Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Left My Heart in St. Francis

Why do we write “Vienna,” and not “Wien”; and yet we have switched “Peking” to “Beijing”?

Okay, you may not care. But I am, among other things, a professional editor.

It is a puzzlement. The proper rule is this: if a place name has an established spelling in English, that spelling is authoritative. How the people who actually live there, who speak a different language, say it in their language, is not relevant. This is the same rule followed by other languages: the French say “Londres,” not “London.”

The English name for a number of Indian cities has also changed: Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, Poona to Pune, and so forth. But this is defensible: a significant number of people living in those places speak English, and their usage therefore arguably changes English usage.

But what is the argument for changing “Peking” to “Beijing”? Or, to cite other recent examples, “Burma” to “Myanmar,” “Ivory Coast” to “Cote d’Ivoire,” “Congo” to “Zaire,” “Saigon” to “Ho Chi Minh City,” or “Cambodia” to “Kampuchea”?

What do all these examples have in common? (Other than most of them having been changed back a few years later, adding to everyone’s confusion.) Hint: think left-wing dictatorships.

The chattering classes in the West are too ready to bend over, frontwards or backwards, for any leftist dictatorship in the Third World.

And have been for some while. English-language publications generally also swallowed St. Petersberg to Petrograd to Leningrad, in its day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Enter, Pursued by Bear

People make a lot of fuss about the violence kids are exposed to these days on TV. But was it ever thus?

Innocent Victorian children’s rhymes were perhaps not that innocent after all. This one is from Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense:

There was an old person of Tartary
Who divided his jugular artery;
But he screeched to his wife
And she said “Oh my life!
Your death will be felt by all Tartary!”

I can’t see that one getting past the average contemporary nursery school teacher.

How about this one:

There was an old man of Jamaica
Who suddenly married a Quaker;
But she cried out “Alack!
I have married a black!”
Which distressed that old man of Jamaica.

Or this:

There was a young lady of Clare
Who was sadly pursued by a bear;
When she found she was tired,
She abruptly expired,
That unfortunate lady of Clare.

The truth is, as Disney knew well, kids love being scared. And they love anything that seems a bit subversive. Rob them of this, and you are robbing them of some of the best fun of childhood. I suspect you are also stunting their souls. They need to ponder these questions.

Pleasant dreams, kids!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

What Was Fascism Really All About?

Among the many falsifications of history, none is more dramatic than the way our memories of the Fascists have been falsified. For example:

* Currently, too many folks see any sort of rules and regulations, and cry “Fascist.”

Fascism was not excessive order: it was chaos. It was the elimination of all settled rules and regulations, replacing them with the personal whims of a leader.

When Hitler came to power, he abolished the German constitution and instituted personal rule. He also made no provision for a transfer of power on his incapacity or death. “He deliberately destroyed the state’s ability to function in favour of his personal omnipotence and irreplaceability,” writes biographer Sebastian Haffner.

Similarly, on the level of personal morality, Fascism rejected conventional ethics, as “sermonizing hypocrisy and Philistine stuffiness.” The German and the Japanese government supplied their elite troops with whores.

A settled government of laws is the very opposite of Fascism.

* Many folks also think that Fascism was all about an elite oppressing the vulnerable. They forget that the original idea of Fascism was that the Germans, or the Italians, were the oppressed. In this, it presents uncomfortable parallels with, for example, feminism, or Quebec nationalism. Mussolini called Italy a “proletarian nation.” Hitler called Versailles “the vilest rape that nations and human beings have ever been expected to submit to.” The Jews, conversely, were seen as an international elite—rather like men, or white men, or Anglos, today. The average Jew was indeed wealthier and better educated than the average German or Pole. In Berlin during the Weimar Republic, writes Haffner, “they even formed something like a second aristocracy.”

* Many now claim Fascism was right-wing. But Mussolini and Hitler both claimed to be socialists. Recent Hitler biographer Haffner agrees: “Hitler undoubtedly was a socialist—indeed a very effective socialist.”

Conversely, it was the conservatives, both inside and outside Germany, who presented the stiffest opposition to Hitler. Churchill was a conservative. De Gaulle was a conservative. Stalin was, until directly attacked, his ally; Mitterand collaborated; in Spain, according to George Orwell, the communists formed Franco’s boasted “Fifth Column.” In Germany, Haffner writes, “the only opponents or rivals whom Hitler had to consider seriously and whom at times he had to fight in the domestic political arena between 1930 and 1934 were the conservatives. The liberals, the Centre people, or the Social Democrats never gave him the least trouble, and neither did the communists. And this is how things remained…” It was conservatives who attempted his assassination in 1944.

* Many—like John Ralston Saul—try to make Christianity responsible somehow for the Holocaust. But Hitler was no Christian: “He was,” writes Haffner, “not only irreligious himself, but also had no perception of what religion can mean to others.” As a movement, Nazism was enthusiastic about reviving German paganism and similar “New Age” ideas. Hitler emphatically did not see Jews as a religious, but as a racial, group.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Klein for PM?

It sure looks like Ralph Klein wants the Conservative leadership. Considering his track record, it is hard to believe he has tripped Stephen Harper up twice, in two different election campaigns, inadvertently. It looks instead as though he is doing what he can to ensure Harper does not get a majority, so that the party may turn to him--Klein--as its saviour later.

Stockwell Day may, after all, have been his stalking horse, intended to keep the federal seat warm for him. Day was his lieutenant in Alberta, after all.

And what's this about doing a national tour to "promote Alberta" on the eve of a federal election campaign? Including a foray into Quebec to test the waters?

Klein has, after all, announced his intention to retire as Premier. He's done all he can provincially. And he enjoys politics too much; he is too much of a political animal, I suspect, to retire voluntarily to a quiet private life. His type of politician rarely does: populists like Diefenbaker, Chretien, Caouette.

Could he win?

I think so. We are overdue for a Conservative and for an Albertan as PM. People are afraid of the Conservatives; but Klein's folksy image is very reassuring. He is the sort of personality the Conservatives need right now; genial in the way Reagan was in the US. If he took the Conservative leadership, I would expect a Conservative sweep in the next election.

Of course, he is not bilingual, and that would hurt in Quebec. But the BQ will probably ensure that the Liberals are not too strong in Quebec either. If he can storm Ontario, that should be enough; enough even, perhaps , to get Quebec to come on board too, as they did for Diefenbaker.

It looks as though he is now consciously remolding his image to fit the national stage; just as he recreated himself in the move from mayor of Calgary to provincial premier, going from a "progressive" Liberal to a right-wing Tory. Hence the national tour. Another heavy hint: he has declared Harper "too right-wing" to win.

It's going to be interesting if Harper does not win this time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Happy Fall Feast

PBS has apparently rechristened--sorry; redubbed--Thanksgiving "Fall Feast." I guess giving thanks might imply a higher being. And the spirit of thankfulness has been replaced with the more communal-minded "spirit of sharing."

No kidding:

Sgt. Preston Rides Again

Preston Manning's new right-wing think tank now has a web page:

Christianity Resurrected in Britain

A recent BBC poll shows a sudden increase in the percentage of people in Britain identifying themselves as Christian—almost a doubling in the past year. The figures now stand at 59% of men and 75% of women; 67% overall. It seems the winds of revival, so evident in the US, may be beginning to blow in Europe as well.

This might be a reaction against militant Islam. But perhaps not: even fifty percent of British Muslims, in the survey, endorsed the notion that Britain should base itself on Christian values. It looks more like a revival inspired by Islam than a revival provoked by Islam.

More likely, it merely springs from the same original source: an awareness, deep down, that secular humanism is off the rails; and a rebellion against what has become its suppression of religion.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Larry Summers in Winter

A report on the Larry Summers affair appears in the latest newsletter from the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

You may recall, Larry Summers, former US Secretary of Commerce and current President of Harvard, got into hot water by suggesting factors other than discrimination may account for the shortage or female professors in the hard sciences.

According to the report, from one who heard the speech, Summers discussed two possible reasons, other than sex discrimination, for the disproportion here:

First, that women may more often avoid “high-powered” jobs that require long hours and total dedication to career.

Which of course they do.

Second, that there are more men than women who are extremely adept at math, physics, or chemistry.

This is empirically so; at more than 3.5 or 4 standard deviations above the mean, in standard tests on these subjects, men outnumber women 5 to 1. It should follow, on this factor alone, that men should outnumber women 5 to 1 on science faculties, if there is no discrimination at that level.

Feminists, of course, are now the first to insist there are real differences between men and women. Women are more “nurturing,” and so forth. But even if this were not so, even if this were all caused by social expectations or discrimination against younger women, it is still impossible to correct it at the level of university faculty hiring. You necessarily have a much smaller pool of highly-qualified female candidates from which to choose.

But, of course, all hell broke loose. Summers was obliged to apologize repeatedly, reputedly almost lost his job, and was obliged to announce $50 million in new funding to get more women into such jobs.

“The good academic value,” Summers said, “of challenging and provoking thought just went where it should not have gone.”

I guess that says it all.

Some things we are not allowed to even think.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Les Canadiens Errant

According to CP, the Canadian government is planning a new drive to convince “highly-skilled” Canadians living and working abroad to return home.

Unfortunately, the plan seems to simply involve ads run in the media worldwide.

The Liberal government has a fondness, after all, for ad companies.

But is it likely to work?

Highly skilled probably means well-educated. What is an ad going to tell them about the advantages of Canadian life that they do not already know?

According to government figures, seven percent of Canada’s most educated now work abroad: 500,000 Canadians. Among developed countries, only Sweden and France have more high-end expatriates.

As a result, we are forced to bring in more immigrants to make up the loss.

But why are so many Canadians eager to get out?

One obvious answer: we are overtaxed. That would explain Sweden as well.

Another, as I have noted in this blog, is the repressive Canadian political climate.

Another, no doubt, is winter.

Another is the boredom and loneliness of Canada’s vast distances.

Is a newspaper ad going to change any of this?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Canada: It Was Fun While It Lasted

According to this blog

several Canadian provinces are already more economically integrated with the US than with the rest of Canada, and the integration with the US is growing.

The pocketbook is not the only issue, but the pocketbook will argue increasingly in coming years for preferring full membership in the United States to the continued separate existence of Canada. Moreover, separation of Quebec (or Alberta) would matter far less economically to the rest of Canada now than it might have a few years ago.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mission Abort?

Something strange is going on. According to this site

64% of Canadian women support some kind of restriction on abortion. And yet, of four major federal parties, not one calls for anything like this.

As has been apparent at least since the days of Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord, there is a significant disconnect between the actual opinions of Canadians and what is on offer to them from their political leaders.

Only recently, the Conservatives backed down from any kind of change to Canada's current policy of free abortion on demand. Why? On the face of it, it looks as though this, along with the gay marriage issue, should be a sure winner for Stephen Harper.

I expect the problem is with the media. The mainstream liberal media will savage the Conservatives if they run on this, and they will have no chance to get their message out. A gifted orator like Diefenbaker or a genial personality like Reagan might be able to get the message through this screen; but it's a big gamble.

Is it worth trying anyway? Perhaps, as in the US, the new factor of the blogosphere might make it impossible to suppress the Conservative message this time. Along with relatively new presences on the media scene like the National Post.

Unfortunately, I don't think Stephen Harper, a man I greatly admire, has the right image and public persona to pull it off.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jes' Plain Folks

The point of folk music, as the name implies, is that it is the music of the common people. Yet the great irony is that it is not; not any more. The common people listen to pop music or country music. It is hard to find others interested, as I am, in folk. Mostly they congregate around college campuses. Hardly the common folk.

What we call folk music is therefore not folk music; but what is it? It’s a kind of romanticism; a rich educated person’s fantasy of what it might mean to be poor and unlettered.

Like romanticism generally, it misses all the gritty bits; the mosquitoes and the foul smells of country life, the grime of the fields and mines.

Take that old folk standby “Goodnight, Irene.” I have an original recording by Leadbelly. Some of his verses are never heard any more:

I love Irene, Lord knows I do;
Love her till the seas run dry.
If Irene turns her back on me
Gonna take morphine and die.

I asked her mother about Irene
She told me she was too young
I wish I’d never seen her face
I’m sorry she ever was born.

Funny, that, eh?

And the original chorus wasn't quite as we've remembered it. I'm used to singing "I'll see you in my dreams," as the Weavers did. But Leadbelly actually sang "I'll get you in my dreams."

And that familiar children’s song, “The Cat Came Back?” In its original, as a turn of the century pop song, the lyrics were rather different than we now remember:

De cat it were a terror and dey say it wer be best
To gib it to a nigger who was going out West.
De train going 'round de curve struck a broken rail,
Not a blessed soul aboard de train wer left to tell de tale.

Little boy took de cat away, he got a dollar note.
Took it down to de ribber in a little open boat.
Tied a brick around its neck an' stone about a pound;
Now dey're grappling in de ribber for a little boy that's drowned.

Kind of sounds more like Eminem and less like Sharon, Lois, and Bram.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Adam's Spare Ribs

Living in the Middle East—especially in a bedouin area—is an eye-opener in understanding the Bible. Semitic culture is Semitic culture, and much in the Bible becomes clearer in light of Arab customs.

For example, the riddle of wives for Adam and Eve’s sons. How did Cain or Seth find wives if there were no other people before their parents? Yet there would be no mystery here to a bedouin, and so I presume to an ancient Hebrew audience.

Today, as I generally do at least one a year, I had my Arab students drawing family trees, for practice in English words for relatives. Nobody has ever included a female relative in these charts. Not, by the way, out of discrimination against women, in my opinion. Because to speak of one’s female relatives is ungallant.

So there is no mystery that no daughters of Adam and Eve are mentioned in the Bible’s begats.

Nor would there be much surprise or horror at the thought that brothers might have married sisters. My class was surprised when, in showing family photos, I explained that I could not marry my first cousin. That is not just a common, but a preferred match in the Middle East. Keeps the bloodlines and the clan loyalties clear. Among Egyptian pharaohs, brothers usually married sisters.

To an Arab, and perhaps to an ancient Hebrew, the whole thing would go without saying.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

On a Catholic email list recently, a wise comment: scientists are really just one more special interest group.

We need to remember that.

When the alarm is raised over global warming, or environmental degradation, or species at risk, or the obesity epidemic, or bird flu, or skin cancer, or the ozone layer, or smoking, or SARS, or wife abuse, or discrimination against women, or spreading illiteracy, or a comet striking the earth, we need to, and we do not, take it with more than a grain of salt.

Ulterior motives are at work. Causing a big stir about some impending public danger scores the jackpot in research funding. It makes careers and personal fortunes. It makes you famous. “You're fixed for life, qualified to appear on NPR and PBS [and CBC, and BBC] philosophizing on politics, economics, and social issues, because you are now a ‘respected authority.’” It gives you power: as the authority, you can dictate to the public and even governments on the issue. You can get an area cordoned as your exclusive preserve, figuratively or even literally. It’s too dangerous for others to trifle with. If, for example, the mountain gorilla is found endangered, first thing is the creation of a preserve, with the rabble excluded, and the scientific experts in charge. A lot better than a cottage by the lake. Declare a drug dangerous, similarly, and you have a monopoly on dispensing it.

The press are willing accomplices. It makes easy news, just a matter of rewriting press releases. It also makes easy “in depth” features, all the data spoon-fed to you by the scientific authorities. The public, sadly, eats it up. It’s almost a kind of blackmail: “you are going to die if you don’t…”

The politicians too love it, because it convinces the public to hand more power to them. For politicians or civil servants, as for scientists, a good public scare can make careers and personal fortunes. It is the stuff bureaucratic empires are built of. It gives them power over others; and they are usually in it for power.

Woe unto you, ye scribes and Pharisees.

For the rest of us, try to believe every now and then that the sky is not really falling.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Rectification of Terms

As many, from Plato to Confucius to Orwell, have pointed out, in politics words are commonly used to deceive. It is important, therefore, to keep checking terms against their ordinary meanings.

“Progressive” I take to mean wanting change, believing change is generally an improvement. Merriam-Webster: “making use of or interested in new ideas, inventions, or opportunities.”

“Conservative” I take to mean wanting to preserve, believing change is generally not desirable. Merriam-Webster: “advocates preservation of the established order and views proposals for change critically and usually with distrust.”

Neither have anything to do with big or small government: government can be either an agent of change or an agent of preservation.

However, almost by definition, over the longer term, those who are out of power are those who will want change. And, almost necessarily, those who are out of power want less government (there are other sources of power than government, but government is the prime locus of power). Therefore, most often, progressivism means wanting small government.

“Liberal” can mean spending a lot (and “conservative” can mean spending little), but this is trivial. I think it more literally, especially when used of politics, means a commitment to civil liberties: “liberal” as in “liberty”; from the Latin. Merriam-Webster, describing the British Liberal Party as normative: “…with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and administrative reforms…”

This associates liberalism too with smaller government: powers given to government are, in principle, powers taken from individuals.

By this definition, Mike Harris is to the liberal and progressive side, as was Reform and are the current federal Conservatives. John Tory is more conservative; as was Joe Clark. Broadly, the current Canadian Conservative Party is liberal and progressive, and the current federal Liberal Party is conservative; although they do trade places on a few social issues. The old Ontario Tory party, of Bill Davis, John Robarts, and George Drew, was conservative.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Remembrance Day

A BC teacher has written an article for The Tyee explaining why he refuses to wear a poppy for Remembrance Day.

View the article at

Whether or not The Tyee prints it, here, FWIW, is my response.

Why I Wear a Poppy

Clay McLeod’s premise (“Why I Don’t Wear a Poppy”, Nov. 9) is that the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers in World War I and II and in Korea are not worthy of remembrance because “wars are never completely black-and-white.” This is an extravagant example of what is currently called “moral equivalence,” of failing to see any distinction between degrees of right and wrong. This is a critical failure, because in the real world, moral choices are always between degrees of right and wrong. Real life is never black and white.

But to equate the actions of Hitler with the internment of Japanese Canadians, and the wearing of a poppy with the wearing of a swastika, is to smash one’s moral compass and hide all the pieces.

McLeod claims “Unarguably, WWI was ‘for king and country,’ not freedom and democracy; its causes were rooted in European imperialism and nationalism.”

I’m afraid that view, although currently fashionable, is in fact quite arguable. It is perfectly reasonable to claim they did, as they believed they did, fight for democracy and that small nations might be free.

In World War I, it remains true that all the great democracies were aligned on one side, and the other side was solidly autocratic. Had the autocrats cleanly won, they would presumably have imposed autocratic governments; their loss, conversely, produced democracy, for a time, in Germany and the former Austrian Empire. So how was it not a fight for freedom and democracy? It also remains true that the war was started by the autocrats, by invading Serbia, and it was also the autocrats who invaded Belgium without a casus belli. Had they won, it would have been a severe blow to the freedom of small nations.

McLeod then denies that even WWII had any preponderance of morality on either side: “WWII was a complex conflict based in the context of the resolution of WWI. Although that context gave fertile soil to the most notorious example of evil known to history - Hitler and the Nazis - the resulting conflict was more a continuation of imperialist rivalries and nationalistic competition than it was a legitimate battle between good and evil…”

This is double talk. If the most notorious example of evil known to history is on the one side, supporting the other side is, necessarily, a moral issue.

Nor did Britain, France, the US, or Russia go to war in order to expand their empires or to crush Germany as a nation. Without looking at each case, the claim is absurd on the historical facts.

McLeod considers the Korean conflict his coup de grace: “The fact that we recognize the efforts of our soldiers in the Korean War … conclusively demonstrates that we are not just recognizing the efforts of soldiers to protect freedom and democracy.”

Freedom and democracy were not at stake in Korea? This is possible to believe only in hindsight. Whatever his later crimes, Syngman Rhee was then a democratic leader, democratically elected. Kim Il Sung refused to hold scheduled UN elections in North Korea, and instead invaded to seize the South.

And perhaps not even in hindsight. Compare the situation, in terms of either personal freedom or democracy, in North and South Korea today. Can McLeod believe a different result to the Korean War would not have mattered, for either?

Finally, McLeod argues that, in any event, war per se is evil: in confronting evil, we should instead use tactics of passive resistance.

To be consistent, though, he should advocate the same approach for the criminal justice system. Faced, for example, with a rapist and slasher plying his trade in our stairwell, the proper response is not to call the cops, but to get out there and bare our breast to him to shame him into better behaviour. To a child molester, in turn, we should offer our own children so that he comes to see the error of his ways.

That ought to work.

But even if all this were not so, it would still be beside the point. McLeod is labouring under the false premise that Remembrance Day is a day for celebrating the victory by force of “freedom and democracy.”

“Remembrance Day uses the veneer of virtues like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ to glorify military solutions to the world's problems.” It is not, and nobody I know understands the poppy in this way. The point of the poppy is that they grew amid the graves of the fallen.

Certainly, if I were going to make the case for war as a glorious and a good thing, I would not take the vast death toll of WWI trench warfare as my symbol.

It is a day, rather, for remembering the sacrifice of soldiers who suffered and died in war.

McLeod believes it would be apt to commemorate the sufferings of those killed in the concentration camps. They manifestly did not die for “freedom and democracy.” Yet he refuses to honour the sufferings of soldiers who fought and died in war, because, in his opinion (not theirs) they did not die for “freedom and democracy.” Is this not inconsistent?

Indeed, even if McLeod is right about the real causes of this or that war, it is surely relevant that the average soldier believed that he was fighting and perhaps dying in a noble cause. Isn’t it both illogical and cruel to claim that, because they were mistaken or misled, their sacrifice is to be discounted?

And what of the special virtues of the soldier? Courage, loyalty, forbearance and persistence in the face of adversity, self-abnegation. Greater love hath no man, after all, than one who will lay down his life for his fellow man. What is the justice in ignoring such things? If war is wrong, it is wrong to blame the soldier.

“Regardless of whether I'm right or if I'm deluded myself,” McLeod concludes, “the fact is that violence is a never ending cycle.”

Unfortunately, this too is McLeod’s delusion. Violence does not, in fact, self-perpetuate. Germany and Japan, for example, have not returned to war as a result of the violence used against them in WWII. Uganda has not gone to war again because of the violence used to unseat Idi Amin. Arresting and imprisoning criminals does not visibly cause them to reoffend.

As some wag once observed, “violence never solved anything—okay, except maybe Fascism, slavery, American independence, the survival of the Jewish race…”

Wear the damned poppy, McLeod. Your morals are showing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

All Hallows Eve

It is common knowledge these days that Hallowe’en is a pagan festival.

No doubt it does have elements taken over from paganism; as do Christmas and Easter.

But it is also perfectly legitimate as a Christian holiday.

Hallowe’en is the evening of All Saint’s Day—“All Hallows.” It makes as much sense to mark it as a prelude to the day itself as to celebrate Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Good Friday, or Mardi Gras.

It has, it is true, overshadowed the day itself. This too is not so odd: the same is true of New Year’s Eve.

It is a pity that in Canada we do not properly celebrate All Saint’s Day, though. This is when we remember the souls in heaven, which is to say, the good people who have gone before us. In the Philippines, for example, a thoroughly Catholic country, the day is spent at the local cemetery, at the graves of ancestors. It is especially associated with family members who have died in infancy. If they have died after baptism and before the age of reason, they are known to be in heaven. Other saints are officially declared by the church; these are honoured on their own special days. On this day, we can make our own private assumptions about those we knew when alive, and knew to be good people.

This day, we commune with them—honour them, remember their lives, and ask for their intercession.

The next day, November 2, is All Souls’ Day. On this day, traditionally also spent at the cemetery, you pray for all, especially relatives, who are assumed to be still in purgatory. Those not so good; the general run of folk.

It is sad to me that in Canada departed relatives tend to be forgotten and their graves left unvisited.

But so far, we have accounted for only two possible fates for souls after death: heaven and purgatory. As every Catholic knows, there are really three. That’s where Hallowe’en comes in. Souls in hell do not belong, of course, on All Saints’; and there is no point in praying for them on All Souls, as they are already lost.

If Hallowe’en is not clearly identified as this, as All Damned Day, it is because the reality is too unpleasant to face so squarely. It is the sort of thing we prefer to cloak with a euphemism. In any case, it is appropriate to mark not the day, but the evening: day means good, and night means evil.

Why should we mark such a sorry thing? The damned are beyond helping or being helped.

Because, like Medieval murals showing the Dance of Death, it is a useful caution for the living.

Why the pagan elements? Because pagans, presumably, from the Christian perspective, are on the road to hell. The word “hell” itself is taken from a pagan word for the afterlife.

The event, like most such things, has been sanitized over time: just a bunch of little kids trying their hand at deceit and gluttony. Back in Irish Gananoque, where I grew up, Hallowe’en night still involved more. Older kids—teenagers—soaped up windows and performed other acts of mischief. The forces of chaos had been unleashed.

Why is Hallowe’en celebrated on the last day of October? The conventional explanation is that it is the old Celtic New Year; but that, if so, is incidental. There is a fairly narrow window in which a day of hell can fit into the liturgical calendar. Advent in November through to Pentecost in June or so is sacred time. And it must be soon before this, instead of soon after it, to convey salvation history.

October 31 falls close to the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. It can be seen, therefore, as the first night of winter, given the same logic that makes June 21, the summer solstice, “Midsummer Night”; and Groundhog Day the first day of spring.

Winter is the season of cold; but, more important in celestial, which is to say, metaphorically, heavenly, terms, it is the season of darkness. Hence, October 31 roughly marks the moment when darkness becomes triumphant over creation. Christmas is the rebirth of light, at the winter solstice; Easter, at the vernal equinox, marks light’s ascendancy.

Hallowe’en is therefore the anti-Easter; directly across the year from, six months before, Easter’s salvation.

You have to give the devil his due.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Toronto vs. Dubai as Multicultural Mecca

I sometimes wonder who Toronto slept with to get designated by some UN body “the world’s most multicultural city.”

There is a lot of ethnic variety in Toronto, it is true. But for my money, Dubai seems at least as multicultural. Toronto may be over fifty percent foreign born now. Dubai is well over eighty percent.

I was up in Dubai with my four-year-old on the weekend. We went to the “Global Village,” a sort of permanent outdoor cross between Toronto’s Caravan and CNE. Unlike Caravan, which seems to have been a passing enthusiasm, it is growing bigger every year.

In a real sense, Global Village is how Dubai defines itself. It and its region, the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, has always been, and always considered itself, a crossroads. It was for millennia, since the days of Sumer and Mohenjo-daro, a crucial link in the trade routes between Europe, the Middle East, India, and China. And Africa: until quite recent years, neighbouring Oman and Zanzibar were one kingdom. Many Omanis and Emiratis look African today. For Toronto, by comparison, the enthusiasm for the international is only a generation deep, and may be gone tomorrow.

In the “Global Village,” each nation has its own permanent pavilion: traditional shopping, traditional food, traditional performances. This year, it is open for six months. Starting next year, it will be open all year round. Dubai is the world in miniature, and the Global Village is Dubai in miniature.

But not the only one. It is a motif repeated again and again. After the Global Village, we also visited the new Ibn Battuta Mall: divided into six sections, each recreating the traditional architecture and d├ęcor of a different civilization. China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain. Again the same metaphor: Dubai is the world in miniature. Again, appearing slowly on the Dubai waterfront is something simply called “The World,” a series of artificial islands that together form a world map. Cottagers can own their own country. Rod Stewart has already bought England.

Toronto’s Chinatown is big? Dubai has Chinamexmart, a shopping mall 1.3 kilometers long in the shape of a dragon, the largest outlet for Chinese products outside China. It is the centre of a Chinese high-rise residential community in what is called “International City.” Similar malls and settlements at similar scale from other regions are projected. “Vancouver” is currently, I hear, under construction.

Another project on the drawing board is “Falcon City,” which is to feature reproductions of great world landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and so forth. Not miniature scale models, mind: more or less full size or, in the case of the Taj Mahal, larger.

The big local newspapers too balance their news sections by region of the globe: the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, the Far East, Europe, the Americas, each get two pages each day.

My wife, who is Filipina, can generally actually do her shopping in her native language. You can’t do that in Toronto, although you could probably manage it in Chinese or Italian. She also gets the full range of Filipino foods here, and Filipino restaurants; that’s not easy to find in Toronto. I can get whatever I crave from Canada. I can also get any ingredient I might want for South Asian cooking, the full range of cuisines north and south; all the array of Middle Eastern foods, of course; plus things from Europe I never see in Canada.

Toronto might have the edge in terms of the range of countries represented: last time I was back, it seemed to have even newly sprouted a Burmese neighbourhood. But for my money, to be multicultural to one’s soul really requires being a major seaport, and being more or less disconnected from any large hinterland with a solid majority culture. Dubai and Singapore fit that bill. Hong Kong used to. Beirut could. Montreal once did. Toronto does not.

Toronto has enthusiasms, and goes on moral crusades. Right now it is multiculturalism, and Toronto has grown very intolerant of anyone who is not tolerant. Next year it may be colonic irrigation or something else.

But I have a feeling Dubai will stay the course.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Oppression of Muslim Women

An insight into the oppression of women in Muslim countries: the Gulf News reports that currently, twice as many Emirati women as men hold college and university degrees (“UAE women prove their mettle,” Gulf News, November 4, 2005).

Meanwhile, Reuters, in what is represented as a straight news story, cautions against putting too much faith in the “big brothers” who are trying to stop the violence in the Muslim areas of France. After all, Reuters explains, “the term ‘big brother’ also evokes a brother who guards the family honour by terrorizing his sisters to wear modest clothes and keep away from boys.” (“’Big brothers’ try to calm Paris tensions,” Gulf News, November 4, 2005).

God forbid.

It is hard not to sympathize with Muslims over this sort of comment.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Everybody Knows There Were No WMDs in Iraq

What most people believe is usually the opposite of the truth. Robert Fulford taught me this: “If everybody knows something,” he said, “it is sure to be wrong.”

This article argues that there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And that this is actually public knowledge:

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Human Rights Watch: This Just In

Didn't I say the situation was worse in Canada?

In Manitoba, a woman can get a restraining order against any man by just picking up the phone. Any man--not only her husband.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Human Rights Watch

If you care about human rights, you have to read this.

Executive summary version:

"Jim Crow Days for Men"

Full version:

"Time to Defund Feminist Pork"

And remember, bad as it all sounds, this is the US version of feminism. It is much worse in Canada.

A Letter from Anonymous

Dear Abbot:

I would like to add to this post to the best of my working class ability, or at least present the working class perspective.

Our government is run by rich capitalists.

Many government workers up ‘til the recent deregulation of utilities are working class.

I have noticed that most employers in similar industries pay close to the same wage, and sell their product for similar price. There is not competition when the choices are pre-agreed upon by the "Competitors"

Slight differences is wages are not worth the effort when you may have to move your family or spend most of you time away on the road.

Most people I know who spend their careers on the road are divorced or in dismal relationships.Management does have the opportunity to underpay labour when it can make labourers compete with each other for the work.

I may work for 20 dollars, but what do I do when the next guy will work for 16?

The rich capitalist will never lose. Even when "let go" from a job their compensation, share options and salary earned while in the job is enough for anyone to live on for several lifetimes. What incentive is there to pay the workers well when the result would be a loss in your own chunk or the cash?


Dear Anonymous:

First, thanks very much for writing. It is great to hear different views.

You blame the plight of the working class on “rich capitalists.” To begin with, “rich capitalists” in the Marxist sense are a bogeyman. It is too much to say they do not exist—Theresa Heinz Kerry is certainly one, and you might have a case that “our government is run by rich capitalists,” in the person of Paul Martin—but they are rare, and much less influential than you seem to think. Blaming everything on a conspiracy of “rich capitalists” is the class equivalent of blaming everything on the Jews.

A capitalist is supposed to be someone who makes his living on the investment of capital, instead of working for a living. I guess that describes the average retiree, but not a separate class. It is contradictory to speak of a “rich capitalist” being “let go” from a job. Such a person is by definition an employee, not a capitalist.

I guess technically he’s a member of the working class… but to put it so makes essentially everyone in Canada “working class.”

When you look at this sort of thing, the thing that becomes obvious is that Marx’s ideas and Marx’s analysis of society has been proved completely wrong over time. But you are apparently still basing your world view on it.

It is more useful to talk of the “blue collar” and “white collar” distinction. Blue collar workers work largely with their muscles; white collar workers work largely with their brains. Our government is indeed run by white collar workers, and by a party whose support comes from white collar workers. The blue collars favour the Conservatives; white collars vote Liberal and NDP.

On this basis, it is fair to say that “many” government workers used to be blue collar: the postmen and the cops on the beat, the linesmen at hydro, the street sweepers. But surely they have been a minority of government workers for a long time. You cite utilities in particular. I used to work for Ontario Hydro. Two giant office buildings in downtown Toronto, full of people working at computers and pushing papers. No doubt there were linesmen out there somewhere in the field, but we never heard saw them, heard of them, or thought of them. Similarly, for every cop on the beat, how many desk jockeys are there in a provincial police force? I wonder.

You say, of the private sector, “There is not competition when the choices are pre-agreed upon by the ‘Competitors,’” and that similar products are always offered at about the same price.

Note that, if you could prove that competitors are agreeing in advance on products or prices, you would have a case against them in law: this is illegal restraint of trade. But even if it were not illegal, they could not get away with it over time, because a new competitor could enter the field and destroy them with a cheaper or a better product. When there is restraint on new products—and there is—this is necessarily something imposed by government. This is why we should be suspicious of government regulation and government interference in the marketplace. Big government tends to protect vested interests.

I think you are factually wrong to say that similar products always have the same price. Do you do the shopping in your family? I find wide variety in the prices of quite similar products: toilet paper, say, can vary in price 100% depending on brand. The one place where price does not seem to vary is, again, where government has fixed prices: for eggs or cheese or milk.

You object to having labourers compete with each other for work, and ask, what can you do if you want $20 an hour, but the next guy will do the work for $16?

While businesses may not collude to fix prices, labourers are already completely free to collude to fix wages. That’s called a union. Unfortunately, though legal, it still does not work. Any company that sees its wages forced up to the point that it is no longer competitive is out of business. Any government that intervenes to prevent this—as most have—just loses an industry. Because they cannot impose their wages on foreign workers.

But there is an alternative. In a free market, one’s wages really can vary, based on your market value as an employee. If you can make five widgets an hour, while the next guy makes only three, you can expect to get $20 an hour, while he gets only $16.

One way to do this, of course, is to work harder. Another way is to increase your productivity by developing better work skills. Another way, indeed, is to move to a new market where there is a labour shortage. You are free, of course, to decide that the boost in wages is not enough to make you want to move; or the increase in wages is not enough to make you want to work harder, or to improve your skills by, say, taking a night course. That’s your choice.

And this, in turn, is the incentive to pay workers well: because it gets and keeps more productive workers. This increases their profit, or their market share.

Good luck.