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Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Shootings at Emanuel Church--And the Inevitable Reaction



Emanuel AME Church, Charleston

We knew this was coming.

My Facebook feed is now aflame with irate and disgusted left-wingers condemning, not the killing in Charleston, but Rick Santorum and Fox and Friends for portraying the recent Emanuel Church shooting as an attack on religion. At the same time, the same leftist sources are characterising the suspected killer as a “right-wing terrorist.”

From the perspective of anyone who is religious, the fact that the attack took place in a house of prayer, on people at prayer, is literally infinitely more important than the skin tone of those killed. After all, if we are not racist, as Martin Luther King pointed out, we ought not concern ourselves with the colour of someone's skin.

The left will respond that the killer himself said his motive was racism. That is not conclusive for three reasons. First, we should not jump to conclusions based on early news reports. We make a point of never doing so when Islamist terrorism, for example, seems to be involved. Out of sheer common sense, we should keep to the same standard here. Second, we are under no obligation to accept the killer's own interpretation of events. Why does he deserve such power? Why should we give his views such authority? Doesn't that aid and abet the act? Third, and related to this, even the mere fact, if true, that he saw no special significance in killing people in a church would itself seem to suggest a profound disrespect for religion. This violates ancient norms of sanctuary, after all. The act is self-evident in this regard.

Murder in the Cathedral: martyrdom of St. Thomas a Becket,

Now, for his being “right-wing.” I for one have seen no evidence that he was right-wing in any way. We do not know his political views. He seems to have had no affiliation with any political group. What makes him right-wing? Certainly not the fact that he shot blacks. If that is the assumption, it is simply a slander against conservatism. On the other hand, we do know that he shot people in a church, and in a historic church. If he was at all politically conscious, and politically motivated, he must also have been aware that he was violating the ancient principle of sanctuary. That makes him, if political at all, clearly not conservative, no respecter of tradition. Not right-wing.

Left-wing, on the evidence so far, in fact. If you insist on bringing politics into this tragedy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Laudato Si




The Garden of Eden, Cranach, 16th C.

I agree with most of Laudato Si. Care for Sister Nature, for our fellow creatures, is indeed, and should be understood to be, a vital Catholic value. Our mission, as good gardeners (Genesis 2:15), is the preservation and promotion of beauty; this of course includes natural beauty. It would be terribly wrong to put the Church on the opposite side in that effort.

I also agree with Francis's condemnation of a consumerist lifestyle. Even apart from environmental issues, this is bad for the soul. We should be seeking, each of us, to keep our physical wants and our physical demands small; to walk lightly on this earth, in the world but not of it. We should seek instead, in the words of the gospel, our riches in heaven. And, of course, the less we take of the world's goods, in principle if not necessarily in practice, the more there is left for others. No, I do not buy Keynes to the contrary on this point.

However, past this I run into problems. Francis goes on to declare that there is a current environmental or ecological crisis; and he blames technology, the free market, and economic development for it.

Heavens, no.

If there is some urgent crisis now, it seems to me invisible. And if there is, technology and development are not the cause; they are the solution. What is an improved technology? In essence, an improved technology is one that reduces waste and increases efficiency. That is what technology is. Therefore, any advance we can make in technology and development automatically reduces pollution, helps the environment, and improves the lot of the poor. You think developed countries are polluted? Visit an undeveloped country.


Rousseau's Edenic "Reve."
As for the free market, Francis writes:

Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention 

He has the most fundamental point wrong here: the free market does not work to maximize profits for anyone. Monopolies do that. Free markets keep profits down, as they increase general efficiency. Because they are efficient, they start out being intrinsically good for the environment. Moreover, so long as consumers care about “the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems,” the market must also care about it. If the market does not care, government, in any democracy, cannot do better: it is based on a similar canvassing of popular demand.


Saint Francis preaches to the animals.

Concern for the environment and natural beauty will grow with general wealth. When one is starving today, one lacks the luxury to care about tomorrow; or, for the most part, about aesthetics. Once basic needs are met, people will spend more as consumers in return for a better environment.

Popes are infallible on faith and morals. Sadly, they are as fallible as the rest of us on science and economics.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Yesterday Is Still Over



It looks as though Marco Rubio's campaign has spotted the same huge vulnerability in Hillary Clinton's campaign launch speech that I pointed out here:





Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lectures




A Medieval classroom.

There is nothing so certainly known, in the world of educational theory, than that lecturing is a lousy idea. “Lecturing doesn't work,” one lecturer affirmed ironically at a conference I recently attended. “We know this. There are so many studies.”

Part of the objection to lecturing is certainly political. It is disrespectful to the learner: it makes the teacher, in the popular phrase, “the sage on the stage,” instead of, as he ought to be, “the guide on the side.” There is an obvious power differential there. Part of the objection is philosophical: all knowledge is now supposedly “socially constructed.” So the instructor has no right to impose “his truth” on the students. We are all supposed to make it up as we go along.

But I note that our present lecturer did object on practical grounds. Here are the practical arguments, as I have heard them:

1) Studies show that we retain very little from what we hear in a lecture.

2) Our attention span is a scant twenty minutes long. Anything after that is wasted breath.

3) We read faster than we can speak. And its all already in the text. It only makes sense to transmit new knowledge by textbook, not lecture.

Class time is better used by having the students work on “projects,” on discussion in groups, or at least some sort of exercise to demonstrate mastery.

Now, siddhus, break into small groups and discuss.
Nevertheless, I retain my doubts. As a student, this is not at all how it feels. Sitting in that recent conference, I would far rather be lectured to than be told to discuss the matter in groups. First, a project or discussion feels like an imposition: my energies, thoughts and actions are under another's control to a greater extent than if I were passively listening to a lecture. Rather than feeling respected by this, I feel subjugated. Further, I can listen to a lecture and quietly disagree with it, as I did in this case. Being obliged to enter into a discussion or project more or less compels me to agree with whatever has been said or written, or to disagree at the risk of making a scene. Then too, if I am expected to come up with the lesson myself, with reading or with debate, if I am obliged to make all the effort, I begin to question the need for either instructor or class. What am I paying for here? Finally, despite said studies, it really does seem as if time is being wasted, as if it really would be faster and more efficient to just tell us what we are supposed to learn and move on, instead of, too often, frittering time on some project or discussion to demonstrate to ourselves what we already know.

So, how to account for those studies that show lecturing is useless? Well, you aren't likely to hear it in any ed school, but it turns out there are also studies that show the opposite. That's the charm of studies in the social sciences: you can always find one or create one to support any imaginable point of view. The US government sponsored what was probably the largest study of educational techniques ever, Project Follow Through, and it reported back that, at least in terms of results on standardized tests, the technique that worked best was “Direct Instruction,” essentially lecturing to a prepared script. A recent Harvard study suggests the same: that more time spent on lecturing boosts results on standardized tests.

Because in education generally the consumer is given no choice, there is a bias in the industry towards whatever seems in the best interest of the provider. In other words, the idea that lecturing is pointless and the studies that seem to show this have achieved widespread acceptance not so much because they are convincing, but mostly because they are what teachers want to believe. In this regard, there are two problems with lecturing: first, most teachers can't do it well, and second, it is a lot of work. 


Listening to a lecture in the Chautauqua auditorium.

Most people are not blessed with the ability to give a really interesting talk. It is a talent, like being able to tell a joke, or to write well. Since teachers are not selected for this talent, it is a statistical dead cinch that most teachers cannot pull it off. Most teachers do not want to lose their jobs. Ergo, it is best to believe it is not important.

The obvious flaw in the studies that show learners retain nothing from lectures, and that nobody listens after the first twenty minutes, is that they make no attempt to differentiate between good lectures and bad lectures. All they are demonstrating is that most professional teachers cannot lecture to save their lives.

Consider this: if our attention spans are really only twenty minutes long, how is it that we are all prepared to pay for movies that last an hour and a half or even two hours? A free market should have long ago replaced this with a more profitable format of a series of twenty-minute short features—the more so since, until relatively recently, presenting a longer feature was a technological nightmare, projection reels being only twenty minutes long. How is it that tent revival meetings last days? How is it that the old Chautauqua lectures, which people paid to attend as popular entertainment, sometimes lasted for hours?

The difference is obvious: movies, and good lectures, make some effort to hold our attention. Modern educational doctrine completely ignores the issue of motivation. There is a reason for this: making motivation important puts an onus on the teacher to be interesting. It is better for the teacher if all responsibility is on the students. Twenty minutes is no doubt the limit for fixing ones concentration by sheer will power on something in which one has no intrinsic interest; but this figure obviously varies with interest.

As to reading being more efficient than listening, to believe this requires the second great omission from modern educational theory: memorization. Modern ed theory of course knows about memorization, but it is a bad word, something to be avoided. It is a lower level skill. Accordingly, no notice is to be taken of what is and is not memorable
.
Prof. Russell Conwell. His "Acres of Diamonds" lecture, the most popular ever on the Chautauqua circuit, runs one hour and twenty minutes on YouTube.

Yet, put simply, if we do not remember, we have not learned. 

The slightest awareness of mnemonics makes clear why lecturing would be valuable even though it it repeats information in the text. It is not just a matter of repetition; we retain exponentially better when more than one sense is involved. Here sight is reinforced by hearing.

The real reason memorization is currently rejected, I suspect, is that it is boring for the teacher to repeat things he or she already knows. It does not follow, however, that this is boring for the student, who does not already know the information. And again, the concentration on “higher level” thinking skills, instead of humble things like memorization, tends in practice to be an intrusion on the student's intellectual autonomy. He or she should retain the right to make his own judgements.

So let's hear it for the good old college lecture. Rejecting the lecture format, after all, requires us to reject the wisdom of the ages, to reject a technique sworn to by many of the greatest minds that ever lived. For most of our greatest minds have been teachers, and our traditional teaching techniques come down to us from them: Aristotle, Plato, Confucius, Mencius, Hillel, Maimonides, Jesus, Aquinas, Gautama, Ngarjuna, to name a few. Cheeky to suppose they all had it wrong.

Aristotle. All his surviving writings are actually lecture notes taken by his students.

Indeed, the quality of a teacher used to be measured directly by his ability to command audiences at a public lecture, and to convince attendees in public debate. There was and is a great deal of wisdom in that. And, whether the educational establishment likes it or not, that is almost certainly where we are headed again. With the internet, learners are now able to seek out and learn from the best lecturers wherever they are. They are no longer stuck with the teacher their school says they must have. Consumer choice is back.

It is a democratic revolution as great as or greater than the printing press.

Fiorina


IF Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, then, whoever gets the Republican nomination, the case for Carly Fiorina as running mate becomes quite strong. She is positioning herself as tbe anti-Hillary, and could pull the guilty-liberal sting of voting against a woman. She is also showing herself to be a fighter and a good speaker, two highly valued elements in a VP candidate. VP nominees  are often called upon to brawl so that the top of the ticket can take the high road.

Smart campaign.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Eleanor Roosevelt Launches Her Presidential Campaign Yesterday







You can't make this stuff up. Hillary Clinton reboots her campaign by claiming that her Republican opponents are living in the past. She quotes “Yesterday” as their imaginary theme song.

Nice cultural reference, Ma'am. That'll resonate--with anyone over 65. It's a good song, but it's officially 50 years old today. Even when it came out, it was the one Beatles song your parents liked. Her command of its lyrics is sure to demonstrate to everyone that she is not living in the past herself, no doubt.

Especially since the entire theme of her announcement was to evoke the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt—on Roosevelt Island, in Four Freedoms Park.

It might not be a bad idea to play up her long experience. After Obama and Bush II, many might be craving a steady hand on the wheel. Moreover, after eight Democratic years in the White House, and her role as part of that administration, “Hope and Change” is not a convincing slogan.

But that does not excuse the irony of attacking her opponents as old-fashioned. Using a song that would officially quality as an antique.

It makes her sound not just hopelessly out of touch, but lacking in self-awareness. Give it a little push, look in her sometimes-not-quite-properly-aligned eyes, note her weird smirk, and you might suspect she is delusional.

How could her aides have let this pass? Perhaps she does not listen to her aides.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

No Representation without Taxation?



The Boston Tea Party.
There is an interesting implied corollary to the war cry under which the American Revolution was waged. If 'no taxation without representation,' then why not 'no representation without taxation'?

In fact, in the early years of Canadian democracy, and perhaps elsewhere, this was taken for granted. Anyone receiving public assistance was excluded from the voter rolls. So was anyone receiving a wage from the government—that is, the civil service. The point, and it is reasonable enough, was that any such person had a conflict of interest. Couldn't they just vote themselves more money?

It seems to me it would be a small enough sacrifice, for those truly in need. And, although largely symbolic, it would tend to end any sense of entitlement, among both the recipients of public assistance and the civil service.

Of course, it would probably devastate the NDP...

Friday, June 12, 2015

Joan of Arc Writes in from the Culture Wars


Typical insipid church art. Anglican.

This article is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is absolutely correct in pointing out that Catholics and the right must not ignore the culture. That is the one sure way to lose the culture wars. Moreover, while Christian morality is now a hard sell, the appeal to beauty is the ace we hold in the new evangelization that is so desperately needed in Europe and North America.

In any case, the creation of beauty is our religious duty. And we have indeed not been doing it. Judge is spot on to point out that the recent art we have been getting in Church—the new hymns, the words of the vernacular mass, the redesigned altars, the stylized banners—has been insipid.

But if Judge is right that religion cannot do without art, I think he is wrong to believe that art can do without religion. He is wrong to claim that, since the two parted ways, modern and postmodern art has been doing any better than religion. It has not been incredibly “inspired and dynamic” over the last fifty years. Judge may be too young to know better, but it has not. It has been in a dead stall. Even pop music and pop art, after a brief flowering, has been moribund since the 1960s. Art cannot survive with nothing to say.

He is very right about one thing: “We need our own Rolling Stone magazine. We need an online journal devoted to exploring and explaining popular culture.” This is indeed the needful thing today. We need a lifeline for young Catholics of an intellectual and an artistic bent.

Insipid art from "Rainbow Cathedral."

Because right now, they are trapped in hostile territory.

It's a chicken-egg problem. There are surely a large number of artists who are secretly Catholic; but they know that, if they come out publicly, or make this too clear in their art, they are sacrificing their career. All of the money comes from government grants, and these are doled out by bureaucrats who are themselves highly politicized and leftist.

Stephen Harper Meets Pope Francis



This is the official picture everyone is featuring. It will not be suitable, I expect, for CPC campaign materials.
It seems obvious to me that Stephen Harper received the diplomatic cold shoulder in his recent visit to the Vatican.

When it comes to diplomacy, little things mean a lot. Harper got only ten minutes with the pope: “unusually brief.” Given the time taken for photo op, and the issue of translation, they must have barely had time to speak. Harper was hustled in and hustled out, the minimum that could be done short of the diplomatic scandal of standing him up.

And that photo op? It shows this perennially smiling pope scowling; while Harper's smile looks plastered on. If the pope's scowl were inadvertent, a momentary thing, there would presumably have been a second shot taken without it, and that would be the picture distributed. It seems that the pope's scowl was a consistent feature of the meeting, and reflects its tone.

This was no doubt because Harper was expected to be delivering the demand from the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the pope apologize for the Church's supposed mistreatment of Canadian native people, do it within one year, and do it on Canadian soil. Harper was in an awkward situation: if he did not do this, the opposition parties back home would make hay with the claim that he cared nothing for native people.

But, for the sake of Canadian domestic politics, it put the Vatican in a yet more awkward position. To say yes was unthinkable; to say no suggested a breach with Canada.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Real Toronto



Glorious 12th, Toronto, 1860s.
Growing up in Montreal and in one of the Irish pockets of Eastern Ontario, I always knew there was something off about Toronto. And there still is. On the one hand, it had no culture; it was hopelessly nouveau riche. As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “There is no there, there.” On the other, it had a puritanical and an anti-Catholic streak: “Toronto the Good,” “the Belfast of North America.” A city that still boasted a “Temperance Street.”

Both raps remain perfectly correct. “Multiculturalism,” now all the rage there, requires a tacit admission that there is no local mainstream culture. The original Presbyterian intolerance has been replaced by a new brand of self-righteousness, the intolerance of political correctness. Which is still anti-Catholic.

But as a vacation destination, Toronto can still be a fun place to be. A few trips ago, our family arrived in Hogtown straight from Paris, and after a few days, I at least held the opinion that the provincial capital was a better vacation than the world capital of culture. While there is, objectively, more to see in Paris, you must spend half your time in lines waiting to see it, and then only get to see it over other people's shoulders. Not to mention dealing with the Parisian tradition of contempt for outsiders and petty theft. Toronto has a down-home openness to it that makes it almost like a small town.


St. Lawrence Market

And that, perhaps, is the secret of Toronto. It is just a big, awkward, gangly small town. As a small town at heart, it goes terribly wrong when it tries to be grandiose. The CN Tower? Anyone can pile one stone on top of another. That's a child's idea of impressive. Casa Loma? The very definition of nouveau riche. Pellat, unremarkable for anything else, bankrupted himself building it. With the best accommodations reserved for the horses. Main Street? You want a Main Street? Toronto has the longest Main Street in the world. Jiminey, can even Paris top that?

On the other hand, if you approach Cochonville with the proper attitude of Canadian unpretentiousness, it works. Consider St. Lawrence Market. A simple farmer's market. But the oldest continuous farmer's market anywhere in North America, and, according to National Geographic, the “best” farmer's market in the world. It is. This is what Toronto does best, because it is, in the end, one giant market town, and there is nothing in the world wrong with being a giant market town. Toronto at its best stays in touch with ordinary life. As a result, more than in most big cities, ordinary life in Toronto tends to be worth living. Toronto is about the average guy. Fiddleheads in spring, blueberries in summer, salami in wintertime, all at an affordable price.

Wind Turbine, Toronto style.

Toronto has, by my count, three separate operational farms within the city limits, all publicly funded and open to the public. Can any other city of comparable size claim the same? There is the farm at Black Creek Pioneer Village near York University. There is Riverdale Farm downtown on the banks of the Don. And there is Far Enough Farm on Centre Island—for Toronto could not imagine a family amusement park without a petting farm. In addition, the small “zoo” in High Park, on the west side, is really a showcase for exotic farm animals: yaks, highland cattle, llamas, emus. This is the real Torontonian multiculturalism: farm animals from around the world. You have a little extra space, in Toronto, and the first thing you think of is putting in a pumpkin patch. What else did God make good land for?

And there is nothing so pleasant to do on a summer afternoon than to walk through Riverdale Farm and greet the animals.

There is yet another farm at the CNE, when it is in operation. The CNE, the Canadian National Exhibition, is, of course, the traditional end of every summer for anyone who grew up in Toronto. Nothing is more Toronto than the CNE, and the Princes' Gate at its entrance. At its heart, the CNE was and will always be a good old fashioned agricultural fair. It is just the biggest version of the little summer agricultural fairs once held each year all across the province: the Lansdowne Fair writ large. The surrounding farmers came with their best produce to compete for prizes, and at the same time to be informed of and perhaps to purchase all the latest technological innovations for better living. It is not so dominant as it once was, but it persists. It used to bill itself as the world's biggest annual exhibition. It is now only the seventh largest in North America. But it is surely still the largest hosted in big city. Most US State fairs are in smaller cities, not in self-respecting major urban centres.

Princes' Gate

If you have not gotten your fill of the heady smell of manure by the end of the CNE, the Royal Winter Fair, the harvest fair, is back at the same grounds in November. Complete, of course, with a petting farm.

These are still, for my money, Toronto's best attractions: The CNE, the Royal Winter Fair, Black Creek Pioneer Village, Riverdale Farm, Centre Island, and St. Lawrence Market. High Park could be, with a larger menagerie on display. Everything else is either embarrassing or generic to any large city in North America.

Unfortunately, it is typical of the nouveau riche that they disdain their own heritage, and seek instead to imitate others. Toronto has that curse. Locally, it is called “multiculturalism.” Both St. Lawrence Market and the CNE have come close to closing in the recent past. Thankfully, Toronto's summer festival of multiculturalism, “Caravan,” probably the original Canadian multiculturalism festival, once a very big ticket item, has died. It was just a modern “human zoo,” a way to humiliate recent immigrants. Not something Toronto can do with taste or dignity.

Site of the Battle of Toronto, War of 1812, today.

I used to live very near the spot on which the Battle of Toronto was fought during the War of 1812. It was completely unmarked. Except, that is, for a large memorial to the Polish victims of the slaughter of Katyn.

Toronto would do well to stop trying to be somewhere else, and concentrate on what is so very Toronto about Toronto. We need less signage for Little Italy and Little Portugal and Chinatown, and more cabbages in Cabbagetown. The roof of the new City Hall is going green, and this is good. But it should be growing market vegetables, not flowers. 

St. Anne's Anglican Church, Toronto
Another thing the local hospitality business has completely missed are the marvellous religious structures of “Toronto the Good.” Reviews of the Sunday sermons used to be the main Monday reading for Toronto residents. Screw the irreligious prejudices of political correctness: Toronto is squandering a big part of its unique heritage here. We need more promotion of the Toronto Blessing, of the remarkable Junction Shul, St. Anne's Anglican with its Group of Seven murals, Corpus Christi Catholic with its Kurelek mural, St. Michael's Choir School, and so on. I vote for a complete restoration, as well, of the Toronto Masonic Temple to what it would have looked like at its peak in 1925. That would indeed be a unique tourist destination.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

There's Just a Lot of This Going Around



But if it's women doing it, and it is in the public and not the Catholic schools, you rarely hear about it.

Against Tulip Subsidies



This is a good piece.

I think he misses the simplest and fairest solution to the problem, however: award degrees solely on the basis of challenge tests, or the submission of a thesis.

If a person demonstrably has the knowledge, who should care how he acquired it, or how quickly he acquired it.

Insisting on a set number of hours and years in school before awarding the degree is just affirmative action for dummies. That, and a good way to enforce the class system.

As to businesses insisting on more education than is really needed for a job, this should not be a problem in a free market. If a guy with less education can do the same job, no competent business is going to require the higher degree. The current degree inflation is largely due to people being passed through the system at every level for time served, without objective standards of knowledge acquired. Desperate businesses now feel they need to see at least a bachelors degree to feel confident the employee is minimally literate and well-spoken. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Scarlet Letter "A"



Courtesy Wesley Fryer.

Let us be clear about how we got here. The culture wars probably began with the issue of abortion. It is hard to keep a civil veneer on public discourse when half the population believes the other half is guilty of mass murder. How polite can you afford to be?

Despite that, perhaps surprisingly, virtually all of the vitriol seems to come from the ones suspected of mass murder. As I've noted before in this space, the modern left seems to hate the modern right, but the modern right does not seem to hate the modern left.

These are the visible effects of human conscience. Conscience is real. You can run, but you can't hide.

In their hearts, the advocates of abortion know they are wrong. You don't use euphemisms like "women's health" or "reproductive health" or "pro-choice" if you are proud of what you are doing. So, to try to escape their guilt, like the ancient Hebrews, they scapegoat. Blame someone else for something, and it distracts, at least briefly, that persistent inner voice from its nagging. And of course, the ideal people to scapegoat are those suspected of harbouring, even secretly, condemnatory thoughts towards those advocating unrestricted abortion.

This aggression will get worse and worse, because nothing they can do will ever make their conscience clear. Except, of course, turning and facing the pursuing angel, accepting that abortion is wrong, and accepting their guilt about that.

Hence the growing hostility to religion, to Christianity in particular, and to Catholicism in particular particular. Catholicism is paying for its brave stance that abortion is wrong. Back in the seventies, it seemed the only voice holding firm on this. There was bound to be hell to pay.

Hence the current aggressive support for homosexuality. It makes little sense, except on these grounds. Apparently only about one to three percent of the population is homosexual in inclinations; how else could homosexual issues, and quite trivial homosexual issues like gay marriage, so dominate the social agenda? “Homosexuality” itself is quite probably a social construct, a modern invention: earlier times and other places have never heard of such a thing as a homosexual, as opposed to homosexual sex acts. The notion of “discrimination against homosexuals (transgenders, etc, etc.--the list of new sexual identities keeps growing year by year),” is clearly a social construct. It exists only as a club to beat up conventional morality and anyone who clings to it. They're the bad people, not me. All I want to do is not have children.

Hence the current hysteria about pedophilia, although it may be past its peak. It seemed useful, at first, as another club with which to beat the Catholic Church. But only so long as it seemed possible to associate pedophilia with the Catholic Church. Before this connection was made, pedophilia was well on its way to general public acceptance, like homosexuality. But being seen as Catholic killed it. And the concern with pedophiles has become awkward over time as it has become clearer that it is more common outside than inside the Catholic Church, more common among women than men, and more common among gays than straight men. Damned reality. It looked so good for a while. What better way to deflect guilt for killing your own children than by condemning others for abusing children? Of course I care about children. Look at how severely I want to punish pedophiles!

Feminism is certainly and most obviously about abortion. What are its favourite rallying cries? “A woman's right to choose!” “My body, my self!” “Reproductive freedom!” All just code words for abortion. This bit about equal pay for equal work is just political cover. The original meaning of “a liberated woman” was perfectly clear, to those whose memory is long enough. It means a woman freely available for sex.

Feeling a little queasy yet? Courtesy Elvert Barnes.


The bit about equality of the sexes in general was just cover. The last thing feminists ever wanted was equality. This became obvious by the Eighties, with so-called “difference feminism.” None of feminism's battles since has been about equal treatment. To move back to female privilege was so fast it caused whiplash.

What the feminists always wanted was sex. Lots of sex, Sex without children. Sex without guilt. And so, of course, did their male supporters. Making the whole transition terribly smooth for everyone. At least, everyone over the age of eighteen or twenty, who had no moral core.

Postmodernism is also based on abortion. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever heard a clearly postmodern argument, back in 1972, it was in defense of abortion. If your conscience is troubling you, it is an obvious reaction to claim that there is, after all, in the end no truth and no difference between good and evil. It is just like the kid caught with his hands in the cookie jar, insisting that “nobody did it.” There, now everything is okay. If there is no right and wrong, and there are no cookies, what possible difference, at this point, can it make?

What? It still makes a difference to you? My, aren't you being judgmental! Okay, there is no right and wrong, but it is still wrong to be judgmental. Somehow.

Islamism is based on abortion, too, in a different way. It is a predictable and actually rather reasonable defense against abortionism and the other anti-moral and anti-religious doctrines abortion has spawned, by a traditionalist, moralist, and religious culture that now feels directly threatened. I think it is right to say: no abortion would have meant no 9/11, no al Qaeda, no Taliban, no ISIS.

This pervasive Western sense of guilt over abortion will, in the end, if there is no u-turn coming up in the road, destroy Western civilization finally and utterly.

In the meantime, there will be no peace for anyone.

Because this is so, the best thing those of us who give a damn can do is to keep the focus on the issue of abortion. Anything else is likely to be a red herring, allowing the left to distract its and everyone's attention from the real issue. It is important, in the end, to their own spiritual well-being as well as to the general snowballing into hell to make them face those tiny dismembered bodies.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

American Pharaoh


Congratulations to American Pharaoh on winning the Triple Crown. A great horse!



That said, there will never be another horse like Secretariat. Here's how he did it:



Secretariat was an example of natural beauty opening a window to the divine.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Truth and Reconciliation



Indians and Mounties, 1915.

There is great irony in the name of the commission that just released its preliminary report on the Indian Residential Schools in Canada: “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” It takes this name from the committee set up in South Africa to heal the wounds of apartheid.

But if apartheid was wrong, if segregation was wrong, if Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were right, then the residential schools were fundamentally the right idea. Justice Sinclair is defending the basic views of Bull Connor and Eugene Terreblanche, insisting that minorities must be kept separate from and treated differently from individuals considered members of the mainstream culture. Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Bull Connor monument, Birmingham, Alabama.


I suppose you could say that Sinclair and his colleagues are entitled to their opinion. So, by the same token, were Terreblanche and Bull Connor. I would respond that it offends the fundamental tenet of human equality, which is also to say, it does not do unto others as you would be done by, the essence of all morality. But even if you grant that their opinion is honourable, there is yet something dishonourable about scapegoating the government, or “white people,” for in the past believing otherwise, as many Indians did (and no doubt do) too. That has to amount to pure racism: whatever one does is wrong, if one's skin is white.

Let us parse the alleged crime precisely. The Canadian government was under a treaty obligation to provide free education for native children. This was written in to the various “numbered treaties,” presumably at native insistence. So if this was wrong, who is to blame? 

Mi'kmaq at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, circa 1870.

Perhaps this education should not have been compulsory. Some Indian parents perhaps did not like the idea. But in this, they were in exactly the same situation as any other Canadian parents, now or then. Schooling is compulsory for everyone.

Was it wrong to have this schooling sometimes (not usually) in residential schools, with the children living away from their parents? But this was a practical necessity. Indians tended and tend to live in small groups in remote areas, and often follow a nomadic lifestyle. How else are you going to do it; especially since few able teachers were eager to live in such great isolation? Was being separated from one's family, as many of these kids were, a great hardship? If so, it is a hardship that the wealthiest people in the UK and North America have always been eager to pay a premium for.

Students at a residential school, Chelmsford, England.

Did the schools teach mainstream Canadian, and not native Indian culture? But why wouldn't they? Should government-funded Canadian schools teach a culture other than mainstream Canadian culture? This was the norm faced by any and all immigrants to Canada. Moreover, this is what the Indians themselves once wanted and understood they needed. Their traditional culture involved living by hunting and gathering. Besides being a hard-won, meagre existence punctuated by frequent mass starvation, it was no longer possible. The buffalo had gone. The land was being fenced in. Even if this were not so, Indians could see well enough that Europeans lived better than they did, and adopting European innovations like the wheel, the gun, the horse, the wool blanket, the steel axe, blazed the way to a better future. That was what the treaties were about: the Indians decided to switch to farming, and the government was to aid them in making this transition. In the schools, they wanted to be taught what they needed to know, not about things they already knew, or could learn better from their own elders.

Students and staff of St. Paul's Residential School, Manitoba, 1901.

A lot of children died in the residential schools. The present commission says 6,000, out of a total of 150,000. This calculation can be disputed: previous estimates have been lower, and the commissioners include deaths of native adults after they left the schools. But let's even assume that the figure is accurate. We still need an estimate of deaths among native children remaining with their families over the same years to know whether the schools were a problem. The current report's own demands essentially admit that aboriginal home life even today is not an ideal environment for child health: it calls dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome a “high priority,” it warns of a problem with “family and domestic violence,” and it speaks of a need to “close the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in a number of health indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence.” Even if all this is merely due to a relative lack of nearby medical facilities, it still strongly suggests that residential schools were an entirely reasonable step on the grounds of child health alone.

There is the matter of sexual abuse. But again, to know whether the residential schools were the problem, we would need to compare the rate of child sexual abuse in residential schools with the rate in other schools and in aboriginal families. As we are learning more and more, terrible things happen in schools of all sorts. And even then, we have always known that the overwhelming majority of child abuse, and child sex abuse, takes place at home and at the hands of family members.

Students and staff of a Quebec residential school.

This is not to say that terrible things never happened in the residential schools. They surely did. Any serious pedophile, as a matter of course, if he does not happen to have his own family, is going to gravitate to some school. The residential schools were also at peak operation during a period, the early 20th century, in which ideas of eugenics and racial inferiority were very much in vogue among “progressives”—no doubt including some of the government bureaucrats given responsibility for Indian Affairs. Just as they were prevalent in the Wilson administration to the south, not to mention regimes emerging later in Germany and Italy. Certainly, if guilty parties can still be identified, and in the unlikely event that the statute of limitations has not run out, the courts should do their job. Even government reparations might be called for.

But that is not the tone of the preliminary report we have seen. Instead, its tone is ethnocentric to well beyond the point of outright racism. It is, in other words, guilty of all the worst things of which it accuses others.

The best example is this choice bit, which I need only quote verbatum:

58. We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

Where do I begin? What, exactly, might be meant by “spiritual abuse”? How is it that this committee constituted in Canada assumes jurisdiction over the Pope in Rome? Nor is it enough, either, to apologize for all the charitable work the Catholic Church did on the Indians' behalf, in times when without the Church's advocacy they would probably have been annihilated, when nobody else but the Catholic religious would accept the isolation required to educate them, when Catholic clergy alone made any effort to preserve their traditional languages. The apology is only good enough if the Pope makes it within one year, and on Canadian soil.

Residential school hockey team, Quebec.

That passage alone surely ought to make any sensible person simply dissolve in laughter. But wait, there's more. Much more. In addition, the Catholic laity who donate their money to the Catholic Church are now required instead, and involuntarily, to fund native aboriginal religions:

61. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:
...
iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self determination, and reconciliation.

No mention of the detail that indigenous spirituality commonly included slavery, torture, human sacrifice, infanticide, parricide, and cannibalism. Practices that most Catholics would probably not want to find themselves endorsing and funding from an ethical perspective.

Brazilian Indians practicing their traditional religion. The English word "cannibal" comes from the name of a tribe in the Caribbean.


And then there is the matter of the Catholics' own schools:

64. We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.
Mesoamerican Indians share and commemorate their traditional religious practices

So despite the constitutional right of Catholics to have their own schools and to teach their own faith, they are to be forced to teach instead aboriginal religions to their own children, at their own expense as taxpayers, as approved by aboriginal leaders.

It may by now have occurred to you, as it does to me, that this report does not have the characteristic tone of a group that has become accustomed to either abuse or neglect. Just the reverse: these are people who expect even the Pope in Rome to snap smartly to attention. These are people evidently to the manor born.

And this is exactly right. Who are the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Not a group of typical native Canadians; three prominent Indian tribal leaders. And the experience of Indian tribal leaders, since the original signing of the numbered treaties, has been opposite to that of the average Indian. They are an invested aristocracy. This is the real problem.

When the residential schools were set up, it was as a progressive solution to the problem of Canadian aboriginals. Indians were obviously doing poorly; in fact, facing imminent starvation.

They are still doing relatively poorly, if better than they were. But blaming residential schools for the problem is in the end nothing more than a very useful dodge to avoid fixing it. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is looking for scapegoats. In this, they are following a path well-trodden by other corrupt elites: blame the outsider.

To illustrate: why is Mexico so much poorer than the US? The poverty, after all, starts right at the border, where climate, geography soils, not to mention the history of colonization and then independence, are all the same. Why are South Asians such world beaters the instant they get off the plane in North America and start school, yet South Asia itself seems to struggle so painfully to accomplish anything?


Left: USA. Right: Mexico.


The economist Mancur Olson solved the riddle. The one remaining, but essential, variable is the level of corruption within the given ruling class. A selfish, non-meritocratic governing class can destroy anything.

To obscure their guilt and hold their power, ruling classes everywhere in the “Third World” these days are eager to blame “European colonialism” for all their local problems—when they are not blaming the poor for having too many babies. This is a good, solid red herring, although of course it grows less and less plausible with each succeeding year. Besides distracting attention from their own terminal venality, it allows them to shake down the guilty liberals of the richer nations of Europe for foreign aid, which mostly of course ends up in their own already amply-stuffed pockets. It plays best in cultures that are themselves rather xenophobic, hence prepared always to rally to the flag and believe the worst of foreigners.

North vs. South Korea at night, seen from space.


The leaders of Canada's native people play the same game. The great majority of their proposals do nothing to help any ordinary native Canadians, but instead guarantee more pay and more power for an Indian bureaucratic elite: new graduate programs in aboriginal languages and cultures at universities. Annual studies and progress reports on absolutely everything. Everything to be done “in consultation with Indian elders.” Ordinary Indians tend to be suckers for this tactic, because few cultures are more truly xenophobic, or to be less polite, racist, than the Native Canadian ones. For most of them, the same word is used for their self-identification as a tribe or “nation,” and for “human being.” In other words, anyone who is not a member of the tribe is not human.

Little wonder, then, that the Indian leaders want badly to preserve this culture; it is a bulwark of their power. Little wonder, too, that they reserve their special hate, and most outrageous demands, for the Catholic Church. First, because it preaches directly against this idea, and second, because it is their most dangerous rival for the allegiance of their subjects. If my own experience is representative, I find the average Canadian Indian to be an unusually devout Christian. In this, as in so much else, the culture, outlook and interests of the Indian ruling class are very different from those of the ruled.

The best thing that could be done for the interests of Canadian Indians would be to get rid of this corrupt ruling class. Unfortunately, much of their power is enshrined in treaties. In the meantime, the worst thing that could be done would be to follow the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Manifesto of the New Pentecost



North Rose Window, Notre Dame de Paris.

Art is the production of beauty.

Without beauty no art.

God is perfect beauty is God.

All beauty is a window on the divine.

All beautiful things are icons.

We must not be distracted by the object itself, or its human creator.

Beauty in artifice is God’s creation just as is beauty in nature.

Beauty without faith is dead and deadly.

Faith without beauty is dead and deadly.

The beauty of the art it evokes is a reliable measure of the worth of a religion. 

Sinulog (Feast of the Child Jesus), Cebu, Philippines.


“By their fruits you shall know them.”

Beauty = truth = good.

Without truth, beauty dies.

Without goodness, beauty dies.

Beauty is unmediated meaning.

Beauty is a priori.

Beauty is in the soul, not the eye, of the beholder.


The Lady and the Unicorn: All My Desire. Paris.

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Light That Failed



Kerouac was always an avowed Catholic. So was Andy Warhol.
Years ago they ... said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No I'm not a prophet" they say "Yes you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No it's not me." They used to say "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, "Bob Dylan's no prophet." They just can't handle it. – Bob Dylan, 1980.

The end of the Sixties almost became a religious revival. It should have. That was where it was all leading. It was a sudden surge of new hope, triggered by victory for the good guys in the Second World War, the biggest wave of new hope since the Waste Land began with World War I. It might have led to something substantial. Instead, some of us dropped dead, and the rest of us sold out.

You might even remember a moment when it looked as though something else might happen. You might remember the “Jesus Freaks,” the Hare Krishnas, the Moonies, and all the terror about cults, in around the Seventies. That could have been the future. Instead, all but a few chickened out. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll, okay, that the broader society could tolerate. But religion? Please. Be spiritual, okay; buy a few crystals. Listen to Enya. Try some TM. But keep those conventional moralities away from our stash. We’ll take meaninglessness any day.

We were speaking a little back about the Byrds. The Byrds definitively broke up during the recording sessions for their 1967 album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Michael Clarke left in dissatisfaction, supposedly, with the music being written by the band’s composers. David Crosby left or was fired due to a disagreement over whether to include his song "Triad" or the song "Goin’ Back" on the album.

Hmmm. Let’s parse that. You may recall that, beginning at about this time. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman were tentatively rediscovering Christianity. Clarke and Crosby were both on a trajectory that ended with the utter destruction of their livers. I think we can assume that their world views were beginning to pull apart, and this was merely manifested in their song choices.




Clarke was most likely to be upset over one song, “Artificial Energy.” He had scored a rare co-writing credit on it. The title, and therefore the song, seems to have originally been his idea. But it was completed by Hillman and McGuinn. I suspect they altered Clarke’s original concept. The song begins as a description of the experience of being high on amphetamine—which, of course, sounds like a lot of fun. It ends differently: with the lines “I've got a strange feeling,/ I'm going to die before my time/I'm coming down off amphetamine/And I'm in jail 'cause I killed a queen,” and then a note of musical dissonance. Clarke may have seen this as uncool, and a kind of sabotage. McGuinn and Hillman may have sounded as though they were scolding him. Damned self-righteous Bible thumpers.

As for Crosby, he had written the song, “Triad,” and he badly wanted it on the album. It was a celebration of the idea of a ménage a trois. Hillman and McGuinn voted it down in favour of a song written, insultingly enough, by a third party, “Goin’ Ba ck.” This song, interestingly, could not have been more different in tone than “Triad.” It was a call for a return to the innocence of childhood. “I think I’m goin’ back/To the things I learned so well in my youth…” "Triad"’s lyrics include: “Your mother's ghost stands at your shoulder/Got a face like ice just a little bit colder/Saying to you/
Cannot do that it breaks all the rules/You learned in schools.”




It looks as though the lyrics of “Goin' Back” were a direct response to Crosby. McGuinn and Hillman were perhaps personally repelled by “Triad.” Crosby, for his part, perhaps saw them turning the group into something smarmy and definitely uncool. What was this, Sesame Street?




And then there is a yet more famous breakup: the Beatles. They released their last single in 1970. But what was it? McCartney’s “Let It Be.” The song is obviously religious in tone; it is a prayer to the Virgin Mary. Although McCartney will not say (or deny) it, the title is a paraphrase of Mary’s own words in the Bible. “Let it be done according to thy word.” Paul was raised a good Catholic lad.



That, and some other songs Paul was coming up with at the time that sounded religious in tone—“Blackbird,” “Long and Winding Road”—seem to have been too much for John Lennon's atheist sensibilities. They stopped writing together. On the album version, Lennon introduces “Let It Be” in a comic falsetto voice as “Hark, The Angels Come.” In another take, preserved on the album Anthology 3, Lennon is heard asking in the background, “Are we supposed to giggle in the solo?”

It does not sound as if he was comfortable with the tone of the song.

At the same time, of course, George Harrison was composing religious songs like “My Sweet Lord.” Most of which were not allowed on Beatles albums, and surfaced immediately after their breakup (1970). But he was still on comparatively safe ground, since his stuff sounded Hindu, and was not associated in Lennon’s or the popular mind with any particular morality.



So, leaving Harrison more or less aside, Lennon and McCartney seem to have split at least in part on differing religious outlooks. Lennon went on within a year to record his manifesto “Imagine,” which speaks out directly against religion in its opening lyrics: Imagine there's no heaven/It's easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.”

It is odd that this pretty obvious religious context has not before been stated outright, either by those involved or by the music critics and biographers. It is as though everyone wants to avert their eyes from any consideration of religion. God forbid—er, let me rephrase that…



I think everyone sensed the danger. When Sonny and Cher had merely come out against drugs in the mid-Sixties, it had almost ended their career. When Paul Revere and the Raiders did, it did.

It was Bob Dylan, in the late Seventies, who finally had the nerve to break the taboo and speak openly. Surely, if anyone was big enough and cool enough to get away with it, it was Dylan.

Big mistake. All hell broke loose.



The fan base spoke of Dylan as though he were some kind of traitor. Dylan himself eventually knuckled to the pressure, and stopped showing his faith, although there is evidence he has never wavered in it personally. And everybody else got the message and pulled in their necks. Many indeed became good Christians privately, but they kept quiet about it, and the popular culture mainstream moved on.

Which might explain the exploding popularity, from about that time, of country music. It was the one place in pop culture where the religious could speak openly and freely. The Byrds and Dylan led the way.