The Book!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

888 and I continue our debate on women's fashion:


888:
Slaves are shackled or otherwise controlled. Their loyalty is not sought neither its feared that someone else might woo them.

SR:
Even you here admit that women are very much free agents, not possessions. Their loyalty, as you say, must be sought. It is to be feared that someone else might earn their favour at any moment. They cannot, like slaves, be shackled or otherwise controlled.

888:
… where the freedom of women has to be curtailed, it is. there is no difference.

SR:
Can you at least explain how wearing a chador curtails their freedom? Why doesn’t it, as I pointed out, make them freer and give them more power than the men around them? Quite literally, it removes a power from men, but not from them—the power to see them. The onlooker has lost the ability to identify her. This gives her greater freedom to do as she wishes.

Why else do both thieves and fictional superheroes wear masks? Because it makes them somehow less powerful and more vulnerable?

888:
In case it is voluntary, then who cares? but is it? As far away as kashmir, women have been beheaded for not covering themselves or attacked with acid.

SR:
I’d like to see a specific case. I suppose it is possible that some woman, somewhere, has been beheaded by someone for not wearing a chador. As men have been beheaded for not wearing beards, say, or for not shaving their heads. But how widespread is it? Islam does not require the chador. It is almost unheard of for the law in any country to require it—and where, as in Afghanistan under the Taliban, the law has required it, similar dress restrictions have been imposed on men.

Indeed, why the uproar about restricting the dress of women, and never any concern about men having their freedoms similarly curtailed? Never mind Afghanistan; let’s look at the West. In modern America, women have more freedom of choice in what they wear than men do. If a woman is scantily clad, and a man looks at her, he is thrown into prison, as a Peeping Tom. If, on the other hand, a man is scantily clad and a woman looks at him---he is thrown into prison, as an exhibitionist. Is this sexual equality?

Even a man wearing a skirt or dress or makeup is very likely to face at least social condemnation. A woman wearing pants, traditional male dress, or not wearing makeup, faces no such criticism. Or if she does, she can promptly hale the culprit before a human rights tribunal. A man who works where there is a dress code is commonly limited, as I am now, to a long-sleeved shirt, full-length pants, shiny leather shoes, and a tie, all in sober colours. Women under a dress code can wear a much greater range of clothing—pants or dress or skirt, bright colours, jewellery, long or short sleeves or hem, and so on.

So too in the Middle East. A man who wears a chador is committing a crime. But if a woman wore a thobe, the male dress, people would probably just be amused. It would be cute.

How is it that more freedom is oppressive, for women?

There may be social pressure for women to wear traditional dress. (I’d suggest there may also be significant social pressure not to.) Nevertheless, we do not commonly feel that men are excused from responsibility for their own actions by the presence of social or peer pressure. Even “I was only following orders” is not a defense for men. Why should the rules for women be different?

Indeed, if you do insist that women cannot resist social pressure, and cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, you are saying they are incapable of managing their own affairs. You are mandating that someone will and must necessarily control them—it becomes just a question of whom.

888:
the 'sati' in India was considered 'voluntary', should it be allowed? I have no bias, but times have changed and any ideas that made sense in the past (for whatever reasons, probably lawlessness), do not make sense today, no they are unfair.

SR:
Short answer: sati should be allowed. If someone chooses to commit suicide, it is not the state’s business. Here is another example where we refuse to allow women to decide for themselves, but assume they are incapable of doing so.

888:
Escape permanently? you don't need to be invisible to do that, you need an assurance of something better to escape, you want an identity to escape. When noone in the outer world knows you exist, where will one escape? whats the value of a faceless person? in your books more than others. amazing.

SR:
The answer is simple: another man. You said it yourself. “It’s feared that someone else might woo them.” Being unidentifiable in public does not in any way prevent a woman from having an affair; it makes it easier. Nobody can catch her doing it.

888:
you are confused between the chadder and harry potter's invisibility cloak. under his cloak, harry potter is not seen but he's still harry potter. under a chadder you are seen and hence you are just a woman without an identity.

SR:
I assure you, under the chador, the woman is still whomever she is. She retains her personality and her identity. She has lost nothing. Similarly, if you close your eyes, the world does not cease to exist. You are affected, not the world.

If you want to honour someone, you give them more clothing. Even a sacred tree or statue, even a building like the Ka’aba—the indication of its sacredness is to cover it with something.

Conversely, what do they tell you about avoiding nervousness in an interview? Think of the person interviewing you being naked.

When several top generals in the German Army tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he tried to concoct for them the worst punishment he could imagine:

“One by one, after being stripped to the waist, they were strung up, a noose of piano wire being placed around their necks, and attached to meathooks. A movie camera whirled as the men dangled and strangled, their beltless trousers finally dropping off as they struggled, leaving them naked in their death agony. The developed film, as ordered, was rushed to Hitler so that he could view it…” (William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 1071).

The film was later shown to audiences throughout the Army.

Humiliating someone completely involves stripping off their clothes so that as many people as possible can see them naked.

Doing the opposite implies respect.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Of Boom and Bust

A group of Baby Boomers of my acquaintance were recently lamenting among themselves at how far we had fallen short, as a generation, from accomplishing the kind of changes we intended back in the Sixties. One felt that the powers that be turned out to be too well entrenched. Another suggested “I’d feel guilty only if we hadn’t tried.”

As a Boomer myself, I see it rather differently. I'm not sure what we Boomers could have accomplished that we haven't, in terms of our objectives at the time. We are the powers that be now, even if we weren’t then.

Where have we failed?

We ended segregation.
We ended the Vietnam War, short of an American victory.
Feminism has become the received wisdom. It is dangerous now even to challenge its assumptions.
Environmentalism has become conventional wisdom.
We closed down the nuclear plants, and ended nuclear testing in the West.
The sexual revolution has become the accepted norm, even if there is still some grumbling among the religious. But remember, in 1960, being at least nominally religious was the norm. Now, they are an embattled minority.
Marcusian relativism and the assumptions of the "new left" have become the establishment position, if a bit less than a consensus.
Greater awareness of non-Western cultures has become mainstream.
Rock and roll are here to stay.
Everywhere, in every field and profession, baby boomers are now in power: Tony Blair, George Bush, Stephen Harper.
Paul McCartney, Elton John, even Mick Jagger are knights of the realm. You don't get more establishment than that.
With this, and our demographic heft, the world is necessarily just about as we wanted it.

Some might argue that Bush and Harper, though Baby Boomers themselves, do not represent the ideals of the Sixties as just cited.

I would argue, though, that in terms of the time, the differences are pretty marginal. Clinton, also a Baby Boomer, was probably more representative than Bush, but the differences among them are matters of nuance. All would certainly oppose segregation and speak only praise of Martin Luther King Jr. All would endorse feminism in principle, insist they are better environmentalists then the next guy, and, I think, agree that the US should not have been in Vietnam. Blair used to have his own rock and roll band. All would publicly accept without criticism, if not actively endorse, the reality of the sexual revolution, and would avoid any public comments condemning, say, out-of-wedlock mothers, or insisting that abstinence is the proper thing outside of marriage.

The one clear split I see from the list of principles given is that Harper and Bush would reject Marcusian relativism and the views of the New Left--postmodernism. I think Blair would too.

But that probably represents the views of many other Baby Boomers as well, including myself, who have come to the conclusion since the Sixties that we really were not right about everything, and our ancestors were not actually total idiots.

And we probably also forget that we Baby Boomers of the Sixties represented a far more diverse set of views than we commonly see today. It might have been the decade of Marcuse and the New Left, but it was also the decade of the Jesus Freaks, the Hare Krishnas, and the Moonies. Some of us even hoped specifically for it to become a spiritual revival. It was in part a reaction to the mechanistic and materialist views of the Fifties.

For my money, that's the one thing we definitely got right. And the one thing we did not pull off, or haven't yet.

So why are my friends so sure they have failed? It seems to go without saying--they do not outline how or in what areas we failed.

Perhaps, it always seemed to me, the whole thing was based on a preconception of necessary failure. As Romanticism commonly is. It is hard ever to declare a victory if your motto is, as the Who put it, “Hope I die before I get old.” Or, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” Or, "We want the world, and we want it now." Failure seems to me to have been part of the plan from the beginning; which is one reason the Kennedy assassination seemed so seminal.

We have met the enemy, and they is us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

888 Weighs In on Women's Fashion

My old friend 888 writes, regarding women wearing the veil:

“how you miss the point. if your car had an independent mind which you did not trust but wanted to control, then you'd keep it hidden too.sheiks, brides, kings do what they please by choice. they are not beheaded for not doing it. the problem with your thinking is that you are using your 'reverence' for women only for getting to something sinister. when people are hanged, they are veiled too, thats not by choice and no fun.”


Never mind a car. Horses really can have independent minds. And never mind a horse. Slaves surely can. Yet they are not covered up, are they?

It is hard to see how doing this could prevent them from exercising their independence. Just the reverse, actually. It would give them far greater freedom of movement, the chance to do as they please and go where they please--including escape permanently-- without being identified. A lot harder to keep them on the plantation, wouldn't you say?Note too that, contrary to odd prejudice in the West, wearing the chador is completely voluntary. Some women choose to, and some women choose not to.

As for people who are hanged being hooded, this might seem superficially similar, but if you think for a minute, you will realize it is really the opposite. A veil does not obscure the woman’s vision, or need not. It is there to obscure the vision of those looking at her. A hood on a hanged man is not there to prevent others from seeing him. It is there to prevent him from seeing what is happening around him.

To be able to see without being seen is to have power over all those around you. It is a power fantasy probably all of us have toyed with at one time or another: to be invisible.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Plight of the Veddahs

This blog seems to be developing a loyal readership in the Subcontinent. With over a billion people, many fluent in English, I suppose this is not surprising.

888—no relation, I trust, to 666—sent this along in response to my piece on the UN draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people:

888:
Sri Lankan hunters are not nearing extinction. They have been assimilating with the Sinhalese for over a millennium now. That means they are not discriminated against, there is no racial discrimination and no reserves. It’s a genuine case of racial mixing and not the 'victor' - 'conquered' relationship.Birth rate only means their numbers might be growing in Canada, but there are other issues too. Canada may not be cited for falling population like in other countries, but aren't the natives financially backward? Don't they fill up your jails? Ok forget it, just think how the world that you take for granted as you made it is alien to them on their own land. A little compassion is good for a religious man.


SR:
888, I agree with you in principle. There is nothing wrong with assimilation, and “indigenous” citizens should be treated like everybody else. This is equality. It is hard for those of us who remember the struggles against segregation, apartheid, and the ghetto to accept that a demand for segregation, apartheid, and ghettos is somehow a call for “equality.” That, indeed, was the point of my article.

But your views, and the policies of Sri Lanka, are in gross violation of the new UN treaty, given only that the Sri Lankan indigenous people, the Veddahs, be recognized by the UN. According to the UN, such assimilation is “cultural genocide” (Article 7).

Canada proposed to do just this back in the 1960’s, following the model of blacks in the US South. The native population strongly rebuffed this. Canada is now paying “reparations” for what tentative steps they took in that direction.

The UN declaration insists that indigenous people must have reservations: see articles 25 to 30, inclusive. Sri Lankan Veddahs do not. They must also be protected from encroachment on their traditional means of livelihood, something Sri Lanka does not do for its Veddahs. Instead, they are commonly arrested for hunting in the national parks. This is especially unfortunate for them since the national parks have been formed from their traditional hunting grounds.

Veddah representatives are given no formal voice in decision making in Sri Lanka—this again is in violation of the UN declaration.

Worse, the Sri Lankan government has actually refused passports to Veddah representatives seeking to attend international conferences, on the grounds that they are “not real Sri Lankans.” So assimilation is not, in fact, the Sri Lankan model. Indeed, claiming that the experience of the Veddahs has been one of peaceful assimilation rather beggars belief since the process has, as you say, so far taken a millennium. Actually, it has taken more like two, and counting.

It’s all pretty crazy, but craziest of all is that Sri Lanka, and so many other countries, are held to a completely different, and much lower, standard, than Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand.

Aboriginal poverty? The indigenous people of Sri Lanka are the poorest of the poor in that poor country, “economically backward,” according to an ILO study. They have been cut off by government from their traditional means of livelihood, hunting, and have not adapted to farming.

In Canada, the indigenous people are also relatively poor, but unlike in Sri Lanka, they are heavily subsidized by the government. Calculations suggest that each Canadian aboriginal family gets something like $40,000 per year from the government, directly or indirectly. That is more than the average Canadian makes. It far more than the average Sri Lankan Veddah makes. If Canadian aboriginals remain poor, it is apparently not the result of discrimination by government.

You claim that the situation in Sri Lanka is not the “victor-conquered” relationship. We cannot be certain from any surviving written records whether the original inhabitants were physically dispossessed by the Sinhalese when they arrived from North India—we can only speculate. However, there does seem to be a clear record of a great conflict between immigrants from North India and the original inhabitants in the Ramayana. And I think we can deduce something from the fact that the Sinhalese traditionally refer to the aboriginals as “devils,” “demons,” and “serpents.” It sounds as though relations were not always amicable.

The Veddahs are clearly in decline. When the Dutch arrived in Sri Lanka, they recorded Veddah settlements as far north as Jaffna. There are now only a few hundred to a few thousand left, in perhaps five small villages. By contrast, as noted, the indigenous people of Canada are growing both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the general population. And there are far more of them now than there were at first contact.

And we do know from historical records that, by contract to Sri Lanka, in most parts of Canada, the relationship between Europeans and indigenous people has not been that of “victor-conquered.” It has been one of commercial cooperation to mutual benefit. With a few local exceptions, the Europeans did not fight wars with the natives; they were welcomed by the native people, who profited from trading with them. And they bought the land on which they settled.

This was not so, of course, in the US. But the difference is significant.

For more on the Veddahs, the curious can visit

http://vedda.org/index.htm

I don’t mean to pick on Sri Lanka in particular. There are literally thousands of similar indigenous groups all over the world, in similar plights; the Nagas of northeast India have been mentioned recently here. All, though, are being ignored by the UN, in favour of the native people of Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps Scandinavia, who are not in nearly as bad a situation. Why, other than because of anti-Western prejudice?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Clothes Make the Woman

A recent column by a friend suggests that the old tradition of having a bride wear a veil, and the current Arab tradition of women wearing burqa and chador, are “connected to notions of women as property rather than person.”

I don’t think so. This has the whole thing just about upside down. Do we commonly conceal our property from view? Does a farmer hide a handsome horse behind a dress and veil? Do we commonly conceal the fact that we own an especially attractive car, or boat, or watch?

No; covering ourselves up is something only people do, and it shows emphatically that women, in Islam or traditional Christianity, are not considered property. To dress an object would be odd.

And, in times and places when people owned people as slaves, did they commonly dress them more completely than themselves? Just the reverse.

This tradition, in the West and in the East, actually shows the reverence in which women were once held. Ask yourself, who else’s face, in Muslim tradition, is not to be shown in public? Answer: God’s, and the prophets’. Fairly exclusive company. And hardly an indication of disrespect. After all, in Islam, is God our property, or are we God’s property?

Eastern kings, too, used to travel always behind a curtain in public. Was this because they were the property of the onlookers? Wasn’t the legal situation exactly the reverse? Arab sheikhs even today like to travel in cars with tinted windows. Are they the oppressed of the earth?

Indeed, note when and where women most commonly wore a veil in the West: at their wedding. Is the bride commonly most demeaned at her wedding? Isn't this the one moment in her life where she is most socially exalted? In many countries, the traditional wedding dress is the traditional royal dress: every bride is queen for a day.

It’s time the West got over its prejudice against Arab dress.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Majority Is Always Wrong

Robert Fulford once said this to me. Sorry; that sounds like name-dropping. I do not know Robert Fulford, and if I ran into him I’m sure he would not remember me. But I did meet him once, and he did say something like that to me. He said he chose articles for Saturday Night magazine on the principle that “if everyone knows something is so, it probably isn’t.”

One of the wisest things anyone has ever said, at least in my presence.

It actually stands to reason. Something that everyone knows to be true is ipso facto something that few people have examined closely for a while.

And when a thing is considered beyond debate, there is most often a political reason for this. Truths must struggle to be accepted. Comfortable lies meet no such resistance, indeed are commonly coddled far away from all questioning.

Democracy accordingly has its limits, and one of its more unfortunate limits is that it promotes the fallacy, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, that truth and right can be determined by popular vote.

Of course they cannot: the few are far more often right than the many. The average layman is rarely the best authority on any subject. If popular opinion were the measure of truth, then Jesus and Socrates were vicious criminals worthy of execution, and AdolfHitler was the savior. Galileo and Columbus? A couple of crackpots.

Democracy is valuable in the running of a state, because it acts as a check and balance on the small group actually exercising power: in extremis, the popular will can vote them out. Much more direct than that, and you get—as America's founding fathers were well aware—mob rule. Hitler was popularly elected. So were Huey Long and the segregationists of the US South.

For Catholics, there are three great temptations we, traditionally, must avoid: the world, the flesh, and the devil. “The world” here, I am quite certain, means the social world, the popular consensus. When we are talking about kids, we call it “peer pressure,” and know it is a bad thing. It is just as bad a thing among adults.

Much of the Bible is about the importance of the good man standing alone against society. This is the story of Noah, of Lot, of Joseph, of Jesus, and of John the Baptist. It is the archetypal story of all the prophets. And of the Buddha, and of Hui Neng, of Qu Yuan, and of Confucius, too.

The average person is not moral. To be moral, it is necessary to be an eccentric. Perhaps not all eccentrics are moral, but all moral people are eccentrics. Accordingly, any eccentric is worthy, prima facie, of our respect. And we should be suspicious of any force that seeks conformity.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Indigenous Wrongs

Canada has joined the US, Australia, and New Zealand in trying to stall a new √úN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. And they are taking a lot of heat for it.

But they are absolutely right. The proposed charter is both incoherent and unreasonable.
First, it does not define “indigenous people.” Who gets to decide who is and who is not indigenous? After all, literally, there is no such thing.

Ominously, the closest the UN seems to come to an official definition is this: “Among many indigenous peoples are the Indians of the Americas (for example, the Mayas of Guatemala or the Aymaras of Bolivia), the Inuit and Aleutians of the circumpolar region, the Saami of northern Europe, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia, and the Maori of New Zealand.” (http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu6/2/fs9.htm)

In other words, only indigenous people living in nations dominated by Europeans are cited.
This looks as if it might be a club, then, for non-Western nations to use against Westerners. But in the real world, almost all nations have surviving and distinct earlier populations. The West stands out, perhaps, only in their level of concern. There are the Ainu of Japan, of course, the various “national minorities” of China, the “hill people” of the lands of southeast Asia, the “tribal people” of India, the Maghrib of North Africa, the Bushmen, pygmies, and so forth in Sub-Saharan Africa, and on and on and on. Why are none of these mentioned?

The charter is also contradictory: it affirms first that indigenous people ought to have the same rights as other citizens:

“Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal in dignity and rights to all other peoples”

“Article 2

Indigenous individuals and peoples are free and equal to all other individuals and peoples in dignity and rights”

And then outlines a string of special privileges only they, and not other citizens, would have.
For example:

“Article 11

States … shall not:
(a) Recruit indigenous individuals against their will in the armed forces.”

In other words, if a state imposed conscription on its citizens, anyone with “indigenous” status would automatically be exempt.

Again:

“Article 13

Indigenous peoples have the right to … maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites … and the right to repatriation of human remains.

States shall take effective measures, in conjunction with the indigenous peoples concerned, to ensure that indigenous sacred places, including burial sites, be preserved, respected and protected;…”

Other religious groups do not have the right to decide what are, for them, sacred places, without compensating the rest of society for the land so chosen. And governments certainly do not have the obligation to help preserve and protect them.

As to the repatriation of human remains, this right lapses in most Western countries after a relatively short time; a hundred years, for example, in England. It is a special privilege, then, if the right continues longer for designated indigenous people.

“Article 15

Indigenous children living outside their communities have the right to be provided access to education in their own culture and language.”

Citizens of other language groups do not have this right. Even citizens speaking one of the two official languages, in Canada, do not have this right. Even if desirable, who could afford it?

"Article 22

Indigenous people have the right to special measures for immediate effective and continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions, including in the areas of employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security. "

Other citizens hardly have the right to see their wealth continually grow, nor to “special measures.”

“Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and disabled persons;”

So even if all indigenous people are equal, some indigenous people are more equal than others.

“Article 28

Military activities shall not take place in the lands and territories of indigenous peoples, unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned.”

This clause in effect denies sovereignty to any non-aboriginal state over any designated aboriginal land. The right to a monopoly of force, to a military and to military action, is definitive of statehood. To at the same time require said state to spend money on the aboriginal territory is manifestly inequitable. It is a form of slavery—for non-aboriginals.

“Article 29

They have the right to special measures to control, develop and protect their … human and other genetic resources…"

Besides the inequality of allowing some designated citizens “special measures,” surely this is scary in terms of human rights. Indigenous communities have ownership over their genes? Over other human beings? Doesn’t this imply that no aboriginal has the right to leave the control of his tribal authority?

“Article 38

Indigenous people have the right to have access to adequate financial and technical assistance, from States and through international cooperation, to pursue freely their political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual development…”

I.e., they have the right to money from the larger government; yet they are largely not subject to its laws.

This is not equality. This is privilege. And it is the opposite of the very concept of human rights. It subverts the individual to the community.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Western Conformity, Eastern Individualism

As Robert Fulford once said, “anything that everybody knows is true almost certainly isn’t.”

Case in point: as everyone knows, individualism, good or bad, is the hallmark of the West. In Asia, by contrast, to quote a recent column by a friend, “the individual often takes second place to the family, the clan, the tribe. Their collective worth matters; the individual is merely a means to an end.”

But it just ain’t so. One crucial reason why “the West,” Britain, the US, Canada, and so forth, works so well, and the typical Third World country does not, is or seems to be precisely because Westerners are far more ready to sacrifice their individual interests for the good of the whole, and to cooperate with their neighbours. In most “non-Western” countries, it’s every man for himself. It seems impossible to get people to coordinate, to work together in groups.

One hears much about the American image of the lone cowboy. But similar images seem to appear in all cultures; there is nothing “Western” per se about this. In Japan, it is the lone Samurai—some classic Japanese samurai stories have in fact been easily adapted into Westerns. China has its classic stories of the lone Kung Fu fighter or the “outlaws of the marsh,” similar anti-social loners. India admires its bandit kings, and Europe its knights errant. Everyone admires the independence of the desert Arab, the bedouin.

As for religion, Christianity, as religions go, calls for a fairly high level of integration into the community. Even monasteries remain communities. By contrast, Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism in the East have much stronger traditions of the solitary hermit—the ultimate individualist. In Vedanta, the solitary individual partakes directly of Godhead.

To my eye, personal eccentricity is very well tolerated in China or Korea; generally better tolerated than in the West.

Yes, families are stronger in Asia. But that could have less to do with philosophy than with necessity. The West’s prosperity and its ability to cooperate has given it a social safety net. In poor countries, families have to stick together, for they would starve apart. This is precisely because there is no support from the larger society.

As for the strength of the “tribe,” I simply see no sense in which East or South Asia is more “tribal” in nature than is Europe or North America.

I wonder: is this pervasive myth that Asians are “less individualistic” really a way of saying we are less able to see them as individuals? As in, “all Chinese look alike to me”? Is it really, in the end, a matter of seeing them as less human?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Muslim Women Speak

The Gallup organization recently surveyed Muslim women, asking what they wanted in their lives. Oddly enough, few in the West have ever thought to do this. Instead, Western feminists are content to decide for them what Muslim women ought to want. Patronizing; but feminism generally does not believe women can or should think for themselves.

Of 8,000 women surveyed, not one cited the burqa or chador as oppressive.

Why would they? Despite an obsessive concern with them in the West, the wearing of the veil is voluntary. Muslim women wear it if they want to.

That Western women imagine this is somehow an important issue shows, firstly, how very little they have to worry about. If nothing else, having time and concern for such trivial matters demonstrates that they can hardly be oppressed.

But second, I think, it shows that Western feminism is not really about rights for women at all. It is about sex, and the right to advertise for casual sex. Otherwise clothes would not be an issue.

Muslim women have the West pegged on this one. “When asked what they least admired about the West, they said moral decay, promiscuity and pornography, which degraded women.”

Conversely, the women said the “best aspect of their cultures was their countries' ‘attachment to moral and spiritual values.’” Things like wearing the chador, to express their spirituality and lack of interest in material things.

Their chief concern was to get the vote, to end corruption, and to unify the Arab world. But these are not “women’s issues”—men in the Middle East seek these as well.

Middle East Online

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Political Correctness Comes to ESL

Like many other branches of the humanities and social sciences, ESL –teaching English as a Second Language—has fallen into the hands of people who are rather more interested in politics than academics. I was sad to learn, at the latest conference of TESOL Arabia, that TESOL International has decided to ban any job ads from its publications that call for “native speakers of English.” This, apparently, is racist.

I am especially sad about this, because I may have had something to do with it.

It turns out that the article which has prompted this was written by my ex-wife: N. Amin (1997). Race and identity of the nonnative ESL teacher. TESOL Quarterly, 31, 580-583. In it, she relates all the difficulty and suffering she has experienced as an ESL teacher because her accent is considered non-standard—she was born and educated in India/Pakistan.

It is, I hope, not to ungentlemanly to mention that, to my own knowledge, her ethnicity has only been to her advantage while she was in Canada. Though she came from a wealthy background, she never met an affirmative action program that did not like her. And Ontario’s Welcome House, where she used to work, actually had a policy of hiring recent immigrants to teach other recent immigrants English. It was her ethnicity that got her work, not the other way around.

Perhaps the only hardship she ever encountered in this regard, frankly, was from me. I told her I thought she really should not be teaching ESL in Canada, because her accent was not a standard Canadian accent.

So I guess I personally am the systemic discrimination it is now necessary to root out of the field of ESL.

Certainly it is true that many ads around the world do call for “native English speakers.” And many campuses around the world pay a premium to get them. The question is, do they have a legitimate reason for wanting this, or is this racism?

It seems to me it is something a bit more like common sense. Anyone seeking to learn a new language ought also to target the dialect of that language that will be most intelligible to the other English speakers with whom he hopes to converse.

In Canada, that means Standard Canadian English. In most cases worldwide, that means either Standard American, or British RP. This is because the influence of movies, TV, radio, and popular music has made these the two more intelligible forms of English pronunciation worldwide.

Were sheer general intelligibility the only factor, Standard American English would be the clear leader, thanks to Hollywood, CNN, et al. But this introduces a second factor: prestige. Whether we think it right or wrong, nevertheless it is so that certain dialects have greater prestige, suggest greater education and higher social class to most listeners. This is of value to our learners. Therefore they have every right, as a practical matter, to desire to acquire such accents. Therefore we have every duty, if we care about the students, to teach them. In Canada, Standard Canadian English suggests you are well educated, and so confers greater prestige.

In addition to these considerations, linguists have clearly established, just in case it was not already obvious, that those who are less fluent in English—ESL students, say--are more easily thrown by variations from the “standard” pronunciation than those who are fluent. So if a teacher varies from the Standard Canadian accent they are hearing on TV and radio or from their boss at work, it is going to increase their burden in learning English exponentially.

It is therefore important for an ESL teacher, in order to be effective, to have or be able to imitate as closely as possible the standard dialect. It is an important job qualification.

As it happens, my second wife is also not a native speaker of English. I can testify to her constant complaints over those who speak “slang” English to her. English is her third language; though her own English is heavily “accented,” that is, at variance to the American or British standard, she cannot comfortably tolerate a similar level of variance in others.

But political correctness seems to demand that the best interests of recent immigrants –at least poor recent immigrants-- need to be sacrificed. As usual with political correctness and “affirmative action,” it takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

America's Sweetheart: Condi Rice

A recent survey by Esquire magazine has found that the number one most desirable dinner companion, among American men, is--Condoleeza Rice. And even number two was not Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, or any other currently popular young body of the moment. It was Oprah Winfrey.

This puts paid to the feminist fantasy that men dislike intelligent women, accomplished women, or women with strong personalities. No—beyond a certain point, significant intelligence seems to beat out significant beauty. Although neither Dr. Rice nor Winfrey are exactly hard to look at.

It has ever been so—intelligence, accomplishment, and strength of character have always and everywhere, throughout human history, been the qualities most valued in a wife.

Men are also clearly not, contrary to feminist myth, interested only in sex, or interested only in young women. Why would they be? Sex occupies only a very small amount of the time you spend together—even on a date, let alone in a marriage. When you’re not having sex, what would you talk about?

Men simply differ from most feminists on which women actually are intelligent, accomplished, and strong. Most feminists immediately think of themselves. Most men disagree. And there are few things more unpleasant than spending time with a companion whose ego outstrips her intelligence and accomplishments.

No, madam, if you are having trouble getting anywhere with the opposite sex, odds are it is not because you are too intelligent, or too talented, or have too much personality. The true reason is probably a good deal more obvious.

It is probably not coincidental too that the two most popular dinner dates are both African-American; even though, demographically, the survey respondents must have been 90% non-African-American.

Black American women seem to be fairly unaffected by feminism. As a result, they seem more confident as women, more comfortable in their skins. Asian women have the same advantage, and so seem especially desirable to the average American man. Too many “white” women, by contrast, seem to feel, in the end, that there is something wrong with being a woman. They are not really comfortable in the role; they seem to mimic men. This has been the basic thrust of feminism from the start.

They seem, in the end, weaker, more mentally confused, and less self-assured.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Don't Bother Going West, Young Man

Conservative MP Brian Jean has apparently gotten into trouble for proposing that the federal government in some way assist Atlantic Canadians seeking to move west for work.

A number of Liberals have objected rather vociferously:

New Brunswick MP Jean-Claude d'Amours called Jean's suggestion "unacceptable," and “unbelievable,” and said East-coasters are not “cattle to be herded from one part of the country to another.”

Nova Scotia MP Geoff Regan said the suggestion was insulting.

New Brunswick MP Andy Scott said Atlantic Canadians need investment in their local economies, not bus fares out West.

Peter McKay quickly denied the Tories had any plans to help Maritimers move.

I am glad my immigrant ancestors are not alive to hear all this. Apparently they, in coming to Canada to seek a better life, were just being suckers. They should have stayed put and demanded that the better life come to them. Ideally straight through their front door, bearing a government cheque.

I am glad Laurier, too, is not alive to hear this. His own Liberal party now believes the opening of the Prairies, as a “home for all the world’s people,” must have been a mistake. It was insulting all those people to help them leave their homes in Eastern Europe, Eastern Canada and elsewhere. It is presumably equally “unacceptable” to take new immigrants now. Unless new Canadians are second-class citizens.

Liberals, and Canadians, are today apparently made of a very different and finer stuff than those who built Canada. It is no doubt much more dignified to stay where you were born and live on government subsidies. Your fellow citizens owe you that.

Even if they themselves have moved to make a living. The fools.

A lot of Atlantic Canadians have moved, of course. They are the ones we should admire. If others want so badly to stay—then things must be quite pleasant enough for them in Atlantic Canada. It would seem to follow that no special government subsidies are required.

But riddle me this: how is it that, while the Canadian Atlantic provinces have been depressed for generations, New England, standing in about the same situation as regards the rest of the US, has long been, and still is, thriving? America, which has no program of subsidies to remedy regional disparities? America, where people are prepared to move West at the drop of a cowboy hat?

Might the difference be those very government subsidies?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Brief History of the Oil Shortage

Some interesting historical tidbits about oil supply in a recent ITP Business article:

- In today’s terms, adjusted for inflation, oil in America in 1860 cost $400 a barrel. Now it costs $70 or so.
- In 1910 US gasoline cost $10 a gallon. Today, it costs about $3 a gallon.
- In 1914, the US Government warned that the US had only a ten-year supply of oil remaining.
- In 1939, they again warned that the US had only thirteen-years of oil left.
- In 1951, they warned that oil would run out in the mid-sixties.
- In the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter warned that all the oil in the world would be gone by 1990.

I guess the oil crisis is something we are just going to have to learn to live with.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Everybody Break into Small Groups

I’ve been reading Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, still the classic book on Hitler and the Second World War. It is fantastically depressing, but I think it is important to reread it every once in a while.

Hitler, the Nazis, and the Second World War are a good measure of just how wrong things can go in this world—by which I mean the social world. Things can be, over wide swaths of humankind, exactly upside down. The worst can be wildly popular, the best despised, the aggressor can be universally seen as the victim, the victim as the aggressor, everyone can believe the opposite of the truth, the average man can murder, and unspeakably awful things can happen to perfectly innocent people. It burns away many possible comfortable illusions.

Though I love politics as a spectator sport, I also believe very little can be accomplished in this social world. It is too shot through with evil. What is useful in politics is rather to try to prevent the social world from imposing on the rest of our existence—to prevent totalitarianism. Where good can be done is done in art, in artifice, in religious worship, and in personal relationships with those around us. These are the things that can and do build the true Utopia, the New Jerusalem.

As Jesus said, in Matthew 18, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is often misquoted as “wherever two or more are gathered in my name"; but I think the upper limit is as significant as the lower one.

He was talking about personal relationships, between people who know each other, as opposed to large organizations on the social level. Similarly, surely there is a reason why, although he had hundreds of disciples, he chose only twelve apostles. And the apostles themselves understood that number as significant: when Judas departed, they chose one, and only one, to replace him.

I have also heard it said—perhaps by me—that communism can actually work, and can be a great system. But it only works in small groups of people who all know each other. Families, for example; or monasteries.

Timothy Leary too once said that everything that has ever been accomplished, for good or ill, has been accomplished by quite small groups of people.

Interestingly, extended families living together used to be commonly about that size—about a dozen. No doubt there was a reason for this. We need to do what we can to preserve families, but realistically, the real family is not available any longer to most of us in North America.

I think every Catholic or Christian congregation should be subdivided, as a matter of course, into smaller prayer groups of no more than about twelve people who meet for prayer, fellowship, and mutual support outside the Mass. This is the way it is supposed to work; and it is often done, in Protestant congregations. This is the way to heaven. This is the biggest unit that can reasonably be held against the general social evil, although there is no guarantee even here. Individually, we should seek groups of about that size.

Get Your Kicks: Best Magazine Covers Since 66

Journalism and print junkies like myself will probably enjoy this display of the top forty magazine covers of the past forty years in the USA. You'll probably remember some of these the minute you see them, even though you never subscribed to that magazine. It's a testament to the power of the image.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Struggling Rich

Long ago, there was a joke around Toronto about how the city’s three main dailies—in those days, the Globe, the Star, and the Telegram--would have reported the sinking of the Titanic. I can’t even remember how the imagined Telegram headline read. The good, grey, business oriented Globe supposedly would write “Shipment reported late at harbour.” And the Star would write “Star reporter saves puppy from sinking ship.”

The Telegram is long gone. The Globe in no longer so grey, no longer so business oriented, and no longer so good. But the Star hasn’t changed a bit in all these years. This is typical of “liberalism” generally—it is in fact profoundly conservative. And the Star has long considered itself the Canadian liberal flagship.

It still prefers praising itself to covering the news straight. And it is still completely out of touch with reality.

In her recent column, Antonia Zerbisias continues the tradition, as she regularly does, by patting the Star’s ample backside over its coverage of the current terrorist uproar.

She writes:

“What nailed this story is a dogged reporter pounding a beat, a paper investing time and resources on good old-fashioned journalism — something on which the corporate media, and the bloggers who attack them, can't, or won't, spend.”

Zerbisias

And get that—according to the Toronto Star, the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper, is the little guy fighting an insurgent battle against “the corporate media.”

According to the Torstar website, besides the Star, the Torstar corporation (TS.B on the TSE stock ticker) also owns “CityMedia Group, publishers of daily and community newspapers in Southwestern Ontario; Metroland Printing, Publishing & Distributing, publishers of more than 90 community newspapers in Ontario; digital properties including workopolis.com, toronto.com and LiveDeal.ca; and Harlequin Enterprises, a leading global publisher of women’s fiction.”

Welcome to the modern left—whose idea of insurgency is voting for greener policies during a stockholder’s meeting.

And that is clearly the constituency of the modern left: the rich. Economists say that making more money becomes a low priority for most of us after only about $20,000 US annual income (The Economist, “Tory-entalism,” May 27, 2006, p. 35). This is below the average Canadian income. Accordingly, promises of tax cuts and economic development, the conservative program, are more attractive to the poor, but hold little allure for the rich. The usual liberal call for raising taxes and slowing growth to concentrate on “quality of life” issues appeals directly to the rich, but not to the priorities of the poor.

Congrats to Antonia on that puppy, though.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why Us?

Pundits are now asking, “Why did they attack us?” After all, they note, unlike England and Spain, Canada did not ally with the US to go into Iraq. In comparison to many other nations—the Philippines, Poland, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Denmark, The Netherlands…--Canada would seem to have bent over backwards to avoid offending Al Qaeda and its ilk. Yet we too get argeted by the bombers.

But this is foolish thinking. It misses the point. Remember, Americans were asking the same question after 9/11. And what, indeed, had America done at that point to offend Al Qaeda? According to Bin Laden himself, their crime was positioning their soldiers on Saudi soil—in order to defend Saudi Arabia.

There is no way to avoid an attack by Al Qaeda. As with Hitler, appeasement does not work. Because like Hitler, they do not have any one or many particular demands that can be satisfied. What they want is an excuse to bomb.

It is not even that becoming Muslim, as some suggest, is the only way we could satisfy them. That cannot explain the attacks on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the common people of Iraq.

Not being rich and successful is what it would take. No more and no less. The vision that drives these terrorists is the same vision that inspired Lee Harvey Oswald, or Sirhan Sirhan, or James Earl Ray; or the killers of John the Baptist or Jesus Christ. “Here is someone who seems better than I am; here is something better than I can create. Therefore, for the sake of my self-esteem, which is what is most important to me, I must destroy him; I must destroy it.”

Islam is only the currently popular cover for this tendency, the current alibi; as, in other times and places, it was Marxism, or Anarchy, or Fascism, or indeed, a similarly perverted Christianity.

People like the Canadian bombers must be understood as common criminals, as garden variety psychopaths. No more and no less. There is nothing more mysterious about them.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Mommy Test

Another anti-male joke currently making the Internet rounds. Courtesy of a regular visitor to this site who, I assume, would prefer to remain nameless. I quote it verbatim as he received it:


Mommy Test

I was out walking with my 4 year old Daughter. She picked up something off the ground and started to put it in her mouth. I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.

"Why?" my Daughter asked.

"Because it's been laying outside, you don't know where it's been, it's dirty and probably has germs" I replied.

At this point, my Daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, "Wow! How do you know all this stuff?"

"Uh," I was thinking quickly, "All Moms know this stuff. It's on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don't let you be a Mommy." We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, but she was evidently pondering this new information.

"Oh...I get it!" she beamed, "So if you don't pass the Test you have to be the Daddy"

"Exactly!" I replied back with a big smile on my face and joy in my heart.



And the laughs just keep on coming!

Meanwhile, in other news, an absolute majority of North American children now grow up without fathers. Children without fathers have been shown to be more likely to commit suicide, turn to crime, do poorly in school and drop out, suffer from mental illness, become pregnant as teenagers, become psychopaths or serial killers, and live and die in poverty.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Trudeau's Wild Oats

A new book claims Pierre Trudeau, in his teens and early twenties, was an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler, an anti-Semite, and a Quebec separatist.

Ottawa Citizen

I suppose it is time for some revisionism about Trudeau. But my feeling is, so what? We knew much of this already, and could probably guess the rest. And who cares what somebody believed at seventeen?

Love Me, Love My Dog

I am a vegetarian myself. But I can’t help but notice that a great many people who are vegetarians and animal lovers are not terribly to other people.

Love for animals can become a substitute for love for one’s fellow man, and kindness to animals can be used to justify cruelty to humans. Animals, in the end, are easier to love, because they can be controlled and do not challenge one’s ego.

Hitler was a vegetarian. This was not, it seems purely for medical reasons, as some have claimed. Albert Speer reports that “he would often make fun of meateaters… If there were a meat broth I could depend on his speaking of ‘corpse tea’; in connection with crayfish he brought out his story of a deceased grandmother whose relations had thrown her body into the brook to lure the crustaceans; for eels, that they were best fattened and caught by using dead cats.” –Speer, Inside the Third Reich, p. 411.

And he was an animal lover. Speer says that his Alsatian Blondi “probably occupied the most important role in Hitler’s private life; he meant more to his master than the Fuehrer’s closest associates.” (ibid, p. 410. Any “reasonably prudent visitor,” Speer reports, avoided arousing any feelings of friendship in the dog. For Hitler was jealous of its affections.

This rings true. Psychopaths love animals, because they can be so completely under one’s control. Ceausescu and Caligula were also notable animal lovers.