Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Unjust Magistrate

He also spoke a parable to them that they must always pray and not give up, saying, “There was a judge in a certain city who didn’t fear God and didn’t respect man. A widow was in that city, and she often came to him, saying, ‘Defend me from my adversary!’ He wouldn’t for a while; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.’ ” 
The Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says. Won’t God avenge his chosen ones who are crying out to him day and night, and yet he exercises patience with them? I tell you that he will avenge them quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is what a parable looks like: no names, and shocking. God is blasphemously compared to an unjust judge. The parable implies that He can be worn out, get tired; nonsensical for a perfect being.

As usual, the story is actually saying the opposite of what it seems to say on superficial reading. It is all in the last line.

It seems to say God will answer prayer. It is really explaining why God does not answer prayer.

Unlike the unjust judge, God does not disdain mankind and want to be rid of us. Instead, he loves us. The parable illustrates that, if he easily gives us what we want, we will probably go away and forget about him. The last thing he wants us to do is go away and forget about him.

So he will present us with problems and fail to give us what we ask, for the sake of deepening the relationship. To progress, we must learn to be grateful, and to continue the conversation, even when he fulfills our wishes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Narcissism Is Good for You. Not.

Narcissus showing his emotional flexibility.

A new study announces that narcissism can be the key to happiness.

This is not an entirely new claim. Alice Miller asserts the same.

It is nonsense.

Look at the original story of Narcissus; it gives the full diagnosis and prognosis. So does much of the rest of the literary tradition. Narcissus dies of grief, then suffers eternally in the underworld.

The legend of Tantalus is also an analysis of narcissism. His fate is proverbially bad.

Tantalus in the underworld.

So is every Greek tragedy; what the classical Greeks called hubris, we call narcissism.

The new study says that narcissism makes one resilient and able to overcome challenges. This is the opposite what is shown in literature: Narcissus is unable to overcome the simplest emotional blow. He cannot even turn his head away from his reflection, stand up, and go and get something to eat. He dies rather than suffer it.

Where is this false claim of happy narcissism coming from?

It is easy to see how any researcher who wanted to could come up with such results. Simply ask the narcissist.

“Are you emotionally resilient?”

Of course; the narcissist will insist that they are perfect. Of course they are emotionally resilient, if this is a good thing.

“Are you unhappy?”

This sounds like a bad thing. So no, of course, they are not unhappy. They will, if pressed, quickly admit to being abused and cruelly mistreated by any or all their intimates, or by the world itself, but if you frame it in such a way that it seems to reflect on them, no, they are not unhappy. Their life is wonderful.

You can get a narcissist to say anything, so long as they think it reflects well on them; and deny anything, so long as they think it makes them look bad.

More broadly, this survey illustrates a fatal problem with the social sciences. They are no more than a cargo cult based on the prestige of physical science. Among extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds, they are about the craziest mass delusion ever; and they have persisted for over a hundred years. Because human beings are so complex—as complex as any human observer—they cannot be reliably objectively observed. It is therefore always possible to produce studies coming to any given conclusion.

Just recently, I had to cut a chapter out of a book. I had come across a number of studies showing that a vegetarian and fish-based diet, without red meat, reduced the risk of depression. Looked definitive.

Right then, a new study came out showing that eating red meat was important in preventing depression.

Because the social sciences do not work, what happens is that everyone manipulates studies to make whatever point they want to make. It becomes entirely politics, and dangerously misleading. I expect the “red meat prevents depression” study had a lot to do with politics. But then, perhaps the original vegetarian claims did too.

The most interesting study in the social sciences is this one, which has been repeated at least three times: fifty percent of all study results in the social sciences cannot be repeated.

That means any claim you read in the social sciences is about as useful for decision-making as flipping a coin.

Among narcissists, there is, of course, an inevitable desire to make narcissism appear to be a good thing. And so we are unable, through the social sciences, to ever get a good fix on narcissism.

The researcher for the current study makes his political agenda plain enough:

"This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.” 
"This move forward may help to reduce the marginalisation of individuals that score higher than average on the dark traits.”

Fortunately, we have the literary corpus. 

Read it.

Small Dead Animals

Kate McMillan over at Small Dead Animals has kindly featured Playing the Indian Card on her blog.

The least I can do is to link back...

Exit Wexit

Canadian election results by riding.

I think the current upwelling of talk of “Wexit” in Alberta and Saskatchewan is undignified and does nothing to impress Central Canada.

After all, in the normal course of things, there is likely to be a new election in two years, the Conservatives are likely to win, and at least some of the policies that are so damaging to the energy sector are likely to be reversed.

So it makes sense to break up the country, with all the emotional and economic dislocation that would cause, instead of just waiting for two years?

Some might argue that a change in government is not enough; that these problems are endemic. They keep returning. But the problems that cannot be reversed by a change in federal government largely won’t be reversed because they are beyond the control of the federal government—opposition to pipelines from Quebec, or the US, or BC, or aboriginal groups. Separating from Canada will only make these problems worse; the red tape grows exponentially, and Alberta’s electoral leverage is gone.

Time is on Alberta’s side: western Canada is growing in population faster than the east. Over time, Alberta’s, Saskatchewan’s, and oil-bearing BC’s financial and electoral voices will get louder. Why would you quit just before you get promoted to the executive suite?

So it really all looks, from this corner of Central Canada, like a tantrum. I say that as a sometime Alberta resident. For the record, I support pipelines in all directions.

Nations split because of major cultural differences; most Albertans are first or second generation migrants from further east. If the situation really were intolerable for them, they have the easy option of moving back.

Or nations split because of some grave moral principle, like slavery. Does waiting a few years for a new pipeline really fit the bill? Realistically, oil or gas not sold today is not lost; it remains in the ground to be sold tomorrow. Possibly at a higher price.

Forget “Wexit.” That is a quitter’s game. It’s time to storm the battlements instead.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Rich Man and Lazarus

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Jesus’s story of the rich man and poor Lazarus is interesting for several reasons.

For one thing, it looks superficially like a parable, yet is not a parable. A parable is a made-up story given as an illustration of some philosophical point. People never have names in parables, to make the point that they are not actual people. Places and times are also not given. Lazarus in this story is named, and so apparently is a real person.

Parables also always contain some shocking or improbable element. There seems to be no such reversal in the tale of the rich man and Lazarus. 

So it is to be read literally.

And this is very interesting, because it is a description of the afterlife, and of hell.

So, no, if you are going to accept the Bible as authority, you cannot fudge this one. Afterlife and hell are not metaphors or symbolic or figurative language. They are real places, and, contrary to Bishop Barron and von Balthazar, there are real people there. And there is real suffering.

Gustav Dore

And, according to the story, once you are in hell, there is no way out.

Also interesting—this story says that Judaism remains valid into the New Covenant; there is no point in a Jew converting to Christianity. If you will not follow the law and the prophets, you will not follow Jesus any better.

The other interesting thing in the story is that Lazarus does not go to heaven because of his good deeds. One can say that the rich man goes to hell for immorality; not obvious or aggressive immorality, not bad deeds, but for a lack of concern for a poor man at his door. A frightening warning for the rich. But there is no act of Lazarus’s, on the other hand, that establishes his own concern for others. For all we know, if he possessed riches, he would act just like the rich man in the tale. 

Abraham actually says plainly that Lazarus goes to heaven not because of his merit but because of his suffering: “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.’”

Suffering, then, is redemptive. 

Memento Mori

Some classy Hallowe'en decor: Day of the Dead pillows.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Let Them Eat Cake

To be fair, she never said it. It stuck because it was assumed to reflect the cluelessness of the nobility generally.

A few years ago, with Brexit, the election of Trump, and the various populist movements in Europe, we saw the general population revolt against the elites.

Now we see the elites revolt against the general population.

That seems to me to be the point of the Pachamama display at the Vatican. In reaction to the recent scandals about clerical abuses, the hierarchy are asserting their presumed right to do as they bloody well please. The peons are to be put in their place.

We see the same instinct, I think, in the current US House of Representatives push to impeach Trump. It seems otherwise nonsensical. There is no clear sign of any actual high crime or misdemeanor. If they impeach, a majority Republican Senate won’t convict. If it convicts, that leaves them with Mike Pence.

There is an presidential election in a year from now; if they impeach, the impeachment will come only months before the election. An election in which, if Trump is guilty of some blatant abuse of office, the voters can be expected to react accordingly. Just as the system is supposed to work in normal circumstances.

So why on earth a drive to impeach right now? The only explanation, surely, is to thumb their nose at the electorate. It is a deliberate vote of no confidence in the general population. It seems to serve no purpose but this symbolic insult.

Something similar is going on in Britain over Brexit. The House of Commons is aggressively and openly trying to thwart the popular will as expressed in the Brexit referendum, at the same time refusing an election.

It is all just like a small child throwing a tantrum.

It is a revolutionary moment in history. I hope it is not a bloody revolution.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Western Standard Is Back

This is cool. Following in the footsteps of Catholic Insight, The Western Standard is back as an online publication.

Neither, perhaps, was ever really dead. This is just the transition from the old media model to the new media.

Bad Advice for Scheer and the Tories

The spectre of populism.
In the wake of the Canadian federal election, the general consensus among the punditry has become that Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives lost.

This is in itself debatable. By several measures, Scheer did unusually well.

Moreover, the consensus is hardening that the reason they lost was that Scheer’s “social conservatism” was not marketable in the East. The Tories, if they ever want to win again, we are warned, need to get rid of any trace or hint or vestige of distaste for abortion or for gay marriage.

And that is what it amounts to, too; because the Tories already publicly support both abortion and gay marriage.

The proof everyone turns to is apparently Scheer’s fumbling of a question about abortion in the first French language debate.

I think this advice to the Tories is exactly wrong, and demonstrably wrong, given that this is what they are already doing.

They ought to go the other way. I don’t think they can do anything on gay marriage, and I don’t think anyone cares. Other than legislation to protect the conscience rights of individuals and religious groups who dissent from the practice. But they should come out for some modest restriction on abortion.

Steve Paiken’s preferred pollster on TVO, Advanced Symbolics, using newer technology and rolling polls, was extremely accurate on the final result of the election. And their polling suggested that the reason Scheer’s vote fell near the end of the campaign was simply that the media, he, and Trudeau were all saying that the Conservatives were poised to win. That scared a bunch of NDP votes over to the Liberals.

If Scheer’s awkward answer on abortion hurt him, I suspect it hurt him because of its timidity rather than because it revealed his support of unregulated abortion was not heartfelt. Not speaking plainly about such issues promotes a sense of a Tory "hidden agenda,” and an aura of dishonesty. That is what may be killing them.

Consider this comparison: for generations, in North America, socialists have not dared call themselves socialists, considering the term electoral death. So we had the Canadian socialists declaring themselves first “the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation,” then “the New Democratic Party.” No, not socialism: a “cooperative commonwealth.” A “new democracy”…

Then, in the last election cycle, Bernie Sanders came out and ran using the term openly. And suddenly among the Democrats, and among young people, everyone seems to want to be a socialist. It is as though a dam broke. All it took was honesty, and socialism went from something bad to something good, in the eyes of that society.

I expect it would work the same way for social conservatism in Canada. Everyone is afraid of being the first, and perhaps committing some social faux pas. But it is easy for a real leader to move that “Overton window.” In Canada, I suspect there is now a huge pent-up demand for it.

According to polls, only 32% of Canadians support unrestricted abortion, the present situation. And that number is declining. Yet currently all federal parties adamantly support unrestricted abortion. Let Scheer come out for some limited restriction on it, let this become a major issue, and the Tories get 68% of the vote. More than any government in Canadian history. The other three or four parties must fight over shards of the remaining third.

By normal political calculations, this ought to be a no-brainer.

Why hasn’t Scheer done this? Why haven’t the Tories? I think the bottom line has to be class consciousness. As a publisher friend of mine warned me, against any straying from the officially endorsed positions on life, the universe, and everything, “Sure, Jordan Peterson sold a lot of books. But nobody respects him anymore.”

Nobody? That is, members of his own class, the educated and ensconsed in academics, journalism, publishing, government, law, education—and politics. Nobody else really exists, to this elite. They think only of the people they socialize with, the members of their own class, and their status within this group.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Pachamama Museum in Pope Francis's native Argentina.

Sad to say, I think that Bishop Barron, probably the most prominent Catholic evangelist in America, is a heretic.

I pulled out on his video series “Catholicism” near the beginning, when he declared that the plan of creation was that we all would become gods.

That sounds to me like straight idolatry. That sounds a whole lot like what the serpent said to Eve: “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

I have listened to him since on YouTube, without finding him compelling. He smiles too much, leaving out the tough parts.

He argues that Hell may be empty. I think he is wrong and unbiblical there.

Now I hear him assert that when after the crucifixion Jesus descended to the dead, it was to the depths of hell, to set all sinners free.

This is not the teaching of the Church. The Catechism says “Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.” (para. 633, CCC) This was affirmed by two Ecumenical Councils, at Rome and Toledo. Jesus died not for all, but for “many.”

Worst of all, in expressing his view that all are saved, Bishop Barron gave no indication that it was controversial within the Church.

Of course, it is no surprise that a bishop could be unreliable on doctrine. We know there is rot in the hierarchy. I know from personal experience that most Protestant ministers—I studied under a lot of them in grad school—are not Christian. They do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, and do not really believe in a personal God. I have known priests who were not Christian too. As we know, some are only there for the gay sex.

And then there is the current Amazonian synod, and those strange statues of a naked pregnant woman that have now been thrown into the Tiber.

What was that about? It seems to have been nothing less than a deliberate provocation by some significant body within the hierarchy, an expression of open contempt towards Catholic teaching. They were bowing publicly before a statue they would not identify. That necessarily, quite rightly, and surely quite intentionally evoked the golden calf in the Sinai Desert, or the Abomination of Desolation in the Temple at Jerusalem that provoked the Maccabee revolt. They were taunting the “deplorables.” 

One of the Pachamama statues displayed at the Amazon synod.

It seems to me a healthy sign that some unknown modern Maccabees took it upon themselves to toss them in the Tiber. War had been declared; this was a defensive move.

Now the Pope has declared sides: he has apologized for the vandalism that occurred in his diocese—that is, the assault on the statues. In doing so, he also identified the figure as “Pachamama,” an Amazonian aboriginal goddess of the earth. “Mother Earth.” 

Ceremony in Vatican gardens.

Identifying the statues as indeed idolatrous. Although, for the record, he said they were displayed "without idolatrous intent."

I hesitate to say what this means regarding the Pope. Put simply, he is apparently not Catholic.

I have direct memories of six popes now: John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. Each has been to me a rock amid the tumult of the modern age. Some were deeply troubled by Vatican II. I was not. I thought it was valuable, even vital, for its affirmation of ecumenicism. I had no problem with the vernacular mass. I thought less of Pope Paul for suppressing the Latin mass; I saw no reason for that. But I figured Paul was trying to hold things together at a difficult time; his steadfast opposition to abortion was worth more than liturgical errors. It might have been a trade he felt he had to make.

I remember, when JPII emerged on the balcony after the conclave, we were all whispering, “Who is he?” Yet there was also an immediate excitement. We could feel this was a historic choice.

I was overjoyed when Benedict emerged on the balcony. We knew him well, and had been hoping for this.

When Francis emerged, again we did not know who he was. Yet the sense was very different from the unknown JPII. My heart sank. I have heard others say the same. Charisma is a real thing. My sense was, “This is not a spiritual man. This is a bureaucrat.”

The Church, of course, will survive. The Church has gone through difficult times before, and been led by unholy men.

But who now is left to light our way?

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Sober Second Thought

Canadian Senate Chamber

In the wake of the Canadian election, I hear many people calling for electoral reform. They want a move from the “first-past-the-post” system to some form of proportional representation. Andrew Coyne is a leading proponent. Trudeau promised it at the previous election.

I am not enthusiastic. People seem to want it because it would be a more accurate reflection of voter intentions. I do not see this as the primary goal of our electoral system. The main benefit of an electoral democracy is that it provides an orderly transition of governments. Most other systems regularly dissolve into bloodshed and chaos at regular intervals for the transfer of power.

An election also serves as an objective check, so that the nation can get rid of an incompetent, corrupt, or oppressive government. And knowing they can be voted out of power at the next election gives those in charge a reason not to steal everything in sight: once out of power, they might be prosecuted.

But having a government that reflects the popular will as closely as possible is not an important goal—so long as it does so in broad terms, there are other considerations that argue against too much democracy. Our system understands this, and has been designed accordingly.

The people, for one thing, have no special expertise in making laws, in managing foreign relations, in making a prosperous economy, and so forth. They are entirely liable to make bad decisions.

Further, democracy is dangerous to any minority. The majority can and naturally will gang up on and plunder the minority. Notice that Hitler was democratically elected.

As a result, our system, and other modern democratic systems, have features that limit the power of the people. First, obviously enough, everyone does not vote on every issue. Instead, we elect representatives, presumably people with some expertise, to decide for us. Second, election by riding instead of by proportional representation ensures that geographical minorities cannot be so steamrolled. The federal structure serves the same purpose: as much as possible, matters are decided at a more local level.

Then there is, in Canada, the Senate, an unelected body supposedly of eminent citizens, to give our legislation “sober second thought.” Because they stay until retirement, they necessarily develop expertise, and are presumed not influenced by every political wind.

Then, since 1982, there is the Constitution, limiting what the elected government is allowed to do. The Supreme Court has recently been given the power to disallow laws on the grounds that they go against the constitution, no matter how popular they might be.

You can get into a lot of trouble by tinkering with your electoral system; the current Brexit crisis in the UK is due to some tinkering done by the Cameron and the Blair governments over the last few years: introducing referenda on major issues, taking the power to dissolve parliament away from the Crown, separating the prime ministership from the support of the house, giving the Supreme Court the right to overrule parliament. It’s a mess.

The Westminster system has been tested repeatedly and on the whole served well, for centuries, in several countries. Proportional representation systems have tended to end in either revolutionary upheaval or collapse. They are less flexible.

Elizabeth May inadvertently explains why. She complains about the Westminster system because it causes “policy lurch”: successive government tends to change the national direction. Exactly: this is its flexibility. In a crisis, the Westminster system can switch course quickly and fairly dramatically. A proportional representation system, by contrast, has a huge problem in changing direction. It muddles on, incoherent in its policies, even if the roof is on fire. Nothing can ever substantially be improved.

Under the Westminster system, for example, the UK was able to switch smartly into warrior mode in the Second World War, bringing in Churchill. Under the Westminster system, the UK was able to transform itself under Margaret Thatcher when its economy was no longer working.

All that said, I do see a useful place for proportional representation in Canada: in the Senate.

Right now, the Senate is a useless appendage. Its traditional role, of “sober second thought,” has been stripped away. Let’s restore its relevance by electing it by proportional representation.

Here’s my idea: when the Crown dissolves parliament, it dissolves both houses: the Commons and the Senate. The people vote only once, just as they do now; but this vote is used to elect both chambers. Members of the House of Commons are elected directly. But then the national popular vote is tallied, as it is now, and Senate seats are assigned to the parties based on their share of the popular vote.

Assume a Senate of 100 seats, if only for ease of illustration; the Senate is currently 105 seats. Given the popular vote this election, the Conservatives would have 34 Senate seats, the Liberals 33, the NDP 16, the BQ 8, the Greens 7, and the PPC 2. If we want to keep the 105 figure, maybe we could add in automatic seats for the last five living prime ministers.

Notice that the PPC, Greens, and NDP get more representation in this Chamber than they do in the Commons; the BQ gets less. The Commons is set up to protect geographical minorities. The Senate, under proportional representation, would protect political minorities, minority opinions or perhaps ethnic minorities that do not have the good fortune to have a geographical base.

But this new Senate could also do something protect geographical minorities. Currently, the Liberal government will have no seats in Alberta or Saskatchewan. It will have no members of cabinet from those provinces, no one in government to speak for that regions interests.

Give the political parties the right to appoint their Senate quota after the election, and each party can use this quota, or some of it, to correct such regional deficits. The Liberals can appoint some Senators from Alberta and Saskatchewan, who could then serve in Cabinet; the Conservatives or NDP can similarly compensate for their regional deficits. And parties can, if they wish, use their Senate allotment to balance their caucus in other ways: for sex, or ethnicity, or whatever they think important. How each party actually chooses their senators could be left up to them: appointment by party leader, by vote of their membership, by committee, or whatever.

Such a system would also allow us to keep figures like Lisa Raitt or Ralph Goodale or Maxime Bernier in public life if they lost their Commons seats. Politics would become less bloody; and more attractive to good people.

What would the Senate do? It could, in effect, be given back its old position of sober second thought. All bills would have to be initiated in the Commons. The Senate could only repeal, or refuse a new bill. To avoid the gridlock usual to proportional representation systems, I suggest this power of refusal, as opposed to repeal, be limited: a bill newly passed could only be rejected by the Senate on constitutional grounds. Properly, the federal government has the legal right to reject laws passed by the provinces; let’s give this power, too, to the Senate, on the same condition: that any rejection or repeal of a provincial law be on constitutional grounds.

This power could then be taken away from the Supreme Court. I think this is a great advantage: the Supreme Court has become activist, and this is profoundly undemocratic. It amounts to government passing into the hands of a small unelected professional elite.

I propose that the Supreme Court could no longer rule on the constitutionality of any law until and unless it had first been ruled unconstitutional by the Senate. The Supreme Court could then overturn this decision in case it was too political, and not really defensible on constitutional grounds.

But note that any law could be repealed by the Senate on any grounds, whether or not it was constitutional, once it had been in force for a given period—say five years. This gives the Senate a role in keeping the government from becoming too large and too intrusive.

One nice feature of this particular electoral reform is that it would cost nothing. Any other imaginable switch to proportional representation is likely to cost a lot. It also keeps the system of casting and counting votes exactly as it is now, minimizing the risk of introducing new problems.

Because they are not reliant for their continuing political careers on pleasing one specific subgroup of Canadians—those in their riding—such a Senate might also become a force for national unity.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A Historic Election

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this, but I hear online that the Trudeau Liberals are forming a government with the lowest share of the popular vote in Canadian history. That's how splintered the vote was this time.

The Case for a Continuing People's Party of Canada

Andrew Coyne, who may be the brightest person in Canada, argues counter to the common fear of a second right-wing party splitting the vote, keeping the Liberals permanently in power.

There are, after all, Coyne points out, four parties on the left—and yet the Liberals are the one party most often in power. How does that work?

How is it, for that matter, that the Canadian public seems generally to the left of our next-door neighbour, the US, in politics generally?

Isn’t it precisely because we have smaller parties on the left?

These force the left’s issues onto the national consciousness; the population repeatedly hears the left-wing point of view advocated. By comparison, the one right-wing party, always seeking the centre, will most often not even bring right-wing issues up. The job of a centre-left or centre-right party is always to follow the polls, and move where they think the voters are moving. The job of an ideological party on the left or right is to advance ideas. With three leftist ideological parties, and no rightist ones, only leftist ideas are advanced.

This moves what is called the “Overton window,” of what people consider acceptable solutions and acceptable discussions, ever further left.

Something like the People’s Party of Canada, an “NDP of the right,” might, Coyne suggests, be exactly what we need to keep our politics healthy. It could do the job of presenting a the right-wing view, leaving the Conservatives, like the Liberals, to tack to the centre for power.

People fear this because of the example of the Reform Party, whose rivalry with the PCs seemingly sustained Chretien’s Liberals in power for a generation.

But the reason that was a problem is that Reform was not an ideological right-wing party. Preston Manning never identified it as either left or right. It was a party of Western regional alienation. As it grew in success, it challenged the PCs for the centre-right. And so the anti-government vote was indeed split until one or the other party could establish dominance. Because of the splintering, at one point during the transition, the Bloc Quebecois was actually the Official Opposition.

The PPC, if it survives, seems well-positioned to fill this need for a non-regional ideological party of the right. Although Coyne does not like it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Scheer is not PM

Christie Blatchford makes an interesting observation: in robotically repeating a nonsensical talking point to avoid answering reporters’ questions on the Kinsella affair in the closing days of the campaign, Scheer was channeling Justin Trudeau. If it were not enough to mostly appropriate the Liberal platform, Scheer seems to have taken Trudeau as a role model.

How insane is this as an electoral strategy, if you seek to replace Trudeau? If people like Justin Trudeau, they are likely to prefer Justin Trudeau to some imitator.

We are swiftly hearing talk of replacing Scheer as leader of the Conservatives.

This seems odd. He improved the party’s performance over last election, after all, and it would have been almost unprecedented to defeat a government in the next election from their first majority.

But I think it is summed up in one simple sentence: “He is not a leader.” He does not have the soul of a leader. He has the soul of a House Speaker. People are beginning to grasp this at an intuitive level. Blatchford might even have used that phrase: “He is not a leader.” He does not understand leadership, and defaults to a weird co-dependency. He will always find a way to lose.

It is as Julius Caesar said of his arch-rival Pompey: had the latter been a leader, there is no way Caesar could have defeated him at Dyrrachium. Napoleon expressed the same when he said “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.”

In your gut, you somehow know Scheer will never be Prime Minister. Or if he ever became one, he would quickly throw it away, like Joe Clark did, as though he were holding something with a lit fuse. Any real leader, given the circumstances, would have beaten Justin Trudeau this time.

Canadian Federal Election: The Hangover

I am not surprised by the Canadian election results. They are about as the polls predicted. But they are saddening.

Sad that Trudeau has been re-elected, with a not-all-that-much-reduced caucus after SNC-Lavalin. That suggests a tolerance for corruption in our government which will surely encourage its spread.

Sad that Maxime Bernier lost his seat. He was the voice of honesty in our parliament and politics. He was the only one speaking on some important issues. Honesty was punished. This will discourage its spread. I fear he may give up the fight; although on election night he said the PPC carries on.

Sad that Lisa Raitt lost her seat. She was an important voice, perhaps THE voice, for decency and tolerance beyond partisanship in our politics. Our civil discourse has already become demented. This will encourage it to get worse. Mudslinging is now rewarded; respecting your political opponents is punished.

Sad that the BQ has surged, and the NDP declined, in Quebec. So much for a return to healthy normalcy in Quebec politics. Back to the endless barren impoverishing fight over sovereignty and mutual regional antagonism. Bernier’s loss is alarming for the same reason.

Sad in the same way that Ralph Goodale lost his seat. The Liberals will now be in government, with no prominent voices from Alberta or Saskatchewan. Just what we need—renewed Western alienation.

Sad that Jane Philpott lost her seat. Like Bernier, a lonely voice for honesty in our politics, and punished for it. First by her party, now by the electors. We won’t now see such honour soon again.

Sad too that nobody’s results were so bad as to prompt a leadership change. All of them can now justify staying on. The lack of inspiring leadership at the federal level is itself gravely dangerous for Canadian unity.

In fact, the result shows just how important Stephen Harper’s leadership was as PM. As soon as he was voted out, all hell is breaking out. All the divisions that seemed to rather quickly dissipate when he took charge are reappearing.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Final Election Prediction

Warren Kinsella.

I called the last Canadian election wrong. I thought the highest likelihood, as I recall, was for a Conservative minority. If not, an NDP minority. But then, most people got it wrong.

So, one day out, what about this time?

I expect a weak Liberal minority.

That is what the polls predict. The polls, we find recently, can be wrong, and they tend consistently to be wrong in the same direction: they underestimate the conservative vote.

But I think Scheer may have been hurt by the last-minute revelation that he was paying Warren Kinsella to subvert the PPC.

That sends a bad message to Scheer’s base. Firstly, a lot of them have been sympathetic to Bernier’s platform, but planning to vote Conservative strategically. This revelation underlines the sense that there really is no difference between the Tories and the Liberals anyway: in the backrooms, Scheer was in cahoots with an arch-Liberal operative. They’re all the same bunch, it seems. And he was hiring Kinsella to push the same divisive message as the Liberals, that those on the right were all “racists.” A false claim enough conservative voters have themselves been victimized by. To this basket of deplorables, Scheer must now look like an enemy agent. Or at best, someone you cannot trust.

At the same time, this tends at a stroke to discredit any and all charges against the PPC of racism. One must now assume they were all mocked up by Kinsella. Many people may now give them a second look.

The likely result is that some of Scheer’s base will stay home, having lost their enthusiasm. Others will vote PPC when they would before have voted Tory for strategic reasons. This should shift a few percentage points away from the Conservatives, and in this race, a few percentage points are the whole hockey game.

For these times, I think Scheer chose the wrong campaign strategy. His idea was the old one, of triangulating to win the centre from Trudeau. My sense is this no longer works, because with social media, they can go back and see what you said before. Now, consistency counts more.

The polls seem to confirm this. Scheer’s attempts to fudge and shuffle to the middle have bought him nothing. His polling has not budged beyond the traditional Conservative base. The parties that have gained support through the campaign are the ideological ones: the NDP and the BQ.

Polls show the PPC so far down that I doubt they will elect anyone other than Bernier. But at least, with this last minute bombshell, they have the potential to surprise. For one thing, it puts them at the centre of attention just before the vote. It positions them as the one party to vote for to really buck the establishment. And the bogus label of racism is now discredited.

Perhaps the next question is who will be the new Conservative leader?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Ontario English Curriculum

Looking over the Ontario high school English curriculum. It’s changed a fair bit from my student days. As it should have. Back when I went through, it was heavy on literature, and on narrative and poetry specifically. That suited me, but it was not practical. We were never even taught how to write an academic essay. We did not read any essays. Let alone the varieties of writing important in business and technical fields. We were taught nothing of rhetoric; outside Shakespeare, we did not read any great speeches. We did not debate or study argument. And no film or TV or radio or newspapers or magazines or comic books or songs. That was already out of touch with reality then—for this, not hardbound books, was where we absorbed the largest part of our English and English lit. It would be far weirder now, with YouTube, the Internet, and so on. And Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.

You may argue that, from such a historically smaller sample, it is less likely for truly fine literature to be found in these newer media. Fair point; but at the same time, if you want fine literature in the future, you want to train upcoming writers in these living forms. Train them to write poetry and short stories, and they will live and die in garrets unread.

So it is good to see the curriculum expanded in this way:

“The reading program should include a wide variety of literary, informational, and graphic texts that engage students’ interest and imagination – for example, novels; poetry; myths, fables, and folk tales; short stories; textbooks and books on topics in science, history, mathematics, geography, and other subjects; biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and journals; plays and radio, film, or television scripts; encyclopaedia entries; graphs, charts, and diagrams in textbooks or magazine articles; instructions and manuals; graphic novels, comic books, and cartoons; newspaper articles and editorials; databases and websites; and essays and reports.”

However, I suspect this has been done for the wrong reason, and so probably not well. The curriculum is now entirely skills-based; the point is to develop the skills needed for employment. This is no doubt why literature has been de-emphasized. This sounds reasonable, but E.D. Hirsh Jr. has demonstrated that learning only skills and not the specific content of a culture leaves one, by college level, illiterate. One needs a certain body of shared knowledge to make sense of a new text.

So it makes sense to pare this back to make more room for skills; but this makes the precise selection of the texts to be read all the more important. They had better be the real classics.

And for the rest, the curriculum is badly wrong.

Another of my frustrations back in the day was that the literature we got was always from England or from America. We did not get to see much Canadian writing, and I thought and still think that was alarming. Again you could argue that, with a much smaller pool from which to fish, the quality of Canadian materials would be lesser. But there is a second consideration: that was pretty discouraging for a Canadian kid who wanted to be a writer. The natural inference was that such things were not possible here. And it becomes a hard claim to sustain now that Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize. Canlit has long seemed to be more popular abroad than at home. It’s the colonial mentality at work.

But that, sadly, has not changed. The curriculum now acknowledges the narrowness of featuring only British and American writers. So where does it go? Anywhere but Canada. “They should be exposed to literary works drawn from many genres, historical periods, and cultures.” Likely leaving even less room for the Canadian experience. The colonial mentality dies hard.

No wonder the damaging myth that “there is no Canadian mainstream.”

There is also an obvious problem with building an English curriculum on writings from non-English-speaking cultures. Valuable as they might be in some ways, they are in translation, and so are not models of English.

Okay, so what if you just have English writing set in other cultures, or featuring non-Anglophone protagonists?

Fine—cultural appropriation. You can’t win on that one.

Or choose pieces written by a tiny minority in the given country who are fluent in English. To begin with, you are automatically not getting an authentic perspective, then, but that of a Westernized elite who are just as likely to be out of touch with the real culture and ordinary life as any Western visitor. And you are fishing in a very small pond; quality is sure to be less.

And this need for diversity is an entirely fake problem. There is no need for intervention to make sure classes include texts reflecting unfamiliar backgrounds. Everywhere and at all times, an exotic locale and exotic characters are things readers automatically seek. Why else did Shakespeare set so many of his plays in Italy or Greece instead of Sussex? Why did Coleridge wrote of Xanadu? Why did Gulliver set sail instead of stay in Middlesex? Why are the James Bond movies always set in some exotic locale? Why do people want to read about cowboys or knights errant or Hobbits or Wookies and Ewoks? Because they reflect so well their own life experiences?

The likeliest result of the current curriculum is to introduce worse writing along with a boring sameness.

And that is only the beginning of the troubles with this new curriculum. Along with wanting to have something to reflect every race and culture, it also wants to balance selections to appeal to both males and females. That is, in principle, a good idea. Most things in schools today are cruelly biased against boys.

But they get this so wrong it is hard to believe it is not malicious.

“Resources should be chosen not only to reflect diversity but also on the basis of their appeal for both girls and boys in the classroom. Recent research has shown that many boys are interested in informational materials, such as manuals and graphic texts [they mean charts and graphs], as opposed to works of fiction, which are often more appealing to girls.”

This is just not credible to anyone who knows any actual boys. Both boys and girls equally like works of fiction. Girls like romances and fairy tales; boys like stories of adventure and hero legends. Both boys and girls find manuals, charts and graphs boring; but they both equally need to be able to read them for employment purposes.

Image from The Boys' Book of Adventure. Note the exotic locale.

So what this imaginary division suggests in practice is that all the interesting stuff is chosen for the girls’ taste. The boys get nothing.

Inevitably, the curriculum also wants to put something in for the LGBTQ lobby as well as feminists. “In inclusive programs, students are made aware of the historical, cultural, and political contexts for both the traditional and non-traditional gender and social roles represented in the materials they are studying.”

This is contradictory. By definition, non-traditional gender and social roles are not going to be commonly represented in the tradition. Forcing them into the curriculum will mean using inferior materials that do not reflect the cultural or historical context. Catch-22.

Inevitably, modern critics have decided Huckleberry Finn and Nigger Jim were having gay sex on their raft. 

Of course, this means that any fictional girl who dresses as a boy to be with her lover is now going to be declared transgender; and every story of a close male friendship is to be read as implying gay sex. Aside from doing serious violence to the texts, this is going to make sex seem far more important than it really is to students at an age when sex is already likely to unduly preoccupy them. And, with all due respect to homosexuals, a kind of sex that is unlikely to lead to a happy life. Gays themselves commonly make the point that the gay life is not a gay one: leaving aside any possible discrimination or vulnerability to disease, it becomes inestimably harder to find a life partner. And one has no children.

Another of the problems with the high school education I got is that we were never taught to think. I always thought that was deliberate. We were being indoctrinated instead, to make us useful cogs in the machine. We were never taught debate, or logic, or the logical fallacies, or parliamentary procedure, or the real scientific method. We were never taught to question what we read. If it was in the textbook, it was so.

So it is initially heartening to see the new curriculum refer to the need for “questioning the text.”

Unfortunately, this is only mentioned as one in a string of other “comprehension strategies”: “predicting, visualizing, questioning, drawing inferences, identifying main ideas, summarizing, and monitoring and revising comprehension.” That looks like lip service.

One of these things is not like the other ones. Studies show an average student can pick up how to predict, visualize, identify main ideas, and summarize from any text in one class hour. One lesson. Doing this tired little routine again and again with every class is just tiresome, tedious and brain-numbing. Great way to teach a kid to hate reading…

And later we learn what “questioning” means. It is not following and testing the logic, or close observation of the details for hints of deeper meanings—the two things that make reading worthwhile. It means “to look beyond the literal meaning of texts and to think about fairness, equity, social justice, and citizenship in a global society.”

In other words, it is not questioning the text at all, but imposing politics on it. Far from being taught how to think, the students are being more aggressively indoctrinated, in a particular political point of view.

This is a lazy way to dismiss a text without having to address it: you call it “racist,” and then you do not need to consider what it is saying. And it is again too easy to do to merit class time. Anyone can probably learn to do it in another hour.

And seeing everything as political is totalitarian.

Comprehending a text turns out not to be, according to this curriculum, discovering its meaning. Instead, such comprehension skills “help students understand that reading is a process of constructing meaning.”

Which means you get to decide it means whatever you (or the powers that be) want it to mean. That’s a trick that does not need to be taught at all. Anyone can do it without any training. You don’t even need to be lucid.

Teacher prompt: “How might audiences of different backgrounds listening to this radio drama interpret it differently?”

The goal of comprehension should be to establish the correct, or most plausible, understanding of the text, not to examine different ways it could be misinterpreted; at least without acknowledging that one or another reading must be a misinterpretation.

In evaluating a text, students are supposed to consider

“What information is omitted in order to sustain the point of view? Whose interests are served by this point of view?”

This seems to omit the possibility that any statement might actually be true. There is no truth, apparently, and all statements are to be accepted or rejected purely on whether they serve your interests. Or those of the powers who run the school.

So why have English studies abandoned meaning and comprehension? Why have they given over to what Jordan Peterson calls “cultural Marxism”?

I think the component of the Ontario curriculum on “media studies” gives us an essential clue.

Note, to begin with, that the term “media studies” is illiterate: text is a medium, just as is film. Whoever wrote the curriculum is just throwing everything that is not print into one undifferentiated barrel, without considering it properly.

When the document speaks about print, it specifies the need for “correctly applying the conventions of language – grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation.” But when it turns to non-print media, the only concerns mentioned are:

“Students must be able to differentiate between fact and opinion; evaluate the credibility of sources; recognize bias; be attuned to discriminatory portrayals of individuals and groups, such as religious or sexual minorities, people with disabilities, or seniors; and question depictions of violence and crime.”

“Students’ repertoire of communication skills should include the ability to critically interpret the messages they receive through the various media.”

There is no special reason to study non-print media for this. All of these considerations are equally relevant to written texts. Why is this under “media studies”?

On the other hand, each medium has its own distinct grammar and vocabulary, comparable to but different from that of print: the mechanical and rhetorical considerations. Things like composing a page to draw the eye in a natural movement; or how to suggest the passage of time in a shot. And these are not even mentioned.

Why is this? Two reasons, I suspect, or two aspects of the same reason. First, in all probability, whoever put together the curriculum, and no doubt the average high school teacher too, figured they had to feature all these new high-tech things to be hep and look as though they were the authorities. At one point, the author of the curriculum explains,

“Skills related to high-tech media such as the Internet, film, and television are particularly important because of the power and pervasive influence these media wield in our lives and in society. Becoming conversant with these and other media can greatly expand the range of information sources available to students.”

This is pathetic. It implies that, without the far-seeing leadership of the Party, the average young person might be utterly unaware of things like movies, television, the Internet, video games, or graphic novels. Rather than the Party being roughly a century behind them.

But even in comparison to the average student, the average teacher, and the author of this curriculum, has no idea how to make a film, or lay out a web page, or design a video game, or compose a newspaper. They need to b.s. their way out. Politics and political correctness serves to cover for the fact that they do not know what they are doing; that they have no idea what is correct in any other sense.

At the same time, like everyone, they no doubt fear the unknown. They do not understand these media. And so they automatically suspect them of being nefarious: uniquely likely to lie, too subvert, to do evil. Comics are depraved. Television is depraved. Video games are depraved. They are a tissue of lies promoting racism and violence. Good reason not to have to teach about them in detail.

Now we can perhaps zoom out, to use the grammar of film, and see that the same is true, to a lesser extent, of the English curriculum generally; indeed, of the Humanities and the Social Sciences generally. Although not because of new technology. The problem is that in general, the people in charge in these fields do not know what they are doing or what they are talking about. Few people can write well, and few classroom teachers have the first idea how to write. Nor is it easy to understand Shakespeare. So it is safer to talk about politics, and suspect all authors of racism.

Beyond this, all the Humanities lost their proper raison d’etre a couple of generations ago when the schools and the academy dropped religion. The point of the Humanities is to form a human soul, a human character. They are training for a human life. But without an established system of values, one has no destination. With no destination, one has no idea in which direction to proceed.

So what to do? Postmodernism and political correctness. There is no meaning anywhere anyhow; it’s all politics.

So too, for a slightly different reason, with Social Sciences. Social Sciences emerged, in effect, as a non-religions replacement for the Humanities, supposedly based on science instead of theology/philosophy. Year after year, however, this new scientific approach has produced no useful and reproducible results. The reason is simple, and should have been predictable. In fact, it was predicted by Kant. Humans are not objects; they are independent subjects. They cannot and will not be passively studied as might a rock formation. So again you cover the nakedness of your field with easy and arbitrary political shibboleths and virtue signaling.

Nor does this curriculum actually evaluate anything.

The curriculum explains that evaluation should be in five categories: “Works Independently, Teamwork, Organization, Work Habits, and Initiative.”

Basic rule for good teaching violated: you do not evaluate on anything you did not teach. That is fundamentally unfair, and not related to learning. The curriculum does not include anything about teaching teamwork; this would be, essentially, parliamentary procedure, and it is a valuable skill. It is not clear that it teaches much of anything about how to work independently, or about developing good work habits, or developing initiative either. If it teaches organization, it is only in the limited sense of how to organize a sentence or a paragraph.

And, glaringly, there is no category included for evaluation the skills supposedly taught: say reading comprehension, or correct grammar.

The evaluation as given is only, it seems, of not causing the system any trouble. Given they exhibit the desired character traits, any student should be able to coast along through the system without developing knowledge or new skills. This conceals any possibility that they are not learning.

There are other flaws here.

“Effective teaching approaches involve students in the use of higher-level thinking skills and encourage them to look beyond the literal meaning of texts and to think about fairness, equity, social justice, and citizenship in a global society.”

Leave aside, this one time, the demand for political correctness. What is meant here by “higher-level thinking skills”? Who knows what that means?

They are presumably referring to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

This is a misunderstanding of it. By “high” and “low,” Bloom meant that “higher” forms of thinking were based on “lower” forms, as a pyramid would be based on its foundation. He did not mean that “higher” forms of thought were somehow better than or preferable to lower forms. He could not have; this would require a value judgement, and you can’t get there without an underlying religious assumption, of what the purpose of mankind and of life really is.

It follows that the LOWER forms are of greater utility. So the most time and the greatest emphasis should be on them. This curriculum, instead, calls for a concentration on the HIGHER forms, reading “higher” in ignorance to mean more valuable.

That is, in effect, standing a pyramid on its head. If Bloom is right, it is not likely to be a solid educational foundation.

Note too here the call to look beyond the “literal” meaning of texts. This too is ironically illiterate. In literary theory, looking beyond the literal means looking for metaphor, symbolism, unspoken implication, or allusion. This is difficult—the ability to do so, Aristotle says, is the sign of genius. Unable to do so, the curriculum designers yet again substitute politics.

It must be soul-crushing for any student who is particularly bright.

And one more thing, that sticks out like a sore tongue to any language teacher:

“Teachers need to encourage parents to continue to use their own language at home in rich and varied ways as a foundation for language and literacy development in English. It is also important for teachers to find opportunities to bring students’ languages into the classroom, using parents and community members as a resource.”

This is politics interfering with education. The consensus in the field of language learning is the reverse: one learns a new language fastest through total immersion. Ironically, the best research that this is so comes from Canada. In most language schools, use of the first language is prohibited.

To appease the current dogma of multiculturalism, the curriculum says the reverse.

On to Jerusalem!

This really appeals to me as a Hallowe'en costume: a crusading Knight Templar.

Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do

This CBC news item may explain why Warren Kinsella has come out so strongly against Justin Trudeau this election: he's been bought. He's working for the Conservatives behind the scenes.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

A Loathsome Cult?

Longtime Liberal backroom eminence, and one time right-hand man to Jean Chretien, has come out rather passionately against voting Liberal-Trudeau this time.

One gets the feeling he is not telling the whole story: that he has some personal chip on his shoulder, or that he knows something going about the smoky backrooms that we don't know.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Is it really getting to annoy you, as it does me, that every candidate begins their answer to every question with the word "look."

And I hate how they always make a fist with the index finger wrapped around the thumb instead of pointing. Nobody but a politician does that. That is from Bill Clinton. That is SO cliche.

And so is how every new government expenditure, whatever it is, is an "investment." Some are, some aren't. That's also from Clinton.

Does the Left Hand Know What the Left Hand Is Doing?

Main man of the Yang Gang.

I was unable to find a live feed last night for the US Democratic Presidential debate. I am only able to review someone else’s selections of highlights today.

Tulsi Gabbard seemed to be appealing for Republican support. She expressly disavowed talk of impeachment and Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” remark. She spoke of her personal friendship with Trey Gowdy.

This strikes me as good strategy. The rest of the field has been leaning left; she has less competition for Democratic moderates. Biden was doing well on this basis, but Biden is probably flaming out, with the Ukrainian/Chinese scandal. In addition, the Republican race is sewn up. No interest in their primaries. In such a case, Republicans may tend to cross over and vote in the Democratic primaries. So a Republican outreach may help her get the nomination.

And should she get the nomination, it will certainly help her in a general election.

Andrew Yang was the other candidate who seemed to have something to say. The rest were, for me, painful to listen to: it was all boilerplate, sloganeering, lacking any spark of insight. Yang said different things. With his talk of jobs lost to automation and his GAI, he is making a pitch to the working class guys in the rust belt.

And he gives the impression of understanding the new technology, and having some valuable insight. He inspires confidence.

Yang and Gabbard are, I think, in terms of sheer electability, the Democrats’ best options. Gabbard at the debate endorsed Yang’s main plank, the Guaranteed Annual Income. It’s a dream, but together, they’d make a good team. Yang for economic policy, Gabbard for foreign policy.

But something even more interesting. Yang made a strong case that jobs are rapidly disappearing: everyone is seeing their local main street shutting down, and all the automated kiosks now at Target and Macdonald’s. It must be said that the employment figures do not bear this out. Instead, US or Canadian employment is at historic highs. Yet these are jobs being visibly lost—let alone what must be happening in factories. Truck driving is the most common job in Canada, or America, and it looks as though it might be replaced within a few years by self-driving vehicles.

It might be an example of what Marshall McLuhan inaptly once called “the dinosaur effect.” Things in society and technology often seem to be at their highest point of ascendancy just before they collapse. It might be true of the job market. A strong demand for labour may itself hasten the arrival of the machines.

Nobody else on that stage challenged Yang on his claims. They all saw this as a big issue. And I have seen the same said elsewhere—recently, some economist advised that 40% of all American jobs would be gone within a dozen years. Nor is Yang the only guy in Silicon Valley warning of this; and those guys in Silicon Valley have a good track record for seeing what is beyond the horizon.

Now let’s shift focus to the current Canadian campaign, and our most recent leaders’ debate. There, someone made the familiar boilerplate point—can’t recall who, this time—that Canada needed its historically high level of immigration, because we need more workers to sustain our social programs. And everyone present agreed. Not even Maxime Bernier challenges this. He wants fewer immigrants overall, but he wants to select for needed job skills. . He would only cut down on other categories of immigration.

These two universally held truths are plainly incompatible.

If the American Democrats are right, we are setting ourselves up for a pending social catastrophe.

And how is it that nobody is talking about this discrepancy?

On Real Leadership

I did not support Trump among his Republican challengers back in 2015-16. Had I been the Republican Party, I would have gone with Jeb Bush. The conventional choice. I privately endorsed Trump in the general, but through gritted teeth. Ironically, I feared that if Hillary were elected, we would all have to go through the turmoil of an impeachment investigation. Over her emails. Which also suggested, it seemed to me, background collusion with either Russia or China. Mere incompetence did not seem a sufficient explanation.

By now, like many others, I am inclined to think that Trump has been an unusually good president. Not just because of a prosperous economy. He knows how to make deals. And that turns out to be an extremely valuable asset in a president.

I did not support Ronald Reagan, either, back in his primary runs. In 1976, sticking with an incumbent president, Gerald Ford, seemed obviously the right path for the Republicans. Even though I would have voted, instead, for almost any Democrat. In the 1980 Republican primaries, I thought they should have gone with George (HW) Bush. In the general, I would have preferred Reagan to Carter, but again, by default.

It shows how wrong I can be.

But not just me. Reagan came to power only due to exceptional circumstances. Trump’s rise was also exceptional: he won the general by a hair, and defying all predictions. So was Lincoln’s—the presidency was his first significant public office. So was Churchill’s, pulled in from the wilderness in a general emergency. Even after he saved the world in the Second World War, people were reluctant to vote for him.

Why are we all like this? Why do we actually resist voting for the best leaders?

I am drawn to this reflection by the odd refusal by the Dems to give Tulsi Gabbard their attention and support. It seems bizarre and almost suicidal to go instead for obvious old hacks like Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

It is, surely, a love of the familiar. The same instinct that brings us xenophobia. People move along in their accustomed mental ruts, and there is an instinctive fear of anything outside them: fear of the unknown.

The problem is that Gabbard, like Reagan or Churchill, does not simply parrot the expected line on the issues. Yet this is a necessary trait in a leader: that they think for themselves, and have core principles.

You see the same thing in the arts—perhaps in all human endeavor. People resist anything that is genuinely fresh and new. They do not want their accustomed ways disturbed. They want d├ęcor.

And I, it seems, on the evidence of Trump or Reagan, am as bad on this as everyone.

But then too, there is a reason for this. At least sometime this gut conservatism is wise; that is probably why we have it. It is a good survival mechanism to mistrust the unfamiliar.

Hitler, too, was a leader who came out of nowhere and who seemed to be saying something both new and principled. Or Mao. If some large, impressive, and previously unknown creature emerges from the nearby forest, it is wise to be cautious.

If we could figure out how to make the distinction, between the principled genius and the dangerous demagogue, it would be the key to a great improvement in the human condition.

I think there is a distinction. Leaders like Hitler or Mao looked as though they were acting on principle, but actually had no principles. They were driven only by power. They chose their new principles only strategically to appeal in a time of turmoil. William Manchester, who followed his rise closely, noticed that Hitler said something completely different to each audience--whatever he expected they most wanted to hear. This is why Nazi ideology has always been hard to pinpoint. Mao, similarly, was in no way consistent in terms of which faction he supported within the CCP.

So the best test is a moral test: if a candidate has visibly done something that seems to go against their own career interest, on what seems a matter of principle, they are probably the real deal.

Churchill is an obvious example of this, in his principled opposition to dealing with Hitler and the Nazis, in his warnings of impending war. I think Tulsi Gabbard is also in this category: she hurt her career as a rising Democrat star last cycle by dissenting from the efforts of the DNC to fix the primaries for Clinton. Trump perhaps qualifies with his attacks on the press and political correctness. They have turned out well for him, but is he so savvy as to have foreseen this, or was he just determined to do it anyway?

On this same test, I think Maxime Bernier is the real deal in the current Canadian election. He did not seem to be thinking strategically in coming out against supply management. It is supposed to be an unpopular stand in Quebec. He definitely seemed to buck his own best interests in terms of seeking power by splitting from the Conservatives a year ago. In the normal run of politics, we would have expected Scheer to lose the next election, resign, and then Bernier would be the front-runner to replace him. He gave that up, apparently on principle.

I wonder if they could still coax him back, if Scheer comes up short.

On this same test, the Liberals, if they lose their majority or worse, ought to turn to Jody Wilson-Raybould or Jane Philpott as new leader.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Why Trudeau Should Cling to Power

In 1973, Chile's Salvador Allende committed suicide rather than resign as prime minister and vacate the PMO. Unconfirmed reports are that he shot himself in the back with a machine gun.

The polls are now shifting quickly. The likeliest result currently is that the Conservatives win the largest number of seats, buy not a majority. People are reporting this as “a Conservative minority government.” And I see headlines warning that Trudeau may be planning to illegitimately hang on to power anyway.

As if this would be some affront to democracy.

As I understand the Westminster system, Trudeau would be not just within his rights, but right, to stay in power.

I do not say he will; popular opinion has a role here, and may force a new precedent at any time. But by the logic of the Westminster system, the proper thing would indeed be for Trudeau to stay in power and try to form a coalition.

The prime minister is not automatically the leader of the party with the most seats in the house. The prime minister can be, in principle, any member of the House of Commons, or even anyone outside the House, appointed by the Crown as her chief advisor; but this is then immediately subject to their ability to demonstrate the confidence of the House.

Trudeau has been appointed prime minister. He need not resign, now, unless he loses the confidence of the House. Until and unless a vote is held, nobody can assume he has—so long as no other leader can prove that they command a majority. The proper thing, then, is for him to face the house and see if he still has their confidence.

If any one other party holds a majority of the seats in the House after the election, it is simply wasting everyone’s time if the previous PM does not step down. So he will, so as not to look too desperate for power. But if no one party does, the current prime minister has the right to see if he can continue to command a majority: he has first crack at forming a formal or informal coalition. To waive that right to someone else is similarly wasting everyone’s time; if they cannot, it simply comes back to him, and two prime ministers have had to resign in rapid succession instead of one.

Politically, it might be unwise for him to hang on if it is clear his opponent has a better shot at forming a coalition than he does. That too might look like clinging to power. But that’s a bit of a moot point; he will ask around pretty quickly after the election and see what he can come up with, and his chief opponent will do the same, and it will be clear pretty quickly to everyone involved who has a majority coalition and who does not.

After this election, Trudeau looks to have the better shot at a coalition—since the probable third-largest party, the NDP, has already ruled out any coalition with the Tories. So it is quite likely to be his proper course to hang on to power even if the Tories hold more seats. Popular opinion may force him to resign anyway, but that is not the way it is supposed to work.

Either way, I now expect a very unsteady minority government that is likely to fall within the year.