Playing the Indian Card

Friday, July 31, 2020

Systemic Racism under Every Bed!

Keanu Reeves, star of The Matrix, is Canadian. Coincidence, or ...?

Jeff McLaren, a local councilor, writes a guest column in the Kingston Whig-Standard warning of Canada’s “systemic racism.” It seems to me a model of the type. Everyone now is writing columns condemning “systemic racism.”

McLaren begins, “Systemic racism is like the matrix. It is all around us but most can’t see it.”

If we are speaking of a thing most people cannot see, we have reason to ponder whether, in fact, like leprechauns, unicorns, witchcraft, or Jews poisoning wells, it does not actually exist as a thing independent of a few people’s perceptions of it.

We who cannot see it need some evidence.

And evidence ought to be easy to find. For a thing to become “systemic,” assuming the absence of psychic powers, it must be communicated among the members of that system. We will see it in the laws and regulations that constitute that system. If there are no such written laws or regulations, asserting systemic racism requires positing a vast conspiracy. Such vast and longstanding conspiracies are, for a variety of reasons, inherently unlikely to exist. Especially conspiracies of which the actual members are unaware.

McLaren’s stated evidence is that “federal and provincial law and city bylaws … all were predominately written by white, rich, educated, Christian, men.” Surely this is true: Canada was formed by a variety of ethnic groups, but most of them had and have skin that was relatively pale. Had they intended to, they presumably could have created a system that favoured people who looked like themselves. We have seen it in other times and places: in the US South before about 1965, in South Africa, or in the Indian caste system.

But that they could have done so is not evidence that they did. For that, we still need to see actual laws or bylaws that discriminate against “non-whites.” McLaren offers no evidence of this.

Surely it is his duty to do so: not only to prove his allegation against Canada, but also to combat racism. Any such laws or bylaws are in violation of the Canadian constitution. It is the duty of all of us to bring them before the courts, and have them overturned.

Other than this, McLaren’s argument seems to be that we should not consider racism wrong: “One example of an unhelpful distortion of ourselves is the older starting point of calling out racism as a moral failing.” It is hard to read this as anything other than a defense of racism. Systemic racism, if it exists, cannot excuse us from our individual moral obligation to resist it. “Everybody else was doing it” is not a moral argument.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

All We Are Saying ....

The Fall of the Rebel Angels: Peter Bruegel the Elder.

Hitler wants peace. His speeches and his interviews on this theme are constructed on an ancient formula: war is incapable of solving a single question, war threatens the extermination of the superior races, war brings the ruin of civilization in its wake. -- Leon Trotsky, 1933.

Xerxes, my regular correspondent, tells of a friend who has lost his faith in God because, “His community were pacifists. They didn’t believe that wars settled anything. But wars kept happening.”

Why did he think God was obliged to conform to his wishes? Did someone tell him God was a pacifist? The Lord God of Hosts?

There is perhaps no ideology more evil than pacifism. An evil man who aggressively does evil, and admits it, is at least brave; bravery is a virtue. Far worse is the person who does evil while pretending it is good. He or she attempts to subvert others to evil, and will condemn and discourage the good.

This describes pacifism.

To be a pacifist in the face of evil is, in legal terms, to aid and abet. The pacifist is as guilty as the perpetrator; he or she is just refusing to take responsibility for it.

Wars never settled anything? To say so is to endorse slavery in the US; it took a war to end it. It is to endorse Hitler’s extermination of the Jews; it took a war to end it. It took a war to achieve American or Irish independence.

Being a pacifist will prevent wars? That is like saying, if only there were more sheep, there would be fewer wolves.

It should go without saying that nobody wants war. Nobody wants to get shot at. Hitler did not want war, and was a vocal pacifist. He would have vastly preferred being able to annex neighbouring lands peacefully, as he had the Saarland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. He could have kept doing so happily forever.

Conversely, if there had been fewer pacifists in other lands, he might have been stopped with much less bloodshed, perhaps with none, when he invaded the Saarland, or Austria.

Pacifism kills. It kills with a knife in the back, and with a fatuous smile on its face.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Last Sunday's Gospel: The Kingdom of Heaven

Parable of the treasure in the field. Possibly Rembrandt.

The gospel reading at last Sunday’s mass was a string of short parables describing the Kingdom of Heaven. An essential subject, yet, as usual with parables, it is hard to make out what is really being said. 

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Parable of the pearl. Mironov.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, fishermen drew up on the beach. They sat down and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be in the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?”

They answered him, “Yes, Lord.”

This seems intentionally funny. Really? Was that all so understandable to you?

He said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been made a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things.”

Matthew 13: 44-52, WEB

Therefore? How does this statement follow from what has come before? Why are we even talking about scribes?

Now let’s back up. Start with the treasure in the field. An obvious contradiction here. Why, having discovered the treasure, doesn’t the man just take it? Why rebury it, then buy the field?

And the pearl. Is it obvious that a merchant is better off having sold his entire inventory for one pearl? Is there any reason to suppose he would get a bigger profit out of it than out of another pearl, simply because it is more expensive?

For that matter, who fishes with a dragnet from the beach? How do you drag a net from a stationary position on the beach?

These seem to be a series of riddles. Let’s try to solve them.

The field that must be bought in order to yield its treasure must have an inexhaustible yield. The pearl that is more profitable than all other pearls combined must have an inexhaustible value. The sea that yields abundant fish even standing and casting at the shoreline must be inexhaustible.

And the scribe?

The scribe, that is, the writer, genuinely does, in his regular profession, have an inexhaustible resource. He draws on imagination and memory: “new and old things.” There is no end to the treasures the mind can produce.

Jesus suggests the situation of the scribe sums up the other examples. That is, the kingdom of heaven is most justly comparable to—or is—the memory and the imagination. These are our experience of the spiritual world.

Accordingly, the association of the prior examples seems dreamlike, an association if image motifs, rather than making some rational point: a treasure in a field, then a treasure from the sea, then good and bad things emerging from the sea, then good and bad people burning in a furnace.

Together, it sounds like the imagination, like a reverie.

One implication, since this is so, is that every scribe, every writer, every artist, is a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. It is essentially a spiritual office.

One might mistakenly thing this statement weak: that the Kingdom of Heaven is “only imaginary”; “made up”; “a fiction.” Jesus denies this by his reference to the burning of souls by the angels. This world of the imagination is, he says, more consequential, more meaningful, than the world we only sense with our vegetative senses. It is where the truth is revealed, and the real values of all things.

We ignore or trivialize it at our ultimate peril.

Now, perhaps, we see it only at a distance, and indistinctly, as through a glass darkly. But one day we will see it face to face.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

An Explanation for Denial

"It is easier for most people to accept a lie, than to accept having been lied to."

The New Moonshot

When the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, the reason was said to be that they were engaged in industrial espionage—specifically, trying to steal information about American coronavirus vaccines. Now I hear reports of Russian hacking into UK and US computers for the same purpose.

Why was this their focus? One would assume that different teams are sharing their information in any case, right?

Maybe not. It seems to me that the race for an effective vaccine, or else a genuine cure, for COVID-19, is this era’s space race. Whoever gets there first demonstrates technological supremacy, and the payoff in national prestige will be immense. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea have already boosted their international prestige immensely by efficient responses to the virus. Countries known to be aggressively in the race are the USA, UK, Australia, Germany, China, Canada, and Israel.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Global Hamburger

Chinese tonight?

I get to chat more or less daily with young people around the world. This has been my life, more or less, for the past thirty years. In those thirty years, something dramatic has happened. The world has changed utterly. And we are soon going to see its effects. 

When I started out, in Wuhan China, population six million then, I couldn’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd. I was exotic; and so, to me, was the place I had come to. Butter or cheese were unavailable, let alone such a thing as a hamburger. China might have been an extreme example, but places like Korea, or Thailand, or Saudi Arabia, or Bulgaria were also thrillingly strange. These were the adventures I had dreamed of as a boy reading Robert W. Service or Richard Halliburton.

But the internet has changed everything.

Just as the out-of-touch elites in Canada have been celebrating multiculturalism and cultural diversity, cultural diversity is disappearing everywhere else, as we all enter a vast melting pot. Thanks to the internet, aside from any other influences, young people in China or Saudi Arabia or the Philippines are now exposed to all the same cultural influences as young people in Brooklyn or Peoria. Everyone has at least a smartphone. They listen to the same music, see the same films, play the same games, know the same memes, and are regularly chatting with one another.

I ask a Chinese student what her favourite book is. Harry Potter. A Filipino toddler cannot get enough of Peppa Pig. I ask a Chinese student what his favourite meal is. Hamburger. I recently asked a student in Beijing to write an essay on the three historical persons he would most like to meet. Hannibal, Napoleon, and George Washington.

For the young, there are no longer local cultures. As the older generations die away, they will too.

It makes me a little sad; malls in Bangkok now look pretty much like malls in Sudbury. At the same time, each offers many more choices. And I have to be delighted at the visible death of the sinister folly of cultural relativism.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Judging Thy Neighbour

From Clarifying Catholicism:

Authentic love does not involve letting people do whatever they want. In fact, it takes an enormous amount of love to courageously confront someone about a bad habit, addiction, or harmful behavior.

Christians are called to judge actions every day. In a literal sense, “Don’t judge me!” is a fine demand, since we have no authority to judge the state of a person’s soul. However, when this phrase is warped to signify “Don’t judge my actions!” the requester risks surrounding themselves with walls of pride that isolate them from the relationships that reveal the goodness of God. A criminal justice system could not function without judging actions, though it is apparent that the so-called “freedom-fighting” anarchists do not care for law, order, or morality at all. Once we relinquish judgment of actions, we too fall into a state of inner-anarchy.

If you love a drug addict, you have an obligation to respectfully confront them about their substance abuse. …. No matter how “politically incorrect” it might seem, it is your God-given task to help your friend carry their cross. … The greatest commandment is “Love Your Neighbor.” If you truly love your neighbor, you will judge their actions.

A Journal of the Plague Year: 1832

Cholera in Quebec City: the sky os black from the smudge pots, burned to drive away the smells that people at the time believed caused disease.

Old Kingston (Ontario) newspapers are available online. I thought I’d pull up the Upper Canada Herald for the spring and summer of 1832, because that was the year for the first great cholera epidemic. And also the year some of my ancestors came over, if I recall correctly. Might be interesting to compare it to our current situation with COVID-19.

The disease began in India. It had spread to Russia and the Far East before it hit London and Paris. News from Europe was delayed about six weeks, the time it took for a North Atlantic passage.

London had gone into a sort of lockdown:

CHOLERA AND COMMERCE.—The careful men in the city, who are constantly watching the " signs of the times," profess already to see plain indications of that mischief with which we are threatened, not by the cholera, but by the absurd measures which the belief of its existence here has given rise to. Money has become within these two days comparatively scarce, because merchants perceive that an extensive demand for it must shortly arise, from the mere circumstance that shipments of gods of all kinds for the continent have been generally suspended, and that the owners will be driven to provide payment for them, without any of the usual aid from foreign remittances. The great ports of Europe, now inevitably to be closed against the Lendon trade, as they receive no goods from us, will of course send us no money.--[Morning Chron.]

This ominous note appears at the beginning of May:

EMIGRATION.—The following is copied from the City article of a late number of the Morning Herald. "We understand that the number of vessels preparing to sail for Canada at the opening of the season, both in London and the out ports, is great beyond all precedent. We are very glad that this is the case, because as has been justly intimated by a writer in the last number of the Quarterly Review, to whom we have before referred, the increasing population of the country must find a vent somewhere to escape from the grasp of want, or the nation will be involved in anarchy and confusion. The fact is the land does not raise sufficient food, as at present managed, to give in exchange for manufactured goods, and we know of no better way of remedying the evil than the bringing into cultivation our colonies, more especially the Canadas, whose interests are, or ought to be, identified with our own. At the same time, however, we feel it our duty again to call the attention of the Government to the disgraceful and cruel manner in which so many poor persons were last year huddled together, worse than negroes are in African slave ships, to serve the cupidity of the owners and masters of the vessels that bore them across the Atlantic.”

If my calculations are correct, some of my ancestors came over on one of those ships.

However, Kingston readers were reassured that the pandemic could not reach North America.

[I]t is contagious, but depends mainly for its progress and malignity on the state of the atmosphere. … [T]his state of the atmosphere, whatever it may be, does not exist at any great distance from land, and is at length neutralized on the ocean. When the United States frigate Congress visited Manilla, in the year 1820, on the evening of the 4th day after her arrival a case of Asiatic Cholera occurred, and the ship was immediately ordered to get under way for the purpose of proceeding to the China Seas. While in these narrow seas, a number of cases occurred, the last of which was on the morning preceding that on which she passed through the Straits of Sunda. After this no new cases occurred; those previously ill soon recovered; and the ship has remained from that time perfectly free from any infection of the kind. From these facts we believe it to be utterly impossible, for the disease to be imported in vessels from Europe, and that if it appears here at all, it will originate here, and not be imported.” [N. V. Con., Eng ]

So that was reassuring.

The next week’s issue reported that the illness had spread to Ireland: four dead in Dublin.

On 15 May the first ships of the season arrived at Quebec. One, the Canada, was thought to have cholera on board.

Both had violated a newly-passed quarantine law, that required ships to dock at Grosse-Ile for health inspection rather than docking in Quebec harbour.

FIRST ARRIVALS—HEALTH LAW:-On Friday night last about 10 o'clock, two guns were fired in the Harbour, and in the morning the Canada, from Greenock, and the Intrepid, from Hull, were seen at anchor off The St. Charles. They were the first arrivals from sea this season. They were boarded in the morning by the Harbour Master and Health Officer, and a yellow flag hoisted at the foremast. No communication was allowed with the port, as they bad no certificates of the Health Officer at the Quarantine Station. In the afternoon the Board of Health ordered them back to Grosse Isle, and they set sail, without landing a passenger or even the letter bags, (a step with respect to the bags not altogether necessary, it strikes us,) about 3 o'clock. They arrived at the station yesterday. The Canada had a foul hill of health, the Cholera existing at Greenock; the Intrepid had a clean bill of health. It is understood that prosecutions for violation of the Health Law have been ordered against the Captains and Pilots. The penalty is a sum not more than £100. The pilot of the Intrepid had however, we learn, wintered in England, and was ignorant of the quarantine laws.

The next week, the Rideau Canal opened. My ancestors must have been among the earliest immigrants to come through.

RIDEAU CANAL.—In a late number of the Herald we announced that this magnificent work would he completed in a few weeks, but we were not prepared, at an early a period, for the interesting scene which took place yesterday. At eight o'clock in the morning it was understood that a Steam-boat and several smaller craft would pass through the Locks at Kingston Mills, and of course a large concourse of our inhabitants hastened to the spot, in order to witness so pleasing an event. At thirteen minutes before one o'clock the Dock Yard Cutter Snake, commanded by Lieutenant Holbrook , and accompanied by Mr. Glovers Barge, and a barge belonging to the officers of the 66th Regiment, entered the first Lock, where they remained eleven minutes, —number two was passed in five minutes —number three, in about four minutes—they were in the basin three or four minutes, and entered the broad expanse of water above number four, at thirteen minutes before two o'clock. The delay in the last lock was occasioned by a small piece of drift wood getting between one of the gates and its sill. Had this not occurred, the time occupied in passing through all the locks would not have exceeded thirty minutes. After three hearty cheers, the Cutter, with the British Ensign flying at the main mast head, spread her sails to the breeze, and was soon hid from our sight by the trees that stud the margin of the serpentine channel leading to Brewer's Mills.

By 20 June, the cholera had apparently still not arrived in Kingston.

THE INDIAN CHOLERA—We have a variety of reports respecting this disorder, but the truth of which we are unable to vouch for, therefore it is best not to sound the alarm without a strong foundation, for we well know that fear operates in a frightful manner on the imagination. A person the other day informed us that he took up a book which treated on that disorder, and that he became so affected by the perusal of it as almost to turn sick, and was forced to put it down. We have published the particulars of a meeting in our town upon the subject, where resolutions were passed and a committee of safety appointed to act with the magistrates, to adopt and put in force the most effectual means to prevent the disorder being introduced, and otherwise to endeavour to stop its progress if it should visit us.

CHOLERA. At a meeting of the Inhabitants of Kingston, held at the Court House, on Thursday, June 14th, 1832, "for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of adopting some measures to prevent the spread of CHOLERA in the Town." THOMAS MARKLAND, Esq. in the Chair. Resolved, That whereas by recent accounts from Quebec, it appears that the disease called Asiatic Spasmodic Cholera has appeared in that city, thus affording indubitable proof that the disorder has been imported from Europe, we cannot close our eyes to the almost tearful certainty that this awful visitation of Almighty God will soon reach this Town. That as every individual is deeply interested in the preservation of the Public Health, it is the bounden duty of all to combine cheerfully in such measures as may serve under the divine blessing to arrest the progress of this scourge.

The newspaper goes on to suggest:

We would seriously ask, whether it would be better to risk a little infringement on public right, by directing the Steam-Boats crammed with passengers for the ports above to pass Kingston, or to let them come to our wharves and run the chance of introducing a pestilence amongst us when it may be avoided by so doing. We are informed that Commodore Barrie (at the request of the Magistrates and Committee of Public Safety) has ordered a boat to be stationed at Point Frederick to prevent Steam-Boats or other craft entering the port of Kingston without being examined.

By the Montreal papers received this morning, we find that the state of that city and also Quebec was truly alarming on account of the ravages of the Cholera, but we are happy to find by an extract from the Gazette that the disease has greatly abated at both places [sic—not true, perhaps inserted to reassure]. The situation of the emigrants is truly distressing, as many of them are without money, or even a temporary shelter, which is enough of itself to bring on disorders of the most afflicting nature from such exposure and privations. It is absolutely necessary to use the utmost caution to prevent the disorder being introduced amongst us. There can be no necessity whatever under the present circumstances, for the steam-boats and vessels bound above to call here, and such as are, should have a distant station appointed for them, which regulations we are informed are this day enforced.

Since writing the above we have received the following.

Cases, - - 2
Admitted into Hospital, - - 1
Deaths out of Hospital, - - 1
Remaining, - - - 1

JOHN R. FORSYTH, Secretary.

So it had arrived.

Next week the figures for June 20th were republished, and were quite different, without explanation:

Cases 48
Deaths 21

This makes me suspect that the actual number of cases was being suppressed, to prevent panic. The papers from York (Toronto) actually published no news at all of the outbreak there. The Herald laments this.

From the York papers we are unable to collect any satisfactory information respecting the progress of the prevailing disease. It is said that the Physicians refuse to report the cases that come under their notice, and therefore the public are kept in total ignorance in relation to the health of the Town.

People apparently believed at the time that fear caused disease. The paper considered it a civic duty to downplay the dangers.

We have ourselves met numbers of persons in the public streets with their handkerchiefs to their mouths, depression on their countenances, looking the very pictures of despair, afraid that with every inspiration of the air they might inhale pestilence and death!! Can it excite surprise if the amount of mortality is swollen to an horrible magnitude when people thus court disease, and solicit a passport to the tomb?—We repeat, that a careless disregard of the malady, as far as the mind is concerned, is one of the best safeguards against the attack of cholera, just as the shutting up of stores, the closing of shops, and the suspension of any of the everyday pursuits of business or the ordinary occupations of life will be found to provoke its approach.—

But there is a backhanded admission that “the amount of mortality has swollen to an horrible magnitude.”

The public was assured repeatedly that there was really no reason to worry; cures had been discovered, using ingredients close to hand. Every new edition reported a different cure that some doctor or another had found to be effective. This one is my favourite:

The Montreal Herald speaks in high terms of commendation of the "charitable and extraordinary stranger whom Providence seems to have led to our city, at the moment of inflicting the scourge; and who, besides practising gratis, has practised with some success. When we say this, we are prepared to bring forward many and very extraordinary instances of his success, authenticated by respectable individuals, witnesses of the cure. His recipe is as follows.

Two spoonsful of Charcoal, Two do of Lard, Two do of Maple Sugar.

Mix these together, and give them to the patient with a spoonful of sugar, to remove the disagreeable taste from the mouth; should this remain on the stomach one half hour after, the patient may drink a little spruce beer: chocolate may be used after the recovery of the patient with dry bread. If he has the cramps or spasms, he is rubbed over with lye of wood ashes and water, as hot as it can be borne, but not over strong. In the event of its proving ineffectual, if the spasms continue or increase, very hot brandy, of the best kind, is substituted for the lye. If the patient vomit after the first dose of charcoal, the second is administered after the lapse of half an hour. After this treatment has been used, and as soon as the patient is a little recovered, he is to take a plate of bean soup, made with very fat pork, and should drink water in which has been quenched a live coal of maple wood. He may also take a very strong chocolate with little milk, and a wine glass full of leaven or baker's yeast will help in maintaining the functions of the stomach.

As of the first of August, the epidemic had not abated, and the newspaper seems to be speaking more frankly. Perhaps the public had become familiar enough with the disease; more likely suppression was no longer possible, against the evidence of their own eyes.

The Montreal papers received this morning represent the Cholera as raging with unabated violence---The deaths being about twenty daily. The accounts from Quebec are also more unfavourable than they were last week.

The US had closed its ports to all Canadian commerce.

The epidemic raged on for years.

It Took Seven Years

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Early Warning Signs of Fascism

A left-tilting friend has posted on Facebook a familiar poster of “Early Warning Signs of Fascism,” as a warning against Donald Trump.

Our obvious first question ought to be, who says these are the first signs of fascism, and how credible is their opinion? As it is a poster, it offers no evidence or argument; just assertions. Nobody who has been taught how to think, or figured it out for themselves, should take this at face value.

Nobody seems to give a source; they seem to just see it in print, and so assume it must be true.

Such people would make ideal acolytes in an actual fascist state. A similar poster might list “Twelve Harms Done by the Jews.”

Some attribute it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The USHMM denies this; they once sold the poster in their gift shop, but, interestingly, without explanation, have pulled it.

Scopes tracks it down to Laurence Britt, a businessman and amateur historian.

As an appeal to authority, this is pretty weak.

Among academics, there is really little agreement on what constitutes “fascism.” “Fascist” positions and policies are all over the map, and seem to show no core ideology.

Let’s look at Mr. Britt’s list.

1. Powerful and continuing nationalism.

On this at least, I think there could be general agreement. This is one reason fascism is so incoherent: the perceived interest of one nation will not be the same as the national interest of another state, so that fascisms in different countries can hold opposite views on any given issue. German fascism was, historically, in opposition to Austrian fascism, and for a time with Italian fascism. Similarly, on almost any given point of policy, different national fascist parties can be opposed.

But is Trump’s administration fascist by this measure? While it is nationalistic in comparison with other recent American regimes, it surely does not stand out as nationalistic in either world or historic terms. To the contrary; the US, and the West in general, have been moving in the opposite direction, towards “globalism.” Trump looks like a relatively mild popular reaction against this, but bringing the US closer to alignment with the world and historical norm. The same could be said of various “nationalist” movements in Europe.

This nationalism fails the stated test of being either powerful or continuous.

Nominally communist or socialist regimes are currently the most nationalistic: North Korea, China.

2. Disdain for human rights.

This seems fair as a description of fascism. Mussolini was openly opposed to liberal democracy as decadent, and to the doctrine of individual rights and individualism. The very symbol of the fasces emphasizes the group over the individual. Hitler’s Nazis obviously honoured no right to life.

Yet does this describe the Trump administration? What human rights has it opposed? Rather, Trump has been fairly vocal in supporting the right to life, the right to bear arms, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech.

In world terms, the US is probably here too the one country furthest from fascism. Within the US, the current left is plainly more fascist than the right: they follow the fascists in emphasizing the group over individual rights. For an obvious example, they currently embrace the slogan “black lives matter,” and are violently opposed to the slogan “all lives matter.”

3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause.

This is not obviously a core fascist characteristic; rather, it is a universal law of politics and social life. You can rally support to yourself by uniting the public against some scapegoat or imagined enemy. Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies offer literary examples.

And, at the same time, in many circumstances clear identification of the enemy can be a necessary and a deeply moral act. This is what Churchill did, in pinpointing Hitler as the enemy; and again in warning of an iron curtain falling on Europe. It is what the police do when they identify a murderer, and put up warnings in the post office.

Trump seems conspicuous in not playing this enemies game. He may berate this opponent or that, this group or that, and, the next time the matter comes up, make a point of praising them. Rather than rallying rage against an imaginary enemy or a scapegoat, he seems to do this as a negotiating tactic.

The classic current example of a group seeking to unite on the basis of a purely imaginary common enemy is “Antifa.” It is embedded in their name.

4. Supremacy of the military.

This is not true of Hitler’s Germany. The Nazis built up the armed forces, but this is not the same thing. They were also in ongoing conflict with the officer class. All soldiers were required to take a personal oath to Hitler. That’s subjugation, not supremacy. The military also exerted no authority over the civilian population.

Trump’s relationship to the military seems to be about the same as that of any other president. Funding of the military has gone up in real terms, held steady in GDP terms, and is broadly in line with historic trends.

5. Rampant sexism.

This is anachronistic. The term “sexism” was coined only in the Sixties. Relations between the sexes were not the hot button issue then they are today.

But the fascist record is not broadly one of opposition to what today would be called feminism. The very first point of the Manifesto of Piazza Sansepolcro, often considered the founding event of Italian fascism, was “vote and eligibility for women.” Mussolini wanted to require that a minimum proportion of the Italian legislature be women. His government prohibited firing women because of pregnancy or maternity leave. G.A. Chiurco wrote, in 1935, "The fascist state can't conceive the woman locked in her house."

The Nazi record in Germany was different. They tended to emphasize the importance of motherhood, for sustaining the race. But they were also comfortable with women, like Leni Riefenstahl or Hanna Reitsch, in high public positions, running concentration camps, and in the military.

6. Controlled mass media.

This seems misplaced on a list of “early warning signs.” Fascists did not have the means to control the media before the came to power. They were active and enthusiastic journalists; Mussolini himself was a journalist. But this does not amount to control.

Fascist regimes certainly took control of mass media as a standard practice once they came to power.

Already in power, Trump has made no moves to control the media.

While the “legacy media” does seem to move in lockstep, this seems to be a case of a cadre, similar to the early fascists, of active and enthusiastic journalists. Significantly, they actually seem to be united against Trump.

7. Obsession with national security.

As a description of the Italian Fascist or the German Nazi regimes, this seems off point. Their concern was not with defending their borders, with security, but with invading other countries. The charge of “obsession with national security” could more reasonably be levelled against Churchill or De Gaulle.

Is Trump interested in invading other countries? It seems the reverse; he seems to be making efforts to pull troops back from foreign involvements.

8. Religion and government intertwined.

This again does not seem to be the proper phrasing. After all, religion and government are constitutionally intertwined in the United Kingdom, modern Germany, or in the Scandinavian countries, without these being considered fascist countries. It would be better to say “religion subservient to government.” As Mussolini put his essential creed: “everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” It is a matter of who gets to call the shots.

There is no sign of Trump trying to make religion knuckle under to the demands of the state in America. The obvious example of this in the world today is China.

But it is also a broad tendency on the American left, not strong on recognizing conscience rights.

9. Corporate power protected.

As phrased, this is false. In fact, Fascist Italy nationalized more industry than any other nation but the Soviet Union. While Nazism or fascism left other corporations standing, and even protected their markets and profits from competition, they removed all power from their ownership or management. Corporations allowed to remain in business were treated like arms of the state, obliged to do what the government required. This was the fascist understanding of socialism.

Trump could be accused of doing this in a small way by invoking the Defense Production Act; but this is recognized as legitimate in any democracy in a state of national emergency—just as the French army commandeered the taxis of Paris for the Battle of the Marne.

More generally, Trump has been aggressive in reducing government regulations on business. This increases the decision-making power of corporate ownership or management, and, at the same time, reduces their protection from competition. It is the opposite of the fascist programme.

The classic contemporary example of a regime operating on this fascist basis is China.

10. Labour power suppressed.

The fascist treatment of labour or the corporations was parallel; one cannot have been “protected,” and the other “suppressed.” The Nazis made protecting and advancing the rights and interests of the workers one of its main policy objectives; but the unions, like the corporations, became organs of government. Workers were expected to do what the government ordered.

There is no parallel with the Trump administration; except that Trump, like the fascists, claims to make the interests of working people his primary concern. The modern parallel is again the Chinese regime, in terms of unions becoming arms of the state.

11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts.

This is the biggest howler on the list. Fascism began as an artistic and intellectual movement, which then moved into politics. Gabriele d’Annunzio, poet, journalist, and playwright, set up the first fascist regime, with himself as Duce, in Fiume. Fascism as an intellectual movement had clear antecedents in Nietzsche, Darwin, and Marx. It was more or less the application of the currently fashionable intellectual trends to practical politics. William L. Shirer, in Germany at the time, noted that the Nazi party was especially strong and popular on university campuses.

A significant number of prominent intellectuals and artists of the day supported the fascists: Ezra Pound, Martin Heidegger, Luigi Pirandello, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Wolfe. Hitler, of course, considered himself an artist; Mussolini wrote and published short stories.

Trump’s opinion on intellectualism and the arts is less clear. He has a reputation as a vulgarian. He does oppose tearing down statues.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment.

The Nazis, and Mussolini’s blackshirts, were characterized in their earlier days not by any appeal to law and order, but by criminal activities and brawling in the streets. Rather than a government of settled laws, fascism embraced the “leadership principle.” It gave license to some to freely do things that would have been crimes in most other countries. Rather than calling for social peace and order, it called for “Mein Kampf” and the greeting “Seig Heil.”

Concern with crime, and with public order, is a characteristic instead of traditional conservatism. Which, Shirer noted, was the one group consistently opposed to fascism.

Trump does not seem to be in favour of rioting or gang violence. This puts him in opposition to fascism. The obvious modern advocates and practitioners of Storm Trooper tactics are groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Trump is also no hard-liner on crime and punishment. He often boasts of his “prison reform,” which moves in the opposite direction.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption

This is also misplaced. Fascism came to power in Italy or in Germany largely on a promise to stamp out cronyism and corruption. Mussolini promised to “make the trains run on time.” Hitler ran on an image of personal incorruptibility. The new ideal of the national good and the good of the whole was supposed to end the perceived rampant cronyism and corruption of the times.

Fascism turned out not to be effective in this regard, and fascist officials, given the opportunity, were indeed often corrupt; but it seems more accurate to say that it failed to prevent cronyism and corruption than that it caused it.

Is Trump guilty of rampant cronyism or corruption? Charges of cronyism and corruption are levelled against most administrations; notably against Joe Biden, the certain Democratic nominee to run against him.

14. Fraudulent elections.

Fraudulent elections are significantly more common than are regimes we would generally call fascist. They are also the norm in communist or most Third-World regimes. And Hitler first came to power in what seems to have been a reasonably fair election.

Voter fraud and fraudulent elections are an eternal problem, but not one associated especially with either fascism or Donald Trump. “Russian collusion” turned out to be an unsubstantiated allegation.

The Republicans routinely charge Democrats of election fraud; the Democrats routinely charge Republicans. No doubt sometimes they are right.

Conclusion: Donald Trump has nothing to do with fascism. The case is stronger for the modern American left, and especially strong for seeing the current government of China as, essentially, fascist.

Friday, July 24, 2020


You may have heard some hype on GPT- 3. It’s a new Artificial Intelligence program based on the web as corpus. You can type in almost anything, and it will respond with something appropriate. You can ask it to write a term paper, or translate a text from another language, or write a blog post, or a poem, or a story.

Okay, don’t get too excited--or alarmed. It can do this in a superficial sense, but what it generates is still, inevitably, nonsense. Making it only an amusing toy.

For example, asked to write an opinion piece, its logic is incoherent.

The human prompt is shown below in bold, then GPT-3’s response:

The following is a blog post from Slate Star Codex about the value of free speech and civility in a democratic society.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  
By Scott Alexander 

There’s a concept that comes up often in debates about free speech called “shouting fire in a crowded theater”. The basic idea is that you can’t just say whatever you want whenever you want – especially if it’s likely to cause panic. And the reason for this is obvious: panic leads to violence, and violence hurts people. If you are causing panic, then your right to free speech ends where the other person’s right to not get hurt begins.
But this isn’t really true. If shouting fire in a crowded theater were illegal, then there wouldn’t be any actual fires in theaters, would there? How could there be? If everyone knew that shouting fire would get them thrown in jail, then they’d all keep quiet when they smelled smoke – and thus there would never be any fires at all. The only way someone could shout fire is if they were lying – but lying is also illegal. So if shouting fire in a crowded theater were illegal, then theaters would never burn down, and no one would ever die from a fire.
The way I see it, the phrase “shouting fire in a crowded theater” should be replaced with “yelling ‘there’s an angry mob coming with torches and pitchforks’ in a theater”. This doesn’t sound quite as catchy, but it has the advantage of being true. And this matters because the whole concept of free speech is based on people getting the facts right. If you’re going to shout fire in a crowded theater, then you need to actually have seen a fire – not just heard about one from someone else. You need to have checked that there really is a fire before you warn everyone else that there’s a fire. Otherwise you’re just causing panic for no reason – and that’s not free speech, that’s just yelling “boo” in a crowded theater.

Asked to write a short story, it cannot offer a coherent plot.

Below is a screenplay for a film-noir hard boiled detective story by Raymond Chandler about the boy wizard Harry Potter:

“Harry Potter”

By Raymond Chandler

Harry Potter, Private Eye.

Scene: A small dingy office, early morning, furniture of the Salvation Army store variety. Sordid atmosphere. Harry Potter, in ratty tweed suit, unpressed shirt, and unshined shoes, sits behind the desk looking haggard, rumpled, and embittered. In one corner of the office a torn shade rattles at the wind gusts outside. Harry has one long index finger on the butt of a .38 and he broods over a photograph. The photograph shows a gorgeous blonde wearing an evening gown. She is holding a cocktail in one hand and looking pensively at a cigarette in the other. A tear adorns her cheek. Harry looks at her for a long moment, sighs, then puts his gun down and stands. He straightens his clothes, scratches his head, then with more resolution turns around, picks up his pistol, and leaves the office. He passes through the front room and looks out the dirty window. An old woman is washing the sidewalk outside with a mop. A young man in a double breasted gray suit is leaning against the building. Harry sighs again and goes out the door. He walks up to the young man and without ceremony punches him in the jaw.

Asked to write poetry or a song lyric, the lines do not cohere to tell a story or to make a larger statement, and there is no consistent rhythm and no rhyme.

Below is a pop song by Taylor Swift about the boy Wizard Harry Potter.

“Harry Potter”

By Taylor Swift

Harry’s got glasses
He’s got those bright green eyes
Girls are always screaming
‘Cause he’s got that Potter hair
Even when he’s super stressed
He’s still got those supersonic cheekbones
I’m not surprised they made a movie
‘Cause I’d watch him anytime
Oh, yeah, Harry, baby, you’re my favorite character
I’d walk a thousand miles
To get to see you and
Harry, Harry, you’re so fine
My girly parts all tingle
When you smile that smirk
I’d love to be your girl

No rhythm, no rhyme, no coherent thought. Kind of like modern poetry, actually.

But one thing it can do, and it is kind of creepy.

Say what you want in standard English sentences, and it can write code. Any kind of code.

The code that it puts out may not be elegant or efficient. But still, for most people’s needs—writing code may soon be no more or less than writing proper, unambiguous English.

That may kill an entire profession, that until yesterday was the hottest and fastest growing around.

The Case for Hydroxychloraquine

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Are the Schools the Root of All Evil?

Scott Adams is the cartoonist who does “Dilbert.” He has nothing to do with education. Today, however, on his YouTube channel, he declared his conclusion that all our current problems, which seem to him as to me to be spinning out of control, are really just one problem: teachers’ unions.

As I understand him, he makes two points. First, the mobs out tearing down statues and looting are demonstrating that they have not learned how to think: at best, their actions are not addressing their real problems. They seem like children having a tantrum, smashing their toys, demanding that some adult step in and make everything right. If the problem is racism, as they commonly say, nothing they are doing is addressing the problem.

Second, all the current anger over “racism” is deluded. As the system is currently set up, a young black man with a good education actually has better opportunities than a young white man. Government and corporations are climbing over one another to hire him. Therefore, the problem is education—getting those young black men the skills to make then hireable. Better schools, especially in poor and in black neighbourhoods, would fix this supposed “racism.”

And by the way, didn’t we always think this? Remember desegregation? That was primarily desegregation of schools. Getting the black kids into the same schools as the white kids was supposed to end the problem. It was deficits in education that were holding blacks back.

Instead, now the schools are failing black kids and white kids equally.

And Adams sees all attempts to make the problem better blocked by teachers’ unions.

So, he concludes, the solution is to ban the teachers’ unions.

I agree with him that the teachers’ unions should be banned. I agree that if they were, education would quickly improve, and the costs would go down.

But I also think the problem is bigger than he realizes. Get rid of them, and we could experiment with other approaches. But we would also have to get rid of teacher certification, and the teachers’ colleges. Because, given the current state of educational theory, we still would have no idea how to make schools better. The academic field of “education” is bankrupt.

For that matter, all academic fields in the social sciences, and now most of the humanities, are bankrupt.

The deeper problem comes from the consecration of science as our new religion, beginning in the nineteenth century, and reaching the schools in the early twentieth century. On the model of science looking at the physical world, humans were redefined as objects. And schools were redesigned as factories.

I agree with Adams that education is critical. The essential task of civilization is education: passing on the culture to the next generation. Our system of education is clearly not now passing on the culture. This means, within a few short generations, civilizational death. And we have been failing to pass on the civilization for at least a couple of generations now. It should be no wonder that suddenly all the systems seem to be failing. The civil service can no longer be relied upon; the press can no longer be relied upon; the church hierarchy can no longer be relied upon; the academy can no longer be relied upon; the courts can no longer be relied upon; the parliaments can no longer be relied upon; even things like dictionaries are no longer reliable, as the meanings of words change rapidly for political advantage. Everyone is suddenly pursuing what they see as immediate self-interest.

It is also striking how almost everything we see now in the media, in academics, in civil discourse, is based on simple logical fallacies. Nobody indeed knows any longer how to think; for nobody is taught how to think in the schools—the one skill everyone needs.

But since people were redefined as objects, the implicit assumption must be that thought itself is impossible, or purely an illusion. Machines can’t think.

Nor, of course, is there any longer such a thing as right and wrong. There is only wanting, and then trying to get.

There is only looting or smashing things.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

White Privilege

White privilege.
Friend Xerxes has recently weighed in on “white privilege.” 

Don’t believe you have any “white privilege”? He gives examples.

“-no one has ever called you a racial epithet.”

I’d guess that is more likely to be true for non-whites. But it depends largely on what we are prepared to declare a “racial epithet.” In the media, or at any social gathering, it is unacceptable to use any number of terms referring to blacks or most other groups designated “non-white.” But there seem to be no particular terms referring to whites that have been ruled beyond the pale. Not “cracker,” not “honky.” Nobody blinks at the term “redneck.” That’s racial epithet based explicitlyon skin colour. Only pale-skinned people get a red neck from working in the sun. Other anti-white racial slurs that are common enough, and unremarked on, in media and polite society are “hillbilly,” “white trash,” or “WASP.”

By contrast, even essentially neutral terms about non-white groups have been declared beyond the pale. Witness the current turmoil over teams named “Edmonton Eskimos” or “Washington Redskins” or “McGill Redmen.” Yet nobody troubles about the Minnesota Vikings, the New York Yankees, or the Queen’s Golden Gaels. Nobody objects to “Caucasian,” but the two parallel old scientific racial designations “Negroid” and “Mongoloid” have both been declared out of bounds. Nobody objects to “Westerner,” yet the parallel “Oriental” has been declared offensive.

Include such terms, and I warrant either you or I have been referred to by racial epithets far more often than most non-whites. We must be forever careful how we speak of non-whites; nobody needs to be careful of how they speak of “whites.”

Scott Adams make the case that the very term “white privilege” is a racial epithet comparable to “nigger.” It is reminiscent of claims historically used against the Jews—of “blood guilt,” or of them colluding to control everything and give each other special privileges. To say someone has “white privilege” is to look at them and say “you owe me something, because of the colour of your skin.” Yet everyone thinks it is perfectly fine to use.

Never mind. Xerxes has other examples of “white privilege”:

- "Nobody ever suggested that I shouldn’t go to university. Although, interestingly enough, that suggestion was made to my wife -- the first person in her extended family ever to seek higher education. "

Xerxes here expresses the truth apparently without realizing it: the issue about going to university is a class issue, not a race issue. In the working class, it is often seen as some kind of betrayal of your own identity, to go to university. Not only is this unrelated to race; it is also mostly self-imposed, not something imposed by the wider society.

Just the reverse: the actions of the wider society, for non-whites, is all the other way. Across the US and Canada, black or Hispanic students are given places in universities, and scholarships, with lower marks and SAT scores coming out of high school than are “white” students. As a necessary result, poor white students who might otherwise have gone are barred from going. This is a far more serious, and systemic, racial discrimination than simply having your parents or your buddies suggest you not go.

Of course, Xerxes also brings up the police.

- “I have never been pulled over by police on suspicion. If I’ve been pulled over, it was for some clear violation, such as speeding. Or failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.”

It is an objective, statistically demonstrable fact that blacks and aboriginals are more likely to get pulled over by the police than are whites. If this is about being “non-white,” however, how account for the fact that East Asians are also far less likely to be pulled over? It is equally an objective, statistically demonstrable fact, that blacks and aboriginals are much more likely to commit crimes than are whites or Asians, street crimes of the sort that lead to being pulled over. It is a statistical certainty that they are more likely to fit the profile of someone the police are looking for as a suspect in a serious crime. It may be an unfair burden on innocent blacks or aboriginals, but it is not the fault of the police or the wider society.

- “I’ve never been roughly treated by cops. As soon as I open my mouth, it’s obvious I belong to the educated classes.”

Again Xerxes reveals the truth without seeming to be aware of it himself: as soon as he opens his mouth. Not about skin colour, is it? It’s about how you speak. It’s about class. A scruffy-looking, unshaven white man with a heavy Southern or South Boston accent who immediately acts belligerent would probably be treated the same as an unshaven black man wearing clothing obviously inappropriate for an office job, speaking ebonics and sounding threatening. But as soon as an well-spoken black man wearing a suit and tie, an Arthur Ashe or a Barack Obama, opened their mouth, they would probably be treated well.

- “I have never been turned down for a hotel room, or barred from a restaurant.”

Xerxes must mean because of race, since otherwise the experience of being turned away from a restaurant or motel is common.

But neither has any non-white person in Canada or the US who is younger than seventy or so. This has been illegal in the US since the Civil Right Act of 1964. If it happened, one could get satisfaction in a court of law. If it happened anyway, you can’t blame society. Society does not condone murder, either, yet sometimes it happens.

- “I have never felt that the books I read ignore or belittle my experience.”

This one is delusional. Hey, average “white” reader, how much of your own life experience is reflected in Harry Potter? Star Wars? James Bond? 1001 Arabian Nights? Gulliver’s Travels? Robinson Crusoe? Moby Dick? Treasure Island? Peter Pan? The Last of the Mohicans?

Fiction sells because it lets people imagine lives entirely different from their own. That is the whole point of fiction. Any non-white, i.e., “minority,” writer has a huge advantage—one might say “privilege” —in this regard. It is enormously easier for them to get published and to sell their books.

As to non-fiction: no book published today would dare to ignore “non-white” experience. Have you had a look at the textbooks your children are reading at school?

In fact, white ethnicities, by contrast, are generally ignored.

Xerxes quotes in support of his claim of “white privilege” a young black woman of his acquaintance saying “In order to see me and who I am and will always be, in order to truly acknowledge what is going on with the black community around the world, you HAVE to see my colour!”

She is arguing directly against Martin Luther King, who said “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Why have so many blacks reversed themselves since the 1960s? Then they wanted to be treated as the same, and fought colour distinctions. And why, over the same period, have many whites gone from seeing skin colour as important to claiming it is not?

The answer is obvious. Human nature is human nature. If you can claim some privilege because of the colour of your skin, you want people to notice the colour of your skin. If it does nothing for you, or even works to your disadvantage, you don’t want people to make anything of it.

This pudding proves there is no “white privilege”; there is black privilege.

The present system privileges non-whites—as in, “systemic racism.” It gets them into a better university, and may get them scholarship money or extra government funding. When they graduate, it puts them at the head of the queue for a nice government or corporate job, thanks to “affirmative action” and “diversity quotas”—hiring preferences for non-whites. Then their skin colour puts them on the fast track for promotion.

Xerxes then quotes another black woman saying “Many of my friends -- especially the white ones -- have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened.”

This illustrates why we are generally not aware of the systemic discrimination against whites, and many of us think, like Xerxes, that it is all the other way.

White people can indeed have little ideas what it is really like to live life as a non-white. But by the same token, non-white people can have little idea what it is really like to live life as a white. It may be either better or worse. We simply hear non-whites complaining loudly; perhaps only because the wider society has given them full sanction to do so. Remember the nursery wisdom of “The Princess and the Pea.”

Unless we go with statistics or, better yet, the actual laws, government programs, and stated corporate policies, we are only guessing.

The statistics show that some “non-white” groups are less materially successful than “whites”; and others are more successful. This is not evidence of discrimination. At the same time, actual laws, government programs and corporate policies do not support any claims of “white privilege.”

New Quebec Mask Is 99% Effective Against Coronavirus

Edmonton Ethelreds

New Edmonton mascot Ethelred the Unready.

So now that the Washington Redskins have declared a name change, little brother Canada has to do the same thing. So the Edmonton Eskimos have announced the dropping of their traditional name.

To be clear, there is absolutely nothing pejorative about the word “Eskimo.” Dropping it is silly.

On the other hand, I have never liked it, because it has nothing to do with Edmonton.

In seeking a new name, the club apparently must come up with a new “E” moniker, as they want to keep their Double-E logo.

Edmonton Elk? Not a bad name for a football team. But it seems to demand an elk in the logo instead of the EE.

Edmonton Earthquake? I rather like it, but it too has nothing to do with Edmonton, not in an earthquake zone.

Edmonton Eagles? There are lots of bald eagles in the area, but it is too closely identified as an American symbol to seem right for a Canadian team.

Edmonton Engineers? I’m thinking of train engineers. Nice images available, and relevant to the West. But unfortunately not especially relevant to Edmonton. The railroad was famously late to make it to Edmonton.

Edmonton Elementals? I kind of like this one. An elemental is a supernatural being, by one definition. By another, something basic, essential, inevitable. Problem is most fans will have no idea what it means.

Edmonton Explorers? Feels relevant to the old West; Mackenzie and many another passed through.

Edmonton Eddies? KISS. Not obviously sillier than the “Buffalo Bills”

Edmonton Europeans? Would be the ironic choice.

Edmonton Edge?

Edmonton Electronics? Sounds high tech, promoting the city as progressive and such nonsense. “E-Men” would make a nice nickname. And the connotation sounds good: working like a machine.

Yer welcome, Edmonton.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Promising New Drug for Coronavirus

Interferon beta. Preliminary trials on 101 patients in the UK indicate a 79% reduced rate of severe symptoms. Seems to be effective at any stage of the infection. In the limited study, NO ONE receiving the interferon died. The drug apparently works, if it works, regardless of any virus mutations.

Monday, July 20, 2020

A Message from Singapore

"Americans - why is the mask thing even an issue? It’s not political. It’s for the safety and health of all. Stop being idiots and wear a damn mask! Everyone does in the developed East/Southeast Asian countries - it’s the law and 99.99% of the people are happy to comply. Guess what - the curve is flattened and cases have dropped by a large amount in the developed countries here (SG, TW, NZ, MY, TH, JP, KR, HK, even your worst enemy CN) big time. Day to day life is *almost* back to normal. Restaurants and bars are open, shops and salons are open, schools are open/kids are in school, amusement parks and most playgrounds are open, hospitals have capacity for the sick, not too many are dying. We all wear masks here and it works! Why are you letting the virus defeat you?"

Good News on Coronavirus?

In his profoundly understated English way, Dr. Joseph Campbell seems to be excited by this new research.

It suggests that immunity to COVID-19 lasts at least seventeen years.

It moreover suggests that some portion of the population is already immune.

This seems to be from prior exposure to some other virus that caused no or trivial symptoms.

Put this together, and it suggests that 1) an effective vaccine stands a good chance of rendering this vuris extinct. 2) we may be closer to "herd immunity" than we realize.  possibly the maggic number is now as low as 20% for new infections. 3) there may be a natrural and safe vaccine already out there, just like cowpox was for smallpox, if we can just figure out what the prior infection was that caused this common immunity.

From a BBC story:

"Most bizarrely of all, when researchers tested blood samples taken years before the pandemic started, they found T cells which were specifically tailored to detect proteins on the surface of Covid-19. This suggests that some people already had a pre-existing degree of resistance against the virus before it ever infected a human. And it appears to be surprisingly prevalent: 40-60% of unexposed individuals had these cells."

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

The Devil sowing tares.

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.” – Matthew 13.

Yesterday’s mass reading began with this parable.

Few ever seem to notice that parables always include something that, on the surface, makes no sense.

Any amateur gardener should see it. Nobody allows the weed to grow in their garden or their field until harvest. Weeding is the crucial chore in gardening. If they do not take over altogether, untended weeds will stunt the crop. And make it difficult to harvest.

The gods must be crazy.

The householder does not want the weeds pulled up because his servants might not be able to see the difference between weeds and wheat. Yet he assumes that the eventual harvesters will have no trouble doing so: first they will collect the weeds for burning, then gather the wheat. This is aggressively illogical.

When we see such things, we should assume we are being required to take a closer look; things are not as they appear.

Jesus gives a partial explanation to his apostles:

“He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

So the wheat is the good people, and the weeds are the bad people, and the field is the world. And the question addressed is, why does God allow the evil to prosper? Why not just strike them with a lightning bolt?

It cannot be that his servants cannot identify them. For who are his servants in this parable? Not mortal followers: those are the good seeds. The servants must be angels; he identifies them as angels at the harvest. There is no question that God knows all the time who the evil people are. There is no question that he has the power to tell the angels who they are.

But doing so, it would seem, would “uproot the wheat along with them.”

How so? It cannot be in the conventional sense; it cannot be in the literal sense. It is that the wheat cannot be wheat without the weeds.

The weeds are “all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.” The evil will thrive in this world, as weeds will in an unweeded field. If they did not, there would be no temptation for anyone to do evil.

So the good can only be the good, can only grow to be wheat, if they are exposed to and can survive the weeds without becoming weeds. The point is that with souls it is the opposite of with wheat.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Pulp Fiction

Like a dog intent on a squirrel up a tree, linguists have been trying in recent years to figure out just how it is we read. Their conclusions, predictably for the social sciences, are either outright wrong or common sense. Nevertheless, the obvious facts they have stumbled over in their charmingly pedantic way offer some useful tips for writers.

They find we do not read letter by letter, or word by word, or even sentence by sentence. We no doubt do as we need to, but we also read by pattern recognition. We anticipate what comes next.

A famous example is the phrase:

Valleyfield in the
the spring.

Most people will read that without the second “the.”

Or this example:

It deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe

Who knew? Besides everybody. But have we as writers thought through what this means?

Kintsch and van Dijk (you can’t beat the Dutch as academics; in my experience, they stand a half a sliced door above the rest) suggest that this is also true at higher levels: at the level of the paragraph or, in editing terms, at the structural level.

This is the appeal of genre writing. If writing is a tool to communicate, genre writing is the best writing, because the predictability allows us to dispense with the more mechanical parts of reading, and concentrate on the meaning.

If we are reading a medical paper, for example, that is following the conventions of that form, we can extract what we need efficiently. Or a technical manual; or a news story. We can read it at a higher cognitive level; less of our attention needs to be occupied by annoying little individual words and letters and sentence constructions.

This is the opposite of what most writers, most editors, and most writing instructors currently profess. Recall George Orwell’s famous advice, in “Politics and the English Language”: “Never use a word or phrase you are accustomed to seeing in print.” We look down our bespectacled noses at genre writing. Genre writing is for hacks and dummies. Romance novels, cowboy stories, detective novels, comic books. Pulp fiction.

There’s a collection online, at the Internet Archive.

But myths are also highly generic—more so that these modern forms. And myths express the deepest thoughts of most cultures. Poetry is more generic, has more rules, than prose; Shakespeare preferred the sonnet, a highly mannered medium. And he was a decent writer. Classical Greek tragedy, surely as deep as any writing, followed strict rules approaching a ritual performance, Aristotle’s “three unities.” For a more prosaic example, philosophical writing is always concerned with clearly defining terms, and then using them consistently. Each philosophical essay may amount to its own genre, but it follows strict rules so that the thought is not obscured by any unnecessary novelties.

That heavily generic writing also works for low-level readers simply shows that its communicative value is absolute. For the marginally literate, or for children listening to a fairy tale, it works for all the same reasons that it works with Aristotle and Shakespeare: it allows them to assimilate the information efficiently, to participate in the story or the emotion or the idea, without getting bogged down by the mechanics of reading, in which they may be unskilled.

And for all the rest of us, generic writing is the most enjoyable, for exactly the same reason. We can get fully engaged in the story, and with our own imagination, without being distracted.

Introducing some unnecessary novelty is like letting the boom microphone appear in the shot; it kills the willing suspension of disbelief.

Orwell is close to having a point, with his cliché against cliché. The problem is not the use of a stock, familiar phrase. The problem is that, when a phrase becomes too familiar, it starts being resorted to unthinkingly, and so without meaning or even incorrectly. That is what grates, and what impedes communication. Every night is not “a dark and stormy night.” But if you want to tell the tale of a haunted house, then it ought to be.

Every once and again, some writer comes out with something generic and good, violating all the academic norms by following all the norms, and makes a big splash. That’s what JK Rowling did with Harry Potter. That’s Stephen King. That’s JRR Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. That’s Star Wars; that’s Indiana Jones. These do not experiment with or violate norms, or treat them ironically; they follow them well. And readers appreciate it.

For a narrative, genre allows us to enter more fully into the fully imagined world.

The fact that “sophisticated,” “serious” writers do not write this way goes a long way towards explaining why reading has become less popular. We have forgotten what good writing is, and are instead self-righteously scribbling inferior stuff, interesting only to other writers. Good writing is, by definition, what is easy and enjoyable to read. 

We have stumbled into this because, beginning at about the start of the 20th century, certainly by the 1920s, we came to idolize science as the crown and measure of all things. Accordingly, we got the notion that good writing should be like science, or like technology. James Joyce declared himself “the greatest engineer who ever lived.” Strunk and White compared an essay to a machine.

So literature should, like technology, be undergoing constant improvement. It must not rely on the tried and true. It must, like science, always be “experimental.”

Art does not work like that. That makes as much sense as inventing your own alphabet. Experiments might be useful in the writer’s private study, or among artists, but art as a whole does not progress. It is tied to eternal truths, eternal truths of human nature, and eternal things do not change. The tools of communication are relatively incidental, and the only issue is that they are clearly comprehended by both author and audience. There is a point at which that cannot be improved upon, and it can never be improved upon unilaterally. “Experiments” cannot work in actual communication, because any unexpected novelty reduces communication for the reader.

There may be times at which you want to inhibit communication in order to make a point; to jolt the reader out of a familiar and false way of thinking. But this will be the exception, not the rule.

James Joyce is a magnificent writer in detail. Nevertheless, he is unreadable.

Genre writing is the way to go.

The Iconoclasts Zero in on Catholic Churches

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Chronicle of China Dying

Things are seldom what they seem.

What is China up to? 

There is much talk these days of “Thucydides’ trap,” the idea that a dominant power inevitably comes into conflict with an emerging power; and so the US must inevitably go to war with China. Some go further, and suggest that China will inevitably overtake the US for dominance, and within our lifetimes.

That is not what I see happening. To begin with, by this thesis, it should be the US that is getting bellicose. I see China rattling the sabres, not the US. Further, if China’s rise is inevitable, the last thing China should want to do is to take any risk of provoking war—a war now is the only thing that might stop them, by reshuffling the deck.

Instead of a rising power, I smell dead meat.

This smells instead to me like what happened with Nazi Germany, and what happened to the Soviet bloc. Neither of which fit into Thucydides’ little mouse trap. If anyone ever did.

To my mind, and my reading of history, a war is at least as often the thrashing about of a power that feels itself in trouble.

Like Austria-Hungary, the relatively impoverished and senile power that actually started World War I. Or the Confederate States of America, an agrarian slaveholding society seeing itself threatened by the growing industrialization and the growing population of the anti-slavery North. Or Japan entering World War Two, calculating that they needed to grab a source of oil or soon die. Or Hitler invading the Soviet Union, probably for the same reason.

But as for Hitler, let’s back up a few years. Hitler’s government, in the 1930s, performed what looked like economic miracles for a prostrate Germany. Just as China’s government seems to have done since 1990. Just as Stalin seemed to do for Russia in the 1950s. Unfortunately, Nazi Germany in the 1930s was an economy run as a Ponzi scheme, printing money and hiding the real books, and Hitler understood that he could only keep the whole thing from collapsing by, first, confiscating the wealth of the Jews, and, second, invading and confiscating the wealth and labour of other lands. Czechoslovakia, then Poland, then… So war was inevitable; it was baked in the cake.

Outwardly, everyone seemed to think the economy of the Soviet Bloc was growing and competing with the West right up until the year it fell. Before it suddenly fell, many of not most Western intellectuals assumed the Soviet Bloc was on the brink of supplanting the West. Even such a right-winger, and such a savvy right-winger, as Henry Kissinger, who when he became Secretary of State compared himself to Metternich, as someone charged with trying to sustain a declining empire.

Yet the Soviet Union fell, apparently, because the government ran out of money. They could no longer afford to try to control or financially support their satellites. They could no longer afford to keep up with the USA in an arms race. And once the dust settled, the Russian economy was revealed to be significantly smaller than the economies of such second-tier powers in the West as Italy.

Might the same thing be happening to the Chinese Communist government? Their development indeed appears to be fast—but so did Nazi Germany’s. They have been sinking a great deal of money into armaments in order to mount a credible competition with the US. They have evidently been spending a lot of money to subvert prominent people in other parts of the world, and spending hugely on their “belt and road initiative” to buy influence abroad. There have been vast flashy infrastructure projects, high-speed trains and giant dams and the like. Just like Hitler with his Berlin Olympics and celebrated system of autobahns. Is it all an attempt to impress without real substance behind it? There have been entire cities constructed which, rumor has it, have been in the end abandoned and left to rot.

We do not know what is real, because, like Nazi Germany or the Soviets, the accounting for all of this has not been public. But surely, if it were real, there would be no reason not to trumpet the actual figures.

In theory, the Chinese economy should not work. Like that of the old Soviet Union, it lacks incentives. The joke then was “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” While China has to some extent gone “free market” there is still a heavy burden of government, taxation, and systemic favouritism towards government-run businesses, so that hard work and enterprise is not well-rewarded. In theory, central control is also going to be less efficient in allotting funds and resources than are free markets. To put it plainly, Chinese-style central planning has never worked elsewhere. It has only appeared, for limited periods, to work.

We also know that Chinese demographics ought about now to be hitting a wall. China’s rise was based on cheap labour, and, thanks in some part to the “one-child policy,” China is due to be running out of cheap labour. In theory, they might make a successful transition to a consumer-based and high-skills economy; Japan did before them; Korea did before them; Taiwan did before them. But notice that, at the moment they made this transition, Japan, Korea, or Taiwan also shifted from command economies to liberal democracies. Nobody has ever developed to this high-skills, consumerist level before without throwing off autocracy and central planning.

The Chinese Communist Party might have taken this route. They chose against it at Tiananmen, and have not looked back. They have since systematically suppressed civil society, necessary for such a transition: the Christian churches, the mosques, Falun Gong. No autocracy now means no CCP.

We further know that China has taken a big economic hit recently: first because of the trade war with Trump’s US; then thanks to the coronavirus and the shutdown it required; now because their markets are also in a coronavirus slump; and other nations are either talking about or enacting “decoupling.” 

Skim milk masquerades as cream.

Keep all this in mind, and their lunge to assume full control of Hong Kong might appear to be about more than mere power. Hong Kong has a great deal of real wealth—audited and substantial. Might it be that, just as Hitler decided to confiscate the considerable assets of the Jews, or Philip IV of France decided to cancel his debt to the Templars by declaring the order illegal, the CCP wants or needs to commandeer the assets of Hong Kong and its banks for government purposes to keep things ticking over for a few more years?

It may very well not work, and in the meantime the move has probably hurt China’s trade prospects further. But this may indicate just how desperate the Chinese government is. All they can afford to think of, perhaps, is meeting the next payroll, the next mortgage payment.

They have, at the same time, been putting Uyghurs, Falun Gong, and others in camps, just as Hitler did the Slavs or the Jews. For the Nazis, this was explicitly planned as a money-making proposition: slave labour. Might it be so for the Chinese government too? Along with a cash stream from organs harvested from prisoners for transplants. China has been fingered as the ultimate source of the recent flood of dangerous opioids in North America. Might their motivation be, not just, as commonly assumed, to subvert American society, but to make some fast cash, by whatever means necessary? This, after all, is the motive of the Mexican drug cartels themselves; and of the many individual drug dealers in Canada and the USA. There is more money in selling drugs than in most things.

China has also been accused of counterfeiting US bills, and slipping them into circulation. Isn’t the intent most likely to be the same as for domestic counterfeiters—to literally make some fast cash, rather than the more abstract and unlikely goal of subverting the US financial system?

The Chinese government simply cannot really be the eternal fountain of credit and hard coinage it is imagined to be.

But a shortage of money in government is apparently not the only problem.

Why, at this moment, is China making threats against all their neighbours? Just as they are marching into Hong Kong, they are upping the ante over the South China Sea, a move that alienates and threatens a coalition of nations, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, the US, Japan, and Australia. As if these were not enough enemies to deal with, they also provoke India over their border. And declare their rightful ownership of Vladivostok.

This is, as diplomatic or as military strategy, insane. Suppose even that, like Hitler, the CCP figured they needed to confiscate some more assets to survive. Then you would not provoke a big fish like India. You would pick the runt of the litter, like Poland, and try to isolate them.

But it sounds just like Nicolai Ceausescu, in the days and hours before his regime fell. He wrapped himself in the Romanian flag, and insisted that if his countrymen could not all stand together behind their government, national sovereignty was at risk.

This worked for Ceausescu for years, ever since the Russian tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. But now that the Warsaw Pact had fallen apart, it no longer worked. Without this external threat, his support had disappeared, and all he could do was unsuccessfully flee for his life.

The Chinese Communist Party seem to be making the same calculation. They are in desperate need of external enemies. Financially crippled, the economic reckoning upon them, they are no longer able to provide the steadily improving living standards that had sustained them in power domestically by a kind of social contract. As an alternative, they feel they need to play this dangerous game, to encourage the idea that China is surrounded by threats on all sides. So all good Chinese must put aside their misgivings and support the government.

There is a real danger they may provoke a war in order to make this stick. But they obviously do not want a real war. They seem to have calculated that they would lose any war, even with a minor power like Taiwan or Vietnam. Otherwise, they would do as Hitler did, and try to divide and conquer. Instead, they need and are trying to provoke a Cold War, purely for propaganda purposes.

This in itself looks unsustainable, since it requires increasing military expenditures. It was, many argue, the burden of such an arms race that scuppered the Soviet Union.

It all suggests that the PRC is actually now just trying to survive week by week, month by month, perhaps not even year by year. They alone have seen the real figures, and they believe they have no future.