Thursday, March 31, 2016

Fish Creek

Isidore Dumas began to sing "Malbrouck,"... and everyone came in on the roaring chorus: "Mironton, mironton, mirontaine!" Someone else started "Falcon's Song," and from somewhere, incredibly, came an instrumental accompaniment; one of the rebel warriors had brought along his flute. The sun came out briefly and some of the Metis delightedly called the attention of their fellows to the first yellow and purple blooms of the spring wildflowers.

--Joseph Howard, Strange Empire

We stand on the Saskatchewan,
The north wind at our back;
We stand against fat Middleton and compromise.
Against half-measures, and slow, steady advance;
Against compromise religion, a compromise union,
And petitions to compromised men.

We stand against Macdonald, and his men of string
Who pound stakes and draw grids and squares
Onto a living land
Wild as ashes, wild as wind,
Wild as rivers,
And the snow falling.

We stand with Louis David, all the angels and the saints,
With our muskets, like the trumpets of the tribes,
In our sights a mute, Philistine people;
Goliaths, too tall to touch the ground
Their thinking far away, past oceans.
They will leave no footprints.

We will no doubt die.
This morning is Divine Aurore;
Tomorrow it will be the day of mourning;
But after that, the blessed day of calm.
And we will rise, like lilies in the spring.
And they will know this is a land of fire and vision,
And Yahweh lives here,
And we shall have our prophets.
For this we now stand and deliver;
Kill us now, not
In our solitude
One by one.

And should Sir John have shot and hanged us all,
And laid us in our consecrated ground,
We yet live on, uncompromised;
Become a dream
That Sir John will dream.
He cannot stop the dream;
Though he drink whiskey, for he fears to dream;
He knows no other vision.
A dream of distant thunder in a prairie sky.
Black lightning under a gun-blue sky
And the North Wind blowing.

One day Old Tomorrow will die,
And his blood-red Empire will die,
And this prairie will remain,
Ever virgin--
And silence, and the lilies, and the north wind.

-- Stephen K. Roney

There Are No Aboriginal Canadians

Listen to me, as when ye heard our father
Sing long ago the song of other shores -
Listen to me, and then in chorus gather
All your deep voices as ye pull the oars; 
Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land. 
From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas -
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides. 
Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land. 
We ne'er shall tread the fancy-haunted valley,
Where 'tween the dark hills creeps the small clear stream,
In arms around the patriarch banner rally,
Nor see the moon on royal tombstone gleam. 
Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land. 
When the bold kindred, in the time long-vanished,
Conquered the soil and fortified the keep,
No seer foretold the children would be banished,
That a degenerate lord might boast his sheep. 
Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land. 
Come foreigner rage - let Discord burst in slaughter!
O then for clansmen true, and stern claymore -
The hearts that would have given their blood like water
Beat heavily beyond the Atlantic roar. 
Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land.

-- Canadian Boat Song, anonymous. 

Faeroes stamp.

In 1960, in a remote cove at the far northern tip of Newfoundland, the husband and wife archaeological team Helge and Anne Ingstad uncovered the remains of a Norse settlement dating to roughly 1000 AD. It is now confirmed that Europeans have been in Canada for at least a thousand years. There are tantalizing hints of visitors from Europe even earlier. The Norse themselves, for example, were insistent that when they arrived in the new continent, they found the Irish already there. Since the Norse sagas have proven correct in so many other details, they perhaps deserve credence here as well.

The Norse also encountered non-European inhabitants, aborigines or Indians, if you like, whom they called skraelings. But these skraelings were not any native group now in Canada. They were apparently representatives of the Dorset culture, which has since disappeared. They were supplanted in their lands by the Inuit. The Inuit (Eskimos) began moving into Canada from Asia through Alaska in about 1300 AD, seven hundred years ago.

In other words, Europeans were in Canada before the Inuit. Who then gets to be called “native” or “aboriginal”?

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Oddly, nowhere in that document is the term “indigenous peoples” defined. And for good reason: a consistent definition is just not possible; or if it is attempted, it produces odd results. The term is really purely a social or political construct, applied usually only and arbitrarily to specific groups in Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The Norse, Welsh, Irish, Basque, or Bretons, not to mention the English, French, Germans, or Italians do not qualify, although they were certainly in possession of their own ancestral lands much longer than the Inuit. Why? Apparently because their skin is white. Similarly, minority groups like the Montagnards of Vietnam, the Aka (“pygmies”) of the Central African Republic, or the Igorot of the Philippines are rarely seen to qualify, although they are distinct ethnic minorities in the lands they inhabit, apparently there before the current majority population. Why? Apparently because the majority groups in their host countries are not white. And what does it matter? What if there were three or four distinct waves of settlement? Does only the first group in chronological order get to be considered aboriginal? Or is it the first two or three?

European visitor with pygmies..

So does the term really have any consistent meaning?

Consider the Iroquois of the Grand River and Bay of Quinte in Ontario. They arrived in Canada in the 1780s with other United Empire Loyalists. They had left their homes in upstate New York out of loyalty to the British crown. The land in Canada was purchased for them by the British government from the Mississauga Indians of the area, just as it was for other UE Loyalists. They are immigrants from another country; they immigrated at the same time as many Europeans, and after many other Europeans. How is the one group “native” or “aboriginal,” and not the other? What is the rule here?

Consider, too, the Assiniboine of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In 1640, the Jesuit Relations place them in present-day Minnnesota. Some time between then and 1806, they emigrated to the Assiniboine River Valley. They arrived in Canada centuries after the first Europeans. Why are they aborigines, and the French of Quebec or Irish of Newfoundland are not?

Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that the Iroquois were aboriginal to their lands in upstate New York. They were not, of course; they migrated there from elsewhere before they migrated to Ontario and Quebec. But allow it for the sake of argument. Surely the Europeans who came to Canada before and since are just as native or aboriginal to the homes they left to come here-- in Ireland, France, Scotland, England, Germany, Poland, Italy, indeed any country you might mention.

UE Loyalists

A large proportion of the Europeans who have come to Canada came because their ancestral lands were taken by other groups; they are aboriginal in any consistent sense. They have legitimate land claims, generally of a rather more substantial sort than do Canadian Indians, who mostly signed off on their land claims a century or more ago for mutually-agreed payment. Begin with the United Empire Loyalists, the original settlers in most of English Canada. They arrived here, often penniless, because their lands were taken in the US for their loyalty to the British crown. The Iroquois are a notable exception; they retained their lands in upstate New York after the Revolution, and those who came mostly came voluntarily.

Then, throughout the nineteenth century, the largest group of immigrants to Canada were the Irish. Their descendants remain the largest ethnic grouping in Canada after the French, although many, probably most, now identify themselves on census forms as simply “Canadian.” Their land was taken from them, both as a group and as individuals. It is not just that Irish sovereignty was obliterated, and Ireland assimilated involuntarily into the larger kingdom of Great Britain; the Irish themselves were legally forbidden, if Catholic, to own any of their land privately. Reduced to being mere tenants on English-owned land, they were commonly evicted, to likely starvation. This is something the Indians of Inuit of Canada never faced.

Even in French-speaking Quebec, the population is estimated to be one quarter Irish by blood. An estimated additional ten percent of Canadian Francophones, beginning with Jacques Cartier, are not French, but Breton (, a distinct, Celtic nation taken over by France just two years before Cartier sailed. Since then, the Bretons have undergone forced assimilation of the very sort Canadian Indians claim they have suffered. Another proportion of French Canada is Acadian, famously evicted from their farms in Nova Scotia by the British in 1755-64; the current population are mostly returnees forced to clear new land in remote areas of New Brunswick later. 

Highland immigrant awaiting the ship to Canada

Then there are the Scots, Canada's third or fourth largest ethnic group. The Highland Scots had their lands taken from them in the Clearances, and were forced into exile in, notably, Cape Breton, Antigonish, Prince Edward Island, and Glengarry County, Ontario.

Many other groups sought refuge in Canada largely or expressly because their lands were taken from them: the Kashubians of Renfrew County, Ontario, the Doukhobors of British Columbia, and the German and Russian Mennonites, are three such groups. Western Canada was largely settled by Poles and Ukrainians, nationalities that claim a similar history of conquest and forced assimilation by larger neighbours. Most German-Canadians came originally from Eastern Europe, not Germany; places where they were a minority, eventually (after 1881) forced to assimilate if they remained. Many also arrived as refugees from the Russian Revolution and the forced nationalization of their lands and properties that followed.

In sum, many if not most Canadians are “aboriginals” in the sense that their ancestors had their lands taken from them; it comes close to being the common Canadian experience. Given the culturally dominant influence of the UE Loyalists and the Francophone Quebecois, not to mention the Scottish and Irish, the sense of a lost homeland is close to the core of the Canadian experience. The native tribes of Canada are, if anything, the exception to this rule.

And did I mention the Jews?

How wrong is it, then, if the descendants of those who have actually had their lands taken from them, are now asked to pay some sort of compensation, again and again, to groups whose ancestors had their lands fairly bought and paid for.

Map of Hochelaga

There are other considerations. When Cartier came down the St. Lawrence in 1534-5, he found Indian settlements – around 3,000 inhabitants each – at Quebec and Montreal, Stadacona and Hochelaga, respectively. When he returned just six years later, in 1541, Hochelaga had disappeared. When Champlain arrived in 1608, Stadacona disappeared as well. Indeed, the entire Indian culture Cartier encountered, now called the “St. Lawrence Iroquois,” had disappeared without a trace.

Any Indian group that claims aboriginal ownership of this land, the St. Lawrence Valley, in succession to the St. Lawrence Iroquois has in fact been in the area for less time than the French. Which group is truly aboriginal?

Nor is this type of situation unique to Quebec. In 1650-53, during the Beaver Wars, the Six Nations Iroquois wiped out their southern Ontario neighbours, the Neutrals and the Huron. They cleared the entire native population of the area, to allow themselves unrestricted access to the French trading posts of the St. Lawrence Valley. Some time later, the Mississauga Indians moved in from their previous lands around Manitoulin Island, northern Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

The French built Fort Frontenac, modern Kingston, in 1673. They settled at Detroit by 1701. This being so, the Indian group from which the British purchased the lands of Southern Ontario were perhaps less, perhaps only marginally more, “aboriginal” to those lands than the first Europeans.

These examples—more could be given, in Newfoundland and Western Canada, both of which have “native” groups that arrived here after the Europeans--expose a truth of Indian history that is often forgotten or misunderstood. Until the British or Canadian authorities arrived with their muscular rule of law to end the game of musical chairs, nobody held anywhere for very long. The various Indian tribes were in a state of more or less constant warfare, and territory constantly changed hands.

On top of this, despite limited agriculture by some groups, all Indian tribes in Canada were essentially nomadic. They would think little of pulling up stakes--literally--and moving a thousand kilometers inland to new hunting grounds.

In other words, “ancestral lands” in fact did not exist in the Indian context. No one was anything like “aboriginal” to the territories they happened to be in when they signed treaties with the Europeans. In fact, in this sense, they were much less “aboriginal” to their lands than were the settled Europeans, whose borders and traditional land use tended to be much more stable, both in North America and in Europe. 

Cree warrior.

The perpetual motion of Amerindian tribes only increased with first European contact. Tribes who lived close to the European line of settlement suddenly and by sheer good luck developed an overwhelming competitive advantage over their neighbours. First, they had access to the wealth of the fur trade; they could trade with more remote tribes at a healthy markup. Second, they had preferential access to iron weapons, far superior to the stone weapons or bows and arrows more remote groups were forced to defend themselves with. Third, they also had preferential access to horses, guns and gunpowder, all militarily devastating. Fourth, they were often able to form military alliances with the yet more powerful Europeans, who had an interest in defending and supporting their trading partners.

For comparison, when Japan some time earlier gained access to the first primitive firearms through trade with the Dutch, it inspired the Imperial Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi to attempt to conquer Korea and China, with their vastly larger combined populations. The technological advantage gained by the Indians close to European settlement was vastly greater. Accordingly, in the areas beyond European settlement, these tribes were conquering and expanding more or less at will. Until the turkey shoot ended with the signing of treaties, after which they could rely on the Europeans to preserve their gains for them.

The Cree, for example, had the good luck to find themselves at the southern end of Hudson Bay when the Hudson's Bay Company first set up posts there in 1668. As a result, because they were the first to get modern weapons and were able to hold a monopoly for a time over the fur trade, they were able to spread West in a wave of conquest as far as the Peace River. They became the largest single cultural group among Canada's Indians. The Iroquois held a similar advantage: the Dutch set up trading posts at the eastern edge of their territory in upstate New York. This gave them the wealth and technological muscle to seize the American Midwest as far west as the Mississippi, and as far south as Virginia and Kentucky, as their hunting grounds.

It is therefore ironic for native groups to accuse the Europeans of having “stolen” their land. In most, if not all, cases, the Indians themselves “stole” the land, that is, took it by conquest, which they then bartered to the Europeans at rather generous terms.

Mi'kmaq wigwam, 1873.

Note too that the realities of a nomadic lifestyle meant that Indian groups did not have anything like the same relationship to the land that European settlers did. They were in effect tourists wherever they went, or like gypsies or tinkers; hunting grounds were highly variable month by month, year by year, and generation by generation. No particular Indian possessed any particular land. Moreover, it was entirely possible for different Indian groups to pass through and use the same hunting ground in the same year. So who then owns that land? Who is aboriginal or native to it? Both of them? What if one group had one family in the area for seven weeks last year, and the other one seven families for four? Do we work out percentages? On what basis? Do I have a legal claim on Algonquin Park because I once summered there?

Of course, all this is not even to mention the most obvious and best-known relevant fact. “Aboriginal” is nonsensical anywhere outside of Africa. Although many Indian groups claim to be autochthonous in their own legends, the best current science suggests that humans are not native to the Americas. The Western Hemisphere was the last large bit of land to be settled by humankind. Even the earliest inhabitants were immigrants, coming from Asia across the Bering Sea or land bridge about 14,000 years ago.

We are all immigrants,just as we are all God's children, equal in his affections. There are no aboriginal Canadians. None of us are special in this way. The whole thing is a political construct, a polite fiction.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


It is both surprising and gratifying to discover that the poems I post now consistently get slightly better readership than the articles. Some people are clearly following this blog only for the poetrry.

Since poetry is usually a very hard sell these days, that speaks volumes.

Thank you.

An Aborigine Thinks of Leaving Home

The white man is lazy,
He dreams with his head
Except when he's asleep.
He lives all his life
In one place
And watches his penis make love.

He looks with his eyes, he cannot hear;
He only listens with his ears, he cannot see.
With his nose, he cannot remember.
His hands only touch solid things,
And he holds them in his grasp, not his palms.

Instead of making children
He makes stones move
Then rules them with fingers
Instead of song.
He does no more than he wants,
And what he wants, he does.
He dances only when drugged,
And only says things once.

He does not talk to the birds or lizards
And he eats them without their permission.
To understand, he cuts things apart;
Yet never opens the skin.
He finds death simpler than life,
And separation easier than choirsong.

When he dies, he goes straight to heaven,
Forgetting his children's campfires.
Dead, he leaves his body
Faster than he clung to it alive.

It would be good
To be white and do nothing but work all day long;
I grow young, and I weary of play.
It would be good no longer to sleep
No longer to dream.
It would be good to wake up one morning,
And not be surprised.
It would be good no more to hear this constant din
Of angels in my ears.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Trump's Isolationism

Wonsan hit by US air force, Korean War.
Donald Trump has suggested pulling US troops from South Korea and Japan, saying America can no longer afford to look after other nations' defense for them.

I agree with him on at least half of that. I spent seven years in South Korea. To me, the US deployment there makes no sense, and is probably on the whole hurting US interests.

First, it makes less than no military sense. The US has 28,500 troops in South Korea. This is a militarily insignificant number. By contrast, North Korea has 700,000 men under arms; South Korea has 625,000. Contrary to Trump's claims, South Korea is doing its utmost in its own defense; it could probably stop the North cold on its own if it ever came to that. On the other hand, if South Korea cannot defend itself against the North, the few American troops are not going to make much difference.

So why are they there? The official explanation is that they are a “tripwire.” They are a guarantee that, if war comes on the Korean peninsula, the US will get involved.

Which, put another way, is to say that they are there as hostages.

Chinese forces cross the Yalu.

First, this is no way to treat soldiers. Second, a land war in East Asia does not seem to be a terribly clever idea for an essentially naval power like the US. You'd think Vietnam would have taught that lesson, if Korea hadn't. Especially if, as last time, China gets involved. It gives all the advantages to China, with their huge population and ability to defend in depth. It throws away the US's prime advantage, its technological edge. It would be far better off militarily keeping it a naval or air war, from secure bases. For the sake of the US's own interests, in other words, it would be better to retain the option to stay out. This ought to be the prime political calculation. Suicide is not noble. If they are to get in, their strategic interests and fighting ability would be best served by attacking from offshore, from defensible bases in Japan or Okinawa. Or even Guam.

At the same time, speaking of politics, Korea is by culture and tradition one of the most xenophobic nations on Earth. They do not take well to having foreign troops on their soil. The US military presence causes a lot of hard feelings and anti-American sentiments. It also is a great help to North Korean propaganda. Politically as much as militarily, the deployment seems to me a net loss for the US.

In 1992, the US pulled their troops out of the Philippines, abandoning the huge Subic Bay naval station and Clark Air Force Base, after the Philippine senate refused to endorse a new treaty. Most Filipinos now regret this, especially given China's recent adventurism in the Spratley and Paracel Islands, and the Philippine government is now reduced to begging the Americans to return

US Air Force hits rail yards, Korean War.

In a similar fashion, I can see US-South Korean relations quickly improving if the Americans pulled their troops out. You never miss the water until the well runs dry.

Maybe they should send them all back to Subic Bay, where they are now welcome, and where the US navy would be well-placed to counter Chinese movements in the South China Sea.

Or maybe Trump is more generally right: a lot of other nations are freeloading off the US's military outlays, notably including Canada, and it is time to let them grow up and manage their own affairs.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How I Let the Wuhan Girls Down Easy

(after a second-century BC poem of Hsi Chun)

My homeland and my countrymen
Have married me to exile
To die in a land I cannot fathom
The strange and silent queen of the northern men.
My palace and my castle keep a yurt
Of stinking hides;
My banquet a shank of uncooked meat;
My vintage curdled horse's milk;
My dream--a dream of my own country
That I must dream, though it lacerates my heart.
I wish to heaven I were a yellow crane
And could fly to my remembered home.

-- Stephen. K. Roney

Gatto Was Right

As followers of this blog are aware, I have been reading John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education. There are problems with his thesis. He does not explain why schools are bad in Canada and the UK, among other developed nations, not just in the US. His references often do not check out. But on reflection, I want to take back one objection expressed here previously. This is that Gatto sees every “reform” introduced as making schools worse. They can hardly all have been bad, can they?

Actually, yes, they can.

Witness this recent “reform” initiative in Mississippi. Unbelievably, the local legislature is proposing to have teachers issue evaluations to parents. This is the exact opposite of how schools used to function—the local parents hired and fired the teacher. It is also the exact opposite of what we know is in the best interests of the students, which is to have the customer evaluate the quality of instruction. This is positively Orwellian.

Michelle Rhee is another case in point. She has built up a great reputation as a “school reformer.” As chancellor of the D.C. schools, her technique was simple: she personally observed the teachers, and issued a lot of pink slips. The problem is, classroom observation, according to everything we know from studies, is purely subjective. She was doing nothing to improve the schools; only to express her own personal preferences. In the meantime, probably convincing the best teachers to avoid the DC system at all costs. A purely destructive “reform.” It is just a very good way for educationists to enforce a party line and punish dissent.

The Lyndon Johnson administration followed up “Operation Head Start” with a massive experiment, probably the largest educational experiment ever undertaken, to see what might improve the early grade school years, “Operation Follow Through.” Various schools of education submitted their best instructional plans. Most of them performed worse in the testing than schools outside the project, pursuing business a usual. The one clear winner was a system, Direct Instruction, devised not by a teachers' college or an academic, but by an advertising executive.

Yet more telling, despite the great amount of time and money spent and the clear result, Direct Instruction has never been widely used in the schools. Few teachers have ever heard of it, or even of Operation Follow Through. These things are not spoken of in Teachers' Colleges. The results were, in effect, buried, and never heard of again. Shades of Gatto's conspiracy theories.

It cannot all be just coincidence. And, on reflection, it is not. There are two factors at work here. First, as Adam Smth pointed out, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Much blame must fall on teachers' unions, which not incidentally, there being lot of people employed as teachers, have a lot of cash to pass out at election time to politicians they can trust to do their bidding. Moreover, leaving educational reform to the professional teachers is always a plausible approach with the public.

Given this power, the teachers' first instinct, as Adam Smith warned, is to make things better for teachers, not students.

So much might be said of other professions, of course, although none are as big and so as politically powerful as the teachers. But why must the interests of teachers always run counter to the interests of students? Here's why.

Teaching is mostly common sense. It cannot be made “scientific,” because people are too complex, and the investigator is a person as well. Fellow humans cannot logically, morally or as a practical matter be reduced to “objects.” Teaching is therefore mostly intuitive, like performing on the stage. On top of that, anyone who has graduated from high school has spent twelve years full time observing various teaching techniques, and should have a good idea what works and what does not. As good an idea as they are ever going to get. This being so, obviously, Teacher's Colleges can convey very little of any value.

Nevertheless, teachers' claims to high pay are based on the claim that they have special expertise and training not available to the rest of us. They are a “profession.”

Given that incoming education students already know all the best ways to teach, and these are common sense or intuitive, schools of education must instead constantly introduce new techniques which fly in the face of common sense, and consequently do not work. If they worked, the students would already know them. To maintain the idea of a “profession” with definite technical skills, teachers' unions and administrators must insist on enforcing these techniques. Worse, once a new innovation becomes widespread, good or bad, it becomes familiar to the next crop of incoming education students. They can do it without going to Teachers' College. So new theories must be constantly produced, each crazier and further from common sense than the last. None, of course, have any kind of empirical warrant, for the very good reason that they do not, in fact, work. Yet the ability to expound on them and apply them become proof that one has attended education school, and so is properly qualified.

As a result, over time, as Gatto has observed, the schools become worse and worse.

Predictably, therefore, home schooled students consistently do better than those in public schools—largely because they are taught by people who have never been to teachers' college. Private schools, in places where they are allowed to hire teachers who have not been professionally certified, produce better results than the public schools. How else can this be so? Can you think of another “profession” you are better off doing without, just doing the job for yourself? Dentistry? Law? Medicine? Brain surgery?

No wonder the teachers of Mississippi want the right to evaluate parents. It is classic misdirection, typical of the devil's work. The best defense is a strong offense.

Solution: 1. Defund education schools. 2. Ignore teacher certification. 3. Ban teachers'unions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Again the Terpsichorean Bear Does Not Run off with the Circus

When I imagine man a captive bear
Shuffling rhythmical unknowing feet to feet
Caught in the dumb trance polka of the street;
I think of Blake, struck face-down on the Felpham path,
Lightning burning through his skull;
Of Shakespeare, self-surprising ancient conjuror;
And of that one once hammered
Like a lily to a splintered cross.

If we could do as they do,
Send to wrack this lack of trembling, swim the flame,
Then, forked and poxed and wobbling though we are,
We could uprise and solitary storm the passes,
Thundering wonder.

We might be lightning; be the song Dodonic birds have sung
From age to age to age to evermore:

Failing this, I humbly remain,
A hum of wire, too taut to sing, too rigid to unbow;
A voice whining in static;
An upturned pot of ink.
A dumb paw shuffling tunelessly over this letter.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Nazis and Neo-Nazis

Ernst Zundel
A Jewish friend once worked with Ernst Zundel. Zundel is the most famous Canadian “neo-Nazi.” Aside from prison time in Canada for "spreading false news," he spent five years in German prison for Holocause denial, and time in detention in Canada for supposedly being a threat to national security. Zundel was a professional graphic designer before his notoriety, and a successful one until his politics were discovered. My friend, an editor, was shaken that Zundel once refused, for a client, to airbrush effluent coming out of a pipe from a photograph, on the grounds that this was misleading and hence immoral.

From this, my friend concluded, uncomfortably, that Hitler and the Nazis might have been entirely upright by their own lights. They were just working from different assumptions.

This is, to my mind, necessarily false. Begin with the example that gives him pause, the photograph showing pollution. If morality were really up for grabs, he would not know that Zundel was exhibiting morality in this instance. Instead, he, my friend, instantly recognized morality when he saw it, and was moved by it. Immorality should be just as recognizable in principle. Either killing Jews is wrong, or it is not.

The idea of crimes against humanity affirms the same idea. Right is right regardless of the local laws of the country, or such a category of crime could not exist. Slavery does not become okay because the laws of the US once supported it; killing Jews was not moral because the laws allowed it. If this is not so, we have no business condemning Hitler or Himmler, the Nuremberg Trials were illegitimate, and it was all just a case of the victors imposing their will. If Hitler had won, it would have been as proper and objectively moral to hang the followers of de Gaulle or Churchill.

One wonders why anyone gave their lives for the difference.

Swedish neo-Nazis march

No; morality is objective. We all have a conscience, an internal compass that tells us what is right and wrong. We do, of course, have the choice not to follow it. Sometimes it is not in our own best interests to do so. That does not mean it is not there.

Hitler therefore cannot have been sincere. Nor does the evidence suggest that he was. Nazi ideology was philosophically incoherent. Was it a doctrine of the left, right, or centre? The debate continues. Did the Nazis intend to abolish private property? Nobody was or is sure. Did they intend to abolish Christianity? The same. The Nazi programme was highly adaptable and ambiguous depending, it seemed, on what Hitler thought would gain public support, or the support of the group he was currently addressing. This was his great talent as an orator, as William L. Shirer has pointed out. Hitler's standard technique in diplomatic negotiations was to make promises of any sort, then immediately break them when it was in his interest to do so. This is not a man of principle. Mein Kampf devotes itself almost entirely to tactics, not bothering much with principles. The principle, such as it is, is simple: personal and group power. Far from being some kind of ideologue, fanatic, or true believer, Hitler was the ultimate opportunist.

This leads to some uncomfortable conclusions. Hitler came to power democratically. He tailored his policies to what was popular and politically expedient. This means he would not have attempted the Holocaust if he did not believe the majority of Germans supported it. Granted, there was a financial reason as well: Nazi budgets were a Ponzi scheme, and the Jews were rich. Confiscating their property delayed the day af reckoning, at least perhaps until the next nation could be conquered and looted. It is doubtful whether Hitler ever allowed himself the emotional indulgence of hating Jews; the point is that the average German did.

Certainly Hitler was a very bad man, the worst of men, but he has also been made a scapegoat to avoid assigning due blame to Germans (not to say this could not have happened elsewhere; people are people) generally. He is referred to as a “madman.” This is nonsense. People do not take orders from madmen. Nor could a madman be nearly so calculating. Hitler, with his cunning, was spectacularly sane. He was a bad man, not a mad man, and to pretend the latter is a terrible slander against the insane.

Bad, not mad.

The second uncomfortable conclusion to be drawn here is that those we call "neo-Nazis," like Zundel, are really the opposite of Nazis. They are certainly not opportunists. There is no personal advantage to be gained anywhere by claiming to be a fan of Hitler. Zundel himself lost his career, his freedom, his residency in Canada; vandals did $400,000 worth of damage to his home, and were not prosecuted. He has to have been motivated by a strong sense of principle. He believed, and believes, that Hitler has been scapegoated, and in part he is indeed certainly right. Nor does he endorse the killing of Jews, which would be objectively immoral; instead, he believes that Jews were not killed, which is a quite different matter.

We do nothing to prevent the rise of another Hitler by persecuting the neo-Nazis. We certainly do nothing to prevent it, and indeed give Hitler a kind of legitimacy, with laws against "hate" or "Holocaust denial." It makes the intelligent and morally sensitive suspect we have something to hide. Which of course we do--our own guilt, not, as they suppose, Hitler's innocence. Instead, by such laws and such prosecutions we are harassing the very people most likely to stand up and resist should another figure like Hitler arise. At the same time, we are training the great bulk of the population to stay good Germans in any eventuality.

Cat. After all, this is the Internet.

Monday, March 21, 2016

On Heaven and on Having Heart's Desire

A frog-march through Babylon
In gaudy day.
How much more beautiful its gardens and its towers
By hush and candlelight.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Sir John A. Macdonald and Hitler

The old worthy, Kingston city park.
Recently, a proposed sculpture park project to include bronze statues of all of Canada's prime ministers (with funding raised privately) was cancelled by Waterloo's Wilfrid Laurier University. The first statue, of Sir John A. Macdonald, had already been installed. The project had previously been rejected, at public insistence, by the city of Kitchener. One marvels, when public money is wasted on such unattractive and absurd art installations as it is, that this is the one that stuck in everyone's craw.

The stated reason is that it was “politically insensitive (if not offensive) to celebrate and memorialize all Canadian prime ministers … on land that traditionally belongs to the … Anishnaube and Haudenausanee peoples...” The city of Kitchener backed out on the grounds that it did not reflect the “diversity”of the region.

As defaced.

Tellingly, the online petition opposing the installation refers readers to a web page outlining similar protests in the US, against statues of Southern Civil War figures. This helps to explain the otherwise seeming non sequitor of statues of our prime ministers being somehow offensive to aboriginals: if something is happening in the US, we have to imitate it in Canada, whether the case is comparable or not. A recent example is the current push to put a woman on the banknotes. There is an online call for nominations. This follows the current American push to put a woman on the banknotes—there is an online call for nominations. It repeatedly and studiously ignores the awkward fact that, very unlike the case in the US, there has almost always been at least one woman on the Canadian banknotes, and more often women than men.

In the Waterloo statue case, most and probably all Canadian prime ministers have been pretty easygoing and ethnically inclusive in their attitudes and policies. This is part of the bedrock of Canadian history, if only due to the circumstance of being a half Anglophone, half Francophone, half Catholic, half Protestant nation run as a democracy. While politicians are by their trade not entirely to be admired, it is absurd to see Kim Campbell or John Turner as some kind of war criminals. This is beyond anything Godwin foresaw. But then, it is absurd to blame Sir John A. Macdonald. These are not the sort of people who went to war to defend slavery. 

WLU statue

Let's take Sir John A. He, after all, seems to be singled out for special condemnation by the social justice league of Canada. In Waterloo, it was his statue alone that was physically removed. In Kingston, last January 11, Macdonald's 201st birthday, somebody working in the night slashed the tires of the man organizing a commemorative ceremony, as well as splashing his car with red paint. Presumably symbolizing blood. They also apparently, in eerie if unintentional echo of KKK traditions, burned a Canadian flag on his lawn. One of the local “activists” (what would you prefer to call them?) is quoted by the papers referring to Macdonald as a “genocidal maniac.” In previous recent years, the anniversary had been celebrated by nocturnal spraypainting—again with red paint—of the John A. statue in Kingston's city park with the phrases “This is stolen land,” “murderer,” and “colonizer.” An Idle No More protester explained: “Would people commemorate the crimes that Hitler did? Because this is basically the same principle.”

No wonder this sort of thing happens again every year. Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.

An oddly suitable memorial

Macdonald's unspeakable crimes are apparently these: 1. as per the Kingston graffito, that he stole Indian land; 2. that he killed Indians by deliberate starvation, 3. that he was responsible, as longtime Superintendent of Indian Affairs, for the setup of the residential schools system, which constituted “cultural genocide” as well as enabling widespread child abuse 4. (per Timothy J. Stanley at Active History) that he made war against the Indians in 1885. That seems to be the basic bill of indictment. Lets deal with the charges in turn.

One: he stole Indian land. This seems to be another case of apishly following trends in the US. The truth is, the history of aboriginal-government relations is very different in Canada and the US. Which is why the US-Canada border was known among plains Indians as the Medicine Line. Which is why, in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, aboriginals flocked to British/Canadian colours in great numbers. The favourable treatment of Indians, in fact, protecting them from wildcat European settlement beyond the Appalachians, was one of the causes of the Revolution, cited obliquely in the Declaration of Independence. Here was no Trail of Tears. Here was no Wounded Knee. Here, negotiated settlements, notably the numbered treaties that began under Macdonald, preceded any incoming settlement, along with the NWMP/RCMP to ensure peace and order—another initiative of Sir John A.'s. Their first mandate was to protect the natives against the predations of dubious non-aboriginal traders.

NWMP officers, 1898
This insistence on proper treaties and native compensation for any lands deeded to non-native Canadians was largely due as well to Sir John A. Not everyone at the time felt it necessary. After all, Indians held and used land in a manner very foreign to European norms. They were nomadic, in a sense never more than visitors, and their use of and therefore natural claim on any particular parcel of land was ephemeral. Boundaries between tribes were constantly shifting. Oliver Mowat, premier of Ontario for much of Macdonald's tenure, held that the Indians had no strictly legal rights in the matter, and their claims were purely moral. A celebrated Ontario court judgment of the time held the same. Macdonald and his governments instead insisted on earlier British policies, respecting native ownership, setting a precedent honoured by future Canadian governments, and future Canadian prime ministers, without exception.

If someone sells you his house, you did not steal it. If he comes back a few years later and demands more money, he is not a moral fellow. He certainly has no say if you choose to put a statue of anyone on your lawn.

Some natives have recently insisted that the Indian oral understanding of the original treaties was different from the government's written documents, that they, being non-literate, were lied to and conned by the government agents. They had intended to cede ownership of the land "only to the depth of a plough blade.” Their fellow Canadians therefore owed them trillions in past resource revenue.

Idle No More protestor. Oddly not considered hate speech.

There are several problems with such claims. First, there is a reason for the invention of writing. The original reason was to keep accurate records in case of dispute. Oral records can be quite reliable, if it is in everyone's interest to preserve them intact. But they can also be altered at any time by either party, and therefore are not of great evidentiary value. Written evidence preserves the matter beyond dispute. As a result, there is every reason to give written records absolute priority. Second, this claim goes emphatically against the written text. In the words of Treaty Three, which become legal boilerplate for subsequent agreements: “[the Indian signatories] do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada for Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included.” There is no ambiguity there. To accuse the government agents of misleading the natives on this point requires accusing them of a truly breathtaking act of mendacity. Third, a large part of the very point of the treaties from the government's point of view was to allow for unhindered mineral extraction. To go back on that now would be unfair to that signing party. Fourth, the native cultures were still in the stone age. They did not mine any metals. They would have had little idea of value of any sort buried below ground, little use for it, and little reason to even think what was down there. It seems unlikely they would have made any such reservation, even in their own minds. Fifth, this being so, the government agents would have gained nothing by having lied on this point. It would have done nothing to improve their bargaining position. Sixth, the intrinsic unlikeliness of the native claims is itself evidence that their “oral understanding”of the agreements has been altered for their benefit, and is indeed not to be trusted.

Two: Macdonald killed Indians by deliberate starvation. The essential piece of evidence here is Macdonald's boast in the Commons, “[We] are doing all we can by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation...” Note this: “on the verge.” At worst possible interpretation, Macdonald is saying that to the best of his knowledge, nobody is starving. Nevertheless, Dennis Gruending, writing for Rabble, accuses Kingston's favourite son of creating “the conditions for a tuberculosis epidemic in aboriginal communities.” This is a bit of a stretch, since tuberculosis has been a major problem in aboriginal communities both before and after Macdonald. It is currently 31 times the rate among the general Canadian population. In any case, how can Macdonald's food policies be to blame? Everyone knows it is the residential schools that are at fault here.

Medal struck by Canadian government to commemmorate the signing of Treaties 3-7

Now, the words immediately before that “on the verge” are significant. A fuller quote is “We cannot allow them to die for want of food. We are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”

That gives a little context. Simply on the face of it, there was no policy to starve the Indians, no genocide. Canada was in recession, and the opposition was challenging the government policy of sending food aid to the Indians as extravagant. Macdonald was defending against this attack, and perhaps using hyperbole in the effort. Politicians have been known to do this. Note that Canada at this time had no social safety net, no welfare, no disability, no child allowance, no old age pension. Other Canadians were left to sink or swim, as far as the government was involved. Yet this group was being helped out, in part by taking funds from fellow Canadians who might have needed it badly themselves. Note too that there was no actual obligation on the government to send food. Treaty One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Seven say nothing about the government being responsible for sending aid in any circumstances. Aboriginals were given seed, large tracts of land, and farm implements, and expected thenceforth to look after themselves, like every other Canadian. Integration was the aim. The wording of Treaty Six alone, of all the treaties in effect during Macdonald's time, gives a mandate, but is ambiguous and leaves lots of wiggle room:

That in the event hereafter of the Indians comprised within this treaty being overtaken by any pestilence, or by a general famine, the Queen, on being satisfied and certified thereof by Her Indian Agent or Agents, will grant to the Indians assistance of such character and to such extent as Her Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs shall deem necessary and sufficient to relieve the Indians from the calamity that shall have befallen them. (Treaty Six)

Very much at the discretion of the government, although it would have violated the spirit of Treaty Six to have done nothing. Treaty Six covered a large chunk of central Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Qu'Appelle Residential School

Three: Macdonald was guilty of “cultural genocide” for founding the residential schools system.

All of the numbered treaties included the requirement that the government set up schools and pay for teachers.

And further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school on each reserve hereby made whenever the Indians of the reserve should desire it. (Treaty One, Treaty Two)

And further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain schools for instruction in such reserves hereby made as to Her Government of Her Dominion of Canada may seem advisable whenever the Indians of the reserve shall desire it. (Treaty Three)

Further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school in the reserve allotted to each band as soon as they settle on said reserve and are prepared for a teacher. (Treaty Four)

And further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain schools for instruction in such reserves hereby made as to Her Government of the Dominion of Canada may seem advisable, whenever the Indians of the reserve shall desire it. (Treaty Five, Treaty Six)

Further, Her Majesty agrees to pay the salary of such teachers to instruct the children of said Indians as to Her Government of Canada may seem advisable, when said Indians are settled on their Reserves and shall desire teachers. (Treaty Seven)

Classroom, Fort Albany Residential Scvhool

At whose insistence? Not the government's. Their priority was to spare expense, and this was an added expense. It was at native insistence, and was one of their chief goals in signing the treaties. They could see that their traditional way of life was unsustainable and far less desirable than that of the European settlers. They wanted the next generation to learn to farm or follow a trade, and to integrate. The treaties specified that schools would be built only where and when the Indians wanted; the vast majority of aboriginal children were always educated at day schools. The residential schools were for children whose homes were too remote to support a local school. The government did not want to pay for a residential school if they did not have to: it greatly increased their costs per student. The fact that only a small proportion of native children were ever educated in residential schools makes ludicrous the claim, often heard, that the residential schools are to blame for all the ills of Indian society even today.

The basic idea of the residential schools, from the start and at native insistence, was to promote integration. Objectively, the government probably did not particularly care: integration or segregation was all the same to them. It was, in fact, and transparently, the same programme advocated by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the US South. If this was “cultural genocide,” King is a leading criminal against humanity.

Not his natural skin colour. Which was red.

As for child abuse in the schools, it is a tragic certainty that those inclined to bully are inevitably going to have an incentive to choose careers, like teacher or palliative care nurse, which make this avocation easier to pursue. They will seek defenseless prey. They will, if possible, sign up for locations, like remote residential schools, where supervision is minimal. More remote day schools might have been worse. Pedophiles are going to look for jobs that put them in close contact with children, ideally without much supervision, for long periods of the day or night, ideally with the pedophiles in some kind of formal relationship of control. There are few ways to protect against this tendency; probably the best is to turn such positions over to those who have an apparent and stated religious or moral reason for being there, as this may explain their presence instead of predatory instincts. Better still if they have some sort of moral supervision by a religious society and superior. Probably a vow of celibacy is even better.

But this is exactly the path the residential schools took. It was not one hundred percent efffective, but nothing is. In recent years, we have been coming to a growing realization that this problem is pandemic to schools of all sorts; there is nothing special, and certainly nothing intentional in the design of residential schools, in this regard. Ironically, the very richest strata of society have traditionally insisted on paying great sums for the privilege of sending their children into the same circumstances considered abusive when the students are aboriginal. Heads you win, tails we lose.

In 2006-2007, a settlement of $2 billion was mandated by the courts--the largest class action settlement in Canadian history--to anyone who had gone to a residential school. Not just those who could demonstrate abuse. Anyone. This was a huge transfer of wealth to a privileged group from fellow Canadians. Who obviously had nothing to do with the residential schools, whether the latter were good or bad.

Discipline in the residential schools, they say, was strict. No doubt. It was strict everywhere. Some of it, there as elsewhere, was surely bullying. Welcome to school. On the other hand, there is an entirely forgotten reason for the good old hickory stick, quite apart even from discipline, and in the best interests of the students. For thousands of years, in essentially all cultures, it has been realized that our ability to remember is tied to some sort of emotional association with the thing remembered—Aristotle, for example, wrote that every memory involved an emotion. It follows that the ever-present fear of punishment helps us remember. “[P]hysical methods were thought to ensure that knowledge was securely impressed into the memories of schoolchildren” (Mary Carruthers and Jan Ziolkowski, The Medieval Craft of Memory, p. 21). What we do not remember, we have not learned.

Battle of Fish Creek.
Four: Macdonald made war on the Indians, in 1885.

He did not. This seems to be another slavish imitation of American models. Macdonald is perhaps being confused with Andrew Jackson. The reference is to the Northwest Rebellion. The Indians, or rather a very small group of Indians, made war on him, in violation of treaty. They may have had real grievances, they may not, but this was not the way to address them. He had the natural right of self defense, as well as the public duty to keep the country together and in full possession of its territory.

It was all a comic opera affair, and few actually got killed. After a conventional trial and benefit of law, eight aboriginal ringleaders were hanged, along with Louis Riel. Maybe they did not deserve it; but it was not really Macdonald's call. Poundmaker went to prison for less than a year. The chief government response in the aftermath—which was Macdonald's call--was to send more food aid to the Western reserves.

If this is the worst that can be brought against any of Canada's leaders, Canada stands alone as the most tolerant of nations,  We ought to be celebrating this.

How about a sculpture park?

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Ed Sullivan with Topo Gigio

Spent her long and quiet maidenhood
Folding small bits of paper.
As you spoke to her
Or in the blueness of Ed Sullivan
She would fold and fold again
Until the paper grew so small the last fold
Required a fingernail.

Mother remembered her sister as pretty in youth.
There had been a Young Man once;
And he had written often
From the War;
But he had stopped writing before Hiroshima.
Perhaps, Mother said, Aunt-Estelle-Who-Never-Married
Was folding secret letters to him
Without knowing what to say
Or where to send them.

Aunt-Estelle-Who-Never-Married died.
We cleaned her room.
We found drawers full, desks full, closets full
Of little folded papers.
We sprinkled them like confetti on her casket
As they lowered her.
Then we turned back to life
And thought little of Aunt Estelle
Whose name was Who-Never-Married.

-- Stephen K. Roney

The State of the Union

Nelson Rockefeller speaks (and is booed), Republican convention, 1964

We have been told that a contested Republican convention is quite unlikely, but in fact, it is looking like the most probable result of the primary season. Trump so far has won about 40% of the delegates. To win on the first ballot in Cleveland, he needs to win about 60% of the remaining delegates. This is obviously unlikely. Even if Trump has not started to decline—analysis suggests Cruz's unexpectedly strong showings recently have more to do with a collapse in Rubio's support, while Trump's has held fairly steady—something new would presumably be needed to boost him this much. In the meantime, the Republican “establishment” and its big donors are gathering to stop Trump. If Rubio wins Florida, and Kasich wins Ohio, Trump realistically cannot get the delegates to win. The fact that both Rubio and Kasich are still in the race is strong evidence they and their teams think the convention will be contested—they cannot now win outright, but arriving at the convention with a healthy block of delegates gives them bargaining power.

Democratic convention, 1968

Cruz has said there would be a general voter revolt if there were a contested convention. I doubt it. Conventions in the US used always to be contested, they still are in the UK or Canada, and the excitement of it, to my mind, is far preferable to the current boring pantomime performance. Of course, you do not want strife like there was at the Cow Palace in 1964, or Chicago in 1968. But most contested conventions are still fairly mannerly affairs. They always are, in Canada. The worst was perhaps the Tory convention in 1967, but even then, when Diefenbaker put his name in contention at the last moment, after a speech in which he scolded the entire party, another candidate (I think it was Donald Fleming) lent Dief his marching band for the latter's grand entrance.

PC convention 1967

On the Democratic side, things also seem pretty dramatic. A lot of people are saying Clinton has it all sewn up, because of the huge number or Democratic “superdelegates.” who automatically get to go to the convention without being elected. This includes all elected Democratic politicians at the federal level, plus all members of the Democratic National Committee. Together, they constitute almost one quarter of the delegates. They are reputedly heavily committed to Clinton. The strong evidence of this is how the DNC has bent the rules so far to favour Clinton's candidacy in any way they could.

This is, in sum, the “party establishment” against which the Republicans are in open revolt. As it turns out, the establishment is far more powerful in the other party. Yet Democrats seem more sanguine about it, for now.

However, a piece in the Huffington Post contests this notion. Its argument, in brief: 1) these are politicians. 2) If Sanders wins the primaries, they would be seen going against their constituents' wishes. 3) polls in any case show Sanders running stronger than Clinton against Republican opponents. 4) these guys want to keep their jobs, and do not have a suicide wish.

The article goes on to say that Sanders has a very good chance of outperforming Clinton in the remaining primaries. Clinton has so far racked up big wins in the Southern states, and so far has done little better than Sanders. Almost all of the Southern states have now voted. From here on in, it should be better Sanders territory.

In sum, this could be the most interesting political season in the US for at least the past forty years


Tuesday, March 08, 2016


The roses from our dinner two nights ago
Begin to wilt.
I know nothing of cut flowers.
The peaches are blackening in spots.
And I have dined three times on leftovers.

Yesterday was overcast,
Today it rained.
Today it is raining.
I must go to the bank.

I phoned you last night
From a pay phone on Queen Street beside a Brazilian restaurant.
You seemed happy.
I seemed happy.

Why are you not here with me tonight?

-- Stephen K. Roney

Super Twos-day

The big news from the primaries last night is Sanders's win in Michigan. This, I read, is one of the biggest polling errors in history. It suggests Sanders may still beat Clinton. She racks up huge majorities among blacks in the South, but Sanders has now demonstrated an ability to attract the votes of northern blacks.

Next most important news is the lousy showing of Marco Rubio. I really like Rubio, but then, I really liked Jeb Bush. Apparently, being fingered as the establishment candidate is death in this election cycles. It also seems clear that Rubio's no-holds-barred attacks on Trump backfired on him. Totally unfair. Trump started it, and Trump gets away with it. He toook down Trump, and Cruz gets the benefit. Kasich also underwhelmed, coming in behind Cruz in Michigan. Whether they stay in or drop out, the race is resolving itself into a two-man contest, Trump vs. Cruz. And Cruz is staying within striking distance in the delegate count. If I were Rubio or Kasich, I would stay in until their home states vote, if only for influence at what may be a contested convention. In the days when these things were the standard, “favourite sons” were also numerous. State delegations would often go pledged to a favourite son, the local governor or a senator, for the first ballot, preserving their bargaining position for later ballots. Rubio or Kasich could bargain for the VP slot, or for their favoured issues in the party platform.

Hawaii results still to come at time of writing.

Monday, March 07, 2016

On Starting Late

Sometimes at night I listen to you breathe,
And dream of what you were at seventeen.
My foolish eyes, Miranda-wide, must prise
A mooncalf in the backdrop to the scene.

Not that I could love you, younger, more
Than in the majesty of adult pride;
But every day that cuts off then from now,
I would, and know I was not, at your side.

We meet at last, halfway from dust to dust;
No nearer journey's start than journey's end;
Yet let us swear, as fingered souls entwine,
Our journeys shall not be alone again.

Yet let us swear, with failing tongues and talk,
As camels pant in weary caravan
Along the lonely silk road of the heart;
Our journeys shall not be alone again.

Yet let us swear, with stinging, sand-wet eyes,
Nor whether wealth or ruin be road's end,
Through lips gone dry and after love's mirage:
Our journeys shall not be alone again.
-- Stephen K. Roney

The Ancestral Cree Lands of Northeastern Ontario

Map of the various Indian groups of Ontario and their traditional hunting ranges. Note that at first European settlement, there were an estimated 1,800 aboriginals actually living in Ontario. Note also the blank area in Northeastern Ontario.

Interesting. The Cree nation is seeking $495 million in damages from their fellow Ontario taxpayers, AND in addition claiming ownership to 48,000 square kilometers of land in Northeastern Ontario. “[O]ur rights in these lands have never been addressed in any treaty,” complains Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. Among his laments is that the Ontario-Quebec border cute rigth through the Cree ancetral lands.

This no doubt causes great suffering. To someone. Somehow.

This case is interesting, not to say odd, because so far as I can tell the Cree signed away title to these lands in Treaty Number 9 back in 1905. Maybe I missed something. Read it yourself.

One begins to see how the phrase “Indian giver” entered the language. It appears that no deal is final if the various tribes see a way to shake more money out of someone.

One is reminded of the current behavious of North Korea. Every couple of years, for as long as I can remember, they shake their sabres and threaten war. Then after a time they offer negotiations. The Americans rush to the table, and sign a deal, which inevitably involves more money going to North Korea in return for their standing down. Two years or so later, the cycle repeats.

Have you ever heard of Danegeld?

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
- Rudyard Kipling

The Curse of the High IQ

The world is designed by and for average people. Beung abnormally intelligent is like being ten feet tall. You are alsways tooping, and never comfortable.

A Letter Left on the Kitchen Table

Last night I danced with you
That slow, naked dance
And for a moment understood
Spinning out across the mirrored floor of galaxies
As the camera tracked around us and away
What it is, or what it need not be.

Things fit: the cogs and pulleys
Of the whole great catalytic calculating engine
Locked in trine, three cherries red ascendant.

And the Milky Way was something thrown between,
A paradigm of rainbows,
That we walked across, innocent as dewdrops
Ending God knows where, some garden world
Beneath some garden star
Where kryptonite never comes.

Midnight flowed; somewhere in floodlit forest
A thousand wild things died.

You will understand my disappointment this morning,
At seeing dawn still come.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Bernie Sanders in the Ghetto

I have not seen last night's Democratic debate yet, but during it, Bernie Sanders apparently said “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor.”

Er, no. How has Sanders lived for over seventy years without ever meeting any poor white people? Are there no poor white people in Vermont?

As funny is the reference to whites never experiencing the ghetto, considering that Sanders is Jewish, and “ghetto” originally meant the Jewish part of town. Aren't Jews white? Isn't Bernie Sanders white? Does he know nothing of his own history?

Speaking of which, there is widespread misunderstanding of the true nature of “ghettos” in general. The term, as Sanders' quote demonstrates, has a very unfavourable connotation. I think this is wrong.

The original “ghetto” was the Jewish neighbourhood in Venice. In fact, it was one of Venice's most prosperous neighbourhoods. Ghettos have recently gotten a bad rap because of the Nazis and the civil rights movement in the US South. The Nazis herded all the Jews into the old ghettos, which most of them had long left, as a prelude to shipping them off to be executed. These ghettos were as a result extremely overcrowded, and short of food and water. The Nazi ghettos were guarded, and Jews were not allowed to leave them under penalty of death.” These conditions have since been wrongly applied to ghettos in general, and there has been a general supposition that this was the case with ghettos before Nazi times. But before Hitler, the term “ghetto” had no clearly negative connotations. It was just the Jewish neighbourhood. Like TMR or Hampstead in Montreal. Forest Hill or Bathurst/Lawrence in Toronto. Nice places to live. Largely because by then it had developed the negative connotations, the term was transferred to the US during the civil rights movement in the US South to suggest there was something wrong with blacks living together in black neighbourhoods. After all, the main thrust of the movement was to promote integration over segregation, to disprove the claim that it was possible to be “separate but equal.” At the same time, the denigration of the traditional Jewish ghetto served the agenda of many who wanted to see anti-Semitism as endemic to European and Christian culture.

Jews being herded into the Krakow ghetto by the Nazis.

Wikipedia writes, inter alia, “Jewish ghettos in Europe existed because Jews were viewed as alien due to their non-Christian beliefs in a Christian environment.[citation needed] As a result, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities.[7].” Note that there is no citation for the first claim. The second reference is to a paper which in fact points out that ghettos involved no negative connotation until the Nazis.

There may have been laws is some places requiring Jews to live in the ghetto. Nevertheless, these laws had little or no effect. For the simple reason that Jewish ghettos would have existed more or less exactly as they did whether such laws existed or not.

To begin with, people of shared ethnicity, as a matter of course, want to live together. This is obvious to anyone who has seen a North American city populated by waves of immigrants. Toronto has its Little Italy, Little Portugal, Little India, Chinatown, Greektown, and on and on. Every big city between Montreal and Detroit even has a Corktown, where immigrants from this particular Irish city settled in the 1840s. It stands to reason. Live together, and your local school has heritage language classes for your kids; the local community centre has your traditional games and pastimes; your church or other house of worship is nearby; after work, you can spend time with others who speak your language and share your memories. Walk down the Danforth in the late afternoon and see all the old men playing backgammon in the coffee shops. Here in Saudi Arabia, foreigners almost always live in gated compounds, just like the Jewish ghettos. Do we feel deprived? No; we pay extra for the privilege.

Typical Saudi ghetto.

Krakow ghetto gate

Why would Jews or blacks or Hispanics feel any different? Indeed, TMR in Montreal chose to build a fence just a few decades ago.

In the old Jewish ghettos, Talmudic law even applied. They were largely self-governing entities. Kind of like some ethnic groups would die for today.

The streets were often relatively crowded, people lived within a small area, and they were surrounded by walls. You can see that the old ghetto in Barcelona, for example, is built to a different scale than other nearby areas. There is a reason for this. You may read this was because the wider civic authorities did not want Jews wandering abroad at night: They were forced to live together in the ghetto to prevent their roaming about at night,” explains the aforementioned Wikipedia reference. But this is not the real story. The real story is this: why would Jews want to be wandering abroad at night?

The issue is Jewish Sabbath observance. According to Talmudic law, an observant Jew could not leave his home during the Sabbath with anything, including money, in his pockets, and could not go anywhere he could not walk to on his own two feet. But an observant Jew had to go to the Synagogue for prayer on the evening of the Sabbath. This presented a technical difficulty, especially for the aged and infirm, unless Jews all lived quite close to the synagogue—in other words, in a tightly packed, enclosed community. Moreover, large groups of Jews walking after dark with nothing in their pockets, and with everybody knowing this fact, were very vulnerable. For their own safety, therefore, not for that of neighbouring Christians, Jews would naturally want to live in their own community safely separated from the rest of the city by walls. In addition, according to some legal interpretations, the wall made the entire ghetto “indoors,” greatly increasing the freedom of movement of those who lived within it.

So too, the black ghettos of the US were probably mostly voluntary at all times, and not necessarily a bad thing. “Until the 1970s, black ghettos were often seen by many African Americans as sites of thriving, bustling black business, stable black institutions, and neat, well-kept homes,” notes Wikipedia's reference. One notes the “Harlem Renaissance.” The close proximity of black cultural influences apparently produced a cultural flowering in this largest of black ghettos that has not been matched since. Arguably, the drive for desegregation since the Sixties, which has broken up many of the largest ghettos, has been a net loss for black culture. Which has not been in very good shape since.

Now don't get me started on “sweat shops.”