The Book!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Best Female Voices Ever





We cannot fairly judge voices from before recording, or even from before high quality recording. I say, in no particular order:

Mariah Carey

Celine Dion

Aretha Franklin

Whitney Houston

Dolly Parton


These are not necessarily the female voices I most love to listen to. These are the best ones in a technical sense. These are the ones that can bring the house down.

Three of them are together in this clip:


Here are three of them in a row in their prime:



To be fair, here's Aretha Franklin's younger voice for comparison:



In case you don't believe she belongs in this llist, here is Dolly Parton singing her own composition "Jolene" slowed down to show the perfect phrasing:



Friday, May 29, 2015

An Opening Score Card


I really should get over my interest in electoral politics. It is a time waster. It matters rather little. I follow it the way someone else might follow basketball.

But with elections coming in Canada, and primaries coming in the US, it should be a fun year. I can't resist. A little handicapping at the post:

Justin Trudeau: has always been Canada's paler version of Barack Obama. His fortunes have always been tied to those of his doppelganger. While the Obama honeymoon has lasted longer in Canada than anywhere, it looks good and over now. Canada is not about to hand power to a charming rookie who is out of his depth, at the very moment the US moves on to something else.

Mulcair? I think Mulcair is a strong candidate. And there is no doubt some fatigue with a government gone long in power and long in the tooth. But I expect Harper to win. In the first place, Canadians are cautious; they are not quick to throw a government out, although when they do they can do it emphatically. Canada regularly has the longest-running governments in the Commonwealth. In the second place, the Liberals and the New Democrats are still fighting for the left-of-centre vote; it will still be somewhat split, giving the Conservatives a natural advantage. In the third, Ontario is currently Liberal. Whenever the Tories are not in power there, it frees up a large army of Conservative political job-seekers to concentrate on their chances at the federal level. Given that the Conservatives just lost power in Alberta as well, for the first time in two generations, that should unleash a second powerful cohort of political operatives at the federal level.

Now for the US:

Among the Democrats, my prediction, now at least a year old, is that Hillary Clinton will not be the nominee. Democrats do not like front runners. They also want to be entertained. Hillary is boring. And she has too much baggage, which keeps getting unpacked in the media.




Bernie Sanders has already generated some momentum. He is an entertaining figure: too old to be president by any ordinary measure, and an avowed socialist who speaks his mind. That makes him the sort of supeficially subversive figure Democrats love to support. A novelty. This is going to appeal to a lot of Democrats.

Martin O'Malley is a very respectable and attractive candidate, and is doing the sort of early leg work that might allow for an upset in a “retail” situation like Iowa. Given that Sanders is in the end unelectable, O'Malley might be well-positioned to pick up the pieces if  and when Hillary implodes.

I could see O'Malley taking Iowa, thanks to hard leg work, then Sanders taking New Hampshire, where hs is well known, and Hillary looking soon like very damaged goods. 

I don't see Jim Webb being a factor. He's a good candidate, but I don't think he has a natural constituency in the Democratic Party. He might surprise in South Carolina, as a fellow sort-of-Southerner, on the strength of Hillary's now-established weakness, in which case Hillary's done. 

I don't see Joe Biden being a factor either. Once they start laughing at you, it is over. 

I don't see anyone of great stature jumping in late. In the first place, that is harder to do now that than it used to be; in the second, there isn't anyone of enough stature in the Democratic Party to pull that off. Possibly Al Gore. But I doubt he'd fancy the gamble. 

That leaves O'Malley as my current favourite, but that could change.

The widest field, of course, is on the Republican side. Everyone who might conceivably want some day to be president is running this year. This is a sure sign of one thing: the political pros are convinced this is going to be a Republican year. This is the year to run, if you're Republican.

Jeb Bush has the inside track. He is the establishment candidate (that is, the favourite of the professional political operatives and office holders), and the establishment almost always gets its way among the Republicans. He also carries a gravitas that plays very well in the post-Obama era; he looks and talks like a grown up.

Scott Walker is the next-most-likely candidate. The establishment is fine with him, and he also has grassroots appeal. If Bush stumbles, a lot of pros will move over. His drawback is that he is still relatively inexperienced, barely more than a one-term governor. This, again, does not play so well in the post-Obama era, in which there will, especially among Republicans, be a yearning for raw competence and a steady hand at the wheel. Walker is also said to have little charisma; he does not look like much more than a typical schoolteacher. He doesn't -look- up to the job. This matters in a president.

Marco Rubio has been surprisingly strong in the early going. He has lots of charisma. Unfortunately, he is young and still inexperienced. If Clinton looks like the Democratic nominee, this is not necessarily a disadvantage: he can play against her as a fresh face, and his ethnicity would make it easier for guilty liberals to abandon her. The problem is, I do not expect Hillary to be the Democratic nominee. He might get the nomination anyway, by miscalculation.

Ben Carson is appealing, but obviously unqualified to be president. Make him Surgeon-General.




Ted Cruz has huge growth potential, but only if he can survive the early contests. He has Tea Party support, and could attract Christian conservative support. However, the party establishment fears him. He is too much of a maverick, and worse, a smart maverick. This would probably make him a great president, but not someone they would turn to unless out of desperation, because they could not control him. Nor can I see him accepting the VP slot. Maybe next time. One problem he has that I don't think anyone else has commented on: his voice just does not sound presidential.

Carly Fiorina is also unqualified to be president, but seems to be doing very well on the hustings. She might surprise in a retail setting like Iowa. She is probably running for VP, and might make a sly choice if the Democrats do nominate Hillary, taking the edge off voting against a woman for guilty liberals. In any case, she is making a case for her sticking around in some capacity. Secretary of Commerce?

Mike Huckabee is seriously underestimated at this point. He can count on solid support from the Christian right. Given the current turmoil over gay marriage and religious liberty, I expect the Christian right to be stirred up and set for a fight this time out. Huckabee is deadly engaging as a personality, with media experience, a true political talent. His problem is that the establishment fears him, again, as someone they cannot control. AS a result, he is going to struggle with fundraising. But he has a shot. If he falls short, he might be ideal VP material.

George Pataki is also being underestimated. Any three-time governor of New York deserves to be taken seriously. It is a remarkable measure of the strength of the Republican field that he is being written off as an also-ran. If he can claim a good issue as his own, that could change.

Rand Paul has no chance. He represents the libertarian wing, and can probably count on a solid 20% support in a Republican primary. But his foreign policy views are too far out of sync with the party. He has no growth potential. In a crowded field, he could make a big splash in the early primaries, perhaps winning in Iowa. But it will not matter.

Rick Santorum also has no chance. His natural constituency, the Christian right, is more comfortable with Mike Huckabee. I would expect him to carve out a stance on the far right on social issues, to play the bulldog, in order to find a constituency in the early going. But this will prevent any growth in support over the long term. He may cement his status as an important voice within the party.

Lindsey Graham is a good candidate, currently underrated, respected by his senate colleagues. His foreign policy experience should play well in the current international climate, especially if foreign policy crises intervene during the race, as they seem likely to. He also has the natural advantage of being from South Carolina, a crucial early primary state. He could even go all the way. More likely, he will be in an ideal position for either VP or Secretary of State in a Republican cabinet.

Rick Perry, given his record in Texas, ought to be given much more attention than he has been as well. He is hobbled, it is true, by his debate disaster last time. But I think a lot of people share my instinct that he is far too good a candidate to be cast off so casually. He claims it was due to pain-killers he was taking. If so, and if he can be reasonably impressive in an early debate this time, he should be able to wipe that slate clean, and begin to be taken seriously.

When I predicted that Hillary Clinton would not be the Democratic nominee, I also predicted that Chris Christie would not be the Republican nominee. They were both front-runners at the time. Christie got unfairly sidetracked by the bridge scandal, with which, so far as we can tell, he was not involved. Yet he has not recovered. I think that, regardless of the truth of the bridge affair, it brought to the fore an uneasy suspicion that there might be skeletons in Christie's closet. I share that suspicion. I think he is a risk as a candidate for this reason, and I expect a lot of Republicans feel the same way. On top of that, he faces the same roadblocks on the way to the nomination that Rudy Guiliani faced: too urban and Eastern for Iowa, too rough and tumble for New Hampshire, and too urban and Northern for South Carolina. And he cannot win Nevada without conjuring images of mob backing, being from Jersey. DOA by Super Tuesday. Possibly a very good VP pick.

Bobby Jindal is also underestimated. He has a good record of sheer competence in Louisiana. He has a marvellous ability to combine long experience with an imporession of youthfulness and energy. He has established himself among social conservatives and the Christian right, and is doing pretty well recently in getting attention for his stands on international affairs. His problem is that he is everyone's second or third choice. That, and no charisma. I will not be the first to point out that he does not sound presidential; but I think he has been working on that. He has to hang in somehow until the late going to have a chance. He might be a good choice for VP.



John Kasich is another terribly attractive candidate. Highly respected by colleagues, and with important media experience. Strong on budget and economic issues, which are likely to come to the fore during the campaign, and with much gravitas. He has break-out potential.

Donald Trump: purely comic relief. I'll enjoy watching him.

In sum, among the Republicans, I think we have the strongest field of candidates any US party has ever put forward, certainly in my lifetime. The attention this is likely to garner is likely, in turn, to suck oxygen from the Democrats over this election cycle.

I am extremely unhappy with the recent decision of Fox and CNN not to have all candidates participate in the first televised debate. Given the strength of the field, and how close they are to one another in the polls, this is an obvious injustice to both the candidates and the voters. It is simply unthinkable, for example, that a three-time governor of New York or Texas, like Pataki or Perry, should be excluded from such an event.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Down the Rabbit Hole and Off With Their Heads



Guess what comes up if you google "postmodernism"? This is so accurate on so many levels...
Does anybody still care about postmodernism as a philosophical movement? Hasn’t it already been laughed out of town?

Apparently not. A friend has sent me a link to a couple of recent blog entries that show postmodernism at its finest. All about “A God That Could Be Real in the Scientific Universe.”

Not the lovely postmodern “nuance” in that statement. No commitment to God being either real or not real. Nor any actual claim that the universe is either scientific or unscientific. Even quotation marks are in quotation marks.

Let’s look at the very first sentence of the piece:

"’God’ is a word.”

What can this mean? Obviously not what the author is saying, because that is self-evident. She means that God is only a word. There is no other reality.

Postmodernists cannot say what they mean plainly, because it then immediately appears absurd. After all, if “there is no truth,” then the statement that “there is no truth” cannot itself be true. But that is what they actually believe. We just make up whatever it is we want to believe (“reality is socially constructed”). It follows that anything they say or write is simply a matter of bullying others into accepting their own preferred world view; which will be whatever they believe for whatever reason to be in their self-interest. Even though, to be rationally coherent, they must indeed believe that they themselves are also not real, they nevertheless invariably choose to believe in themselves as an arbitrary matter.

Our nonexistent postmodernist author continues:

“If we define it, even subconsciously, as something that cannot exist in our universe, …”

Note that not only is there nothing beyond words, but we are free to define words however we like. I guess that follows well enough from there being no objective reality: if there is none, it really makes no practical difference what a word “means.” All meaning is illusion. Except that illusion is also illusion, and cannot exist. Presumably, we only ever delude ourselves, just as we can readily swallow our own face. But since she reserves to herself this power of definition, there is no way of knowing what she is really saying, or rather, meaning. When she writes “God is a word,” she might be using those words to say what I would mean if I said “fish ride bicycles,” or “I buried Paul.” It is nothing but sounds, or at least would be, if there were sounds. Whatever sounds are. And whatever is is.

So why should anyone care what any postmodernist ever writes? You want nonsense? Alice in Wonderland is a much better read.


The postmodern soul on its rigourous quest for God and spiritual meaning.


She continues:

“… we banish the idea of God from our reality and throw away all possibility of incorporating a potent spiritual metaphor into a truly coherent big picture.”

Note that phrase, “our reality.” (And earlier, “our universe”). As we said, there is no objective reality. We simply “construct” whatever beliefs seem pleasing (or “coherent”) to us.

This is why the rest of her piece involves no reasoning, and no evidence. All that is left, given her premises, is simple assertion: God exists. Because I want him to exist. I choose to make him.

Of course, he is not all-powerful. That would be me.

Note the tangent on dark matter. It has nothing obvious to do with the existence or nature of God. Yes, there is pattern in the galaxies; but the discovery of pattern in the physical world is hardly a new revelation. Look at a flower. Look in a mirror. It is important in demonstrating the existence of God solely because it is important to her personally. Since her husband is involved, it is pretty and satisfying to pretend that it is of great theological significance. And so it is.

No need to read further. There really is a crushing banality to evil.

Quite seriously, one would get much more of value and interest in listening to the fantasies of a psychotic than in reading postmodern theorists. At least (and it is far from a small matter) the former has an objective check on his thinking. It is not just narcissistic wish fulfillment.

Isn't the guy on the right Bertrand Russell?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Plea for the CBC




Founded by the Tories under RB Bennett.

Non-Canadians can stop reading now.

Canadian conservatives tend to be anti-culture, anti-arts. This is a dreadful mistake. Shelley was right in saying that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world; the pen really is mightier than the sword. The culture wars will, inevitably, be won in the culture. All politicians are ever able to do, unless they are themselves, like Ronald Reagan, artists, is rush to the front of the mob and pretend they are leading. Leave the culture on the other side, and the right will always lose.

Nor is there any unwritten rule that artists are always going to be leftists. They are not. In the early years of the twentieth century, the finest English poetic voices were on the right: TS Eliot and WB Yeats. Jack Kerouac was a Taft Republican. Even supposedly counter-cultural figures from the Sixties have revealed that they merely felt obliged to keep to themselves essentially right-wing views: Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, and so forth.

So we should all shut up about shutting up the CBC. We need the CBC. We need it desperately in a country like Canada, not so much because we are threatened with assimilation by American culture, but because we are threatened, by a challenging geography, with regional, centrifugal forces. We need a megaphone to speak for Canada united.

On top of that, there is the issue of international branding. People outside France buy French products largely because “France” means something as a brand. So does “Japan,” or “Germany.” Canada too means something as a brand, but it is just good sense to advertise. A CBC concentrated entirely on Canadian culture and focused outward as well as inward, with the new fora of international cable and the Internet out there, would do this. It would also project “soft power” that might stand us in good stead in case of international conflict.

Wince all you want about exempting the arts from the free market. It works; and the arts have rarely, anywhere, been part of the free market. This is an exception to the general rule. We have seen government tinkering work in the remarkable growth of the Canadian popular music industry, unfairly subsidized, no doubt, in market terms, by Cancon rules. CBC radio, which unlike TV is all Canadian content, has also genuinely done a lot for Canadian culture.

Nor would this cost much—less and less with the growth of technology. The French auteurs used to talk of the ideal of a “camera-stylo”—a cinema that could be as intimate and personal as a writer’s pen. We have that now: everybody carries a video camera in their pocket, complete with means of instant transmission.

Foreign content.
The trick is to require that CBC broadcast only Canadian content, with a clear mandate for national unity and promotion of the Canadian brand. No shows from the US or Britain. Besides serving no national interest, such shows put the CBC in direct and unfair competition with private broadcasters. Bureaucratic bloat could be avoided by enforcing a budget requirement that limited percentages available for anything off-air.

And no money for anything the least bit “multicultural.” Canadian culture must belong to all Canadians.

Non-Canadians can now resume reading.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Growing Problem of Foreigners Not Knowing How to Think



German (left) versus Chinese techniques of exptressing an opinion, graphically illustrated. More at bsix12

Recently, I attended a conference for English teachers, and a talk on the need to “teach our students critical thinking skills.” This is a growing movement within EFL (English as a Foreign Language). And it is alarming.

We are not talking here, note, about grade school kids, or high school kids. These are college and university students.

Can we assume that these students really “do not know how to think critically”? Isn’t there an obvious danger that what we are really seeing, given the EFL context, is a tendency to think in ways unfamiliar to us EFL teachers as Westerners? Isn’t it racist, flat-out racist, to assume that we are the experts on “how to think,” apparently on no better grounds than that we Westerners?

But let’s suppose the students—EFL students everywhere, apparently-- genuinely do not know how to think. Should we, as English teachers, be telling them? If the average university student “does not know how to think,” on what grounds can we assume that the average English teacher does? We have no qualifications, and have never been tested ourselves, in the subject. How much do we really know about formal logic, logical fallacies, formal debate procedure, and the syllogism? You want someone with qualifications to teach you how to think clearly and incisively, you want a philosophy grad, not an English major.

Finally, where do we get off deciding what the students need to know? Our students have signed up to learn English. That’s what we tell them we are here to do, and that is what they are paying for. Where do we get the right to instead make them spend their time “learning how to think” as we would like?

German versus Chinese approach to problem-solving.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem we face in the EFL field. In the normal course of things, as the EFL field has grown, it is universities and linguistics departments in English-speaking countries have set themselves up as the "experts" to train aspirants for this "profession." With the trainers being the resident instructors there.

This means that those who are training people for careers in EFL either 1) have not themselves ever taught abroad, or, 2) if they have, have decided they would rather return home. In other words, they are self-selected for not being good at dealing with foreign cultures.

Among other problems, this bias means that the standard TEFL/TESOL training ignores altogether the one most important issue faced by people in the field: how to deal with a foreign culture.

Nor, catastrophically, do they learn anything about comparative lingustics, because their trainers know nothing about it. Asa result, the field tends to treat EFL students as though they have never previously known any other language; as if before they started learning English they could not read or write.Besides being terribly insulting, this means we spend a huge amount of time--about half of all class time, by my reckoning--"teaching" EFL students things they already know from their first language: skimming and scanning a reading passage, composing a paragraph, listening for details, and so forth. At the same time, we ignore any issues that are likely to cause them special problems: things like the difference in how tone is used in Chinese and in English. To teach at all efficiently, any teacher of EFL should have a basic knowledge of their likely students' first language--training should involve at leasto ne course in comparative linguistics. This need not require all the heavy lifting of vocabulary aquisition. But they should know the basics: word order, how stress is used, what phonemes are available, and so forth.

Ultimately, the solution is simple: TESOL training should be offered and taken, by native speakers, but at universities in non-English-speaking countries. Nor would this be difficult to do: the expence of moving abroad could be more than offset by the cheaper cost of living while studying in a country like Cambodia or Costa Rica.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Men Prefer Smart Women



The results of this study are significant, because feminists are always saying the opposite: that men prefer dumb women.


Males value intelligence most as it's a sign a woman will be a responsible mother | Daily Mail Online:

The truth is that men prefer smart women, but smart women are never feminists.

A case in point: It is hardly suprising that feminists get less attention from men than do other women.

What is remarkable is that feminists can't seem to figure out why.


Osama Bin Laden's Book Club




Move over, Oprah!

It is interesting to see what was on Osama Bin Laden’s bookshelf. The contents of his private library have just been released by US Intelligence.

The most notable thing is, as I would expect, his appreciation for Islam seems to have been rather superficial. He had the Qur’an, plus a selection of short tracts roughly at the “Islam for Dummies” level. These are primers, largely written for non-Muslims: “What Must Be Known about Islam”; “Muhammed, Messenger of Allah”; “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam.” They are the sort of short paperbacks commonly found free on racks in malls around the Gulf, for the benefit of non-Muslim tourists. Books that would be of no use to anyone who knew Islam well. Just enough context, I submit, to convincingly talk the talk.

Interestingly enough, his bookshelf also included another book on a religious theme: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, an early twentieth century “New Age” tract on Freemasonry and the like. Certainly not of any spiritual interest to any serious Muslim; Islam generally frowns upon such things. It is the sort of titillating book that appeals to those with sophomoric knowledge of world religions. The sort who want to go to Tibet to get their palms read.

The initiation of a Freemason.

But the most prominent theme in his reading seems to have been leftist writing of an anti-Western and anti-capitalist bent. Noam Chomsky scores two books: Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, and Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Other titles include The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. On the measure of his reading list, Bin Laden was more of a leftist than a Muslim, and certainly more of a political than a religious animal.

Which is probably generally true of all the suicide bombers and terrorists bizarrely now being called “religious extremists.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

About the Spanish Inquisition

An Old Hope




Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!

I am no expert on economics. It fascinates me, but it is, in the end, a social science. Which means to me that its data are unreliable. So I am not qualified to comment on this recent piece. But I include it because of its possible relevance to my own point that Western Civ died in the First World War.

Despite the title, its thesis seems to me to be hopeful. It argues that free trade and globalization make war increasingly unlikely. The century of relative peace between Waterloo in 1815 and Sarajevo in 1914, sometimes called “Pax Britannica,” was, it holds, no lucky accident. The First World War was a desperate rear-guard action by the traditional old landed elites, seeing their powers slip away. And, if we can ever shake off the last vestiges of socialism and Keynesianism, we may yet get back on track.

The argument seems to me to make some sense. After all, more land or even more resources means nothing in an industrial economy and given free trade. Let alone that, in modern democracies, you have to give any conquered people the vote. The one group to whom it would matter is the old landed warrior class, committed both to land and to war, who would see an expanding empire as an opportunity for their younger sons. Moreover, going to war would magnify their political power back home.

Germany was clearly more worried about Russia than France...

I note that the nations most responsible for the war’s outbreak were those in which the old landed warrior class were a) most dominant, and b) most threatened; yet also the nations that c) as nations, had the most to lose. The initial culprit was Austria: a terribly rickety aristocratic government already clearly in decline. Next to break the peace was Czarist Russia, by mobilizing in response: still run by aristocrats, but developing quickly. After that, industrialized but autocratic Germany. It was the ancien regime’s last throw of the dice, driven to desperation by their declining importance in the modern world.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Michael Coren Swims the English Channel



That was then ...

The time has come, The Walrus says, to speak of Michael Coren. He has raised much fuss, in Canada and abroad, by recently converting from Catholicism to Anglicanism on the issue of homosexuality. He has now explained his position in The Walrus.

I know how he feels. He is a part of literary Toronto. It is, in the end, a small place, and it would be socially terribly difficult to maintain Catholic teaching on the matter, surrounded by gay friends and colleagues. This, I think, the call of the world, is Coren's bottom line, and it shows in the way he begins and ends his Walrus piece. He as much as admits it in so many words at one point, in a backhanded way: “A mingling of income, self-perception, and reputation made it difficult to say what I truly felt.” (Was that really then, or is that now?) I, too, have gay friends and colleagues, whom I dearly love—in, I guess I have to add, the true, non-sexual sense. It is a painful issue, in the current social climate.

But that is not, in the end, an excuse. We are all tempted by the world. We must not succumb, even if our social life, or indeed our livelihood, might suffer. And any of Coren's other justifications are unconvincing.

He begins with the profoundly non-Catholic argument that “times change.” Later, he refers to opposition to homosexual sex as “outdated.” As he must, as a former Catholic, know, that holds no holy water. Eternal truth, faith and morals, cannot change, or else it was never truth. As Coren himself has pointed out in a recent interview, the Catholic Church simply cannot change its teaching on homosexuality, for this reason.

What Coren really seems to be saying here is that the social costs of maintaining the Catholic teaching on homosexuality are getting too high.

His second argument is that fellow Catholics have been unkind to him over the issue. This is irrelevant for a couple of reasons. First, since it came after his conversion on gay marriage, it cannot be a reason for it. Second, it is ad hominem. Truth is truth, quite apart from whether the person saying it is rude or gentle about it.

His third argument is that Catholicism has elevated homosexuality to an importance it does not deserve.


... this is now.

This seems completely disingenuous. It is not the Catholic Church that has been saying for the past several decades that homosexuality is important. It is the homosexuals, along with the secular society. If you consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you find homosexuality listed there right along with masturbation, fornication, and adultery. No worse, and no better. All four are wrong. But probably all Catholics have good friends who are guilty of at least one of these things, given the great improbability that they are not guilty of them themselves. Pope Francis sought to make the same point in his famous “Who am I to judge?” interview. So who exactly is pulling homosexuality out of the mix as some sort of poster child, and why? It is not the Church. Looks like it is Coren, for one, in his current conversion.

In any case, Coren is guilty of a big honking non sequitor. The claim that homosexuality is a relatively minor sin, does not mean it is not a sin.

As I pointed out fairly recently on this blog, most Christians would have no problem with homosexual civil unions that gave homosexuals the same rights as married couples. Many would have no problem with gay marriage as a legal matter. I have myself been in favour of gay marriage for much longer than, say, Barack Obama. This is not the issue. The issue is saying that homosexual sex is morally okay. And, beyond that, not even permitting anyone to say it is not okay. That is where we are heading now. And, frankly, if its advocates really thought themselves that it was okay, they would not feel any need for this third, profoundly radical, demand.

Coren's next argument is that homosexual orientation is more central to the homosexual's identity than alcohol is to the alcoholic, or adultery to the adulterer, and therefore cannot be treated as parallel. But this is surely a straw man: the Church does not condemn homosexual identity, but only homosexual sex acts. It condemns it in the same way it condemns heterosexual sex outside of marriage, remembering that not all heterosexuals will ever marry, or heterosexual sex among the clergy. Is homosexuality then more a part of a homosexual's identity than heterosexuality is of a heterosexual's identity? Is that some new kind of equality?

His next claim is that homosexuals are “born that way.” He combines this with a jibe that Christians tend to deny this. Another straw man, surely. The Catholic Catechism points out, correctly, that we do not know the true roots of homosexuality—it does not deny the possibility that it is inborn. But that is of no relevance. Having a temptation to sin, inborn or otherwise, obviously does not absolve one of the sin. If there were no temptation, no one would ever sin.

To be fair, Coren's deeper point is that it is “theologically dubious” that God would create some people with an inborn tendency to sin. Yet how is this case any different from, say, causing some people to be born into a rich family, remembering that “blessed are the poor”? Or letting them, innocent, be born into an oppressive regime like Nazi Germany, or a libertine one like North American today, where temptations to sin are bound to be greater? We have here no more than one more formulation of the old Problem of Evil; we need not get into it here, for it has been addressed so often. It is remarkable if Coren has spent his entire spiritual life to now without having to deal with it.

Coren then accuses Catholics or Catholicism of “dishonesty” or “hypocrisy” because, he estimates, one third to one half of Catholic priests are gay, “and by no means are they all celibate.”

First, we can eliminate from his complaint any “gay” Catholic priests who remain celibate. In this case, being “gay” is of no consequence. So the “one third to one half” estimate is a red herring twice over. For the rest, no doubt there are some gay priests who violate their vows; does this discredit the Catholic Church? Has the Catholic Church declared somewhere that Catholics, lay or clergy, are sinless? Actually, just the reverse: Catholics say we are all sinners.

Coren then claims, tiresomely, that Bible scholars are coming to a “new understanding” of scripture suggesting that the prohibitions of homosexuality there found are not really prohibitions of homosexuality.

This is no doubt partly true; although on the evidence of Coren's own exegesis said new understandings do require a pretty supple imagination. In order for Protestant denominations to justify dropping their historical opposition to homosexual sex, after all, their theological supporters and operatives must indeed reinterpret scripture somehow. This is an ever-present temptation, in the face of our own perceived present wants and needs; notoriously, even the Devil can quote scripture to his purposes.

To prevent rationalizing one's way to any sort of immoral behaviour or theological error as convenience demands it, Catholicism precludes this gambit. You learn something in two thousand years or so. We are not free to reinterpret scripture at will. We are obliged to understand it broadly in the same way the Church has always understood it. We need to consult the church fathers. It is relevant, therefore, that, in addition to the obvious meaning of the actual words of the New Testament, theologians and Church councils all the way back to the Didache clearly understood homosexual sex to be forbidden. No fudge here, lads.

Coren's next claim is a familiar one, that “love” requires the acceptance of homosexual sex. This relies on a gross though common materialism, which equates love with the sex act. Enough said there.

In the end, if you will pardon the phrase—it seems impossible to avoid double entendres on this subject--I suspect that Coren has been terminally frightened by the very rapid success of the current and growing anti-Catholic pogroms. Can't blame him too much for that: he is right out there. Things are moving so quickly that, in just the past few days, we have seen the bizarre anomaly of a small private bakery in Northern Ireland being convicted and fined for refusing to bake a cake expressly celebrating gay marriage--in a jurisdiction in which gay marriage is illegal.

They are coming for the Catholics. Coren sees this. He does not want to be home on that dark night when the knock comes on the door. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Woman on the US Currency?




Harriet Tubman.

Right; it seems that American feminists have caught the same bug as Canadian feminists, and are demanding that a woman at last appear on the currency.

At least this makes a little more sense than the Canadian case, in which there has virtually always been a woman on the currency. In the US, sisters have only been there now and then, as Colombia, Susan B. Anthony, Sacajewa, and so forth.

They have even chosen a candidate: Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman

Bad idea.

It is wrong in the first place to put political figures on the bank notes. Partisan political figures are divisive; they cannot represent the nation. At least the Americans have the excuse of not having had a monarch for head of state; presidents perhaps seemed like a necessary replacement, to one of little native imagination. But to feature prime ministers, or, worse, unelected people known only for their involvement in a political cause, is in terrible taste. It is like picking a fight.

The currency should feature either symbols of the nation as a whole, of the people, or cultural figures. The nation is the people and the culture.

Suppose the Americans want a woman on their currency, because of her sex—offensive as such sexual discrimination is. Suppose they also insist on a black woman—offensive as such racial discrimination is. It is still entirely possible to choose a worthy candidate—worthier than Harriet Tubman, whose life accomplishment was freedom for 70 African American slaves. Freedom in Canada, one might awkwardly note. A worthy thing, but her image tends to perpetuate the destructive myth that the African American history, experience, and culture is distinct from and not fully a part of the American culture. There are better candidates, without the subtext that Americans ought to be ashamed to be Americans.

For, as a matter of fact, if blacks (aka African Americans, Afro-Americans, people of colo(u)r, negroes, depending on when you first got drawn into the racial hassles in the US) have never been central to American politics, they have always been central to American culture.

Ladies and gentlemen, in no particular order, of whatever epidermal hue, I give you Bessie Smith.

Bessie Smith

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turnabout Is Not Fair Play







Heads LGBTs Win, Tails Christians Lose | The American Conservative:



'via Blog this'

The Waste Land



Dali, "The Persistence of Memory"

Western civilization has never recovered from World War I. It has PTSD and has been trying to commit suicide ever since.

We saw Yeats’ prophecy of this in “The Second Coming,” first published in 1920. But there was another great poem published just two years later, in 1922: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Many consider it the first great trumpet blast of Modernism. Which is to say, the general nervous breakdown of the arts in the West.

Yep.

It was written by Eliot when he was himself suffering from what we now would call depression: "nervous exhaustion," they called it then. The poem is a profoundly accurate depiction of the experience of depression. If we really want to understand depression, we ought to be studying it carefully. It is hard to see spiritual things. We need someone with Eliot's talent to show them to us clearly.

Thomas Stearns Eliot. "T.S." to you.

The most notable aspect of the poem, of course , is that it is all frustratingly incoherent. That is the point; that is the essence of depression. There is no protagonist, no consistent sense of self: "depersonalization," the shrinks call it. Instead, a seemingly random parade of narrators take up seemingly random threads, as if an invisible hand were turning a radio dial. Sensible narratives carry on for a while, then are interrupted by something else. Shrinks call this "inability to concentrate." Most notably to my mind, there is a sense of meaninglessness: things seem to mean something, but the meaning always remains just beyond reach, ephemeral, like a will-o-the-wisp. A lot of dead-end allusions. "A lack of interest in anything," the good doctors will conclude. There is certainly a pervasive sense of anxiety: something bad is always coming. Sorrow? Perhaps there is sorrow; you decide, reading through. I do not see anything resembling ordinary sorrow. A sense of loss, agreed. But sorrow is not, in fact, the defining element of "depression."

It is, in sum, a "Waste Land." A barren landscape. It is the desert sands of Yeats' prior poem. But Yeats was foreseeing this state; Eliot is living in it. The image is so apt, for what Western civilization has been struggling through, that we have been writing about it ever since. Becket's Vladimir and Estragon inhabit the same landscape. So does Orwell's Winston Smith. Dali paints it in "The Persistence of Memory." Ginsberg's angelheaded hipsters prowl it in the predawn of "Howl." Steinbeck's Okies experience it as the Dust Bowl. More recently, it has appeared as Mad Max's Australia, Dylan's "Desolation Row," Blade Runner's decaying LA, Luke Skywalker's Tatooine, Katniss Everdeen's Panem, and the Georgia of The Walking Dead. Not to mention ten dozen other zombie matinees. Steppenwolf secretly lived there. The Waste Land, perhaps originally inspired by the No Man's Land of the World War I trenches, has become the ruling metaphor for the modernist era, and for modern life. It is also sometimes known as "the rat race." 

Duchamp's "Fountain," 1917.

We have been wandering these barrens for the past hundred years. Our art is at a dead stall; we cannot find our way out of this maze; we have never yet managed to discover a new centre for our cultural mandala, a new cosmic organization of truth, goodness, and beauty. There was a brief period of optimism, true, in the 20's, and a longer one after the Second World War, but things soon settled back into permanent twilight. We have been doing nothing but repeating Eliot's Waste Land and Duchamp's "Fountain" ever since.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dead Byrds







The Byrds were a big deal back in the mid-Sixties. They were “America’s answer to the Beatles.” And they were actually quite good. I know it has been said that only two, Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman, were actually competent musicians. The rest were former folk singers. So, okay, vocal harmony was their strong suit. But unlike most everything else I bought back then, their album 5D still is enjoyable to listen to. They had the Right Stuff. They had the mysterious spiritual vision of the true artist. Or some of them did.

By 2000, only three of five Byrds were still alive. Gene Clark died at 46, basically of alcoholism. Michael Clarke died a couple of years later, also from alcoholism. His liver gave out. David Crosby survives, thanks to a liver transplant in 1994.

Chris Hillman today.

That leaves Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman. Both still apparently healthy, and both still working musicians, if no longer famous. Both having become devout Christians.

Roger (Jim) McGuinn today.

It may just be coincidence. But I doubt it. There were only three ways out of the Sixties: sellout, suicide, or religion. The same might be said of artists; the same might be said of being depressed or “mentally ill.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ring Them Bells, Ephesians





St. Paul on the road to Damascus

St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians seems to indicate that his understanding of the significance of being the “salt of the earth” and “letting your light shine,” as Jesus calls the poor in spirit to do in the Sermon on the Mount, is the same as ours: a calling to the creation of art. That is, the abused and depressed who are called first to Christianity are not asked merely to affirm the truth of the doctrine, nor to proclaim it, nor even to do the moral good, although all these are also expected. The chief thing they are told to do is to create beauty.

Ephesians 5 reads, speaking to the church in Ephesus:

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul uses the same images as the Gospel, of light and fruit, making it plain he refers to the same call. And he specifies what God's will is: “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”

That is, literally, making poetry and music.

Why these and not the other arts? I suggest purely because most early Christians had little practical opportunity to express themselves in other arts. Other arts require the use of specialized equipment and materials--not available to the poor Jesus called. They also require public performance or leave permanent artefacts—not advisable to the oppressed Jesus called, in a time when it was illegal to be a Christian. That leaves singing and poetry, an oral form, of necessity.


Heaven is owning your own instrument.

Nevertheless, churches, once they became possible, have ever since become the prime repositories in the West of all that is beautiful made by human hands: the finest sculpture, painting, music, fresco, incense, flower arrangements, illuminated manuscripts, garments. This fact is sometimes obscured by the relatively recent transfer of many of these artefacts into secular museums and concert halls. In the words of the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, “we decorate the place of God’s presence with the most beautiful things we have: flowers, candles, and music.”

It is telling too that Paul contrasts the creation of art directly with getting drunk on wine. This, and habitual drug use more generally, is the classic temptation of the depressed and of the artistic--”self-medication.”

The cosmos is sometimes portrayed as God's own vast musical instrument: "The Music of thr Spheres," made by the stars and planets in their motions.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Woman Taken in Adultery









1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8)

A still of the woman taken in adultery from the 1920 film "Madame X."

A familiar story.

Naturally enough, when we hear it, our attention is focused on the woman taken in adultery. What happens next, after all, means life or death to her.

Yet this is not at all where Jesus’s attention is focused, is it? He is instead busy writing something on the ground, so engrossed that he is not aware of what is happening with regard to the woman, and must ask her later for an account of what took place.

William Blake's depiction of the woman taken in adultery. He is one of the few artists who seems to have gotten the point, and actually shows Jesus drawing on the ground.


This is remarkable on the face of it. It seems to me obvious that the story is thereby directing us, in proper imitatio Christi, to focus our own attention on the writing on the ground.

We do not know what Jesus was writing (or drawing). Presumably, it does not matter what it was. What matters is that he was engaged in some act of creation. The fact that he was so thoroughly engaged as to be unaware of the dramatic events going on around him shows the kind of intense concentration characteristic of the artist at his art.

Part of the point of the story is that we should forgive sinners. But the larger part of the story is that the creation of art is more important to true Christian religion even than attending to morality, or to matters of life or death.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Why the Polls Were Wrong



Why were the polls so wrong in the recent British election?

Most of the speculation I have seen has centred on the “Shy Tory syndrome.” Similar to the “Bradley effect,” this is the possibility that right-leaning voters, assuming they are being polled by a media biased against them, hide their true intentions until they get to the ballot box.

It seems to me this cannot be the explanation here. For if it were “Shy Tory syndrome,” the exit polling ought to have been similarly biased. But it was the exit polling that first revealed the discrepancy.

I believe it must instead have been a case of the undecided falling disproportionately to the Conservatives at the last moment.

Thesis: a large number of voters in England were holding back on their choice waiting to see how strong the Scots Nats looked. They wanted to vote Labour, or UKIP, or Lib Dem, but their first priority was to stave off the possibility of a coalition including the Scots Nats. In the end, the only way to prevent this was indeed to vote Tory.

And in doing this, as believers in a United Kingdom, they were surely wise. Ed Miliband had of course dismissed the possibility of a coalition with the Scots Nats. As a politician, he had to do that, and the voters were smart enough to realize this, and largely discount it. It would mean nothing if it turned out that the only possible parliamentary majority, saving a grand coalition, would have to include the Scots Nats. Even if there was no formal coalition, Miliband would have to meet many of their demands. And their stated objective was to break up the UK.

This was exactly the scenario the nation was facing if the final polls were right.

In light of that, a lot of sensible people voted at the last minute for the Tories.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Second Coming




The two beasts of the apocalypse.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For my punts, Yeats’ The Second Coming is one of the finest poems in the English language. It is of historical importance, too. It was written in 1919, just after the First World War and the Russian Revolution, at the moment European civilization seemed to stagger and fall, leaving only the steampunks behind; the day Western Civ ended. It may offer us clues as to why.

The more so as it presents itself as a prophesy. The best artists are inspired, and inspired by the same spirit that inspired the prophets: the Holy Spirit.

The poem is usually supposed to express Yeats’ elaborate gnostic theory of civilizational gyres, in which everything eventually flips into its opposite, in 2,000-year cycles. An early New Ager, he supposedly was speaking of the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Durer's Apocalypse.

Maybe.

I believe this interpretation is unnecessary. After all, a good poet and a good poem will not rely on an esoteric theory known only to a few; it must resonate with many, if not everyone, or it will not work as poem. Yeats was no tyro in this regard. Further, Yeats himself always declined to say that he believed in the theory of the gyres. He said it only gave him “metaphors for poetry.” He self-identified to the end as an Irish Protestant, and Protestant means Protestant Christian. If he toyed with esoteric symbols, why, so did Freemasonry, so did the Orange Order, without regarding themselves as anything other than Protestant. And, if he had really been a pagan, would he not have heralded the dawning of the Age of Aquarius with a little more enthusiasm than is shown?

Moreover, Yeats himself says that this poem is not planned by him to express any definite meaning, but is a spontaneous vision. I take him at his word. This may well be a truth God wishes us to know.

Note that the poem makes perfect sense in orthodox Christian terms. The Book of Revelations itself predicts a rough beast, appearing before the Second Coming of Christ. There will first be a Great Apostasy, and terrible turmoil. And a beast will appear from the wilderness.

Paul says the same in 1st Thessalonians:

For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction,[c] 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. ... 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

To Paul, the primary significance of the anti-Christ is apparently lawlessness, a rebellion against the Divine will. So too for Yeats. The first lines of the poem indeed speaks of “gyres”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

But no background theory of history is necessary. This can be seen quite simply as a mandala, universal symbol of cosmic order, coming apart. A bird is a classic symbol of the soul, as in the case of the Holy Ghost. The centre of the mandala is God. A diagnosis, then, of the civilizational problem: we have stopped listening to and obeying God, as a falcon the falconer. And we have stopped doing so in favour of our innate predatory animal instincts, as if birds of prey.




The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
Quite likely a reference to the First World War. And what is the "ceremony of innocence" but baptism? At the Christian apocalypse, the seas and rivers will turn to blood, according to Revelations.

3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.
4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. – Revelations 16
Beast of the Apocalypse.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This again sounds like a Biblical reference. In Revelations 3, the church in Laodicea is told:

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Egyptian sphinx at the Met.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The very expectation that such scenes of chaos predict the Second Coming is a Biblical one; and here is a direct reference to the Book of Revelations more or less by name..

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

“Spiritus Mundi” seems to be Yeats's own invented term. It is ambiguous: it might refer to something like Jung's “collective unconscious,” but it might as well refer to the Holy Spirit. As to the nature of the beast: its “vastness” suggests materialism: big thing; “things” are getting big. Space is getting big. The desert imagery echoes, or rather prefigures, TS Eliot's “Wasteland” as an image of the modern era. One might see it as a time stripped of all soul or spirit, hence of all living, growing things. All that is left is the purely material, which is in the end just barren sands.

The shape as described is obviously the Egyptian sphinx; implying paganism generally; the situation as it was before, or is without, Christianity. But this is also a sub-human image; an image of man as mostly beast. Like the image of the unleashed falcon, a return to a bestial life of pure predatory instinct. It is perhaps time to breathe the fateful name: Darwin. This is Darwin's universe, “red in tooth and claw.”

Note that Revelations already predicts such a beast appearing before the Second Coming proper; in fact, two:

Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. ... 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. ... 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads,17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

This is of course the notorious “mark of the beast,” 666. It is hard not to see this as a reference to overreaching by government. But that may be more the Bible's point than the point of Yeats's poem.


Beast of the Apocalypse.

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The blank gaze seems to me especially important. I think under the influence of scientism, and the scientific imperative of “objectivity,” it has come to be seen as an unambiguous virtue to be unemotional on our approach to the world. In other words, it is “cool” to be “cool.”

It should not be. This is a direct rejection of the prime Christian commandment to love. What is left when emotion is stripped from our world view is pure predatory self interest. The Nazis saw pity as the gravest sin. There is no room for pity or love when it is all survival of the fittest.

The “slow thighs” of the beast surely suggest something sexual. This is a natural concomitant of the reduction of man and the world to a purely physical entity. When it is not about eating, it is about having sex.

The new mandala, the new cosmic order, of scientism, forms around the beast, as the “reeling shadows of the indignant desert birds.” But if birds are souls, here the bird-soul is alienated., from a centre that keeps moving.

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Slouching towards Bethlehem need not suggest a new faith set to replace Christianity for the next twenty centuries, in keeping with the gyrational theory of history. Both Paul and Revelations speak of the beast or anti-Christ setting itself up as a false God and demanding worship. But this they say will not last.

More interesting is that image of a rocking cradle. Because it cannot refer specifically to the birth of Jesus the Christ twenty centuries ago.

First, and famously, Jesus had no cradle in which to rock. Secondly, that infancy ended a long time ago; how is the cradle still rocking.

No—instead of referring to the Christ child, Yeats is referring to children generally. If the Christian doctrine of love is replaced by a doctrine of bestial pleasure, the first and worst victims are sure to be, not the Jews of Europe, or the blacks of the southern US states, but children generally. The new cool bestial man will want sex free of the responsibility of childbirth and child care.

Yup.

Moloch is back in business.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Alberta Swings Left





The Alberta election yesterday is an example of how strange the results can be in a “first past the post” (so-called) electoral system like our own. To be sure, there was a major swing from right to left in the popular vote. The combined left-of- centre vote went from 19.74% in 2012 to 44.76% of votes cast in 2015. That's significant. Nevertheless, the NDP win hinged too on a collapse of the Liberal Party and a surge by the Wildrose. The left of centre vote was united behind one party, and the right of centre vote was evenly split in two, so that the NDP was able to come up the middle. Based on raw votes, which is to say, the actual popular will, the government of Alberta would still be to the right of centre: you will note that 44.76 is still less than 50%. The Wildrose plus the PCs took 52.01% of all votes, and the tiny Alberta Party another 2.28%. Instead, the election has produced an absolute majority for a party that is not even centre-left, but left-left, on the Alberta political spectrum: not the moderate Liberals, but the out-there NDP.

Change in government is good, and Alberta was overdue. But lurches like e this are probably not. They make it hard for businesses and individuals to plan for the future.

This seems to me to illustrate the argument for my own proposal for the Canadian senate. One could do something similar, after all, on the provincial level. Leave the lower house elected as now, by riding; and add an upper house elected province-wide, or nation-wide, by proportion of the popular vote, without ridings.

Why? In the first case, because it would more accurately reflect the popular will, ensuring that all voices are heard. In the present case, assuming, for simplicity, a 100-member upper house, the result would be 41 NDP members in the upper house, 28 PCs, 24 Widrose, 4 Liberals, and 2 Alberta Party, with one Green. In other words, while the NDP would be the largest bloc, it would be a minority government there. The right wing would have a majority in the upper house.

This would also work towards stability, reducing sudden lurches in government policy.

A problem with bicameral legislatures generally is that they can cause deadlock. This is also a problem with proportional representation, as it makes it much more difficult for any one party to get a majority. My proposal would avoid this: only the lower house would have the power to initiate bills. The upper house, on the other hand, would have solely the power to rescind bills previously passed, which had been in effect for a set time period. Even if this time period were just a year, this would allow the lower house to budget on its own.

This would prevent any direct clashes between the two houses, and allow a majority government in the lower house to get on with the practical business of government. There would be no fiscal crises like the recent budget battles in the US. But there would still be a check on government actions.

The idea of ridings is, on the whole a good one. It is a way to protect geographically-based minorities from being run over roughshod by majorities. On the other hand, it does this by short-changing any minorities that are not geographically based. The upper house could handle that: you will note that it gives increased representation to minority parties like the Alberta Party and the Greens. In Canada, our problem tends to be regionalism; we could use such a unified chamber as a corrective. A regional grouping like the Bloc Quebecois would have much smaller representation in this upper than the current lower house. Giving more voice to minority parties, in turn, would encourage their formation, allowing more voices to be heard in parliament and in our public affairs, without the political splintering and ever-changing coalitions one sees in nations like Israel or Italy. There would be a point in voting NDP even if you knew they could never win your local riding.

This form of upper house would also give parties the opportunity to protect star candidates whose talents they consider vital to their success, or their success in government. Such protection would in turn lure more people of high calibre into public life.

Not incidentally, the structure I propose would naturally lead to legislation being regularly rescinded. This corrects a problem with the current system: now, all the incentive is to add new legislation, never to repeal old legislation. As a result, government naturally grows larger and larger, which is not the best thing to have happen. Better to have a balance here.

In the meantime, Albertans, get ready for a rocky ride. Ontarians went through something like this a generation ago, when their longstanding PC government was supplanted first by the Liberals, and then the NDP. It was a less dramatic swing than this one, and I think most Ontarians would now agree that it did not turn out terribly well.