The Book!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Open Wide and Relax. I'm a Professional Educator.

I have in the past posited on this blog that current programs of teacher education probably have negative effects—that someone with subject knowledge and common sense would do better at teaching than someone with specific training in “Education.” But are there any statistics available to bear this out?

There are. An ongoing teacher shortage in the US has prompted many states to set up “alternative certification programs,” to partly bypass teachers' colleges. The program called “Teach For America,” meets this teacher shortage by signing on university grads with strong academic records or records of extracurricular leadership but without teaching credentials and placing them in inner-city schools for two years, in return for a scholarship.

The result: according to several studies, “Teach For America” teachers acheive better results for their students than fully-credentialed teachers. If the evidence is not entirely clear, at worst, there seems to be no case left for the value of a degree in Education.

According to Wikipedia:

“In a study published by the Urban Institute and the Calder Center in March 2008, the authors found 'that TFA teachers tend to have a positive effect on high school student test scores relative to non-TFA teachers .... Such effects exceed the impact of additional years of experience and are particularly strong in math and science.'"

“Mathematica Policy Research also addressed this question in a study published in June 2004. The study compared the gains in reading and math achievement made by students randomly assigned to TFA teachers or other teachers in the same school. The results showed that, on average, students with TFA teachers raised their mathematics test scores 0.15 standard deviations more than the gains made by other students. This is equivalent to students having received one extra month of instruction. ...”

- Wikipedia, “Teach for America”

This latter study is cited by “Education Next” as having particularly sound methodology—at least as education studies go. This study also suggested that starting TFA instructors did better than Education grads with years of classroom experience.

Unfortunately, the data are not as clean-cut as they might be. States still require some form of “alternative certification” for TFA participants, and these certification processes remain largely controlled by the Ed. Schools. So the most we can really say is that less exposure to Education Schools seems better than more.

TFA has also, interestingly enough, lost its federal funding.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Breaking News

In case you missed it, an angel was spotted recently in a South Carolina hospital.

Benedict on Gender

"That which has come to be expressed and understood with the term 'gender' effectively results in man's self-emancipation from Creation (nature) and from the Creator. Man wants to do everything by himself and to decide always and exclusively about anything that concerns him personally. But this is to live against truth, to live against the Spirit Creator."

- Benedict XVI, address to the curia, this week.

Well put. The term "gender" is nonsense. The above comment has inspired rage and curses from homosexual lobby groups; nobody seems to have noticed that it also, and more directly, puts paid to feminism. "Gender" in the illiterate non-grammatical sense was originally a feminist notion.

Male and female created He them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Operation Follow Through

You may have never heard of “Operation Follow Through.” It was the largest educational experiment ever performed. It cost a billion dollars. It involved 700,000 students. Yet it remains obscure, and none of its recommendations have been implemented.

Part of Lyndon Johnson's “War on Poverty,” the idea for Follow Through was to test all of the popular theories of education at that time—the mid-sixties—to discover which would best boost the scores of disadvantaged children in the early school years. Saving them, ultimately, from a life of poverty.

A wide range of test schools were assigned nine different teaching approaches. Each also had a “control” school with similar demographics and in which no trial was being held. Eleven different measures of outcome were used, grouped into three categories: improvements in basic skills (the three Rs), improvements in cognitive skills (i.e., ability to reason), and improvements in affective skills (e.g., good old “self-esteem” and ability to cooperate with others). This was by mutual agreement of the advocates of the various systems: of the approaches, three broadly stressed basic skills, three stressed cognitive skills, and three took an affective approach.

The results were, surprisingly, quite clear. All three approaches stressing affective skills scored poorly—worse than the controls. They scored worse even on affective skills. Stressing self-esteem simply doesn't work—least of all to build self-esteem. Two of the three approaches stressing cognitive skills also scored worse than the controls—including on developing cognitive skills. One just about broke even—still no better than letting the average classroom teacher do his or her own thing. Two of the three approaches stressing basic skills similarly about broke even—they did well on affective measures, badly on cognitive, and were a wash on basic skills.

This is already rather alarming—the best that all the educational theorists in America seem able to do is no worse than the average classroom teacher. And that's the exception.

But that is not the end of the story. One basic skills approach was clearly superior—superior on all measures. It did better than any other approach, and the control, for teaching basic skills. It did better for developing cognitive skills. It did better for developing affective skills.

It was called “direct instruction.”

We must be careful here—all data from the social sciences is shaky. We know from the study only that this approach works best with most disadvantaged children in the early grades. It does not follow that it would work best with students in the later grades, or with advanced students, or even that it would work best with all disadvantaged students. In fact, one striking result of this study was that the success of all methods varied widely by school.

However, it is still remarkable that this study has resulted in no change in public policy, no change in educational theory, no change in teacher education, and no general move to adopt the winning technique.

There are, I believe, two reasons for this. First, Direct Instruction was the only model tested that did not come from a Faculty of Education. It did not even come from a trained teacher. It was developed by an ad executive who originally created it to teach his own children.

This was pretty embarassing for all the education experts. It also threatened their livelihoods.

But more importantly, with Direct Instruction, trained teachers were not necessary. As the approach's web site boasts even today, with DI, anyone can teach successfully. It hands the teacher a script, and all he or she has to do is follow it.

Good-bye to the teaching profession, at least at this level. They apparently have nothing of value to sell, to justify their pay or status. In fact, they are probably standing in the way of a good education.

This of course explains why the teaching establishment so hates school choice. A school using Direct Instruction could produce better results for less money, simply by avoiding “qualified” teachers.

The bottom line: the fastest way to improve education would probably be to close all the Faculties of Education, and to stop recognizing their degrees. Qualifications for teaching should be qualifications in the subject being taught.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hard Truths on Soft Skills

“Soft skills” are all the rage now in education. It’s now become conventional wisdom. Everybody knows they are important—and more important to education than whatever technical expertise we convey, even in a technical college. We know this, ultimately, as educators, because employers tell us so. They say “soft skills” are more important to the success of their business, and to an employee getting ahead, than any specific knowledge or skills we can give them.

Just one problem—with this new emphasis on “soft skills,” we are reinventing the wheel. And, this time, getting it wrong.

You’d think we, as educators, could learn.

What, exactly, are “soft skills,” you may ask? It’s admittedly a bit difficult to get a fix on it. A seminar I just attended cited “the human dimension,” “caring,” and “learning how to learn.” Wikipedia gives a different list: “participates as a member of the team; teaches others; serves client/customers; exercises leadership; negotiates; works with cultural diversity; motivates others.” The next Google hit is an article that lists the top five “soft skills” desired by business as “math, safety, courtesy, honesty, grammar.”

Nothing “soft” here, really. In sum, what we are apparently talking about is neither more nor less than what is commonly referred to as a “classical education” –and as that term is understood, not just in North America, but in all cultures. Grammar and math? That’s obvious: the good old “three Rs” of what used to be called “grammar school.” But teaching virtue was also always at the core of any education system, up to the modern era. The churches, or the temples or the mosques, ran the schools. If they weren’t considered schools themselves, as they are in Judaism.

As for “the human dimension” or “caring”—we cannot, of course, teach people to have specific emotions, and to do so if we could would be a violation of human dignity; though to the extent we can, religion is the way. But what really can be taught, in this regard, and all that really needs be taught, is good manners. That used to be a vital part of the educational experience, too. A good private education was meant to teach one to be a “gentleman.” To give you a proper “finish.” Confucian education spent about one fifth of the curriculum on the matter of right ritual.

Surprise—it matters. If you don’t think so, you have never dealt with a store clerk.
“Learning to learn”? Check. That was the point of courses in philosophy, algebra, geometry, and formal logic—originally the main focus of “middle school.”

Working together, and leadership? That’s what high school used to be about. That’s why we all used to study rhetoric—learning how to motivate people, learning how to dispute honourably and fairly, and learning the proper rules of parliamentary procedure, which are simply the time-tested rules for getting along in groups.

We used to study all this, until we dumped it at some point for more “relevance,” and more “science.”

Unfortunately, the new push for “soft skills” seems to be totally unaware still of the past ten thousand years of human thinking and experience. Its gurus seem to have no fix on what is actually required. They think, for example, it all has something to do with “EQ” or “Emotional Intelligence”—a self-contradictory concept, which, if pursued energetically, seems to have as its goal the production of a perfect psychopath, skilled in manipulating the emotions of others without compunction for their own gain. When they seek to tackle “values,” they seem to think this involves simply getting along in groups. Unfortunately, this premise would necessarily condemn both Jesus Christ and the Jews of Nazi Germany as immoral.

Nor is such an ethic likely to produce anything like an ability to think for oneself, let alone leadership.

An additional, serious problem is that our teachers themselves have no special training in any real “soft skills.” How can they teach what they do not themselves know? How are they any more likely to get it right than their average student?

It’s all a nightmare. And a nightmare of the “education profession’s” own making.

Of course, as a Canadian, I am familiar with a standard response to any lament about our schools. The Canadian education system ranks, on objective testing, as one of the best in the world. How can we complain? We’re doing better than everyone else…

Not quite everyone, of course. Overall, we come third, after Finland and Hong Kong. We are doing better than the US and the UK—that’s what we Canadians tend to notice.

The whole world has been moving away from the classical model for generations; there is no straight comparison available in these figures. However, it is worth noting that _most_ of the countries that cluster near the top of the scale are East Asian, where the classical tradition is still strongest. And we _can_ do a straight comparison, if we want: between North American public schools and North American private schools following a classical curriculum. On standard tests the latter’s students win almost every time.

What is to be done? The obvious first step is to change our teacher training. We need to educate teachers, first, in the classical skills and the classical readings; or employ as teachers those who already have this grounding. They will then be able to help the next generation. This is just what we should cover in teachers’ colleges.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Man's Fate: The View from India

In India, they are not (yet) inhibited by political correctness. I received this lament (edited for clarity) over the transom from an Indian email group:

When a girl cries -- the world consoles her. But when a boy cries -- they say, “Come on, be a man.”

If a girl slaps a boy -- the boy must have "done something." If a boy slaps a girl -- the rascal doesn't know how to properly respect a woman.

If a girl talks to boys -- she is "very friendly." If a boy talks to girls -- he is "flirting."

If a girl meets with an accident – it must be the mistake of another. If a boy meets with the same accident – he doesn’t know how to drive.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Burning Times

Cinders are falling everywhere. We are at a time of massive change, in North American society.

What if Obama is implicated in the current Illinois scandals?

True, there is no evidence of this yet; but the flames are lapping closer now than they were a day or two ago. It looks like Rahm Emanuel has some involvement. And, frankly, I personally became suspicious when Obama went on record saying he had had no contact at all with Blagojevich about the appointment of his successor to the Senate. Surely he had; and why wouldn't he? Why lie? It is as Shakespeare had it: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

It's going to be messy for the US if this is so. No honeymoon, and already the handicap of inexperience. Will he be able to govern effectively? With a Democratic majority in Congress, will there be any hope of removing him by impeachment? Not for two years, at least. While the US economy is already in a tailspin; and, as Joe Biden himself pointed out, America's enemies will be waiting to test the new, unknown leader.


Things are scarcely less lively back in Canada. Stephane Dion went in one week from prime-minister-in-waiting to private member. He is an honourable man, has served Canada well with his Clarity Act, and deserves a better legacy. I hope one day he is appointed to the Senate, where we could benefit from his constitutional insights.

I doubt Michael Ignatieff will do any better for the Liberals. Polls already show that the coalition plan hurt the Liberal brand terribly. It made them look like an elite out only for themselves, feeling entitled to power in disregard of the popular vote or even the interests of the country. This is a view of the Liberal Party many have already been nursing for years; so it strikes home. Dumping Dion and appointing Ignatieff without a full leadership vote now only underlines that perception. It will be even worse if Ignatieff, as a leader unelected even by his own party, goes on to assume prime ministership under the coalition agreement. And, with or without the coalition, as an academic, a Harvard prof, an expatriate, and a genuine blue-blooded noble, he is highly vulnerable personally to the charge of being elitist and out of touch.

In any case, the whole ad hoc nature of the past two weeks has made the Liberals look pretty amaterish. It hasn't helped the Conservatives or the NDP either, but the Liberals look worst, and stand to suffer worst, as the traditional party of the Canadian establishment.

These are bad times to be part of either the Canadian or the American establishment.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Great Books

The idea of a solid classical education is staging a comeback recently, as it periodically does. Most such programs are based on the Encyclopedia Britannica “Great Books” series, originally published in the 1950s and revised in the 1990s.

The notion is an excellent one: a foundation in the greatest thoughts of past times. That is exactly what an education ought to be, isn't it? You don't throw over two thousand years of human thought casually. Or at least you surely shouldn't.

But the Encyclopedia Britannica's list is of course not the first. The Harvard Classics were widly popular at the beginning of thr 20th century, compiled by a Harvard president on the premise that reading them all would be the equivalent of a Harvard liberal education.

Some of the Harvard selections, though, now seem quirky. John Woolman's Journal? Lord Byron's play Manfred? Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi?

So do those of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It, unfortunately, confines itself to “Western Civilization.” It also seems to scrupulously avoid anything of religious significance. Which leaves a vast hole in human experience. Both sets also include a wide selection of scientific materials, which I do not see as very useful. Science is of its essence not based on appeal to past authority. It is against the scientific spirit to still read Boyle's laboratory journals—you should be doing your own experiments.

What we think of as the canon of great books, then, changes with time.

For my part, while I find the Harvard selection often odd, I have a bigger problem with giving a student a foundation only in Western civilization, and indeed largely only in the Graeco-Roman tradition. This severely, and cruelly, limits the education it produces, and the world view it fosters, to something old and out of touch with the modern world. Most of human thought has not occurred in Western Europe. In order to actually come into contact with the Asian classics, something I very much wanted to do to complete my own education, I had to take a major in Religious Studies. No other faculty seemed to recognize Asia's existence. They still don't beyond the most superficial and modern political considerations. This is a huge problem, to my mind.

Here is a list of further volumes any truly educated person should have read, which are missing from the Encyclopedia Britannica's set. They could probably be included without expanding the set, by removing some of the scientific writing.

The Bible—although I can see limiting it to the selections one can fit into 450 pages or so. Priority to the New Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Job, Canticles, Proverbs, Isaiah.

Selections from the Talmud—the great compendium of Jewish knowledge. Cull what you can put in 450 pages, in any case.

The Code of Hammurabi

The five great Confucian classics, the core of a Chinese classical education:

The Book of Changes (I Ching)
The Book of History
The Book of Songs
The Book of Rites
Annals of Spring and Autumn

Other essential bits of Chinese culture:

Analects of Confucius
The Great Learning
The Doctrine of the Mean
Mencius
Tao-Te-Ching
The Art of War
poetry of Li Bai
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch

From India:
Selections from the Vedas
The Krishna Gopala cycle, as culled from the Brahmanas
The Ramayana
The Bhagavad Gita
A Life of the Buddha

From Muslim civilization:
1001 Arabian Nights—already included in the Harvard set
poetry of Rumi
The Hanged Poems
Ibn Khaldun's History
(Note that I do not include the Qur'an, on the grounds that Muslims feel it cannot be read properly in translation)

Readers probably have their own opinions. What have I missed?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Rally for Canada

I have been asked, as a conservative blogger, to publicize this initiative.

Unfortunately, I cannot endorse it. Their claim is that the proposed Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition would “overturn the results of the last election,” and that it is somehow illegitimate. It would not. It is not. The opposition plans are perfectly legal and constitutional and perfectly democratic, and I have no quarrel with them. I do not want to see the Liberals-NDP-Bloc take power, but that is a different question. I am not prepared to mess around with the Canadian constitution for partisan advantage.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Pius and the Jews

The Jewish Ledger blows the lid off what has been a real-life--and very successful--Communist plot to discredit the Catholic Church.

Some choice quotations from the story:

"This is the greatest character assassination in the 20th century." --Gary Krupp

“what we learned was truly world-shaking. There is nobody who did more to rescue Jews than Pius." --Rabbi Eric Silver

Hitler's foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop ... allegedly claimed at the Nuremberg Trials that he had "a whole desk full of protests" from the pope, and from no other European leader

Most historians mark 1963 as the year that soured public opinion, with the production of a play, "The Deputy, A Christian Tragedy." ...It was later revealed that "The Deputy" was part of "Operation Seat 12," a KGB effort to discredit the anti-Communist Pius.

The full story is here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hot Times on the Hill

Suddenly these are exciting times in Canadian politics.

It looks to me as though the Conservative government really is going to fall, and a coalition government of the Liberals and NDP will take power.

The legalities are perfectly clear. Accept no guff about this. If a government falls so soon after an election, the Governor-General's first choice should never be to dissolve the House; it is to appoint anyone who looks as though they might have the confidence of the House. The leader of the opposition would be an obvious choice, although it could also be another member of the government party. If, however, the leader of the official opposition can present a written coalition agreement, signed by an absolute majority of members, the GG really has no other choice but to appoint him prime minister, and see if he can survive a confidence vote. To do otherwise would be downright illegal. All hell would break loose.

There is also no reason why the parties forming the coalition agreement should feel obliged to put forward the current leader of the official opposition as PM. If they don't like Dion, they are perfectly free, among themselves, to choose any other individual, inside or outside the Commons. It could be Jack Layton, or Michael Ignatieff, or John McCallum, or Jean Chretien, or Rick Mercer, if they like.

Is it going to happen? Negotiating such an agreement is tricky. There is a reason why it has not been attempted since the First World War. But I suspect the opposition parties are so tired of being forced to back Harper against their will to avoid an election, that they really want to do this.

Will they pay for it at the next election? Probably. It looks grasping, and the Conservatives are sure to argue that they subverted the democratic process. In fact, they will have done nothing of the kind—together, the NDP, Liberals, and Bloc represent many more voters than the Conservatives do. But that's the way this sort of thing has tended to play in the past—as in the King-Byng affair of the 1920s.

But perhaps another bit of history must be served. Dion, without this, would be the first Liberal leader since Edward Blake never to have been PM.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Affirmative Action: The Graph



Small Dead Animals features this graph and asks why the NDP has never gotten anywhere electorially, when Reform climbed to official opposition within ten years of its founding.

But note the years between 1989 and 2003. Fairly dramatic plunge, no? What happened then is simple: two markedly under-qualified leaders, chosen only because they were female.

This shows more broadly, I would suggest, the overall effects of affirmative action anywhere. If you choose under-qualified candidates, your actual results are going to nosedive. The under-qualified will underperform. Everyone suffers as a result.

I also think it is remarkable that nobody ever, so far as I know, has pointed out this interesting fact about the history of the NDP: that Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonaugh truly sucked as federal leaders. They have been immune from criticism despite an obviously awful performance, I submit, because they are women. (Albeit this immunity from criticism extends only to women of the left--ask Sarah Palin or Margaret Thatcher about that). At worst, they were merely "ill-served by their advisors."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SOME SIMPLE TRUTHS OF LIFE BY GEORGE CARLIN...

…With some simple answers by Steve Roney


4. If man evolved from monkeys and apes why do we still have monkeys and apes?

While this sounds like a stupid question and a stupid error, it is in fact the foundation of both Marx and Nietzsche.


7. Could it be that all those trick-or-treaters wearing sheets aren't going as ghosts but as mattresses?

Or maybe as sailors in a high gale?


9. If a man is standing in the middle of the forest speaking and there is no woman around to hear him...is he still wrong?

Wrong question, male chauvinist pig!


10. If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself is it considered a hostage situation?

I think we have to leave that up to the innocent bystander personality to decide.


11. Is there another word for synonym?

Yes, but it amounts to the same thing.


12. Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do "practice?"

Not so long as it makes us perfect.


13. Where do forest rangers go to "get away from it all?"

Above the tree line.


14. What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?

Threaten him with extinction.


15. If a parsley farmer is sued can they garnish his wages?

That, or lien on his crop.


16. Would a fly without wings be called a walk?

Only by someone cruel and insensitive. He's merely survivability-challenged.


17. Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?

They fear someone will hide in there until his car has pulled away to avoid paying.


18. If a turtle doesn't have a shell is he homeless or naked?

Same as an egg: he's fried.


19. Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?

They're pre-shrunk llamas.


20. Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?

Only if they hold a poetic license.


21. If the police arrest a mime do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?

No; goes without saying.


22. Why do they put Braille on the drive-through bank machines?

Affirmative action.


23. How do they get the deer to cross at that yellow road sign?

The power of advertising.


24. Is it true that cannibals don't eat clowns because they taste funny?

No; they hate the honking noise when they bite into the noses.


25. What was the best thing before sliced bread?

Peanut butter and jelly injection machines.


35. Do pediatricians play miniature golf on Wednesdays?

Until the wee hours…


36. Before they invented drawing boards what did they go back to?

Reinventing the wheel.


37. Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?

Not necessarily. Do bugs enjoy buggery, bats battery, or cuttlefish cutlery? I think not.


38. If all the world is a stage where is the audience sitting?

They're on the platform, waving goodbye.


39. If God dropped acid would he see people?

Far out! So this creation thing was all a bad trip?


40. If one synchronized swimmer drowns do the rest have to drown too?

No; all must drown simultaneously, or lose big points.


41. If the #2 pencil is the most popular why is it still #2?

The number one has been reserved for military use.


42. If work is so terrific how come they have to pay you to do it?

For the tax base.


43. If you ate pasta and antipasto would you still be hungry?

Not especially. If, however, you eat them both simultaneously, you will create a black hole that will suck you in like spaghetti.


44. If you try to fail and succeed which have you done?

Founded another dot com.


45. Why is it called tourist season if we can't shoot at them?

You're supposed to use traps.


Source: George Carlin & Steve Roney
All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Good Neighbour Hitler

There is a new tendency towards revisionism over the Second World War—arguing that it was not, in fact, the “Good War” we have for so long understood it to be.

Sucg revisionism is, at the same time, both necessary and appalling. We must forever challenge received wisdom, certainly. Our freedom depends on it. On the other hand, though, failing to see WWII as a definitive battle of good against evil seems to me to be the worst sort of moral relativism. If we cannot see even this as a plain case of right and wrong, we have smashed our moral compass and put out every star in ths sky that might show us our way in the dark.

Eric Margolis treads the recent footprints of Pat Buchanan (Hitler, Churchill and the Unnecessary War) in a recent Ottawa Sun column.

Let's examine this argument point by point.


Margolis argues first, far less controversially, that World War I was wrong—for Britain and America. That they should both have stayed out.


“Britain,” he says, “could have halted the war, or let the continental powers fight until they came to a truce. But Churchill and his fellow imperialists determined to destroy Germany, a new rival to Britain's wealth and power.”


Right. And how might Britain have halted the war—other than by treatening to come in one one side or the other? That's what they did—and their participation in the war was the result. They had a treaty obligation, and a moral obligation, to defend neutral Belgium. While it is possible to argue that other nations entered the war foolishly or for ignoble motives, it is hard to single out Britain, as Margoilis does, for special criticism.

As to sitting out the war, what grounds does Margolis have to imagine the result without Britain would have been a stalemate? Even with Britain, France was very nearly lost in 1914, as it had been in 1871, and Russia really was lost in 1917. Without Britain’s involvement, it is far more likely that the result would have been a continent united against Britain under German leadership, as it was under Nepoleon a century before. This is an insane risk to expect the leaders of Britain to take.


“The war should have ended in 1917 when both sides were exhausted and stalemated. America's entry into the war resulted in Germany's defeat and ensuing post-war suffering.”


Both sides were not exhausted and stalemated in 1917. Russia was in full collapse. The armistice with Germany was signed in December, freeing a vast new contingent of German arms for a new offensive in the West. At best, without America's involvement at the crucial time, and the promise of much larger American armies arriving soon, the war might have dragged on much longer.


“The German, Habsburg and Ottoman Empires were torn apart by the lupine victors and reduced to ruin, creating today's unstable Balkans and Mideast.”


To suggest that the Balkans were stable until the fall of the Habsburgs and Ottomans is bizarre. It was the chronic instability of the “Balkan tinderbox” that led to the Great War in the first place.

It is also odd to lament that the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires were dismantled. Are empires such a good thing? Both were dismantled while paying close attention to, and very much in accord with, the wishes of their inhabitants, following the Wilsonian principle of the self-determination of peoples. The Arabs were actually not perticularly overjoyed to be ruled by Turks, nor the Czechs to be ordered around by Austrian Germans.


“...had a Carthaginian peace not been imposed upon them at Versailles and Trianon, there might never have been a Hitler, Communist Russia or Second World War.”


Communist Russia could hardly have been avoided but for Versailles and Trianon. Versailles was signed in summer, 1919, Trianon in 1920. Communist Russia was already in existence, since 1917.

As to the Peace of Versailles being particularly harsh on Germany, it is worth pointing out that is was much less harsh than the peace imposed on Germany after World War II—which has oddly not produced the rise of another Hitler-like figure. It was also less harsh than the peace Germany herself had just imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk, in 1917.

Perhaps Hitler could have been prevented had it been harsher?


“Churchill made the fatal error in the Second World War of backing Poland's hold on Danzig even though Britain could do nothing to defend Poland...”


If this was a mistake, it was not Churchill's. Chamberlain was still Prime Minister.
It is true that England could do nothing directly to defend Poland. It could equally have done nothing at Munich to directly defend Czechoslovakia, or later, to defend the Soviet Union. But it is quite novel to see this as a legitimate excuse to do nothing in the face of aggression. Indeed, it would have automatically ceded Hitler the right to fight on only one front at a time, and removed from the table Germany's greatest strategic fear, the two-front war.

Margolis comments almost offhandedly—as if he hopes by this to avoid close inspection of the claim-- that Hitler was interested only in “attempts to reunite millions of Germans stranded in these new nations by the dreadful Versailles Treaty.” That was Hitler's own claim, but it might not be wise to syetematically believe his propaganda. By the time of the Polish crisis, this claim had already been disproved: he had already invaded and annexed non-German Bohemia and Moravia, the present Czech Republic. He would later, of course, annex much of Poland and enslave its populace.

Sacrifice Poland, and Chamberlain would almost of a certainty only have had to face Hitler later, with Hitler stronger, and Britain weaker.


“[T]he western democracies should have let Hitler expand his Reich eastward until it inevitably went to war with the even more dangerous Soviet Union. Once these despotisms had exhausted themselves, the western democracies would have been left dominating Europe.”


When Britain declared war on Germany, Germany and the Soviet Union were allies. There was no reason to assume Germany and Russia would turn on each other out in the near future. They were more likely to continue, together, arms locked at the elbows, to trample down all the Western democracies.

Even had Britain had the luxury of staying out while the two went at each other, what would have been gained? Instead of being able to take them down one after another, the West would have had to face the victor, with the combined assets of the two, in some future Armageddon.


“In the end, Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt were so obsessed with crushing Germany, and so seduced by 'Uncle Joe' Stalin, they handed half of Europe to the Soviet Union...”


Not exactly. Nothing was handed to the Soviet Union. The final lines, the runners for the Iron Curtain, were more or less where the armies met. The Soviet Union had taken half of Europe by force of arms, not been handed it, and Churchill and Roosevelt would surely have had to fight them for it if they had any objections. It is understandable if they did not want to put their peoples through that.


“...the Soviet Union, a far more murderous and dangerous tyranny than Hitler's Germany.”


I don't think that claim is justifiable either. Granted, Stalin killed more people than Hitler—he had more time in power to do it. But there is still something very special about deliberately launching a world war and deliberately trying to annihilate a race. The difference between Hitler and Stalin was the difference between a slow cancer and a cocked gun against your ear. You deal with the gun first.


“[Western leaders are] idolizing the arch imperialist, Churchill.”


Wait a minute. I thought imperialism was now a good thing. Or is it good only when not done by Anglo-Saxons?

All I can think is that it is a damned good thing for human civilization that Pat Buchanan was not advising the British government in the months after Munich.

The Campbellvitches are Coming

This music warms and astounds my Celtic soul. But it's from Bulgaria!

Taking next plane out. Will send postcard.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Case for Canadian Conservatism

The turnout in the last Canadian election was the lowest ever, under 60%.

I did not bother to vote myself—although I could have, by absentee ballot. Who cares? It seems to matter so little who wins, in Canada—the policies are the same regardless.

This suggests that Stephen Harper's main strategy, as leader of the Conservatives, is wrong.

Harper, following conventional Canadian wisdom, has been tacking to the centre, serene in the knowledge that there is nobody to his right to split the small-c conservative vote.

Mistake. As Karl Rove showed in George Bush's two election victories, and John McCain demonstrated by losing this year, when turnout is a major factor, covering the centre ground is not the best strategy. Often, the better idea is to fire up your own base. If you can get your supporters more motivated to come to the polls that the other side, you win.

This, surely, would have been the case this election year. With such low turnout, and Stephane Dion failing to light fires among his Liberal colleagues, had Harper been significantly better at inspiring small-c conservatives, he probably could have snagged his majority.

It is conventional wisdom that Canada is not a conservative country, that it is instinctively centre-left. If so, by being clear and conservative, Harper might have inspired two liberal voters to come out and vote against him for every one conservative he drew to the polls. But is that really true?

The West, we know, is perfectly amenable to “conservative” doctrines; Reform showed that, even if Diefenbaker didn't. But Ontario, supposedly the Liberal heartland, can also respond to a clear, consistent conservative message. Mike Harris proved that. Ernie Eves and John Tory, trying triangulation instead, have in fact done less well. This is “Tory Blue” Ontario we're talking about: home of the thirty-year provincial Conservative hegemony, not so long ago.

The Maritimes may have become addicted to Liberal equalization payments; but they are at heart deeply socially conservative. They are Canada's “Bible belt.” They ought to be reliably conservative in just the same way as the US South. Like the Atlantic provinces, the South bought the dole for a while, under the New Deal. But they have grown out of it. So could Halifax and St. John's.

This leaves Quebec. In Quebec, in recent history, ideology simply has not mattered—it has been overshadowed by the question of sovereignty. But, once a tipping point is reached, the Conservatives can represent that option just as well as the Liberals. The relative success of the ADQ in the last provincial election suggests there is some real appetite for a straight conservative option. On a full-blooded conservative platform, ADQ took 31% of the vote. Last federal election, in Quebec, the CPC took 21.7%. They are running well behind the conservative ideology per se.

Who does that leave? Nunavut?

All that is required, I suspect, is a leader who is a leader: who does not follow the present opinion polls, but seeks to change them. That's what Margaret Thatcher did, in Britain, that's what Churchill did, and that's what Ronald Reagan did in the US. That's what Mike Harris and Ralph Klein did in Ontario and Alberta. A similar leader really could do the same in Canada as a whole.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Right Stuff

Events are against him: the economic trouble, his own inexperience. He may have come to power too soon. But to be honest, Barack Obama has in him what makes a great president.

He is a great communicator. A great speaker, and, if he indeed wrote his own books, a great writer.

Many different types of people become president, but surely the most successful presidents have been those who shared this talent. Without it, being president hardly matters. Only with it can one really make a difference.

Reagan, of course, with his experience as an actor and, before and after it, as a journalist, was known as “The Great Communicator.” This also made him “the Teflon President.” FDR, with his fireside chats, was another. So was Lincoln—witness the Gettysburg Address.

In Canada, Ralph Klein is a classic example. He was virtually invicible politically, thanks to his journalistic talents. So was Rene Levesque, another former journalist. In Britain, both Disraeli and Churchill were also trained communicators, distinguished authors apart from politics.

That is what it takes.

McCain was a fine candidate, but he arguably lost to Obama in the end because he did less well at communicating a vision, a theme, to Americans. Obama had “Real Change.” McCain had “end pork barrel spending”; or, more charitably, “Country First.” It sounds worthy, but it doesn't have the same ring, invoke the same images of a better future, as, say, “The Square Deal,” “The New Frontier,” or “Compassionate Conservatism.” McCain was a great communicator in town hall meetings or at the back of the bus, but not directly to the general public: not on TV or in set speeches. He inspired by his deeds, but not his words.

So who on the right has the right stuff for 2012?

Fred Thompson is talented. When he's on his game, he rolls like thunder. But he apparently, to his credit, lacks the desire. And he will be a bit old to be a candidate by 2012—though not as old as McCain today. He spends too much time clearing his throat.

And there's Mike Huckabee. Preaching also teaches one to communicate, and certainly to inspire. Obama's own rhetoric owes a lot to a pracher's cadences. William Jennings Bryan, Tommy Douglas, Martin Luther King, Bible Bill Aberhart, and many more rose to political prominence from this training. Now Huckabee is also learning the ropes as a TV journalist. He should be in devastating form by the time 2012 rolls around. There is one concern, however: the preacherly tone seems to lead more often to prominence in opposition than to power. We honour prophets; but the role of prophet is very different from, and generally runs in counterpoint, to that of king.

Who's left? Surprise—Sarah Palin. It seems to have escaped general notice that her academic training is in journalism. She was a TV reporter before she went into politics. That's why she knows how to project through that screen. Give her a few more years of executive experience, and she may be not just political dynamite, as she is now, but a political hydrogen bomb.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Who Wanted Those Lousy Grapes Anyway?

Okay, I was wrong. There was a Bradley effect, but it was only about five points; not enough to pull McCain past Obama.

Let's try sour grapes. Some have said that winning this time is a poisoned chalice. I hope they're wrong, but if we are facing prolonged economic troubles, it will scuff up the Obama presidency and Democratic ascendancy pretty quickly.

In 1929, we had a similar, albeit so far much worse, financial crisis. In reaction, the Canadian people quickly threw out the Liberal government, and elected the Conservatives under RB Bennett. In the US, though, the next presidential election was not until 1932. As a result, Herbert Hoover and the Republicans got tarred forever with blame for the Depression, as things just got worse for the first three or four years.

In Canada, though, Bennett and the Conservatives were ultimately blamed, even though they tried all of the same “New Deal” policies that Roosevelt did, the Liberals returned to power in the next election, were credited with the eventual recovery, and held on for 23 more years.

If we are facing a similar period, the Democrats may now be left holding the bag; they are in Bennett's position. They may have been given just enough rope this time to hang themselves.

I have also long thought that the oughts are the Sixties run in reverse. Clinton was Eisenhower, Reagan was FDR, and the election of 2008 is the election of 1968 rerun.

That makes Obama Nixon.

If so, his presidency may well end in tears. And the Nixon presidency did not swing the nation to the right; instead, it marked the years in which the new left really took hold, in all areas of the culture.

So it may be now, for the new right.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Last Thoughts on the US Vote

This post is written as Americans actually vote.

First the bad news: the opinion polls did not get closer in the last few days. Every single poll showed Obama ahead at the end, even by a growing margin. It looks as though his half-hour TV pitch worked for him. And Obama's grandmother dying the day before the election will win him sympathy votes.

On the other hand, Obama's comments on “bankrupting” anyone who builds a coal plant may help McCain at the last minute in some key states. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Montana, Colorado, Indiana, and North Dakota are all in the top ten of coal-producing states, and all close contests. Virginia, New Mexico, and Ohio are not far behind. If all those close states now go to McCain, he wins.

And we can still hope for the Bradley effect to be big enough to take McCain over the top. If it is ten points or more, added to just about all the polls, it wins McCain the popular vote.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tom Bradley Comes Out for McCain

According to an email by a rogue Obama staffer read by Rush Limbaugh on his program yesterday, the Obama campaign believes what I do. They believe the “Bradley effect” is real and will happen. And they estimate it at about the same size as I do, into the double digits.

Here's the quote:


"Do not believe these public polls for a second. I just went over our numbers, found that we [that is, the Obama campaign] have next to no chance in the following states: Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada. Ohio leans heavily to McCain but it's too close to call it for him. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa are the true toss-up states. The only two of these the Obama campaign feels confident are Iowa and New Mexico, but now Obama's headed back to Iowa on Monday. The reason for such polling discrepancy is the Bradley Effect, and this is a subject of much discussion in the campaign. In general, we in the Obama campaign tend to take a ten-point percentage in allowing for this, a minus ten-point percentage for allowing this and are not comfortable until the polls give us a spread well over this mark."


I think this has to be true. In fact, we can already see, and almost measure, a “Bradley effect” actually happening.

According to the McCain camp's polling figures, voters who are still “undecided” fit a distinct profile: “older, downscale, more rural, and ... certainly economically stressed. They are quite negative about the direction of country and seek change. They voted for Bush over Kerry by a margin of 47% to 24%.”

They also indicate a very high degree of interest in the election.

Based on their interest and their previous voting record, they have almost certainly already decided, and decided heavily in favour of McCain. They are not truly undecided at all, but simply not inclined to admit to a stranger that they are not voting for the pollitically correct choice. That's the Bradley effect. The real undecideds are probably already being counted by polls as in Obama's camp.

The “undecideds,” according to the polls, constitute about 8% of the electorate at this point.

If that eight percent broke entirely for McCain, of course, it would give him an extra 8 points. If they break two-thirds or three-quarters for McCain, as the same voters did for Bush last time, there's a Bradley effect of 5-6 points.

But that neglects the true undecideds probably now counted in Obama's column. If they are really undecided, and, say, really about 8%, and so break evenly between the two candidates, that takes 4% from “Obama's” vote, and hands it directly to McCain—for a swing of 8%. Add 5: a Bradley effect of 13-14%.

And what do the polls actually show? Real Clear Politics shows an Obama lead of 6.5, and closing. Zogby's daily results actually now show a tiny McCain lead.

It is not enough.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama's Still Going Down

By this time, I expected John McCain to have left Barack Obama choking in the dust in the US Presidential election campaign.

I expected that, as an untried candidate, the odds were good that Obama by now would have been brought low by either gaffes or unfortunate discoveries about his past. And the press, having glorified him unreasonably in the past, would then, by now, have turned on him.

I was right about embarassing things turning up in his past: Rev. Wright, Tony Rezko, ACORN, the New Party, old quotes about wanting Supreme Court judges to transcend the intentions of the founders, Bill Ayers, illegal campaign donations from Mickey Mouse, and on and on. I was right about the gaffes, too: Joe the Plumber, nost notably, and a loose Roman candle by Joe Biden saying electing his running mate would lead to an international trial of Obama's mettle. Come to think of it, Joe Biden himself is a gaffe.

But I was wrong about the press. They have not yet turned on Obama. Just the reverse: they have become more blatantly partisan in his favour week by week, and far more than ever before. Instead of covering them, they have basically done their best to suppress all these stories. They have as much as already declared Obama elected.

Some have theorized an unspoken pact at work: in return for getting Barack elected with a Democratic majority in both houses, the old mainstream media types expect a renewed “fairness doctrine,” applying not just to radio and TV but also the Internet. This, they hope, will suppress the new voices that are swiftly robbing them of their viewers, listeners, readers, advertisers, and livelihoods.

I doubt this. For several reasons:

1.Such a new law would be unlikely to survive a Supreme Court challenge.

2.You can't control the Internet, because you can't control foreign sites. A suppression of free speech on American blogs would only be a boon for Canadian (and Qatari?) bloggers; and Canadian Internet-based talk radio.

3.It would be too unlikely to work; instead, the blatant partisanship seems likely to hasten their decline, driving readers to those new voices to get the real news.

4.The left is not smart enough to pull off something this coordinated.

No, I think the failure to turn on Obama is based on something else.

It might still have something to do with news sense. Yes, the media are long overdue to find out he's not the Messiah. Even so, the bigger they build him, the better the eventual news when he blows. So there is no compelling reason to pop the bubble now. And, if he does actually get elected, it is intrinsically more newsworthy than if McCain does--”First Black American President.” Not to mention the most leftist president ever, with the legislative majority to try something dramatic. That could generate lots of news. Then there will be lots of time to destroy him later.

Unfortunately, this instinctive attitude, while good for the news business, would of course be very bad for America. If Obama is discredited only after he is elected, the cost will be a failed presidency, and a rough four years for everyone.

I think there may be another reason—a bit of wisdom as old as Aeschylus. In “Prometheus Bound,” Heaphaestos explains Zeus's cruelty with the observation, “his rule is always harsh whose rule is new.” A tyrant who most fears being toppled is most inclined to harsh measures.

Just so, the mainstream media, once so powerful, seeing their power slip so swiftly away, may be up for one last mad fling: seeing if they can actually skew the news enough to elect their favoured candidate. Flexing their power to the maximum before it's all gone.

Afgter all, if you're going down with the Titanic anyway, you might as well finish the champagne.

However, I still don't think they are going to pull it off. First, the press bias is too blatant. People are beginning to talk. It is losing its intended effect. It may now even start to generate a backlash, against both Obama as well as the MSM. McCain has at last started to rise quickly in the polls, perhaps just in time to pull off a victory.

Second, even if it is effctive, such press bias is likely to create of increase a “Bradley effect.” If everything they read and see on TV says Obama is going to win, and should win, people will be that much shyer of saying to a stranger that they still want to vote for McCain. If the Bradley effect has in the past typically been in the range of ten percentage points, with this kind of media push against the pricks, it should this time be, if anything, something higher than that. Obama is now leading by 5.9% in the poll of polls, with that gap closing.

I say he still loses.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2012: Early Prospects

Has this occurred to you? If McCain wins this time, there is as very good chance both presidential nominees in 2012 will be women.

Given his age, McCain may pack it in after one term. His VP then becomes the automatic frontrunner to replace him.

If Obama fails this time, who is the presumed frontrunner for the 2012 Democratic nomination? His runner-up in the primaries: Hillary Clinton.

Realistically, though, I don’t think Hillary will ever be the Democratic nominee. She’s been around too long; the Democrats are too partial to fresh faces.

I think Obama could have another shot at it, though.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Was Wrong

Okay, I predicted a bare majority Conservative government, and it did not happen.

Let me point out, though, that the actual vote spread was large enough to, in ordinary times, produce a Tory majority. It's just rather unpredictable how the actual seats are going to fall. Newspaper headlines saying “Canadians deny the Conservatives a majority” are really rather fanciful or metaphoric.

It was not enough, I think, because the NDP did not do as well as expected, failing to sufficiently split the leftward vote; because the BQ did better than expected, blocking by a whisker a Tory breakthrough in Quebec; and because the Conservatives are now the only national party, spreading their vote more thinly than the others.

It's Not Over

Everyone seems now to assume that Obama has the election won. An Irish bookie has actually begun paying out, cutting his losses on an Obama win. Rassmussen Markets has President Obama trading at 83.2, President McCain at 16.7.

I must be nuts. I still think McCain is going to win.

McCain had, I think, a very good third debate. He beat Obama soundly, and he projected a strong, very understandable message: “He's going to raise taxes. In the middle of a recession. And you can't believe him if he says he isn't. You don't know him.” Joe the Plumber could not have been invented as a better spokesman for the issue. Obama, by contrast, did not seem to have a clear message or a clear program for the perilous times. He did not seem—and this all along I have felt was his Achilles' heel—to care.

Debates don't usually count for that much, but a good last debate is better than a bad one. It should take two weeks for any bounce to fully appear, and that will bring us very close to election day.

The timing for it all is very good, and fits McCain's usual m.o. McCain runs best as the underdog; he is best under pressure. With everyone feeling Obama is inevitable, all eyes are on Obama; and there is now just time enough for second thoughts. McCain's campaign has played this opportunity well. As someone wisely said earlier in the campaign, if the central issue at the end is George Bush, Obama wins. If the central issue is Obama, McCain wins.

And what do the polls say?

Anne Coulter claims that, since 1976, the major media polls in the last month of a campaign have “never been wrong in a friendly way to Republicans.” When they were wrong (albeit they were not always wrong) they overestimated Democratic support by 6 to 10 points.

That's without the “Bradley effect.”

It makes sense. Supporting the Republicans is the politically incorrect choice. Democrats hate Republicans in a way Republicans do not hate Democrats; and the chattering classes are solidly Democrat. So there is no surprise if 3 to 5 percent of the polled population regularly lie to pollsters in an effort to preserve social peace.

That's in an average year. Add in the unique unpopularity of the Republican “brand” this year, seen in the polls on Congressional races. Then add in the possible Bradley effect—the more so since Democrats have already pretty openly played the “race card.”

Real Clear Politics now has Obama leading by 6.9%, with the gap closing.

It's not enough.

Canada's Coming Role as the Centre of the Universe

With all the other news going on, nobody seems to notice it, but it looks as though Stephen Harper is negotiating a free trade deal with the EU.

It makes tremendous sense. For Europe, the attractions to free trade with Canada are great. Canada has a lot of oil. Europe lacks a secure supply. This is not to mention Canada's other rich natural resources. And both Britain and France feel historic ties.

If it happens, Canada in turn would have a unique competitive advantage, as the only nation trading freely into both the European and North American markets. It would make great sense for companies from both zones to relocate production to Canada as a result. It also provides Canada with its historically-needed counterbalance to US dominance, filling the gap left by the dissolution of the British Empire. More than most countries, Canada lives by external trade. If we can boost trade with Europe, it will cushion us somewhat from our over-dependence on one market, that of the US.

Of course, it also helps Canadian consumers; and we are all consumers.

It is an exciting prospect, and one, I think, whose time has come.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Case for Laurentia

The Quebec-Ontario border along the St. Lawrence River is, in the end, artificial. It cuts Montreal off from the English-speaking part of its hinterland, which naturally extends through the St. Lawrence Plain to the Frontenac Axis, just before Kingston, and up the Ottawa River. Similarly, the border along the Ottawa splits in two a region that really developed culturally as one; the Ottawa Valley remains quite different from the rest of Ontario, and the Gatineau Region quite distinct culturally and politically from the rest of Quebec.

Perhaps one day, to resolve these anomalies, it might be worthwhile to carve out three provinces where today there are two, Quebec and Ontario. Ontario would spread from Kingston and Algonquin Park west, a province centred on the Great Lakes. The land east of Kingston and the head of the Ottawa would be joined with Montreal and that part of Quebec south and east of Trois Rivieres, including the Outouais and perhaps the Noranda- Rouyn region.

This would give Canada one province, Laurentia, in which French and English-speaking populations were almost the same; indeed, the boundaries could be set to make this so. It might well become a thoroughly bilingual province, and a bridge for national unity.

Imagine how this might change the equation for Canadian federalism. How could Quebec separate without Laurentia and leave behind so many French speakers? Conversely, how could Laurentia separate and take with it so many English speakers? It would be a forced marriage, perhaps, but it would be a marriage that much less likely to ever end in divorce.

Less importantly, it would also help with the equailty of provinces. It has always been awkward, for such matters as Senate reform, that two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, were so much bigger than the rest.

This region has always produced much of what is most interesting and most distinctive in Canadian culture—and for good reason. It is the mixing of cultures that makes for great art, and it is, historically, the mixing of the English and French-speaking cultures that has made Canada. With the artificial barriers removed, Laurentia might become that much more productive, and go much farther in developing a solid, enduring, glorious, and distinct Canadian culture.

It would help Montreal financially. Geographically, Montreal ought to be the business capital of Canada, and was until relatively recently. All transportation funnels through here. It has been in slow decline for decades because of Quebec separatism, Quebec cultural protectionism, and Quebec economic policies. Freed of this and made capital of its own, perfectly bilingual region, it should quickly rise again as Canada's great metropolis, the preferred site for any Canadian head office.

Laurentia, as I call it, would, not least, be to the advantage of French-speaking Canadians. They would have a proper choice: those who believe in cultural isolation and fear for the decline of their traditions, can remain in Quebec. Those who believe the future is brightest with bilingualism and an openness to other cultures can choose Laurentia. If the economy or politics of either spot becomes unpalatable, the average Francophone would now have the option of the other, without having to surrender his French culture.

My Canada already includes Laurentia, and I imagine this is true of many Canadians. I grew up there. Because of this, I often feel I have no province now. Irish Eastern Ontario is a very different place frome that Ontario centred on Toronto; and West Island, Anglophone Montreal is a very different culture from that commenly meant when one says "Quebecois."

It's time we were maitres chez nous, n'est pas?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Election Tomorrow

The Canadian election is tomorrow.

The polls are all over the place.

In the last few elections, the Nanos-CPAC-SES polling has been most accurate.

Its final poll shows Conservatives 33%, Liberals 27%, NDP 22%.

That's a six-point spread.

Traditionally, 6.5% to 8% is needed to pull off a majority.

But the final trend is to the Conservatives--and with the NDP close behind the Liberals, the left-wing vote may be split more than usual. In a first-past-the-post system, that may allow a few extra Tory candidates to come up the middle.

I predict a bare Conservative majority.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Bradley Effect

Many argue that there is no such thing as a “Bradley effect.” Others think that it has faded in recent years.

I don't believe that. My gut says there is such a thing. Not that people are disinclined to vote for blacks--people are disinclined to tell pollsters how they really intend to vote if they think their choice is less than socially acceptable. This favours blacks, women, and perceived front-runners in the polls as against the actual vote.

If there is a Bradley effect, we will not have seen it yet in this US election cycle. In the primaries, Obama was running against a woman, and a Democrat, who was expected to win. Nothing “politically incorrect” in choosing a woman Democrat. Even so, Obama most often underperformed the polls, and did best in caucus states.

But admitting one prefers a white Republican man to a black Democrat might be a different story. Even without the race factor, Republican candidates usually do better in the actual vote than in the presidential polls. And Obama is now widely expected to win. Intrade has Obama at 78.4, McCain at 22.7.

So, if there is going to be a Bradley effect, how big is it likely to be?

I looked it up. It is not that easy to calculate—it depends on which pre-election poll you assume is most reliable, and what other factors might have intervened between poll and election day. But for Bradley himself, it was “in the double digits”--the polls were more than 10% off the actual vote. It is also sometimes called the “Wilder effect”--for Douglas Wilder, it was 8.5 to 10%. For Harold Washington in Chicago, it was about 10%. For Dinkins in NYC, it was about 12%.

So—10%, on average. That means that, if it exists, Obama needs a 10% lead in the polls to win.

Currently, Real Clear Politics has him at 7.4% up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who is Obama?

Pundits are wondering why in Ohio, where early voting has begun, turnout has actually been historically low. This is odd, in an election that is highly competitive, of historic importance, that has attracted record-breaking audiences for TV debates, convention coverage, and rallies, in which Ohio is considered a crucial swing state where every vote counts. Moreover, Obama is supposed to have a historically well-funded, well-oiled turn-out-the-vote machine. What gives?

I submit the simple answer is this: people have genuinely not yet made up their minds. They want to hold off until the last minute, because they are not comfortable yet that they know enough to make a decision.

Given that McCain is already pretty well known, I think that can only mean one thing: they feel they do not know enough about Obama.

Which means the central question of the election now is “Who is Obama?”

The Republicans should hit this theme, and hit it hard, by bringing up Obama's questionable past. The press too should examine it closely.--it is what the public wants to know. They should be featuring, and digging carefully into, Obama's connections with former terrorist Ayers and his wife. They should be featuring Obama's connections to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and their contributions to his campagins. They should be featuring Obama's associations with shady Chicago businessmen like Rezko—Chicago has a peculiar political culture, the last big city machine in America, and it might be important. They should be taking a close look at ACORN, Obama's first employer, and just what kind of activities it pursues—voter fraud? Lobbying for sub-prime lending? They should be looking carefully at who is donating to Obama's campaign, and who has donated in the past. A Mr. “Good Will” of “Loving,” Texas? Donations from points overseas? They should be noting that Obama was endorsed in his early elections by the American socialist party (the New Party—not that radical, in Canadian or European terms, but it means that Obama can be legitimately called a “socialist”), and that his voting record is far to the left. This is the information the American public wants and needs.

They fear they do not know Obama yet—and they are right. The issue is not so much “Is he ready to lead?”, but “Is he a Manchurian candidate?”

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dion's "Meltdown"

This video is supposed to show a Dion "meltdown," according to the CPC and many in the press.

Sorry, I would prefer Harper to win personally, but I do not see how this is true. At worst, it implies that Dion's English is not up to handling very complex English grammar. In what way is that a qualification to be prime minister?

But I think I would have raised the same objection Dion did: the question is itself nonsensical. It matters very much at what point Dion's hypothetical premiership begins.

In airing the missed starts, CTV also violated an agreement with Dion, which we actually hear on the tape. Had they not made this agreement, Dion presumably would have acted differently, and we would have no tape. So airing the tape is likely to--ought to--earn Dion some sympathy, among fair-minded voters. In addition, he sounds quite reasonable, likable, and sincere in the tape as released.

It is suicidal for the Conservatives to draw attention to it. What they should do is condemn CTV for airing it. It's not as if the arrogant media are their natural constituency.

Sarah Palin's Great-Great-Grandfather Was Born in...

...Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Same as mine.

I always thought there was something in her terribly reminiscent of the folks I grew up with. But then again, I gather most Americans feel the same way.

She really is the girl next door.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Atheism Makes You Stupid

"Once people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything." - G.K. Chesterton.

Of course, there are flaws in the article's reasoning as well. It takes it as a given that we know which beliefs are false. If we did, things would be a lot more straightforward; but if we did, there would be no article. "Superstition" is best defined, I have always held, as "the beliefs of others."

It also fails to realise that, for example, there is a specific reason why fundamentalist Protestants do not believe in communication with the dead, which does not have to do with being more religious: such communication is banned by their religion. Ask Catholics, and you would surely get a different answer.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Canadian Leaders' Debate

Through the magic of the Internet, I have been able to view the English-language Canadian leaders' debate.

By conventional measures, Liz May won: she made her points most effectively. She's a good lawyer; the others are not lawyers by training.

This does not matter; she cannot win the election. May's strong showing, instead, should help Stephen Harper, by further splitting the left-wing vote. In electoral terms, it was Harper who won.

He was, to my ear, second only to May in selling his viewpoint. When he said, repeatedly, of the demands of others, “we'd like to, but we can't afford it,” that sounded very much like common sense. He seemed to be the only one truly aware that we are currently facing serious economic uncertainty. That alone should win him the election hands down. And his calm demeanor, I think, hit just the right note in such times: a steady voice implies a steady hand.

The debate also helped Harper in another way. Last post or so, I mentioned the value to American politicians of conforming to the American lietmotif of the frontier. It is similarly valuable, although less so, for Canadian politicians to embody the national myth of the survivor: an ordinary person meeting and overcoming adversity through calm, dogged determination. Showing him holding his cool while four others attacked him was a good way to cast Stephen Harper in that role in the public mind, just before an election.

A few notes on details: when Elizabeth May insisted, “families need jobs in the communities where they live,” my immediate response was, “like hell they do.”

Anyone who is not prepared to move for the sake of a job does not deserve to be a Canadian. We are a nation of immigrants. What would Canada be had our ancestors been so helpless and so unmotivated?

Similarly, Layton's concern about conditions on the reserves overlooked an obvious solution available to all native people: leave them.

Gilles Duceppe seemed to think he had a winning issue in demanding that Harper agree to a “reimbursable tax credit” for failing corporations, on the grounds that, if they were not making a profit, an ordinary tax credit was no use to them. But why, I wonder, is it a good thing to take money from ordinary taxpayers and give it to corporations in the first place? Surely only for the opportunity to create jobs, and more tax revenue in future. But this proposal would be a lousy way to do that. Failing businesses tend to be failing for a reason; a sudden government grant is not going to change the economic fundamentals. It is just a matter of throwing taxpayers' money away.

Harper did not say this; perhaps the idea plays well in Quebec.

Like Duceppe, Jack Layton showed that the NDP's instinct too is always to take from the poor and give to the rich. He wants to forgive the student loans of graduating MDs—a handout to anyone entering Canada's wealthiest profession. Liz May quickly agreed. She'd probably extend it to lawyers too.

Layton insists that wood should be used in Canadian manufacture rather than being shipped overseas, saying “they can't make anything with that wood in Asia that we can't make here.”

That's pure jingoism, and obviously untrue. The lefties love to play the nationalism card, to criticise anything foreign (and especially anything from the US). Are we, say, going to build Buddhist temples in Canada and then ship them overseas? How about printing Japanese daily papers in Canada? How's the distribution going to work on that?

In general, Layton strikes me as the least sincere of the leaders. Liz May has an excuse—she seems honourably deranged. Dion is sincere. Layton seems more calculating about his views. You see in his eyes he doesn't believe a word of it. He also kept interrupting Stephane Dion; which may have grated on others as much as it did on me. The same style hurt Al Gore in the US, and politeness is supposed to matter more to Canadians.

On the arts, Layton managed to accuse Stephen Harper of censorship for not funding dissenting voices with taxpayers' money. It is all very well to say that governments should fund the arts; but it is only too obvious that government funding in the past has hopelessly politicised the arts in Canada, so that now to be an artist—or more precisely, to succeed as an artist—requires a political view in conformity with the Liberal party or the NDP.

We are not funding many real artists; we are funding poseurs and party hacks, and calling them artists. And the bad is driving out the good. The arts matter far less to the average Canadian, I think, than they did fifty years ago.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Problem with Education

There are three fundamental problems with educational theory as taught in all colleges of education throughout North America and beyond:

1.They seek a scientific approach. A scientific approach to education is not possible, because of an insurmountable observer paradox, and the effort tends to reduce human beings to fairly simple machines. Which they are not. The model does not work, and it is ideologically dangerous. It leads to totalitarianism.

2.They ignore all educational traditions outside the Western European “mainstream”--even much Western European educational thought that occurred between the Classical period and the Enlightenment. Leaving aside the cultural chauvinism, and the denial of mankind's diversity, we surely have much to learn from other cultures, who have been at this game as long as or longer than we have. Cumulatively, they represent the vast majority of human thought on the subject.

3.They believe one can have a coherent education without agreeing on its ultimate goal. But what is good education depends vitally on the answers to two essentially religious questions: what is real, and what is the purpose of human life?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why McCain Will Win

I am not saying I told you so. I did say McCain should nominate Mitt Romney for VP, and he chose Sarah Palin instead. I said he should choose Romney, in part, because there was quite likely to be more economic turmoil in the runup to Election Day, and, given the other side's lack of economic expertise, the inclusion of someone with Romney's financial background could be a game winner.

Would McCain be further ahead today with Romney instead of Palin on the ticket? Perhaps.

But I also think he may have been wise for chosing Palin.

Even without Romney, McCain should have the best of this economic issue. He does not yet; but that may change as things sink in. It takes, in my experience, about two weeks for public reactions to events to fully form. Since neither Obama nor Biden have any particular economic expertise, McCain should still be the winner on this issue, on the plain value, at a time of turmoil, of an experienced hand at the tiller.

Meanwhile, there is another reason why Palin still looks very good. She is getting hammered right now in the press, but there may be a snap-back effect; what counts is how she connects with the average voter.

On this, I present an insight from Canadian literary criticism.

I hate Margaret Atwood's politics, and I think she has gotten further than she deserved to solely on the grounds of being a woman. But she once wrote an excellent book of literary criticism in which she argued that all Canadian literature reflects a single informing motif: that of survival.

At the same time, she pointed out different motifs distinguishing British and American literature. British literature is all about “the island”; American literature always returns to “the frontier.”

It works—it is true. And here is an interesting way in which it works. At least since the 1940s, whichever presidential candidate can most clearly identify himself with “the frontier” has a big advantage in the election. It makes sense; a president is a symbol of the nation. It matters if his own life story intersects with the nation's central narrative.

Let's parse past races on this basis:

George W. Bush—with his cowboy manner, his cowboy walk, his cowboy talk, and his Texas roots, he has an unusually strong connection with the frontier. This enabled him to beat Kerry, who had none; and Al Gore, who had little. Tennessee was frontier enough for Andrew Jackson; but some years have passed.

Bill Clinton—Arkansas is not particularly frontiersy, but it is as good as Kansas (Bob Dole) or George H.W. Bush's essentially Northeastern roots, even with a bit of Texas added. Clinton managed a draw on frontiersmanship with his main opponents, and won on other factors (specifically, thanks to Ross Perot).

George H.W. Bush--was able to out-frontier Michael Dukakis, a fellow Northeasterner, but one who looked awkward in a tank. The point of that, in the end, was how un-frontiersy Dukakis seemed. Entirely a man of salons, offices, and elevators. Bush had at least some claim to Texas connections, and his war record, and he had his link with the Reagan legacy.

Ronald Reagan—may not have been a real cowboy, but he played one in the movies and on TV. His frontier associations easily trumped Mondale's or Carter's.

Jimmy Carter—probably a wash against Gerald Ford, Michigan versus Georgia. The VPs were also a wash—Kansas versus Minnesota. Other factors prevailed. But Carter's backstory of being a “plain peanut farmer” from a small town surely helped. That's more frontiersy than a professional life spent in Washington.

Richard Nixon—Orange County, California, is not that frontiersy, and South Dakota, home of George McGovern, is, but here, Vietnam was more important. Marshall McLuhan saw the Vietnam War at the time as an extention of the old frontier across the Pacific. Nixon represented persisting in that drive—and his opening to China was the opening of another sort of frontier. George McGovern and, to a lesser extent, Hubert Humphrey, represented pulling back from that distant Asian frontier.

Lyndon Johnson—against Goldwater, the frontier issue was a wash. Both had strong frontier associations. Other factors prevailed.

John Kennedy—in his race with Nixon, he deliberately evoked the frontier image: he called his vision the “New Frontier.” Neither Kennedy nor Nixon had personal frontier connections. Given that, it was enough.

Dwight Eisenhower—against Adlai Stevenson the intellectual, Ike from Kansas was plainly the frontiersman. All else being equal, being a professional cavalryman is a suitably frontiersy occupation.

Harry Truman—Mark Twain's Missouri trumps New York (Dewey). Truman's plain-spoken, common-man image was pretty frontiersy quite apart from where he came from.

In theory, FDR should have been vulnerable, being from New York. He was aided by overwhelming historical events—the Great Depression, WWII—which took precedence. Even so, some of his opponents were no more frontiersy than he: Wendell Willkie was a Wall Street lawyer, and Tom Dewey was also from New York. In normal times, perhaps Landon should have beaten him, and Hoover, on sheer frontier.

Enough; but to note that a connection to the frontier was important for Lincoln, too—famously born in a log cabin; for Teddy Roosevelt; for Andrew Jackson; and many other presidents, especially those best remembered.

This is what Palin brings to the ticket: the frontier. Even without Palin, McCain has much of the frontier about him: the maverick, the Arizonan, the military man, the lone pilot.

If urban, urbane Obama beats him, it will be a historical surprise, regardless of what the polls show.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Save 100,000 Canadian Lives a Year

In July a new “safe haven” law took effect in Nebraska. According to a recent AFP story, confirmed by a similar story in USA Today, Nebraska is the last state in the US to pass such a “safe haven” law. These laws allow parents to anonymously abandon children in a hospital or police station without being prosecuted for any crime.

The intent is to allow any mother who dies not want a child to simply abandon the baby, with no repercussions.

This is, all things considered, a good idea. With a shortage of children available for adoption, these abandoned babies have an excellent chance at a good home and a happy life. And what this means is that in the US, abortion now does no more for the mother involved than allow her to avoid the trouble of carrying a child for nine months.

This much inconvenience to the mother is worth killing the child?

There is simply no excuse, with such a law on the books throughout the US, for abortion on demand.

We need such laws in Canada as well. There is an online petition here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dominion

The Dominion Institute asked a few thousand Canadians five questions last spring, about Canadian national identity.

I hated the answers they got: Trudeau was voted Canada's defining person, Niagara Falls was Canada''s defining place, Canada Day was the defining event, the Canadarm the defining accomplishment, and the maple leaf the defining symbol.

Okay, I have no problem with the maple leaf. But my Canada was around well before Trudeau and the Canadarm. Niagara Falls is mostly in the US. And if the defining moment for Canada is its national day, nothing but a calendar date distinguishes Canada from any other country.


My answers to their questions:


1.Who is Canada's defining person?

Anne Shirley--”Anne of Green Gables.” She is the model for all subsequent Canadian heroes and heroines, literary and real-life.

Runners-up:
Kateri Tekakwitha. In a supernatural way, her story is the story of Canada.
Laura Secord. An ordinary person who, through diligence and loyalty, achieved something extraordinary.


2.What is Canada's defining event?

The War of 1812. It decided that Canada would be an independent nation, not a part of the US.

Runners-up:
The Chanak Crisis. It decided that Canada would be independent, not a province of a united British Empire.
The Plains of Abraham. It decided that Canada would not be a province of France.
Together, these three led to the existence of Canada as an independent country.


3.What is Canada's defining place?

The North Pole. We are “the True North, strong and free”; that is the core of our identity.

Runners-up:
The Northwest Passage. It was in seeking it that Canada was discovered and explored.
The St. Lawrence River. Canada was built around this entrance-way into the continent. We are a river people; Canada was originally linked by canoe.


4.What is Canada's defining symbol?

Survival—Margaret Atwood nailed it. It's all about living through another winter.

Runners-up:
Winter: “Mon pays, C'est l'hiver.”
The beaver. It is an uncommonly good symbol of the values Canadians treasure: quiet diligence. The beaver is also genuinely a crucial part of Canadian history—through the fur trade.


5.What is Canada's defining accomplishment?

Peace, order, and good government. Quite literally, this defines Canada.

Runners-up:
The CPR. Historically, it was a sine qua non. Canada was about the CPR.
Survival. It is a remarkable thing that we are not a part of the USA. It is a remarkable thing that French is still the lingua franca of Quebec. It is a remarkable thing that Gaelic is still spoken in Cape Breton.

Debate Notes

My take on the presidential debate: McCain won.

Of course, I start out being biased. And yes, Obama was very smooth, very well-spoken, and sounded knowledgeable. I was even prepared to think he was matching McCain point for point, until what seems to me the defining point of the debate: the moment he seemed to look at his wrist bracelet to get the name of the soldier he was supposed to be commemorating with it. And that crystallized something for me; perhaps for others as well. It was the thought that OBAMA DOESN'T CARE. He doesn't care about ordinary soldiers. He doesn't care about ordinary people. He quite possibly doesn't care what happens to America.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that gesture seemed to telegraph this. And, in the light of that insight, his very coolness and smoothness seemed to work against him. It too said he did not care. By contrast, McCain seemed passionate; he seemed to care very much. His voice at times seemed to break with passion.

McLuhan used to say that television was a cool medium, and everyone thinks Kennedy beat Nixon by seeming calm. If so, Obama won. He was perfectly cool. But that is not how it came across to me. I actually stopped hearing what he had to say; it seemed to be just words. I ended with a feeling of real fear over the consequences of putting such great power in the hands of someone who seemed to care so little about others and about the country.

Other notes: McCain wrongly identified Iran's Revolutionary Guard as the “Republican Guard.” Obama could have had a slam dunk there, correcting him, given that McCain is supposed to be the foreign policy expert. Instead, he immediately repeated the mistake, showing not only that he does not know any better than McCain, but that he instinctively defers to McCain on foreign policy. It also suggests that his instincts are those of a follower, not a leader.

Obama said that some had called him “naive” for wanting to talk directly with hostile leaders. McCain repeated the charge, but missed a good comeback there—he could have pointed out that among them was Joe Biden.

At one point, Obama interrupted McCain, so that you could not hear McCain's answer. I found that cringingly rude, disrespectful, especially since McCain is much older. It seemed to me to fit with the theme that Obama does not care about others.

Obama made the point repeatedly that al Qaeda is resurgent. McCain never disagreed, but I think he is quite wrong. Yes, they've been bombing recently, in Yemen, in Karachi, and in Islamabad. But this seems to me a sign of weakness, not strength. They used to be able to bomb in London and New York. Is this now the best they can do? They are bombing in their own back yards: Yemen is where the bin Ladens originally came from, and has almost no effective government. Pakistan is where bin Laden is thought to currently reside, and has also for the last few years been in a state of near-chaos.

It is bad politics to bomb your neighbours. It does little to increase your popular support. This is evident in a sharp drop in support for al Qaeda in opinion polls across the Muslim world.

We may be watching their death agony.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Murders on the Rue Trans-Canada

Sadly, someone else has been stabbed on a Greyhound bus, near White River, Ontario.

Unlike the more famous earlier incident near Brandon, though, this time we know immediately the ethnicity of both perpetrator and victim. The man stabbed was Asian. CanWest reports the fact in paragraph 2. The perpetrator was white—paragraph 8.

I don’t know that any major news organization has yet admitted that the Brandon perpetrator was Asian and the victim white. Certainly the present article, in referring to the earlier incident, does not.

Why? It does not fit the media stereotype. Whites bad. Non-whites good.

It will be interesting to see if this more recent incident is prosecuted as a “hate crime.”

Stormy Weather in the Markets

I’m out of my depth in talking about Wall Street finance. THis is not my area of expertise. But it seems to me, FWIW, there is no alternative to the US government stepping in with some hard cash, fast.

This is not, as it has commonly been called, a “bailout.” We face a credit crunch; we face bank failures. There is a sudden, dramatic shortage of capital. Right—that means an opportunity for anyone who has capital. If, then, the government can step in with the needed capital, given reasonable management, it could be and should be entirely in the taxpayers’ interest. They will not be losing the money. They will be making a decent profit on it.

Basic market strategy: buy when everyone else is selling. Sell when everyone else is buying.

Should the government be doing this? Should the government get involved in the markets? Maybe not, if you are a strict free-marketer. But they already are; government regulation arguably created this crisis. At worst, this is not the time to suddenly find religion and pull out.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Zionist Entity

One can understand the Arab perspective on Israel.

Israel is not a particularly noble thing done by Europe. Feeling guilty for their historical treatment of the Jews, and most especially for the Nazi holocaust, Europe gave them—someone else's land.

Not a big chunk of land, agreed. But still not theirs to give. One cannot blame the Arabs for missing it, just as France missed Alsace-Lorraine, or Germany missed Danzig. It is a legitimate casus belli.

Granted too, Arabs in Israel have full rights to practice their religion and full civil liberties. The only thing that really distinguishes Israel from any other state is its Right of Return—that anyone proving Jewish ancestry has the automatic right to residence and citizenship.

One can understand why this might be important to the Jews—they know, in any future worst case, in case of future persecution, that there is a safe haven available to them. The Right of Return ensures that.

But here's a thought—might it be at least a valuable gesture, to set things right, if the EU included, as part of its own constitution, that all its member states must extend to the Jews the same right of return as does Israel?

That would be fairer than asking the Arabs to do it. It would make the Jews yet more secure—if Israel itself was ever overwhelmed, as it indeed might be, the Jews would still be assured a safe haven.

Indeed--dare I say it?--it might obviate the need for Israel. Even if one or more states of the EU became oppressive to the Jews, having the right to move instantly to another would protect them. With 27 nations, the odds are extremely good that any Jews in danger could escape. More, surely, than with just one. One might hope, indeed, that extending this right of return might appeal to some other nations as well: immigrant nations like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, and so forth. After all, a sense of guilt is not the only reason to do it: the Jews, as an ethnic group, are highly educated and skilled. Jewish immigration, looked at without prejudice, would probably be of net benefit to any country.

Some might argue that this is just not good enough—the tie of the Jewish people to the land often called Palestine is just too culturally deep. It must be this land, and no other.

But that, I would argue, with many devout Jews, is a cruel idolatry. That Israel, that Jerusalem, is the metaphysical one. The real history, and the real mission, of the Jews, is to be “a light unto the nations.” To be like the leaven in bread. That can only be accomplished through diaspora, and there has hardly been a time in the history of Israel when it has not been in diaspora—in the time of Abraham, in the time of Moses, in the time of Daniel, in the time of Maimonides. It is residence in Judea/Palestine/Israel that has been the anomaly. It is the proper fate of prophets to wander in the desert. The true Israel and the true, heavenly Jerusalem, are reserved for the end of time.

I leave you, too, with this thought: if Israel is the answer, then Hitler was right. This was Hitler's own plan, to segregate the Jews out into some other nation. He thought of Madagascar, not having Palestine available, after the fall of France. He resorted to annihiliation only once this proved impractical.

And Israel, as a state based on ethnicity, is to that extent, as the Arabs indeed argue, rather uncomfortably itself like Nazi Germany.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Anne of Green Gables Committed Suicide

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s granddaughter has just gone public with the information that the Anne of Green Gables author—and, I would argue, the true founder of Canadian literature—suffered from chronic depression and ultimately committed suicide.

One of these days we will acknowledge openly the obvious but never-acknowledged truth that every significantly creative person the world has ever produced, and most highly intelligent people, suffer either from what is called “depression,” or “manic depression” (aka “bipolar disorder”). Robertson Davies once said he had never met a writer in his life who did not know “the black dog” well.

This being so, it is hard to buy into the currently prevailing notion that depression is a physical illness. It would be odd to find an illness that disproportionately afflicted creative or very intelligent people. Writer’s cramp, possibly?

Much more likely, depression is simply a byproduct of being highly creative and highly intelligent. Bertrand Russell described Periclean Athens as the only place ever known where one could be both intelligent and happy.

That might have been wishful thinking on his part. Socrates was given hemlock, after all.

There are several problems necessarily faced by the brightest among us. Most notable is that the world is necessarily designed for those of normal intelligence. To be much brighter than average is awkward, rather like being much taller than average. John Steinbeck played on this analogy, I think, in Of Mice and Men. One must develop a permanent stoop to converse with others, or to cross thresholds, or even, at some extreme, to go indoors. It becomes, in practical and especially in social terms, a handicap.

The common world-view, too, is naturally designed for the average intelligence. It must be difficult, for bright children or adolescents, when they realize the general consensus makes no sense, and there is nobody around to talk to about this. In fact, everyone else is frightened if you mention this. They may even decide you have gone mad.

That’s a lot for a kid to handle.

And then there are the Pharisees of the world, those who succeed by conning others, who have a vested interest in no one noticing their intellectual nakedness. To them, the highly intelligent and creative are a clear and present danger. And they are, most often, in positions of power.

This same week, my wife heard that the brightest boy in her year at high school, the class valedictorian, had committed suicide. He hanged himself from a tree.

Most distressing, perhaps, is the waste. The best minds of every generation, destroyed, hysterical, naked, searching for an angry fix, or hanging from a tree. Imagine if we could instead apply their minds to a cure for cancer, to world peace, or just to painting a million more Sistine Chapels.

Someday this will become possible.

In the meantime, the least we can do is to talk about it honestly