The Book!

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Irish Canadian Monument




Plans have been afoot for some time to build a monument in Vancouver to the Irish contributions to Canada. Unfortunately, it has run into stiff opposition from women's groups.

Why? Two reasons. First, the list of those Irish Canadians who made great contributions had too many men's names. And, second, the central focus of the monument, a ten-foot high stone, was "too phallic."

In order to get permission for the monument by Vancouver City Hall, the committee that is paying for it has had to agree to reducing the height of the central stone to six feet, and to include an equal number of names of famous Irish-Canadian women.

In order to do this, it has put out a nation-wide call for anyone who can suggest any names of famous Irish-Canadian women.

Parody has become impossible.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Scottish Play




Before I saw Roman Polanski's Macbeth, I was not a fan of Shakespeare. I had studied his stuff in high school, and disliked it. But Macbeth completely converted me.

I finally realize why. Macbeth is the only Shakespeare play that is not commonly performed in an Oxford or RP accent.

To a colonial boy of Irish Catholic extraction, an educated English upper class accent always rubbed the wrong way. Still does. Not just foreign and of the wrong class; but effete, girlish, umanly, embarrassing. Yuck.

The worst of it was the prancing fools and Pucks, so commonly done in a falsetto.

But I don't think it was just a case of being a Canadian. I think it was also a case of loving language. It is simply so that modern RP is antithetical to Shakespeare's use of language. RP wants precision above all. It dislikes stress and emotion. Shakespeare is inventive and emotional.

The best accent in which to perform Shakespeare is surely the accent of Southern Ireland. But, failing that, a Scots accent is far better than an English one.

I wonder how many millions have been turned off Shakespeare forever, as I might easily have been, by his co-option by the Oxbridge set.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Montreal Renaissance?

This article is optimistic aboiut Montreal's future. It is also beautifully written.

I think every Canadian should hope Montreal does get its groove back. Anyone who can look on a map can see it is the natural capital of Canada.

I think the author may also be right. The one thing that has been holding Montreal back has been Quebec separatism and xenophobia. If it can put that to rest now, it will be back to being a world city, instead of a provincial one. It should be in conmpetition  with Paris, New York, and London,  not with Quebec City.

The recent provincial election bodes well. It is not just that the separatists lost the election, but that their power base, which was once in Montreal, is now mostly rural. Montreals eems to have grown up and moved on.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why the Kids Ain't Got No Respect for the Law Today


A friend muses on the decline in popular support for institutions of all kinds since the 1960s. He feels that, for him, the trigger was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the fight with the tobacco companies, which convinced him and others that corporations could not be trusted.

That may have been true for him, but I don’t think it explains the 60s generally. After all, corporations and capitalists had been popular villains since at least the Muckrakers of the early 20th century, if not since Marx and Engels. Nothing new there.

What seemed to me to change in the 1960s was a growing lack of respect not for Wall Street or Madison Avenue, but for Washington and government. It was the police force and the army we complained of in the day, not General Electric. Granted, government was not always highly respected in the Dirty Thirties either; but then it was the lower classes complaining, and often demanding more government, just not this government. Now it was the rich kids, and that was more significant.

To my memory, there were three obvious triggers for this:

Don't know where, don't know when...

1. Nuclear weapons and the doctrine of “mutual assured destruction.” This state of affairs seemed to many, as the acronym suggested, “MAD.” Kubrick portrayed the growing suspicion, in “Dr. Strangelove,” that the people who had brought us to this precipice must be nuts. This is where the “peace symbol” came from originally: the “Ban the Bomb” movement.

2. The endless little wars without victory: Korea, then Vietnam. Again, this seemed insane: sending kids off to kill and die without any clear objective. Worse, the people in charge did not seem to understand that this was a problem. I remember Humphrey referring to the “politics of joy” while Vietnam was going on, and referring to Nixon refusing to debate as “our Vietnam.” As if this war was a normal state of affairs. It was as Orwell predicted in 1948: the endless wars without result, among shifting alliances. Eastasia had always been fighting Oceania. Due to the danger of being drafted, this in particular bothered the rich college kids. For the poor, it was probably more like an opportunity.

The process of education as conceived by BF Skinner.


3. Behaviourism. Perhaps this was just me, but I don’t think so. Scientism had run amok, and was seeing the average human being as an object, no more than cattle. It was all too revealing of what those in power really thought of the rest of us; confirmed again later by the tales of the CIA experiments with hallucinogens. Orwell and Huxley saw this early, and it resonated. We forget that a lot of what was happening in the 60s was a rejection of science—“plastics”; “back to the land.”

So the primary enemy was big government, with authority of all kinds under question, notably including science and technology. That is where Rachel Carson and environmentalism comes in: not as some new distrust of corporations or capitalism—pollution was and is worse in Communist countries—but a new (albeit revived from the Romantic era) distrust of science and technology. Which everyone had loved at least since the 1920s.

It is terribly ironic, then, that those who see themselves as the inheritors of the 60’s counterculture also see themselves as the supporters and defenders of big government, on the one hand, and science, on the other. Conversely, it is ironic that those on the right, the real inheritors of the 60’s, still despise the counterculture of those days.

Those who formed the counterculture then often saw themselves as on the left. Not always, though: Kerouac liked Taft, and Dylan liked Goldwater. More basically, they were against big government.


Humphrey, Johnson, to the left, Reagan to the right.

And in those days, it was not a clear choice between big government on the left and small government on the right. Lyndon B. Johnson was the biggest advocate of big government ever to sit in the White House. Humphrey was from the same mold. These were the bad guys. Goldwater was obviously an advocate of smaller government. But so—we seem to forget-- were George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Jerry Brown. It wasn’t until Walter Mondale in 1988 that the Democrats clearly chose the path of big government again.

Richard Nixon, on the other hand, was a big government conservative, as were the Ontario PCs of that day. He introduced what was then called “the Imperial Presidency,” tried for his own version of Obamacare, and imposed wage and price controls, an interference with the market that seems shocking now. It was not until Reagan in 1980 that the Republican Party clearly chose the path of small government.

So it has only been since about the 1980s that the left has become consistently big government, and the right has become consistently small government.

And what has happened over the same time to the relatively rich college kids who were the hippies, or at least what we used to call “weekend hippies”? Over time—in fact, circa about the 1980s, their forties, they became yuppies, then dinkys, and then the political (and business) establishment. Once they were themselves in control of the levers of power, their conviction that those in control of the levers of power were corrupt began to waver. There was no longer any constituency for a small-government but left-wing candidate.

Which is understandable; but I wish they’d at least admit the sell-out.

In the meantime, though, the realization that the emperor had no clothes that began with rich kids back in the 60’s has remained and grown. This is what my friend was noting, the decline in public trust for all kinds of authorities since the 1960s.

Leaving aside the specific triggers of the 60’s, this has to do with the rapidly growing access to information of all kinds, bypassing “authorities” in general, which began with TV in the 60s.

The richest and best educated were, naturally enough, the first to take advantage of the greater information flow to think for themselves. Hence middle-class kids began to “question authority” and “question everything.” But that process has now moved down the power and money chain.

Now that we have the Web, it is easy to underestimate the importance of TV when it was young. In the day, it really did seem significant that the Viet Nam War was the first televised conflict: the sordid face of war was now seen in every living room. It was suddenly important that Kennedy looked better than Nixon on TV. Despite its dross, TV was a huge new information medium. It was vastly more important than radio, because we are primarily visual creatures. For us, seeing is believing. Radio at least felt as controlled as print. Television at least gave us the illusion of being able to see things for ourselves. And things turned out to look different from the way they had been described. First politicians, then wars, then other things.

At the same time, the advent of TV left the cheaper radio spectrum available to the young. Hence rock and roll, and the 60s music culture that became in large part the communications medium for its political culture.

The computer, the Internet, the cell phone, the tablet, have one by one expanded that circle again and again. There is no end in sight. So a growing suspicion of social authorities of all kinds is only to be expected. Just as happened, in a smaller way, with the invention of movable type. That led to such things as representative government (i.e., democracy), the Reformation, and modern science, the last a reaction against accepting the authority of the ancients over present experience.

It is interesting to ponder what the current media revolution, far more dramatic in nature, is likely to produce in social and political terms.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pied Beauty



Devotional image of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. The real saint's face would have been ravaged by smallpox.

My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd:
'This Land of Saints,' and then as the applause died out,
'Of plaster Saints'; his beautiful mischievous head thrown back.
--Yeats, Beautiful Lofty Things

One of the worst curses of religion is the cult of the plaster saint; the crystals and rainbows vision of the cosmos. I can think of nothing better calculated to drive people from religion.

It is not that these sentimentalists forget the devil; they are usually just as one-dimensional with their sinners and their orcs.  It is that they forget the comic, and the pied beauty of the everyday.

“God save us from gloomy saints.” –Theresa of Avila.

Glory be to God, instead, for dappled things.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Scarred for Life. And Perhaps Longer.


My place, or yours


It is close to impossible to overstate the importance of abortion to our current culture. It is our central issue, just as child sacrifice was central to Canaanite or Punic culture in their day.

Because those who do wrong, and know they do wrong, hate anyone, however innocent, who reminds them of the fact, the Catholic Church's steadfast opposition to the practice, joined later also by Protestant evangelicals, has brought the entirely predictable retribution down on their heads. Why the sudden burst of concern and sympathy for homosexuals over the past few decades? Not due to their own efforts: they are a small minority. They and their concerns are front and centre entirely because homosexuality is opposed by the Catholic Church.

So too, to a large extent, with feminism. So the “New Atheism.”

So too with pedophilia. It is now an unspeakable crime entirely because Catholic priests were found doing it; and because there appeared to be some poetic justice, some evident hypocrisy, in the Church opposing the murder of children yet supposedly abusing those in their care.

However, it was always true, and known to be true, that pedophilia was less common inside than outside the Catholic priesthood. Now that it has been identified as the supposedly single worst crime known to man (as opposed, say, to abortion) a lot of other heads must inevitably start to fall. Sports teams, reformatories, public schools, and so on will inevitably be discovered to have been far worse.

Now “the coin has dropped,” this author says, regarding British boarding schools.


Which raises and interesting question. Since the rest of us were obliged to publicly apologize to Native Canadians for what happened many years ago at church-run residential schools, do the Native Canadians now owe a public apology to the British ruling class?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Needs to Be Done


 
Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

NATO's current membership.


In the face of general American retreat from global responsibility, something needs to be done. Someone or something must fill the power vacuum that is developing. The American recessional may be temporary. It may be based on Barack Obama’s broad assumption that all that is needed for world peace and happiness is for the US to pull back everywhere. This seems insanely na├»ve, but it is a sentiment actually commonly heard on the US and on the international left. If so, things may change with the next administration. But it also seems entirely possible that this is a permanent bug out. The US is by instinct isolationist; it is hard to care much about the world outside when you have the world’s two largest oceans on either side. Your local championship can easily look like the “World Series.” If there is a further world beyond these shores, who cares?

So long as they saw a clear and present danger, first from Hitler and then the Communists, Americans could be made to care up to a point. Now that is gone. Russia is, as Obama says, a “regional power.” So is Iran, or China.

But do the rest of us want Iran and China and Russia to fill the coming void? If not, given that nobody else is strong enough to replace the US, there is an obvious alternative. It is called collective security. 

NATO, which already includes most of the big democratic players, needs to expand into a worldwide military alliance. The alliance needs to c all in, most notably, Japan, who is said to want in, and India, if they can be made interested. Singapore might not be able to provide much military might itself, but is a sound democracy and has obvious value as a naval and air post controlling the crucial shipping lanes between Europe and Japan. Australia is not so insignificant a power. The general rule ought to be, if you’re a stable democracy, you’re in.

Besides the general advantage of said collective security for existing democracies, this would promote the future of democracy by making it a more attractive option to currently non-democratic governments. Go democratic, and your borders are assured. 

A free trade agreement would also be nice. That looks as if it is likely to happen anyway. 

This world-wide democratic alliance would then be able to act in the interest of democracy where the UN is paralyzed or unreliable, due to its inclusion of everyone, including the nasties.

There's more than one point to this compass rose.



Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Having Two Legs is "Privilege." Now Objecting to Abortion is "Torture."

According to the UN.

When Confucius was asked what he would do if he were ever given power, he answered, "First is the rectification of terms."

This might seem pedantic, even irrelevant, but it is exactly right. Orwell saw the same thing. Those who wish to do wrong, always and necessarily start by falsifying the terminology, to cover up what they are doing. By insisting on correct language, and consistent definitions, we can prevent a multitude of sins.

Make the ways straight for the Lord.

"Check Your Privilege": A Response. And a Response.


 The response is here.

And my  response is here:

The author accuses the author of the original Princeton “check your privilege" piece of misunderstanding the correct meaning of the term privilege. Yet her own example of privilege is that of a two-legged runner being able to beat a one-legged runner in a race. But this is not privilege at all; it is greater ability. She does begin by calling this a “metaphor.” And she later says that privilege is something “institutional or cultural,” which is something very different from a missing leg. Okay; but then she actually calls this a case, in so many words, of “ability privilege.”

Privilege: Merriam Webster -- “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.” If that is to include physical ability, say, or intelligence, achieving equality and ending privilege may be both very difficult and highly undesirable.

She then accepts, in fact insists, that having had ancestors who endured hardships or who were privileged counts for nothing: “Having ancestors that endured hardships is important only if either you endure those same hardships or if those past hardships have continued on today in the form of discrimination based on your shared characteristics.”

Excellent; this seems to me to concede the central point of the original author. And undermine the fabric of “affirmative action,” a present discrimination based on claims of past discrimination against different members of an identifiable group. Yet she then contradicts this claim by saying she is speaking for “people from groups who have historically been silenced or disregarded.” Not currently; historically. That should then include the author of the Princeton piece; yet she has apparently forgotten this. I guess it doesn’t because he’s “white.”

Sunday, May 04, 2014

What to Do about Putin




Language map of the Ukraine.

The US and EU probably could stop Putin now if they have the will. But if they do not, he may become much harder to stop later.

Recall that in the days of the Arab Spring, and following the last Russian presidential election, there were also huge street protests in Moscow. Putin’s rule was and remains shaky. This is one reason why he is doing what he is doing in the Ukraine. If he keeps pulling off impressive coups for Russia’s national prestige, and defeats of the Western powers, he holds on to and solidifies power. On the other hand, at this relatively early stage, one sharp setback could finish him. He is gambling for high stakes.


NATO--current membership.


If NATO were to call his bluff by immediately admitting Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance, it would probably be enough. At worst, it would mean a war with Russia that NATO, at this point, should be able to win.