Playing the Indian Card

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Planned Parenthood Videos

Up the close and doun the stair,
But and ben wi' Burke and Hare.
Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief,
Knox the boy that buys the beef.

I am surprised to hear the White House, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, the New York Times and many others on the left, insisting that the recent videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of infant body parts indicate nothing wrong. Perhaps showing the wisdom of age, Bernie Sanders had the raw common sense to break ranks on this and admit to being disturbed by the tone of the conversation he saw.

As I see it, there is clear evidence of three federal crimes:

1. Altering the abortion procedure in order to increase the chance of getting intact organs. A “less crunchy approach,” as Gatter puts it. “Crushing above and below.”

2. Charging more than their own expenses for the organs. Gatter is negotiating for a price. Obviously, she is not just recouping expenses, which would dictate a firm number, but trying to establish a market value.

3. Performing “partial birth” abortions. This seems to be what Nucatola describes at one point.

Given all that, and the sheer ghoulishness of the thing, I feel that those on the left who insist that there is simply nothing wrong here are overreaching. They risk destroying their credibility and their moral standing. This may be the beginning of the end for the concept of abortion on demand.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bernie Sanders -- You're Fired!

It has been said that, since the advent of the television era, the winner in US presidential elections has almost always been the candidate who seemed most cheerful. The one exception is 1968, when Humphrey's “politics of joy” was beaten by a dour Nixon. In that case, Humphrey's joy just seemed callous in light of the circumstances.

I think the truth is a bit more complicated. Cheerfulness helps a good deal, but I think what it is really about is likability. Americans are voting for someone they are going to then see a lot of over the next few years. That said, it seems so. Reagan's politics might have been out of step with the popular will in his day, but his ability to seem upbeat and non-threatening on TV made him the “Teflon president.” Bill Clinton weathered scandals that would have taken down many politicians, because he looked and acted such a likeable rogue. George W. Bush might have been blundering, but he always came across as having a good heart, as a guy you could sit down and have a beer with.

This factor is overwhelmingly overlooked in political analysis. Political analysts, being deeply interested themselves in policy, naturally suppose we choose our leaders on their policy stands. I doubt that most of us do. We are too smart to. For one thing, politicians really cannot be trusted on this; they usually choose the policies they think will get them elected, and rarely honour their commitments in office. For another, we cannot guess what issues will arise over the next few years, and therefore cannot know their positions in advance, or which of their positions will be most important.

It is simply logical, then, to vote on our sense of their character.

This is one big reason why I believe Hillary Clinton will not be the next president. Clinton fundamentally lacks likeability. She seems stiff and artificial, when she does not seem slightly deranged: both insincere and out of touch. She is lost in the uncanny valley. By contrast, there is something undeniably lovable about Bernie Sanders, everybody's indulgent uncle, who, in trying to still appear hip, will let you get away with anything.

Martin O'Malley, despite his efforts, suffers from being too good looking. Being too good looking is not loveable; it is enviable.

Among the Republicans, Mike Huckabee has the likeability factor in barrels. It pulled him from nowhere into the thick of the race in 2008, and could catch fire again. I think John Kasich has it; and he has had the smarts to key his campaign so far on a note of hope and optimism. Ben Carson has it. Marco Rubio has it. I think Jeb Bush has it. Rick Perry has it. For him, it is obscured by the memory of his debate flub last run. But someone with likeability can get past that sort of thing; he could catch fire.

Bobby Jindal, given his record of accomplishment, ought to be doing much better in the polls than he. He has a problem harder than Perry's to overcome: his robotic performance when delivering the Republican response to Obama's address to Congress in 2009. Incompetence or venality are easier to overcome in the mind of the American public than an impression of soullessness. Ted Cruz suffers, in my mind, from an irritating voice. Scott Walker, despite his surging poll numbers, seems to me too bland to pull it off in the end. Dull ordinariness, with competence, works in Canada, but not, I think, in the USA. Harry Truman might have been ordinary, but he was not dull. For this reason, of the two current leading Republican candidates, I give the edge to Bush. Rubio, as well, is not quite there, because he is a bit too good looking.

Now for the candidates who are weakest on the likeability factor: Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie have the strongest current unlikeability to likeability factors ( It follows that it would be a bad idea for the Republicans to nominate any of them. Unfortunately for them, it is entirely possible for this to happen. The most cheerful candidate does not necessarily win his party's nomination. At this stage of the process, there is a greater premium on voicing the base's discontents, or the party's ideological concerns; the people voting in the primaries tend to be more issues-oriented. In the general, just about everyone is voting a second choice.

On the other hand, the very characteristics that make such candidates a bad choice as party nominee can make them a good choice for the vp slot. Here, if they have charisma, they can play bad cop and fire up the base.

Carly Fiorina is doing a very good job of auditioning for vice president: avoiding criticising other candidates, and making very effective points against Hillary Clinton. Chris Christie would be a good match for the role as well, if the nominee happened to be on the right of the party. Santorum simple lacks charisma. He has a good run when he could consolidate the Christian right behind him on ideology, in 2012, but this time he has competition for that support.

And then there's Donald Trump. I still expect him to implode soon. However, if he does not, yet still does not get the Republican nomination himself (a disaster for the party) he should probably be every other candidates first choice for the vp slot. He'd be great in the role, a natural attack dog, and it would pre-empt both any further criticism of fellow Republicans, and any third-party run. If Trump is not on the team, he has the money to go it on his own, and the split in the Republicans' natural base could lose them the election.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

1812 Boat Tours

A Danish gunboat of the period

Some years ago, at Brown's Bay, Ontario, archaeologists salvaged what they believe to be the only surviving example of a British gunboat from the War of 1812. More recently, a new team went over the wreck with a fine tooth comb, and published a detailed description of the hull's structure.

I see a business opportunity for someone here.

During the War of 1812, the Thousand Islands area was critical: it was along the only supply route between Upper and Lower Canada, and the many islands made it ideal for sneak attacks on shipping, for privateering and even piracy. As a result, Gananoque, “The Canadian Gateway to the Thousand Islands,” was then a station for these gunboats.

"Gunboat engagement in the Thousand Islands"

Today, the Thousand Islands make Gananoque a major tourism destination. And the single most popular draw, as verified by TripAdvisor, as if every resident did not know it, is the boat tours of the islands.

Now imagine an island tour in a reconstructed War of 1812 gunboat, complete with costumed guides and a cannon on the foredeck that fired mid-voyage.

Indeed, why stop there? Why not include a dramatic re-enactment of a skirmish with river pirates, American shore batteries, and/or an American gunboat of the period?

Brown's Bay wreck

Monday, July 20, 2015

Canada's Walk of Honour

James FitzGibbon

Joni Mitchell has remarked that Canada is no good at honouring our heroes. I think she is absolutely right. I grew to maturity with the cockeyed notion that Canada did not really have any heroes, or not many—even though I had read with great interest, as a child, the exploits of Billy Bishop, Bill Barker, Raymond Collishaw, and Madeleine de Vercheres. This crazy notion can only have come from the fact that we do not honour them properly.

Sure, we do have our memorials and our place names for Brock and Wolfe, Frontenac and Vancouver and Simcoe and the like. Worthy chaps, for the most part. The only problem is that they are not Canadians. That and the usual fact that they achieved their place in history largely from being born into the right class, a thought that ought to be anathema in democratic, egalitarian Canada.

Then we have things like the Canadian Walk of Fame in Toronto. Here, the problem is that the metric is mere fame, not merit. This becomes a self-reinforcing loop: if Canadian heroes are not sufficiently publicized, they never will be by such a project, which relies on prior publicity. Those most likely to be honoured here are, inevitably, those who have made their mark not in and for Canada and Canadian culture, but abroad, where individual achievements are more openly honoured. You want to be on the Canadian Walk of Fame, you'd better leave early for Hollywood.

We need, somewhere, something like a Canadian Westminster Abbey, which would honour genuine contributions to the Canadian nation, in whatever field. My choice of venue, largely no doubt since it is my home town, is Gananoque, Ontario's modest sculpture park. It is conveniently equidistant, more or less, between Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. It is already a tourist destination. And it already has a sculpture park. Sadly, the current sculpture park, I fear, is a failure, because it is all modern, and most modern sculpture is deadly boring. It looks more like a scrap metal yard at present.

Proposed selection criteria:

1. avoid the well-born. It is part of the essence of Canada that Canada is of and for ordinary people living ordinary lives. These should be figures the average Canadian child can aspire to emulate.

2. no foreigners. One may of course be foreign born and become a Canadian, but Canada is not, and must stop seeing itself as, a hotel. That is the colonial mentality.

3. subjects must be creators of Canada, as opposed to merely famous. Their accomplishments must have had this effect. Again, a colonial mentality tends to make us favour people who become famous somewhere else, for doing something mostly irrelevant to Canada: no Norman Bethune, no Mary Pickford.

4. by the same token, subjects should be advocates for and defenders of Canada as a united country and culture, not just for this or that special interest group. So, no Nellie McClungs, Louis Riels, William Lyon Mackenzies or Tecumsehs. This means all politicians are at least questionable, as they are partisan figures. In any case, they tend to get their memorials elsewhere.

5. in general, subjects should not be famous for one single act; their lives as a whole ought to be exemplary. So, no Laura Secords or VC's. These folks are admirable, but less useful as a model for the young.

6. in the sculptures themselves, faces must be recognizable; we do not want abstraction. Part of the point is that Canadian kids feel themselves in the presence of a person much like themselves.

7. no high pedestals or outsize proportions. Poses should be relatively casual and inviting. We want honour, but we want no idolatry or civil religion. Part of our point is that heroes are human.

8. To avoid momentary passions and fads, no subject should be honoured here during their own lifetime. We don't want to have to later write off the cost of a Bill Cosby statue, either.

And now, of course, I inevitably have my own list of favourite nominees.

The first guy I think of is James FitzGibbon. Almost bloodless victor at Beaver Dams. Almost single-handedly responsible for preventing Toronto from falling to the rebels during the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837. In between, he did a tremendous job keeping peace among Protestant and Catholic settlers, setting the tone and standard of tolerance that has characterised Canada ever since. The lack of recognition has has suffered before and after death is a national scandal.

My second thought is Lucy Maude Montgomery. Author, of course, of the Anne books. Her influence on subsequent Canadian literature cannot be overstated. Every subsequent Canadian literary heroine, and to a large extent Canadian hero, has been a type of Anne. She made children a special focus of Canadian culture generally, and the story of Anne is our national epic.

Three: Stephen Leacock. The second great founder of Canadian literature, Leacock gave Canadian culture its special focus on humour and on everyday small town life. I see him portrayed in a good suit, a “fantasie,” with a straw hat in his lap: another summer in Mariposa.

Fourth: Robert W. Service. The third great founder of Canadian popular literature. The inventor of the Canadian West. In a buckskin shirt that is caked with dirt.

Fifth, in order to represent Canadian literature in French, I nominate Emile Nelligan. Besides often being considered the father of Canadian poetry in French, the tragedy of his life cries out for some remembrance. I would prefer him portrayed in his later years, with that haunted stare of someone who sees the other world.

Emile Nelligan

So far, I am obviously favouring literature, which is my pet interest. What about the visual arts? I'm less qualified here, but one thing I do feel strongly: no Group of Seven or Emily Carr. First, far from representing anything original, they paint pretty much like European landscape artists of their time. The only thing that is different is the Canadian landscape. Second, their subjects—the northern wilderness—tend to have been accessible only to the rich and well-born of their time. Third, their interest in the landscape without the human smacks of European tourism rather than a deep human connection to this place.

Among the artists, then, I would rather honour William Kurelek. Kurelek captures the feel of ordinary life among ordinary people, the visual equivalent of Leacock. This is the true Canadian idiom.

Next, and by no means in order of merit, I'd love a statue of Alex Colville at his easel, painting a picture of the sculpture park in which he is placed. He too speaks of ordinary life, and shows its mysteries.

Our third representative of the true Canadian visual medium ought, I think, to be Duncan Macpherson, the longtime political cartoonist. Political cartooning is a real Canadian speciality, part of the wider Canadian tradition of humour. There is nothing anywhere else in art more brilliant than Macpherson's depictions of John Diefenbaker.

For music, I think preference has to go to those who wrote songs with Canadian topics, as opposed to pure musicians. Not only is this more obviously Canadian in nature, but it also expresses Canada's folksy soul, the interest in the common man. Purely instrumental music tends to be for the upper classes.

First up, Stan Rogers. He always wrote and sang about Canadians, and he always wrote about the common working man. Second, Stompin' Tom Connors. Third, Mary Travers, La Baldoc, who largely founded Franco-Canadian folk music as we know it, a blending of French and Celtic strands.

When we think of culture, it is wrong to leave out religious culture. No doubt this is controversial, but excluding religion from the mix is hardly a neutral stance. We need to include saints. First, I think of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native-born North American saint of the Catholic Church. Her spiritual influence has been enormous on Canadian Catholics, and not just on Catholics: Leonard Cohen, though Jewish, has been deeply inspired by her story. She represents a cultural bridge, between Mohawk, Algonquin, and French, that represents Canada as a whole as a union of cultures. Her ability to consecrate and make great an ordinary life of daily affairs is a model of the Canadian ideal. And she needs to be portrayed, for once, accurately. Statues and pictures of her are always romanticised into a treacly Pocahontas stereotype. She ought to be portrayed as she was, with scars from smallpox on her face, and with a blanket over her head. She always wore a blanket, either out of modesty or to cover the scars on her face. Our one portrait from life seems to show her in a white buckskin dress.


We can balance Kateri for Protestants with Barbara Heck, commonly credited with co-founding Methodism, traditionally Canada's largest Protestant denomination, in both the US and Canada. She is also almost a local hero, having settled in nearby Prescott.

Also a saint, but worthy of inclusion even on other grounds, is Marguerite Bourgeoys. She deserves recognition as Montreal's and perhaps Canada's first teacher, and for championing the common man. Who is more important in sustaining a living culture than teachers?

Although a politician, I think we need to include Thomas D'Arcy McGee. We know him as a Father of Confederation; but more than that, he was the ideologue of Confederation, and the great ideologue of Canada as an independent and distinct country, with its own culture. Not incidentally, he was also very largely responsible for turning Canadian Irish away from thoughts of revolution and towards committing fully to the building of a new nationality on this continent. And he seems to have done this, in the end, at great personal cost. Without him, the Fenian raids, for example, might have had a very different result.

Also up (no doubt with groans from those who consider themselves sophisticated) is Pierre Burton. Yes, he is a popular historian, not an academic. But cultures are built on popular histories, not articles in academic journals.

The reader is welcome to add his or her own suggestions in the comments.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Crazy Season

All heck is busting loose in the US presidential race right now on both the right and on the left, a rebellion of voters comparable in its own small way to events like the Arab Spring. On the left, there is a groundswell in favour of Bernie Sanders, to the horror of most of the Democratic establishment. On the right, there is a groundswell in favour of Donald Trump, to the horror of most of the Republican establishment.

This may be the way of the future. Ordinary voters are not inclined to listen to their betters any more.

Of the two, the Sanders candidacy is the more credible. Sanders has a reasonable resume for the presidency. I have said for some time that Hillary Clinton was unlikely to get the nomination. Certainly, she does not deserve a coronation. Has she really ever done anything other than to marry well? A dark horse was needed, and the darker the better. Sanders is great: too old for the race, and looks old. He is a self-declared socialist, a proverbially impossible sell in America. I expect he will be the nominee, a nice poke in the eye to everyone.

But not nearly so crazy as the Trump boom. The Republicans already had a wide field to choose from, with a wide range of views represented. And Trump has a weird resume for the presidency. But who cares? The great thing about Trump is that every single member of the political establishment hates him, Republicans just as much as Democrats. Wshat could be a better recommendation?

Unlike Sanders, Trump is likely to light a fuse to his toes and blow himself up. It is all very well to enjoy his straight-talking, but there is a reason politicians are circumspect. He is bound to say something beyond the pale soon, if he hasn't already. He may have the money to stay in regardless, but in the end, money does not buy votes.

His presence in the race should actually help the more electable of the Republican candidates. He is running to the right, and, because of his celebrity, is likely to draw votes and press coverage away from other candidates in the early going. That makes it difficult for any other right-wing candidate to survive the early going and be there later to coalesce around. Leaving the nomination to someone running toward the centre.

Most likely matchup at this point: Jeb Bush vs. Bernie Sanders. Who will win? Conventional wisdom says the Republicans.

I wouldn't count on it.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

SCOTUS on Gay Marriage

Arent some of those men wearing dresses?
It is important to see that there are two issues, not just one, involved in the recent US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage: 1. whether gay marriage ought to be legal, and 2. whether it is a human right. Proposition 1 legalizes gay marriage. Proposition 2 makes it mandatory.

I see nothing wrong in principle with legalizing gay marriage; and I suspect most Christians would agree. It is in the public interest to encourage stable, long-term relationships. However, in embracing Proposition 2, the Supreme Court ruling becomes a significant concern, for reasons I will explain in a moment. And why do it? Homosexual marriage did not need the help: it was spreading across the nation at a pretty good clip in any event. Polls show a majority of Americans accept it, and so making it legal everywhere was probably only a matter of time.

Accordingly, the ruling did little for gays, or for gay marriage.

Some have argued that the ruling was undemocratic, taking the decision out of the hands of voters and legislators. Some have called it judicial overreach, or “legislating from the bench.” This in itself is a serious constitutional concern, a precedent that could lead bad places and be very difficult, even bloody, to undo. It moves in the direction of creating and empowering a ruling class.

But that, I fear, is only a part of the problem. Making homosexual sex a supposed human right also puts the doctrine of human rights at odds with all the major religious and moral traditions, all of which declare it immoral. This is a big problem for the effort to get universal recognition for the doctrine of human rights itself; it tends to discredit other human rights by association, in many foreign lands and quite possibly, eventually, in America itself. There is a good case to be made that al Qaeda, ISIL, and their ilk arose as a direct result of American promotion of feminism and gay rights.

If this were not enough, including a “right” rejected by religion makes the doctrine of human rights, in fact, self-contradictory. The doctrine of human rights is founded on religious assumptions. As the Declaration of Independence puts it, men are “endowed by their Creator” with their rights. John Locke based his claim of human equality on the premise that all are descended from Adam and Eve, with no “senior line” of ancestry. It is a moral equality, an equality of worth before God. By introducing a supposed human right at odds with religion, with our traditional and generally recognized covenants with God, the Court is undermining the concept of human rights altogether: if God can be wrong or superseded on A, he can also be wrong or superseded on B.

This self-contradiction is likely to become apparent over time. As Abraham Lincoln once noted, quoting the Bible, a house divided against itself cannot stand. And, as he also noted, you can't fool all of the people all of the time; such truths will out.

But wait; there's more. Homosexual marriage is an experiment. It has never been tried before, at least in any society remotely similar to our own. It is possible that it will not work; it is possible it will have unintended consequences. It is possible that all our ancestors were not idiots. If permitting it were simply a matter of law, this would not be too worrisome. We could try it in state A, and not in state B, and then compare what results. We could, after giving it a fair trial and discovering we do not like what results, repeal the law. But the Supreme Court ruling binds our hands tightly behind our back. We cannot repeal a human right, and we must recognize it immediately. A human right, by definition, is inalienable. All states must immediately recognize gay marriage, and it cannot be repealed no matter what. The fact that rescinding the right would now require a constitutional amendment is the least of it—in principle, human rights cannot be repealed even by the constitution. If the constitution is amended to do so, this is, per the Declaration of Independence, reason to overthrow the government. After all, if one human right can licitly be erased by legislation, they all can.

We are left to hope that all our ancestors were indeed idiots, God was wrong as we understood him, and there are no possible ill effects to the wider society from homosexual sex.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia

Flag of the Confederacy (original version)

As a Canadian, I have no feeling personally for the old Confederate battle flag. I would certainly never think to fly it. But this sudden drive to ban the flag of a long-defeated adversary seems both ungallant and cowardly. It is not as if a new separation of the South is a real and present danger. Nor, for that matter, a renewed slavery. Flying a flag harms no one. So there is no practical need for this. It is just bullying.

It seems significant too that the banner being taken down now across the US is not the colours of the Confederate States of America. It is as if a compromise has already been made here by Southerners. Nobody flies the Confederate flag, the stars and bars. The controversy is over the “battle flag,” a flag used only in the field of battle. It would seem, therefore, to aptly commemorate only the valour and sacrifice of those who died fighting, without obviously endorsing the policies of the government for which they fought. This seems utterly worthy of remembrance and honour; it would be despicable, surely, to deny them this. Seven hundred and fifty thousand young men died in that war, roughly half of them Confederates, from a very much smaller population than today. It remains, by far, the bloodiest war in American history. Should any nation suppress such a large part of its past?

Flag of the Confederacy (final version)

How many of those who died for the South really died, in their own minds, for the preservation of slavery? Probably few. Only one in four white southerners owned slaves. For most of them, beginning with Robert E. Lee, the cause was more primal: their state was their homeland. Their homeland had been invaded by alien armies from the North. They were defending their hearths, their families, and their homes. As a result, recruitment was far less a problem for the South than for the North.

Confederate cemetery near Shiloh.