Thursday, October 27, 2005

Never Ask a Chimp for a Favour

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

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

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

With thanks to Eugene Craig Campbell for the link.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fourscore Years and a Hundred

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


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

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


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

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Call for Freedom of Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Free Speech in Canada

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

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

French has apparently had to resign.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Rich Get Richer

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Affirmative action: welfare for the very wealthy.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Support Global Warming

I found a beautiful new screen saver on-line:

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

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

Mon pays, c’est l’hiver.

But one other thought strikes me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2005

Why Catholicism is the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2005

Those Who Control the Present...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why I Don't Live in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 10, 2005

Global Warming: Canada's Great White Hope

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

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

You may need to register to see this.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Contemporary Feminism in a Nutshell

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

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

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Intelligent Design in the Schools

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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