Playing the Indian Card

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trump's Latest Outrages

David Duke

It must be another weekday. Or weekend. Donald Trump has said another two controversial things.

Today, he refused to renounce David Duke's endorsement, and he tweeted a quote from Benito Mussolini.

I am no fan of Trump, but I think getting excited about these two things in particular is silly.

First, Duke himself says he did not endorse Trump, He just says he will vote for him. Why is it u to Trump to refuse his vote? As if that were even possible. Why is it up to Trump to take this opportunity to condemn him?

All reports have described Duke as “a former Grand Wizard of the Klan. Duke is clearyl anti-Semitic, but this leaves a bit of a false impression. First, former is the word for it. He was in the Klan in his twenties, renounced it by his thirties. He is now 65. He was not Grand Wizard of “the Ku Klux Klan,” but of the “Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” a local Louisiana group he himself founded. The KKKK, unlike the KKK, allowed women and Catholics to join. They cast off the traditional pointy robes for business suits.

Trump, confronted with the fact that Duke “endorsed” him, said he had no idea who Duke was. This has been challenged, because when he left the Reform Party in 2000, he said that the fact that Duke was a member was one reason he left. Obviously, then he knew who he was.

I suspect his point was simply that he had nothing to do with all of this. Asking him to condemn Duke made no more sense than asking Rubio or Cruz to do the same. It was just not his affair. Which seems to me right. But it is also entirely possible, it seems to me, that he had forgotten who Duke was, or perhaps was not current with his positions today.

As I noted, Duke remains profoundly anti-Semetic, and I certainly cannot go along with his views here. Still, it is hard to see how he has become a unique poster baoy for "hate," while equally anti-Semitic views are mostly ignored when expressed by blacks or Muslims.

As to the Mussolini quote: it was a deliberate “gotcha” by Gawker, admitted to be so. In any case, rejecting the quote just because Mussolini said it is a classic ad hominem. It might still be a good and moral quote. Hitler built the autobahns. Does it follow that we are obliged to reject all divided, limited access highways as an evil idea?

There are reasons to be very concerned about a Trump presidency. But this stuff is just static.

Near the Great East Gate

After a twelfth-century B.C. Chinese poem

Past East Gate
Young girls go
So many clouds
Like tumbling clouds
Thoughts blow away

There--white dress
Blue scarf
Thoughts stay.

Past Great Tower
Slender girls go
So many reeds
Like waving reeds
When wind blows by

There--white dress
Purple scarf;
Winds sigh.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Canadian Swearing

First official Canadian citizenship ceremony, 1947

I am no big fan of the Canadian monarchy, given that by statute Canadian kings may not be Catholics. I am no big fan of oaths. As nobody seems to notice, Jesus opposed them. As he said in the Sermon on the Mount,

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[g] - Matthew 5.

I have no problem with the fact that half the current Liberal Cabinet took the option to “solemnly affirm” rather rather than the traditional oath to become members of Cabinet.

However, I am disturbed by the recent trend by new Canadian citizens to take the citizenship oath, then promptly disavow that part that requires allegiance to the Queen. Encouraged, it must be said, by the Supreme Court of Ontario.

To take an oath, then disavow it, is to render the oath meaningless. You were lying in taking it, and might just as easily disavow any other part of it. It is no longer an oath.

Moreover, allegiance to the monarchy is the heart of the oath. The Canadian citizenship oath in full, English version:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Omit allegiance to the Crown, and you are pledging allegiance to no one and nothing. Obeying the law and doing your duty as a citizen goes without saying; in any case, you risk going to prison if you do not. Remove the Crown, and the oath is meaningless.

There is a reason for the Monarchy to be so central to the oath. Legally, Canada exists not as a racial or ethnic entity, but as a possession of the Crown. This is a good thing, because Canada simply would not work as an ethnic state. It is as well that it is organized in this very different way, with allegiance not to an ethnic identity but to an individual and a family. The Crown, the monarch, is a personification of the state. To reject it is to reject something essential to Canada—in the end, as a legal matter, it is to reject Canada itself.

It is incumbent on immigrants, as well, to show their allegiance to a new country. In their case, divided loyalties are a natural and automatic concern. They ought not to feel they can pick and choose the bits of Canada they like. We ought not to be anyone's colony.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tenth Republican Debate

The winner of the debate

Do I really have anything usefu lto say about the latest Republican debate? Maybe not. Rubio's win was so clear everyone agrees on it. It has finally been posted on YouTube, and I have finally had a chance to see it. I get CNN, but the original debate wsas in the early hours of the morning local time. It was the most fun to watch of any debate I have ever seen. It may be a classic in future.

Rubio is a good looking, yourng guy who smiles a lot. He looks like a puppy who wants to be loved; that night he put away any concerns that he might not be tough enough for president. Trump is essentially a clown, and the best weapon against him is ridicule. Rubio has hit upon this, and his blows were telling. Trump looked like a blustering fool.

Why has nobody done this before? Why does it happen only now, at the eleventh hour? My guess is that everyone was afraid of Trump's very personal insults.

Cruz had the second-best night, and landed a number of good blows on Trump as well. It will not do him any good, though, probably, because Rubio was better. Rubio looked as if he were having fun. Normally, I would consider his blows too low, too personal, but it is a matter of fighting fire with fire. Trump gets personal immediately. Trump was repetitious, had few real answers, and some of his positions looked silly. Rubio slaughtered him on Obamacare; Cruz slaughtered him on not releasing his tax returns. Rubio was great in accusing Trump of repeating himself; it defused a criticism of himself while skewering Trump, who really does repeat himself constantly, unlike Rubio, and Trump made himself look a stiff by apparently not getting the joke. It was masterful and memorable. Trump's responses were, as usual, but more often since he was under such strong attack, mostly just to insult anyone who challenged him. It was so transparent, it was funny. I cannot imagine why anyone has supported Trump all along, but surely now that he has been revealed as the unserious candidate he is, it will no longer be cool to admit you support or ever supported Trump. It suggests you are a sucker. I really cannot see why his support does not collapse now. But I've said that before, and been wrong.

Points to Rubio for knowing, and saying, that South Korea at least is shouldering the burden of its own defense, and not freeloading on the US.

Kasich was pushing hard, but the polls make him an irrelevancy. I did not get him on keeping health costs down by paying more for low prices. Seems like a simple contradiction in terms. Nobody called him on it; it is in nobody's interest to waste time arguing with Kasich, because he is not going anywhere. He also lost me on religious liberty, insisting that religious institutions have the right to freedom of conscience. He was too careful to always say religious institutions. By inference, it appears that he does not believe individuals have the same right in their daily lives. This implies a radical diminution of conscience rights. He also ignored the fact that requiring business proprietors to sell to anyone who asks for their services or goods is a violation of freedom of association. And he falsifies the issue. Nobody is refusing to serve gays; the problem is catering gay weddings.

The moderators seemed pretty bad, but to be fair, they had a very tough job. The candidates were talking over each other, insulting one another and thereby requiring an unscheduled response, and speaking out of turn. Wolf Blitzer should be shot for shutting down Ted Cruz twice. Dana Bash also talked over Rubio's best line, about Trump's repetitions, but Rubio wisely was too impolite to listen. It would have been a shame if the line had been lost or not heard, for the sake of both history and entertainment value. The Hispanic moderator, Maria Arraras, was an embarrassment; all her questions were about specifically Hispanic concerns. First, they were a kind of ideological, self-imposed ghetto; they implied that Hispanics were not fully Americans, but a special interest group. Second, thry solicited pandering; this was demeaning. Third, the questions were of little interest to the audience at large. She even, inanely, called for a wall along the Canadian border, in the name of fairness, if a wall was going to be built along the Mexican one. This deserves ridicule.

Leaving Wang Lun

Li Bai

after Li Bai
Leaving Wang Lun, my boat is lapped by rings of song.
Surprised, my wake makes cherry blossoms dance,
But disturbs not water that is deep.
So deep, so deep as friendship.
-- Stephen K. Roney

Gatto's Conspiracy Theory

Marrx's imaginary bugbear, the rich capitalist

One problem with John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education is that it does not account for why the factory model of the public school is found throughout the developed world, not just in the USA. This is what first smells wrong. Then, he finds no “smoking gun,” no clearly stated plan to turn the schools into agents ot social control and repression. Then, the whole thing is based on a conspiracy theory, in the end, and it would have to be a conspiracy so big it is wildly improbable. It is intrinsically improbable that it could all be done without the general public twigging to what was going on, and resisting.

It is probably based on a Marxist model—an imagined elite keeping the masses down. As Donald Akenson points out, qhile it is clear and a truism that schools are there for social control, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that this control is agreed upon by almost everyone, simply “a commonly shared set of values and beliefs” that people in general want to pass on to their children,

Most likely, schools did not evolve in this way based on a definite ulterior plan, including one to keep the lower classes down. Which is to say, if the schools are oppressive and counter-productive, it is the devil's work, not that of any individual or identifiable group. It is the result of a lot of people pursuing selfish interests instead of the general good. It looks planned and deliberate because the devil is a coherent intelligence.

Here is a quote from Woodrow Wilson that you often see; it is the closest thing to a smoking gun Gatto and others seem to come up wit, for which reason it is often quoted,

“We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks” (Gatto, p. 59).

This does seem to express the spirit of progressivism as it existed in the early years of the 20th century. In the name of scientific efficiency, influenced by the success of innovations like the assembly line, it looked very much to “experts,” a scientific or pseudo-scientific priesthood, to command and control society to everyone's benefit. And no doubt this philosophy entered the schools. Schools being by their nature a very conservative institution, it is patently in large part still there. One certainly seems to see it in English public schools, and in the assimilation of what should be the most humanistic of pursuits to social science.

But did Wilson then introduce the factory school? Unlikely, since education was a state matter, not within the powers of the federal government. This call for scientific efficiency was a general tendency, supported by most folks, not just a small elite. It continues today in the desire of many if not most parents to see their kids interest themselves in STEM fields—in order to get a good job. They do not see it as simply bowing to the needs of industry.

Here is another quote Gatto digs up from “progressives” of that day:

Ellwood P. Cubberley, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education:

“[R]aw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from governments and industry” (Gatto, p. 61; Cubberley, dissertation, 1905).

Gatto also cites the Rockefeller Foundation's “Occasional Letter Number One.” The subject is a plan to introduce high schools to the poor rural US South. There is certainly at least a tone of condescension towards the lower classes:

“In our dreams … people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets, or men of letters [note the exalted company given educators]. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before us is very simple … we will organize children … and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”

A second baleful wave, as Gatto notes without apparently distinguishing the two movements, hit with the behaviourism of the Thirties through the Sixties. I caught the last years of this in the Sixties, and was horrified. To me, and I think to many, the Sixties counterculture was a reaction against it.

But, oddly, I cannot find any of Gatto's damning, inflammatory quotes about the schools in the document he cites, “The Behavioural Science Teacher Education Project” (1967). The actual document is preoccupied with practical details. In any case, it is from Michigan State University, not the federal or even state government, although it received federal government funding. It is unfortunate, however, in proposing that the instruction of teachers be primarily based on insights obtained by the behavioural sciences. Not only are there no such insights; Noam Chomsky had pretty exploded the behaviourist theory by this time. The behaviourist or audio-lingual method of language learning, embraced en masse by the US military during and after WWII as the new scientific way to learn, had by this time been disproven by studies and abandoned, And behaviourism is profoundly dehumanizing; strict behaviourists hold that there is no soul, no free will, no interior life. It is also even more elitist than progressivism: all power is put in the hands of the practitioner, and the students are mere objects.

It is also unfortunate, but typical of the time, that the BSTEP document calls for educational policy to be closely coordinated with the findings of futurists. All very scientific, of course. Must keep up with the Russians and Sputnik. Unfortunately, futurists are almost always wrong; it is pure pseudo-science. Peak oil, global warming, population bombs, environmentalism, all that nonsense.

GM Futurliner, New York World's Fair, 1939

As Stephen Dudner, co-author of Freakonomics, points out, “experts”who predict the future have a worse track record than the average man in the street, and a worse record than flipping a coin. This is because there is a natural bias to say things are going to change. To experts, either the future is utopia or the sky is always falling. If an expert does not do this, nobody is interested in his or her predictions, nobody cares, nobody will pay him or her. But in the real world, things go on as they are far more often and for a much longer time than they dramatically change.

So it is a sucker's game to listen to futurologists. For education and the schools, it gives well-paid employment to a self-appointed professional elite at the expense of the students.

More to come...

Friday, February 26, 2016


Predictions are usually wrong; but noboedy remembers. Luckily for experts and fortuem tellers.

China Watch

The Going Away

Li Shang Yin

two adaptations of a stanza by Li Shang Yin. On leaving China

Getting to know is hard; leaving seems so easy.
The East wind blows; all the young buds wither.
A spring worm must spin sorrow as it dies;
A candle gutters tears because it burns.

Getting to know is hard; having to go is harder.
The East wind fails, and all the flowers fade.
The dead worm spring spins silken thread--
Guts drawn, then cut asunder.
Life's a guttering candle, then the dark.
I do not cry; I am too dry for tears.

- Stephen K. Roney

Students at Private Schools in the UK Gain Two Years on Students in State Schools

This article dismisses without comment the notion that the difference in results between private and state schools in the UK can be entirely due to teaching quality? But why not? It is hard to see what else it could be, since the study seems to control for everything else. The private advantage, I submit, is that teache4s in private schools do not need teacher certification, and they are dismissed if the parents are not happy with their performance. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Example of White Guilt in ESL

Actually, she also speaks French. But avoiding idioms is not her cup of tea. 

This very confused article is really about the importance of knowing idioms and cultural allusions. These are generally the last things taught, and even native speakers, as E.D. Hirsch discovered, can be seriously deficient. Unfortunately, the autor of the article does not himself seem to understand the issue, and veers from talking about thwe differences in English dialects to the supposed need for English speakers to learn other languages,

As to native speakers of English learning another language, there is no harm in that. But English is the international language; there is no other language that would benefit native English speakers nearly so much as English fluency would benefit non-English speakers, and it is unreasonable to expect this.

English speakers might want to avoid idioms and cultural allusions when communicating with non-native speakers, just as they might want to simplify their vocabulary and grammar; but this is not an ideal solution. There is a reason why idioms and cultural allusions are common elements of all languages. First, they are efficient; a speaker or writer cannot explain everything, and must rely on a certain base of shared knowledge. The larger that base is, the faster the business of communication can be transacted. It is much faster, for example, to say someone is a “dog in the manger” than to explain that he or she is being unreasonable in this particular way. Second, idioms and cultural allusions are colourful and memorable; they imply vivid images and stories. This is why good writers and good speakers use them extensively and often. Each idiom tells an anecdote.

For the same reason, the typical ESL students loves to learn idioms, They are the most fun part of learning any language. In any case, not knowing them cuts students off from the texts they are usually most interested in: Hollywood movies and popular music.

Specifically, the article begins with the problems of integrating recent immigrants into UK and US society. It is absurd in this context to expect their fellow citizens to curtail their speech and writing to make things simpler for them. What is called for, instead, is a thoroughgoing ESL programme that includes idioms and cultural allusions. Nobody who wants to live comfortably in the USA should be ignorant of what “in the ballpark,” “out of the ballpark,” or “a bsllpark figure” means. This would mean they know nothing of baseball, the national sport. That does not imply a good integration.

In other words, Cameron is right. The author of the article is barking up the wrong tree. If you catch the idiom.

The Black Air of Childhood Gone

Sometimes we wept
to see the falling leaves.
Sometimes we laughed.
Sometimes we laughed
until we wept.
Sometimes a child
(and sometimes it was us)
long ago would hide himself in leaves
and lie quite still.
Sometimes still as death.

Sometimes an old man
would rake.
And slowly he would rake, as counting years,
and raking, leaves would gather into piles
and dark would fall, all else grown huddle-cold.
And darkness rose in flames of many fires
and smoke rose high in grim and twisting columns
and cinders rode the moving air.
And black, and black, like snow.
Sometimes we wept.

-- Stephen K. Roney


I have just about lost interest now in the US presidential race. Nevada has made both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump look close to inevitable. It is too depressing. To think: the Republicans at least produced the best field in a generation, and it boils down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? After Obama, I'm not sure the US can survive this with its preeminence intact.

For the Dems, South Carolina will tell the tale. But Nevada was a better shot for Bernie than South Carolina; the SC vote is heavily black and the black vote prefers Clinton. It is not fair; Sanders spent his youth fighting for civil rights, and Clinton came late to the game. The problem is apparently that blacks do not identify with Sanders culturally. He is too white. But Clinton has the advantage of a large black vote throughout the SEC primary to come as well. By there time that it over, Sanders may have lost all momentum.

As for the Republicans, the big problem is that Trump's vote has not just grown, it is now bigger than the next two candidates, Rubio and Cruz, combined. If this holds, it suggests he cannot be overtaken even in a two-man race. And Rubio and Cruz are so close in their vote that it is hard to see either dropping out. If you add Carson's and Kasich's vote to either Rubio or Cruz, it would hardly make a difference.

I can only hope that Nevada is some odd anomaly, like a rogue poll.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Liberal Deficit

When Justin Trudeau was running in the last election, I recall him making this argument: vote for me. I am levelling with you. Governments always run on a balanced budget, and then as soon as they get in office, they say that the books are far worse than they imagined, and they are not going to be able to keep their promise. Instead, I am giving it to you straight: we will deliberately run a manageable deficit.

Now he is in office, and golly, it turns out the books are far worse than the Liberals imagined. They are going to have to run a much bigger deficit than planned.

The Liberals are playing Canadians for suckers. So far it has worked very well for them, as it has for so many previous governments. In the meantime, they get to blame their profligacy on the previous government.

This ought to be remembered next time they go to the polls.When Justin Trudeau was running in the last election, I recall him making this argument: vote for me. I am levelling with you. Governments always run on a balanced budget, and then as soon as they get in office, they say that the books are far worse than they imagined, and they are not going to be able to keep their promise. Instead, I am giving it to you straight: we will deliberately run a manageable deficit.

Now he is in office, and golly, it turns out the books are far worse than the Liberals imagined. They are going to have to run a much bigger deficit than planned.

The Liberals are playing Canadians for suckers. So far it has worked very well for them, as it has for so many previous governments. In the meantime, they get to blame their profligacy on the previous government.

This ought to be remembered next time they go to the polls.

Saddam and Iraq: The Hyenas Gather

It really bothers me how the history of the US's involvement in Iraq has been falsified. A whole lot of people are lying who say George Bush was lying. As usual, with the devil's work; what they are saying is the very opposite of the truth.

First, everyone thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Not just Bush. Second, they may well have been right; where did Assad's chemical weapons come from? Why does no one ask? Third, the US did not invade because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. It was because he had repeatedly violated the ceasefire. Fourth, nobody notices that Saddam, besides invading two neighbouring countries, was killing his own people. He had already killed an estimated million. How many more would have died if Bush had not gone in? Does it not matter, since they were Iraqis? Fifth, Bush won the war. By 2008, when Bush left office, Iraq was doing fine. The current destabilization, contrary to what many are saying, is not Bush's doing, or the fault of intervening in Iraq. It is Obama's baby, and the predictable result of pulling out all troops. Throwing away everything that the US military had accomplished.

What really burns me is that all these people who supported the war and then opposed the surge, and then pulled all the troops, are blaming Bush. That is stomach-turningly dishonest.

Victor Davis Hanson remembers.

The Train Goes by Here Evenings Heading West

The train goes by here evenings heading West.

A rise of sound, a rumble, rattling windows;
Squirrels backing halfway down the branch;
And then sound's lonesome fall, and once more silence.

The train goes by here evenings heading West.

So quiet in its wake I hear the plumbing
And the desk lamp's blue florescent hum;
The meter of a swaggering conversation
Perhaps a dozen paces down the hall.

The train goes by here evenings heading West.

And in the deeper silence of its passing,
I mark how very old I have become.
And mark with wonder I no longer mark
One more evening that I am not on that train.

- Stephen K. Roney

Antonin Scalia

At least two of my leftist friends have posted links to the following piece in the New Yorker on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It seems to represent the leftist take.


They make the automatic leftist assumption that it is not just legitimate, but the duty of a judge, to ignore the law and impose his own political opinions case by case. For they assume Scalia's reading of the constitution is only an expression of his own political views. His supposed “revulsion toward homosexuality,” for example. “[H]e and his allies succeeded in transforming American politics into a cash bazaar, with seats all but put up for bidding.” Not. To ignore the constitution and vote your personal wishes is simple corruption in a judge.

Next, they use the familiar but spurious Whig view of history argument, implied by their popular current self-description “progressive,” which implies that the course of history is predictable and the future belongs to them. In fact, the pages of history are littered with movements and ideas considered “progressive” or “futuristic” in their day which have since been abandoned: the Soviet Union, the Khmer Rouge, Fascism, eugenics, prohibition, Social Darwinism, Maoism, laws against women working outside the home, modest dress, and on and on. Only time will tell whether Scalia's view of the constitution, or Ruth Bader Ginsberg's, will prevail.

As for his insistence that the US Constitution did not protect homosexuality as an inalienable right, I am sorry, but to my mind he is obviously right. There is no question that the authors of the Constitution and those who ratified it had heard of homosexual sex; it is not, like video games, a new invention. You would think they'd mention it. And Scalia is simply stating fact when he says that moral approbation has traditionally been attached to homosexual acts. All major religions agree on this. Accordingly, setting up homosexual sex as a right, and further claiming that it is incumbent on individual citizens as well as the government to respect this right, creates a direct conflict between this new “right” and the longstanding right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. As we have seen since. I, and I suspect most Christians, if not most religious people, have no problem with homosexual sex and homosexual marriage being legal. But saying homosexual sex is a constitutional right is a big problem.

And surely Scalia is correct in holding that the constitution should, like any law, be read as it is written. There is no such thing as a “living, breathing” document. This is simply a lie. Documents do not breath. It is the judges who live and breath, and they are replacing the constitution with their own wishes. This is not what courts are for, and it amounts in practice to tyranny of society by an unelected cabal.

Toobin holds it against Scalia that Chief Justice Rehnquist rarely gave him the task of writing the majority opinion. This appears to be simply untrue. According to his Wikipedia entry, Chief Justice Rehnquist followed a strict rotation system—everyone took turns writing the majority opinions. If Scalia wrote relatively few, it was probably only because he was often in the minority.

Toobin says that John Paul Stevens demonstrated that Scalia was wrong in his interpretation of the constitution in Scalia's majority opinion on District of Columbia vs. Heller. There is an obvious problem with this claim. Scalia was writing the majority opinion. A majority of Supreme Court justices agreed with him, and thought Stevens was wrong. Toobin may disagree, as I often do, with the majority on the Supreme Court, but he has no business stating it as simple fact that they were wrong.

Similarly, Toobin pokes fun at Scalia's views on banning video games in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants' Association. You might think from what he says that Scalia opposed video games, because Madison had not heard of them, and that his colleagues, even the fellow originalist Alito, disagreed with him. Makes him sound appropriately like a reactionary, opposed to material progress. Just the reverse: Scalia held that video games were protected speech, and he wrote the majority opinion, to which his colleagues signed on 7-2.

“Scalia described himself as an advocate of judicial restraint, who believed that the courts should defer to the democratically elected branches of government. “ writes Toobin, This is a mischievous falsehood. Were it true, there would be no role for the Supreme Court at all. Scalia believed that the role of the court was to enforce the constitution if the legislative or executive branch exceeded its authority, while at holding the Supreme Court should not legislate. Its like saying that, if you believe you should not cook in the bathroom, it follows that you should not cook in the kitchen either. It does not.

Toobin also criticizes Scalia based on his reading preferences, specifically which newspapers he subscribed to. Toobin's  swipe at the Washington Times is pure ad hominem: it is held to be guilty of something because owned by Sun Myung Moon. But more broadly, it is rich to hear a leftist accusing a conservative of living in a “sealed bubble” in terms of the opinions they hear. Given the biases of the mainstream media, it is impossible for conservatives not to hear the “progressive”arguments. The opposite is far from true: many if not most “progressives”do not seem to ever hear the conservative positions except second-hand (and generally falsified).

“[T]he Justices rarely stray too far from public opinion. And, on the social issues where the Court has the final word, the real problem for Scalia’s heirs is that they are out of step with the rest of the nation. The public wants diversity, not intolerance; more marriages and fewer executions; less money in politics, not more. ” This too, is a corrupt view of the job of the court. It is the job of the legislature to express popular opinion. It is the job of the court to check public opinion when it violates human rights. As it did in Nazi Germany, as it did in the pre-civil rights South. In fact, contrary to Toobin's claims, the court disagrees with popular opinion on the very issues cited. Toobin says the death penalty is on the decline. In fact, polls show a large majority of Americans support it, 61 to 37 %. A majority of Americans oppose Obamacare. A plurality opposes affirmative action.

It is vanishingly hard to find a true statement in the entire piece.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fun Hoax from Wikipedia

Sang-Ja: Sijo

Sang Ja loves another.
No tears, no. I cannot cry.
Watering eyes see her less.

-- Stephen K. Roney

John Taylor Gatto and Me

A friend and colleague has been reading John Taylor Gatto, and was struck, in conversation, at how often my own views of the problems of the public schools are the same as his. I am not terribly happy to hear that someone else has stolen my thunder.; I guess it is a confirmation I did feel I had to look into this author, a former New York State Teacher of the Year who quit, declaring that the public school system was broken beyond repair.

Having read some of his An Underground History of American Education, and part of his Dumbing Us Down, both available free online, I am not that impressed. Like most professional critics of the schools. Gatto seems to me to go over the top. Everything about them, including what seem to me opposite tendencies, is wrong. He is also very bad at citing sources, and when I try to trace them, his claims turn out to be often quite wrong.

I do agree with what seems to be his solution: school choice. This is essentially what we had in Ontario when our school system was first set up by Egeerton Ryerson. The schools buildings were actually owned by the local trustees—the local parents—and they hired and fired the teachers (Donald Akenson, Being Had, p. 149. Another book I happen to be reading, about the Irish experience in North America).

Gatto points out that in 2000, New York State spent $200,000 per child over the course of an educatnio in the el-hi schools (p. 10, An Underground History of American Education). If, instead, given that that figure is accurate, each child was given that $200,000 at high school graduation age, they would likely be set for life. At least, they could buy a house, cash. However, Gatto's number seems too high. In Canada, expenses per student per year, according to the National Post, are $11,835.. Granted, Gatto includes lost interest, and is probably including the cost of school buildings. My guess is that the National Post is not.

Gatto is dead right here: “Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard” (P. 11). This is a problem with the professions generally, but one can see immediately that it is a special problem with making teachers a “profession.” Their job is to make the hard easy; their training is all on making the easy hard. As a result, they are more likely to retard than to aid their students' learning, and this is immediately in their self-interest This alone explains why home-schooled kids invariably outperform their public school peers on any measure of academic achievement.

It also explains why the brightest students tend to hate school, while schools in general seem to concentrate their efforts on the weakest students.

From the beginning, according to Gatto, public schooling was the project of people who saw themselves as an intellectual elite. As such, they were the rightful rulers of society, and they did not want their control tampered with by the unworthy rabble. As a result, the schools are by their nature deeply undemocratic and class-conscious, and the great majority of students are deliberately kept down. This explains to me why public schools do not teach essential life skills: public speaking, rhetoric, which is also to say salesmanship, debating, parliamentary procedure. If they knew these things, the masses could organize effectively and protect their interests' individuals could move ahead and assume leadership. These subjects, interestingly, are always taught in the posh private schools to which the wealthy send their children.

Gatto points out the interesting fact that of twenty occupational groups measured, public school teachers score seventeenth on the GRE. Who scores lower? School administrators, who score 51 or 80 points lower, depending whether you are measuring them against elementary or secondary teachers (p. 21). I have seen similar figures before. Yet studies show a good GRE is a strong indicator of an effective teacher. We are sending the wrong people into the classroom, and the system is upside down, with the dumbest in control.

How can this happen? Probably for the same reason that the mentally retarded do a better job on assembly lines than the normally intelligent. Anyone reasonably intelligent and honest would be driven mad by the drivel and obvious errors required for teaching qualifications, and would have to be seriously masochistic to sit for a Master's degree in education.

Gatto points out that pay is not, despite the constant demands of teachers, the issue. He points out that teachers in the US before the 1960s used to make far less, barely enough for subsistence, yet beck then the job attracted many bright and talented young men on the way up, including some who later became famous. These well-educated young men, the best teachers according to studies, are now barred from the classroom. So are seasoned professionals in their fifties and sixties with real-world experience to share.

Gatto runs through a list of famous people of the past who seemed to do very well without schooling. David Farragut shipped off at age ten. Lincoln had less then a year in the classroom, Thomas Edison had three. Benjamin Franklin had less than one, and was working as a printer's apprentice at 12.

The main effect of schooling, Gatto says, is to retard adulthood. I think this is right. There were no teenagers, and there was no teen angst, until the forties or so. It is unnatural and unkind to hold young people back from adult responsibility, and it causes immense social problems. Here in the Gulf, they are at least conscious of what they are doing, and why they are doing it. A big reason why governments are pouring money into higher ed is that they have a problem with youth unemployment, which stands at 29%. So it is better to herd and watch them in classrooms than to leave them on the street craving adventure and probably causing trouble. The same logic may well have been behind the GI Bill in the US, to deal with the glut of returning soldiers, which resulted in everybody needing a university degree for the same jobs that used to need only a high school diploma. After the First War, there was a big unemployment problem among decommissioned doughboys, and the Depression was still barely over.

Gatto points out that, at the time of the Revolution, Alexander Hamilton was 20, Aaron Burr 21, Lafayette 19 (p. 46). George Washington was pulling down a huge salary as a government surveyor at age 16.

Much is made of the exploitation of children in the Third World, by letting them work. My Filipina wife is hearing none of it. What do they expect the kids and their families to do—starve? The truth is, child labour laws in the beginning, as now, have most to do with protecting the interests of the old and already established against the young. Minimum wage laws probably do the same. Denying people the right to work is not nice.

More to come...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Banning Muslims

According to Fox News exit polls, 73% of South Carolina Republicans agree withj Donald Trump that Musims should be banned from entering the US. Trump took more flak this than on anything. These two facts may be related. My take: Muslims have a lot of PR work to do, and it is up to them to do it.

More Disagreement with Pope Francis's Comments on Contraception

On Starting Late

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

Not that I could love you, younger, more
Than in your majesty of adult pride;
But each day that winds from then to now,
I would be, and I was not, at your side.

Well met at last, halfway from dust to dust;
No nearer journey's start than journey's end;
Yet let us swear, as fingered nets are cast,
Our journeys shall not be alone again.

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

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

-- Stephen K. Roney


Along with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, they two most interesting politicians in Britain, I back Brexit.

I think Johnson is right that a British exit would not be all that disruptive, but would probably end with a free trade deal that omitted all the political ties which interfere with British sovereignty. Free trade with Britain is just in everyone's interest in the rest of Europe.

Furthermore, I think the British people will in fact vote to leave. Currently, polls show them almost evenly split, with perhaps a slight preference for the no side—i.e., for staying in. However, the referendum looks to me like the same sort of opportunity to thumb ones nose at the ruling elite as is manifested in the US in the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Not to mention the Tea Party a few years ago. This is a world-wide tendency; it is of a piece, if far more muted due to circumstances, as the Arab Spring, It is driven by technology: Web 2.0, social media, the growing lack of any need for control from above by a ruling elite.

I have long hoped the UK would leave the EU and instead join NAFTA. We are brothers over here; he fit would just be a lot more natural. A union of the Anglosphere also makes sense in terms of preserving our geopolitical interests. One hopes Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand would also soon come on board.

I hope the US and Canada are working behind the scenes to set this all in motion should the referendum go against Europe.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

More on the Pope's Recent Comments on Contraception

Paul VI Never Allowed African Nuns to Use Artificial Contraception

Among the folks who swalowed this apparent falxehood whole was Pope Francis, who used Paul VI as justification for his receent remarks on contraception.

The Ballad of Daniel's Dad

Daddy was a sailor in a far country,
Billowing port to starry port under sail and over sea,
Seeking not so much for freedom as to set his children free--
Free to grow and free to go and free to linger.

Parting is a heartache--ask your Mummy's aching heart--
So is growing, so is knowing, so is daring.
Parting is a heartache--ask your Daddy's aching heart--
So is loving, so is staying, so is caring.

But there is a star at daybreak on a placid wine-dark sea,
Star of morning, star of berthing, of fair weather,
Some old seamen call Mariah, or the gentle Western wind;
Some say Venus, or Our Lady of the Harbour.

And when the bells and fathoms toll,
The seabirds keen and turn,
And there's a fresh mist in the chest of every man;
And all hands as one together
Start to pull the pulley rope,
And men wonder how the flowers grow at home.

And all hands as on slow fire
Start to draw the luffing sail,
And men wonder how the children grow at home.

-- Stephen K. Roney

You Dirty Racist

One might wonder, why have the fields of linguistics and TEFL settled on such obvious logical errors as their received wisdom, as outlined in yesterday's blog entry?

The short answer is that it is the devil's work. The long answer is that linguistics and TEFL have, like education, fallen under the control of the social sciences. The social sciences are a cargo cult in relation to science. They are, on the other hand, highly political and politicized. An honest social scientist recently complained that fully 70% of the population is removed from study. No social scientist who values his or her career dares say anything that could be construed as directly or indirectly blaming women, blacks, homosexuals, or aboriginal people, for example, for anything.

Why these groups in particular? Why, ther answer is obvious? These are the groups that hold social power. Why do they hold it by claiming to be oppressed? The devil again; claiming victimhood gives you carte blanche to behave as badly as you want in the ruthless pursuit of self-interest.

In the present instance, anyone who disputes the Marxist procrustean orthodoxy regarding varieties of English must immediately defend himself or herself against charges of racism. This is a powerful disincentive to questioning such claims. Who needs that? At the same time, there is a great incentive to lay such charges. Do so, and the researcher who plays that card gets a free ride, their claims and theses embraced without serious examination or challenge, It is, for grad students, a ticket to a lucrative and cushy academic career, without the requisite effort of actually thinking or doing research. The more so if they happen to be a member of one of the aforementioned privileged groups. If you are a foreigner or ethnic, as a Korean postgrad (not one of the privileged groups, but at least an Other in the North American university where she studied, and so to some degree untouchable. I hve dioubt this would work as well for a Korean male) once boasted to me, it is possible to get an American M.A. and a Ph.D. by merely writing about your own life experience.

Full disclosure. My ex-wife is a classic case. She rode this tendency to a lot of publications, a doctorate, and a tenured position at Long Island University outside New York City. She did not quite rely on personal anecdote, although she uses it heavily. She got her M.A. with a thesis interviewing only five fellow “non-white” female ESL teahers, and her Ph.D. with an almost identical study interviewing eight fellow “non-white” female ESL teachers. For their personal anecdotes. Nothing of any value scientifically, but the false face of being “scientific.” Here is the Google books result for one of her publications. She has a good number of them, as noted, but they all seem to be on the same theme, and based on the same slender research. You can read the entire article for free online at JSTOR, if you register with them.

She plays the racism card openly and often. “First World linguists are perpetuating a caste system … based largely on race, ethnicity and national origin.” (p. 183) “ELT ... is a site where discoursess of racism, colonialism, and sexism intersect” (p. 184). “I consider the native speaker concept to be an interlocking oppression that works in concert with racism and sexism to oppress and marginalize non-white women” (p. 188). “[A]ccents are a linguistic manifestation of nativism, and constitute a new and effective form of racism” (p. 190). “[A]pplied linguistics, a field that continues to be dominated by colonialist ideologies” (p. 200). “[T]he concepts and ideologies epitomised by these binary divisions continue to ciculate in ELT, and intersect with racism and sexism to produce non-white immigrant women as permanent Others” (p. 200). Of course, being brown-skinned and Pakistani born, this insulated her from any hostile inquiry. Doubt her word, and you are a proven racist.

The funniest aspect of her article is that she blames the greater status of native speakers as ESL teachers on “First World linguists,” “white First World researchers and scholars” (p. 184) (note that she herself presupposes First World researchers are white, in violation of one of her own complaints) “white linguists” “native-speaking researchers” (p. 183). These, of course, are the people who might dare challenge her. “First World researchers are complicit in the continuing linguistic hegemony of the First World over the Third World.” (p. 184). And yet, this is not at all what her own research shows. Instead, those who have the impertinence to prefer white teachers over her are not her supervisors, who are clearly presented as supportive, and obviously not the academics who have given her a cushy career for little work, but her ESL students. “[M]any of the students whispered the term native speaker with awe (p. 186). She complains of “the ignomy of students storming out of class and demanding a 'real' English teacher” (p. 186). Indeed, she notes that many students assigned to a non-native teacher “leave after the first class” (p. 196). “Some ESL students make the following assumptions': (a) only White people can be native speakers of English and (b) only native speakers know 'real,' 'proper,' 'Canadian' English” (p. 189-90). Nor, given the limitation of the facus group, of mere anecdote, does this seem to be only her own experience. “[T]he majority of the students showed a decided preference for White teachers.… [P]articipants … mirrored my experience” ("Race and the Identity of the Nonnative ESL Teacher," p. 580).

In other words, things are the opposite of what she claims. She blames “nativism.” But the people causing her bad feelings here are not white academics; they are fellow immigrants and themselves non-native speakers. They are probably, like her, visible minorities. Far from being powerful and established, they are the latest off the boat, they are utterly powerless while Amin's ESL teachers are obviously in a position of authority over them. There are few imbalanced of power greater anywhere than that between teacher and student; and the students here, being new to the country, presumably have no cantacts or support to defend their interests. Their wants are demonstrably being ignored; the non-native speakers have been hired, retain their positions, and their superiors defend them against any student complaints. The customer is always wrong.

Classic work of the devil. Amin's claims are consistently the opposite of the truth.

It is obvious that, in a “settlement” situation, in which all of Amin's subjects teach, a native speaker of Canadian English is vastly to be preferred as an instructor. Even if you want to drink the Kool-Aid of believing that all English dialects are of equal value in use, these people are studying English specifically to live in Canada. Obviously, it is in their best interests to learn English as it is spoken by Canadians. Yet, as Amin tacitly points out, the majority of ESL teachers in Canada seem to be themselves non-native speakers. Surely this is odd.

Amin seeks to represent this as itself a case of oppression (p. 192). Immigrant women gravitate to ESL teaching, she maintains, because they cannot get better jobs. One is reminded of Chris Christie's response to a teacher who complained about her salary not adequately compensating her for her education: “Nobody made you take the job.” This claim of oppression is also unconvincing given that there are reputedly a huge number of English grads and humanities grads in Canada working at McDonald's and Starbucks. I have taught ESL in Canada. It is not a bad-paying job, if you are full-time: a good middle-class income. It pays better, of course, abroad, where there is less competition. I expect that the great majority of English grads would rather be teaching ESL for more money than flipping burgers if given the chance. Granted, a humanities or literature degree is not the accepted qualification for ESL teaching. But this is itself discrimination. It should be. The usual TEFL degree is worthless, while a Humanities degree at least demonstrates high proficiency with the language. Studies show students learn faster with the latter type of teacher.

So, the students want and need native speakers as ESL teachers, and there is an ample supply available relatively cheap. And yet, as Amin admits, ESL in Canada is dominated by non-native speakers. I was living with Nuzhat Amin when she taught at Settlement House in Toronto. So far as I could see, every one of the teachers there was a non-native speaker. One, from Cuba, lived with us for a time. His English was so bad I could not make him out. I think it is fair to say that he could not actually speak the language.

How has this happened? I can only guess, but I do have my guesses. First, most other countries are far more racist than Canada. “Caste”is an Indian concept. They have no problem discriminating on the basis of race, and openly expressing racial preferences. Most Canadians, for example, would feel uncomfortable demanding a native speaker to teach them ESL, as the visible minorty immigrant students of Amin's study clearly are not. In the same way, non-native ESL supervisors would have no problem discriminating in hiring against people with white skin or who were born in Canada. Ads outside Canada for ESL teachers often specify that only people bearing specific passports (US, UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Ireland) need apply. This would no doubt be illegal in Canada. TESOL International. the US-based largest association of ESL teachers, prohibits such requirements in the ads they host, and, contrary to Amin's assertions, has an official policy prohibiting such “discrimination.”

In addition, the non-native speakers who teach ESL, as Amin points out, are themselves invariably from the upper class in the Third World. The main reason the Third World is the Third World is that it is burdened by a selfish, corrupt upper class. They are accustomed to only the best (and assuming they deserve it), to pursuing only self-interest, and to riding roughshod over those below them in the social order. Now, just let a Canadian bureaucrat, looking for non-racist brownie points, appoint one of these non-native speakers to be in charge of a language school. Seems like an obvious place to meet a minority hiring quota. It is not suprising if they then only hire other non-native speakers like themselves. The desires and needs of the students will not interest them. Except that a native speaker is a threat to them, because he or she is likely to be much more popular with the students, and this might get noticed. At best, they will make then, like Amin, feel bad. This is unacceptable.

Of course, not all non-native ESL teachers are corrupt and selfish. Indeed, it is probably unfair to put too much blame on these non-native speakers. The entire field of education is a cesspool of corruption, the interests and desires of the students are systematically ignored, and for some reason somebody has decided ESL should follow that public school model. In fact, I find it is far less corrupt than el-hi teaching.

Minor notes: Amin objects to the idea that “predominantly English-speaking countries of the First World have more ownership of English than .. the Third World” (p. 183). Unfortunately, common sense says they do. English is remarkably tolerant, but you cannot imagine France accepting that it did not own French, even though it is spoken in many countries, China Chinese, Korea Korean, or Pakistan Urdu. Someone once said that a language is a dialect with an army. This is off the mark. A language is a dialect with a literature. Whoever has contributed most to that literature is the true creator and rightful owner of that language. As it happens, Shakespeare was English.

Amin arbitrarily redefines “native English” to mean “the Englishes spoken in the core English-speaking countries” (p. 183). This allowss her to claim that the term “native English” is racist, but this is circular. It is entirely her own construct. This is not, in fact, what native English means to anyone else, or in the dictionary. She goes on immediately to say “The 'native speaker of English' then, is a code phrase for white speakers of English” (p. 183). What was it someone once said? If you're the one hearing the dog whistle, then you are the dog.

As a feminist, it is not enough for Amin to argue that teaching standard English or preferring native speakers as instructors is racist. It must somehow be sexist as well. This she manages in the same way as she “proves”the first, by pointing out that teachers of ESL are overwhelmingly female (Amin says 89%; p. 192). This apparently demonstrates discrimination against women, although if the sex proportions wer reversed, it would demonstrate, by common convention, the very same thing.

She objects to the term “immigrant women” on the grounds that it usually refers to visible minority women (p. 189). There is nothing pejorative about the term “immigrant.” It is purely descriptive—perhaps Amin, being a proven dog, herself thinks there is something wrong with being an immigrant. Moreover, the association with visible minorities is simply accurate. Wikipedia, entry on Canadian Immigration: “mmigration since the 1970s has overwhelmingly been of visible minorities from the developing world“.

Amin complains that accents associated with Canada, the US, and the UK are given higher status in Canada than accents associated with non-white countries (p. 191). They certainly are by my Arab students as well, and there is far greater reason to prefer a Canadian accent in Canada. As noted in my previous post, these are the accents everyone is used to hearing world-wide, and so the easiest to understand. Amin is also factually wrong here, I suspect. Not all Canadian, British, or American accents are equally valued. A thick Newfoundland accent, or Ottawa Valley, or Cockney, or Deep South, is not going to get you too far.

Amin faults Canada for its immigration policy, allowing in too many well-educated immigrants, on the grounds that it is a plundering of the Third World (p. 191). I think many Canadians would be happy to reduce immigration; I myself think we are letting in the wrong people, including too many with an invincible sense of privilege, too many who will have no real commitment to Canada or to their fellow Canadians, too many who are only in it for themselves, too many who are Princesses who cannot abide peass in the mattress. We are also, by importing a ruling class, voluntarily turning ourselves into a colony, And we are gradually importing all the problems of the Third World, by importing the corrupt class that makes it the Third World. But who exactly forced her or her subjects to come? Leaving aside the effect on their homeland, how is it discrimination against the actual people we let in to offer them the inducement of an obviously better life (a fact necessarily assumed by Amin's own argument, and proved by their actions in coming) than even life as a member of the upper classes in the lands from which they come? And what does it say about her and their own sense of civic responsibility if they came anyway?

Amin complains that immigrants have problems getting their credentals from abroad honoured. This has always been, and for practical reasons will always be, a problem for immigrants. In the high school at which I graduated in Ontario back in '71, one teacher was a qualified lawyer in her native Netherlands; another, from Czechoslovakia, first had to take work as a gardener until he replicated his qualifications in the new land. The problem generally is that employers do not know what foreign qualifications really mean, and they often do not match what is expected in Canada. But there is an added concern in the case of the Third World. It is entirely possible, and not uncommon, in many of these countries to just buy a qualification and save the time, effort, and risk of actually studying for them. Failing that, marks are often up for purchase.

Mind you, the corruption in the Canadian ESL and education fields is itself moving in that direction.

South Carolina

Okay, Trump won South Carolina, As some TV talking head has said, nobody has eveer won both New Hampshire and South Carolina without going on to win the nomination. But this is not an ordinary year, and Trump is not an ordinary candidate. His percentage of the vote was 32.5. In New Hampshire, it was 35.3 %. I think Trump has a ceiling, and his support may stay relatively steady, but it is not growing. Too many people in the Republican Party would never vote for him. One third of the vote it enough for a big win in a seventeen-prson race. If it gets down to two or three candidates, it is not.

It is crucially important that Rubio apparently came in second, and not Ted Cruz. Rubio has he greater growth potential, and so is a greater threat to Trump. Bush has dropped out; the bulk of his support will probably go to Rubio. By itself, it will not be enough to pass Trump, but it should maintain Rubio's image as the candidate with momentum,

Trump scoffed at the idea that he might lose to a consolidation of the anti-Trup voate in his victory speech. He argues that a portion of the vote from those who drop out will go to him as well. A portion, sure, but not enough to make the diffrence between 33 and 50 percent. He is overlooking the fact that he has "high negatives," that a high proportion of those not already backing Trump say they would never bakc Trump. It is also always true that the frot-runner naturally ha less growth potential-those who like him are largely already backing him.

This primary seems to be especially bad news for Cruz. It sets up Rubio instead of Cruz as the obvious alternative to Trump. Moreover, South Carolina is a very conservative state full of evengelicals. It should be prime Cruz terroitory. If he cannot beat the more moderate Rubio here, where can her? I think Cruz has suffered from the perception that he is not a nice guy.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Adam's Ark

The sky is up, the sea is low--
I am admiral of my soul.

The sea is up, the sky is low--
St. Michael, grab a paddle. Jesus, can you row?

-- Stephen k. Roney

Why We Need to Teach Standard English

This recent video is not well-written, but it expresses an argument I have read hundreds of times. It is the conventional wisdom in linguistics and TEFL. And it is quite wrong.

The basic claim is that there is no right or wrong in English, no better or worse accent, and it is prejudice to value or teach any one form of English over any other.

This ought to be self-evident nonsense. If it relly does not matter, why teach English at all? It follows that whatever form of English the student now speaks, however non-standard is as good as any other. He or she uses mostly Korean grammar and vocabulary? Who are we to impose our ideas of propriety on him/her? Teaching is cultural chauvinism. They are simply speaking “Mexican English,” or “Gulf Arab English,” or “Korean English.”

To continue with the erroneous assumptions of the article:

“The problem with what we called the “standard” form is that it is always made by whoever is in power at the time. If there are two major dialect groups, but one is the working class and the other is the ruling class, it’s the ruling class who gets to make the dictionaries and decide what is 'right' or 'wrong' to say. “
This is commonly claimed, and it is not true. It is Marxist cant. The ruling class might have such power if they wanted it, but they naturally has no desire to sound like everyone else. If they did, how would they be recognized as the ruling class? An upper-class English accent is very different from RP (Received Pronunciation, the British standard, aka BBC English). In the US, Thurston Howell III speaks with a distinct and recognizable posh accent. So did the Kennedys.

The standard pronunciation is not chosen by the ruling class, but by professionals in the field of communicating: broadcast journalists, actors, direcrors. The written language is determined by professional writers and editors. It was ever so. Check the Oxford English Dictionary for their citations. Perhaps these are a ruling class in a sense: they rule over language and usage.  

The video supposes that valuing RP or General American (the American standard) is simply discrimination. But here is why it is important. Language existsts primarily for communication. Accordingly, the most widely and easily understood dialect is the most useful to know. Learn Ebonics, and no doubt you can speak effectively to other urban blacks. Everyone else is going to struggle. Speak Standard, English, and urban blacks will understand about as easily; but so will everyone else, including non-native speakers from India or Lapland. Which is more valuable to know?

It is an interesting fact that most Norwegians claim to understand spoken Swedish, yet most Swedish say they cannot understand Norwegian. Why? Because Sweden is a larger country, and Norwegians are used to hearing Swedish on TV and radio. Swedes do not get much Norwegian TV. Similarly, cable TV news, pop music, Hollywood movies, and so forth, ensure that everyone worldwide has little trouble with RP or GA. Give them a rural Yorkshire accent, though, and even other native speakers will struggle.

And why shouldn't employers discriminate against you if you only speak ebonics and not standard English? Your communications skills are intrinsically less valuable.

Some argue that this is not fair to minorities. They must learn the majority dialect. It is easier for the privileged people with white skin, because they speak the more useful dialect from birth.

But this too is not true. RP is spoken as a native dialect by only 3% of the British population. Native speakers of GA are restricted to a portion of Iowa. For all the rest of us, it is a matter of learning a second dialect. The article tacitly admits this without realizing it by speaking of how we all “code shift.” We generally learn the standard dialect in school.

Accordingly, it is completely correct to judge those who speak in inappropriate circumstances in a non-standard dialect as less well educated and probably less intelligent. This is not discrimination; this is a good and useful marker, like hiring only those who have completed high school.

The fact that language changes over time is perfectly irrelevant here. Nobody so far as I know is opposed to this. The issue is whether the changes are useful and follow the logic of the language, or are  unnecessary noise, hindering communication. This is generally what the professional communicators decide, and why they are needed. There is expertise in language just as in anything else.

The World is Getting More Religious

Not all here is convincing-- a lot is given without supporting data-- but a useful corrective to the mainline Protestant perspective you commonly hear, which suggests that religiousity is collapsing. Because mainline Protestantism is .

Friday, February 19, 2016

Eternal Saturday Evening at the Edmonston Terminal

Oh yes, this is the good stuff.
A&W, with a coffee and the Globe & Mail book section all stretched out before me.
"How a Poem Works." And yet it doesn't. It plays.
Let's strain for nothing. God does not give a good Goddamn whether you or I are poets.
Still, this is the good stuff. Only rain, and darkness, and taxi light upon taxi light reflection travelling backward across the plate-glass window.
Here comes the night.
Food's more fun at A&W:
The menu framed in orange-pink neon;
Chubby Chicken and the Burger Family are still here;
Happy mugs of root beer to a polky tuba tune.
Although no families are here; it being near midnight.
Instead , last call for the night bus to Prince George;
Here comes the night.
A guy walks in with a sleeping bag, looking like Tim McVeigh in a khaki headband;
A guy walks out without one arm, shouting nothing.
The PA plays softly,
Here comes the night.
As if no one might notice.
The photo machine stands empty, drapes drawn;
No lovers left, not even dreams of lovers.
The patient sound of patent leather upon tiles, upon pavement, upon night.
Chubby Chicken must die.
Timothy McVeigh coughs, one hand to his mouth; is there blood?
The cash register chirrups as another burger is dragged off to the shadows to be eaten in the appetizing pink-orange shadow.
Here comes the night.
The bus cart rumbles by my table on tiles,
The spilled root beer of the day wiped clean.
Herman and the Hermits start to sing:
There's a kind of hush
All over the world tonight…
Whatever happened to Herman?
I heard he died choking on a chicken sandwich.
Or does anything really die? Then why not memories?
Is there death? Or is it something we only wish for?
Has anyone ever died, then come back to show us it was real?
I suspect conspiracy.
Here comes the night..

-- Stephen K. Roney

Trump versus the Pope

Wsll of Vatican Museum

When I saw last night that Donald Trump has gotten into a feud with Pope Francis, my fist reaction was to think this must be from the Onion. I mean, as Charles Krauthammer asked, who is he going to tangle with next, God? Surely this time Trump has gone too far.

I was surprised at the erection among commentators, which has been almost universally that this will help, not hurt, Trump. I wonder if we are seeing the good old American anti-Catholicism here.

A few points that seem to be being missed:

!. Trump started it, not the Pope. Nobody seems to be reporting this. The pope was responding to prior accusations by Trump that he was being “political” and was a dupe of the Mexican government in holding a mass at the border. Press coverage makes it sound as if the pope was interfering in US politics.

2. The Pope did not say Trump was a bad Christian. You see this even in headlines, but Francis never said it. What he said was “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that {that he wanted to build a wall across the border, but did not want to build bridges],” Francis said. “We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

3. Trump's wall, he has emphasized, would include “a big beautiful door.” In other words, he is not guilty of wanting walls and no bridges. The pope's criticism does not, in fact, apply to him. This being so, he could have easily defused the controversy by simply pointing this out. Instead, he chaw to go to the mattresses against the head of the Catholic church.

4. Trump's fans have pointed out that there is a big wall around Vatican City. Which has the most restrictive immigration policy in the world. Hence, the Pope is supposedly a hypocrite. This is simply a pile o steaming crap. Has anyone reading this been to Vatican City? There is certainly no wall around it. There are not even any customs posts. There are no markers whatsoever. As a practical matter, it is impossible to know when you are in Italy or in the Vatican. Sure, there are walls around the Papal garden, There are walls in my apartment, too, This nexcessarily means that the Vatican cares nothing about, and has no protection against, illegal immigration, but it is just silly to think that illegal immigrants wouldd target the Vatican, where there is no work for them.

5. Trumps' response, that he was in fact a “very good Christian,” proves that he is not. A Good Christian would never make that claim.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Choco Pies

After seven years in Korea. I know them well. Cannot account or their popularity. A few good Canadian May Wests would drive them from the market.

The Milgram Experiment and the Schools

It seeem to me telling that in the notorious Milgram experiment in the early Sixties, that demonstrated that average people would cheerfully engage in torture is told to do so by an authority figure, the torturers were identified as "teachers" and the victims as students who had failed it their lessons.

This shows perhaps how conditioned we are to accept brutality as pernissible in the school setting.

The Syrian Genocide

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Dark Tree

Age four, there was a tree outside my window
That I would climb down every night
And run off into darkness, never to be seen again.

Oh God, I am so lost.

I cannot find the tree from this side
Among so many.

Perhaps the one with nails in it?

-- Stephen K. Roney

Darwinian Economics

An old joke describes a camper who awoke to see his friend frantically putting on his running shoes as an angry bear approached their campsite. “Why bother?” he asked. “Don’t you know there’s no way you’ll be able to outrun that bear?” “I don’t have to outrun him”, the friend responded, “I just need to outrun you.”

Economist Robert Frank offers a useful corrective to pure free market economics. The pure free market theory is based on the notion that, if everyone simply pursues their self-interest, the result, by Smith's “invisible hand,” will be good for everyone. Looking instead at Darwin's theory of evolution, Frank pointss out that this is usually, but not always, so. Sometimes what works for survival of the individual does not work out for survival of the species. The Irish elk grew antlers up to 3.65 metres wide. This was very useful when competing with other Irish elk in the annual mating competition. It was an advantage for the individual. It was a hindrance when passing therough forested areas, allowing the elk to be trapped by predators. It was against the best intererests of the Irish elk as a species. Granted, the obstructing powerr of the antlers was also a disadvantage to the individual; but the mating advantage of the large antlers more than couinterbalanced this, while doing nothing of advantage for the species.

The Irish elk became extinct 7,700 years ago. In truth, biologists are not sure why it became extinct, but bear with me and accept that it could have been this odd antlerian arms race, for the sake of argument.

For it illustrates something that can surely happen in economics as well, letting the individual good diverge from the common good. Hockey players, if left freee to choose, will almost alsways opt to play without a halmet. It improves their field of vision and gives them a competitive advantage. But they almost all prefer a rule requiring halmets. The problem is, they do not want to get their brains bashed out, but so long as anyone else is not wearing a halmet, they feel they must not to compete.

You can see, then, why regulation of the pure free market may well sometimes be in eveyone's best interests.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Famous Last Words of Po U

I came as nothing, echoes in my ears;
Things went mad for maybe fifty years.
I've worn the masks of glory and of shame;
Now all masks are nothing once again.

Po U (16th Century) was head of the Korean Zen order, Korean Minister of Justice and of Defense. He was assassinated at age fifty by nine strong men striking him in the stomach with mailed fists. He collapsed three days later, vomiting blood.
- Stephen K. Roney

New S.C. polls

It looks as though the last Republican debate has redeemed Rubio and erased concerns about his disastrous performance in the debate just before it. This is bad news for Donald Trump, and good news for the Republican party. Non-Trump and non-Cruz support may yet consolidate now behind Rubio, and it may not be too late for this. If the polls are right, Bush and Carson will probably drop out after South Carolina.