet end.

On the home front, we have, no doubt fortunately, forgotten the old stereotype of the angry wife waiting with her rolling pin. But our new stereotype, of male batterer and female victim, is no nobler. And probably no closer to the truth. Several studies suggest that, when the definition of abuse is the same for both sexes, women give as good as they get, perhaps a bit better.

Nor does one score points with hardcore feminists for wearing the white ribbon. No indeed. The Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter warns it is an "appropriation" of a symbol that only women should wear, to protest "men's daily war against them." The white ribbon campaign, they complain, is "accountable to no one but … the media and international bodies such as the UN." (It should be subject instead to "national or regional coalitions of feminists.") Worse, the white ribbon supports that ugly pretense "officially defined as 'love,'" and distorts the "perception of a war."

Doesn't sound pacifist to me.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Science, Scientism, and Intelligent Design

I guess this counts as a current political issue: the New York Times is running it.

As I have noted before, as a Catholic I have no vested interest here: Catholics do not see any contradiction between Darwinian evolution and Christianity.

However, I personally find any opposition to teaching intelligent design in the classroom along with Darwinism philosophically untenable.

The standard claim is that intelligent design is “not science.”

This is quite wrong in historical terms. Intelligent design is the most basic assumption of science itself: if here were no design in the universe, it would follow that it would be incomprehensible to us, its actions impossible to predict. The ability of science to predict—the very thing that defines it—is prima facie proof of design. If it is not science, there is no science.

The first scientists were keenly conscious of this. The point of the enterprise they named "empirical science" was, in so many words, “to find God’s footprints in creation”; or, as Stephen Hawking puts it, “to understand the mind of God.” Science itself arguably evolves directly from the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

Here is the dictionary definition:

science • noun 1 the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment…

- Oxford

a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.

- American Heritage

3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena

- Merriam-Webster

Note that, according to this definition, and quite properly, the "social sciences" are not really science. Yet they are commonly taught as such in schools.

Intelligent design, on the other hand, surely is: it is a postulated general truth regarding an important aspect of the natural world.

Note that the thesis that living organisms are "designed" is on precisely the same level of abstraction as saying they are "random." If one of these (the thesis of design) is too speculative or too abstract or too general to be admitted, the other must be as well. If one (random selection) is admitted as a reasonable scientific postulate, the other must be admitted as well, or else Darwinism itself is non-falsifiable, that is, by Popper’s classic definition, not science.

So anyone who rules out "intelligent design" as "unscientific" or not allowed in science class is tacitly admitting that their own belief in Darwinian evolution is not scientific, but an article of faith.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Home Sweet Home


43850014
Originally uploaded by sroneykor.
This isn't exactly where I live, but it's not that far away. Just a bit of local colour for the curious.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

All Furong Jiejie All the Time

I know you just can't get enough. Here's more of our little flower sister:

http://www.kennysia.com/archives/2005/08/kenny_sia_repli_2.php

Liberals Trail Tories in Fundraising

From today’s Toronto Star:

“Elections Canada reported that while the Conservatives managed to raise $2.6 million in donations during the first quarter of this year, drawn from many donors, the governing Liberals raised only $1.7 million, relying on fewer, but larger donors. Critics say this shows the Liberals have not fully managed to adapt to the new fundraising laws, which set strict limits on corporate and large donations”

Er, well, that’s one way of putting it. One of the Liberals’ guilty secrets has long been that they receive more of their funding from big corporate donors than the Conservatives do. So they are disadvantaged by the new rules that limit corporate donations.

The Liberals, after all is said and done, are the party of big business.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Photos of Fu Rong Jie Jie

You know you want it: photos of Furong Jiejie, China's new internet sex sensation. Love interest to half a billion Chinese geeks--you don't get more famous than that.

Here she is:

http://tinyurl.com/e22z6

Some complain that she is in fact quite ordinary looking. They don't get how men's minds work. Men love all women; there is no particular advantage to being exceptionally beautiful. Men see a woman out there on a limb, making a spectacle of herself, and protective instincts take over.

Sadly, the Chinese government is trying to shut her down. A little too salacious for their tastes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Faculty Bias

Some great reading, if you don’t know of it: Academic Questions, out of Rutgers. Always thought-provoking.

This issue, studies showing humanities and social sciences faculty at leading US universities tilt Democrat over Republican ten to one. So much for diversity on campus. Faculty in every single department, not just the humanities and social sciences, tilt heavily Democratic: not just a little, but always better than two to one. One of the places with least bias, interestingly, seems be Religious Studies.

Remember that the figures for the general population are one to one.

In other words, the political bias in universities could hardly be more extreme. And there is no way to arrive at these kinds of results without active political discrimination. Supposed to be a haven of free thought, universities are really prisons of conformity; they are perhaps the one place where innovative thought is least welcome. You must agree on almost everything with the folks already there, or it’s going to cost you.

We have a serious problem, and I do not have a solution. Currently, those already holding posts at universities get to choose who is hired. This is a perfect recipe for a self-perpetuating clique, and that is clearly what we have.

We need somehow to introduce either a freer market, or a blind hiring process. Hiring, for example, by standardized exam; or the ability for students to shop around for courses and profs campus to campus or on the Internet, but have them all credited to the same degree.

Indeed, why not? That is the way it worked at the beginning of the academy, in ancient Greece. A good teacher attracted students around him by reputation.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Scopes Monkey Trial

Lately, I stumbled on a web page offering a new look at the “Scopes Monkey Trial”:

http://www3.mistral.co.uk/bradburyac/tennesse.html

I have no dog in this race; the Catholic Church has no problem with Darwin or the Theory of Evolution. But it is fascinating to see how the record has been falsified.

I never tire of rediscovering the fundamental truth that anything “everyone knows” is bound to be wrong. Almost everything everyone knows about the Scopes Monkey Trial is not true.

To begin with, what exactly was “evolution,” what was being taught as “evolution,” at the time? It is interesting to realize what the banned book actually said, in its chapter on evolution. Darwin has a rather unfortunate history as a basic ideological underpinning of Fascism, Nazism, and their ideas about eugenics.

Here it is:

"The Races of Man. - At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the others in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan and the eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America." (p.196)

"…Parasitism and its Cost to Society. - Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

"The Remedy. - If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country."

This is what teaching “evolution” meant in 1925. Social Darwinism was all the rage. This is what Clarence Darrow was defending as “science.” So it was considered in those days.

Contrary to what most people think, William Jennings Bryan’s objection to the text and to the teaching of evolution had to do very much with its dangers in terms of social engineering and the kind of violence it had recently promoted in the First World War, not just with its supposed conflict with a literal reading of the Bible. Bryan, after all, was a politician, not a clergyman. And he was not a Biblical literalist. Compulsory sterilization was a popular cause at the time: appealed to the Supreme Court in 1927, two years after the Scopes Trial. And found constitutional.

Bryan did not advocate, and did not believe in, a strictly literal reading of the Bible. He makes this clear and categorical. He held that the Bible used figures of speech and symbols. He did not believe the Earth was only a few thousand years old, or created in 4004 BC. He did not believe that God created the world in seven days in a literal sense.

Bryan also had no objection to teaching evolution in the schools. His position was that it should be taught as theory, not as fact.

And incidentally, contrary to popular belief, that famous date given by Bishop Ussher—4004 BC for the creation of the world—is not based solely on a literal reading of the Bible, but on a combination of sources available in his day, including the Bible, Greek historians, and Babylonian records. It was a genuinely scientific best guess of the time, before the geological record was recognized as a possible source.

Also, Bryan’s claim that Darwinian evolution was theory, not fact, was borne out by the defense’s own witnesses. Darwin was not that generally accepted by scientists themselves in 1925, the time of the Scopes trial. According to one expert witness for the defense (Scopes) at the trial: “Of recent years this theory of the causes of evolution [natural selection] has suffered a decline. No other hypothesis, however, has completely displaced it. It remains the most satisfactory explanation of the origin of adaptations, although its all-sufficiency is no longer accepted.”

Bryan’s larger point was that nothing in science is certain; it is all theory. And that this must be taught. He was exactly right: the great flaw in science teaching in the schools today is that science’s current best guess is always taught as if it were revealed truth.

This tends to be borne out by the “expert testimony” at the trial, meant to show the defense’s contention that evolution is “fact,” not “theory.” A huge amount of this actual evidence for evolution, as given in 1925, is now held by science itself to be wrong. Things like the notion that embryos, in their development, retrace the steps of evolution. Something I remember being taught in science class myself back in the Sixties. Things like Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man--who turned out to be a wild pig.

Darwin’s reputation did rise again in the thirties. It has been up and down over time. But note another interesting fact: evolution was not mentioned in most US textbooks until the 1960s. Perhaps it resurfaced in reaction to the play “Inherit the Wind,” which grossly misrepresented the Scopes trial.

At the time, 1925, there was no consensus that either side had won. Technically, of course, Bryan won, and Darrow lost. Scopes was convicted. The case was designed by the ACLU to test the constitutionality of the ban on teaching evolution; the Supreme Court of Tennessee upheld the constitutionality of the statute on appeal. It remained in force until 1967. So, in legal terms, it was a clear win for the anti-evolutionists. But the case never made it to the US Supreme Court, because the judgment was overturned on a technicality.

It is now seen as a win for the evolutionists, but only since the 1950s and the success of “Inherit the Wind.” Which extensively falsified the actual trial. In 1930, the William Jennings Bryan University was founded in Dayton Tennessee, site of the Scopes trial in honour if its namesake’s “last and greatest triumph.”

It is amazing how much of the history that is taught in the schools is straight-out false, invented to support a ruling ideology or ruling elite. Orwell was simply describing contemporary reality when he portrayed the manipulation of history in 1984. “He who controls the past, controls the future. And he who controls the present, controls the past.”

Friday, August 19, 2005

What Killed Vincent Van Gogh?

In a recent trip to Amsterdam, and the Vincent Van Gogh museum, I became fascinated by the question: What killed Van Gogh?

Of course, he committed suicide by shooting himself in a corn field. But why? Although he was lucid as he died, he did not say. He had been struggling for a couple of years with hallucinations and other symptoms, diagnosed at the time as epilepsy. But he seems to have been in good mental and physical shape at the time he actually killed himself; and this does not really answer the question, because we do not know what “mental illness” is.

Assuming that “mental” illnesses are spiritual illnesses perhaps gives an insight.

By coincidence, I saw the following recently in a book of Catholic spiritual guidance:

“Natural activity is the enemy of abandonment, without which, … there can be no real perfection. It prevents, obstructs, or spoils all the operations of grace, and substitutes, in the soul which succumbs to it, the impulsion of the human spirit for that of the divine Spirit. In fact there is no doubt that the impetuosity with which we give ourselves up to good works proceeds from a hidden source of self-confidence, and a thoughtless presumption that makes us imagine that we are doing or can do great things.” -- Jean-Pierre de Caussade.

This speaks of “good works,” but rings even more true of working too hard generally. Van Gogh was convinced—rightly—of his own genius, and worked with superhuman energy to accomplish something great. He produced all his paintings in a span of about seven years.

It is a hubris similar to that of the Tower of Babel. He was trying to do something superhuman; he was taking too much on himself. Inevitably, he was going to be reduced to confusion, as Babel was. One of his symptoms was paranoia, a conviction that everyone was trying to poison him. This seems to me a classic symptom for someone who has given himself too much importance.

Van Gogh himself says at some point that he has been risking his life and has lost half his mind to his work. He was right. Van Gogh is admirable in the way the hero in a tragedy is. He was brought down by over-ambition, yet is noble for how close he came to accomplishing it.

Again, a quote from the book of spiritual instruction: “When you feel, however confusedly, that something is acting in your soul, the stronger this impression is, the more necessary it is to keep quiet and still, and as though in a state of inaction, so that you may not spoil all by interfering unseasonably.”

Van Gogh was a good man, a moral man, and deeply spiritually sensitive. He had he longing for something more. And Van Gogh’s hallucinations might well have been “something acting in his soul.” But such things, when they come, are devastating to the ego. Vincent had too much invested in ego. He did not keep quiet and still, but imagined he had to kill himself to compensate: he cut off his ear and shot himself.

Poor man.

Living in Korea, I began to realize that he notion of art divorced from religion is quite a modern and a western idea. There is a reason why all those Renaissance paintings are of religious subjects. In East Asia, traditionally, there is almost no art that is not explicitly religious.

And art divorced from religion is a terrible mistake. For the audience, and, very much, for the artist.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Postmodernism and Fascism

Relativism, the heart of postmodernism, leads inevitably to Fascism.

This insight was not lost on Mussolini himself. He wrote:

“fascism is the political expression of the most modern currents of contemporary philosophy, that is to say, of relativism. Because if there is not an objective truth that we must respect, then each individual will have the right to utilize whatever power he has; physical power, intellectual power, the power to manipulate through media communications, in order to impose on others his vision of the world. And this is not what we consider to be democracy. This is the beginning of totalitarianism.”

Postmodernism is not a new idea. It is a revival of fascism.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dead Right

Apologies today to those who come here looking for political commentary. This blog has two foci: politics and religion. The last little while it has been pretty religious. The world, after all, is taking a sabbatical from most politics for the summer months. And sabbaticals have their own traditions.

In 2002, Former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange was diagnosed with a fatal disease, amyloidosis. He was told he had only four months to live.

He believes this is the best thing that ever happened to him.

“It’s a funny thing when you think you are dead. You’re not terrified of it any more. There’s a sort of an epiphany to religious things, … you end up with a serenity which you didn’t have before and I just simply enjoy it … It really does sound stupid but I’ve got to tell you it’s made my life.”

To a lesser extent, that is the secret joy of growing old.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Playing God

If I were God, here’s what I’d do. I’d set up a world as a training ground, to raise the lovely souls I’d made. To perfect them; because, giving them free will, I know they will have to learn and make their own mistakes.

But being a lovely God, of course, I would not leave my children without guidance. Not dictation, of course, but rules somewhere in plain sight, readily available.

Some sort of conscience would be a good idea, for sure. An inner compass that did point north. And I would ensure that reason, if not too obviously, followed carefully blazed a path to me. But more than that. I would leave a book of instructions and an organization to maintain it. This book and organization would have to be fairly obvious to all, not hidden.

So, without messing with mankind’s ability to make their own organizations, I would still, behind the scenes, make sure the correct organization was, if perhaps just barely, the world’s largest religious grouping and the world’s largest religious body. I would also ensure that no other organization or book that purported to be my truth was entirely without it; that at least they would by their own inner structure ultimately point to it.

Without interfering more than strictly necessary with the ability of humans to make their own decisions, I would protect the reliability of the core of this book and organization to ensure that it continued to be available. More, I would have the book point in some not too subtle way to the organization, and the organization to point to the book, and the conscience and reason point to the organization, and both book and organization to point to conscience and reason, so that they would tend to be mutually reinforcing.

One obvious clue of my intent would be to make my chosen vessel, eventually, the world’s oldest continuously-operating organization. This would be a valuable clue that it bore my protection. And I would advise people in my book to look for just this, to look to the test of time, to the eventual fruits, and to something built as if on a rock.

I would launch my message, my book and my organization, from the point at which the world’s trade routes meet; I would design the world to have such a point to begin with, and concentrate my messages there. The joining point of Asia, Europe, and Africa, the three largest contiguous land masses. That would put it in the southern Levant—Palestine, to be precise. The Mediterranean to spread it into Europe; the Nile to spread it into Africa; and the Tigris, Euphrates and Persian Gulf to spread it into Asia; not to mention the northern silk routes over the desert beginning from this point. This way it would be reasonably accessible to all the people of at least the old world at the earliest possible date.

At first, the trade routes not having developed, I would give my full and true message to one nation: the nation at this point. The moment the trade routes have expanded to the point that any such message could be truly international and intercultural, not identified purely with one particular nation or people, I would give a new, universal revelation. That would be about in the first century AD. Although not all nations could yet hear it, it would be complete for them when the time came. But I would also make sure that the first group that eventually came in contact with the remaining small isolated populations—those in America, Australia, and the remote islands of the Pacific—would be those who had the most correct message.

And that, among other reasons, is why I am a Catholic.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

You've Come a Long Way, Rachel!

It looks as though Rachel Marsden’s fifteen minutes of fame may be over. According to her web site (http://www.rachelmarsden.com/) her next TV appearance is now “TBA.” No appearance scheduled on Fox. The site explains she is no longer with the National Post, and yesterday was soliciting suggestions from readers regarding “a new adventure.” She has even pulled the National Post link from her web page. The Vancouver radio show is “on indefinite hiatus.”

Perhaps there is justice in the world.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Fathers' Wrongs

Interesting info on divorce and child support in an older issue of the Western Standard. A few points:

--while wives invariably qualify for legal aid to pursue their claims against fathers, fathers almost never do. A poor man cannot afford justice; he is left without legal council. Despite the fact that non-payment of an excessive child-support obligation can result not just in fines, but in imprisonment.

--actual support payments frequently exceed the cost of raising children. They can be a long-term guaranteed income for the separating wife, and so a positive incentive for women to divorce. As one guy ruefully remarked on an email list about his ex-wife: “she opted for all the gifts and prizes that come with divorce.”

--if the father is given partial custody, no consideration is given to his costs. A father who has his kids forty percent of the time has a thirty percent lower standard of living than the mother. From the money he has earned.

--in Australia, the unemployment rate among divorced fathers is six times the national average. This is because they cannot afford to work; they then become liable for prohibitable child support payments. One study concluded that child support payments were the primary cause of unemployment in Australia. Obviously, in these cases, children are suffering too.

--in Australia, while the number of women’s suicides has remained fairly constant since 1976, men’s suicides have almost doubled. And I checked the figures for Canada: the same is true here.

One of the great oppressions in history is happening right now, right here, to ordinary Canadian and Australian men and children.

Meantime, the Canadian government has announced its intention to further toughen child support laws…

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Thought for the Muslim Sabbath

Vincent Van Gogh’s brother Theo once wrote of him: “He is one of those people who have had a close look at the world, and have withdrawn from it.”

This is necessary for a great artist, an innovator of any sort, and also for anyone who is sincerely religious. Indian scientist G. Padmanabhan, on accepting the G.M. Modi Award, thanked his wife for making it possible for him: he boasted that he had not been into a bank or a shop for thirty years.

The ideal, for anyone spiritual, is to be “in the world, but not of it.” However, this is intrinsically, for psychiatry and psychology, a mental illness: “withdrawal” is not allowed. One must “be in touch with [everyday] ‘reality’.” Retiring to your own thoughts is “dissociation.” This makes psychology fundamentally insupportable.

Psychiatry, in its defense, will argue that this becomes a problem if a person is suffering: then and only then does psychiatry step in and help.

But such a decision to withdraw from the world does not come all at once, is not easy to put into practice, and is not without continuing temptations. At least for a time, more likely forever if you have family connections, you are going to be pulled both ways. And there are difficult, almost insurmountable practical issues: how are you going to manage your sustenance outside the system? All artists, in fact, seem to suffer quite a bit.

And ultimately, the problem is that the world really is a crock. And psychiatry, once it enters the picture, always seeks to push you back into it. So that, if one is mentally ill, that is, conflicted between remaining part of the world or walking away from it, psychiatry will always work against any cure. Because the cure is always walking away from the world, always withdrawal.

God himself has decreed this with the institution of death.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Good Die Young

Today's paper reports that the suicide rate in Japan is ballooning, with 71% of victims salarymen. A recent piece noted that the suicide rate among Australian males has quadrupled since 1971, while the number of women killing themselves, lower to begin with, has remained steady. The figures in Canada and the US are similar. In Canada, men kill themselves at three to four times the rate women do, and the suicide rate has roughly doubled since 1950. Despite the availablity of new anti-depressant drugs.

What could be clearer evidence that men are currently oppressed? This is a situation that needs attention, yet all efforts are focussed instead at improving the lot of women, and scapegoating men. And these figures do not even include the many other male suicides probably recorded as traffic accidents.

But then, when men kill themselves, apparently, it is their own fault. It is because they do not express their emotions enough, usually. Becuase, in the worlds of the story on Japan, they are not "comfortable with any display of public or private emotion." But if women kill themselves, it is society's fault.

Or, of course, their husband's.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Alberta Unbound

Zounds! Western separatism—and the Western Standard—made the Drudge Report today. It seems a poll by the Western Standard suggests 35.6% of Westerners would consider separating from Canada. It’s up to 42 percent in Alberta. That’s a percentage similar to that for separatism in the PQ’s first Quebec referendum, on a similar question. Bad mojo here.

Even more ominously, separatism is most popular among the Western young.

There goes the neighbourhood, eh?

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2005/08/09/1165467-cp.html

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Netherlands and the Tragedy of Overpopulation

The world, we have been told since the 1960s, is “overpopulated.” Disaster is certain if world population keeps growing as it has over the last century.

The world’s population growth is actually slowing down. Current UN projections suggest the world’s population will peak at about 2050, then start to decline.

But let’s leave this aside. Even if this were not true, even if world population were still growing quickly, what would it really mean?

A few weeks ago, I was vacationing in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated nations on earth. Accordingly, the quality of life in the Netherlands gives us some sense of what life would be like if the entire world were more populous.

In fact, of course, by almost any measure, life in the Netherlands is pretty pleasant.

There are no huge cities. Amsterdam is under a million. You can get from downtown into the countryside within a half an hour—by bicycle.

Greater densities do not mean the population must huddle in cities. And if it does not, for most of us urbanites, the experience of “crowding” could actually be much less than it is today.

In fact, in the developed world, big cities have generally been declining in population since the 1950s or so. With better transportation, people are spreading out. The “greater metropolitan area” does continue to grow: the growth hads been in suburbs and exurbs. But the typical urban individual lives with less pollution and less crowding than a century ago, when the population was far less. Rich or poor.

This trend, begun by the private automobile, should grow dramatically with the Internet. Populations can now be more widely and more evenly dispersed; any crowding will be purely voluntary.

Of course, a lot of people prefer many neighbours near by. Chinese or Filipinos often think we are mad to want to avoid such togetherness. Aren’t we terribly lonely in our private homes and broad unused lawns?

And we are, aren’t we? I gather I’m not the only one who finds spread-out suburbs “soul-destroying.” Part of this is the problem of underpopulation.

Many worry, of course, about the increased use of resources, in particular increased energy use: surely we’ll run out? Especially if everyone starts burning fuel at the rate of North America.

But why should they do that? The Netherlands has a far lower per capita energy use than the US, with a comparable standard of living. And this is due largely to a denser population. Things are much closer together. With more population, mass transit becomes more viable. Distances shorten. With greater densities, energy use per capita should decline.

We also already have a virtually inexhaustible source of fuel, after all: nuclear.

There are other advantages to greater population densities. I lived in South Korea, another of the world’s most populous nations, for over six years. It was wonderful to have so much going on, and so many friends, within a few hours away—all of South Korea was within a day trip from home, all of fifty million people. By contrast, living in Western Canada—Athabasca and Kamloops--seemed terribly limiting. Friends, events or opportunities in Ontario, or even Vancouver, were inaccessible. Underpopulation. That’s a tremendous limitation on one’s quality of life.

Heck, some of my best friends are people.

Unlike the Netherlands, of course, South Korea does have a large city. Seoul, at 12 million or so, is one of the world’s biggest. Although it too is dispersing. But even if this were not so, even if this were our future, are big cities really bad places to live? A lot of people pay a premium for the privilege.

Traffic gridlock and pollution? That has nothing really to do with the size or density of a city. It has to do with wealth or poverty. Pollution problems are easing in cities throughout the developed world.

And this is true of pollution more generally. Pollution is going down in the rich world, despite growing populations. Because with greater wealth, more development, there is more money for such long-term and aesthetic concerns. The worst thing we could do, accordingly, is to limit development.

There is much concern now about Kyoto and “global warming.” But wait a minute: what Kyoto seeks to limit is carbon dioxide. A harmless substance by most standards. We’re doing pretty well if our worst pollution problem is now carbon dioxide.

Traffic gridlock is a question of traffic management, of whether transit systems are capable of handling the present population. At certain thresholds of growth or wealth, there can be bottlenecks. Bangkok, with a smaller population than Seoul, has far worse traffic problems. Its poverty and its swampy site make building a transit system difficult. New York City, with a similar population, has fewer people-moving problems. On vacation there this summer, I had no trouble getting around, and saw little crowding. Its mass transit systems are better; that, not population, is the only issue.

On a purely philosophical level, to my mind, the notion of human “overpopulation” is difficult to buy. After all, human beings are an ultimate value: an end, not a means, as Kant put it. In what way, then, can there be “too many”?

Sure, we could no doubt do something dumb that might cause our extinction. But “overpopulation” by itself surely can’t do it. Underpopulation might.

I know: you are thinking of cases in nature when species use up their food resources. A lot of individuals of the species die, until the population and the food resources come back into balance.

But has this ever actually led to the extinction of a species? I doubt it. This sort of thing tends to be self-correcting.

Nor can it be avoided by a species deliberately keeping its numbers below the level of its resources. Another species will simply take up the slack, and is just as likely to overpopulate and use them up. Meaning a die-off for the first species as well. Only with greater risk of extinction, because there are fewer individuals.

In the case of the human animal, there is an additional consideration. We have a unique ability to produce, and to manage, our resources. It is therefore sheer folly, for us, to keep our population levels artificially low and yield the resources to other species. They are far more likely to deplete them than we are; with unfortunate consequences for them as well as us.

Perhaps we might run out of this or that other resource. But, with technology and development, our use of resources is actually growing more efficient; and we are always finding new substitutes for what is scarce and expensive. Better technology means greater efficiency, and this means doing more with less. Again, the worst thing would be to limit development.

Or the number of humans, as it is human minds that perform this miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes.

Go forth and multiply, dudes. How many people can live on the earth without overpopulation? I’d say about as many as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

A new study shows that men use different parts of their brains when listening to a male or female voice. A female voice is soothing to men, but tends to lull us into inattention.

For women, it makes no difference.

It follows that sex is a valid job qualification when it comes to announcing the news or to teaching.

We have long known that a picture of a woman will sell a product better, either to men or women. We have long used female voices on subways and elevators, or women as airline attendants, for their calming abilities. And nobody really has a problem with this.

But let’s look at the other side of that equation. For the same reason, men are better at teaching, making political speeches, or reporting news. The current female dominance of the teaching profession may be one reason girls are doing better than boys in schools and universities: boys just can’t pay attention to a female voice. And this is not a matter of perversity; it is in their wiring.

Discomfort on an airline is one thing; losing an education or on participation in social discourse is more serious. We need men in these positions.

If we must, for reasons of employment equity, have both male and female teachers, there is an alternative: separate schools for men and women. With only male teachers for the men’s classes. In the case of reporters and politicians, though, the case is more difficult: I suppose conceivably men and women could vote for different houses of parliament, and a CRTC could require separate newscasts for men and women.

The bottom line is that equity for men and women is a lot more difficult than early feminism claimed; because early feminism argued that men and women were identical but for their sex organs, and that is transparently wrong.

Moreover, the truly equitable solutions, given these essential differences, begin to look more and more like the old traditional sex roles: men doing politics and news, for example; women nursing and nurturing the weak. Our ancestors, it turns out, were not complete idiots.

What a surprise.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Men are from Mars. Marsden is from Pluto.

I just can’t say how happy I am that the National Post has dumped Rachel Marsden after just two months as a columnist. The brief national nightmare is over. It reassures me that the world is not completely depraved, and the Post not utterly insane.

I was shocked to see she had been picked up by both the National Post and Fox as a “conservative” commentator. I knew her as a feminist bully of the most vicious sort, someone who ruined careers with false charges of rape and harassment.

Granted, she is not a bad writer. Derivative: she does an Anne Coulter impersonation. She also leans heavily on all the latest journalistic clichés. But so do many other journalists: that’s how they get to be clichés.

But my problem is not with her ability; it is with her morality.

Quick hypocrisy check here: are her ethics my business? Do I have a right to cast stones?

If it were merely a matter of personal morality, I’d say no. But she has used her gender in the courts and tribunals against others; she has trashed lives; she advertises her sexuality. She has herself made the personal political.

And when it comes down to it, if we on the right cannot hold the moral high ground, then screw it. Nothing else is worth sacrificing values. That is what values are about.

I suppose it is not easy to be, as Marsden is, bright, articulate, and quite good-looking. I suppose it poses special temptations. I suppose the rest of us should be grateful for having been spared this. Most of us would not be helped by posing semi-nude on our web pages.

Still, there is nothing creditable about exploiting one’s looks, one’s sex, and one’s sexuality to get ahead at others’ expense. Slice it any way you want; in the end, it’s still whoring.

And this woman has ego issues. A quote: “Fifty percent of people want to sleep with me, and the other fifty percent want to kill me.”

She is apparently of the opinion that Rachel Marsden, one way or the other, vitally concerns all the rest of humanity.

Fifty-one percent of the population is female; she apparently also believes that all men, plus some women, want to sleep with her.

I can vouch personally that this is not so.

Marsden is a parasite. While she may be a decent writer, there is reason to believe, since she’s dodged being judged on pure merit, that her loud voice is still drowning out someone better. All suffer from this, not least the conservative cause.

Writing, more than most other jobs, is a calling, a vocation. Writers are in a real sense direct successors to the Biblical prophets: there to speak truth and morality against the excesses of the present powers that be. Because of this office, and because writing engages so much of one’s being, one can never write without exposing one’s character. A flawed character will always out. As Jesus said of false prophets, “by their fruits you shall know them.”

Indeed, Marsden’s writing itself is ultimately immoral. Funny, but mostly wildly ad hominem; she regularly distorts to support her position. She appeals to prejudice, not reason. Does one generally learn anything by reading a Marsden column? No; one is merely encouraged in one’s prejudices.

Let’s take one recent example: she says of Jonathan Chait that “reasonable people” question his sanity. He “rants.” Jane Fonda is a “treasonous twit.” Bill Clinton’s morning jogs were round trips to his mistress’s place. The left wear “tin-foil hats”—there’s a cliché waiting eagerly for retirement. Liberal thinking—sorry, “ideology”--is “spewed forth.”

You get the drift. No thinking here, no facts, no analysis; just invective.

It is really the same garbage used on the left by someone like Michael Moore. It has poisoned our discourse, our journalism and our politics. It is deplorable, on the left or on the right.

Yes, this condemnation also applies to Anne Coulter. At least Marsden exposes Coulter for what she is, by showing how easy it is to imitate her. Anyone can be over the top. Coulter, frankly, gets away with murder because she is a good-looking woman.

Unprincipled egotists like Marsden are now flocking to the right. This is a good sign, in a way. Such people are interested in only two things: power, and self-aggrandizement. They are infinitely calculating, and they have made the calculation that the right is where power soon will be.

But if and when current conservatism becomes received wisdom, they may next be calling for the guillotine and the gulag, figuratively speaking, and greeting the rest of us with ice picks. Because power, not principle, is what they are after; and they know no ruth.

Now, thankfully, it looks as though Rachel Marsden at least will not be around to cheer the tumbrels. Good riddance.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Jean Named Viceroy

Not knowing much about her, Michaelle Jean seems a good appointment as Governor General. I like the idea of appointing professional communicators—journalists. It matches the requirements of the post, and is a better idea than appointing retired politicians.

But let’s hear no more about “visible minorities” having a rough time of it in Canada. They are lionized in this country, and have been for as long as I have been around. Thanks to our colonial past and our colonial self-definition, we usually value what or whom has recently arrived from overseas more than the native article.

The “visible minority” population of Canada is now 13%--up from 7% in the last twenty years or so. Counting from Vincent Massey—the first Canadian to hold the post—we have had ten Canadian governors general so far. Two—20%--have now been “visible minorities.” That’s an overrepresentation, not an underrepresentation. Being a visible minority is, in Canada, a good career move.

It is the invisible minorities that lose out. By contrast, with something like 25% of the Canadian population, there has been no Governor General of Irish ancestry. No Italian, either, though there are twice as many ethnic Italians as Chinese. Haitian-Canadians, by contrast, are now doing unusually well in proportion to their numbers.

In a way, the last two governors general have been a return to an older tradition—when all Canadian governors general were foreign-born.

Welcome to the colonies.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Launching a Canadian Conservative Magazine

Someone hoping to start to a right-wing newsmagazine for Canada asked my advice. I’ve been dying to give it. Here it is:

1. Be upbeat. Conservatives are by nature too pessimistic. But most people do not want to read things that upset them.

Rush Limbaugh figured this out; it is the secret of his success. Rush is always upbeat.

The dear old Report magazine was all doom and gloom. It scared away its audience.

WWRD: What Would Rush Do?

2. Be funny. Don’t portray the opposition as powerful and evil. Laugh at them. People do not vote out evil or corrupt governments. They vote out incompetent governments.

3. Within honourable limits, be patriotic. It is too easy for Canadians to buy the claim that, in rejecting the policies of the current government, conservatives are “rejecting Canada” or “opposing Canadian values.” To compensate, it would help to be visibly patriotic from time to time.

The Western Standard, to my mind, struggles on this score. First, its deliberate focus on Western Canada hinders this. And it runs a lot of US columnists. Canada still needs a national Conservative magazine.

It ought to be easy for Conservatives to harness patriotic sentiment. After all, the left has been trashing Canadian traditions for years.

Best to avoid always using US examples: Canada defines itself in distinction to the US. Try to find examples from other countries when possible.

4. Why cede the whole field of culture to the opposition? As in most countries, the most distinctive, lively, and durable Canadian culture is folk culture: Anne of Green Gables, William Kurelek, Stephen Leacock, Don Cherry, hockey, Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire, President’s Choice products, poutine, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Anne Murray, Celine Dion. And folk culture tends to be conservative. Compare the left’s apparent conviction that there is “no Canadian mainstream,” that the only culture in Canada is imported from elsewhere. This ought to be a gimme for the right; instead, there is a general impression that culture is a leftist thing.

Canada is more than a medical plan.

Stressing Canadian culture, of course, also helps win the patriotism war.

5. Be aware of Catholic sensibility. I break my own rule here, but the political difference between the US, which has turned conservative, and Canada, which has not, may be due to one simple fact: since Reagan, US Catholics have swung right. Canadian Catholics still vote Liberal. That alone makes all the difference, in a 50% Catholic country.

This is anomalous, since the Liberal party has now gone so far against Catholic doctrine. It is wise for the right to point this out whenever it can.

6. Be aware of the sensibilities of recent immigrants. Again, it is madness to cede this constituency to the left, as it should by all rights be solidly in the Conservative column. Liberal big-government policies harm immigrants, who are disproportionately engaged in small business. The cultures most immigrants come from are more socially conservative than the Liberal left. The right should point this out whenever it can.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Culture War of the Worlds

I felt morally obliged recently to go see “War of the Worlds.” Tom Cruise is taking a lot of raps recently, partly I think for being publicly religious. This bothers me: the least I can do is see the movie he is promoting.

It was a good movie in the Hollywood tradition: a great spectacle, one big chase, full of sound and fury. The good guys were good, and the bad guys were bad. There was no character development, and the good guys won in the end.

And it showed, I thought, a shift in the Hollywood ethos reflecting the recent conservative victories in the culture wars. The hero is a redneck. His wife has run off with a rich guy from Boston—possibly John Kerry himself. The men in the movie are generally heroic and self-sacrificing. The women are vulnerable, self-absorbed, and, frankly, tend to get in the way. Fathers, and absent fathers, are represented as good guys for a change. The point is made (at long last) that this absence is hardly their choice.

Still, the movie has troubling prejudices. At one point Cruise kills another man; and there is no evidence he sees this as a moral dilemma. The man, after all, is making noise; he might attract the Martians. Never mind that he had taken Cruise and his daughter in and shared his supplies with them; I should have thought the hero’s obvious option was to leave and find his own hideout.

In the context of the movie, though, this is apparently okay, because the man had spoken to Cruise’s daughter in her father’s absence. Any man who talks to a child, apparently, is a pedophile. Does the same rule apply to women? Nope. And any pedophile deserves to die. And any citizen has the right to pass judgment and execute this sentence. Hang ‘em high.

Hollywood hasn’t quite gotten the knack of this values thing yet.