Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Plovdiv Folklore Festival

I have two thoughts on having attended the Plovdiv Folklore Festival.

First thought: a lot of us North Americans and Anglos are inclined to see Paris as the capital of world culture--realizing how much richer it is culturally than our own sad Anglo efforts. Food, painting, dance, fashion, discussing philosophy in a sidewalk cafe, the bohemian life--all that.

But we ain't seen nothing. The French may impress us, but guess who blows the French mind with their wild romantic passions? The Slavs. Hence the term "Bohemian"--based on a cadre of Czech students who appeared at the Sorbonne. No way the French could handle them. And when a regiment of Croats passed through? All the French wanted to dress just as they dressed. Hence the necktie or "cravat."

The French are cultured enough to appreciate a superior culture when they see one.

There were folk troupes from countries other than the Slav nations at the folklife festival. But they embarrassed themselves by showing up. The Bulgarians were terribly nice--they started applauding loudly whenever the foreigners seemed to falter. But the non-Slav groups were just not in the same league.

I suspect Slav culture really runs in a continuous line--more continuous and consistent than we realize--to ancient Greece, and is the inheritor of all that awesomeness from Greece, the Levant, Byzantium, Macedonia, Thrace, and the empire of Alexander. In fact, the Russian royal house always laid claim to being the direct successors to Byzantium. Culturally speaking, they are our European big brothers.

My second thought: if the EU and NATO really think they can assimilate the Western Slav lands without also eventually making room for Russia, they have no idea what they are doing. In the long run, whatever are the local rivalries, any alliance that splits the Slav world is artificial, unstable and untenable. Ask Austria-Hungary. The ties of pan-Slavism feel too strong.

There can be no united Europe without Russia in any event.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tom Thompson: Not Dead Enough?

Visiting the Plovdiv Museum of Art today, I was tremendously impressed at how good their Group of Seven collection was. Maybe a half-dozen canvases in that very distinctive style, all painted in the 1920s.

Except that the landscapes were all Bulgarian.

I remember being taught back in high school that the Group of Seven were historic for forging for the first time a genuine Canadian artistic aesthetic, free from European models.

Well, no. This was pure hype. They were doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time that European artists were. Seeking out wild landscapes, without sign of human habitation, and painting them in an Impressionistic style.

They simply happened by luck to have a distinctive landscape in front of their easels. Big deal. A good model does not make a good artist, or good art. Otherwise, a photograph would do just as well.

Their art, in fact, is bad art. It is trivial, purely decorative. It depends on a distinctive style, but one easily imitated by anyone who might want to do so.

There is great Canadian art out there: Kurelek, Colville, Aislin. But as with everything else, it is the phonies and imitators most people prefer. Good art makes you think. This is not something most people are inclined to do.

They'd rather just have something that matches the drapes.

(I owe a hat tip to Cathy Shaidle for my head here--purely derivative of her style.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

News Flash: Woman in Possible Danger of Honour Killing in London!

You gotta love the news business. Here's a story about a man who was gang-kicked, stabbed in the back twice, beaten with bricks, had acid poured all over him, then down his throat, leaving him blind and without a tongue. And what's the lede? "A Muslim woman has been warned that she is at risk..."

All to sustain the official myth that "honour killings" are only of women, making them a "feminist" issue.

None so blind as those who will not see.

Say it Loud: I'm a Tub o' Lard, and I'm Proud!

Margaret Wente has a good one today: the current alarm about obesity, like so much else we are told by the "experts," is not supported by any real science, and instead exists to serve vested interests. While being fat may, say, increase blood pressure, the more important point is that it will not, statistically, shorten your life. Nope--actually, fat people live longer. Quite a bit longer. Twenty-five percent lower fatality rate.

The thin and those who diet often? Higher than average mortality rates.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gananoque, Kingston Mills: Spot the Difference

To the clown who has just sent me six identical emails insisting that the three deaths I referred to last post happened in Kingston Mills, and not Gananoque, let me point out that these are two quite separate incidents. I did not mention Kingston Mills, nor, for that matter, Topeka Kansas. I said Gananoque.

That's all I can do for you. I wouldn't have thought the spelling was so hard to work out, even if you have to move your lips to do so.

A Spooky Day in Plovdiv

I'm not really all that far from Transylvania here in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Eastern Europe has a certain sense of place...

I arrived in Plovdiv the day before yesterday, and booked into the hotel ranked number one by Rough Guides. Hotel Hebros has in the past been widely recommended elsewhere as well. Its restaurant was chosen the best in Bulgaria for two years running. Nevertheless, my visit seemed to present a very different story.

I am sure it was once a very nice hotel, and the décor is still nice—though not, if you look closely, very high quality. But I do not think it is any longer the hotel it was. In fact, I am not entirely sure it is really a hotel any more.

Here's what I discovered, when I booked in:

1, The room rate is at least 30% over that quoted in the guides—now 139 euros. This happens, of course. Not necessarily sinister. Though quite a jump in one year...a year of recession...especially, with swine flu, in the travel business...

2. I seemed to be the only guest. In peak season, on a Friday night, during the Plovdiv Folklore Festival. Other hotels seemed to be full or close to full. This was downright eerie, especially given the top billing Hebros is given by all the big-name guides. Even eerier was the fact that

3. There was nobody at the front desk. Nobody when I arrived, and nobody for six or seven hours of periodic checking. I did get checked in; once I rang the front door bell, a woman appeared from the restaurant outside and showed me to my room.

4. The check-in procedure was very strange. She did not ask for a name; she just took my passport and ushered me to a room, saying they had been expecting me. This was creepy to the max, and suggested they were not anticipating any other guests.

5. To make things worse, the woman who checked me in did not return my passport. She disappeared with it. This was especially troublesome because it is actually illegal to be on the streets of Bulgaria without some form of official ID. I was then trapped in the hotel, for some hours, in a strange city, with no services, no sources of information, and no apparent way of contacting hotel staff.

Visions of Count Dracula began to dance in my head. I half-expected the grand piano in the hall outside my room to start playing by itself.

Wanting food, water, and Internet, and with no apparently relevant buttons on the in-room phone—and no answer to dialling zero--I eventually went down to the lobby and tried to ring the bell on the lobby desk. Interesting—-it did not ring. It had apparently been welded shut. I tapped it with my fingernails to get it to make a reasonably loud sound. Repeated attempts--nothing. Then I thought to ring the doorbell; from the inside; hoping it would attract someone relevant from the restaurant. It had worked, after all, when I checked in. But this time even that did not work. Obviously, then they were expecting someone—I had a reservation. Now, they were not.

Not knowing what else to try, I repeated the exercise perhaps four times, at long intervals. Maybe twenty minutes passed.

Finally an old man in the street outside seemed to take an interest. He made some sort of gesture and disappeared into the restaurant. He returned with a woman, who entered the lobby. She was not the same woman who had checked me in. I explained to her my problem with the passport, which she did not have. She in turn seized the opportunity to ask me to pay in advance. She said this was necessary because there would be nobody on the front desk the next morning who knew how to take payment.

This concern revealed three things: 1) they had no trained desk staff, 2) they assumed nobody would stay in the hotel for more than one night, and 3) they had never actually looked at my reservation. It was for ten days. Had they even possibly mistaken me for someone else? Is Hitchcock going to show up here as a cameo?

This raised a new problem, because I was expecting the reduced rate for an extended stay promised on their website—a rate reduction of 40%. I figured I’d better confirm this immediately.

No—this seemed to be a problem. The woman pulled a notebook computer over to me and insisted I go on the internet and show my reservation to her, to confirm the rate.

Odd that she would not know what was on the hotel web page, and odd that she would want the guest to do this for her. She seemed, in fact, to be threatening or challenging me. It looked very much as though there was going to be a problem with the stated rate…

At this point, I had decided the best thing was to move on—-it was not worth the hassle. I told her so, in not immoderate terms, but I expressed my concern at the apparent hostility to guests and lack of professionalism. I mentioned that I was a travel writer, and would obviously not be able to give them a good recommendation should I write the experience up.

Believe it or not, my decision to leave made my problems worse. This was apparently not okay at all; as if I had now offended somebody's honour. The woman made no concilatory noises, but said something like “oh-oh” under her breath, and asked me to return to my room, and she would bring the passport to me.

I returned to my room, and waited. After perhaps another twenty minutes, a knock on the door. Instead of the woman, it was a quite burly man, with my passport visible in one fist, but a credit-card reader in the other. He said he would not give me back my passport unless I let him swipe my credit card.

Uh-oh indeed. Okay, getting scary now. At best, he seemed to be insisting I pay a day rate before he would let me leave. At worst, I was giving out my credit card information to an establishment that seemed not to be on the level. Not one to take well to being bullied, I told him if he did not give me back my passport, I would have to phone the police. I asked him for their number. He refused it, and said he was going to phone the police himself.

Which he then did. I phoned them too, but not speaking Bulgarian, had no way of actually communicating the problem to them. Hopeless; I had to hang up the phone.

Next, I packed up my things with all deliberate speed, figuring if I could not get my passport from this guy, my best bet was to get myself to the closest nearby hotel, hope the owner's name was not Bates, and throw myself on their mercies. I needed someone who spoke Bulgarian to act as my translator with the police, in order to get my passport back, and thought the lure of my patronage for ten nights might make it worth their while. If I stayed put, though, I figured this tough guy, who presumably was the manager on duty, might claim I was refusing to leave, or even stall, then claim the next day I had been refusing to pay the bill for a night's lodging. I was also feeling pretty trapped by now. And possibly vulnerable to a bogus criminal charge.

When I emerged into the street—the hotel still apparently completely deserted--the police had already arrived, and were discussing the case with our friend the muscle. Of course, understanding only Bulgarian, they heard only his side, and heaven knows what he told them. But fortunately, my passport, which the police examined very closely, showed clearly I could not possibly have slept in the hotel for even a night, as I had just arrived in the country. Probably very lucky for me.

The muscle sent somebody up to check out the room, and made a fuss about a coke and a water from the mini-bar. I had drunk them, as they were cold, but then replaced them from my own supplies, as his informant must have known. But I did not want to give him a chance at a red herring, in the circumstances. So I paid for that on the spot. He also demanded that I pay for cleaning the room, which I had not slept in; I refused to do so. I doubted he could have made that stick with the cops, were they able to understand what he was saying to me--they could read the date in the passport. After much apparent inactivity, which I took to be the process of filling in a report, the police seemed to give him a mild lecture in front of me—hard to say when you can’t understand Bulgarian--handed me my passport, and waved me off. I got the sense the police themselves were unsure of their ground with this fellow, and he seemed to be swaggering a bit at them as well as me. If nothing else, he was a born bully, and obviously not suited by temperament to be working in a hotel.

I felt as though I had had the last word, for whatever that was worth, but was also left by now lugging my backpack and two smaller pieces of luggage around the steep and uneven streets of Old Plovdiv, an overweight man of 56, at about 9:30 pm, in search of a room for the night, during a heat wave. In high season, on a weekend, during the Festival. And having been on the road from Athens for over a day. Not a situation any tourist wants to unexpectedly find himself in, and it seems to me worth warning the travelling public that such things can happen here in Plovdiv. The first three hotels I checked were either full or took advantage of my obvious plight to ask a patently dishonest rate—as in, one thousand euros per night for a single at a very two-star-looking hotel—but the desk clerk at the Dali Art Hotel, bless his heart, although that hotel was also full, voluntarily got on the phone and found me a good room at a good price at the Saga Palace Hotel across town, then called a cab for me. All this without being asked, and without hearing any kind of sob story from me—just at seeing an old fat guy in his lobby with a heavy backpack

I would like the Dali to get credit for this, at least as much as I'd like to warn people against the current owners of the Hebros.

Through this random last minute method, I actually ended up with a pretty comparable room, in terms of actual facilities, if not décor—unless perhaps you fancy, as I do, glued, framed jigsaw puzzles on your walls?--in a pretty comparable location in relation to the sights, and a much better one in terms of street life and shopping, for a little over one fifth the price posted at the Hebros. All this, and actual service too. Even smiles.

The Saga Palace Hotel, in short, seems patently a better value, regardless of anything else, than the Hebros, even though essentially found at random.

It is sheer speculation, but I know something of the hotel business, and have a guess at what has happened to the Hebros. The same thing has happened to many hotels even in Canada, where organized crime is much less of a problem than in the Balkans.

My hunch is that its great reputation—not just the hotel, but the restaurant--made it overwhelmingly attractive to local individuals lacking just that particular commodity. It may serve as a respectable front for laundering large sums of money the provenance of which might otherwise be awkward to explain. The restaurant, which I did not have the opportunity to sample, may well still be legit—harder to disguise that, since locals probably patronize it. But a hotel that reports itself as always full can claim a lot of revenue; so long as real guests do not too often foul up the accounting.

Then again, they might have just been out for blood...

Gananoque Pool Deaths

I am very sad to read, way over here in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, of the death of three women in a pool in a hotel in my home town, Gananoque, Ontario. I am even sadder to read allegations on the Web that their deaths might have been "honour killings." This strikes me as a simple, gross case of anti-Muslim prejudice (the women were Muslim, and apparently immigrants).

I am not saying there are no such things as "honour killings"; but they are rare, as wrong in Islam as anywhere else, and more likely to involve the killing of a man than a woman. It is prejudice to suspect an "honour killing" whenever a Muslim woman dies.

And particularly in this case: the dead were, respectively, an 11-year old, a 14-year old, and their 43-year-old mother. Can anyone seriously think up a scenario in which their family's "honour" might call for their deaths? I suppose they were all simultaneously having secret affairs with men to whom they were not married?

Please... such thoughts defame the dead.

None of them knew how to swim. The pool was unsupervised. Suppose one fell in. What would the other two, instinctively, do?

News bulletin: Muslims are human, very much like us, and love their children.

The Pope is Right about Condom Use

As if common sense were not enough to tell us so.

Condoms are, so to speak, a fig leaf over the foolish and selfish ideology of sexual promiscuity.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Miss Joanie Anderson of Saskatoon

A fine, rare piece on YouTube: a 1965 edition of Oscar Brandt's "Let's Sing Out" featuring a young woman from Saskatchewan who would later become better known as Joni Mitchell. Singing her own original composition, "I Was Born to Take the Highway."

Monday, July 06, 2009

Even More Modest Proposals

I've had a few more thoughts on how we might reverse the population collapse in
Canada and the developed world.

First, put a heavy tax on contraceptives. In the old days, contraceptives were simply illegal; probably largely because they threatened the sustainability of the nation, as they do now. I assume it would be politically impossible to make them illegal again. Nevertheless, there is justification to at least hit them with the same "sin tax" we put on other disreputable pleasures, like alcohol and tobacco. Perhaps condoms could remain tax-free for their role in disease prevention.

Unlike so many political proposals, note, mine here would mostly cost government no money. In fact, they would probably increase revenues, especially this one. And my final suggestion is just as revenue-positive: automatic Canadian residence for any Filipinas of child-bearing age who wish to come.

I say Filipinas, not any other nationality, for a reason—the same reason that Filipinas are sought the world over as nannies. The Filipino culture places an extremely high value on children—the patron saint of the Southern Philippines, for example, is Santo Nino, the Holy Child. Just what we need.

This policy would do several desirable things at once, and at zero cost. First, of course, it would immediately boost the population of working age. Filipinos already speak English—there should be no lag before they were employable and contributing tax dollars. Second, given the Filipina specialty, this would at a stroke reduce the cost and boost the quality of child care in Canada, making it more appealing for Canadians to have children, and to have larger families. Unlike “day care,” this would require no staggering government expenditure—instead, the government could expect to profit from the increased business activity. Third, a large enough presence of Filipinas, otherwise very much like Canadians, thanks to their long colonization by Spain and the USA, might strategically graft this love of children onto the broader culture. Fourth, if only women were let in, as proposed, they would soon seek Canadian husbands. This would guarantee their full integration into existing Canadian society, and that of their offspring. Fifth, the extra women would permit many Canadian men to marry and have children who cannot at present. The cumulative effect could be overwhelming.

Granted, Canadian women might not appreciate the competition. But hey, let's remember: a women needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, right? And the result would only be simple justice, since it is largely feminism which has brought us this population crisis. Canadian women have had their way in all things for over a generation now, while Canadian men as well as Canadian children have been correspondingly suppressed. This would only begin to right that balance.

The more so, of course, if each man were permitted four Filipina wives...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Few Modest Proposals

The CD Howe Institute said recently it has run the numbers, and immigration cannot solve the problem of Canada's demographic collapse. Even at a level much higher than it is today, it just would not be enough. And this is without taking into account the fact that the supply of potential immigrants is itself not limitless—the demographic crisis is moving rapidly through the Third World.

The only real solution is to have more babies.

It seems to me there are a few policies the government could pursue to make this more likely—and all the other governments of the developed world should probably do likewise.

1. Free tertiary education for all. How many families balk at having another child for fear of the cost of a college education? In any case, there are other good reasons for doing this. First, it is an equality issue—without free tertiary education, we are not allowing all our young to compete on an equal footing. Second, it would promote a more skilled workforce, and a more meritocratic system, both of which are vital in order to compete in this increasingly hi-tech world. Third, it would probably more than pay back the government outlay over time by raising the incomes of the next generation, and therefore their tax brackets.

2. Ban abortion. This is a no-brainer. Currently, there is about one abortion in Canada for every two live births. Of course, there are also other, compelling, moral reasons for banning abortion as well.

3. Ban affirmative action for women. Women's pay before feminism was at a par with that of unmarried men. The premium was never paid for men, but for married men. There are practical reasons for this: married men, with a family to support, are much more stable and diligent employees. Accordingly, the main effect of affirmative action has been to penalize families and children in favour of single women. This is obviously bad policy.

4. Ban mandatory retirement ages. This will not direclty produce more babies, but it will ease the demographic crisis. And it is a human rights issue in any event. Everyone should have the right to work if they can physically and if they so choose.

5. Limit men's liability for child support. At present any man is putting his neck in a noose by having children. In case of divorce, he can be financially ruined. His liability should be limited to 25% of income or, say, $1,000 per month for the first, and $600 per month per subsequent dependant child, whichever is lower.

Some will want to argue that this is not recognizing the best interests of the children. I say nonsense—the best interest of the children is ensured by keeping the family together, and this limit on liability will make that more likely. Even if the family must split up, no child really needs more than perhaps $1,000 per month for a decent life—any more than that is probably going to the mother in any case.

Fathers could, of course, voluntarily pay more—or use any additional amount to negotiate their continuing custody or visitation rights.

6. Allow men to have four wives.

Well, there's no harm in asking, is there?

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Plight of African Women

A friend, a left-leaning columnist, tells the heart-warming story of an Ghanaian woman who came to Canada to get her Ph.D. Not forgetting her homeland, she has set up a charity offering microcredit to the women of her home village. Her name is Vida.

Here is my response:

I'm not at all sure Vida's charity is a good idea. I am not at all sure it is doing more good than harm.

Your column claims that women in Ghana are notably deprived of an education. Not true, according to the statistics at Nationmaster. Male/female attendance at primary and secondary school is close to 50/50: 47.4% female primary, 44.7% female secondary. For comparison, in Singapore it's 47.6% female in primary school; Netherlands 48.3%; Canada 48.8%. Not too far off the mark; and especially impressive in the Third World, where a lack of jobs makes it less useful to educate women as a practical matter. Indeed, your own column contradicts the claim that Vida's family was opposed to educating women: her elder sister, you note, was able to finance Vida's education, because she held a job.

Your column claims that hospitals and health care in Ghana discriminate against women. But again, the statistics belie this: as in most parts of the world, women's life expectancy in Ghana is higher than men's: 60.35 vs. 58.65 years.

You further claim that, in Ghana, men control the money. If so, Ghana is nearly unique in world terms: almost everywhere else, women do. This includes Canada: since long before “women's liberation,” and still today, women control fully 80% of all consumer spending. The typical situation everywhere is that the husband earns the money, the wife spends it. And, in fact, your own column again belies this claim: obviously, Vida's own sister was able to control her own money, to the extend that she had a large enough disposable income to support her sister in school. Note too, in Vida's micro-credit scheme, that the women are able to back one another's loans. Obviously, they have some cash to work with, entirely at their own discretion, despite Ghana's poverty, or this would not be possible.

Anecdotally, you tell the story of a woman who had to sneak away from her husband to get birth control pills. This is not too surprising. In an agricultural society, another child is usually of overall benefit to the family—not just one more mouth to feed, but two more hands to work, and one more member of the mutual support network. Each further child helps guarantee the parents' welfare in old age. For the wife, specifically, though, it represents a risk: death in childbirth is not that uncommon. So the husband is normally likely to want more children, while the wife may fear it.

But of the two, who is right? Who is thinking of the greater good to the greater number, of their family reponsibilities? It seems to me that supporting the wife against the husband in this situation is likely to be to the overall detriment of Ghanians.

There seems, in sum, no objective justification for the radical discrimination against men that Vida's project proposes; nothing, perhaps, but cultural prejudice. And is radical discrimination really a good thing to promote in Africa, which has been rocked so many times already with ethnic genocides?

As noted, the wife almost always gets to spend the family money at her own discretion. So what, exactly, is the point of putting this money very publicly in front of the whole village directly into the women's hands, ad Vida's scheme proposes? The only obvious value of this is to dramatically cut men out of the family equation, and to humiliate them—to subvert the family role of the husband and father as provider.

This obvious direct attack on the Ghanian family structure is more likely to increase poverty than to reduce it.

First, it is a serious thing to subvert the family in the Third World, because in such poor countries the family is the only form of social insurance there is. There is no government safety net—indeed, government barely functions at all, and commonly you cannot trust anyone outside your own family even to deal with you fairly. Beyond the family, it is almost a war of each against each.

Second, what is the likely and demonstrated reaction of men to having their family role as provider removed? Daniel Patrick Moynihan did a famous study of this years ago, in relation to the US welfare system. Most often, men in this situation do one of two things—or rather, families do, as the women's wishes are probably also involved: either the men stop working and relax; or they leave. Either way, the whole family suffers, and especially the children. As a result, the black family in America has almost disappeared since the 1940s, creating a permanent welfare cycle, a permanent underclass. The same is likely to happen in Ghana to the extent that Vida's approach is embraced.

Make no mistake; the result will be worse than a zero sum game. What more money the mother makes will be cancelled out by less from the father, yes. But the father is unlikely, on the evidence, to embrace the idea of taking care of the children now that the mother is too busy with her business. He's more likely to get drunk and stay drunk. Or go. And stacks of studies show that children suffer greatly every which way from having fewer than two parents. So the next generation is being mortgaged for the sake of this present social experiment; Ghana's future prosperity is being mortgaged.

I cannot imagine a more perfect recipe for Ghana's permanent colonization.

Some Say He's Hardy...

Having just watched the movie “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (I watch movies while I exercise), I was pondering the British Empire—on balance, was it a force for good or evil.

So I thought, once again, I'd throw the question to Ask500People, and see what the world thought.

The overall result: 69% good, 31% evil. That's a pretty positive result, and belies the usual politically correct line. So much for “post-colonialism” and all that guff.

Here's an even more interesting result: a quick scan of the world map shows the opinion of the British Empire is especially positive not in Europe, but in the “Third World”--just the folks who are supposed to have suffered from it. South America and Africa love it. The Middle East loves it. So does India. The negative votes seem clustered in Europe—that is, the one spot that did not actually experience it.

To be perfectly fair, there were two former British colonies in which the negative vote surpassed the positive, though only by 1 to 0: Jamaica and Australia. Ireland posted no votes. In Britain itself, the feeling was perfectly ambiguous: a tie. In the US, the Empire swept two thirds of the vote. The two countries in which the British Empire seemed most popular were Brazil and Argentina. Argentina—Britain's opponent in the Falklands War.

Another folk version of Ave Maria for Canada Day

Raylene Rankin sings Ave Maria.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cape Breton Responds

Not to be outdone, here are the Rankins doing it Cape Breton Highland style.

Leahy Show How it's Done in the More Traditional Irish Style.


Happy Dominion Day

Did you know there was a distinct Canadian style of stepdancing? It comes from my own home area, the Ottawa Valley. Here's an online illustration from YouTube.

Here's more from the Stepcrew.

As I think you will agree, it's a lot livelier than the Irish style, as practiced in the Peterborough region by Leahy.

And here's Father Eugene Morris doing it in the Cape Breton Highland style. Quite different again.