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.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Canada's Fifteen Minutes

Canada made the lead story on the front page of the world papers the other day; including here in the undisclosed Middle East.

The story was the reaction—of universal condemnation—Pakistani President Musharraf. He had apparently made the mistake of suggesting that Pakistan’s rape statistics may be inflated by false claims. Many women believe, he said, that claiming rape gets them a visa to Canada and makes them wealthy.

The outrage has continued ever since, with one figure after another chiming in. Musharraf now denies ever making the comment, and claims it must have been said by someone else standing beside him at the interview. He has himself now condemned it as “stupid.”

In all the thousands of words of outrage, I have not seen one commentator who dared to ask the obvious question: could it be true?

Indeed, why couldn’t a Pakistani woman claim rape, and then argue before a Canadian refugee board that by remaining in Pakistan she risked an “honour killing.”

Would her word be questioned?

Surely not.

Look what happened when someone dared. Even someone as powerful as the dictator of Pakistan. He defied popular opinion to join the US against the Taliban. He is defying popular opinion again by talks with Israel on mutual recognition. But he does not dare question that, if any woman says she was raped, she was raped.

The opportunity for abuse is obvious.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Child's Right to Work

My Filipina wife is angry at Westerners again. She has heard of the drive in the developed world to shut down child labour.

“What does she expect the children to do?” she asks. “Nothing?”

The alternative to a job, for many kids in the Third World, is not school. They cannot afford school. It is slow starvation. Nor, if there were schools, would there be any jobs for them once they graduated, for which they would not be better qualified by a few more years actually doing the job.

We are doing them no favours by preventing them from making a living, or from training to make a living.

No: the whole drive against child labour is cultural chauvinism. It is no more logical than demanding that kids in the First World be freed from the slavery of compulsory education.

Now there’s a campaign a lot of children could get behind.

Tribe of Manasseh: Lost and Found

Incredible news for history buffs.

The chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel has apparently now accepted the claim that one of the ten lost tribes, the Tribe of Manasseh, has been found in northeast India:

http://tinyurl.com/8lx2n

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Throttle Your Inner Child

The following points are abstracted from the book The Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need by Paul Pearsall. With thanks to Eugene Craig Campbell for drawing it to my attention.


* Self-esteem: Highly overrated. In fact, research shows that high self-esteem relates to health problems and stress. Moreover, mass murderers, gang leaders, and even playground bullies are distinguishable not by their low opinion of themselves but instead by their inflated self-esteem and disregard for others.

* Guilt: Highly underrated -- and the only way to identify and make needed changes in behavior that is harming others. In fact, research shows that the happiest, healthiest people are often guilty worriers.

* "Learning to love yourself": loving us is someone else's job, and loving someone else is a prerequisite to the right to love ourselves.Putting ourselves first makes us contemptible, both to others and to ourselves.

* Being "Judgmental": making moral judgments about others -- and ourselves – is essential to mental and social well-being as wellas spiritual and moral growth.

* Throttle Your Inner Child: Your "outer elder" is more important. Self-help wrongly embraces the idea that infancy is more important than any other stage of life.

* Childhood experiences have almost nothing to do with problems in adulthood.

* Your "limitless potential": Sorry, you can't "do anything you put your mind to" -- and pursuing goals that are truly out of reach will only make you miserable.


Duh! Silly old Christianity had it right all along.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Devil is a Vegetarian

The New Orleans disaster on one rather leftish email list I frequent prompted an anguished discussion of the plight of abandoned pets. A petition was gotten up demanding they be rescued. Money was collected. Some offered to take New Orelans pets into their homes. In Canada.

I note no such offer was made for New Orleans humans. No money was collected for them. No petitions were signed.

Other such petitions and collections are popping up everywhere. One group is dedicated specifically to rescuing the stray ferrets of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, thousands of humans are still unaccounted for, and may be in urgent need.

The following comment on the list I’ve been monitoring is typical:

“We're at the top of the food chain right now. That's the only difference, in the big picture, between us and any other species on earth. We may not eat our young, but we're pretty darned good at killing each other and anything else that gets in our way.”

Never mind the nonsense concept “top of the food chain.” Surely we take a lower place than tapeworms, mosquitoes, lice, viruses, and some other parasites. Nor is this a justification for anything.

It is the naked misanthropy of the comment that strikes me. It does not ennoble animals by raising to human level. Rather, inevitably, it denigrates humans by reducing them to animals. Or below.

Just think where this leads.

This is particularly striking to my Filipina wife, who reacts viscerally to the North American sentimentality towards animals. The typical pet in North America is given more than she ever had growing up. The message is that North American animals are worth more than she is.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am a vegetarian myself; have been for twenty years. But I know too many animal rights activists and vegetarians who love animals as a sort of alibi for hating people.

Animals are utterly dependent on you. There is no danger of their challenging your self-esteem. Good for those who are lonely or depressed, and a great blessing. But they are a dangerous drug to those whose egos are already inflated. They can be used as a substitute for human contact by those who must control all they survey. Hitler, Caligula, Ceausescu, were animal lovers.

It has been said that the devil is a vegetarian. It certainly could be so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Toronto Star Bias Watch

From the email version. Note the heading. This is news, not opinion?


News/News

Judge eviscerates old civic guard

The first volume of the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry report was called Facts and Findings. It was called this, presumably, because the title Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them has recently been taken. Otherwise, it's easy to get the impression Justice Denise Bellamy might have gone for it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The South African's Tale

Aden stopped by my desk this morning.

I do not know him well; I have just been transferred. But he fell to talking of his past. Aden is not his real name; but that matters little. It is a story I have heard many times before.

Aden expected to be retiring in comfort by next year. No chance now: he was divorced. He lost everything.

His wife planned it all carefully, with good legal advice, moving everything she could into a trust account. He, not seeing it coming, lost his house, his farm, his pension, his kids. Turned out she had been having an affair with another man for some time. She hit him with “everything she could from the high court”; so that anything she did not take was lost to lawyers.

Sadly, I can’t count how many times I have been told the same tale by other men. All men these days, throughout the developed world—Aden is from South Africa--face ruin at any moment at the whim of some woman. We can all only pray that we do not encounter a woman with such intent.

Aden is rebuilding his life, at his late age, with the support of a new Thai wife. I wish him all the luck. By sixty-five, he may yet be able to retire.

But the scars will never go. He was close to tears, despite his best manly efforts, as he spoke of this past. “I should have gone mad. The only thing that held me together was my faith.”

Many others do not survive. Without most people acknowledging it, we are in the midst of a holocaust probably comparable Hitler’s own. A holocaust of middle aged men.

But then, most people in Germany did not acknowledge Hitler’s holocaust either.

Or the much larger one ongoing, of the unborn.

Even apart from the divorce and separation laws, the current laws and responsibilities of marriage are inequitable, and unfair to men. In a nutshell, women have all the rights, and men all the responsibilities.

Something must be done. At a minimum:


If marriage is a contract, it must be enforceable, like any other contract. Nobody should be allowed out of a marriage on their own say-so. They must either obtain the other party’s consent, or prove some grievous fault on the part of the other. No more no-fault divorce.

If fault is proved, this should affect the divorce settlement. There must be some penalty for violating one’s marriage contract.

“Verbal” or “emotional” or other vague newly minted types of “abuse” should not be grounds for divorce.

Physical abuse, if alleged, must be proved by the same rules of evidence as other criminal behaviour.

False allegations of abuse must, at the same time, be actionable.

There must be no discrimination by sex in child custody after a divorce. Fathers must have equal rights with mothers over children. Custody can be determined by fault in extreme circumstances, or be shared fifty-fifty in real terms using any number of reasonable and traditional methods.

There must be no discrimination by sex in the financial settlement. Fathers must have equal claim to the family home in a divorce.

If wives are to have free choice on whether or not to work, husbands must have free choice on whether to support them. Certainly, there can be no alimony.

Legal action on abuse (or adultery) must be equally available to both husbands and wives, without discrimination by sex. Statistics can tell the tale; if charges or convictions for abuse are overwhelmingly against husbands, this is prima facie evidence of discrimination.

Governments must be even-handed in their provision of state facilities regardless of sex. If there are shelters for women, there must be shelters for men. If legal aid or material aid or counseling is available to women seeking divorce or separation, it must be available to men. This is a question of equal protection under the law.

Fathers should not be obliged to pay more in child support after divorce than they would be liable for as father in an intact marriage. (Same for mothers, if they are the ones paying support.) At present, this is the case. It generally gives the wife a financial gun pointed at her husband’s head, and a financial incentive to divorce.

Child support should be tied to visitation rights. Habeus corpus: show me the kids.

Inherited property should be exempted from any divorce settlement. It reverts to the person having inherited it. The same for property owned or indeed expertise earned before the marriage; it is currently far too difficult to exempt such properties or expenses. This is necessary to preserve family traditions and discourage predatory marriages.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Unequal Pay for Unequal Work

In a piece for the New York Times, Warren Farrell exposes just how phony are the repeated claims that women make less than men.

They do; it is not that the raw figures are wrong. But it is not because of discrimination against women.

As a control, Farrell compared income levels for men and women who owned their own businesses. Here, presumably, discrimination cannot be a factor; it is a pure free market. He found that the pay rate for self-employed women was 49 percent that for men.

If, then, other-employed women are making 80 cents on the men’s dollar, 31 cents of that represents discrimination—against men.

He also found that money was the prime motivator in choosing a job for only 29 percent of women, but 76 percent of men. It rather stands to reason that men would choose higher-paying jobs. Women sacrifice pay for things they value more: autonomy, flexibility, fewer hours, a pleasant work environment, safety, a job that’s fun.

“Men earn more money,” says Farrell; “women have better lives.” Men work longer hours, and take more dangerous, dirtier, and more strenuous jobs. They are more willing to relocate or to travel for work.

He also notes that unmarried, childless women make 117 percent of single men’s salary. The lower figures for women overall can be entirely accounted for—and more--by the inclusion of married women who do not need to work for a living; for whom their job is a hobby.

Surveys show that 70 percent of men, and 63 percent of women, would sacrifice pay for more family time.

Unfairly, only women have that option.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Born with a Liberal Membership Card in Their Mouths

A leftish friend theorizes that George Bush's policies are explained by the fact that he was born rich. As a result, "he just doesn't 'get' poverty."

Which brings up an interesting petard.

Because I guess that would have to be at least equally true of John Kerry, the Kennedys, Jane Fonda, Ted Turner, Al Gore, Paul Martin, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Bob Rae, Mike Harcourt, Sheila Copps, Jack Layton, ...

On the other hand, you want to find leaders who don't come from a priviledged elite? Look right. Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Colin Powell; Stephen Harper, Brian Mulroney, John Diefenbaker, Mike Harris, Ralph Klein, Stockwell Day, ...

The Bushes are one prominent exception. In general, inherited wealth moves left, the middle and working class step right.

And it may indeed be because those born wealthy just do not "get" poverty.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Who Killed New Orleans?

Who's responsible?

Nobody is responsible for the hurricane, but after that, those who bear primary responsibility, frankly, are the people of New Orleans.

They were told to leave. Those who did not were taking responsibility for their own safety. An honourable decision, but it is hypocritical to blame any government now.

After that, those responsible are the mayor and city administration of New Orleans. The defense of New Orleans was the responsibility of New Orleans. They were not prepared, seemingly did nothing, and they dissolved into chaos once the hurricane hit. Reputedly at least 200 NOPD police just disappeared during the crisis; headed for the hills. Others were according to some reports busy looting. The constables on the ground were cut off; there was no command and control. School buses and city buses were photographed after he flood all lined up in a row, flooded, never mobilized for the evacuation. The city seems to have done nothing.

Compare what happened in New York City after 9/11: the firemen rushing into the burning buildings.

After that, responsibility lies with the state government. The National Guard was late in coming? That was the state’s responsibility. Moreover, we hear the governor dithered for 24 hours before agreeing to federal plans for sending in aid, for fear of yielding power.

Compare what happened in next-door Mississippi, harder hit by Katrina than Louisiana. Was there a comparable breakdown of order?

But as soons as the feds arrived, things started to improve quickly.

So how does anyone get off blaming the feds?

A Louisiana senator, Mary Landrieu, threatens on TV to break President Bush’s arm. (Run that one in your head with a man similarly threatening a woman, right on TV, and see if you don’t also see an image of him behind prison bars. Physically threatening the President of the US is also, separately, a federal offense. Is she going to be charged?)

Louisiana politics has long been a cesspool. These Louisiana senators are following a time-honoured tradition of corrupt Third World dictatorships: to distract blame, scapegoat the outsider. Blame the US. Blame unnamed multinational corporations. Blame the Jews. Blame colonial powers who left fifty years ago.

Louisiana: colourful, cheap, oil-rich yet dirt poor. Welcome to the Third World.

Monday, September 05, 2005

CBC, Celine Dion and New Orleans

A very touching video of Celine Dion breaking down on Larry King Live over the suffering in New Orelans. Dion no doubt feels it all personally; she grew up dirt poor. She ends by singing a prayer.

http://tinyurl.com/8b7r5

And then the CBC turns it into something ugly.

Watching the video, do you really think the relevant headline is "Celine Dion takes swipe at Iraq war"?

Is that what Dion is trying to say? Is that the point she is trying to get across? Is she even thinking of the Iraq War?

It's revolting: Dion is trying to draw attention to the plight of the people in New Orleans, and the CBC just exploits it for their publicly-funded vendetta against the Bush administration.

Shame.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Damned Lies

Another alarming report on wife abuse ruined a perfectly rainy day. It was in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

I am shocked, not at the quoted figure (one in three women abused worldwide), but that it is taken at face value. It is immoral to dupe a land as poor as the Philippines into a welfare scheme for wealthy women. Every peso wasted may be another child starving to death.

The survey, titled, with becoming neutrality, “Ending Violence against Women,” was written and released by the “co-director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity” (Lori Heise). Think vested interest. Heise’s livelihood depends on showing there is a problem. Would we accept a study by the tobacco industry showing that smoking does no harm to health?

Let’s check the facts.

The study says “10 percent to over 50 percent of adult women have been physically assaulted by an intimate male partner.”

The wide range in data returned itself invalidates the survey. Science means reproducible results. If one investigating team produced a rate of over fifty percent, and the next produced ten percent, the proper conclusion is that the model is wrong. The meaning of the results is an x-factor.

What here constitutes “physical assault”? The article calls this “a distinct crime, of a vastly different nature from most other causes of ‘physical injuries.’” It involves things not seen as assault, but considered “justified” by “many people.” “One of every three women on the planet has been beaten, raped, or somehow mistreated.” (So the BBC report-italics mine). That “somehow mistreated” could mean almost anything. The Center’s summary actually refers to abusing women “physically and emotionally,” to “either physical or verbal abuse.” We cannot guess what the numbers mean, unless we know what their definition is. By calling a chicken a pig, you can also demonstrate “scientifically” that pigs have wings. Almost any sort of physical touch or body contact or verbal criticism has, by one study or another, been classed as assault when it occurs to a woman in the home. Given that two people living together are unlikely to avoid all speech or physical contact, it is easy to design a survey that would return a figure of 100%.

We must also know who was asked. Were those reporting self-selected? Invalid. Were only women asked? Invalid. A study of abuse that questions only women is comparable to allowing only the prosecution to give evidence at trial. It is accurate only if nobody ever lies or misconstrues, which is improbable, even for women. And in every single study cited here, only women were interviewed.

Just what question was asked? Did the interviewer have a preference regarding the answer? A survey can be wildly skewed by how you frame the question, or even tone of voice. If, for example, you ask, “do you believe women should have reproductive freedom?” you will get a different response than if you ask “do you believe the life of the unborn child should be protected?” Many people will answer “yes” to both. Pepsi-Cola once ran a campaign showing people in a blind taste test preferred Pepsi, labelled “L”, over Coke, labelled “R.” Then Coca-Cola showed people prefer the letter “L” over the letter “R” by about the same margin.

Is there a control? If similar rates are found everywhere, as indeed the study claims, it is hard to know how rates of “assault” could be brought down. Assault is a bad thing; so is death. If both, however, are universal, the probable conclusion is that nothing can be done.

There is an obvious control available. Such studies, to be meaningful, should at least compare the rate of assault of women with the rate of assault of men, using the same criteria and collection methods for both. If figures are similar, then wife assault is not a problem; this level of “assault” is part of life.

This was not done in any studies cited by the center.

Interestingly, when it is, we find women assault men more often than men assault women.

Do we need women’s shelters? Almost as much, I guess, as we need shelters for battered men. Given unlimited resources, both might be a good idea. Given limited resources, we have more important problems.

There is a further factor to consider. Shelters help break up marriages and families.

On the basis of the present study, the Philippine Daily Inquirer urges women to “practice how to get out of your home safely,” and “Devise a code word to use with your children, family, friends and neighbours when you need emergency help or want them to call the police.” “Have a packed bag ready, containing spare keys, money, important documents and clothes. Keep it at the house of a friend in case you have to leave your own home in a hurry.” Friends, it seems, can be trusted with valuables; husbands cannot.

How many marriages can survive this sort of paranoia?

Next day the same paper carried a half-page ad: a yoghurt container and the bold legend: “CAUTION: BUILDS FEMALE STRENGTH. HUSBANDS WHO HABITUALLY COME HOME LATE CAN NOW EXPECT MORE THAN A LECTURE” (Capitalization theirs). And a cartoon (“Sherman’s Lagoon”) showing a wife hoisting an axe and saying “See this axe, darling? If you leave the toilet seat up one more time I’m going to chop you into pate. Better make a will.”

There are, as Mark Twain noted, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The survey would certainly be two, and perhaps three, of the above.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Way Down in New Orleans

A fascinating live blog chronicle of what has been happening in New Orleans is available here:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor/2005/08/27/

Apparently now off-line and out for the count.

I'm happy to see that Canada is sending three warships, a coastguard vessel, and a thousand personnel. Kudos to the Armed Forces for pulling that together, and to the Canadian government for responding at what seems to me a quuite respectable level. It should make a difference.

My prediction: Mardi Gras will be held next year. It will become a matter of pride.

The South shall rise again.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New York's Tenement Museum

During our still fairly recent vacation, my wife and I visited New York City’s Tenement Museum (http://www.tenement.org/). It calls itself a “museum of conscience,” and says its mission includes “to make conscious use of history to address contemporary social issues.”

Our guide was fairly clumsy about making us meditate on how terrible the conditions were for the inhabitants: a family of seven, say, in three rooms, without running water, working in the same place they lived.

My Filipina wife, however, was unsuitably unimpressed. She grew up in a rattan house with one room, no running water, and six brothers and sisters. That is, six living at any one time; three died before they made adolescence.

“A place like this would have been a big step up for us,” she commented. “I guess it’s what you’re used to.”

But it isn’t. The people who lived in this tenement block were coming from Ireland, Italy, or Eastern Europe at around the turn of the century.

With due respect, though relatively poor, the Philippines is far from the poorest country on Earth. Its GDP per capita is higher than much of Eastern Europe even today, let alone over a hundred years ago. And these folks were poor, not rich.

It may look meager to us today, but the real truth is that the people who lived in these tenements probably thought of themselves as prosperous. They were probably delighted at their good luck.

Another fascinating discovery on this tour: “sweat shops” are not what we commonly think. These people were not working in factories. A “sweat shop” was a small business, like other shops: they were sewing garments in their homes, under contract, often even with employees.

The net effect of closing down these tenements and sweat shops was to put them out of business and force them into factories. And, far from being grateful for this intervention, most were enraged.

This “social reform,” closing the tenements, was probably good for the rich: removed what was to them an eyesore, eliminated their small-business competition, and supplied them with cheap labour. But it sure was not good for the poor, who lost their homes, their independence, and their best route up the social ladder.

Perhaps it is ever thus. Indeed, it seems relevant to the fate of the Philippines today. “Reformers” trying to close the “sweatshops” of the Philippines—albeit these ones really are large factories—are really eliminating competition for themselves, while depriving Filipinos of the best jobs available and of their best chance to develop.

That’s the real story of the tenement museum; though you have to read it for yourself between the lines.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why I'm Not on Strike

A friend and colleague warns of a summer of discontent for Canadian labour. The BC Teachers’ Federation, he says, is about to go on strike. Telus is already out; in Regina, city workers are on the picket lines; CBC is still locked out. He sees a new t rend of labour unrest.

I’m not convinced, but I note something interesting about the labour disputes cited: the BC Teachers; Telus; Regina civic workers; CBC. All involve monopolies or tax-supported arms of government.

There is a reason. It is the same reason that, not too long ago, strikes were prohibited in the public sector.

Unions were to prevent workers from exploitation by rich capitalists for profit. But governments, note, are not for profit. And their workers are not working class. They are usually professionals making better than average incomes.

What gives?

First, the original theory of collective bargaining was fatally flawed. It ignored market economics. In any non-monopoly situation, wages will automatically find the correct level: pay too little, and your competitor steals your best workers. Pay too much, and your product becomes too expensive. Given this, if workers unionize and force employers to pay more money than they are already, the employer simply becomes uncompetitive and goes bankrupt.

This alone is why the union movement has mostly disappeared from the private sector, from all but monopoly situations, where market pressures do not exist.

For a time, the problem was avoided by allowing unions to organize industry-wide, which is to say, by allowing them to operate in restraint of trade. This never harms the rich capitalists, of course; this harms the consumer. But even this no longer works the minute consumers can purchase goods from abroad. It collapses with free trade, unless you can actually unionize an industry world-wide.

Which is of course why unions hate “globalization.”

Without such a government-enforced monopoly, unionized industries become uncompetitive and simply go bust as an entire industry. Like the US steel industry, the US car industry, the British shipbuilding industry; they can no longer compete with foreign rivals. One way or another, with a free market, unionized workers become unemployed workers.

Now, with so-called “outsourcing,” the same logic is hitting some industries that until recently had a captive market. Telus is the obvious example in the present list. If the Telus union wins, Telus and their jobs will soon disappear. The Internet breaks all telecommunications monopolies, barring an enforced monopoly on Internet provision. Without vigorous government action, or outsourcing, Telus cannot compete with foreign providers who can now enter its market.

The CBC is not a monopoly, but it has in the past had something of a captive market, at least against foreign competition. With satellite and Internet transmission, there is no way it can maintain this. It must get better, or at some point it will fade to irrelevance and the public will lose interest in funding it. Its employees are foolish to strike; but, being used to subsidies and restraint of trade, they apparently do not see this. They think they’re still in government.

For government proper, there is no such problem: government is a monopoly by its nature, a trust that cannot be busted. Here, the whole negotiating process is a sham. I have seen it myself often enough. There is no real distinction between the two sides doing the negotiating: the same individual can be “labour” in one negotiation and “management” in the next. Their offices are next to each other; they went to the same schools, have the same politics, eat lunch together in the same cafeteria or local restaurant. No confrontation between capitalist and prole: for not only is it the same class; it is the very same individual people.

Both sides have a vested interest in wages rising; because it is their own wages. Neither has any incentive to hold wages down: higher wages come out of someone else’s pocket; lower wages come out of theirs.

So why are there strikes in the public sector? In theory, they could just write themselves whatever wage they want.

And they almost do. This is why wages in the public sector are usually a good deal higher on average than in the private sector. An editor on the Editors’ Association of Canada email list marveled recently to learn that government editors could expect an hourly rate twenty times that in the book industry.

But every now and then it is good form to have a strike.

First, it preserves the illusion of a confrontation of interests.

But more importantly, a strike in public services inconveniences the taxpayer, and so can generally convince the public and politicians to accept higher wages for the workers in order to get services restored. In blunt terms, it’s a bit of a shakedown. And it is really the only situation when a strike can work: when it is a strike directly against consumers.

But the thing to understand is that even in the private sector, there is little real conflict of interest between labour and management. The conflict of interests is between producer and consumer. The difference is that, in the private sector and free market, the consumer has some power. In the public sector or in a monopoly, the consumer must pretty well shut up and pay.

He can vote another party into power; what difference does that really make to the unelected public service? At most, the new party can withdraw the service. The consumer must do without.

My friend’s alternative explanation for the rash of strikes is that there is less loyalty these days between labour and management. I think that is exactly wrong. This is an important reason why there are _fewer_ strikes, at least in the private sector, than there used to be. So long as labour is mobile, there is a free market. Management has no opportunity to underpay labour. If an exceptional worker wants more money, he can just move to a higher bidder. Why bother to strike? By the same token, labour has no opportunity to get more pay than the work is really worth; because the employer can do the same. So striking is not practical.

It is when labour is not mobile that strikes happen; because then one side or both can hope to improve their economic situation by doing so.

Note that government and monopoly workers are precisely the ones most likely to strike, and they are precisely the ones with the best long-term employment security and benefits packages. Only here is striking a worthwhile alternative to moving to a better job.