Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Why I Loathe Feminism"

The founder of the world’s first “shelter for battered women” has broken silence and spoken out about something that must have troubled her for many years. This took some courage:

“feminism is a cynical, misguided ploy.”

“I have never been a feminist, because, having experienced my mother's violence, I always knew that women can be as vicious and irresponsible as men.”

“the movement, which proclaimed that all men are potential rapists and batterers, was based on a lie that, if allowed to flourish, would result in the complete destruction of family life.”

“when I later opened my refuge for battered women, 62 of the first 100 to come through the door were as abusive as the men they had left.”

“Many years later, when feminists started demonising all fathers, these stark images continually reminded me of the truth - that domestic violence is not a gender issue.”

“Feminism, I realised, was a lie. Women and men are both capable of extraordinary cruelty. Indeed, the only thing a child really needs - two biological parents under one roof - was being undermined by the very ideology which claimed to speak up for women's rights.
This country is now on the brink of serious moral collapse. We must stop demonising men and start healing the rift that feminism has created between men and women.
Harriet Harman's insidious and manipulative philosophy that women are always victims and men always oppressors can only continue this unspeakable cycle of violence. And it's our children who will suffer. “
Read it and weep:

Read more:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sabbath in Sofia

I was walking alone through the darkening streets of downtown Sofia, homeward from a sidewalk supper with my colleagues. As I passed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, I reflected once again on how beautiful Bulgarian culture was, but then began to brood on the fact that it once also included a large Bulgarian Jewish culture, which is now gone. Before the war, one fifth of Sofia's residents were Jews. They were not killed in the Holocaust, to Bulgaria's eternal credit. But almost all chose to emigrate, to the new state of Israel, after the war.

Just as I was feeling sad about this, about how great a cultural loss this was, I became aware of being surrounded on the sidewalk, otherwise almost deserted at this hour, by a small parade of rather elderly men and women. I looked up from my brooding, and noticed next in the gathering darkness that the men were all wearing yarmulkes.

Of course. It was Friday evening. The Sabbath had begun. As orthodox Jews, they could not drive or ride—they had to walk to the Central Synagogue, once the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe, still standing a few blocks away, for the sundown service. Shabat Shalom.

Judaism, it seems, is still here in Sofia. And, while this trickle of old mn and women may be the last generation there, perhaps not.

The overall population of Bulgaria is declining, though its economic future seems rosy. Israel's future looks less and less secure. I think, if I were a young Israeli, I would think very carefully about the possibility of emigrating here, where there is no tradition of antisemitism.

Indeed, all across Europe, populations will soon be declining. They could use the Jews back. In what may after all be their God-given role, as a leaven among the nations, not just one more nation among all the others.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Honour Due One's Parents

“Honour thy father and thy mother.” So runs the fourth commandment—or fifth, of you are Orthodox or Reformed.

But that is not the complete commandment, either. The full passage, in Exodue, reads, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” And in Revelations, it reads: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

The extra bit is important, I think, and ought not to be dropped—this is demonstrated by the fact that it appears in both versions of the list. It is needed to make the true meaning clear.

Without it, the commandment is often quoted to children to suggest a divine obligation to obey their parents. But that is not what is meant at all. Jesus makes this clear in the New Testament when he says the true Christian “despises” his father and his mother, that we should call no one father but our Father in heaven, and that, rather than respectfully mourn our sire, we ought to “let the dead bury their own dead.”

We cannot, of course, assume all families to be benevolent, any more than we can assume all governments to be benevolent. This being true, the common interpretation of the commandment can be profoundly harmful in the case, for example, of abused children. But more: the pressure for solidarity within a family can be the first and the worst example of “peer pressure” as an assault on the individual conscience—of “the world” as it appears in that ungodly trio of tempters, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” And then there is the danger of nepotism, of family solidarity as collective selfishness.

The commandment is, in any case, superfluous in the case of young children. They have no option, after all—their very survival depends on keeping their parents happy. They have no free will in the matter.

It is, accordingly, only to adults that the commandment is addressed. And the word, after all, is “honour,” not “obey.”

What the commandment means, rather, is a moral obligation to look after our parents' needs in their old age. It is precisely this obligation, if socially recognized, that ensures that “our days may be long.” No euthanasia, as is indeed practiced by some cultures, no mocking of the old, of the sort Ham was indeed cursed for, and no “elder abuse.” It is of a piece with the commandment, elsewhere, “not to forget the wife of your youth.”

This meaning would be much more apparent in cultures that, unlike ours, do not have social security to tend to the old. Even without this, is is easy for the young and strong to become reckless of the interests of the old farts and has-beens.

Our own culture is not exemplary in this regard.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

More Evidence in Favour of Catholicism

I think it may be possible to evaluate various religious traditions objectively, and decide which religion is better than which other religion.

Here's how.

Premise: God is manifested by the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. These three are ultimately all one, and together are God. This is necessarily so: God as a perfect being must be perfectly good, perfectly real, and perfectly beautiful; for any being that was not all these things would not be perfect. An ugly being is self-evidently not a perfect being; an evil being is not a perfect being; and an unreal being, as Anselm pointed out, is not a perfect being.

All this seems self-evident and true of necessity.

But something important follows from this, does it not? It follows that any religion which fails to value and teach appreciation for any one of these three aspects is to that extent deficient, and to that extent inferior to a religious tradition that acknowledges all three. It does not fully reflect the true nature of the divine.

We can, then, proceed to make judgements:

Paganism, shamanism, animism, for example, tends to fail to fully acknowledge the good; it tends towards amorality. It is therefore an inferior religion, as history itself has shown: it has been mostly abandoned in practice. Buddhism and Hinduism also seem lower on the pole than the ethical monotheisms here. Confucianism also scores high.

Calvinism fails to properly honour the beautiful, standing opposed to beauty in almost all its expressions: music, visual art, female beauty, dance, drama. In this regard, it is simply wrong; a wrong turn in religious history. Possibly for this reason, Calvinist creeds tend to fade over generations. Wahhabi Islam can also be faulted here. Taoism scores high, on this one factor.

Buddhism falls relatively short on truth—it does not value metaphysical truth, but only “skillful means.”

Who comes out on top? Catholicism, it seems to me, as clearly as one might wish. I'd like to say “Catholicism/Orthodoxy,” as it seems to me they are very much the same on this score. But I cannot say “Christianity,” because, as noted, Calvinist Christianity is not at the same level. Catholic/Orthodox Christianity seems to stand out among the great word religions in most clearly valuing all three qualities: a rigorous and sophisticated metaphysics, a rigorous and sophisticated ethics, and a rigorous and sophisticated tradition of religious art.

This is perhaps confirmed by the accomplishments of Christian civilization. The cultural cultivation of the virtues of truth, morality, and beauty will naturally tend to manifest as accomplishments in philosophy and science, saintliness, and the arts. And surely Europe leads the world in all three spheres? Granted, there may be some Eurocentrism in such a claim—but really, the rest of the world basically concurs.

Some may argue, mind, that there is no clear superiority of Catholic and Orthodox over Protestant Europe in cultural accomplishment. In philosophy and science, Protestant Britain, America, and North Germany may have an edge over Catholic France and Italy and Orthodox Russia. But if so, it is not a huge edge.

As to ethics, it is hard to say a given nation is more ethical than another. Protestant nations tend to have more honest governments—and higher crime rates. But what of actual paragons of saintliness? Here, surely, the Catholics have the advantage.

In the arts, I think even most artists of Protestant Europe would award the Catholics the laurel. The terms “Romantic” and “Bohemian,” after all, both refer to Catholic cultures. You don't go from Paris to London in search of a life in the arts.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

High Noon

As I was exercising last night, I rewatched High Noon, probably the first movie I remember from my childhood. I first saw it sometime between the ages of 2 and 8, and it burned some things indelibly into my psyche.

It remains one of the greatest artistic products and purest expressions of American culture.

Most striking is how it conforms to the traditional dramatic unities, as prescribed by Aristotle millennia ago. The movie lasts one hour and 20 minutes; the time covered in the movie lasts one hour and 20 minutes. All around one act and one action: that train rolling in at 12 noon.

One would have imagined these rules for drama really only mattered for the stage, and were about creating the willing suspension of disbelief. In fact, one would expect them to be a bad idea for the screen, because they artificially limit the visuals and so the visual interest. Not so: they apparently matter just as much in a movie. High Noon is not the only classic movie that attends to them: Night of the Living Dead and Twelve Angry Men also come to mind.

It is also of course, true that you can make a great movie, or a great play, without them. Shakespeare proved that.

Nevertheless, High Noon proves that there is some kind of magic here: all else being equal, if you can conform to the three dramatic unities, you are adding the weight of a spiritual sledgehammer to your performance.

As for American culture: if and to the extent that it ever forgets the essential message of High Noon, it has lost its soul.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Penn and Teller Strut the New Aggressive Atheism

Penn and Teller, a pair of magicians of whom I was previously only vaguely aware, have apparently broadcast a TV show directly attacking the Catholic Church. A friend sent it along. I at first did not respond, not believing that anyone could take it seriously. But he felt strongly that some would, and after the wide credence given to some of the things in the Da Vinci Code, I guess anything is possible.

So here's my detailed refutation, in case you've seen the TV show:

The very silliest thing is Penn and Teller's centrepiece claim that the Italian comic Sabrina Guzzanti is being persecuted by the Church for saying the Pope was going to go to hell. And, what, it turns out, has the church done to her? Nada, nothing; except to announce publicly that they forgive her whatever she has said. Nobody has sued her, nobody has prosecuted her, for anything. Apparently simply _disagreeing_ with her is an intolerable violation of her rights. But if so, how is it okay for her to disagree with the Church in the first place? How can she object, as she does explicitly in the film, to the Vatican "expressing its opinions about everything." Free speech for the rich and famous, but not for Catholics? What could be nuttier? What could be more hypocritical?

Penn and Teller make much out of the Vatican's opposition to a UN Resolution to supposedly "decriminalize" homosexuality back in 2008. A few things they fail to note: first, there was no such resolution. There was only a non-binding "declaration" brought to the floor, because France, the sponsor, saw it could not get enough support for a resolution. And even the declaration was voted down. Most of the members of the UN opposed it, notably including the USA. So why single out the Vatican's opposition? It was a lousy idea, and, directly counter to the film's claim, asserted far more than the notion that homosexuality should not be a crime--a proposition with which the Vatican publicly agrees. For example, it would have officially declared that homosexualty was entirely genetic, and that homosexual sex was a human right.

The clip notes that bishops, on their appointment, vow to "protect the church from scandal," and claim this as proof of a conspiracy to suppress evidence. Eh? What it means is that the bishops vow not to _cause scandal_, i.e., not to do anything scandalous. That is scandalous? Catch-22.
Then they turn to the document CRIMEN SOLLICITATIONIS, which they call a "bombshell," and ignorantly refer to the Church "discreetly" writing the title in Latin. Were they aware of the existence of human life beyond the English-speaking world, they might realize that all Vatican documents are written entirely in Latin--what they have seen, presumably, is an unofficial English translation.
So what's their bombshell? Apparently, the revelation from this document that the Catholic Church has always, like every other properly-run large organization, kept personnel files, and that, like every other well-run large organization, these files include references to any marginally credible accusations of impropriety.
So let's get this straight--it would have been more responsible to ignore such accusations?
Of course, the files are secret, as they are in any organization; otherwise, accused employees would have a legitimate legal case of slander to pursue in most countries.
A bombshell in one sense, I suppose: I'm surprised to learn the Church is this well organized.
Another spectacular bit of ignorance: Penn explains that the Pope is able to get away with this "coverup" because he was granted immunity from prosecution "by President George W. Bush." This would be meaningful, of course, only if the US President's word were law in all countries of the world. The Pope is neither a citizen nor a resident of the US.
One of their interviewees intones "The Vatican has said a man who has AIDS cannot use a condom even to save the life of his wife." That implies that it is established fact that using a condom will save her life. It is far more likely that, over time, using a condom and continuing to have sex will murder her in cold blood. The Catholic position, of course, is that the man should stop having sex. Tough medicine? No more than the priesthood asks of themselves.
Penn then ridicules a claim in the Vatican newspaper that female hormones from birth control pills are causing environmental pollution, a claim that cited over 300 medical studies. His refutation? Simply calling it "ridiculous" and saying "the Vatican should leave science to those who actually believe in it."
So where are Penn's opposing studies? Where is his science, if he believes in it?
And on what does he base this offhand claim that the Vatican does _not_ believe in science?
Here's his evidence: the apparently rhetorical question, "Wasn't it the Vatican who said that smallpox vaccine was a product of the devil?"
Sneaky: the correct answer, of course, is no. Catholic priests were actually among the first promote vaccination, and to vaccinate, way back in 1862. It wasn't a rhetorical question at all: just a complete red herring. The startling lack of anything better proves Penn's original claim to be a conscious lie.
There are too many smaller lies to mention. The Vatican holocaust deniers?
To sum up, their own title, "Bullshit," definitely applies. If this were something clearly directed against an individual, it would be an open and shut case of slander. These two guys would be absolutely nailed to the wall by any good defamation attorney.

Friday, September 04, 2009

We Have Met the Enemy ...

The world is full of Pharisees, phonies, mountebanks, and charlatans. We knew that, right? It's too obvious. A writerly friend loves to quote the adage “95% of everything is bunk.” This much is old to anyone who has read the New Testament.

But here’s a recent thought that's new at least to me: it’s not just the fault of the Pharisees. All of us are egging them on.

This revelation came to me while watching one of CNN’s house ads in a hotel room in Abu Dhabi. It was describing all the fascinating, controversial, interesting people you would encounter on one of their programs. “Mavericks!” the voice-over rang out breathlessly, as a photo of Al Gore appeared on the screen.

Al Gore!?!? A former Vice President of the US? When has he ever bucked a trend, as opposed to settling in for the ride? Whose opinions on anything have been more utterly predictable? Who on earth can be left to represent the political establishment?

It’s not as if the current US political street doesn't offer more obvious candidates to illustrate the term: Joe Liebermann, Arlen Specter, John McCain, Ralph Nader, Jesse Ventura, Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan … Assuming the people who run CNN have a minimal knowledge of their own business, how do they come up with such a non sequitor?

Because, is seems to me, most people prefer a lie to the truth. It is Pharisaism with which they feel most comfortable—just like the mob that cried out “Give us Barrabbus.” It was safer in their minds, and it is safer in ours, to free a known murderer than a genuinely honest man. Without this sentiment from the mob, the Pharisees wouldn't last a day.

Jesus was a maverick, if anyone was. The very concept of a maverick, someone who thinks for himself instead of following the established consensual line, is necessarily frightening to anyone invested in a lie. As just about all of us are, in one way or another: the lie that we deserve all the money we have, say, or that we are really much smarter than everyone else, or that we will never actually die, or ...

Any real maverick threatens this. It seems wisest, therefore, to co-opt the term; ideally, to co-opt it for its opposite. Lies persisted in breed bigger and more terrible lies, to protect themselves, hiding the truth everywhere behind double-switchbacks. If you cannot damn “mavericks” as such, damn them instead for being “conformists.”

I’ve seen this double-lie happen politically many times in my 56-odd (very odd) years. When some golf club a few years ago would not admit Tiger Woods to play in a tourney, another friend of mine, the oft-mentioned left-wing columnist, lamented this example of “systemic discrimination.”

It was, of course, the opposite of “systemic discrimination”: currently, the “system” discriminates aggressively in favour of African Americans. It was an incidence of personal prejudice, shared by a small group of individuals in defiance of the system. But “systemic discrimination” is a comfortable lie, because it absolves all of us, as individuals, of any present or past guilt. The devil made us do it, so to speak.

If, on the other hand, real “systemic discrimination” came up and bit us on the nose—why, that wouldn't be discrimination at all. For admitting it was would be bucking the system, questioning the shared consensus, and where would we be then? Obliged, sadly, to confront truths bare. Consider “feminism”--really the systemic discrimination against men. Compare, after all, the historic fate of women with that of American blacks—a group truly and obviously discriminated against. Blacks had to give up their seats on the bus; women were the first ones seated. Blacks were served last at restaurants; women always went first. Blacks were obliged to work at hard, manual labour until they dropped in the open field. Women were excused from any manual labour as soon as their family circumstances or society's circumstances permitted it. And so on and on: the term “discrimination” has been co-opted to describe the opposite, and to justify and add to the special privileges privileged members of society already have. The rich get richer, and the poor get further stigmatized, so we needn't feel guilty about it.

Skillful Pharisees are merely able to exploit this bottomless public appetite for being deceived. David Suzuki springs to mind: when environmentalism gained enough steam to look mainstream, he, already entirely an establishment figure, was able to rush to the front of that parade and claim leadership. People embraced him, over the real founders of the movement, because Suzuki, being establishment, could be trusted not to really rock the boat in the end. He could rail and shake his tiny fists; everyone knew he was fully invested in the status quo, and would never do anything that might actually rattle our morning teacups. So everyone now could pretend to be an “environmentalist,” blame the poor, outlaw the real environmentalists, do something symbolic, and carry on as before.

So again, when some politician suddenly changes his or her stripes, in blatant response to an opinion poll or the sentiment of some new electorate, we almost always happily go along with the sham. We act entirely as though we still consider their newfound political views principled, though all of us must know they are not; it's very much like the “willing suspension of disbelief” needed to appreciate a good novel. We all now accept that Mitt Romney is a conservative, for example. Far from being troubled, we feel we can now trust him, because he has made public his final Pharisaism. No danger here from Mormon principle: we can trust him, like the rest of us, to predictably behave in his own self-interest, instead of inconveniently seeking truth, justice, or any nonsense of that sort.

This craving for charlatans over the genuine article makes the world go round. We always want a charming rascal, not an honest man, in the van.

It is the source, I suppose, of such cryptic sayings as “The devil is the god of this world,” or “the devil is a gentleman.” The entire social sphere is corrupted, fallen, from this tendency, so much so that it constantly breeds wild conspiracy theories. Everybody knows there is a vast selfish conspiracy in control of the world, deliberately manipulating it; and they are right.

What they fail to realize is that we ourselves are the conspirators.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Canada--What's That?

Last Canada Day, I was feeling a liitle homesick. So I hunted on YouTube for something stirring and patriotic to watch to celebrate the day.

I was disappointed. Everything I found featured only geography, or celebrated "multicultural" stuff that is not, in the end, Canadian.

As Canadians, we can take no pride in the beauty of the land. We didn't do that; God did. All that matters is culture, and, thank you very much, everywhere else, but actually, we have our own. Love it or leave it.

So I made my own little slide show using Animoto. Next Canada Day, I hope to do better.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Black Irish and White Bulgarians

Okay, maybe my imagination is just getting carried away. But have a look at those ancient Thracian faces again, put up a few posts ago.

Besides looking a lot like modern Bulgarians, don’t they also look a bit… Black Irish?

I grew up among the Irish of Canada, and it seems to me I see familiar features on the streets of Sofia: the inverted smile, broad faces, dark Firbolg looks like those of my Black Irish cousins, receding chins like Tommy Makem’s.

There are two possible reasons, other than chance or personal delusion. First, we know there were Celts to the north of Greece in early Classical times. Classical Greek authors speak of them; Pythagoras claimed they taught him all he knew. It might have been a branch of these same Bulgarian Celts who later crossed the Irish Channel, in their general move westward through Europe.

Second, there is the amber route. Ancient Thrace was madly rich with silver deposits. Amber was a major trade good, and it was mostly found on beaches along the North Sea. There is a natural river trade route, up the Danube and down the Rhine, that starts in Bulgaria and ends near the English Channel. From there, the Celts dominated the sea trade in amber, at least from the 4th to the 1st centuries BC.

The Celts or the Bulgarians might easily have migrated along this route, in either direction, just as the French Metis migrated along the fur trade routes in early Canada. It would have made strategic sense for them to have tried to control both ends of the trade, the point of production and the point of retail distribution: a vertical monopoly.

It would follow that the designation of the Irish as “Celts” and the Bulgarians as “Slavs” is not really accurate; but these were always linguistic terms, and language is easier to change than blood.

It’s one way to explain the strange Black Irish.