Friday, July 21, 2006

The Fıfty Thousand

So it turns out that there are about 50,000 Canadian citizens living in Lebanon...

Reminds me of a pushy guy I ran into at the Istanbul airport, visiting from his home in Italy, who spent some time trying to decide whether it was in his best interests to enter Turkey on his Canadian, or on some other passport.

Are others getting as fed up as I am with this new breed of Canadians of convenience, who hold no allegiance to the country but see a Canadian passport as something of a fashion accessory? Are others as annoyed as I at hearing Canada described as a 'great hotel,' as Yan Marel has called it?

Bugs the heck out of me. Have we no pride in our own culture and history? Have we no self respect? Are we really ready to sell our heritage and our good name to the highest bidder?

I am not, mind, in favour of closing the door to immigration. Just the reverse. The trouble is that these people are not immigrants. They are tourists.

We need to do two things: fırst, no more dual citizenship. Anyone who gets a Canadian passport should show that level of commitment to being Canadian. Second, stop giving preference to the upper classes of Third World countries, as we do now with our financial and educational point system. These are the people who are fine where they are. They do not need Canadian citizenship, and are unlikely to express much gratitude for it. And they are, largely, the same people responsible for the dire situations in their home countries--at least, they are as a class. We do not need them, and will not benefit from having them. They will stay only so long as it is in their interest.

Let's go back to a preferential option for the poor. Let's go back to letting in people who will love Canada, wıll work hard to get ahead, and will stay to build the country. People whose children will call themselves Canadian.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bias on CBC and on NPR

William Watson, in a funny NatPost column, suggests social activists shoud pay for the CBC, as it is their house organ.

The U.S.'s NPR, though, is apparently just as biased. I downloaded a podcast from their religion programme to listen to on vacation. The subject was the new English mass, which will replace some of the Sixties wording with more accurate translations of the Latin.

NPR, properly, had two experts on to express their opinions. As every journalism grad knows, this is what ethical journalism requires: at least one spokesman for either side of a story.

The dispute, though, as NPR framed it, was purely between one faction of the Catholic Church that held the changes to be silly and unnecessary--expert 1--and another which found them an unacceptable capitulation to Rome--expert 2.

Funny ting that--NPR was apparently incapable of findıng a single Catholic spokesperson ın the US or abroad who accepted the authority of the Vatican.

What do you suppose the odds were of that?

John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani

I've said it before, and I expect to say it again: watch John Edwards. First, he won a recent Iowa straw poll. Now it turns up that he has the highest acceptability rating among Democrats. I expect to see him, not Hilary Clinton, as the Democratic nominee. Nothing is more certain political death than being the early Democratic frontrunner.

On the Republican side, interestingly, Rudy Giuliani comes up as more acceptable to more Republicans than John McCain. This goes against conventional wisdom, which holds Giuliani to be too liberal to win the Republican nod.

Good news for Republicans, I think, because Giuliani is a very strong candidate. I would expect him to crush either Edwards or Clinton. But how about a Giuliani - Rice tıcket? Yow!

Apologies, by the way, for any odd characters creeping into this post. I'm typing it on a Turkısh keyboard, and not all characters correspond to the English ones.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

And So I Have Sailed the Seven Seas and Come...

My apologies if this site is a little quieter than usual for the next few weeks. Its summertime, and your humble correspondent is vacationing in Turkey. And tryiıng to type this on a Turkish keyboard. No simple thing.

A recent piece in one paper or another raised an alarm. It reported that women in Britain rarely call the police more than once to accuse the same man of assaulting them. The conclusion the story dutifully took from this was that many women were living with continued assault.

Not likely. That assumption does not come from the real world.

What actually happens when a woman calls the polıce and claims a man has assaulted her, in Britain or in North America--and "assault" by this definition can be something as trivial as callıng her a name--is that the polıce burst into the home and haul the man away to prison, no questions asked. This happens even if. by the time the police arrive, the woman has changed her story and no longer claims to have been assaulted.

Basically, whatever happens from there, and whether the original charge was true or not, no man is likely to risk going near that same woman again. No matter what her intentions, you can be sure that is the end of that relationship.

Hence, obviously, no opportunity to call the police again over that same man.

Is this all in the best interests of women, let alone men or children?

I cant see how.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Happy Kateri Tekakwitha Day!

Tomorrow is my birthday. It is also, I am delighted to discover, the feast, at least in the US, of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

Kateri will be familiar, at least, to anyone who grew up in the Catholic Church in Quebec. The “Lily of the Mohawks” was born into the Turtle Clan living along the Mohawk River in upstate New York. She was the daughter of the clan chief and an Algonquin mother. When she was four years old, smallpox hit her village. It left her an orphan; it also disfigured her, and left her nearly blind. Her Mohawk name, “Tekakwitha,” means something like “she who bumps into things.”

The Mohawks were particularly hostile to Christianity—largely because it was identified with their historic enemies, the Algonquins and Hurons. It was the Mohawks who tortured and burned St. Isaac Jogues and the Canadian Jesuit martyrs.

Nevertheless, something in Tekakwitha drew her to this new religion. Perhaps her blindness and her orphanhood did something to cut her ties to this world, the social and the physical world, and compensated her by making her more aware of the spiritual world that envelops it. This is how it seems. She had herself baptized and became a devout practitioner of the new religion, in the face of the opposition of both her family and her tribe. She also refused to marry—no small thing among the Mohawks, and especially for an orphan. She did not want, it seems, that kind of commitment to the here and now.

Eventually, she had to flee for her life. She ended up among more distant relations at the Jesuit missions just outside of Montreal, eventually at Caugnawauga (Kahnawake). The mission was populated with similar exiles, Mohawks and other Iroquois who had converted to Catholicism and therefore had to flee their homes. But even among these devout, she established a reputation for devotion. Watching Kateri—her Christian name, the Mohawk pronunciation of “Catherine”--at prayer apparently became a village attraction. But she was always sickly and in constant pain, and died in 1680 aged only 24.

That seems to have been when her real life began. Her death “agony,” attended by the priests, was remarkable for her apparent peacefulness and the apparent absence of pain. But at the moment of death, her face was also transformed, according to eyewitness accounts.

The words of Father Pierre Cholenec, of the mission:

"Catherine’s face, so disfigured and so swarthy in life, suddenly changed about fifteen minutes after her death, and in an instant became so beautiful and so fair that just as soon as I saw it (I was praying by her side) I let out a yell, I was so astonished, and I sent for the priest who was working at the repository for the Holy Thursday service. At the news of this prodigy, he came running along with some people who were with him. We then had the time to contemplate this marvel right up to the time of her burial. I frankly admit that my first thought at the time was that Catherine could well have entered heaven at that moment and that she had -- as a preview -- already received in her virginal body a small indication of the glory of which her soul had taken possession in Heaven. Two Frenchmen from La Prairie de la Magdeleine came to the Sault on Thursday to be present at the service. They were passing by Catherine's cabin where, seeing a woman lying on her mat and with such a beautiful and radiant face, they said to each other, Look at this young woman sleeping so peacefully and kept going. But, learning the next minute that it was a dead body, and that of Catherine, they returned to the cabin and went down on their knees to recommend themselves to her prayers. After having satisfied their devotion for having seen such a wonderful scene, they wished to show their veneration for the dead girl by constructing then and there a coffin to hold such cherished remains."

Over the next weeks and years, Catherine reappeared frequently to various members of the community—always holding a wooden cross, and always with her body radiating light. The crucifix she favoured in life gained a reputation for miraculous cures.

She continues to appear today. Kateri Tekakwitha was declared venerable by the Vatican in 1940, and blessed in 1980. She is not yet acknowledged by the universal church as a full saint. But in Canada, among Native Americans, and especially in Quebec, few other saints are so beloved.

The stone that was rejected is become the cornerstone of the temple.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Alberta Strikes a Blow for Seniors' Rights

I learn in today’s news that Alberta is proposing to permit pharmacists to write prescriptions on their own authority.

I couldn’t agree more with this plan. Indeed, I proposed it myself, in this space, some time ago.

Firstly, it is an obvious step to reduce health costs, a growing concern. It seems terribly inefficient to oblige a patient to see an M.D. every time he or she wants, say, a prescription renewed. The massive and expensive training a doctor has is just not necessary for this.

Conversely, the quite thorough training a pharmacist receives seems more than adequate. I get the impression that the average pharmacist is bursting with drug expertise and feeling underutilized. And what he or she might lack, quite frankly, is easily made up by a simple computer program that matches symptoms and contraindications with medicines. Any consumer, indeed, can now quickly educate themselves pretty thoroughly over the Internet on anything they are taking.

Using pharmacists and computer programs instead of costly doctor’s visits will save huge amounts of money for the taxpayer.

But that is only the beginning of the real savings. Think of all the man-hours lost to doctors’appointments, which could now be avoided. Think of the huge savings to the economy of not needing to give employees time off during work hours to see a doctor over such trivial matters.

And in doing this we have broken a legal monopoly. Doctors may be perfectly benevolent and well-intentioned (or not), but monopolies are never to the advantage of the consumer or the economy. They should be avoided whenever they are not strictly necessary.

And consider, too, the much greater convenience and freedom for the consumer. Not to mention the fact that we ought to have full control over our own bodies, as a matter of human rights, and so be fully free to decide for ourselves what medicines to take.

Alberta has the right idea. Let’s hope they follow through.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Is There Anything Inside the Chinese Box?

A friend currently living in China reports that, to his eyes, things are not all skittles and beer there. He estimates 15% unemployment, and reports a lot of empty real estate. He suggests China might be a bubble about to burst.

Another case of that sure axiom, whatever everyone knows is true, is probably not.

It makes me think of that other "economic miracle": Hitler’s in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It was every bit as dramatic, at the time, as China's today. Hitler did a lot better than FDR at pulling Germany out of economic morass and making it boom.

But it seems to have all been based on a Ponzi scheme. Hitler's government was more or less just printing money, according to William Shirer, and absolute lack of transparency was letting them get away with it for a time. Over the long term, though, there was no way Hitler was able to sustain it.

Hitler frankly told his generals on the eve of World War II that he had no economic choice but to invade Poland. Without more booty, the economy was going to crash. And this soon after the looting of Czechoslovakia.

This probably also explains his otherwise seemingly reckless invasion of the USSR. He looted France thoroughly, imposing reparations far greater than those of Versailles. But within a year, it seems, the money was running out, without fresh conquests. The USSR was the one obvious target that was big enough to keep the machine running. But in the meantime, he invaded Yugoslavia on the thinnest of pretexts, an act that made little or no political or military sense. But perhaps brought in some needed plunder.

So too, perhaps, the ultimate explanation for the persecution of the Jews. They had money. Seizure of their assets might have been necessary. Up to and including gold teeth, slave labour, and trying to make soap from their body fat. Conquered countries were also milked for slave labour.

He seems to have had an economic tiger by the tail. As Albert Speer himself points out, in his autobiography, the Nazi system and Hitler’s personal ruling style were in fact massively inefficient. The whole thing took smoke and mirrors.

This also explains Italy's poor showing in WWII. Mussolini had been in power longer than Hitler. He had, famously “made the trains run on time,” and was credited with a similar economic miracle. But without Hitler’s conquests, his little show was falling apart. He admitted to Hitler on the ever of war that he had reached the point of bankruptcy. His government no longer had any money for strategic materials or armaments. Their token contingent for the Battle of Britain was still flying ancient biplanes.

Authoritarian governments seems to get away with “economic miracles" for a while, by sleight of hand and by seizing the assets of enemies or scapegoats. Stalin was given similar credit in his day; he pulled it off mostly by carting factories and equipment back to the USSR from conquered territories in Europe, following Hitler’s methods. And his Potemkin Village remained standing for another 35 years or so. But it all tends to collapse eventually—and rather suddenly.

Chinese Communism has had a good run. But perhaps we should be very suspicious by now of what seems to have been a charmed life. That may only be a measure of how bad the collapse will be when the real bills come due. There is no transparency in the Chinese economy. It too may be a Ponzi scheme, or partly a Ponzi scheme. There do seem to be massive inefficiencies, as my friend has seen.

So it could all crash tomorrow, almost without warning.

If it does, there will be hell to pay not only in China. China’s economy has grown large enough that it is a major customer and supplier to the rest of the world. If China collapses economically, it is going to be tough for the rest for the world to avoid recession or depression.

But there’s more. Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese government does not hold its citizenry in an iron grip. Quite the reverse: the challenge in China is to maintain some semblance of order at the best of times. My friend claims that there are already an acknowledged 74,000 to 90,000 violent demonstrations in Mainland China annually. I strongly suspect--and Chinese friends have agreed--that if the Chinese economy stalls, let alone collapses, the Communist government will lose all support. That's the current social contract.

Unfortunately, there is no obvious organized opposition available and ready to take over. It may be a very hard landing. Political chaos seems the most likely scenario.

I expect it to happen. In the foreseeable future.

Europeans ("Whites") as Scapegoats

A perfect scapegoat should appear to be powerful, but not really be. He or they must appear to be powerful, in order to make it plausible that they are secretly controlling everything and truly responsible for all or much of the world’s evil. But they must not really be very powerful, or it will not be possible to persecute them.

The Jews fit the bill nicely for the Nazis.

Europeans, aka "Whites," often fit the bill today—specifically, the European empires of the last century or two. The whole dogma of “postcolonialism,” currently so popular in the academy, is an elaboration of this particular conspiracy theory. Like most conspiracy theories, the main beneficiaries are those who really are in power; as the Nazis knew well, such theories tend to promote social harmony and acquiescence within the group. The idea that the European period of empire was a unique historical event, which terribly damaged the societies on which it was imposed, allows current regimes and elites everywhere to escape blame for anything.

But the whole idea is absurd. As time marches on, it becomes less and less plausible that current poverty and other undesirable conditions in a given country are really caused by a regime that left power fifty or more years ago. Compare, for example, the condition of Japan or West Germany fifty years after their utter devastation by Fascist misgovernment and lost total war: weren’t they doing fairly well anyway by 1995? So why isn’t Burkina Faso, or Sri Lanka? Can it really all be the fault of the evil French and English? Can they really have been that much more destructive than the Nazis?

The thesis also requires turning history on its head. There was nothing unique about European empire but that Europeans were doing it. Empire and colonialism has been the standard governmental setup for most of the world for the last several thousand years. If five thousand years of being part of one empire or another did not already devastate Libya, for example, it is hard to see how fifty years or so of Italian government did it.

Where Europe stands out, if at all, is in resisting empire. Even as far ago as Greece and Rome, the idea of empire was considered, in the West, somehow illegitimate. This is probably not true of any other part of the world. Far from inventing empire, Europe’s unique contribution has been the invention of the nation-state and of democracy, which ultimately makes empire impossible. That, and the odd notion of the self-determination of ethnic groups.

The two to four hundred years during which Europe expanded imperially were therefore an anomaly, in its larger history. For Asian history, by contrast, it was the norm. So if anyone was changed by it, it must have been Europe. It seems indeed in many cases to have been accidental, not a part of a grand strategy. More a matter of wanting to establish the basic stability needed for trade, and becoming embroiled in local conflicts at local insistence.

That, and an altruistic desire to spread what knowledge the West had acquired. Joseph Conrad, even in his classic criticism of European empire, Heart of Darkness, makes this clear. The West, in its own mind, was in the business of empire in order to help the rest of the world. It was considered foreign aid.

This, too, is a very Western concept: the odd notion, as old as the New Testament, that when you possess some important knowledge or information, the thing to do is to share it as widely as possible. This is, surely, remarkable generosity. The more obvious and selfish thing to do would be to preserve secrecy, in order to benefit from the information personally in competition with your neighbour.

Springing from this we get, among other things, modern science. It is far from intuitive that one should publish one’s experimental results or discoveries, making them open to all comers. European “imperialism” was of a piece with this. It bore within itself the assumption that the “subject” peoples, once the knowledge transfer had been completed, would begin managing their own affairs. And this, remarkably, is just what the Europeans did. For most non-Europeans, this, self-determination, was a completely new experience, not a return to some pre-colonial norm. European “imperialism” was, both in theory and mostly in practice, anti-imperialism.

I do not mean to suggest that empire was always benevolent. It was not benevolent for Ireland, or for Poland, or for the Belgian Congo. It was not benevolent under the Nazis or the Imperial Japanese.

But just because that was so, it is important to make the distinction. There is a big difference, say, between the colonial experience of Canada and of Korea; and if we lose that distinction, we lose the distinction between good and evil.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cold Fusion No Illusion?

Yet more evidence of the universal truth that anything everyone believes is true probably isn’t. Guess what’s back in the news? Cold fusion.

From New Scientist:

AFTER 16 years, it's back. In fact, cold fusion never really went away. Over a 10-year period from 1989, US navy labs ran more than 200 experiments to investigate whether nuclear reactions generating more energy than they consume - supposedly only possible inside stars - can occur at room temperature. Numerous researchers have since pronounced themselves believers.

.... In December, after a lengthy review of the evidence, [the US DoE] said it was open to receiving proposals for new cold fusion experiments.

That's quite a turnaround. The DoE's first report on the subject, published 15 years ago, concluded that the original cold fusion results, produced by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah and unveiled at a press conference in 1989, were impossible to reproduce, and thus probably false.

... The snag is that fusion at room temperature is deemed impossible by every accepted scientific theory.

That doesn't matter, according to David Nagel, an engineer at George Washington University in Washington DC. Superconductors took 40 years to explain, he points out, so there's no reason to dismiss cold fusion. "The experimental case is bulletproof," he says. "You can't make it go away."

From issue 2491 of New Scientist magazine, 19 March 2005, page 30

Willing Executioners

Daniel Goldhagen, in his popular book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, holds all Germans responsible for the Holocaust. He describes Germany as “a society that produced a cataclysm, the Holocaust, which people did not predict or, with rare exceptions, ever imagine to have been possible.” The Holocaust, he says, “was a radical break with everything known in human history” (p. 28). He argues that, to understand the Holocaust, Germany under the Nazis “must be approached as an anthropologist would a previously unencountered preliterate people and their beliefs” (p. 45). It is terribly wrong to suppose the Germans were modern, post-Enlightenment people who think as we do.

German civilization, he argues, has always been anti-Semitic to the core. “European anti-Semitism is a corollary of Christianity,” he claims (p. 49). “Antisemitism has been a permanent feature of Christian civilization” (p. 39).

What seems most apparent to me from all this is that Goldhagen is guilty of exactly what he blames the Germans for: he dehumanizes the Germans just as they, he claims, dehumanized the Jews. He demonizes Christianity just as Christians, he claims, once demonized Judaism.

In doing so, he undermines his entire argument.

Goldhagen is also wrong to think that the Holocaust was all about the Jews. Simple blunder; this is a common error. We forget that less than half of the inhabitants of the concentration camps seem to have been Jewish: an estimated 6 million Jews died in them, but an estimated 13 million overall. Not to mention the enslavement and planned enslavement of many millions more, including essentially the entire Slav race.

But, this being so, Goldhagen’s thesis that it was all made possible by a permanent grudge against the Jews in German civilization, or Christian civilization, just does not work. It is dead on arrival.

But oddly enough, quite inadvertently, in his tirade against Christianity and against Germany, he demonstrates how the Holocaust really happened.

People need scapegoats. Scapegoats are what makes social life possible.

All you need is a group that is “outside,” in some sense, the given society, outside present company.

When such a group can be found, and all evil thrown upon them, it lefts a great burden off the shoulders of everyone else. Everyone else can feel good about themselves, and avoid guilt. Better yet, they can avoid blaming one another, or getting blamed. No matter what they do. Because they are members of the elect, they cannot do wrong.

The next step, working together to destroy the source of evil, becomes an objective around which society per se can form.

In Hitler’s time, the Jews were handy. As Goldhagen intimates, as a group, they were quite successful. It was therefore possible for people to believe conspiracy theories about their “limitless power” and that they were “responsible for nearly every harm that has befallen the world” (p. 28).

But there is, sadly, nothing unique about the Jews in this regard. It is completely wrong to see the Nazi Holocaust as something unique. Would that it were. But we have actually seen bigger holocausts since. Cambodia, Darfur, Bosnia, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Zimbabwe, and on and on. Far from being the exception, it is the rule. Societies run on scapegoats, from small groups all the way up to civilizations.

Goldhagen does not actually claim that Germans were uniquely “primitive” and irrational in their thinking. Obviously, he also thinks that all of Christian civilization is, or was, primitive and irrational, And, of course, he must think the same of “primitive” cultures per se. Indeed, he says, “most societies throughout history have been governed by absurd beliefs at the center of their cosmological and ontological notions of life, which their members have held axiomatically” (p. 29). Unfortunately, he does not see the obvious paradox here: if all other societies but modern secular society, and perhaps Judaism, have been nuts without knowing it, how can he possibly be confident that he himself, and our society, are not also nuts without knowing it?

We should, on the one hand, have more respect for the dead. They themselves become a very common scapegoat, because they are never present to defend themselves; they are necessarily never part of present company.

We should, on the other, be careful to avoid any doctrine that tends to exempt ourselves from guilt. Suspect a scapegoat. What if, for example, far from being wholly different from the Germans of the 1930s, we ourselves, put in the same situation, would probably react in exactly the same way? Either participating in the killing and enslaving ourselves, or, if we were not involved, at best shrugging our shoulders and considering it no moral issue?

I’m confident we would. And the reason I am confident, is that we are. For one thing, we are as sanguine as most Germans were about the holocausts happening on our watch. When Idi Amin started slaughtering everyone, most foreign reaction seemed to be to think it was funny. Nobody is doing much about Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or Darfur, right now. Perhaps not close enough to home.

But it is even worse than that. We have our own scapegoats. Societies always do. Most obviously, we feel no moral qualms at all, at least as a society on the official level, over abortion. But this is in itself a bigger mass murder, in numbers, than Hitler’s. And we are willing executioners: an estimated quarter of all Canadian women have themselves now had at least one abortion performed.

The trick is the same one used against the Jews: children are painted as the source of evil. Really: all that stuff about “overpopulation” we’ve been hearing since the fifties. Children were/are going to destroy the world. They also supposedly keep good Aryan women enslaved, axiomatically barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. And anyone too fond of children is suspected of pedophilia. Unborn children are portrayed as less than fully human, just as were the Jews. They are spoken of in terms of disease, as the Jews were: compared, for example, to tumors.

A corollary factor, of course, is that there is visibly some advantage to the rest of us to killing them: in the case of the Jews, it meant their wealth could be confiscated, their high positions filled by eager others. In the case of kids, abortion gave freedom to have sex whenever and with whomever we wanted—without financial risk.

We have other scapegoats. But let’s not dilute the point. Time to look at the beam in our own eye.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ignatieff Pulls Away

A milestone has passed in the Liberal leadership race: the deadline for signing up new members. It’s time to say where the various contenders seem to stand at the end of this first mile.

Answer: Michael Ignatieff ahead by a length or more.

Ignatieff was front-runner right from the starting gate, because the vote on the left of the party is split among several strong candidates: Bob Rae, Stephane Dion, Gerard Kennedy, Ken Dryden. Ignatieff, on the other hand, has a clear lead on the relative right. Scott Brison might be from about the same turf, but he seems well behind, having stumbled even before the gun sounded.

Given that the party has been in the hands of the Martinites for a few years, also to the right in Liberal terms, and they controlled party memberships, one can expect a majority of Blue Grits in the membership lists before the current membership drive. So other candidates really had to do well here.

And, to have much chance to stop Ignatieff, a clear alternative must emerge on the left, and quickly. Otherwise no momentum; and momentum is needed for bandwagons. It is of course possible for a big move to happen late, as hoisted Joe Clark past better-known contenders in his first leadership win. But the later it gets, the less chance there is, as a clear frontrunner tends to sew up more endorsements and start to look inevitable.

And note, Clark was running for the conservatives. That makes all the difference. Liberals love a winner, and close ranks quickly around a frontrunner. Once Martin looked like a shoo-in, nobody else could even manage a campaign. Ask yourself; how many times in the history of federal Liberal leadership races, ever since there has been such a thing, has the early frontrunner lost? By my count, exactly never.

So, again, it was important for a clear alternative to Ignatieff to emerge quickly.

That is just the opposite of what seems to have happened in the membership drive. Instead, Joe Volpe, until now a second-tier candidate, pulled off the most new memberships. Worse, he beat both Bob Rae and Stephane Dion, probably the two most likely alternatives to Ignatieff, in what is supposed to be their power base, Quebec. So, reportedly, did Ignatieff. So, while Ignatieff seems to be holding his lead, the possibility of opposition to him coming together quickly in an “anybody but Ignatieff” movement has been reduced.

Nor is it clear that Volpe delegates would automatically go to someone other than Ignatieff on a later ballot. Volpe’s base seems to be more ethnic than ideological.

Even more trouble for the non-Ignatieffs is that Gerard Kennedy seems to have established something of a power base in the West. This makes him a plausible stealth candidate. The Liberals forget about the West, but he has it largely to himself, and it is a large pool.

Because they are all so close, the non-Ignatieffs may now be tempted to take shots at one another; hoping to pull away from that tight pack. Again, this helps Ignatieff: they will have less energy and ammunition left to stop him.

So I’d have to call Ignatieff the strong favourite at this point, barring some catastrophic stumble by the candidate himself.

I look forward to Ignatieff as Liberal leader. I think he is a strong candidate, and, partisan considerations aside, it is best for Canada if each party puts their best candidate forward.

Volpe? No, he’s not going anywhere. He has the growth potential of a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Slavery: The Full Story

Sheldon Stern has a piece in the latest issue of Academic Questions (highly recommended journal, by the way) on “The Full Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade."

Note the qualification already in the title. Many people seem to believe that slavery was almost uniquely a thing done by white-skinned Europeans, or even Americans, to dark-skinned sub-Saharan Africans. But this was only one slave trade; slavery and slave trading has been common throughout history. What is most notable about the European experience is that the countries of Europe were the first to prohibit slavery.

But there are many more common misconceptions. For example, how many realize that even the slave trade to the Americas was not primarily to the British colonies or to the North American continent? Brazil was the primary destination; continental North America accounted for only about 8%.

Nor did the African experience of slavery begin with the Europeans. Slavery was a long-established practice in Africa when the Europeans arrived. Exporting slaves was also well-established—over the Sahara to Muslim countries. Indeed, someone has estimated that, up until the nineteenth century, there were more Europeans enslaved in Africa than Africans enslaved in the Americas.

Most of the slaves sent to the Americas were enslaved by fellow Africans. Those for export were then marched to the coast. About half of all captives—a total of ten million people--died on this march, before they ever saw the ships. When they arrived, those the Europeans chose not to buy were often beheaded on the spot.

This was, to the African elites, a major source of income. When, in the early nineteenth century, Britain banned the slave trade in all its possessions, there were protests in Nigeria.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Affirmative Inaction

Last week, local papers report, 347 men graduated from Qatar University. And 1,300 women. (The Peninsula, July 1, p. 3.)

So much for discrimination against women in the Middle East.

Canadian stats are not that far off.

Where is the cry for affirmative action for men?

Meantime, in Britain, that country’s race relations chief, Trevor Phillips, has just called for legal quotas to force the universities to take more students from “non-white” backgrounds (Gulf Times, June 23, p. 5).

Census figures show ethnic minorities make up 10% of Britain’s population.

Their proportion of the university student body nationwide? 16%.

Why is the cry not for quotas for whites?

The answer in both cases, of course, is vested interests; specifically vested bureaucratic interests.

Once you have appointed a bureaucratic structure to deal with a particular problem, you have guaranteed that that problem will never be (officially) solved.

Careers depend on it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sex Discrimination in Hell

Some interesting bits of Islam, printed in our local paper’s regular Friday religion feature:

“The Messenger of Allah [the Prophet Mohammed] … passed by the women and said ‘O women! Give in charity, for I have been shown that you shall be the majority of the people of the Fire.’”

“The Prophet said ‘I was shown the Fire and found that the majority of its inhabitants were women.’”

“The Messenger of Allah said, ‘There are three whose prayers will not be raised above their ears - … a woman who spends the night whilst her husband is angry with her…’”

All three quotes are from the Hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, reported by those who knew him during his lifetime, and not from the Qur’an. This makes them less authoritative. But finding them in separate Hadith is significant.

Feminists might well want to object to Islam over this; it does seem to present women as morally inferior, and not equal to men. But if you’re a Muslim, you’re faced with a stark choice: who are you going to trust, in particular with your immortal soul? The Prophet Mohammed, who spoke for God himself, or Gloria Steinem?

Interestingly, the Hadith also present Mohammed as consistent on why so many women are going to Hell: “They are ungrateful to their husbands, and deny the good they do.”

Touche?

Surely it is fair to observe that Steinem and the feminists, at least, are somewhat stinting in their praise for men in general, and for the hard work they do and have done throughout history. Why shouldn’t this be considered, objectively, a failing?

It’s almost as if Mohammed were talking specifically about the modern feminist movement. But then, he is supposed to be a prophet, isn’t he?

On the other hand, might modern feminism also be an expression of a feminine tendency that is much older? The Greeks, for example, had many legends of women taking over control in one place or another: the Amazons, or the women of Lemnos. It always seemed to end in killing all the men.

If nothing else, it all sure puts the kibosh on the silly claim, popularized by, among others, Dan Brown in his popular novels, that Christianity is somehow uniquely hostile to women.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Limbaugh and the Viagra

Much sniggering in the press and on the web a few days ago over Rush Limbaugh being stopped at an airport with a bottle of Viagra, the prescription made out not to him but his doctor.

Bill O'Reilly has argued that this looks like persecution of Limbaugh, and I agree.

The most disturbing thing is not anything Limbaugh has done, but that it showed up in the newspapers.

First, what is the justification for Viagra requiring a prescription? Here in the Arab Middle East, where men are still relatively free, it is over-the-counter. Shouldn't be anyone else's GD business.

Second, what is the justification for searching someone's shaving kit before he boards a private plane? Especially someone whose identity is well-established? And not for weapons--for something unrelated. Verges on unreasonable search and seizure.

Third, what is the justification for leaking this to the media, when no charges were laid? That, it seems to me, should be actionable as a violation of privacy and abuse of authority.

Fourth, what business does any reputable newspaper have printing such gossip-mongering? Where is the public need or right to know? Tasteless and unprofessional, at best.

The one person who comes out looking best over all this is Limbaugh. He looks like a martyr for his beliefs.