Playing the Indian Card

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mnemonics--The Forgotten Science

This is good news. not only is "chunking" being rediscovered by modern science--it's been around at least since Aristotle--but they are beginning to twig to the fact that memorization is a creative activity.

Coyne on Trudeau

Andrew Coyne, my hero and the best columnist in North America, is telling in his evaluation of Justin Trudeau's candidacy for the Liberal leadership:

For the Liberal party ... to throw itself at his feet without the merest vetting, would confirm the worst fears about the party: that it had no raison d’etre, no ideals or ambitions, but had descended into little more than a personality cult.


Is that blood on the floor?

This Justin--Trudeau to Seek Liberal Leadership

Canada's Obama

There’s a lot of excitement about Justin Trudeau becoming a candidate for the Canadian Liberal leadership. A recent poll suggests that, as leader, he would boost Liberal support by 14 points, and lift them from third party to power.

In general, it is not hard to predict what will happen in Canadian politics.

Nearly-New Deal: Canada's FDR

Just look at what is happening in the US, and wait five to seven years.

Canadians are overwhelmingly influenced by the US, whether we admit it or not. If something exciting is going on down there, we want a part of it too. But it tends to take a few years to find a comparable Canadian version, and we are by nature a cautious, conservative people.

I Like John: Canada's Eisenhower.

So: FDR and the New Deal produced the second coming of Mackenzie King as his Canadian counterpart, R.B. Bennett being too reminiscent of Herbert Hoover. FDR hung on and on, so King hung on and on. FDR died, so King had to pass the torch. Diefenbaker was the closest we could manage to Eisenhower—a change, at least, to the more conservative party, and to an old hand. It took us a while to find someone suitable, but Pierre Trudeau’s charisma was our version of JFK’s. Nothing else looked worthy of emulating in the US until we came to Reagan; Canada responded a few years later with Mulroney—a move to the right, and a rather smooth candidate.

Chretien was Clinton; both on the left, both folksy in their appeal. Harper was George W. Bush.

Canada's JFK: PET.

And now, of course, we are looking for our Obama. We want someone youthful and charismatic who seems to represent a dramatic change.

Jack Layton stepped up as the person to fill that bill; hence his great success for the NDP in the last election. He did not win outright, again, because we are a cautious people, and it was not altogether clear that Obama was a success. We’d feel left out if we elected his equivalent in Canada just before the US moved in another direction. We left him in position to take the next election if Obama still looked like the fashion of the day.

But then he died; accordingly, there is an opening for someone else to take up the Obama mantle. It doesn’t fit Tom Mulcair quite so well. He is not as charismatic, and he is a bit sharp, a bit heated, too hot-tempered, and this contrasts too much with Obama’s signature coolness. He may still do, but Trudeau is significantly more Obama-like. Very cool, very charismatic, very youthful.

So here’s what to look for: if Obama loses the election in November, the bloom will immediately be off the rose in Trudeau’s lapel. He may still get the Liberal leadership, but they will go nowhere with him. Harper will then, if he stays on, win the next election. He is a reasonable Romney replica. If, on the other hand, Obama wins, Trudeau has every chance of victory the next election, assuming he does not make some serious mistake or mess up his current image. His real rival then, on which he should focus, is Mulcair.

That and, given his ties to Canada's JFK, the risk of turning out instead to look like Canada's Teddy Kennedy.

Would you carpool with this man?

"Pompous Idiots"

A pretty good catch by Classical Values, via Instapundit, of academics/educators not practicing what they preach.

The deeper point is that the university cannot meaningfully exist without core values. It is important to choose them well, acknowledge them, state them clearly, and not pretend you are personally omniscient and above all that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

So True I Could Spew

Queen Theology. Prague, Czech Republic.

Not only is the recoronation of theology as the queen of sciences a good idea for theology. It is necessary, repeat, necessary, for the survival of the academy, the culture, and the civilization.

The New British/Anglophone Empire

The biggest "Red State" ever.

Here's another writer talking about a revived British/Anglosphere Empire. He sees the recent deal between Canada and Britain to share Embassies as a step in that direction.

The Positive Value of a Rectification of Terms

If you think these symbols mean "good" and "bad," you need new glasses.

The textbook I am currently assigned to teach asks “Read the article again. Who thinks the changes are positive and who thinks they are negative?”

This is an ESL textbook. Why could they not have used the much less ambiguous, more common, and shorter words “good” and “bad”? Surely this would be far more suitable for any audience, let alone an ESL audience.

If you check a modern dictionary, you find that “positive” and “negative” CAN have the meanings “good” and “bad” (“Measured or moving forward in a direction of increase or progress” – American Heritage), but this is based on a metaphor, and is not their original meaning. And if you go back to Webster’s 1913 edition, no such usage is given. Their use in this way is confusing because it is not directly related to their use as technical terms: i.e., positive means greater than zero, and negative means less than zero.

So why did even an ESL textbook use them in place of the more obvious and more correct terms? I think because “good” and “bad” sound like moral terms, and morality is now, idiotically because in perfect self-contradiction, itself considered evil. (“Don’t be judgmental.”) “Positive” and “negative,” on the other hand, sound scientific, because they are mathematical terms. So they are supposedly not “judgmental”; they are true, objective, and precise. Even though they are saying the same thing; and even though saying “positive” and “negative” is actually a more absolute, less debatable judgment than “good” and “bad.” You can’t argue basic math.

Please, citizens, let’s go back to “good” and “bad.” Whenever you are about to use the terms “positive” and “negative,” stop yourself and consider whether you are using them properly in a technical context. Otherwise, say “good” or “bad.”

Confucius as imagined by a 17th century French artist. He knew a lot about good.

As Confucius said when asked what he would do if he ever had political power: “The first thing is the rectification of terms.” If we do not speak and write clearly and honestly, all else is lost.

More on Skewed Polls

Hard to dislike. But can he take a pass?
Okay, folks can’t stop talking about the polls being wrong. The big problem is that they show a partisan breakdown that suggests a good deal more Democrats will go to the polls this time than in 2004 or even 2008, a banner year for Democrat turnout. This seems intrinsically unlikely.

In fact, there is a second apparent anomaly. The polls seem to show a higher percentage of Democrats voting for Obama, and a lower percentage of Republicans voting for Romney, than is the historic norm for either party. There are always some party members who break ranks, but this is usually much less common among Republicans. This year, the polls suggest a big crossover vote for Obama.

Let’s dismiss the possibility of a vast left-wing conspiracy. Yet there is definitely an anomaly here. Rasmussen has been keeping tabs on party affiliation, and he has seen no sudden move in the electorate towards the Democrats. In fact, the Republicans’ support is above that of the Democratic Party—except in these polls, when asked about the Presidential election. What else might explain this?

Here’s a thought: might these anomalies be signs that we are about to see a sizable “Shy Tory” effect on voting day? That is, people are telling pollsters they are Democrats in this poll, when they are really Republicans or Independents, and we can accordingly assume that at least the same proportions, probably more, are saying they will vote for Obama when they really intend to vote for Romney. And they are doing this because it is more socially acceptable, and they are concerned with what the pollster might think of them.

The original Shy Tories Coming Out Party.

It just feels right to me. Granted that we did not get a significant “Bradley” or “Shy Tory” effect in 2008—the voting fit the polls fairly well. But this time may be different. There was good reason then for people to really want change; the fact that it was more socially acceptable to support Obama might not have mattered much, because folks wanted to support him anyway. This time is the time that dynamic might well have changed. More people are less happy with him. We know that. But because he is black, voting against him now, especially among those who voted for him last time, might look to them like racism. And he seems to be a nice guy; I can see a lot of people deciding he cannot handle the job, but because he is such a nice guy, they do not want to say it outright.

How many points does this give Romney that the polls do not show? Any figure is a guess, but my guess is about five. A tied race.

Friday, September 28, 2012

On Teaching

Don John.

The essence of good teaching, if you stop and think about it, is not mysterious. It is obvious. You need three things: to entertain, to explain, and to help retain. Unfortunately, modern education schools ignore all three.

The biggest problem is the "entertain" part. It is obviously necessary—you need to be able to hold your audience's attention in order to get anywhere with them. And simply screaming "pay attention" is idiotic and an admission of incompetence. A great teacher is a great storyteller plus a stand-up comic, and if he or she can sing and dance, even better. St. John Bosco was a juggler and acrobat. Jesus made all his points in the form of stories, Confucius in aphorisms. Socrates played the fool, and Plato presented ideas in the form of plays. But this is a knack, a gift, a talent. It cannot be taught in an education school, and so it is ignored altogether.

By "explain," I mean the ability when the subject allows it to give concise, clear explanations. What could be more obviously fundamental to teaching? This again was essential to St. John Bosco's famously successful technique. Stands to reason: you need to know the goal in order to have a chance of reaching it. This, too, however, is not within the command of the average lector; the average person giving a ten minute explanation of anything is boring and confusing. Above all, it requires the ability oneself to reason well; which is no doubt why the teaching profession in the past has always been considered a proper occupation for the most intelligent among us, and given the respect this commanded.

Yet, remarkably, even making the attempt to do this is taboo in current teaching theory. Lecturing is out; no more "sage upon the stage." Why? Officially, because this is authoritarian; because the students are supposed to come up with their own reality, their own truths. But God help them if the reality they come up with is not the one the teacher expects. And in the meantime, have they learned anything, by merely saying what they already knew?

I think the true reason clear explanations are discouraged is because the typical individual who signs on to teachers' college is simply not intelligent and articulate enough to do it well; and this cannot be taught. Ergo, by default, it is best if they don't try; it just exposes their deficiency. But look at the popularity of TED Talks on the Internet, or of Glenn Beck's chalk talks on TV. These are lectures, and there is nothing folks like better than a good one. Public lectures used to be a major form of popular entertainment. 

Don Glenn

Finally, it is not enough to get the students' attention and tell them the thing so that they can understand it. They also have to remember it, or nothing has been accomplished. There is a vast technology of mnemonics, ways to remember effectively, that has been built up over millennia. Remarkably, none of it is taught in schools of education; in my experience, the average teacher does not even know what the word means. The current prescribed format for a “lesson plan” makes no provision for mnemonics or even simple repetition or review. The entire matter is ignored.

Or rather, not ignored. The current teaching is that memorization is bad. 

Why is it bad? Because it is not creative.

Perhaps it is true that memorization is not creative—although most cultures believe it is, that it creates new furniture in the soul. If so, so what? Does one good thing drive out all other good things? Isn't it a false alternative to suggest that we need to choose between remembering and creating? 

John Glenn

My secret suspicion is that memorization is really discounted in modern education schools for a different reason: because it is boring—for the teacher.

So those are my three ingredients for proper teaching: entertain, explain, and retain. Only the last can really be taught, but, to the extent that these things can be taught, they form the ancient discipline of rhetoric. That is surely the proper education for a prospective teacher.

But there is one more thing, more important than all these. A good teacher must love his students. Without this, there is nothing. This again is what Don Bosco taught.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

This one's real.

This is another reasonably recent (2005) movie with a Catholic theme. Although fictionalized, it is based on a true story. And it raises troublesome questions.

The real Emily Rose was Anneliese Michel. She starved herself to death, believing herself possessed by demons. The priests who tried to exorcise her, at her request, were convicted of manslaughter for not forcing her to undergo conventional medical treatment against her will.

A Catholic exorcism.

The fundamental question raised here Is whether the “scientific” explanation of and treatment for a life and death situation should be privileged above all others, superseding the individual’s religious beliefs.

To my mind the answer is obviously not. This is a violation of freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, and freedom of religion. It is the establishment of scientism as state religion. But in the real world, the answer arrived at in the court was, yes, it should. Religion is fine only so long as you don’t really believe it when it comes to the crunch.

St. Francis Borgia performs an exorcism.

In that sense, the film is deeply troubling. It is not, in the end, deeply troubling in the sense of a conventional horror movie. There are jolts, certainly, but these do not become the real centrepiece of the film. It is in the genre of the courtroom drama rather than the horror film.

It raises another yet more troubling possibility, which concerns me generally. What if our modern theories of “mental illness” are completely wrong, and all other societies that have ever existed are correct in seeing such phenomena generally as the work of spiritual forces? And what if the anthropologist in this film is right that modern psychiatric medicines actually prolong the illness and prevent healing?

St. Benedict's exorcism.

After all, the statistics, as noted in another recent post, suggest precisely that?

Then what evil are we doing when we make the real cure illegal?

Like all good Catholic films, it has proven far more popular among audiences than among critics. Rotten Tomatoes critics give it 44%--a bit higher than others, but it is ambiguous enough that it can be read as anti-Catholic—while audiences give it 65%.

Exorcism by St. Exupere.

It does get some things wrong. The weird stark Dorothy-in-Kansas home life of Emily looks far more Calvinist than Catholic; Catholics are big on beauty. So does her mother’s reported fear of Emily dancing in college. But if you want to see what a real exorcism looks like, I hear this film is pretty authentic.

It says a lot about redemptive suffering.

Women Can Speak Truths

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Matriarchy

Catal Huyuk: Where the girls are?

The English textbook with which I am currently teaching includes, in this week’s lesson, a description of the ancient city of Catal Huyuk.

“Women were important in this city: many were in high positions and there were a lot of special goddesses.”

Right; a typical example of the myth of paganism. This, in fact, it is impossible to know. We have no written records from or about Catal Huyuk; we know only what we can know from digging in their garbage. Almost anything we say about them is highly hypothetical. They might have had green skin and feathers.

Wherever and whenever this situation occurs, the doctrine since about the 1960s is that this was a “matriarchy” that worshipped “the Goddess.” Why not? Without any written records, the claim can never be disproven.

"The Goddess" as she appears in the trash of Catal Huyuk. Or maybe a bit of ancient pornography. Or maybe the original Barbie doll. Or maybe an alien in a space suit.

Why do people want to make this claim? Politics: without it, the currently dominant feminist ideology has a problem. All known societies have in fact been “patriarchies”—i.e., always and everywhere there has been a clear sexual division of labour. Always and everywhere women have minded the home and the children, and men have handled public affairs and government. (Wikipedia defines “matriarchy” as a society in which women “have the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property”: a patriarchy is a society in which men take this role.) This is of course not the society feminism wants; feminism holds that such societies have come about only because of the “oppression of women.” But if patriarchy has _always_ been the norm—as it has—it begins to look a little as if this is natural, necessary, and just, and not a question of oppression of one sex by the other. After all, if the same one sex has always and everywhere oppressed the same other sex, how could that have been possible? How could they always pull it off, beginning at random? How did that coin always come up tails? Short, that is, of men actually being—well—superior?

We have to throw out all these claims of ancient “matriarchal” societies as bogus, or at least unprovable. Which leaves us with the prime candidate for a “matriarchal” society of which we do have some written record. As noted by the Wikipedia entry, this is the Iroquois.

Iroquois women at work. Note the presence of baby and food. And, say, aren't they barefoot and possibly pregnant?

So, were the Iroquois matriarchal? Actually, not at all; certainly, it was nothing like what the feminists envision for the future. Women did not take roles of political leadership. The Iroquois did have a quite strict sexual division of labour. Women raised the children and tended the garden; men went off to hunt and to war.

It is called matriarchal because 1. Men when they married moved in with their wife’s family, and 2. Women chose one of the tribe’s two chiefs.

This, surely, is weak tea. If men moved in with their in-laws, does this mean they were dominated by their mother-in-law, not their father-in-law? Nope. If women chose one chief, that chief, who actually did the governing, was still male, and he shared power with a war chief chosen by the men.

Traditional Iroquois chief's dress. Notice any breasts?

Nowhere near being a matriarchy, then. I think at most it is fair to say that, in Iroquois society, women had rather more say in the community’s formal government than in most other societies; but not enough to break the mold.

Why did they? Why did this particular society tend to bring women in closer to the council fire?

Aristotle observes that polises in which women are prominent are more warlike. Of course that is not politically correct; the feminist line is that societies ruled by women would be more peaceful. Yet this is a good case in point: Iroquois society was the one known society in which women were most prominent, and probably no society ever created was more warlike than the Iroquois. Native North Americans in general were in a state of perpetual war with their neighbours, and among them the Iroquois has a special reputation as the fiercest. It is worth noting that women were also unusually prominent, among the Greek city states, in Sparta.

So a simple equation, and perhaps a very good reason why no known society has seen fit to put women in power.

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter.

Of course, the connection of women and war may be as either cause or effect. If a society is going to be constantly away at war, the men are often going to be away. One may need to ask the women to take a more active role in the running of the community in such circumstances, a la Rosie the Riveter.

However, because women have less to lose in warfare, they might also be expected to be more inclined to resort to it as a matter of policy. Women have less to lose by holding any position adamantly than a man; a man always risks having to defend his opinion with his fists, and risk pain, injury, or death. A woman will, counter to feminist propagandizing, rarely be attacked physically by a man, in any culture; all a man’s instincts run against it. If she is attacked by another woman, she is unlikely to suffer serious injury. A woman can therefore afford to be more ruthless, more rigid, less compromising, in any situation. If it comes to blows, she calls in a man to take them or give them for her; to her it all remains rather abstract.

You want matriarchy? I'll show you matriarchy...

It should be no surprise then that when women have been given chief executive authority in the polis, they have shown a strong tendency to end up at war with their neighbours. Elizabeth I, Bloody Mary, Catherine the Great, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir.

It is hard to overstate the harm feminism has done.