Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saint Joseph of Canada




Patron saints are important. Ireland has Saint Patrick; England has St. George; Scotland has Saint Andrew. The patron saint can become a unifying national symbol, at least as much as can a large rodent or a fallen leaf.

Unfortunately, there is some dispute over who qualifies as Canada’s patron saint. Some say Jean de Brebeuf; some say St. Anne; some say St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Not to demean any of them, but historically, St. Joseph has the better claim. In the year 1624, at the very beginnings of New France, Franciscan Father Joseph Le Caron reported to his superiors back in Paris that all the settlers and the local Indians in the new colony together took a vow consecrating their country and their church to St. Joseph. This was apparently repeated for some time each year on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19.

It just fits. It just feels right.

Mary, of course, gets all the press. Joseph remains, in comparison to his theoretical importance, very much in the background. This is like Canada: among nations, tending to be modest, unassuming, and generally out of the news.

Joseph was a working man, a carpenter. He fits well therefore with the beaver, a symbol of industry.

Joseph was Jesus’s foster father. This is appropriate for a nation composed primarily of immigrants. Canada is not the original land of our ancestors, but our adopted home.

Joseph has, through his servant Saint Andre Bessette and the miracles the latter worked in the great saint’s name, in effect chosen us. St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal is Canada’s largest church, and the world's largest shrine to St. Joseph.

Joseph was a working man, not someone of high rank; often portrayed as “Saint Joseph the Worker.” This fits with a country with no tradition of class, in which we hold everyone to be equal before the law.

Joseph was, specifically, by tradition, a worker in wood. So has Canada been, for most of its history. The lumbering and pulp and paper business have been our largest industry for most of the last two hundred years.



Joseph was, in his local context, a northerner, as are Canadians in the world context, and as of course was Jesus. He was from Nazareth, in Galilee, in the far north of the Jewish lands of his day.

Galilee, Joseph’s homeland, was a multicultural area, an area of immigrants, like Canada. It was known in ancient times as “Galilee of the Nations.”

By luck or synchronicity, the name “Joseph” is perfectly bilingual, exactly the same in both official languages.

Joseph is a model of tolerance, which is a typical Canadian value. His most significant act in the Gospels is to refuse to divorce Mary when he learns she is pregnant, knowing he cannot be the natural father.

St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, is at a perfect time for a northern nation with cold winters: like St. Patrick’s Day just before it, it can be a celebration after the long winter of the coming spring. It comes at a time when we all could use a holiday, after a long stretch without one.

It doesn't hurt, to my mind, that our patron saint rather outranks that of England, Ireland, Scotland, or France. It also doesn't hurt, speaking as an Irishman, that St. Joseph's Day comes just two days after Saint Patrick's Day. I like the idea of a three-day celebration, and it rather reflects the significance of the Irish contribution to Canada.

Accordingly, I hereby call upon all fellow Canadians, at home and abroad, to begin this year formally celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph as a national feast day, at least in our own homes. Set it aside as a day to prepare traditional Canadian food, parade down King Street with an icon of St. Joseph, wearing mukluks, ceinture flechee and a touque, and raise a toast with rye and ginger ale.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hands Off Our Solstice!


Los Angeles's celebrated Kwanzaa parade, 2014. From Newsbusters.


Is Christmas really a makeover of a pagan holiday?

Everybody now seems to think so. It is an element of conventional wisdom. I’ve written myself, years ago for the Toronto Star, that it is, but now I have my doubts.

First, there is actually good reason to believe that Jesus was born on or about December 25. Count back nine months. You get March 25. What is March 25? The Feast of the Annunciation. That is, it commemorates the conception of Jesus. Nine months—a reasonable period for a pregnancy.

The time of the Annunciation can in turn be dated, from scriptural references, to six months after the conception of John the Baptist. And the conception of John the Baptist can be dated, by scriptural references, to the Jewish New Year. Which happens on or about the autumnal equinox, or on or about September 25.

So no, it ain’t random or unscriptural. Estimated, maybe.

It is true that there was a Roman holiday, the Saturnalia, which took place from the 17th to the 23rd of December, just before Christmas. Fine; no doubt some traditions have crossed over. But that’s a problem, actually. The usual claim is that Christmas was dated as it was to correspond with Saturnalia, so as not to attract attention to the Christian feast. But Saturnalia ends before Christmas begins, and both run for a number of days. No cover at all. And while the Roman version of the feast, Saturnalia, was held in December, the Greek version of the holiday, the Kronia, was held in July-August. So even if Saturnalia in Rome did take place at the same time as Christmas, it would have been little cover for half the Christian world, which lived in the Greek-speaking East of the Empire.

Both Saturnalia and Christmas seem to owe something to the symbolism of the winter solstice—the rebirth of the light in the heavens. Fair enough—but the winter solstice is the common experience of mankind, not something of special interest to pagans. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the light"; surely the symbolism is obvious. Pagans everywhere actually seem to have taken much less notice of the winter solstice than Christians do. The original Roman New Year was closer to the spring equinox, in what is now March. It crept back to modern January only in the time of Christ, not because that time of year was now especially significant to the Romans, but to fit in two extra months in honour of emperors. In Northern Europe, the pagan New Year was, like the Jewish High Holidays, in autumn. The Hindu New Year is in April; the Chinese New Year is in late January or early February, halfway between solstice and equinox. The closest Western equivalent would be Groundhog Day.

Not an elf -- St. Nicholas of Myra.
The solstices and equinoxes in general are more important in the Christian calendar than in the various pagan ones. The Christian Gregorian/Julian calendar is uniquely solar, so that the solstices and equinoxes will fall on the same date every year. Everyone else’s calendar seems to be either lunar or lunar-solar, so that equinoxes and solstices are not tracked directly, and are harder to determine.

People why try to avoid the Christianity of Christmas by wishing “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Happy Kwanzaa,” or “Happy Diwali,” or indeed “Happy Solstice,” as if the holiday were not really Christian but shared, are simply a delusion to themselves and others. Hanukkah, unlike Christmas, is resolutely a second-tier Jewish holiday, not mentioned in the Talmud. Much of its current popularity can be traced to a modern tendency—largely since the 1970s--to promote it as a Jewish alternative to Christmas. Kwanzaa was invented out of whole cloth in 1965, and has never really been more than a minority interest even within the black community in the US. Diwali is a harvest festival which corresponds closely to the date of Hallowe'en. Only the Christians really make a big fuss over the winter solstice.

Merry Christmas. Deal with it.



Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Future Foreseen


A weather machine clearing cloud cover in the year 2000.

Predictions are usually wrong. Predictions by experts generally do worse than random chance. "Futurists" are the worst of all.

So, of course, here are my predictions for the new year.

The world economy will be back on track this year, thanks to fracking. We are at the beginning of a boom. The US, in particular, will do very well.

Private flying machines in the year 2000.
Conversely, traditional oil suppliers will be doing less well. This won’t matter much in the Gulf, where supplies are large and accessible, and the governments have built in a cushion. Low oil prices will not reignite the Arab Spring. The results of that movement have been disappointing, so young Arabs are unlikely to try it soon again. It will matter a lot in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. These three governments have already looked shaky. Any one of them, or all, may fall this year. Cuba, dependent on Venezuela, is also vulnerable.

The odds of the government of China falling go down with the lower cost of oil; on the other hand, the protests in Hong Kong continue, and they carry a grave risk of contagion.

Now that the world is awake to the threat of ISIS, I do not expect them to be able to make any further headway. They will be slowly beaten back over the next year. This means too that the government of Syria probably will not fall.

Underwater tour bus in the year 2000.

The free trade deal between Canada and the EU almost necessitates a similar deal between the US and the EU. I don’t know what stage those negotiations are at. When it comes—soon—it will be a big boost to the world’s economy.

With the death of Steve Jobs, Google has established itself as the clear leader in high-tech. It should continue to rise in prominence and profitability.

I get the idea that we are very close to some breakthroughs in life extension. Something may break this year.

We are also close to a sudden drop in health care costs. It is a closely-held secret, but the fact is, computer software is now better at diagnosing illnesses than are human MDs. MDs are fantastically expensive, and there is no more justification for using them, but for surgeons. This will be bad news for the medical profession, of course, but good news for everyone else.

Education costs should also soon nosedive. We now know that online education outperforms the classroom model; and, again, it is exponentially cheaper.

Amphibious ship-train in the year 2000.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Nothing to Sneeze At

A Muslim colleague recently told me that, in the US, a school has been successfully sued by a parent because a student sneezed and a teacher said “God bless you.”


As far as I can tell in an Internet search, this story is not true. But Americans, Canadians, and Europeans should be aware of how this sort of “freedom from religion” thing plays in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

First, it is likely to be exaggerated, as here, in the retelling. 

Second, it is going to reinforce the general view that the West is utterly Godless, immoral, and anti-religious. "The Wicked West," they call it. 

Third, more folks are going to sign up for ISIL/ISIS, the Taliban, or for terror bombing, and feel thoroughly righteous about it.

Social Scientists Discover Water Runs Downhill!

From the Depasrtment of the Painfully Obvious: social conformists are weak on morality.

This is close to self-evident. If you listen to your conscience, you will often be at odds with those around you. If you always go along weith those around you, you will often be at odds with your conscience.

This points up one fuundamental flaw with social science: it thinks being "normal" is the goal of life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Problem with Our Schools


Why are our schools bad and getting worse?

  1. Bullies seek power. That is, they seek situations in which they can exercise power over others. This should be self-evident.
  2. As a general rule, people enjoy doing what they are good at. They do not enjoy doing what they are not good at. This should also be self-evident.
  3. By its nature, teaching as a job is going to attract bullies. It offers the chance to micromanage the lives of a room full of powerless victims. Not to mention sexual issues.
  4. As we do not acknowledge this problem, we have no structures in place to prevent it. A huge proportion of teachers are natural bullies.
  5. Once they are in the teaching field, bullies will gravitate to administration. This gives greater power, so greater opportunity for their favourite pastime. This is a general problem in all organizations, but is worse in teaching because the initial pool of bullies is much larger.
  6. Bad teachers will also be more likely to gravitate to administration, for reason 2, above.
  7. Therefore, educational administration will be primarily composed of the worst teachers and the worst bullies.
  8. We currently evaluate teaching quality at the elementary and high school level entirely or almost entirely by classroom observations.
  9. Those doing the classroom observations are these administrators.
  10. We know from many studies that classroom observations are not, in fact, objectively valid measures of teaching quality. What happens, inevitably, is just what common sense would suggest: evaluators reward those teaching the same way they would.
  11. The sole advantage of classroom observations are that they give total control, which is to say, total power, to the administrator. That they are used everywhere is a measure of how bad our problem is with bullies in administration.
  12. Given this system, we have the worst teachers evaluating all others, rewarding them for teaching badly, and punishing them for teaching well.
  13. Bullying behavior will also be encouraged and rewarded.
  14. Because they care about what they do, and about the students, the best teachers will be the most easily bullied.
  15. Given this system, over time, the teaching quality will inevitably get worse and worse, as even marginally good teachers are thrown out of the schools.

How do we fix this?

  1. Fire them all. Harsh, but necessary.
  2. Hire all new teachers, avoiding anyone who has previously taught in the public schools or attended ed school. 
  3. Have teacher performance evaluated by surveys of parents and students. 
  4. Have all administrators elected, either by the teachers or by the local parents.

























How do we fix this?

1. Fire them all.

2. Hire all new teachers, avoiding anyone who has previously taught in the public schools or attended ed school.

3. Have their performance evaluated by surveys of parents and students.



4. Have all administrators elected, either by the teachers or by the local parents.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Evil May Not Be Banal, But It Is Certainly Dumb

Vladimir Putin now seems to have made a bad miscalculation in invading the Ukraine. Fracking is now rapidly driving down oil prices, taking away both his political leverage and his income. Because he has alienated almost everybody, there will be no bailout package, unless perhaps from China. Because everyone knows this, the run on the currency and the economy is that much more terrible.

Did anyone else notice that his face looked very puffy in his recent press conference? I suspect Putin's health is suffering from the stress. He must know his head is on the block.

But how was he so stupid as to get himself into this situation? It's not as though the effects of fracking were not inevitable and predictable a few years ago. Yet he chose to alienate everyone at just the wrong moment.

In related news, fracking is probably also why Cuba and the US are suddenly reopening relations. The lower oil price is killing Venezuelan government finances, already in grievous shape. Venezuela had been subsidizing Cuba, saving it from a desperate fate after the collapse of its Soviet sponsors. Now Venezuela in turn is forced to stop doing this. So Cuba is probably obliged to make some deal the US before the bottom falls out, in hopes of ending the embargo and boosting their economy. Perhaps even for the sake of having a basket for their case to fall into. The shocking thing is that Obama got so little in the negotiations at this point.

Iran will surely soon also show the strain. Just at a time they too have alienated everyone with their nuclear programme.

At the same time, cheaper oil is bound to boost the US, first of all, and the developed West generally.

It seems almost like supernatural aid, doesn't it? God suddenly drops a miracle in the US's lap, like when the Berlin Wall suddenly fell.

That may be so, but a simpler explanation is simply that evil, and evil people, are also necessarily stupid. Because they are stupid, they are always playing the short game, unable to calculate things very far forward, so that over time they are guaranteed to lose. An obvious example was Saddam's fight to the death in Iraq to protect a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction that it turned out he mostly did not have. He probably genuinely believed he had them. Dictators who rule by fear and corruption necessarily become sourrounded by people who will never tell them the truth, but only what they think they want to hear, and what they think will be to their own personal benefit.

North Korea's cyber attack on Sony falls into the same category: “B” for “boneheaded.” For no material gain, they have revealed their current cyber sabotage capabilities and alerted the US public to the threat. This guarantees that Western defences will be good and solid if and when it really matters to North Korea. And rather than blow their cover while accomplishinng nothing, they have probably accomplished the very thing they wanted to prevent. Virtually everyone in the West is now dying to see “The Interview,” it has had the best free publicity campaign a movie could ever get, and even if Sony is too crazy to release it on DVD, North Korea has effectively laid down a challenge to all hackers everywhere to ensure that it is indeed widely seen by any means necessary.

Long-term, does North Korea believe it can really win a hackers' war against the US?

Clearly, there is no long-term thinking involved.

Everywhere and always, the devil has the tactical advantage. Everywhere and always, St. Michael and the angels have the strategic advantage.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jeb Is In

It looks as if Jeb Bush has decided to run. This immediately makes him the favourite for the Republican nomination. I hold to my prediction from before: the Republican nominee will not be Chris Christie, and the Democratic nominee will not be Hillary Clinton.

I also expect Mitt Romney to run, and I think he has a good shot. Here's why: Bush apparently plans to run to the centre, so t hat he can have a better shot in the general election. This could work, because the right looks fragmented: Cruz, Paul, Rubio. Still, Bush runs a serious risk of losing the nomination to some firebrand to the right. Solution: Mitt Romney enters and runs to the right, as he did in 2008. As worst, this further fragments the right. But this also provides the establishment with a backup plan, if the right will not sit still for another centrist run. And if Romney loses to Bush, he becomes an ideal establishment VP pick, so as to pacify the right.