Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Remember Hydroxychloraquine?


Twitter thread comparing states in the US based on how liberal they are in allowing the use of hydroxychloraquine and CIVID-19 recovery rates. It does make it look as though the drug has a significant benefit.


The CBC's Falun Gong Show





Someone wise once said we should never attribute to malice what can be explained by ordinary human incompetence.

Clinging desperately to that principle, I am stunned by the journalistic incompetence of this report by the CBC.

To begin with, this is not news. Some average Canadian is upset by a piece of unsolicited mail? Dog bites man. First rule of journalism broken.

Second, any news story is supposed to include both sides of a controversy. Second rule of journalism broken. The piece should quote Epoch Times in response to the woman’s charges. It should also quote an expert who thinks the virus originated in the Wuhan lab. There are many. I believe this has become the majority opinion among the experts.

Certainly, the assertion by the average Canadian featured that “we know scientifically that’s just not true” needed to be challenged. It was objectively false.

The CBC narrator later says Epoch Times claims the virus was developed as a bioweapon. This is objectively false as well. The Epoch Times did not say this; it only referred to it as a possibility. Fake news.

The anonymous average Canadian interviewee is quoted calling the Epoch Times “racist,” without this being challenged.

The Epoch Times is here being highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party. The Epoch Times is owned and run by a group of Chinese Americans. Same race.

The Epoch Times is affiliated in some way with Falun Gong. The CBC refers to them as “a dissident group that has locked horns with the Chinese Communist Party.” It might be debatable to what extent and in what way the Falun Gong has been persecuted in China—organ harvesting or no organ harvesting—there is no question that they are being persecuted. And the is no question the dispute began with the CCP attacking Falun Gong, not vice versa, in violation of the principle of freedom of religion which we consider a human right. Speaking of them as having “locked horns” with the CCP, is like referring to the German Jews having “locked horns” with Hitler. This is not a conflict in which a moral person can be neutral. Much less support, as the CBC does here, the Chinese Communists.

Can you imagine them having supported the Soviet government against Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn, declaring the latter racists? The difference in treatment of Russian Communist governments and Chinese Communist governments indeed suggests racism—on the part of the CBC.

It interviews an unidentified woman saying that, because the Epoch Times “always has the same position on a particular issue,” “that’s not journalism. Is it propaganda?” Cleverly worded, perhaps, so the CBC cannot be sued. But by this standard, The Economist magazine is also propaganda, not journalism. It has a consistent position on free markets. Essentially all magazines or newspapers have consistent editorial positions: it is the usual reason for starting a journal, and the usual reason for subscribing to one. In a word, it is journalism.

This is at the same time an example of the simplest and most easily recognized of all logical fallacies: an ad hominem argument. Not the sort of thing a professional journalistic outlet should ever be guilty of; the sort of thing a professional journalistic outlet should be educating the public out of. The reporting of the Epoch Times, like any reporting, must be evaluated on its merits.

The narrator’s arch concluding comment: ““If people don’t like it, they can always drop it in the recycling bin.”

The tragedy is, Canadians cannot do the same with the CBC. We are forced to pay for it, even if we are not forced to watch it.

Someone should be fired over this.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

World War Three?




Things are getting worse.

People are speaking in apocalyptic terms. Is public transit dead? Are cities dead? Are schools and universities obsolete? Is the food going to run out?

Will there be war with China?

No. At least, not a big war.

This crisis leaves the Chinese leadership in a perilous spot. So long as China’s rise looked inevitable, those in charge had no real incentive to rock any atolls, and the Chinese public was prepared to stay on for the ride.

Now China will experience serious economic fallout, as the rest of the world “decouples.”

So the incentives change. If China’s economy and prestige is in decline, why not strike now, while still strong?

Germany charged into the First World War because they calculated that they were about to lose their ascendancy to Russia. They charged into the second because they thought they were unsustainable without Russia’s resources. Japan charged into the Second because they thought they were going to run out of resources.

The Chinese government might decide to grab while the grabbing was good. At the same time, perhaps forestalling internal revolt by uniting behind a common enemy.

The problem is, there is no plausible target that would be worth the risk.

China is actually quite self-sufficient in terms of natural resources, and, obviously, manpower. There seems to be no nearby grab that would significantly improve their strategic situation.

Starting a foreign war is also a poor strategy for avoiding internal dissention. Foreign wars, if they last more than a moment, are more likely to have the opposite effect. War provoked the Russian Revolution, the Paris Commune, indirectly both the French and the American revolutions. War hardly prevented the Chinese Communists from overthrowing the Guomintang.

Unless they see an easy, bloodless score, I expect no serious trouble from the Chinese government.

Would the US start a war with China? Not intentionally. The US too is self-sufficient. Nothing would be worth a land war in Asia. And war is a hard sell with the American public at the best of times.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year





The meat shortage is real.

Went for my weekly food excursion today. The store was uncrowded, with no lineup. This was for seniors hour.

About half of the meat aisle was filled with fresh pasta instead of meat. 

I bought some fresh pasta.

Times like this, I’m glad I’m a vegetarian.

Scads of toilet paper. No yeast. Saw something about this on YouTube. Since everyone is stuck at home, they’re getting into baking. Demand is 600% higher than normal.

Pity. Since I’m stuck home, I was thinking of getting into baking.

People are getting better at social distancing. In the US, people seem to be getting restive. Here, they were slow to take it seriously, but are adjusting to things. This is the difference between a liberal (US) and a conservative (Canada) culture.

I am happy to see Trump still doing press conferences; at least today. Scott Adams had an insight here. Press conferences are obsolete. With the pandemic, they are also unnecessarily risky. “Press conferences” ought to go online, and allow questions from the general public. As they exist, they unfairly favour established over new or upstart media and media companies, and have allowed a self-interested elite to control what people hear and see.

After Trump’s mention of UV light as a possible treatment for coronavirus, YouTube, Vimeo, and Twitter all suddenly took down a video demonstrating the possibilities of UV light as a possible treatment for coronavirus. This illustrates the clear and present danger the current system represents. It is subverting American democracy, and is liable to get a lot of people killed.

In other news, Kim Jong Un is still dead.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Uneasy Lies the Head


Philippine President Roderigo Duterte.

I think it is time to show some empathy for our leaders. They are human, after all.

Just imagine having to make the kind of decisions they must make in this pandemic. Choose lockdown, and you may wreck your economy, and lose your country’s position in the world. People may starve. You may cause a revolution. Choose to keep things open, and you may kill thousands, millions, of people. Nobody will be happy either way. And there is never enough information; there are no precedents.

Weeks ago, President Duterte of the Philippines, the notoriously tough guy, was already looking gaunt and tired. He was pleading with his own people for patience and understanding. A lockdown in the Philippines means people will quickly have no food. He has no money to give them, or to get masks, gowns, pills, or respirators. Even if a cure or a vaccine is found, he will have to wait in line until the rich countries have all the doses they need. There are no good options.

I think Donald Trump is cracking under the pressure. He has seemed superhuman in the past, able to stand his ground against all comers. But the stress has been showing recently. Hydrochloraquine has not been panning out; he had no doubt been hoping it would. Now he too has no good options. He was getting very aggressive towards the media at his daily pressers. They richly deserved it, but you got the feeling he was acting out some of his own stress. A few days ago, he lost concentration and said something offhand about injecting disinfectants. He was tired; who wouldn’t be tired? Now the press is trying to crucify him for it. All as he needs to make these terrifying decisions. And now they are blaming him for seeming to lack empathy. He seems to have lost his composure: he cut that press conference short, and now is saying he will hold them no longer. He excused his remark on disinfectants by claiming he was just being sarcastic towards the media. Not plausible; the villainy of the media has simply become an idee fixe for him.

I sense he has finally been pushed beyond the limits of human endurance. He needs sympathy, an outpouring of support, a rest, and the rest of us need to pray for him. If only for our own sake. The American media, of course, deserve condemnation. I hope he can hold himself together.

I find it hard to pity Justin Trudeau; he seems so insincere. And it is easier for him; as Canadian PM, all he needs to do is the usual: look at what the US is doing, and make the same announcement a few days later. But long before this started, he seemed to me a frightened little boy. “Frightened” may no longer be a strong enough word. I think he has detached himself, and is only reading things put in front of him.

Doug Ford, in his first press conference after the lockdown, seemed close to tears. Unlike Trump, he shows visible empathy. Like Trump, he also shows frustration: lashing out a few days ago at anti-lockdown protesters as “yahoos.” You can see he feels helpless.

But the leader I pity most is Kim Jong Un.

I have no insight into what is going on in North Korea. Multiple press reports say he is dead, or near death. But we know we cannot trust the media. The South Korean Government says they believe he is alive and well. But we know we cannot trust government intelligence.

My intuition is that Kim is still alive, but in grave condition, and not expected to recover. “Brain dead,” one of the rumours, may be right. My guess is that COVID-19 is probably there, as it is in every other country in the world, and the system has not been able to manage it. In early April, his guard detail were photographed wearing masks. If Kim caught it, he is fat, a smoker, with a heart condition.

The true situation has not been publicly announced, and the NK authorities are taking pains to go about their business as usual, because nobody else is yet in command; they need to settle that first. They do not want to send any signals that might give their people an idea that an uprising might succeed.

At this moment, then, Kim may be facing death. He is, in the end, a human being. He has committed unspeakable crimes, for a self-indulgent life. Now he must meet the reckoning. And it must be terrible.

The horror he is going through, and will go through, seems to me too awful to contemplate. The fact that he deserves it does not change that.

Queen Elizabeth I, it is said, died in terror, saying she would give her entire kingdom for just one more moment of life. And Elizabeth, although a far worse monarch than history remembers, was nevertheless not in Kim’ league.

He, more than anyone, is to be pitied.



Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Madness of Crowds




It has often been observed by interested parties other than myself that the modern right sees and appeals to people as individuals, while the modern left sees people as groups.

Add to this Nietzsche’s observation: “Madness is rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.”

And we have a syllogism. Conclusion: the modern left is mad. Its natural constituency is the insane. 

Suddenly, we have an explanation for Joe Biden's candidacy. They are now actually running a man transparently not in his right mind. This is who they feel comfortable with.

I suppose this sounds like a joke. I suppose a question is knocking at the monastery door, begging bowl in hand. Why are people in groups mad?

Little selfhoods are always in danger of getting out of control. They are like cats; like wilful children. Everyone has an innate desire to be better than others. For the average person, this is necessarily improbable. For everyone, it requires some serious effort. There is a natural temptation, therefore, to delusion—to believe you are better than others on any spurious grounds. Eat an apple, say, and become as gods.

For individuals, this does not work well. Others will be inclined to scorn and scoff; leading to the contrary impression that you are actually worse than others. Epic fail.

But for groups—they can all support one another in the shared delusion, as Adam could support Eve; and it begins to work. They can all reassure one another that they are as a group better than others outside the group. It becomes possible, in principle, to live most of one’s life without hearing anyone challenge your chosen delusion.

Sustaining the insanity becomes trickier, of course, as the delusions grow more extreme; and as communication improves, and you come in regular contact with more others. Jews, foreigners, Republicans, and the like.

At this point, there will be a natural urge to devalue all those outside the group. The idea of their inferiority must be emphasized. They will gradually be dehumanized, even demonized. For it is essential that they must not be listened to. They are all "racists," say, or "Fascists," or vermin of some other kind.

If they cannot be ignored, they must be silenced. If they cannot be silenced, they must be destroyed.

No doubt not all groups are mad. Some groups, if they work as intended, work to reduce ego: one thinks of religions and religious orders. 

But all groups should be approached with caution. And a butterfly net.



Saturday, April 25, 2020

Nationalism and Globalism

Map showing democracies in shades of blue; Economist Intelligence Unit.

I would not have thought that, in suggesting that endorsing “family values” is no different from endorsing nationalism, that I would get pushback on the idea that there were problems with nationalism.

Yet, when I suggested this to my friend Darius, I did.

He writes, “Being a patriot is a good thing not bad; maintaining an awareness and respect for one's heritage and national accomplishments … is a defense against Godless globalism.”

I do not condemn nationalism in itself. I wrote that nation is “useful,” and a national government “desirable.” The danger is in seeing the nation or national government as sacred or holy, as we tend to with “family values.” That is, straight up, Fascism.

I would call myself a “Canadian nationalist.” I support a nationalist view of Canada because I see Canadian nationalism not as a defense against globalism, but against tribalism: against ethnic allegiances like those of Quebec, or aboriginal groups, or various special interest groups. Canadian or American or Australian or Singaporean nationalism is special in this way, because Canada or the USA or Singapore are not nations in the conventional sense. They are not based on blood ties, but on adherence to shared values. In this, they are more like a monastery than a family.

To be American is to commit to the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. To be Canadian is to endorse the principles stated in the preamble to the Canadian Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since I wholeheartedly endorse these principles, and think they should be extended to all mankind, I endorse Canadian or American nationalism. All men are created equal; all are endowed with inherent rights. Among these are freedom of speech, of assembly, of conscience, and so forth. But this sort of nationalism is, implicitly, globalism; since these principles apply to all men.

I am much less well-disposed to other nationalisms: most nations are ethnically based, and so nationalism there amounts to tribalism. It is fine to feel a special warmth for your homeland, because it is human nature to do so, it is pleasant and enriches life. It is fine to feel an appreciation for your (or another) culture, as a thing of beauty, just as one can appreciate a fine painting. But it makes no rational sense to me that I should take any pride in what some other person did, because we are both Canadians. This is in principle the same as collective guilt. Are we going to hold Jews guilty for the crucifixion, then?

And I reserve the right to appropriate from whatever culture I so choose. Culture is for man, not man for the culture. The latter idea, again, is Fascism.

In principle, I am in favour of globalism over nationalism, just as and for the same reason I am in favour of nationalism over tribalism. This is one important reason I am Catholic: the sense of unity and brother hood around the globe. This is a reason I even lament the loss of the British Empire―despite my Irish heritage. It united people around the globe in one common endeavour, and under comparatively liberal principles. This is why I am essentially pro-American: because American culture is globalist culture. Where do you think hamburgers come from? America? Where do you think ketchup comes from? Pizza? Hot dogs? Jazz?

I do oppose “Godless globalism.” That adjective identifies the enemy. I rather think we liberal democracies should walk away from the United Nations and form a League of Free Nations, perhaps built on NATO’s foundations. If any member veered from the path of democratic elections and a fundamental list of human rights, their membership would be revoked. The present situation is pernicious: the worst offenders always get the first seats on the UN panel meant to deal with any given issue of human rights.

Any such league must recognize the supremacy of God. As the Canadian constitution does explicitly, and the Declaration of Independence does implicitly. You cannot have human rights and human equality without belief in God. As Locke himself pointed out, the two cannot be separated.

Moreover, any such league must be founded on the principle of subsidiarity, or federalism. This is where the EU went awry. Powers must always reside with the lowest level of organization capable of dealing with them. This is required by the very concept of human rights, which means that the individual has, as much as possible, the right to decide for himself.


A Journal of the Plague Year





This lockdown and this virus scare has gone on too long. People are getting cranky. There was supposed to be a happy ending by now.

So much for the newfound sense of unity, the sense that we are all in this together, humanity against a common enemy. Now everyone is looking for scapegoats.

I don’t see much wrong with scapegoating the government of China. I don’t see much wrong with scapegoating the WHO. Only that it is a distraction from the task at hand.

But I think it’s wrong to scapegoat the experts, or the various governments, or Donald Trump, for calling for the shutdown.

Yes, the virus seems less deadly than we thought. But they did not know that when they shut things down. Caution seems wise in the face of the unknown; the downside was too terrible.

People point to Sweden, which has not locked down, and seems to be doing well. Reasonably well, true, but who knew it would?

And after all, compare Sweden’s death toll to date with those of similar, neighbouring countries. Sweden has a death rate of 213 per million. Denmark has 70 per million. Norway has 37 per million. Finland has 32 per million. Not locking down seems to have cost Sweden five times as many deaths to date. The US as of today lists 52,217 total deaths. No lockdown makes that 260,000. That’s double the number of Americans who died in World War 1, and counting. Was the US lockdown worth saving 200,000 lives? Was the Canadian lockdown worth saving about 20,000?

But the real risk was of something worse. The experience of Italy and Spain was of health care systems being overwhelmed, and people dying without care. The essential thing, the reason for the lockdown, was to prevent that. Without care, for coronavirus or for other illnesses generally, how high might that death toll have gone?

Now, granted, it is time to start opening things back up. It is a grievous shame that we do not yet have an effective treatment, but we cannot afford to stay closed down much longer. That is just what American governments, and some governments elsewhere, are about to do.

Some are blaming the medical experts, for giving us false information about the effectiveness of masks, for getting their predictions of deaths and respirator use wrong. I have argued elsewhere that they have in fact been perfectly consistent on face masks. On deaths and respirator use, they could not perform magic; people think science is magical. They were mostly guessing, like all of us, based on many unknowns.

On the left, there is a manic urge to scapegoat Trump. Early on in the spread of the virus, he was blamed for taking the threat too seriously; now he is blamed for not taking it seriously enough from the start. In a couple of weeks, as the virus proves less deadly, or effective treatments are found, he will no doubt be blamed again for taking it too seriously.

He seems to have cleverly played on this: first announcing he as president had total power to end the lockdown, evoking hysterical protests. That was an obvious ploy, something provocative he had no reason to say. But the media and the left immediately fell for it. They began objecting loudly that Trump was trying to grab power away from the states. Then Trump announced that individual governors would decide. This is surely what he wanted to do all along: national plans like this do not materialize in a day or two. It seems the most sensible approach, given the basic premise of reopening piecemeal. And best of all, Trump avoids all electoral blame for either opening up too early, killing people, or staying shut too late, wrecking the local economy. Why take that heat if you can farm it out to the governors?

Had he started with this position, there would have been howls of protest, that he was abdicating responsibility. Now nobody can object.

Trump may not be that smart, but he is at least twice as smart as his critics.

The current furor is that Trump casually asked at a press conference about using disinfectants internally. He perhaps misspoke—by definition, “disinfectant” means something not used internally. But what sane person would care?

Testing by the US Department of Homeland Security now shows the virus is sensitive to heat, humidity, and sunlight. This explains why Australia and New Zealand have done so well; why Southeast Asia, right next to China and underdeveloped, has done so much better than Europe. This also means we should get a significant abatement of the epidemic within the next few months, here in the heavily populated Northern Hemisphere. We can perhaps augment this by putting UV lighting in public places.

We have until October or so to build up a testing and quarantine regimen, perhaps more effective treatments, perhaps even a vaccine. Our testing, at least, is getting much better very fast, and this alone could make all the difference.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Family Values and Fascism



First family. Wait till you meet the kids.

A friend avers that the sanctity of the family is next only to the sanctity of God himself. 

A common view, these days, among those on the right, and among Christians.

I urgently need to disagree.

Logically, family here is equivalent to nation: either is a useful social unit, based on shared genetics and shared experiences. The difference is only in scale.

Now what does it sound like if you speak of the “sanctity of the nation”? If you guessed Fascism, you guessed right. This was the core idea of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. It is not just incompatible with Christianity; it is antithetical to it.

So too with “the sanctity of the family.” It automatically denies the brotherhood of man, and goes ugly places. Crimes as awful as those of Nazi Germany, if on a smaller scale.

No question that family is desirable and useful, just as is a national government. Both give us the warm fuzzies. Exactly for this reason, there is a danger of idolatry, of overvaluing it. Money is useful too; so is sex. But there is immediately a problem if you think of money or sex as sacred.

For my marriage ceremony, we were free to choose our own Bible reading. Not coincidentally, it is extremely hard to find a good Bible reading, unambiguously praising marriage.

How about St. Paul?

“But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. But if they don't have self-control, let them marry. For it's better to marry than to burn.”

There’s damning with faint praise, surely.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Is Environmentalism Extinct?



Popularity per capita of maps featuring the colour red. Not to scale.

Folks are saying the world is going to change. Things will never go back to normal after the coronavirus. Globalism is dead. 

I think maybe environmentalism too.

To be fair, my friend Xerxes joins Pope Francis in declaring the opposite: that the pandemic somehow reinforces the environmentalist argument. It is nature taking revenge.

But that is not how it looks to me.

Reports say the canals of Venice now run clear; you can see the fish. They say the skies are clear above Beijing. You can see from satellites.

Xerxes says this shows how much our actions affect the Earth. I think the opposite. It seems to me this reveals our “environmental footprint” is lighter than we imagined. Turn things off for a few weeks, and nature seems to forget we were ever there.

I think of Shelley’s "Ozymandias."

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Was environmentalism always an expression of hubris? Supposing we humans were in control of nature, that we could calibrate the global temperature a hundred years from now right down to a degree or two, like adjusting the thermostat in our home?

Were we arrogant in supposing nature was a maiden so fragile that she needed us to do so? Weren’t we really seeing ourselves as godlike?

The coronavirus reminds us we are arguably not the dominant species on earth. We are definitely not the top of the food chain. Microbes feast on us.

Nature also looks less lovable and benevolent than it did a year ago, doesn’t it?

The coronavirus reminds us that our best-laid plans as men gang aft agley; the epidemic caught us off-guard. Ten years ago, the experts were warning of “peak oil.” Suddenly the price of oil is less than zero. During the crisis, expert advice, expert predictions, expert models for the virus death rate, the rate of hospitalization, the rate of respirator use, have been consistently wrong.

All the computer models and charts and graphs that showed what the global temperature is going to be in 2090, much further in the future and with many more possible variables, are looking quaint and na├»ve now. Relics of a bygone day when things seemed much simpler. Rather like the 1950s’ confidence that science had a solution for everything.

Environmentalism was always a cheap substitute for religion. It was an amoral creed with man at the centre. A wise and merciful God might even have sent the virus to destroy it, as he did the human sacrifices of Canaan, or Ninevah, or Tyre.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Doubting Thomas and Blind Faith





There is a disturbing element to last Sunday’s reading. I got distracted yesterday into writing once again about transubstantiation. I meant to write once again about salvation by faith alone.

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

It seems “Doubting” Thomas is criticized for not believing without evidence. This is a common reading of the passage. He should have believed it all without seeing the evidence for himself.

But this makes no sense. Why should anyone believe anything without evidence? Why should this be considered admirable, instead of merely credulous? If we are to believe without evidence, how do we choose what to believe, and what not to believe? What if we are told the moon is made of emerald Camembert?

I think the passage must be read differently. Those who believe without having seen are being congratulated for their good luck, not commended. “Blessed” can obviously have this meaning. When Jesus says, in the Beatitudes, “blessed are those who mourn,” surely he is not saying we have a moral duty to mourn without cause. “Lucky for you if you can believe without evidence.”

True faith is not blind, and is not an act of arbitrarily believing this or that in order to be saved. That is not faith in God; that is usurping the powers of God. It requires faith to pursue the logic and evidence relentlessly, fearlessly, humbly, wherever it leads. To assert a truth because you want it to be true, because you think it will gain you something to believe it, is the opposite of faith.

Accordingly, as Descartes for one demonstrated, doubt is the foundation of all faith. Thomas is modelling the proper attitude.

Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok River demonstrates it too. 



Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a man there until the breaking of the day. When he saw that he didn’t prevail against him, the man touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained as he wrestled. The man said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.”

Jacob said, “I won’t let you go unless you bless me.”

He said to him, “What is your name?”

He said, “Jacob.”

He said, “Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

For this, he won the name that he has passed down to all his descendants, “Israel.” The name means “Wrestles with God.”

Any truly religious person must know such nights. It is the man who is forever engaging with God who has true faith.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

News of the Apocalypse


NBC: Kim Jong Un is brain dead.

South Korea: NBC is brain dead.

We'll see who's right.

Perhaps they both are.




News of the Apocalypse


How about this one: did you hear how low the price of oil has gone? Oil is now free. Someone will now pay you for taking their oil.


The Original Locked Room Mystery





A Protestant friend recently argued with me against the doctrine of transubstantiation on these grounds: that Jesus, after the resurrection, proved he was not a spirit by having Thomas put his hands in the marks of the nails. It is in this Sunday’s gospel reading:

Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

A brief summary of the doctrine of transubstantiation is perhaps needed here: the Catholic Church holds that, at consecration, the bread and wine for communion actually transforms into the body and blood of Christ. They retain all the physical qualities of bread and wine, the “accidents.” But the substance has changed.

My Protestant friend is arguing that Jesus was here using the accidents to prove that he was in fact there in body, not just a hallucination. If God himself considers such visual and tactile evidence proof, it follows that anything that looks, smells and tastes like bread and wine, is actually bread and wine. No transubstantiation.

A clever argument; but it has things cleverly reversed.

In the gospel, Jesus is not showing the wounds in his hands and side to prove he has a physical body. To prove he were not a hallucination, touching him anywhere would have sufficed. But so would the simple fact that many disciples were seeing him at the same time. Touching his wounds proved something else. These wounds, after all, were fatal. He is proving he really did die. Yet he is here. He is proving that he has been able to overcome the characteristics, the accidents, of a physical body.

This body has also just passed through a wall into a locked room. The essence of the physical is that it occupies a discrete point in space; this body does not.

Later, when disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they do not recognize him. His body apparently lacks all the accidents that would identify it as him.

If Jesus’s resurrected body is capable of such things, it is surely as capable of appearing as bread or wine.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Salvation by Grace and Salvation by Works


St. Peter denies he knows Jesus.

With the pandemic, church services are being streamed live. That has its upside. This Sunday, I was able to virtually attend two I probably never would have gotten to if it had been in person, but two I was curious about: a small Pentecostal group, of which a friend’s nephew is pastor, and a Byzantine-rite Catholic mass.

They were more or less at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of worship style. The Pentecostals very informal, just singing, praying together, and a sermon. The Byzantines all ritual; all sung and with lots of responsorials. The priest would stop the cantor if he was doing it wrong.

I loved them both. I am, at heart, a Charismatic Catholic. That’s combining the two.

But in terms of theology, I found the Pentecostal service lacking, even troubling. The message of the sermon was that God loves you, no matter when you have done. God does not care what you have done; his love is infinite and unconditional. “That was yesterday.” Repent, and all is forgotten.

That is a consoling message, no doubt, to those aware of grave sin. It is not so consoling to those who have been sinned against.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

The legend goes that “Amazing Grace” was written by a former slave trader. Consoling, no doubt to him; but would it be equally consoling to the slaves?

Nor is it healthy for sinners. I can easily imagine an alcoholic hearing all this, that he is forgiven, and going out and having a drink to celebrate.

After all, it does not matter; he cannot justify himself by works. God loves him unconditionally. He will forgive him again tomorrow.

Nor does it match Jesus’s message. He is forgiving of the woman taken in adultery; he is not forgiving of the scribes and Pharisees. He is forgiving of Peter, who betrayed him three times. He is not forgiving of Judas, who betrayed him. He forgives the good thief on his right; he does not forgive the other thief on his left.

There is an obvious and dramatic distinction made in the New Testament, between forgiven and unforgiven, sheep and goats.

And being sorry is not enough. Judas is sorry.

“Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.’”

Part of the issue is indeed repentance; but just as a sin, to be mortal, must be grave, intentional, and fully understood, so a valid repentance must fully recognize and accept the gravity of the sin. It must be heartfelt. And such an acceptance of the gravity of the sin necessarily includes a sincere desire to make restitution, and accept just punishment, for the sin. It cannot involve any motive of getting away with anything.

This is a common misunderstanding of the Catholic sacrament of confession/reconciliation. No, you do not get off punishment once you have confessed your sin. That is why a penance is imposed. That is what purgatory is for. You preserve your salvation, but you do not escape punishment.

Jesus does not impose any further punishment on the woman taken in adultery; but we can probably assume she has already been sufficiently punished for the sin, without meriting death. She has already been publicly shamed, a public shaming that will follow her throughout life, which she will forever struggle to live down. He forgives the good thief—but the good thief is already undergoing extreme punishment for his sins, a punishment he explicitly admits he deserves.

He forgives Peter for denying him three times on the night he is crucified. He does not forgive Judas, and the Bible does not forgive him. But there is a relevant passage later in the Gospel of John. Jesus appears after the Resurrection, and speaks to Peter:

So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, “Do you have affection for me?” He said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you don’t want to go.”

Why does he ask the same question three times?

Peter had denied knowing him three times.

Because he had denied him, now Jesus gives him the commission to witness to him three times, despite all dangers—clearly linking it to the earlier denial. This is Peter’s penance.

Salvation by grace alone subverts the Gospel.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year





It looks as though Scott Adams was speaking truth about virus cures; early reports have now emerged regarding the hydroxychloraquine trials, and they are not encouraging.

It may yet turn out to be effective, but if it were really effective, you would expect clearer preliminary results than this.

That leaves us in a hard place. Other treatments may prove effective, but anything else is going to take a lot more time. In the meantime, we cannot keep everything in lockdown.

Plan B would seem to be to test everyone, test often, and quarantine only those who have the virus; and those most vulnerable to it.

We may also get some reprieve for the summer. Or the virus may still just burn itself out.

Things are getting rough in the Philippines. A neighbourhood near my family has been declared infected with the virus. Nobody is supposed to come or go. But someone from that neighbourhood slipped out and moved into a house on the next block.

The neighbourhood has arranged a bus for shopping; regular modes of transportation are banned. But proper social distancing seems impossible on the bus.

Several studies are emerging suggesting the infection rate is much higher than supposed. This also means the virus is less deadly than it seemed: most who get it show no symptoms.

The relative lack of spread in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, looks interesting. I wonder if it has to do with the widespread tendency in these place to wear facemasks.




Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Holy Squirrels of Mariposa





A band of squirrels had become quite a problem. The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about the infestation. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they shouldn’t interfere with the divine will.

The Lutheran church nearby decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist church.

At the Baptist church, the squirrels took an interest in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a water-slide on the baptistery. The logic was that the squirrels would slide in and drown. The squirrels liked the slide and unfortunately, knew how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.

The Baptists took down the water slide, and the squirrels wandered over to the Anglican Church.

The Anglicans tried subtlety. They set out pans of whiskey around their church in an effort to kill the squirrels with alcohol. After all, it had worked with the Irish. They sadly learned how much damage a band of wet inebriated rodents can do. For some odd reason, however, the squirrels then decided they were Catholic.

But the Catholic priest came up with a very creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and catechized them. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.

--adapted by Stephen K. Roney from an anonymous joke sent by Violet Faust.

Remembering Poetry





Nobody any longer understands poetry. Including most people who consider themselves poets.

This has to be considered odd, since until recently—perhaps 150 years ago—poetry was the most popular literary form.

Since this is National Poetry Month, my friend Xerxes did a column celebrating the poem as a form.

But he seemed to struggle to define it.

He suggested, first, that poetry is about metaphor.

Much poetry uses metaphor, it is true. But so does good prose; the genre that depends most fully on metaphor is myth or legend. And some poetry does not. It is considered bad form to use an obvious metaphor in, for example, a haiku. Or in some modern forms: as aggressively asserted in Gertrude Stein’s famous line, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

He next suggests that poetry is about the expression of emotion; quoting Wordsworth’s line that it is “emotion recollected in tranquillity.” The full quote is:

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” 

But that defines, not poetry, but Romantic writing. It would be equally true of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. It is clearly untrue, on the other hand, of most poetry: of the great epics, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Mahabharata, The Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales. Take only them, and emotional expression is a minority genre in terms of lines written. And this is not to mention Alexander Pope, or Robert W. Service, or Milton, or Rudyard Kipling, probably the four most popular and best-selling poets in the English language--or even the later Wordsworth.

Xerxes then posits—and this is his strongest point—that poetry seeks to say things “with an absolute minimum of words.” I have seen this said before; however, this defines not poetry, but modernist style. In modernist writing, it is equally true of prose: this is Strunk’s famous dictum, “omit needless words!”

None of these things are definitive of poetry: not economy of words, not metaphor, not vomiting up emotions on a page. What makes poetry a distinct form is its medium. And that medium is not the page.

Prose is the written word, preserved on a page.

Drama is the spoken word, seen live on a stage.

Poetry is the remembered word, kept always in the mind.

Poems really only work once memorized. This is exactly how and why a good poem will, in Xerxes’s own words, “dance a polka in your head.” It is experienced as uniquely alive.

This is the reason for rhythm and rhyme: they are mnemonic devices. They give you associations to help you memorize the poem. Contemporary poetry has been gravely crippled by their absence.

This is also the reason for much of poetic imagery; it is often useful as metaphor to convey some meaning, but whether or not it is metaphor, it creates visual associations, another mnemonic. Yeats sometimes made a point of writing poems connected only by images instead of rhyme. Lesser poets saw this, without seeing the art, and understood from this only that poems need not rhyme.

The current unpopularity of poetry, and the general inability to understand poetry, is directly due, I think, to a more general modern hostility to memorization.

Big mistake, for many reasons. That it killed poetry, the highest form of literature, is perhaps the least of it. We are all wandering aimlessly about with the bulk of our brains anesthetized.






Friday, April 17, 2020

Book Sale!




My contribution to helping you get through the general lockdown: I've taken 30% off the ebook price of Playing the Indian Card at Smashwords until the end of May.

Now's your chance to read it at a discount. Only $3.49 for hours and hours of eye-opening reading.

Everything you think you know about Canada's "First Nations" is wrong.


The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn





Scott Adams, the genius behind Dilbert, has pretty much given up hope on hydroxychloraquine. We’re all going to get the virus, he figures, and all we can do is take our chances.

Adams is a very smart guy, who also hears behind the scenes, he says, from a lot of other people. He says there has been more than enough time for the results of the first proper controlled studies in the US to have become apparent. Studies still have to be written up, but if the hydroxychloraquine combination worked decisively, it would by now be apparent. So if we have not heard anything, it must be that it does not work. 

Too bad, because up until a few days ago, Adams was quite hopeful about hydroxychloraquine, and was hinting at some very good news soon. Things he knew that the general public did not know yet.

I disagree with his current conclusion. I think Scott Adams is smart enough that he does not believe it either. I think if the studies so far had shown hydroxychloroquine did not work, we would also have likely heard by now. In fact, we would have been more likely to hear if it had not worked than if it had. We hear such things through the media, and the media have been out to discount it, to get at Trump, because he’s been speaking of it as promising. Any leak suggesting it did not work would therefore be prominently reported. Those involved in the studies would probably be approached by media, if they are doing their job, and coaxed to spill it if it did not work.

A leak suggesting it really did work would be much more likely to be buried. That would help Trump.

Even if it did work, and work well, there would be an incentive to bury this fact even for Trump and the administration.

Trump boasts that the US has 29 million doses of the hydroxychloroquine. No word on how much azithromycin. Twenty-nine million doses sounds like a lot. But according to the French study, five doses are needed to cure a typical case of coronavirus.

That’s enough to treat six million people, then. That still sounds like a lot.

But the word is that the treatment is only effective if given early, at the onset of symptoms. It cannot be held back for only the worst cases; to work, it must be given promptly to anyone with symptoms.

Now imagine it becomes publicly known that the hydroxychloroquine treatment is almost always effective, if given early.

There would be an immediate demand to end the lockdowns and get back to work. People are desperate. Even if the lockdowns were not immediately lifted, people would ignore them. Everyone would pour out onto the streets and form conga lines.

Experts estimate that, without the lockdown, 60% of the population will soon become infected. Roughly 200 million people in the US alone.

That means, in such a scenario, the US alone would need 200 million times five doses: a billion doses. Not 29 million.

And wait; there’s more. There are some reports that the drug is prophylactic. Take it regularly, and, as with malaria, you don’t get the illness, or the symptoms, in the first place. If that gets out, the demand will not be for five doses for 60% of the population, but five doses a month for 100% of the population, indefinitely.

In the meantime, you need to assure a secure supply for first-line medical workers, and for those already taking the drug for lupus and other ailments.

So if it works very well, there is a huge incentive to keep this quiet.

Notice that just about the same situation was behind the early assurances that masks were ineffective. Yes, they were always effective, but there were not enough of them, and they were needed for medical personnel.

But if hydroxychloroquine is effective, and this is now well-established, it explains why Trump feels it is now possible to start cautiously opening things up. Cautiously, and without revealing how effective the treatment is, so that numbers infected do not outstrip supplies.

I suspect that Adams, if he indeed has lots of contacts, has been gotten to and had this explained to him. He has been asked to dampen expectations so that it all works.

Trudeau had just announced that Canada would need to remain in lockdown until late summer, and Duterte in the Philippines just said the same. This, presumably, is the difference between knowing about and having hydroxychloroquine, and not having it. Without it, this is what the medical models suggest is necessary.

I expect that, behind the scenes, the US is doing what is necessary to increase their supply. Whether that includes invading Venezuela or not.

At the same time, there are early promising reports about another drug, remdesivir. The stock market was up yesterday on the news. This one was leaked. Remdesivir is a lot more expensive than hydroxychloroquine, but it seems to be effective with the most extreme cases, exactly those with which hydroxychloroquine is reportedly ineffective. For this reason, it can be safely announced even if available only in small quantities.

The two together might cover the zone.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year





Out and about today because I needed to mail a couple of letters—one to the government with a time limit on it. I also needed change for laundry. Not being out and about, I have not accumulated any. In ordinary times, I could, in a pinch, have used a change machine at the laundromat across the street. But it is closed due to the virus.

There was not much foot traffic in my neighbourhood, but cars seemed to circulate at the usual level. There was a lineup at the supermarket, but not long.

The post office was not open yet. They were delaying opening by an hour due to coronavirus.

The day was sunny and cold. Daffodils and dandelions were in bloom. Saw one of our black squirrels, apparently not common in other parts of North America, and a big fat robin. Spring is here.

Back out an hour later to try again. Got the letters sent, but could not get change for laundry. The postal clerk said they could not get change for their float, because the bank is closed.

Banks closed? This seems to me sure to become a grave problem—businesses cannot get change for their floats? Shouldn’t banks be an essential service? Apart from practical matters, it seems to me important psychologically for banks to be open. It is unsettling if money is suddenly not available; shades of bank runs.

Trudeau yesterday said Canada must remain in lockdown for some time to come. Last week he said the restrictions would apply until sometime in the summer.

I think he is foolish to say this, and it is not going to happen.

You can see a lot of restlessness already in the US. The mood seems to be shifting quickly towards getting back to work. With or without an effective treatment, with or without widespread testing, I hear suggestions that the virus follows a natural curve, a surge and then abatement, and in most places we are on the downward slope of that surge. People are saying the shutdown was an overreaction.

That may not be objectively true, but it looks as though US governments cannot keep a lid on things much longer, and it looks as though they have no intention to do so. A consortium of states in the Northeast have declared their intent to reopen; a consortium of states in the West have done the same; and Trump says the feds will have a plan soon.

If the US starts reopening, there is no way Trudeau can keep Canada closed. He now risks being blamed for a panicked overreaction, or a grab for power.

Aside from this, it is bad psychology to say in advance that you plan to keep things closed for much longer. First of all, you do not really know if this is necessary; we are learning as we go. Secondly, you need to give people hope that things could get better soon. Hope is important.

I think the truth is that Trudeau is panicked. I think he has shown a tendency to panic before this. We are unlucky he is PM at such a time.

Some premiers are doing a far better job: Legault in Quebec, Ford in Ontario, Kenney in Alberta. They are essentially working around Trudeau, and Kenney is pretty open about it.

It is a pity none of them are running for the vacant Tory leadership. Kenney in particular.

I predict things are going to open up soon, in the US and around the world. I think the worst is over.




Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Case Against China



Bojo Rumour


Rumour is that Boris Johnson was not given the hydrochloraquine fix. He refused on the grounds that it was not officially recommended, and he felt honour bound to follow the same recommendations his government was giving to the public.


The Deadly Bats of Wuhan as I Remember Them






The official story of the origin of the COVID-19 virus is that it jumped interspecies from bats to humans at a Wuhan wet market.

As it happens, I have been to a Wuhan wet market. I have done my food shopping there.

I lived and taught in Wuhan back in the early 1990s.

Wet markets are common throughout China, as they are in the Philippines or Korea. Selling exotic species is not. They mostly sell relatively conventional items like fish and chicken. Some of them are live, and slaughtered on the spot. But the most exotic thing I saw at the Wuhan wet market back in 1992 was the turtles. “Foot fish,” they called them.

In Guangdong, people have exotic tastes. It is a common misunderstanding that this is true in China as a whole. The Wuhanites joke: “the people in Guangdong will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything with wings except an airplane.” They do not themselves eat exotics. Not bats, not cats, not pangolins. There are local delicacies we might find weird--sparrows in Shanghai, crickets, thousand-year-old eggs. But these are limited, and familiar. Horseshoe bats, brought in from 900 kilometres away? No. There is no chance such a thing could have become a local specialty. And unheard of in Wuhan when I was there.

On the other hand, we know for a published fact that a high-security virus lab in Wuhan, not far from the wet market, was experimenting with bat coronaviruses.

You do the math.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year




Today was shopping day, delayed because the store is only open two times a week for seniors hour, and one of those times was superseded by the Good Friday holiday.

Everything seemed still in good order at the No-Frills. Unlike last time I went, there was no lineup. The shelves were full. They seemed to have an oversupply of paper towels, and they were on special. Some of the staff were not even wearing masks. Despite the floor markings, customers were not social distancing. As before, the staff were exceptionally kind and friendly. They are showing their best side: the heroism of ordinary people.

I wore a makeshift mask, made without sewing from a scarf and rubber bands, as demonstrated on YouTube by the US Surgeon General. It seemed to work well enough. I brought gloves too, but did not use them. I reasoned that I did not need both, since the issue was not touching my face with my hands. And the gloves are bulky and hard to handle food with.

I spent 40% more than in a typical week, but this is not surprising, and does not reflect higher prices. I was shopping for four more days than usual. I also picked up one or two extra items to belatedly celebrate Easter—I missed my chance to buy any special treats before the holiday. I had not planned ahead for the Good Friday closure.

Several YouTubers I follow for coronavirus news have grown disturbingly downbeat: Scott Adams, Bill Whittle, Tim Pool. Adams reports a doctor who says he has found no clinical value in hydroxychloroquine. Adams now reflects that even finding a vaccine is not going to solve this. Flu vaccines, after all, are usually only somewhat effective. We have “flattened the curve,” but now what? The virus is still out there. We cannot hide indoors forever. We have been congratulating ourselves because we have had fewer than 60,000 deaths, and the models had predicted a million.

But we have to end the lockdown, and all we have done, he says, is perhaps to spread that death toll over three years.

Bill Whittle simply admits to general lassitude and a sense of hopelessness.

Tim Pool is talking about the food supply chain breaking down. Three meat packing plants have closed in the US, because the workers have been falling sick. He thinks the social fabric is unravelling; society is close to collapse, and once it does, it will not be possible to just get back to work, even if the virus is defeated.

Other grim reports are that those who have recovered may not have immunity; that some are getting the virus a second time, or else it lurks in your system like herpes, and resurfaces; that even if you recover, it damages the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the brain.

Other weirdly apocalyptic things keep happening. Krakatoa has erupted. There are reports of 39 separate tornadoes in Georgia. Wildfires in Thailand. Locusts in Africa.

My current predictions of what may emerge when the fog of war lifts:

I think the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; it did not begin in the Wuhan wet market.

I note that the Chinese government seems to have shut down the lab. The wet markets are reopening, Surely they would not do this if they really thought the wet markets were the problem.

China will now be an international pariah. Everybody is going to want to decouple. The Chinese government will not survive.

I think the charge that the experts reversed themselves on face masks is unfair. They are saying the same thing they have said all along. The issue has changed. Face masks do little to protect the average person from the virus; they should be saved for the health workers. Any form of makeshift face mask is useful, on the other hand, to prevent you from touching your face with infected hands, and to protect others from you if you happen to have it and cough, or, in the memorably awkward phrase of Justin Trudeau, “talk moistly.” This has been consistent from the beginning.

Nobody was misled; nobody was put in danger. Anyone can make a suitable mask from a scarf or handkerchief.

Some are complaining that the lockdowns were an overreaction, or a power grab by governments. I think shutting everything down was the right thing to do, given that we did not have enough test kits or medical supplies. Not to mention, enough information on what we were dealing with. Even if there is no available treatment, even if a vaccine will not end the threat, we needed to buy time until we had reliable test kits in large quantities. With them, we can keep the virus at bay by testing everyone regularly, and only quarantining those who have it. We seem to be very close to that point now.

But I also suspect the hydroxychloroquine combination works. It is eerie that we are not hearing of how often it is being used, whether it was used on celebrities like Boris Johnson, and so forth. If it was not effective, we would have heard more by now. We are not hearing more because it works, but governments need to get more of it.

President Duterte of the Philippines has more or less said so on national TV, my wife reports. He says there will be an effective treatment by May, but that the Philippines will not have it—the rich countries will get it first.

My wife’s situation in the Philippines has meantime gotten more difficult. They have banned motorcycles. These are the only vehicles available for the run from our house to the supermarket; it’s a long walk. Especially carrying groceries.

As for the report from one doctor that hydroxychloroquine/zinc/azithromycin does not work, this is not really news. He was using it on the most serious patients, as a treatment of last resort. I think we already knew that it was not effective at this late stage. It must be given early on, at first reported symptoms, to block the spread of the virus. This is how it works; not against pneumonia. Of course, with a limited supply, doctors are not likely to pass it out that freely. Once they can, hospital admissions may drop quickly.

I think the virus is sensitive to temperature and humidity. Not 100%; but to some degree. As is typical of viruses. The spread should naturally subside as summer arrives. I look at the world map, the relative lack of cases in the tropics, and how low the rate has remained in Australia and New Zealand, and I think this has to be the explanation. Everybody has cases, but in these countries, they tend to be people arriving from elsewhere. That means we should get some respite in the Northern Hemisphere soon.

Put this together, and I expect things to start opening up again, in North America and Europe, some time in May. There may be a second wave next October; but we will be prepared.

I think that once we are past this virus lockdown, economic recovery will be swift. Scott Adams likes to say that economics, and markets, are pure psychology. There will be a mood of exuberance just as there was after VE Day in 1945. People will be in the mood to celebrate by spending what money they have.

I think that whether or not it mostly ends by November, this crisis will be remembered to Trump’s credit; he will win reelection. There is still room for him to make a misstep; but the natural instinct is to rally around the leader in a crisis. It helps, too, that his opposition is in disarray, with a candidate who seems to have dementia.

When the fog clears, and partly in reaction to this period of confinement, there will now be a strong inclination to leave cities for more wide open spaces. Now that we have gotten more acclimatized to telecommuting, it will become more practical to do so.

Big city real estate prices may crater; a little loss in value may snowball, since many were in the market for investment purposes.

But they may not; I’m not prepared to make this a definite prediction. If things look shakier in China, there may be a lot of people in China who will want to scoop up real estate in North America to escape feared coming chaos there. While Chinese as a whole may be poorer, China is a big country; there may still be enough cash, and enough demand, to sustain that market.

Higher education should face the same pressures. Everyone now has experience with teaching and learning online. This has broken the biggest barrier to its spread: Luddite profs who did not want to have to learn new skills. For overwhelming economic reasons, more education now should stay online. Less prestigious colleges in the US may start going bust. At the same time, a lot of colleges are already financially floated by Chinese rich kids coming over for the cultural experience, and to qualify for Canadian or American residency. The attraction of this may grow if things seem shakier in China.

Putting it all together, I remain optimistic. I say an effective treatment and an end to the lockdown by June, followed by a sustained surge in the markets.

Let’s see if I am right.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Do Animals Go to Heaven?





This is a longstanding conversation in the Catholic Church. A lot of people say no.

The conventional thinking is that although animals have souls, their souls cease to exist at death. While “higher” animals are conscious and clearly feel emotions, this logic goes, they lack a moral sense. Therefore they cannot merit salvation. But this idea of the animal soul is from Aristotle, not the Bible.

I think this is illogical on its face. Physical things die. We have no evidence that spiritual things can ever die, and that would include animal souls. Think about it. All things we have experienced live on in memory. Memory is their spiritual form, and unlike their physical form, it endures. All memories are in principle eternal. (There is a distinction here between what is in the storehouse memory, and what we are able to retrieve to consciousness; these are two different things).

You might say, but our memories disappear when we die. But that is purely tautological: it is assuming that a soul can die. If a soul is spirit, our evidence is that it cannot.

A second point is that animals can clearly suffer. Would God, a loving God, permit this without some final consolation? The fact that animals cannot sin, and therefore cannot merit heaven, through acts of morality, is not relevant: all suffering is redemptive. This is true for humans; why would it not be true for animals?

And the argument that animals cannot merit heaven through their moral acts seems irrelevant, since none of us can merit heaven through our moral acts.

What about the Bible?

The Bible describes heaven in detail in the Apocalypse (aka Revelations, the last book), and while it does not mention animals, it does talk about all nature being redeemed, even all physical things being redeemed, and it does mention fruit trees. Why would there be plants, yet no animals? So it stands to reason there are animals in heaven.

You might object that Apocalypse describes the end of time. Animals may rise when a new heaven and a new earth appear, but not until then.

This seems like a dubious distinction. In eternity, is there really still a distinction between present and future? Alternately, if the animals simply sleep for a few thousand years, as do our physical bodies, before entering heaven, does this make much difference in terms of eternity?

As further Biblical evidence, there were animals in Eden: God apparently made them to enjoy paradise. They lost this original paradise because of man’s sin.

It follows that, if man is now redeemed, they are as well.

A separate argument is that, if a man dies and goes to heaven, and he has loved an animal, he would be happier if that animal were there as well. Aside from any merits of the animal—and the animal cannot have sinned and therefore merited punishment—the happiness of the man would require that animal to be in heaven.

Next bit of evidence: people in so-called “near death experiences” usually see departed relatives coming to meet them.

But at least some see departed pets.

To cap it off, Pope Francis has actually recently weighed in. In Laudato Si, he writes:

"Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all."

Animals, therefore, must go to heaven. It may be that, to them, the experience is not the same as it is to us. To us, the essence is the eternal presence. They may not be aware of this. But it will at least for them be an infinitely happy place, full of runs in open fields, like Eden before the Fall.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Wet Market as Wetware: Trump Derangement Syndrome




If the coronavirus was sent by God to wake people up, it has failed to wake one group. It seems to have had no noticeable effect on those suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.

I see left-pinioned people repeatedly berating and blaming Trump for the virus. What could be more irrational? The virus is everywhere, and did not begin in the US.

Possibly their point is that he should have acted more decisively sooner? They love to repeat the false charge that Trump called the virus a “hoax.”

Yet this too makes no sense. He acted more decisively and sooner than most other leaders: faster than the Netherlands, or Sweden; sooner and stronger than Johnson in the UK or Trudeau in Canada. He acted more decisively than the WHO. Yet even though most of the derangers I hear from are Canadian, they always complain about Trump, never Trudeau.

It is all a puzzlement. What is it about Trump that makes these people insane?

I think the key is in the substance of their chief complaints. Narcissists habitually say the opposite of the truth, and these people are acting like narcissists.

Their chief complaint seems to be that Trump lies.

Their real problem is that he tells the truth.

Trump speaks more straightforwardly than other politicians, says what he thinks. He also regularly keeps promises.

They call him a bully.

Their real problem is that he will not be bullied.

The press, the “deep state,” and the “experts” cannot cow him.

Combine these traits, and he is fantastically dangerous to anyone who knows they are up to no good.

Happy Easter




Happy Easter to all!

Does anyone else still remember Easter Seals?

Every Easter, we would buy them in sheets, and put them on our letters. It was a big part of the season.

The money we spent on the stamps was used to help “crippled children.”

The charity marches on, but somehow Easter Seals are not the central part of the season they once were.

I think it is because we beat polio. Crippled children used to be much more common than they are. The March of Dimes, specifically for polio, is also no longer the big annual event it was.

Just as we beat tuberculosis—the Canadian Lung Association’s “Christmas Seals” used to be almost as big.

Just as, over the years, we beat leprosy, smallpox, cholera, typhus, AIDS… all mass killers. Not to mention a dozen once inevitable childhood diseases.

Just as we will beat COVID-19.

It could happen any day.

Then we will all rise from our homes again.

Resurrection is coming.

Pass it on.


The Right Wing Virus



The left-wing drive for censorship and deplatforming is in effect an admission that, if anyone gets to hear the right wing’s arguments, they will be convinced by them.

But even more telling is how the left has taken to declaring people, like Joe Rogan or Lindsay Shepherd, “right wing” simply for talking or listening to someone who is, or was previously declared, right wing. This is a plain admission that you cannot hear the right wing’s arguments without agreeing with them.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

All in the Family



An illustration for The Classic of Filial Piety.



Family values are a scam.

Here’s my evolving take on it. We are all brothers and sisters, and we all have one king, one teacher, one father: God. To elevate any human in this way is idolatry: “name no man father but our father who is in heaven,” and so forth.

“Filial piety” is not a virtue; it is an instinct. Evolution has given us this instinct. When we are small, our entire existence depends on our parents, and we will be inclined to take them as the measure of all things.

Since this is the natural instinct, we get no moral points for it. In general, morality comes from suppressing instinct. So too here; we need to resist the natural idolatry of parent, teacher, or king. We must, that is, for it is the same thing, avoid idolizing family, or nationality, or race. We must judge all men not on their relationship to us, but on their own morality.

What, after all, if your parent, or teacher, or king, is depraved? Is it moral to obey Hitler if you are a German in Nazi Germany?

Surely it is not moral to follow an immoral order simply because it is given by your government, your society, your parents. The Nuremberg Trials assumed as much.

Let’s take it down now to the level of the family. Necessarily, on average, parents will be average in terms of their morality. Some will be better than average, and some, the same proportion as in the general population, will be very bad people. The children will necessarily know; you cannot conceal that much within a family.

Where is the morality in supporting and aiding an immoral parent in their immorality? Or in obeying them in general?

So where is the morality of “filial piety”? One supports a good parent in the same way one does a good person otherwise encountered.



I ran this by friend Darius. Friend Darius has some ties to the Unification Church (the “Moonies”), a group that especially stresses family values. He responded, in part:

I don't buy any idea that it's immoral to support sinful parents. God didn't tell us to honor father and mother unless they are wrong; more, parents even through their shortcomings tend strongly to loathe that their children copy a bad aspect of their character. They will rarely give their children an order to do something immoral unless they be ignorant of what that means. Even a bad father will hope his son turns out better than he was. Of course, at the extreme there will be exceptions.



To which I respond:

You are referring to the fourth/fifth commandment. But it is important to know what the word translated here as “honour” means. It does not mean “obey.” Greek “tima,” used here in the Septuagint, means “repay” (a debt). The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, an influential 19th century Jewish catechism, defines the original Hebrew sense:

What constitutes “honour?” One must provide them with food and drink and clothing. One should bring them home and take them out, and provide them with all their needs cheerfully.

The point is that you are obliged to look after your parents in their old age, just as they looked after you when you were very young. It was a social security system, as is confirmed by the second part of the commandment: “that your days may be long in the land.”

So it has nothing to do with obedience or assuming that they are wiser or better morally than anyone else. That is the idolatry. 



You write:

“parents even through their shortcomings tend strongly to loathe that their children copy a bad aspect of their character.”

This, I fear, is exactly wrong. This is true only if all parents are good people—an obviously false assumption.

All of us have flaws, and good people sin; we all sin. Even St. Peter sinned. Good people will regret this, and indeed not want their children to sin.

Bad people sin too, the difference is that they do not repent. There are goats as well as sheep. Bad people will want their children to sin as they did, and will tempt and encourage them to sin. This is human nature: it justifies their own behaviour. A lecher will want his children to be lecherous; a drunkard will want his son to drink with him. It is surely this sort of parent Jesus was speaking of when he said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”



Darius:

If I thought the NT told me it is wrong to call my father "father" and my teacher "teacher" or, if I were subject in a monarchy, to call the king, "king," then I'd question my interpretation. I think backtracking a few verses to the beginning of Matthew 23 will give an idea of what Jesus meant. I don't take everything in the Bible literally word for word.

Also, the "very bad people" to whom you refer, the sociopaths, tend less to be parents than ordinary folk. Many of them are in prison, any children they might have had likely to be with the other spouse or, often, in foster care with a potentially far more loving family.


Me:

I think it is faulty to assume that the New Testament cannot be saying anything radical, counterintuitive, or surprising. It is radical and shocking to say that God walked the Earth performing miracles, and that Jesus rose from the dead. In his day what Jesus said was shocking enough to have him put to death. Accordingly, the radical interpretation should be favoured. Had the message all along been just “go about your lives as seems most convenient and natural, as you always have done” there would have been no need for the incarnation, the passion, or the Bible.

This is not an issue of taking the Bible literally or not literally. Of course one should not take the Bible literally at all times; nobody ever did, until about the early 20th century. But the alternative is not reading it to say whatever you like. If and when a Bible passage is not meant literally, there must be clear textual warrant for this, and for what you assert it to mean. If, for example, a historical character or date is named, you are not reading a parable but history. If an animal starts talking, you are not reading history, but a fable.

When the meaning is not literal, it is also not arbitrary. Metaphors and parables are more precise in their significance than literal statements; you cannot make them just mean anything. What point are they meant to convey, and why is the point not being stated more plainly? This must be justified from the text.

The rest of the chapter in Matthew seems to me to confirm the literal reading of this passage. Yes, Jesus is saying you should not refer to anyone but God as father, and anyone but God as teacher.

Moreover, Jesus seems in the gospel to follow this rule himself. He refers to no one as teacher. The Pharisees were the professional teachers, and he does not speak of them with any great respect, does he? When his mother appears and asks him to do something, he answers, “woman, what have I to do with thee?”

When brought before Pilate, Jesus could probably have saved his life by making some simple act of obeisance to Caesar, saying, as the crowd did, “Caesar is my King.” He remained silent, although it exposed him to the capital charge of treason.

The meaning is clear. We just don’t want to read it as saying what it is saying. Because it goes against our instinct, which is to say, against what we want to do.

I grant that the important thing is to follow the command in spirit, not by the letter. It does no harm to call your biological father father, or your teacher professor. The harm is in thinking this means anything special, or that they are anything special because of this social position. They are just brothers playing a role.

“Also, the ‘very bad people’ to whom you refer, the sociopaths, tend less to be parents than ordinary folk. Many of them are in prison”

Psychologists say that this is a common misconception. Most bad people, that is, psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, and borderlines, to use the psychiatric terminology, are not in prison, but in responsible positions in society. In fact, psychopaths and such are especially likely to occupy high positions in government and management. They want power; they seek it ruthlessly; they are more likely to get it.

Only stupid psychopaths end up in prison. Along with lots of other people who are not psychopaths. We all sin; we all make mistakes. Some are even prisoners of conscience.

I do not have stats, but it also seems to me common sense that psychopaths and narcissists are more likely to have children, and more children, than the general population. Having a child gives you someone to control and own—control and own more totally than you can control another human being in almost any other social situation. It’s a no-brainer that anyone who is power-hungry, or who enjoys bullying and abusing others, is going to want children. Lots of children.

Besides, making children feels good, and a bad person may not care so much that a child results, or what might become of it.



Unificationism is often seen as a blending of Christian with Confucian ideals. Darius defended the Confucian system, which sees filial piety as paramount, and the government as equivalent to the parent.

He summarizes the Confucian virtue of “filial piety” as a refusal to rebel against authority.

“Of course, when authority is clearly wrong,” he adds, “then we are obliged to go our own way…”



I think that puts it too mildly, and a bit askew. As a general principle, we are obliged to respect whatever authority is present, for the sake of social order. “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” Prudence is a virtue.

However, if a government reveals itself as habitually immoral—if it, like an individual, succumbs to settled vice— “it is [our] right, it is [our] duty, to throw off such Government.” As some wise men once said. Not just a right to go our own way, but a duty to resist such government for the sake of our fellow citizens, our posterity, and mankind.

You may recognize where I am getting those quotes. It is a certain famous political document; but based on universal principles enunciated long before by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, established Christian principles. It is selfish to continue to support and obey an immoral government. It is almost always in one’s own best interests to do so: to grow wealthy, receive its patronage, and not get either imprisoned or hanged. It is the more selfless act to rebel; it might, if you are lucky, also benefit you, but the odds are against this. More likely, it is a sacrifice, for your neighbours, your descendants, or the others one’s government is oppressing.

Even if a government is completely moral, it is in not really to your moral credit to obey it; to do so is simply in your interests. Otherwise they fine you or put you in prison.

This is all most easily illustrated at the level of government, because one can refer to historical parallels; but all logically applies to the family as well.



Darius:

“Confucian mores did, in the lack of the Judeo-Christian value system I fear we often take for granted, keep Far Eastern society together for 2,000 years or more.”



This is true, and speaks well of Confucianism as a tool; but says nothing about it as a moral system. If a system succeeded in keeping a bad government and society together for 2,000 years, that would make it immoral.

I think it speaks poorly of surviving Confucian traditions that the people of North Korea have not yet rebelled; that Mao, the greatest mass murderer in history, is still revered in China; that Japan, unlike Germany, has never really come to terms with its pre-war racism and war guilt.

I admire Confucius and Confucianism in general; but this reveals a fatal flaw.