Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Sinead O'Connor Converts to Islam

I see one guy online, Jack Buckby, criticising Sinead O'Connor for becoming a Muslim. To my mind, that is beyond the pale. Religious faith is private. It is arrogant to assume we know better than another what their walk with God entails. 

We do all know O'Connor has had serious struggles with her mental health. She seems to be “bipolar,” to use the standard diagnostic term. This means turning to religion is exactly what she needs to do. But her mental suffering is probably also due to some form of abuse during childhood. And it may well be that her childhood experiences have closed Catholicism to her. That's what can happen if you are abused by a priest, or if an abusive parent uses bogus religion as a club against you. God can start to look like the abusive priest or parent writ large across the sky—when you, the abused, are the one most in need of Him. Bad people will almost always try to co-opt religion for their purposes.

Moving to Islam may therefore be exactly what O'Connor needs. And this need not imply some error in Catholicism. 

This may well by why God in his wisdom has allowed more than one religion to flourish. For cultural or for personal reasons, one or the other may work better for each of us. This may be because our upbringing or our culture has poisoned some once sacred well. Christianity itself arose in objection to the abuse of Judaism by the Pharisaic authorities of Jesus's day, who had turned it into a club to lord it over people. Yet this was no comment on Judaism. It does not mean, has never meant, that the convenant with the Jews was invalid, or has ever lapsed.

Religion is not a competition.

Sinead O'Connoer deserves our support and prayers.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Choice of Scapegoats

Do not try this at home.

Over the past week, some guy in Florida who shall here remain nameless sent pipe bombs, real or bogus, to thirteen famous people on the political left. This morning, I awake to news of eleven people shot dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

But more disturbing than the events themselves is the public response to them.

People on the left all immediately blame Donald Trump, who obviously had nothing to do with them, and right-wing ideology, which is thus declared intrinsically violent. This argument is self-contradictory. If sound, it is inflammatory in just the way it claims to oppose: it gives the next guy license to blow up Republicans.

People on the right counter by saying politics had nothing to do with it; these were just nut jobs. This is just as bad: it only scapegoats the mentally ill as violent instead of Republicans. These killers may or may not have been mentally ill, but their mental illness had nothing to do with their actions. The stats show the mentally ill are less likely to be violent than the general population.

All of this is scapegoating to avoid the obvious truth: some people choose to do evil. Some people are bad people.

Rather than admit this, we will slander any number of innocents. And allow any number of innocents to be slaughtered.

For either of these assertions, that is was all the fault of erroneous right-wing thinking, or it was all the fault of mental illness, are at base attempts to avoid the obvious fact that it was the fault of the perpetrator. The guy who did it is the guy who did it.

But hey, nobody is ever responsible for anything. That makes us feel good, if we have ourselves done wrong. Letting the murderer off the hook lets us off the hook. It looks like most people are aware of having done something seriously wrong, and so will insist on this.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Confucius on Political Correctness

Kung Fu Tse

Analects 13:

Tsze-lu said, "The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?" 
The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify names." 
"So! indeed!" said Tsze-lu. "You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?" 
The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. 
"If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. 
"When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. 
"Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."
In other words--and this is ancient wisdom, echoed in the Bible's call to "make the ways straight for the Lord"--nothing is more destructive of good government, natural justice, or even success in the arts, than twisting words to mean other than what they are supposed to mean or originally mean. Words and their meanings must not be tinkered with for political purposes or purposes of manipulation, or first all communication, then all society, and finally thought itself breaks down.

Many Ingenious Lovely Things Are Gone

I miss the old Dominion Seed House catalogues. Old seed catalogues generally were a great bit of folk culture. Did you know, it is from them that we get the term “corny jokes”? They were once full of them.

Dominion Seed House did not feature corny jokes, but their product descriptions were always much more interesting that their competitors, like Stokes Seeds. They had their own names for things. Salsify was “vegetable oyster.” Much more informative. Broccoli was “hardy cauliflower.” Cantaloupe was muskmelon. Not as pretty a name, perhaps, but more descriptive. They were selling fantasy, and they understood this: people were reading the catalogue in midwinter, dreaming of their garden next spring.

I miss the old Free Press Weekly out of Winnipeg. A great farm newspaper. Not much in it about farming. I cannot even remember well what was in it; I remember a long fascination with a psychic in Holland. Nothing salacious, nothing phony like Weekly World News, not gossipy, but a taste for the offbeat. Stuff to interest real people, who do not have their heads filled with trivia like politics.

In the same vein, but more recently, I miss those old Loblaw's “President's Choice” fliers put out under Dave Nichol. And the products. Both were full of imagination; presented like little trips around the world.

These were all monuments of Canadian folk culture, and I find no traces online. I pray someone, somewhere, is preserving them.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Megyn Kelly and Redface

Megyn Kelly is now in trouble, and has chosen to publicly apologize, for arguing on air that she saw nothing wrong with wearing blackface for Hallowe'en. Rumours are that she will be fired.

Here is another example of the clear and present danger to our democracy from arbitrary restrictions on speech. It is, surely, at a minimum perfectly reasonable to make such an argument. It must not be ruled intolerable without being addressed. Or we will never know whether it is wrong.

If it is intolerably racist for a European-American to dress as a black celebrity for Hallowe'en, is it then intolerable to dress as Mulan, because she is Chinese and your are not? Like Princess Jasmine, if you are not Middle Eastern? Like Santa Claus, then, if you are not Greek? Black dancers in New Orleans' Mardi Gras traditionally dress as American Indians. Are they being intolerably racist? Dutch Christmas festivities traditionally feature a blackface character, Black Pete. Is the Dutch nation so racist? 

I expect the response will be that blackface has a unique history of mocking and making fun of black culture. If true, this need not be obviously relevant to one's Hallowe'en blackface; it seems hypersensitive. But even this much is not obviously true, as this blog has pointed out in the past. The American tradition of minstrel shows in blackface can be at least as readily explained by a popular belief that black music and black musicianship was superior to white, as by any intent to mock blacks. Historially, minstrel shows were at least as popular among black as among white audiences. They were banned in much of the antebellum South as anti-slavery propaganda.

True, the minstrel shows featured comic characters, who appeared in blackface. But if you are going to put on a variety show, and the musicians are all blackface, and many of them also do comic routines, this is more or less inevitable, and would be awkward to avoid. To do so would seem instead to be deliberately saying something racist about either blacks or whites.

And when it comes to the tradition of comic characters on the stage, whiteface is far more common than blackface. The classic clown makeup demands both whiteface and red hair. Ethnically, whom does that suggest? Probably Irish folks, like Megyn Kelly. 

Why then are we not at least equally up in arms about this appalling racism towards historically oppressed northern Europeans? Why this black privilege?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Toronto Mayoral Election

Faith Goldy.

The Toronto municipal elections are tomorrow. The mayoral race looks dull: incumbent John Tory is way ahead of his closest challenger, Jennifer Keesmaat.

The only source of interest is Faith Goldy, a challenger who registers way down in the polls; because she is being shut out of debates, her campaign ads being refused by local media, and her lawn signs being torn down. This is because, everyone says, she is a “white supremacist.”

There are several issues here. This first is that you cannot have a democracy if you do not allow everyone to be heard. Simply on this basis, if I were in Toronto, I would vote for Faith Goldy. It is of overriding importance for the health of our democracy, so long as she is being denied a platform. And given that the result is a foregone conclusion anyway.

Not being allowed to hear her positions, we cannot judge whether she really is a “white supremacist.” The term is currently thrown around unjustifiably: anyone you disagree with can be called a “racist” or “white supremacist” now. If she is, I would oppose her on those grounds; discriminating on the basis of race is immoral and nonsensical. There is no such thing as a “white race” in the first place.

But there is a third consideration. One cannot oppose “white supremacy,” and at the same time endorse “black supremacy,” or “aboriginal supremacy.” Otherwise, it is you who are the racist. If Goldy is saying nothing that would be objected to if “white” were replaced by “black,” or “aboriginal,” and it were said by some indigenous rights group or by Black Lives Matter, then she is the one being discriminated against.

I suspect that is the case here.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Giving Belated Thanks

Harry Truman pardons the turkey--but too late.

Canadian Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago now. 

I usually take the occasion to express thanks for the good things in the world.

This time I did not have the heart. There are too many bad things happening. But now is not the time to mention them.

The world is always going to hell. We have been in the end times at least since Gospel days. Old people like me are more inclined to see it, because we have less to lose by admitting it. We'll be gone soon.

But, somewhere, the world is always being resurrected. Always, somewhere, in some obscure corner, perhaps a stable, something is being born.

Belatedly, here are some thing I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Brett Kavanaugh got confirmed to the US Supreme Court. We really dodged a bullet on that; the alternative would have been catastrophic for men, for the public discourse, for the rule of law, and for getting others to serve in public office. With Kavanaugh in, we can also be at least hopeful that the rules around abortion will be tightened. Although I read from those who seem to know that any overturning of Roe v. Wade is still very unlikely.

The result of the recent Quebec election, with CAQ taking power. Quebec politics returns to normalcy after fifty years. Quebeckers, in effect, get a say in government for the first time in fifty years. This should mean great good for Quebec and for Canada.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's recent use of the notwithstanding clause. Courts in Canada, even more than in the US, have gotten into legislating from the bench, overruling the will of the legislature on frivolous grounds. This is poison to democracy. It was long past time for someone to legitimize the use of the notwithstanding clause. That is what it was there for. Now we may also be able to fix some other appalling precedents.

The signing of the C-TPP. This is a huge new free trade area. I believe it is the second largest in the world, after NAFTA. The US may be out, but Canada is in. Too bad for the US, but good for Canada, who gains a competitive advantage. And, perhaps more importantly, lower prices for Canadian consumers.

The signing of the new USMCA, replacement for NAFTA. It did look as though NAFTA was dead, and Canada might be left out of any new deal. A side thanks for a weakening of the Canadian supply management system. With this, I hope on balance it will be at least as good for Canadians as the original NAFTA. In any case, it will be better than the alternative of no deal.

A booming economy across North America. Low unemployment, stock values up. Regardless of any other specific policies or events, a rising tide raises all boats.

Fracking, and the end of fears about oil supply. Not a recent change, but its effects are growing. As a result, aside from greater prosperity, the funding for much Islamist terrorism should now over time dry up. And the funding for Russian adventurism.

Brexit. Not an obvious good in itself; but it frees Britain to enter into new free trade deals. Ideally with Canada and the US, perhaps India. The EU is a free trade zone, but it is also an obstacle for its members to make other trade deals. On balance, it may be a net drag on world trade. At the same time, the central bureaucracy of the EU has been increasingly autocratic and undemocratic. A corrective was needed.

Meaningful work.

The sound of a rooster crowing outside my window.

The kids I meet each day on my walk.

The rain.

Today's sunset at the end of the street. Pink and blue, with a sliver of moon visible.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Canada Goes to Pot

As of yesterday, recreational marijuana is legal across Canada.

What do I think of that?

I'm all for it.

I am, and have always been, a liberal. The individual has the unrestricted right to the pursuit of happiness, and so long as he or she is not disturbing anyone else, the government ought not to have anything to say about it.

It is also a pretty mad idea to make something illegal that tends to grow naturally by the roadside. Any such prohibition is not likely to work, will waste a huge amount of police and court resources, and is only going to encourage distain for law in general.

Like the prohibition on alcohol a century ago, banning marijunana also does nothing in practical terms but finance organized crime. Better to give that money to legitimate farmers and businesses, and take taxes on it.

Not incidentally, legalizing marijuana is also liable to boost Canada's tourism industry, and Canadian retail business in border areas. So long as it is legal in Canada and prohibited in most of the US, Americans are likely to head north for a night out or a weekend excursion, just as folks near the border used to head to the US bars on Sundays, when Ontario bars were closed. Could be a boost for a lot of border towns. Places like Windsor could use it.

This does not mean I advocate marijuana use. That is a separate issue. I think anyone who uses marijuana, unless for medical reasons, is a fool. Just as I think it is foolish to go to a casino; but I don't want to make them illegal either. Or to get drunk. But if other people want to waste their money or their time, or even their brain cells, that is not my business.

And, for that matter, if you are too poor to afford a winter trip to Disneyland, or a cottage, or a ski weekend, should you be denied such small pleasures as a lottery ticket or a beer or a marijuana joint by the self-righteous rich?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mrs. Warren's Confession

Pocahontas on film, 1910.

We're watching a crazy situation with Elizabeth Warren's DNA testing. The mainstream media generally are reporting it as a huge propaganda victory for Warren: now she had proven that she really is “native American,” making Trump look bad for doubting her. And Trump has shown himself a liar for not paying up the million dollars he supposedly bet her.

A bet he never made, by the way. He suggested he would make a hypothetical bet if she claimed to be aboriginal while debating him.

Warren's test suggested she had an Indian ancestor 6 to 10 generations ago.

What is not mentioned by the mainstream news reports—maybe they are just too lazy and incompetent to do the simple leg work, maybe they are just that partisan--is that this is about equally true of the average American of “European” ancestry. Warren's detectable aboriginal DNA actually turns out to be a little below the average for the American population.

So has she indeed proven herself to be an Indian?

If so, we all are.

I hope this concept holds. It will end the artificial and destructive separation into two distinct levels of citizenship, and the myth of aboriginality. And I think it is true: all present North Americans are more or less equally the inheritors in any real sense of the various Indian cultures. We are all mixed. We are how they developed. Cultures are not static. And in any case, you should not get any special advantages because of genetics. Race is not a helpful or a Christian concept.

But hey, in passing, were the media once much better, or are we just becoming more aware of how bad they are now that we can compare notes with other sources online?

I think it is a bit of both.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Teaching Philosophy

Don Bosco

A recent job application asked me for my teaching philosophy. So I might as well subject you, gentle readers, to it as well.

Perhaps the most direct influence on my own thoughts as a teacher has been E.D. Hirsch Jr. and his argument for the need for core cultural competence. This is what first brought me to my commitment to a classical curriculum. Without this shared knowledge, Hirsch argues, the culture breaks down. But I think there is more to it than Hirsch explores, as well; his argument is still purely utilitarian, as though cultural knowledge were itself another skill. Education cannot be just the teaching of some abstract, value-free set of skills. That is sophistry. Education is the formation of souls. And there is nothing so important to the soul as value: What matters? Without settling this initial question, literally, nothing else matters.

Our culture is our repository of wisdom designed to school the soul. Neglect the task of passing it on, and we lose both our souls and our civilization.

In terms of classroom management, my guide is St. John Bosco and his idea of “preventitive discipline.” Which really amounts to one thing: love your students. Be their true friend. I try to remind myself of this little mantra each time just before stepping in to the classroom. It works for me. This does not mean pure permissiveness; this means always acting in the best interests of each student; and respectfully towards a brother or a sister soul.

Of course, I must mention the Socratic method. It has always been the essence of good teaching. You draw students into thinking about the subject, kindling the flame within, rather than feeding them cold data. This is superficially similar to the modern idea of “constructivism,” but opposite in its premise. It is not that students are inventing their own “truths,” as constructivism wants to believe possible, but that truth, as Plato understands, generally becomes evident of itself if you brush away the lies and errors obscuring it. The same idea is really behind the scientific method: science is not some set of facts, but a method of questioning, in order to reveal the mind of God as shown by his works.

Am I saying “question everything”? Yes and no. If you accept that premise, you must begin by questioning that premise. It would be absurd arrogance to suppose you can personally do better than the combined best minds of the ages; and, in the case of revelation, that a human mind can do it without any help from God. Our obvious initial assumption is that our ancestors were not idiots, but knew what they were doing, and had reasons. Chesterton has a good standard: never tear down a fence until you know why it is there.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Southern Strategy

The “Southern Strategy” is generally held to be something Nixon did in US politics, to scoop up racist votes in the US South for the Republican party. Thus attributing racism to Republicans.

But it is hard to see this supposed racist “Southern strategy” in the actual electoral history of the South. In Nixon's first presidential win, in 1968, the South went for Wallace. Nixon was not competitive in the South. In his second, in 1972, he carried the South, but he also carried everything else except Massachusetts. No “Southern strategy” could have made much difference; he had that region in the bag. George McGovern had no more appeal in the South than elsewhere, without racism being a factor. And in the midterms in 1970—the Democrats won those midterms in the Southern races, and expanded their seat count If there was a Republican Southern strategy under Nixon, then it was a failure. The majority of Senate seats from the South stayed in Democratic hands into Clinton's presidency.

The Democrats, in the meantime, have pursued their own “Southern strategy” since well before the Civil War. When slavery was still a thing, they were the party of slavery. When racial segregation was still a thing, they were the party of racial segregation. This became by Al Smith's day an awkward coalition, of northern immigrants, Catholics, and leftists, with southern conservatives. The latter found common cause with the Northerners pretty much only on racial segregation, and it mattered so long as that was their key issue. The Republicans, founded on the abolition of slavery, just were not going to play ball on that one.

Racial segregation and this coalition was pretty much busted by Eisenhower, with his appointment of anti-segregation judges. Brown vs. Board of Education came on his watch. It was the first act of the “activist” Warren court, which pursued the theme through the Sixties. Earl Warren was Eisenhower's appointee. He seems to have been appointed for this purpose. Eisenhower's Justice Department filed in favour of the plaintiffs. As a general, Eisenhower had previously insisted on the racial integration of troops under his command.

Then it was Eisenhower who sent in the armed forces to enforce desegregation in Little Rock in 1957. The battle had been joined.

This forced a crisis for the Democrats. It exposed their fault lines. I guess the northern Democrats then faced a choice: stick with their southern wing, or take the same route. My guess is that popular opinion by this time made sticking with segregation politically untenable in the North, now that Eisenhower had made it an issue. Hold the south, and they lose the North to the Rockefeller and Lindsey and Percy Republicans. They chose to endorse desegregation in turn. But through the Sixties, there was still higher support proportionally for desegregation among Republicans than Democrats. Ed Brooke, Republican of Massachusetts, was for some time America's only black senator.

As of the mid Sixties, voting on race or segregation was not really possible any longer, since both parties had now aligned against segregation. So neither was running a “southern strategy” on this basis. But it was still the Democrats who stuck with a kind of southern strategy, trying to keep in the good books of the guys who used to vote segregationist. They kept running Southerners for president, hoping thereby to preserve their base: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore. Not surprising, and nothing sinister; it seemed that only when they did so could they win elections—right up to Barack Obama. I thought it was a poor political move to nominate Kerry; they were departing from their winning formula. But that race still had two prominent Southern candidates, John Edwards and Wesley Clark. And one was chosen as the VP candidate.

It is not clear to me whether, in the end, the South pulled away from the Democratic Party, or the Democratic Party, over time, pulled away from the South. Jim Webb, last time around, could not seem even to get a hearing. Dems started to mock Southerners openly.

In the meantime, the Republicans did not run any Southerners for president. George H.W. Bush briefly represented Texas in the house, but did anyone think of him as a Texan rather than a New Englander? The Republican southern breakthrough came only with his son George W. And since him, we've had McCain, a westerner, Romney from the northeast, with some midwestern and western roots, Trump from New York City.

Has there been any difference, since the Sixties, in the position of the two parties on segregation? The last hiccup of the issue that I remember was the school busing controversy in the Seventies. At the time, Jimmy Carter for the Dems stood out as suggesting he was in favour of de facto neighbourhood segregation; as he put it, on people preserving the “ethnic purity of their neighbourhoods.”

And that's the last I heard of any of it.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Needle's Eye

A really annoying sermon today.

The reading was:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
 (Mark 10: 17-27).

The priest immediately trotted out that disgusting old saw that Jesus was actually referring to a gate in Jreusalem called “the needle's eye,” which it was difficult to get a camel through. But heavens, no, not impossible. We can all do it, with a little effort.

So it's all okay, rich people. Relax. Camels can pass through a needle's eye, and you will no doubt get to heaven. Jesus didn't really mean what he said.

This is bollocks on several grounds.

To begin with, there is no good evidence that there ever was such a gate in Jerusalem.

Second, the same image is used several times in the Talmud, and it just does not sound as though they all refer to some city gate. For example, the rabbis argue that dreams are rational by pointing out that “They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.” This would make no sense if it were indeed possible for an elephant, with effort, to go through the eye of a needle.

It was, in fact, an established idiom to refer to something as being impossible.

Most importantly, in the Gospel itself, Jesus says in so many words that he just described something impossible.

Jesus looked at them and said,
“For human beings it is impossible.”

So you, a priest, really want to call him a liar?

Next issue: does this mean Jeus is telling the rich they have to give their money away or go to Hell?

You hear that one too. Political leftists love to cite it. The rich are evil.

No, he is not. Read that passage again. A man comes up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to inherit eternal life; at the same time, he calls Jesus “good teacher.” Jesus's response is that nobody is good except God.

Jesus then lists the Ten Commandments. The clear implication is that they are sufficient in order to inherit eternal life. He goes on only when pressed; the man is not satisfied. He wants more. He apparently also wants to be told that he is “good.”

What follows, with the camel and the needle's eye, is an illustration of Jesus's initial point, that no one is authentically good except God.

The idea is not that we should give everything we have to the poor; Jesus actually assumes we are not likely to do that. It is to acknowledge that we are not good. We must never think of ourselves as righteous or justified; we could always do more. We could, for example, give everything that we have to the poor. Insisting on being thought of as, and thinking of himself as, righteous, is where the man is lacking, not in the fact of being rich.

Jesus actually concludes by saying it is impossible for ANYONE to be saved, not just the rich, without the help of God.

To need God is to be saved. Not to need God is to be damned. Everything else is just about working out the implications.

Saturday, October 13, 2018


I was in second year of university when Larry killed himself.

One night he had broken into his doctor's office, and swallowed all the pills he could find.

I remember hearing about it before Dan did, even though I thought Dan was his best friend. I was the one who told Dan. Dan said he was surprised. After all, Larry was a local hero. Other kids looked up to him. He was the best guitarist in town. He was lead guitarist for the local group. And some of the others went on to be professional, or at least semi-professional, musicians.

For my part, I did not understand Dan's surprise. After all, Larry had dropped out of high school, and was sleeping under the town bridge, or in motel rooms vacated when the summer tourists left in winter. For whatever reason, he was not working. Being our age, I figure his friends had left after high school, as Dan and I had, and there was probably almost nobody to hang out with.

That's the problem with small towns. Everyone leaves after high school. He had a girl friend; but she went off to study ECE, and took a job in Almonte. That had to be just before Larry killed himself, or just after.

I did not know Larry well. He was a quiet guy, not someone you got to know easily; and neither was I. But when I spoke to him, he had a strange intensity about him. He more or less looked me straight in the eye, one time, sitting in a rented room in the Colonial Motel, and asked me, “What's it all about?”

Most people don't do that kind of thing. Most people are content with not thinking, with the day to day and what's on TV tonight. Most people do not have such deep souls.

I don't remember if that was his exact question, and I don't remember what I answered. I would not have had an answer, at that age. I was working on it; on the same question.

But he was a deeply sincere and moral guy. He cared greatly about things. He was alive in a sense most people are not.

Sure, he did some drugs and drank; but nothing strange for his age and for that time and for that boring little town. He was no druggie, and no drunk.

So why had his family thrown him out? Why could he not find a job? Why did his family not reach out, even when he was sleeping under the bridge in the town park? It was a small town; they must have known. Didn't they give a damn?

And why was he seeing a doctor?

I suspect depression, or some other mental illness. And you have to see here too parental abuse. And probably the depression or other mental illness was caused by the parental abuse. Nothing else gets those dots to connect.

I have since met others like Larry. I have seen the same sincerity, the gentleness, the thirst for truth, and the interest in and talent for the arts. I have heard their stories, from time to time, and they tend to be the same story. Some of them have been found, as decayed corpses, behind the bushes.

I think a lot of suicides are murders by proxy.

M. Scott Peck tells of one family in which the eldest son shot himself.

His parents wrapped up the gun and gave it to their second son as his gift the next Christmas.

Friday, October 12, 2018


The left and the media are now objecting to the use of the term “mob” to describe left-wing demonstrators, as though this were somehow beyond the pale.

We must resist any and all such attempts to limit discussion. Suppressing words is suppressing truth.

Merriam-Webster: mob: “a large and disorderly crowd of people.”

Like a crowd banging on the doors of the Supreme Court Building. Like a crowd disrupting the Senate in session. Like a crowd chanting loudly to force a senator and his family out of a restaurant. Followed up by a warning online that right-wing legislators are no longer safe. By any standard, these are mobs and mob actions.

If large groups of people violating the law are not mobs, we are going to have to invent some new word. Storm troopers? Nazis? OK. And what shall we make “mob” mean now?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Rachel Notley and Racism

The incriminating picture.

Rachel Notley is accusing Jason Kenney of whistling at passing dogs because two Conservative candidates were photographed in a restaurant or pub with members of the Soldiers of Odin. The candidates themselves say they had no idea what the SOO's views were when they posed with them for the picture.

We have to get rid of this “dog whistle” business. It can be used to accuse anyone of anything. People are responsible for what they say, not what you imagine. If you are hearing things nobody else is hearing, the problem is yours alone.

But I also have difficulty with the idea that politicians are in trouble for merely beng seen with people—presumably constituents—of any conceivable political views. Political discourse, and therefore democracy, is not possible, if certain views are ruled not permissible even to be heard or acknowledged in public, without ever being examined or discussed. This is “Are you now or have you ever been...” territory. If we never hear them, then, for all we know, it is the best ideas that are being suppressed, for the benefit of some dishonest elite. As a good general principle, if you believe you are right, you want open debate. You can only benefit. If you believe you will lose any open debate, that is when you want views suppressed.

Accordingly, if Rachel Notley is trying to prevent us all from even hearing the views of the Soldiers of Odin, we all have a civic duty to find out what they are and what they believe.

So I tried to track down the Soldiers of Odin web presence. The Canadian group does not seem to have a web page, and the Finnish parent group does not show up in an English search, but I found a Facebook page. In “about,” it simply says “SOO Canada is a non profit organization that helps their local communities with charity, good will and believes in our charter of rights and freedoms.”

So, leaving aside “dog whistles,” what they actually say is pretty inoffensive to anyone.

The name itself may say something else: it suggests paganism. As Christian, I would not join on this basis. Paganism is amoral. I also dislike their logo and their leather jacket look. Has a sinister feel.

But does it suggest racism? That is, Odin being a Norse god, is it targeted against those not of Norse ancestry? Immigrants, as such, say?

One might imagine so, but this is not plausible. The group apparently began, and is headquartered, in Finland. Finns themselves are not Norse. Nor is Odin a traditional god of Finland.

So if the reference is meant to be racist, the group stands in opposition to themselves.

And the Conservative candidates with whom they were happily posing in the Edmonton pub were, apparently, themselves Metis and Cree. Plausibly pagan, but not terribly Norse.

Interestingly, the Canadian “Soldiers of Odin” group has nevertheless even officially disassociated themselves from the Finnish original organization, on the grounds that the latter is racist. Even though the latter insists that they in turn have no interest in race.

It gets a little crazy at this point. It looks as though everybody is so opposed to the very idea of racism that, whenever they disagree with someone else, they call them racist as an effort to discredit them. It seems to equate in the popular mind with calling them “bad.”

As a result, all the best ideas are now being designated as “racist.” And nobody knows what racism actually means any more.

This is an ideal way to promote racism. And Rachel Notley is doing it.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Coming to a Head?

Church Militant has a video out suggesting that, with the scandals in the Catholic Church and the Kavanaugh hearings, something apocalyptic seems about to happen: either some great new evil is being born, or some great current evil is about to explode in a cloud of debris.

That sounds overblown. Catholics are not supposed to worry about the End Times.

But I think it is basically right. Even if these current crises are both centred in America, the world culture is also centred in America.

Things are going mad in the US. Everything about the current Kavanaugh process is unprecedented. People are living in separate realities. This I believe is because the current Kavanaugh confirmation gets close to the fundamental issue causing the current evils and the culture wars that we have seen grow over the past few decades; initially in the US, but now elsewhere. For both the “left” and the “right,” this confirmation has become the hill to die on. And one of them may die on it.

The real issue has always been abortion. Everything else in American life and tradition has been warped, twisted, or outright sacrificed, bit by bit, for unrestricted abortion. This includes the integrity of the Catholic Church; general respect for the Catholic Church went decades ago. It all traces back to that scarlet letter A. It all traces back to Pope Paul VI standing up and loudly saying no to abortion.

The left now feels it must do anything and everything, fair, foul, or flatly mad, to keep Kavanaugh off the court. Because they calculate that, once a case inevitably comes up, he will be the swing vote to repeal Roe v. Wade, which declared any restrictions on abortion unconstitutional. This would not by itself make abortion illegal, but it would allow states to do so.

I do believe that, if this happened, the culture wars would indeed be over. It would not doubt take some time for shooting to stop; the battle would continue state by state. But the victory would not be in doubt, and the healing would begin. So long as half the population considers the other half guilty of ongoing mass murder, it is hard for folks to get along. Leaving aside the actual morality of abortion, for American life to continue, abortion needs therefore to be illegal. The issue is similar to slavery: the nation cannot long continue half-slave and half-free, but once slavery was abolished, there seemed suprisingly little acrimony left between North and South. Essential patriotism, at least, was no longer in doubt. There was never any second movement for secession.

If, on the other hand, Kavanaugh is not confirmed, it would indeed be the birth of a new and great evil: the end of due process. Any man could be destroyed at any time by any woman by a mere accusation. Another absolutely critical element of shared tradition destroyed, along with so many others now before it, for the sake of abortion. Any new nominee or hire for any prominent position would be vulnerable to the same attack, and many would simply refuse to put their names forward. It is hard to see how either government, industry, or civil society generally could survive. Let alone the chaos in individual lives. It simply would not pay anyone ever to be prominent. And even being obscure would be no real protection.

As an aside, everyone is blaming Senator Feinstein for releasing Blasey Ford's confidential letter to the judiciary committee claiming that Kavanaugh had assaulted her. After all, only three parties had the letter: Blasey Ford and her people, her congresswoman and hers, and Feinstein and her office. And Blasy Ford had demanded anonymity. So it must have been Feinstein's office who sent it to the papers.

If I am right that we are dealing, in Blasey Ford, with a narcissist, this logic is wrong. Yes, she seems to be sincere; but narcissists have a knack for convincing themselves at some level of any lie they tell. Their view of reality is clouded. Whatever they want to be true, they are able to convince themselves to be true.

It would be entirely typical of narcissism for Ford to publicly insist she wanted anonymity, while releasing the letter to the newspapers herself. That way, she gets the attention she craves, but deflects all blame. Which is a critical issue for a narcissist--the same issue that could motivate her to blame her own sexual awakening, however it happened, on Kavanaugh.

One day we will better understand such things. I do wish someone would take up Lindsay Graham's suggestion that this issue should be investigated, of who actually leaked the letter. A better understanding of narcissism could be the great new good this process helped to birth, a possibility Church Militant's video also sensed.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Call Me, Maybe?

An interesting and perhaps overlooked aspect to the recent provincial elections in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario, is that in all three, the party on the right significantly overperformed their polling numbers.

So, of course, did Donald Trump in the last US presidential election.

It looks as though “Shy Tory Syndrome” is real: people who intend to vote for the right-wing candidate are less inclined to tell pollsters how they will vote. Or else the polling model being used is flawed. Polling has become much trickier over the past few years, because of cell phones and people being less inclined to answer a call from an unknown number.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Latest Claims on Blasey Ford

I seem to be too groggy just now to do productive work, so let's instead dish on the latest about the Kavanaugh nomination and hearings.

It seems a former boyfriend of Blasey Ford, of some six years' standing, has now made a sworn statement to the Senate panel that contradicts her on some of her testimony. She had testified that she never gave anyone advice on taking a polygraph test. He says he saw her give someone advice on taking a polygraph test.

Not only does this constitute, if true, her lying under oath, a felony; but if she gave someone such advice, it also implies she may well have known how to beat one. This cancels out any significance to her having taken one on her Kavanaugh claims. And it would not be suprising, after all, if she, a psychology prof, knew something about how to beat a polygraph. They are notoriously unreliable anyway.

When she was questioned on this in front of the senate panel, she oddly added the gratuitous observation that she was surprised at how long the polygraph test took. As if to give a tone of authenticity to her denial of knowing anything about them. This is odd, because apparently she was asked only two questions. It was uncommonly short, not uncommonly long. This sounds like a spontanous lie committed by someone who is lying and nervous about it, and so trying to throw the hounds off the scent. Once you start in lying, there is a strong natural instinct to spontaneously begin saying the opposite of the truth. It feels safer.

The same boyfriend's statement also accuses her of having committing credit card fraud; which does not speak well of her honesty. He also says as far as he ever knew over six years together, she had no claustrophobia, and was living in a small apartment with only one door when he knew her. This contradicts other parts of her testimony.

This all makes her sound very much, just as I thought, like a narcissist. Narcissists can lie and sound sincere, because they are able to at least half convince themselves that whatever they want to believe is the truth.

In other related news, Ford said at the hearing that the issue of putting a second door in their home led to marital conselling in 2012. Yet it turns out, someone discovered by looking at the building permit, the door was put in in 2008, four years earlier. She claimed it was because of her claustrophobia; yet it appears rather to have had the effect of creating a second apartment in their home.

We already know that her claims of fear of flying were false; but this is less relevant, because she did not make those claims under oath.

Others have remarked that her voice while testifying sounded artificial, a “vulnerable little girl” voice. Again, this suggests someone acting a part, and perhaps someone who habitually does so.

To me at least, it all fits.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Electoral Earthquake in Quebec

Quebec's new premier, Francois Legault.

The recent provincial election result is very good news for Quebec and for Canada. Not especially for this or that proposed policy of the new majority government, the Coalition Avenir Quebec. For the fact that Quebec politics has returned to normalcy, to a left-right ideological contest, instead of every election being about separation.

I'm old enough to remember the last time that was so: 1970, when the old Union Nationale fell to third place, and the separatist PQ rose to second. That's almost fifty years ago now. And it left an awkward dynamic: both main parties, the PQ and the Liberals, were left of centre. There was no voice for the right. The only issue on which anyone was voting, for those fifty years, was on whether to remain in Canada. For the rest, all policies were going to lean left.

It has not been a good fifty years for Quebec. Given that Quebec used to be Canada's industrial heartland, it has not been a good fifty years for Canada either. High taxes, high regulation, policies hostile to the English language and so to international business in order to prove everyone's nationalist bona fides, and the ever-present risk that in the next few years Quebec might separate. In 1970, Montreal was Canada's largest city, the centre of Canadian culture both Anglophone and Francophone, and still a rival to upstart Toronto in business and finance, although it had lost its previous dominance in that sphere. It was still “Canada's metropolis,” Canada's world city.

It has lost all that since, and become a backwater.

Now perhaps Quebec may rise again.

This is very good for Canadian unity. So long as Canadian culture and commerce in both languages is centred in the same city, they are more likely to stay in touch and develop together, more aware of one another's concerns.

This also seems to confirm a general shift to the right in Canadian politics. It comes soon after Ford's PC win in Toronto: Canada's two biggest provinces now ideologically align on the right. And it comes even sooner after the recent result in New Brunswick, which, if it did not produce a clear winner, certainly represented a swing to the right.

This is not necessarily a worry for the federal Liberals; it is typical of Central Canadians to vote opposite ways federally and provincially. But it may signal something in the air. The fizzling recently of NDP support may be part of the same trend. It is short-term good news, by all electoral logic, for the Liberals, as they are the natural inheritors of loose NDP votes. But at the same time, the NDP was the left's ideological ginger group, pushing the general conversation in that direction. Its decline may represent a decline in the left's ideological vitality. Nobody has any new ideas, or any that impress the public. The interesting new ideas may now be all over on the right. That will make a difference over time.

Speaking of ginger groups, it might say something about the prospects of Maxime Bernier's new People's Party. They're a good match federally with the CAQ. This might be a tide they could ride to a strong result next federal election inside Quebec.

Monday, October 01, 2018

The Prodigal Son

The inevitable Rembrandt: "The Return of the Prodigal Son."

In three of the four gospels, Jesus speaks in parables. He does not make his points, give his teachings, straightforwardly, but tells little stories. Why does he do that?

He tells us why. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, he explains to the apostles:

The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.

Speaking in parables, then, is a way to separate the sheep from the goats. There is something about good people that corresponds with being able to understand the basic point of a little story, and something about bad people that prevents them from doing so. Good people, it seems, have imagination and discernment; bad people are literal-minded.

It is indeed striking that people very commonly get the vital points of the parables wrong. The common understanding of just about any of them is demonstrably incorrect. For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the common idiom, calling someone a “Good Samaritan” simply means they help out another in difficulty. But that is only being a good neighbour. Everyone already knows that, without being told. The non-self-evident, new point Jesus was making is that this neighbour was a Samaritan. Most people don't even know what that means.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is the first parable cited if you look up “parable” on Wikipedia, so perhaps it is best-known of all. Many people seem to think it has to do primarily with a son leaving home. But this is absurd; in the ordinary course of life, unless we are talking of a family farm, all sons, all children, leave home. There is likely something very wrong if they do not. The point is that the son is prodigal.

But as with “Samaritan,” most non-religious people seem to have no idea what “prodigal” even means.

Jesus's parables always include some odd detail which is there to signal to us that we cannot read them literally. This is an important generic requirement. One is not free to randomly declare Biblical passages to be “metaphorical” or “symbolic” instead of meaning what they literally say. That is a sinner's trick to force the Bible to mean whatever you want it to mean. And it demonstrates a literalist's blindness to metaphor and symbol: a metaphor or symbol is not itself simply arbitrary or open to random interpretation.

If a metaphor is meant, a parable, there must be a textual clue. Something in the story must make a literal reading implausible.

Here, in the parable of the prodigal son, the initial premise is that the younger of two sons requests, and gets, his inheritance in advance.

Right out of the box, this is not a realistic situation. How is the father himself supposed to survive, if the estate is given away while he still lives? And how do you separate and render liquid half the assets in a working farm? At least in days before mortgages. It is jumping down the rabbit hole. “Dad, let's just pretend you are dead, and do it now.”

So, no, you cannot possibly read this literally as a real family situation, nor as advice on family relationships. Any more than the parable of the sower is giving farming advice, and suggesting you should sow indiscriminately on tilled fields, on the path, and on barren ground. No human father could do what this father does.

The point of the parable, rather, is given plainly in the Gospel. Jesus is responding to the Pharisees when they condemn him for spending time with sinners.

The father represents Jesus, by extension, God. We are the sons. The prodigal son represents the sinner, and the son who stays on the farm the Pharisees, those who are conventionally righteous in their conduct. And there is an implied third group as well: those who are not sons at all, and do not understand the meaning of the parable.

The prodigal son gets his inheritance in advance, and wastes it. That is what “prodigal” means: spendthrift.

All that we have, in this world and the next, is from God; it is our inheritance. He created it all. He is our real father; indeed, we are to call no man father, only him. We are all brothers. If we pursue the pleasures of this world, heedless of the next, we are spending our inheritance in advance. We will have no share in the next world—after our death, not our father's.

God, as father, like Jesus, is delighted to welcome sinners back home. This is repentance.

Yet notice—people always seem to miss this, too—that the prodigal also gets no new inheritance. That is genuinely gone. Divine mercy is not a magical “all is forgiven; back as we all were.” Forgiveness cannot work that way; for the obvious reason that it would violate divine justice. It would be unjust to those who do not sin, like the older brother in the parable. The father assures his other son, who has never made such demands on him, that everything the father has is his when he dies.

So what happens now to the prodigal son, based on the story, when his father dies? That is the meditation we are left with. If his father right now falls dead of a heart attack—if, in other words, the sinner dies soon after repenting—he is back in his previous destitute position.

This, it seems to me, kills the Protestant argument that salvation is by faith, and mere repentance is enough. The wayward son must now do something to build himself a new inheritance; presumably good deeds.

And then, if there is not time left in his life to do so, this means there must be some place of expiation after death—Purgatory. Otherwise there would be no point in repentance late in life. Repentance, in itself, would have no reward.

Here's the scariest bit: if most people don't get this, as really seems to be the case, this means, according to Jesus, that most people are going to hell. They are not even in on the reason for being alive.