Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Angels We Have Heard on High

In case there was any smidgeon of a doubt, it is still Christmas. There are Twelve Days of Christmas, remember? We're good until Epiphany.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Exciting news!

From now until the end of the year, the ebook version of Playing the Indian Card is available at Smashwords at 50% off!

The Truth about Dragons

St. George in unstained glass.

A friend on Facebook recently posted an article on “Ten Natural Treatments for Depression.” As with most such articles, it is wrong and includes bad advice.

Beginning with the first paragraph:

Depression is a mental health disorder resulting from chemical imbalances of the brain. It is not a personal defect, failure, or weakness. Rather, it is a medical issue, plain and simple. And, as with any other medical condition, depression requires diagnosis and treatment.

It is meaningless, to begin with, to say depression results from “chemical imbalances of the brain.” The assertion tells us nothing. What cases the chemical imbalances?

This is like saying psoriasis is caused by a skin rash.

But it’s worse. “Chemical imbalance” itself is only pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. What might constitute a proper “balance of chemicals”? What does the phrase even mean?

Suppose some specific chemical were found in higher proportion in the brains of those experiencing depression than in the general population. This cannot establish cause and effect. Did the chemical cause the thoughts, or did the thoughts cause the chemical?

It is all only a survival of an ancient pseudo-medical myth, the theory of the humours.

It is not a personal defect, failure, or weakness. Rather, it is a medical issue, plain and simple.

This is the fallacy of the false alternative. There are not only two choices here, either personal defect or disease. Suppose someone runs into you with their car; is that either your personal defect or purely a medical issue?

It seems the reality is being deliberately avoided; otherwise why ignore one obvious possibility? Why is it impossible that depression be caused by environment? Isn’t it just common sense that it often, if not always, is?

As with any other medical condition, depression requires diagnosis and treatment.

This implies that diagnosis and treatment will help. Sadly, whether the current medical treatments for depression do is still highly debatable in medical or scientific terms. There is some survey evidence that people do better if they do not seek such treatment.

Realizing all this may well make you even more depressed. But telling lies is not going to help.

In fact, there are effective ways to fight depression. To begin with, depression is not “a medical condition.”

That is why the book The Truth about Dragons is about to appear.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Ave Mariah!


There is a terrible poison infecting our society; the poison of censorship of ideas. We have seen it reach fever pitch with the “deplatforming” of people like Gavin MacInnis and Sargon of Akkad, YouTube stars.

Let us be clear: what we are seeing right now is orders of magnitude worse than McCarthyism, which some of us grew up believing was so terrible. This is a wholesale attempt to shut down discussion and control thought. The virus is also everywhere in society now, not just at the top: people are unfriending old friends and cutting all ties at a word.

This, terrible as it is, is a predictable consequence of a worse problem: a large proportion of the population acting in a consciously immoral way. It is in such circumstances, and only in such circumstances, that there would be a general push to have all dissent shut up and shut down.

And it also suggests the end is near. This is desperation.

The truth will out, and the truth will set us free.

Bethlehem Temperature

Bethlehem temperature last night at midnight was 8 degrees Celsius. It is usually higher,

I try to check every year because of the common claim that Jesus could not really have been born on December 25, because it would have been too cold for shepherds to be out with their sheep.

This year, for once, they have a point. It is at least a bit chilly.

I wonder if this bodes ill for the coming year?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Cashing Out and Crashing Out

On Brexit, I don’t think Theresa May bears any blame. Underneath the posturing, there is a simple reality. The EU does not want to make it easy for any member to leave; what higher government ever does? How sanguine was the US when the Confederate States wanted to leave? The UK, when America did? Not only does it involve an immediate reduction of power for the folks negotiating the exit on the European side, but an easy exit will encourage others to leave. No federation can survive if it makes it easy.

By this logic, it is probably inevitable that any deal on offer from the EU is going to be worse for Britain than simply “crashing out.” They have no incentive to make it easier.

And so crashing out seems to be the best option.

Once the UK is out, it makes more sense for the EU to play nice. The deed is done, the bluff failed. Now the economics make it in the EU’s interest to conclude a trade deal. If they do not find some accommodations in good time, there will especially be troubles for Ireland. In the meantime, Britain can be making trade deals with the US, the rest of the Anglosphere, India. She is a big economy. She is a desirable date. There will be other suitors.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Real People's Party

For a Canadian, it is truly a revelation to see videos of what is going on in Westminster over the Brexit negotiations. It is spellbinding. This is how parliamentary democracy is supposed to work, and it does not work in Canada at all.

In Westminster, we see a genuine debate. Speakers keep raising new and important points. Everyone listens. What they say is instructive. The mood of the chamber alters as a result. They may or may not support a given position of their own party in the debate. At the same time, they tend to be courteous to one another. While sometimes meant ironically, they generally make a point of saying something nice about an opponent before disagreeing. By and large, motives are not questioned and insults not flung; debate sticks to the issues.

Compare any videoed exchange from Canada’s federal parliament. Hoots and cheers in chorus, as if either side is trying to drown out the other. You give everyone else on your side a standing ovation. Seats near the speaker are jammed with the faces the party wants the cameras to see, generally expressing party diversity; and preventing any view of empty seats. Everybody who speaks speaks for their party, and sounds completely scripted, not saying anything they have themselves thought. This means the gist of what they are about to say is predictable before they open their mouths, and nobody learns anything. No opinions are changed. It is only a matter of trying to think up some choice insult that could make a “sound bite” or a campaign slogan. The party opposite is always accused of criminal behavior.

In sum, no debate actually takes place; the Commons simply does not function. You might as well just have lists of numbers instead of real people: 157 votes for any Tory proposition, 165 for any Liberal one. The decisions are all taken elsewhere, out of public sight, and only brought there for a vote. The result of any such vote is foreordained. The general public need never know the reasons or the reasoning.

This is not a democracy at all. Canada today is an elected dictatorship.

Some of this is no doubt due to the Canadian education system, that criminally does not teach debate nor parliamentary procedure. Much of it is due, I suspect, to the fact that in Canada, the party leader must sign the nomination papers for all local candidates, so that all are bought and paid for in advance. And all Canadian parties have a strong and growing reputation for dealing severely with any internal divergence from the party line.

How about a real People’s Party, that, as a matter of the party constitution, will never interfere with whatever candidate is thrown up by their local riding associations, beyond ensuring that a properly democratic election was held? In these days of popular revolt, it could be a decisive winning issue. Yes, some candidates might well be nominated whose views make head office’s hair curl. But so long as they take no initial responsibility, how does this reflect on them? Democracy is supposed to come from the bottom up, not the top down.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Simple Trick to Great Filmmaking--Or Writing

Marisa Berenson

It seems to me there is a simple and obvious difference between a good movie and a bad movie. A good movie leaves you with scenes, visuals, lines, that burn into your memory. This effect is so profound that sometimes I fear going to see a new film by a certain director, because I know there will be a part of my consciousness that I will never own again. A bad movie may hold your attention while it is on screen, but a few months later, you can remember nothing about it. Perhaps not even whether you have seen that movie.

This is what the great directors do. There are always memorable lines and memorable images.

The funny thing is that this in itself is a kind of formula, and not that hard to follow. A big part of this—and it applies just as much to good writing—is that a bad film follows all the conventions, and gives you just what you expected. A good film—or piece of writing—strives to give you something you do not expect. This is always what is memorable. George Orwell put it well when he gave, as one of his rules of good writing, “never use an expression or phrase you are used to seeing in print.”

To give one example, a bad movie will cast actors who are conventionally extremely good looking in the lead roles. Obvious enough, surely.

A good movie will instead cast actors who have an unusual appearance. If someone is conventionally extremely good looking, they will cast him in a character role—like George Clooney in Hail Caesar!, or Brad Pitt in Burn after Reading.

Then they will cast a character actor in the lead role, like Tim Blake Nelson in Buster Scruggs or Frances McDormand in Fargo.

Stanley Kubrick, with his photographer’s eye, was especially good at selecting lead actresses who were, although not extremely beautiful in the conventional way, entrancing to look at: Shelley Duvall in The Shining, Marisa Berenson in Barry Lyndon.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Repealing Godwin's Law

Godwin's Law is wrong, and dangerously wrong. I suspect intentionally wrong.

Or rather, to be fair to Godwin, the misinterpretation of Godwin's Law is wrong. For what Godwin actually said is correct and unobjectionable:

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Which is true, and actually necessarily true. Like a monkey at a typewriter composing Shakespeare.

But this has been commonly misinterpreted as “whoever first mentions Hitler or the Nazis has lost the argument.”

The problem with this reading should be obvious. It exempts any real Nazis in the ideological sense from criticism on that basis. What could be better calculated to promote Nazism?

It would be fine if Hitler were some sort of supernatural demon who could never appear again. But he is not. He has come again often. Right off the bat, this perverted form of “Godwin's Law” exempts from criticism the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Rwandan genocide, the Cultural Reolution and Great Leap Forward, and on and on, all of which were properly comparable to what Hitler did.

There is, on the other hand, a much easier and pretty reliable way to declare when someone has lost an argument in an email forum, a usenet group, or on Facebook. Human nature is human nature. Almost invariably, if someone loses any argument badly online, they will insult the winner--that is, go ad hominem. When reason won't get them what they want, the average person turns to verbal fists. Then they will unsubscribe, unfriend, or leave the group.

If they own the group, of course, they will instead ban the winner.

So whenever someone leaves a group, unfriends, or unsubscribes some member, the person taking that action can usually be assumed to be the recent loser in an argument. Of course, this is not a perfect rule; there are, it is true, good reasons to unfriend or ban. But it should be the default assumption if the person leaving the group, unfriending or banning themselves participated in the argument.

And this brings up the bigger issue of free speech; because the principle here is exactly the same. It is important because, without it, it will, just as online experience shows, invariably be the best and strongest arguments that will be most often banned. Nobody is afraid of any argument or position they believe they can easily refute. If some impolite speech is also banned, this serves only to mask the nasty reality. It is hardly a necessary thing. Truth is the real target of any attempt to restrict speech.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Is Paris Burning?

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 

What is happening in Paris?

It looks like one more stage in the general collapse of the left, following in the footsteps of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Granted, Macron's government is centrist, not leftist, but the nominal cause of these riots is high gas prices due to carbon taxes, and the protesters are apparently flooding in from the conservative countryside.

Gandhi supposedly said that fundamental change comes about in three stages. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

This seems to have been the trajectory followed by the modern “right,” and we are at the “fight” stage. Or maybe now past it. Not long ago, in Canada and Europe, you just did not hear any but a limited set of “politically correct views” anywhere in the media. A vast range of possible views were simply and literally publicly unspeakable. Then voices like Rush Limbaugh began to be heard. And they were mocked and ridiculed. Then as they demonstrably gained a large audience, the Fox News and National Post stage, they were declared dangerous, racist, fascist, “far right,” alt-right, “white supremacist.” Leftists poured into the streets wearing black masks to disrupt. They began mobbing people in restaurants. They began campaigns of lawfare against rightists. They began strong-arming through a leftist judiciary.

This looks bad, but is actually a sign of desperation. Nothing else has worked. You would not need to resort to an activist judiciary, for example, or a rogue bureaucracy, if popular opinion was with you. You do not need to use force and intimidation if you can count on winning elections or arguments. We now seem to be at the stage at which an overall, if still slender, majority of the population in the developed world are actually “far right.” Making this description a contradiction in terms.

Probably it is already really more than a slender majority. The average person can always be cowed into pretending to accept and believe the socially acceptable line, out of fear of ridicule or other social consequences. If everyone else is using the Nazi salute, he does not want to be  seen not using the Nazi salute. If he is told that only racist bigots and uneducated antisocial egotists are against carbon taxes, for some time, he can be counted on not to express opposition to carbon taxes, no matter what his real views, for fear of being declared a racist bigot and an uneducated antisocial egotist.

But when allegiance is maintained by fear and intimidation, it can collapse quickly and violently.

And there, perhaps, we are.