Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Why God Seems Hard of Hearing

“Mindfulness,” originally a Buddhist concept, has of late become popular. But I think just about everybody has it wrong. Buddhist authorities it has to do primarily with engaging the memory. Yet everybody in the West thinks it has to do with emptying your mind of thoughts and concentrating on your breathing. So it is described in a text I am currently teaching.

Some Buddhist source or sources no doubt said as much. But this is probably a joke, of the sort Buddhism loves: a koan. It is intrinsically impossible to empty the mind of thoughts. If one could, the result would self-evidently not be “mindfulness.” And it is hard to see great spiritual progress in concentrating on a process that, left to itself, is spontaneous.

Yet real mindfulness is important, in Christianity as much as Buddhism. Real mindfulness is learning to notice little tears in the matrix of shared delusions in which we usually live; little discrepancies that suggest something more is going on. The prime example of a truly mindful individual would be Sherlock Holmes.

Last Sunday’s gospel offers an example. The disciples ask Jesus how to pray. He responds with the Lord's Prayer. But also with something strange that nobody seems to notice. See if you spot it.

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
"Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,'
and he says in reply from within,
'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.'
I tell you,
if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves
because of their friendship,
he will get up to give him whatever he needs
because of his persistence.
"And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

Did you get that?

Jesus compares God to a lukewarm friend who is too busy and too tired to answer an urgent appeal. And he suggests irritating Him to get what you want.

It is funny as Hell, and nobody seems to notice. Simply because it does not fit preconceptions.

True mindfulness notices such things.

It is not a flattering portrait of God. It does not suggest a God who is Love. God, omnipotent, cannot be too busy or too tired to answer the door. And because he is busy with his children? Who are his children? Isn’t that us?

But perhaps this is to trigger the realization: isn’t it absurd to ask God for stuff in the first place? As Jesus points out elsewhere, God, all-knowing and all-loving, necessarily knows our needs, and will always give us whatever is best for us.

So despite the apparent literal sense of the Our Father, prayer is not about petitioning God. That would be absurd, like seeing God in the grumpy and tired acquaintance we have disturbed in his bed.

The point of prayer is to develop a personal relationship with God. As William Blake observed, man cannot really comprehend anything greater than a perfect human person. This, therefore, is how we must understand God. God is not a coin machine: insert your prayer, and out pops what you want. That would not be a Supreme Being, but a being less than ourselves.

This is a poignant response to those—and there are many—who maintain that they cannot believe in God, because at one time or another, feeling in desperate need, they prayed for something, and they did not get it. The heavens were silent.

In addressing God as “Father,” and using the familiar, childlike term, “Abba,” Jesus more broadly compares our relationship with God to that of a child to a parent. Yes, if a child asks their father for a fish, they will not be given a snake. On the other hand, they may not be given a fish. Perhaps instead they will be told to eat their vegetables.

We are children, and God is our true parent, He knows better than we what is good for us. He may give us a special treat at times to show his love, but we must not expect or demand this. A good parent does not spoil his child.

Jesus promises that, if we persist in prayer, we “will receive.” But notice that Jesus does not say we will get what we pray for; we will get “the Holy Spirit.”

And that is the point of prayer. If we persist in it daily, as the words of the Lord’s Prayer imply, we become no longer an occasional friend who knocks loudly on the door in time of need, but one of the true children in the inner rooms.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

"Why I Am a Progressive" [Sic]

Edmund Burke

That prolific scribbler Arthur Unknown recently posted a piece on Facebook on “Why I am a Progressive.” It is an interesting insight into how the distaff side thinks. Here with my reactions:

“I'm a progressive, but that doesn't mean what a lot of you apparently think it does.

“Let's break it down, shall we? Because quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. Spoiler alert: Not every progressive is the same, not every progressive is a Democrat, not every progressive is a liberal! The majority of progressives I know think along roughly these same lines:”

Note this initial inconsistency: he asserts that not all progressives think alike—but this is what they all think. Diversity is for appearances only.

“1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.”

This is the traditional conservative position, not something that puts him on the left. The duty of society to care for its weakest members is the core of Edmund Burke’s philosophy, considered definitive of what we now call “conservatism.” The first “welfare state” was introduced in Germany by Bismarck—an arch-conservative monarchist. The left was slower to come to this position, although it is there now.

“2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that's interpreted as ‘I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.’ This is not the case. I'm fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it's impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes ‘let people die because they can't afford healthcare’ a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I'm not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.”

It is nonsensical to declare health care a right; because it is certain that in some cases, it will be unaffordable. Consider, for example, if someone discovers a cure for the common cold; but an effective dose costs a million dollars a pill to manufacture. So everyone has an inherent right to it when they have a cold? Where does the money come from?

That bit of political cant out of the way, believing in a government health-care system does not put you on the left either. The first president to push for one in the US was Richard Nixon, a centrist Republican. But he could not get it through a Democratic Congress. In Canada or in Britain, you will not hear conservative parties calling for it to be dismantled. The US Republicans are currently promising to come up with their own plan, but cannot get together on details. The only debate is how to do it most cheaply and efficiently. The right tends to want to preserve elements of choice and the free market for this reason.

“3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn't necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I'm mystified as to why it can't work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.”

The author is agreeing with Milton Friedman, generally considered to be the patron saint of the modern American right. At least, he believed this for degrees in the Humanities, for which there was less prospect of the student being able to repay from future income. Equality of opportunity, core value of the right, more or less assumes equal access to education ought to be the case. The question is only how best to do it. Because, again, money does not fall from the sky. The right, again, wants to preserve elements of choice and the free market, as with vouchers, again to ensure efficiency. Otherwise there would be no check on rising college costs, and, one way or another, the average guy has to pay for it. There is no such thing as “free” college.

“4. I don't believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don't want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can't afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow, extreme right wing conservatives believe that makes me a communist.”

This is again the classical Burkean conservative position: society has a duty to care for the less fortunate.

But so long as everyone has their needs met, inequality of wealth is not itself a problem. Inequality of wealth is a sign of a healthy and progressive economy. When new things are invented, for example, first adopters will have a temporary economic advantage, and so will accumulate wealth. Inequality of wealth MAY be due to some gaming of the system, but if so, it is the gaming that is the problem, not the inequality itself.

I doubt there is anyone starving to death due to lack of money in Canada or the US. People do freeze to death on the streets, but this seems to be due not to lack of money, but because of either addiction, mental illness, or abuse/persecution by others.

Raising welfare payments is not going to help this.

“The wealthy paying their share” is empty sloganeering. Everybody wants everyone to pay their share; there is not a big constituency for being “unfair.” The disagreement is over what their fair share is.

And, of course, no matter their income level, everyone assumes that “the wealthy” means those who make more than they do.

“5. I don't throw around ‘I'm willing to pay higher taxes’ lightly. If I'm suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it's because I'm fine with paying my share as long as it's actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.”

There is an unexamined third possibility here: that their tax dollars might go to lining the pockets of bureaucrats, wealthy government-hired professionals, and government employees.

“6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion-dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn't have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.”

Such circumstances are certainly undesirable. But you cannot fix this by legislating that employers must pay a minimum wage. Because, yet again, money does not drop from the skies. If you raise the cost of labour, you are killing jobs, reducing services, reducing competition and consumer choice, and raising prices to consumers. The poorest will be most harmed.

“7. I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is - and should be - illegal). All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs. I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law. I'm not ‘offended by Christianity’ -- I'm offended that you're trying to force me to live by your religion's rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you? That's how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don't force it on me or mine.”

It would help if the author could cite an example of any legislator trying to “legislate Scripture into law,” or “trying to impose biblical law.” I’ve never heard of such a thing in my lifetime. Morality is objective and binding on all; Christians do not believe it comes from the Bible. Nobody believes that it was okay to murder before Moses went up Sinai and got the discouraging word from Yahweh.

One might, to be fair, try to legislate ritual law, as opposed to objective morality. This has been done in places and at times: making it mandatory, for example, to attend church on Sunday. But who is proposing such things in America or in Canada today?

While it is possible that the present author is indeed not prejudiced against Christianity, it seems to me that the modern left generally is. One example from today’s news: a Catholic adoption agency is being forced to close because it will not place children in gay foster homes. Here the interests of orphans are being sacrificed purely for the chance to deny religious freedom.

“8. I don't believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the *same* rights as you.”

This might not be Burkean conservatism, but it is bedrock liberalism, and liberalism is commonly classed these days as on the right, not the left. Sargon of Akkad, Carl Benjamin, for example, is consistently referred to in the mainstream press as “far right” for being a classic liberal.

All men are created equal, and have the right to equal treatment before the law. That is the liberal position.

The common objection on the right currently is that LGBT people are not treated equally, but are given special rights and privileges: such as a right not to be criticized for promiscuity, a right to parade nude in public, a right to cohabit without being declared married by common law, a right to demand you address them in a certain fashion, a right to your services at their wedding whether this violates your conscience or not, and so forth.

In fact, although no one is calling for it, true equality before the law would be served even if there were still laws against sodomy, as there were in Canada until 1967 or 1968. Such laws apply equally to all. Not all of us have an urge to have sex with another man, true. But not all of us have an urge to have sex with children, either, or to rape, or to murder. This does not amount to a reason to rescind all laws against pederasty or rape or murder as discriminatory. The issue is whether homosexuality is socially harmful or not. If it is not, while it may be sinful, it is not the business of the state.

Taking the matter any further than that is nothing but a cudgel against religious liberty.

“9. I don't believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN'T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they're supposed to be abusing, and if they're ‘stealing’ your job it's because your employer is hiring illegally). I'm not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).”

This is more empty sloganeering unless and until the author has some specific policy suggestions for what would be a more humane, but still effective, approach. We all want the most humane policies; if he is implying otherwise, this is only raw bigotry on his part.

He also seems to be making the common philosophical error of confusing an “is” with an “ought.” It is perfectly true that people should not hire illegals, and illegal aliens should not be eligible for free education, welfare, or the vote. But this does not mean it does not happen. It commonly does, often with official collusion. Were this not so, we would soon have no illegals in the USA. They would not come, and if they came, they then could not survive.

“10. I don't believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cutting corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It's not that I want the government's hands in everything -- I just don't trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they're harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.”

This, if not duplicitous, is profoundly naïve. What magic ensures that, while greed is supposedly endemic in the private sector, it is absent from the government sector that makes such regulations?

Even if it were, if government is going to regulate a given industry, who then must they turn to to decide on the proper regulations? They must turn to those with expertise in that industry. In other words, to those already powerful in that industry. Any government regulation is therefore carte blanche for an established elite to protect their interests against the general public.

Allowing matters instead to be determined by the free market protects the public interest. Without government interference, if some company puts out a product that is shoddy or overpriced, or that pollutes the environment, consumers can stop buying, and that company goes out of business. Start to regulate, and consumers no longer have recourse if they are harmed--short perhaps of expensive and risky class action suits, not available to the poor.

“11. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, but because I've spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.”

This statement is flatly insane, in the proper sense of the term; it is in defiance of logic and evidence. This is Trump Derangement Syndrome, as the bizarre affliction has come to be called.

There is nothing remotely fascist about the Trump administration in comparison to past American administrations. The author is probably aware of this, since he cites no examples to back his assertion.

On the other hand, the “progressive” “resistance,” at least some of those who are opposed to Trump, are often distinctly fascist. Postmodernism plus multiculturalism and the hostility to “cultural appropriation” which characterize large swathes of the modern left are simply Nazi race theory, no more and no less; I explain this elsewhere. Antifa is proudly using the same violent tactics as Mussolini’s black shirts and Hitler’s brown shirts: street brawling, shouting down opponents, intimidation for political ends. An NDP candidate in the last Ontario election openly endorsed Hitler’s tactics, and was not censured by her party.

“12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege -- white, straight, male, economic, etc. -- need to start listening, even if you don't like what you're hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that's causing people to be marginalized.”

I agree that racism in America, and in Canada, is rapidly getting worse. But all this racism is on the left. Ideas of “white privilege” and legal measures to combat it are an example. This is an open violation of the principle of human equality, an open program of racial discrimination. Laws must not discriminate based on skin colour.

The claim, moreover, that the system is secretly rigged for the benefit of “whites,” is cousin to Nazi claims about the Jews. This is Protocols of the Elders of Zion territory. As is talk of a supposed “patriarchy.”

Not incidentally, the modern left also seems to be growing increasingly anti-semitic and anti-Asian. Anyone might be next. First they came for the “whites,” …

“13. I am not interested in coming after your guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, including background checks, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun. (Got another opinion? Put it on your page, not mine).”

Again, sloganeering. Can our present author point to someone who speaks against “sensible” gun policies? Who does not want the rules that will save lives? The debate is about what is sensible. And this is a debate our author does not want to have. He expressly refuses here to read or consider the opinions of others. Might makes right? Whoever has the gun, makes the rules?

“14. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness. If I call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you're using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person?”

If political correctness were simply politeness, nobody would object. But I challenge the present author to find any of the demands of contemporary political correctness in any established authority on good manners: in Emily Post, say, or Amy Vanderbilt. He will not find them.

His one stated principle, that it is politeness to address everyone as they would like to be addressed, is false. What the addressee prefers to be called is no more intrinsically likely to be polite or appropriate than what the addressor prefers. A chief of protocol does not ask the guest how he would like to be introduced: he consults the manual for the correct form. Being addressed bestows no moral superiority or special wisdom. It might as well be that he illegitimately wants to be addressed as “Milord,” or “King Charles the Third,” or “M.D.,” or “Aryan superman.” Or, for that matter, “she” when he is a man, or “African” when she is white.

“15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.”

This is again objectively mad, if by “sustainable energy” he is referring to such things as wind power and solar power. The one sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, given present technology, is a move to nuclear. Is that what he means? Because in my experience, the left in general is opposed to building nuclear power plants. They also reject the next best option, putting up more hydro dams.

Billionaires, of course, have no commitment to oil or coal. As this author admits, they can just as easily shift their investments to solar or nuclear. It is not because of their supposed nefarious influence that we stick with fossil fuels. Supposing otherwise is just comic-book level Marxism.

“16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?”

True equality before the law would mean no alimony, no favouring the mother in child custody cases, no “affirmative action,” women being drafted in war for front-line combat. And no laws against sexual harassment or rape—even if sex is not specified, these obviously have disparate impact. Something would also have to be done not just about men dominating the top of the corporate ladder, but equally about men dominating the prison population. If the one proves discrimination, so does the other.

There are two fair options here: either a return to men and women having different social roles, but roughly equivalent and balanced rights and privileges; or equality before the law. What we have now is systemic favouritism towards women and discrimination against men.

And so you have it. The right generally gives the left credit for simply being naïve, rather than deceitful, in believing such things as Arthur says he does here.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Canada Sinks in the World

In a recent interview, Kevin O’Leary made a point I too have made in correspondence, a point that is oddly overlooked, or rather, perhaps, suppressed by the mainstream press: leaving aside any arguments over ideology, the Trudeau government has been spectacularly inept. Most obviously in foreign affairs.

From World War Two roughly until Chrystia Freeland took the portfolio, Canada has been almost universally liked. Despite never being a neutral country, everyone seemed to trust it/us as basically honest and disinterested, polite and not arrogant. So folks abroad tended to prefer Canadian products and Canadian expertise. There seem, for example, to be many more Canadian than American ESL instructors abroad, despite the difference in populations. Canadians came without the political baggage of Americans or Brits.

Yet after a couple of years on Freeland’s watch, Canada has unprecedentedly awful relations with Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and even our biggest trading partner, the USA. Hardly insignificant enemies. It almost seems as though Canada no longer has any friends.

This seems to come from Liberal incompetence, virtue-signalling, and arrogance. Canada has been speaking loudly and carrying a tiny stick.

On the Huawei uproar, O’Leary suggests that Freeland was neatly suckered by Donald Trump. The US was fighting a trade war with China. The natural thing for China to do was to turn to Canada for many of the products they had been getting from the US. Big trade boon for Canada. Instead, Trudeau and Freeland promptly offended China so seriously that this was out of the question. It would have been an unacceptable loss of face to a pipsqueak country.

And then the unprecedented clown show since, of the Canadian government publicly feuding with their own ambassador.

O’Leary suggested how this could have been handled: advise the Chinese through diplomatic channels not to have Meng Wan Zhou’s plane land in Canada, but proceed directly on to Mexico. If necessary, some bogus excuse about bad weather or ospreys nesting on the tarmac could have been used.

Despite holding the bag for America on this one, Canada got nothing out of it. Freeland and Trudeau had also managed to trash our relationship with the US. They publicly insulted Trump in the middle of negotiations on a new NAFTA. Politically, he then had no option but to retaliate. As with China, the USA and Trump could not be seen to be pushed around by some penny-ante power.

The criticism of Saudi Arabia over human rights was meddling in the internal affairs of another country. To do that is deeply insulting to anyone; by the doctrine of human rights, it implies that the current government is illegitimate. Diplomacy consists in not saying such things, unless there is some strategic issue involved.

Or unless you want to pick a fight. The Saudi government again had little alternative but to massively retaliate, for the sake of their internal stability. A Saudi government that appeared to meekly accept scoldings from some Western infidel, grossly sinful “progressive” nation would not hold power long.

So too with India or Russia. Whether or not one agrees with the Trudeau government’s ethical case, what are Russia or India going to do but retaliate? If you want to swagger, you have to be ready to follow it up, at times, as needed, with dangerous and costly measures like sanctions and troop deployments. If you do not, you are doing nobody any good, and exposing innocent Canadians and Canadian business to harm. Aside from making the nation a laughingstock.

Now consider this: Freeland is supposed to be the cabinet's star. Everyone else is presumably worse.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Why I Do Not Miss the Latin Mass

Many of my generation and the generation before felt betrayed by the loss of the Latin Mass. I have never felt this way.

Today, for the first time in many years, I attended a Latin mass; and realized for the first time why.

It was beautiful; there is no doubt. Although well attended, it seemed mad the place was not packed to the rafters if only for the musical performance. Some claim the attendance at mass dropped off a statistical cliff right when the liturgy switched to the vernacular.

And it satisfied to discover that after so many years I still remembered some of the Latin.

But I will not be back.

When as a kid attending a Catholic school, I went to mass with my class, I would often start to feel faint and nauseous. I would have to sit bent over in the back. I felt embarrassed and did not know why.

Some of that feeling came back to me this Sunday.

It did as well the last time I attended a Latin mass, years ago now, but as an adult.

The vernacular mass, banal as it may be by contrast, feels much more comfortable.

I grew up attending the Latin mass. I also grew up in what the self-help groups somewhat euphemistically call a "dysfunctional family." Aside from the constant stress and strife, my parents, inevitably, presented themselves as Christian examplars, and their own opinions as theologically authoritative. God was on their side, and against me.

I was aware enough to realize that what they did and said was not compatible with the gospel or the catechism  I learned in school. Yet there was the chilling possibility that the official catechism was really just a cover story to fool outsiders, and they really did represent the heart of the church. Why not? In every other horror movie, Satanists perform black masses that are superficially strikingly like a Latin mass, with smoke and intonations, ritual movements, organ music and oddly discordant chant. Perhaps this was the reality. The Catholic Church was, then, a secret cult along the lines of that portrayed in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Because of this, the lack of clarity with Latin was disturbing. What were they really saying? Why could they not say it outright so that all could understand? Surely the Latin suggested an urge to conceal; they had something to hide. The thought never fully formed, until last Sunday, but I believe this was the incoherent suspicion behind my nausea.

The vernacular mass, to me, if only symbolically, brought needed clarity.

I really wonder, had the switch to the vernacular not come about around when it did, whether I would have been able to remain a Catholic. Friends of mine from similar Catholic backgrounds have ended up Muslim, or Buddhist; others, raised in other traditions, have escaped their tainted upbringing by becoming Catholic. Others, and probably far more, less happily, have become secularized or atheist, losing all the comfort and support of religion, most desperately needed by those who never had a real family.

It is no doubt of such family backgrounds Jesus spoke when he said, "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Becoming Anglican is a Form of Spiritual Abuse

At its current synod, the Anglican Church of Canada has issues an apology for the “spiritual harm” it has done to the Canadian indigenous community.

“I confess our sin in demonizing Indigenous spiritualities,” primate Fred Hiltz writes. “I confess the sin of our arrogance in dismissing Indigenous spiritualities and disciplines as incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus, and insisting that there is no place for them in Christian Worship.” “I confess our sin in declaring the teachings of the medicine wheel to be pagan and primitive.”

Possibly Archbishop Hiltz and his church have some theological justification for this. If so, it is strange that they do not give any. Because there are obvious theological problems here.

To begin, from a Christian theological perspective, Christian missionaries would not have been “demonizing” Indigenous spiritualities. The polytheistic spirits the Indians grudgingly payed homage to before conversion to Christianity were in fact demons. How do you demonize a demon?

Think about it: if these beings were not demons, what else would they have been? Angels? Aliens? Psychotic delusions?

Given that they were demons, any rites in their honour would indeed be incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus. Not to mention the first commandment. It is right there in the New Testament, as well as the Old, that you must not make sacrifices to or call upon demons or idols.

Any pre-Christian Indigenous spiritual practices were “pagan” by definition. Oxford English Dictionary: “religious beliefs and practices that are not part of any of the world's main religions, especially from a time before Christianity.” Webster’s: “a follower of a polytheistic religion.” To call them “primitive” is, further, simply the same as calling them “indigenous” or “aboriginal.” To say “indigenous spiritual practices were primitive” is only saying the same thing twice.

Nor is there any question of “spiritual abuse” or “robbing Indians of their spirituality” in converting them to Christianity. Any such conversions were voluntary: are Indians incapable of thinking for themselves? Non-sentient forest creatures? Come now.

I dare not say it is impossible somehow to theologically justify all this. But it is prima facie heretical, and demands an explanation. And we are given none.

The simplest explanation for the Anglican Church making such theologically absurd claims without attempting any theological justification is that they have ceased to be either a Christian or a religious body. Their existence and their interests are purely political.

The Good Samaritan

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the parable of the Good Samaritan. A parable that, like all parables, most people get wrong. The parables are designed to do this. I can say this too from immediate experience: we discussed it in a prayer group last night.

The parable is in response to a question. With reference to the commandment to love your neighbor. Jesus has been asked, “Who is my neighbour?”

Most in my group, having just heard the parable, concluded simply that your neighbor is someone who lives near you. This, however, the parable seems to be plainly arguing against. Nobody any longer grasps the significance of “Samaritan.” In popular parlance, it has come to mean no more than “charitable person.”

But a Samaritan to Jesus’s audience was a foreigner, not a neighbor in the literal sense. And a religious heretic, from the Jewish point of view. So one’s neighbor is emphatically not, or not just, according to the parable, someone who lives near you or whom you regularly encounter in your daily life. He is not anyone with whom you have any formal bounds of nationality, family, culture, or religion.

The participants who accepted this immediately and naturally then concluded, everyone is your neighbor.

That would work if the question was whether the robbed man lying in the ditch was the neighbor of the Samaritan. The Samaritan was acting with charity towards a stranger. But the question is not whether the Jew by the road is the neighbor of the Samaritan, but whether the Samaritan is the neighbor of the Jew by the road: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of robbers?”

Presumably, too, Jesus’s original audience would not self-identify as the Samaritan, the foreigner, but as the assaulted Jew.

Jesus gives three choices, the Samaritan, who helped, and the priest and the Levite, who did not stop and help. And he agrees that the correct answer is “the Samaritan.” Which, means, at the same time, that the other two are not his neighbours.

So according to our parable, our neighbor is not everyone, but, specifically, good people, wherever they live. Bad people, conversely, are not our neighbours.

This fits too with Jesus’s advice elsewhere that if someone has done you wrong, and refuses to admit it, you are to shun them. They are no longer your neighbour.

When I made this point, the prayer group was in rebellion against it. It defies the common image of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” who loves everyone no matter what. Andrew Klavan, who after actually reading the New Testament converted from Judaism, defies anyone to find such a “gentle Jesus” in the gospel. “Gentle Jesus” is a corporate lie or delusion we sustain out of fear of being condemned for our sins. “We are not to judge.” “Who am I to judge?” “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Yet judgement is actually Jesus’s cosmic end mission: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” And we are in all things to imitate Christ. We just do not want to think about it, so we pretend it is not there.

Is it only Jesus, as God incarnate, who has this right to judge? No; John the Baptist too judges emphatically in the gospel. He condemns Herod and Herodias; he condemns the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus does not object, but declares him the greatest of all those born of women.

If, after all, everyone is our neighbor, who exactly were those “wolves” Jesus was warning the disciples about in last Sunday’s gospel, when he said he was sending them out “like lambs among wolves”?

Okay, so what about Jesus’s commandment to “love thine enemy”? Fair question.

To begin with, the fact that one is to love one’s neighbor and also to love one’s enemy does not equate one’s enemy to one’s neighbor. More importantly, one hardly expresses love or charity to a sinner by ignoring their sin. That is just like walking by and abandoning them in the ditch, as the priest and Levite did in the parable. They have been set upon by robbers, which is to say, sins and vices, devils, and have been thrown off the path, left to spiritually die. The easy and safe thing, of course, is to ignore him as much as possible and to go about our business. Just like the priest or Levite do—that these are both religious offices hints that the import here is indeed spiritual.

The charitable thing is to call them out, get them to a church, and try to save him.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Oppression Olympics

My cargo-shifted-to-port pal Cyrus, not to be confused with Xerxes, sought the other evening to explain why the left seemed to spin on a dime from being irreconcilably opposed to Islam for oppressing women to making the extirpation of “Islamophobia” one of its main policies. He acknowledges the inconsistency, but suggests that, once the left identifies a group as oppressed, they immediately tend to overlook any faults, perhaps as overcompensation.

That seems admission enough—but also leads to the next question. How are Muslims in general an oppressed group?

His response seemed to me tentative: “colonialism.”

Problem: if the issue is having been colonized, and recently, Muslims are simply in the same situation as just about everyone else in the world. So why this special concern for Muslims, and not for Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Bahais, or Christians? Granted that some European countries—England, one or two others—have not been colonized in recent times. Neither has Muslim Turkey.

Moreover, Muslims have been up to quite recent times among the world’s most eager colonizers themselves. In principle, for Islam, empire is the proper form of government. The Ottoman Empire, which in the 19th century still held large swaths of Christian Europe, ended only in 1922. Muslim Indonesia allowed independence to Christian Timor-Leste only in 2002. Muslim Sudan allowed independence to Christian South Sudan only in 2011. Muslim Mauritania became the last country in the world to legally abolish slavery in 1981, following soon after Saudi Arabia and Oman. Reports are that slavery continues de facto in Muslim Libya.

Strictly speaking, on balance, Muslims are probably the single least-historically-oppressed demographic in the universe; with perhaps the exception of the English, Germans, French, or Russians.

Which brings up the wider question, how many other of the left’s supposedly “oppressed” client groups are in fact not oppressed? If the left is wrong here, are they wrong in other cases?

I think they are systematically wrong. While, granted, some of their client groups have been historically oppressed or discriminated against, this would have been in the past, not in the present. It was other people at another time. Almost by definition, once there is a consensus that a given group has been oppressed, that oppression must be over. Because nobody at all is prepared to admit they are oppressing anyone. The left is, at best, always in the business of urgently pouring water on fires that have been out for generations. While other fires blaze untended.

Who currently is genuinely oppressed? Falun Gong. Christians in the Middle East. Christians in China and North Korea. Yazidis. Jews in Europe and the Middle East. Kurds. Muslims in China. White South Africans. Is the left interested in doing anything to help?

Not a bit.

Is Canada Built on Aboriginal Land?


For the most part, Toronto still seems on the surface to be the same peaceable kingdom I left 25 years ago: a model high-trust society, of peace, order, and good government. We probably have no idea how good we’ve got it. But there are shadows that were not there before.

One is the common presence of small posters, the size of as standard A4 page, with racist slogans like “Canada: celebrating 153 years of genocide”; and “Crown land is Native land: time to give it back.”

As noted in an earlier post, these are blood libels, calculated to promote hatred towards a specific group: those non-Indians whose ancestors came to Canada more than a few generations ago. Since this is a minority of the population, and often a visible minority, we are talking about a vulnerable minority. One that is, in fact, already actively discriminated against.

We dealt with the “genocide” charge in an earlier post. Now let’s consider the “stolen land” charge.

Brace yourself for an intellectual jolt. The truth is, in either legal or philosophical/moral terms, the “First Nations” or Indians never owned any land, or very little.

Property, as a legal concept, is a thing that you enjoy the use of to the exclusion of others. Essentially no Indian group held any real estate in this sense: all just wandered through the landscape. If one group encountered another, they would try to kill each other. But it would be impossible to draw any borders or property lines.

Consider then this obvious analogy: why is nobody allowed to own the waters, or the air? Why is land different? Because everyone moves freely through the waters, and freely uses the air—just as Indians used land.

Thomas More and John Locke, among others, set out the philosophical framework here. Land, air, and water are all created by God for the good of all. Nobody, in principle, has the right to claim ownership over it to the exclusion of any other human who requires it. Can you imagine withholding water? Can you imagine withholding oxygen?

It is only their own labour and ingenuity, not the land itself, to which a human can lay claim. He or she can therefore own real estate if and only if they have somehow invested their labour into it, and their labour is inseparable from the land itself: if they have cultivated it, or built something on it.

On this principle the idea of “squatter’s rights” is based. If land has been lying fallow, and somebody comes along and begins to cultivate it, or build on it, they then own the land they have cultivated or built on. The previous owner, by not using the land for some set period, five or ten or twenty years, has waived their moral right to it.

By this logic, yet again, Indians, to the extent, almost total, that they were hunter-gatherers, and built no permanent structures, owned no land. The land was the shared inheritance of mankind. Starving people coming from Europe, from Ireland, or Poland, or the Ukraine, had a right to use it. Nor, Locke would argue, was this a matter of taking anything away from Indians or anyone else. A hundred people can, with agriculture, survive on the same plot of land that only one person can survive on by hunting and gathering. Accordingly, any person who cultivates one acre of land has in effect given 99 acres to the general coffers.

Despite this recognized principle, throughout Ontario and the Prairie Provinces, the British and then Canadian governments formally negotiated treaties with any Indian groups then present, paying them to relinquish all claims to the land. The point was to ensure peace and harmony between the two groups, and have the Indians recognize the sovereignty of the government; the notion of aboriginal land rights was a useful legal vehicle to allow this. This aboriginal land right was actually a gift from the Crown, bestowed by George III in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. In negotiating the numbered treaties, Indian groups who had no plausible “aboriginal” claim to any land, having moved into Canada only decades before, were granted the same deal as others.

But, all that said, it makes no sense to ignore these treaties and claim that the Indians somehow still own land they sold by these treaties generations ago. If you buy a house, does the previous owner still own it? And if so, which previous owner?

Aside from dismissing the crazy notion of lingering and eternal aboriginal land title, the philosophy behind land ownership ought to remind us of something else: that Canada’s immigration policy ought, by moral right, to favour not already well-off professionals, as it largely now does, but the able poor and oppressed. Whose ability could be demonstrated after perhaps ten years of residency by what they have done to develop and improve the natural resources God has left on this portion of the globe

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Canada's Looking-Glass Genocide

Then... and Now

Now magazine, Toronto's free entertainment newspaper, has apparently gone full SJW.

Last week’s cover story: "Canada's Genocide"

The feature article inside, titled "Genocide Coverup," begins:

"It is no longer up for debate. Canada is guilty of genocide. The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls has found that Canada has and continues to engage in ‘race-based genocide.’"

This claim that the debate is over is demonstrably false. The next piece in the newspaper, “The Media’s Odious Defense,” laments that the Globe and Star have both in official editorials rejected the “genocide” claim. Both publications are editorially on the left, and probably Canada's two largest-circulation English papers. So obviously it is still up for debate.

Insisting it isn’t is a transparent tactic when one knows one will lose any debate that might ensue.

The article goes on:

“Canada’s governments used premeditated acts like the mass distribution of smallpox-infected blankets and placing bounties on scalps to kill off indigenous peoples. They engaged in policies aimed at starving indigenous people to death to clear the prairies for settlement. Canadian governments have also engaged in covering up the disproportionate number of deaths of indigenous people in police custody and the over-incarceration of Indigenous people to keep them locked up and out of sight.”

None of these claims are true. They constitute a blood libel designed to promote racial hatred against non-indigenous Canadians. If the “hate laws” were applied justly, they would be actionable.

There is no evidence at all that any Canadian government ever distributed smallpox-infected blankets to Indians. Nor is this a likely way to spread smallpox. There is no evidence that any Canadian government ever put bounties on the scalps of indigenous people—and it would be very hard to do so without leaving any documentary evidence. Indigenous people, on the other hand, regularly scalped their enemies, indigenous or European. There is no evidence that any Canadian government attempted to starve indigenous people to death—rather, they sent food aid to the Indians of the Prairies at times of starvation. Before this, periodic famines and death by starvation were a typical aspect of the Indian experience. To charge “over-incarceration” of indigenous people is to assume that Indigenous people are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, or are given harsher sentences than non-Indians for the same offenses. In fact, the opposite is true, by law. The so-called “Gladue rule” more or less requires judges to give Indigenous offenders lighter sentences. If you want to argue that the mere fact that a higher proportion of Indigenous than non-Indigenous people are imprisoned automatically proves intended genocide, then, to be consistent, you must also hold that the state is committing genocide against men. Far more men than women are in prison.

“The Indian Act was also created to make a legal definition of Indian that would result in the legislative extinction of Indians over time, by targeting Indian women and children for expulsion from their First Nations.”

Rather obviously, Canadian legislators of that day considered being a Canadian citizen a good thing, and thought allowing Indian women who married non-Indian men automatic full citizenship was a benefit, not a punishment. Just as they would not have thought it genocide against Jews to allow Jews to immigrate. Would Hitler have been equally guilty of genocide had he accepted Jews as fully German, with the same rights as other Germans? His inclination was rather the opposite.

The Indigenous author of a second piece, "The Media's Odious Defense," laments his personal dilemma. Because he was aboriginal, the CBC, his employer, gave him full control over the story when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People report came out. Even though he was only a summer intern, and did not even intend to go into journalism.

Does this really show discrimination AGAINST aboriginal people? He was given a plum internship even though he was not interested in journalism. Then he was given full control over a story ahead of senior reporters—presumably all because he was indigenous. Poor fellow.

So what is his complaint?

His problem is that, when news reports are not sufficiently pro-aboriginal, Indigenous journalists like himself “are questioned by their communities about why these views would be published, why higher-ups at their outlet would think this way, and why they continue to work there.”

Transparently, what is the real problem? Is it the Canadian media lacking good intentions towards Indigenous people—or is it these unspecified “indigenous communities” lacking good intentions towards indigenous people? Who is trying to advance the careers and life situations of indigenous people, and who is trying to get them to sacrifice their careers and their best interests?

This author seems to be a victim of Stockholm syndrome. It is the reserve system that is holding indigenous people back.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Spider's Poetry Workshop

Went to a poetry workshop at a local library. Being new in town, seemed an obvious way to find friends with a similar interest.

Within five minutes it was obvious that this “poetry workshop” was actually a narcissist’s little emotional abuse racket.

An obvious opportunity for a narcissist. People are revealing themselves emotionally when they write poetry. So this is the ideal time to belittle them; they are vulnerable. The downside, from the narcissist’s perspective, is only that he or she will have no idea about poetry. But if the level of the participants is low enough, this will not become evident.

As soon as I entered the room, the guy beside me handed me a page of rules for the group. In summary:

- People read their poems in order of arrival.

- Others comment around the table in turn, starting from either left or right.

- The author should not participate or respond

- Feedback should be about the poem, never the author

- Feedback should include praise as well as “constructive suggestion.”

“Workshop participants must always remember that comments are never about ‘you’ but about the poem. Participants must refrain from judging a work based on political or personality differences – comments should never be made or received as personal.”

Can you see the problem? Superficially, it seems almost reasonable. But note the concluding paragraph makes it impossible for anyone to object to a personal attack—the moderator, if he is so inclined, can easily accuse them of breaking the rules by TAKING the comment as personal. The idea that the author should remain silent as others comment on the work is bizarre, and seems designed to permit abuse. Natural justice requires that defense as well as prosecution must present their case.

So alarm bells were immediately going off on seeing this sheet of rules.

And the very next thing that happened was—the moderator himself broke these rules.

I was sitting to the immediate right of the first participant. By the rules, I should have commented first; or else comment should have begun with the first person on the left, and moved on from there. Instead, the moderator just started to comment, ignoring the rule. He was seated to my right.

Typical narcissism: rules do not apply to them, only to the little people.

The moderator took the author to task for a line in which she said there was dew on the ground. Wrong, he said, there cannot be dew on the bare ground.

This was surely just finding fault. “Dew on the ground” is a common construction. Google it, if you like. Why would you assume there was no grass on the ground?

The author at this point, rightly, also ignored the rules. She tried to defend herself.

“But then you would have to indicate that there was grass,” he responded, “you didn’t.”

She had. The first line of the poem says she is in a park.

The whole point was apparently finding fault, somehow, with what she wrote. And on some purely pedantic grounds. Something that did not require any understanding of poetry. And there was perhaps a special reason for this particular objection: the author needed "ground" here for the rhyme. There was no question of simply substituting another word. She would have to substantially rewrite the poem. The moderator was, figuratively, shoving a rod in her spokes.

At this point, with nobody else defending her, I stepped in by noting that I saw no problem with saying “dew on the ground.”

At which the moderator wheeled on me for “breaking the rules.”

I had dread the rules—they are given above.

I pointed out that there was no such rule—only a rule that the author should be silent. Which was itself not being followed. He ignored this, and repeated the accusation.

At this point, the narcissism was obvious. If rules do not apply to narcissists, neither do either reason or evidence. What is so is simply whatever they want to be so. They will lie even when the lie has to be obvious to both parties. Gaslighting.

I perhaps should have left then. I did not.

Others present remained silent and submissive. The comments continued, moving away from me.

This first poem was indeed awful, although not without a few good lines. But their comments were no more insightful than his. Not one of them said anything good about the poem, and neither did he. It was only criticism, and not constructive. Pedantic and arbitrary. So much for the stated rules.

This again sounds like narcissism. As long as you say you are doing the right thing, you get to do whatever you want. And I suspect that this tone of constant negativity was set by the moderator over time. It was set up and designed as a bullying session. Everyone else, as usual in such situations, were recruited as his flying monkeys, on pain of being turned on and berated as the new scapegoat.

Finally, after everyone else had spoken, he had no choice but to allow me to participate. I pointed out several good things in the poem, and made my suggestions. One—the last one—was that she hyphenate the word “heart-felt” in the last line to give it the right rhythm. This was not standard spelling, I pointed out, but it is acceptable in poetry to deviate.

At which the moderator butted in—breaking the rule he had himself declared a few minutes earlier, that nobody else should speak while one of us was commenting—to suggest that the author look in the dictionary to see how the word was spelled.

This was transparent bullying, as I had just said this was not standard spelling. I pointed this out, and he declared again that I wasn’t following the rules. Typical narcissistic projection. Presumably in his mind it was “breaking the rules” to defend against his attack or in any way to make him look bad.

What was the point of continuing this charade? He was a blatant narcissist, sitting there like a vast malicious spider with his prey around him in his web. I certainly did not need to be involved. I felt sorry for the others, but then, they were all sitting there taking it week after week. As flying monkeys, they would not be on my side.

And such a “Stockholm syndrome” response to abuse is not unusual in the least. Melancholics are like that. And it is melancholics who are drawn to things like writing poetry. Having been abused and emotionally crushed in childhood, they just accept that they are getting what they deserve whenever a new abuser latches on to them. I felt truly terrible for them, and I figured I was doing just what the narcissist would want in leaving, but all I could do unless I felt like being a martyr for the umteenth thousandth time was call him out, and leave. Not my circus; not my monkeys.

Which is what I did: called him a bully and a narcissist to his face, and told the women present that they were his victims. And left.

I doubt it made an impression on any of them.

I just wish as a society we had a mechanism for dealing with this kind of narcissistic abuse. Instead, as in this case, the narcissist is more often than not able to present themselves as the voice of authority—here backed by the public library system. Because the narcissist will always seek such power, and we have no checks or protections against giving it to them. Appeasement is our usual instinct.

For my part, at least I can say I have learned how to spot a narcissist quickly. Years ago, I would probably have tortured myself about it, refusing to believe what was obviously happening was happening.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Short Movie Reviews

On a recent looong flight following the Great Circle Route, I got more than my fill of recent movies.

As an art form, filmmaking is pretty moribund.

A few pocket reviews: 

The King's Speech was an actors’ movie: a star turn for Colin Firth, who copped an Oscar. But the script and plot were weak. The premise was weak. Nothing important seemed to be at stake. The King of England is, after all, a figurehead. You just have to stand nicely for photos and read speeches. It is hard to believe anyone might not be up to the job, and hard to feel sympathy. Okay, so George/Bertie had a stammer. Why not, if necessary, use a voice double for the speeches? It’s done in Hollywood. Who would really care?

And then the plot twist that George finds out that the therapist is not a doctor, and acts betrayed. Given that he did not advertise himself as a doctor, why would this be an issue? Why, in the first place, would anyone think that a medical doctor would make a good speech therapist? An acting coach obviously makes more sense.

It got really hard to care. One could admire Firth’s acting, but that does not make the movie work as a whole.

I really wanted to see Mary Queen of Scots, because like probably everyone else who say Brooklyn, I’m keen on Saoirse Ronan. I did not like the idea of her as a queen, but that seems unfair typecasting. But the movie was really offensive. Just racist and sexist propaganda falsifying history. Falsifying history is a special sort of crime. Elizabeth’s most trusted counsellor was made to be African, and her main lady-in-waiting Asian. This was ridiculously ahistorical, and needlessly distracting in a story that largely hinged on the distinction between English and Scottish ethnicity. It made politics prior to art. Odd that it would not matter, when it was recently so important that actors cast for Disney’s live-action Aladdin all be from the Middle East. Even though Aladdin wasn’t—Disney’s original animated Aladdin falsified this in the first place. The makers of Mary Queen of Scots were scoring some political point about the ethnic English having no claim to English history. Which is a profoundly racist conceit. Try saying that about any other ethnic group.

Ethnic Scots have more rights. Unlike the English court, there seem to have been no African or Asian Scots. Mary was even given a Scots accent, although she had lived her life in France. It’s wicked to be English, but it is good to be Scottish.

Both Mary and Elizabeth, being women, were of course portrayed as strong, brave, honourable, and without fault: while all the men around them were pathetic, weak, cowardly, and duplicitous. Even when Elizabeth orders the all-good and honourable Mary executed, she explains in an awkward stage whisper/interior monologue that she does not want to do it; she is somehow forced into it by circumstances. So much for being strong, when responsibility must be taken.

There is inevitably one exception to all the men in the movie being weak and duplicitous. An African character cannot have any moral failings, even if male. Lord Randolph stands apart by staying true to his sovereign. And he always counsels both honourably and wisely. Pity there weren’t more Africans and Asians in England at the time, or the whole mess might have been averted. 

They Shall Not a Grow Old, following the current fashion, was anecdotal history by ordinary people caught up in events. Do we have Studs Terkel to blame for this? To my mind, anecdotal history, this sort of “eyewitness history,” is of little value. Why do we study history? It is to draw lessons, as with a parable. “those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it.” Appeasement does not work; perseverance in the face of defeat can win through; early victory can turn into eventual defeat; don’t tax without representation; and so forth.

We get none of this with anecdotal history. None of us really needs to know how to survive in the trenches. All that is left is voyeurism, like chasing an ambulance to ogle the carnage from an accident. Or like a sideshow at the circus. Unlike traditional history, there is no plot, no development. Just one damned thing after another, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The movie was a technical accomplishment, but no more.

Stan and Ollie leaned heavily for its appeal on recreating Laurel and Hardy’s most famous skits. So what? All the originals are available online on YouTube; and nobody does Laurel and Hardy better than Laurel and Hardy. It felt lazy and exploitative. And again, a bit of a star turn for the actors, trying to make you believe. You never did, of course, but you were constantly distracted by the performance: did that sound like Hardy? Did that look like Laurel?

The film also suffered from the laugh track. Audience reactions were consistently shown as wildly enthusiastic—roaring with laughter. Again, this felt lazy and exploitative; it felt like begging for laughs. Laurel and Hardy skits tend to be endearing and whimsical rather than laugh-out-loud funny.

So, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly put in fine performances. If that’s the sort of thing you go to movies for, you’ll like this. But as a movie, it had nothing else.