Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Great Debate


Perhaps the general consensus is that Joe Biden won the first US Presidential debate, simply by not losing it. Or forgetting where he was.

But setting low expectations aside, I think Trump won. Bigly.

It was surprising that he let Biden get away with the claim that he had called neo-Nazis “fine people,” and that he did not take the offered opportunity to unambiguously condemn “white supremacists.” No doubt this will flood the MSM with anti-Trump op-eds for several days.

But I think I see his strategy. He was not, under any circumstances, going on the defensive. If he could not turn it around into a quick attack on Biden, he was going to ignore it. He was going to be the Alpha, and make Biden look Beta.

That’s exactly what I think he did. He even made Chris Wallace look Beta.

And that’s, I think, what most people actually most want in a leader. You want a guy like that on your side. You don’t want to put your vital interests in the hands of someone easily steamrolled.

At the same time, had Biden tried to assert himself more forcefully, he would have risked looking out of control of his emotions, as senile people often are. Trump had him either way.

And, as always, Trump was relentlessly entertaining. That's a second important factor: politics is entertainment, especially in this era, and Trump understands that. Do the unexpected: keep them watching this reality TV series.

Trump is a brilliant communicator, and he knows his business.

Important Parts of Canadian Culture You Might Have Missed

The Newfoundland ugly stick.

Surf's up off Bonavista!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Leonard Cohen: The Early Years


Coming soon from a friend of mine, accomplished biographer and journalist Michael Posner.

He's previously done biographies of Mordecai Richler and Anne Murray.

Pre-order at this link: Leonard Cohen, The Early Years. Stories from a magical time, when Montreal was consecrated to poetry.

A Sea Route to the Orient


There is a bright possibility in Canada’s future, which, of course, our ruling elite is doing whatever they can to prevent.

Global warming.

The possibilities for expanded agriculture are obvious, for the second largest and second coldest nation on earth.

But here’s another opportunity: the Northwest Passage.

It was the original promise of Canada: a faster, shorter, route between Europe and Asia. Something more valuable year by year, as Asia develops. Currently, the best option is the Panama Canal. But an open passage over the top of Canada would be shorter, like the Great Circle Route favoured by the airlines, and would allow for far larger ships to pass.

Canadian port facilities built along the route could be an important economic boost—as being on the strategic Straits of Malacca bottleneck helps Singapore now.

Of course, aside from trying to stop global warming on conservative principle, the elite will object to large-scale shipping in the North because of possible spills and environmental damage.

Yet the same considerations ought then to shut down the Singapore Strait, the English Channel, or the Panama Canal. Do we worry about it there?

But what, you will say, of the livelihood of aboriginal people, if such damage occurs?

Probably no Inuit still survive by hunting on the ice floes. That is a romantic fantasy. Give them those port facilities, and they can have high-paying jobs instead of subsisting on welfare.

It could open up the Greater North to development.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Hey, Kids, Let's Put on a Canadian National Exhibition!


Thanks to COVID-19, there was no CNE this summer: a depressing absence of a grand old end-of-summer Toronto tradition. Rumours are that it may fold forever from that financial hit. The fair that I attended in 2019 may be the last one. And even it was a smaller and less energetic affair than five years ago.

The CNE has mostly lost its reason to be: introducing the locals to the latest snappy consumer products. For years, the new car models were its centerpiece.

That seems no longer necessary. Television killed as lot of it; but at least TV was too expensive for many products. Advertising on the Internet, or finding products on the Internet, is in reach of all.

The CNE reinvented itself once. It began as an agricultural fair; as Toronto industrialized, it shifted to an industrial exhibition. If it is to survive, it needs to reinvent itself again.

Some will suggest that it needs to become more multicultural, to reflect the new face of Canada. It was all a relic of the “white” settler past. But another festival used to do that: Caravan. It died out due to lack of interest. Portuguese-Canadians do not need to go downtown to learn about their Portuguese heritage; and it began to feel a little too much like a human zoo.

I had a Greek-Canadian girlfriend. She would not let me go near the Greek pavilion. She found it too embarrassing. I had a Dutch-Canadian girlfriend. She would not let me go near an exhibitor at the local market wearing wooden shoes.

Here’s an idea: make it the Canadian National Exhibition.

What Torontonians most need now is better awareness of Canada. Most of Toronto today was born elsewhere. The government has put a lot of money into fostering “multiculturalism,” celebrating differences, and little into integrating new arrivals into Canadian culture, or fostering a sense of unity. Why not an annual celebration of Canada? It isn’t happening anywhere else.

This also means no exhibits celebrating only one ethnic group: no aboriginal pavilion, for example, and no francophone pavilion. Only those things we all at least potentially share.

The centerpiece could be a debate competition, featuring high school and university students. The traditions of civil debate, after all, are the foundation of our system of government.

The various political parties could sponsor exhibits around this.

There could be, in the same vein, a mock court, featuring law students or even working lawyers, presenting and arguing famous cases from Canadian history as a spectator sport. This could be a good way for newcomers to be introduced to Canadian legal norms and traditions, another essential part of our culture. It is often overlooked that, along with a common language, the various English-speaking democracies also share a common-law legal tradition.

The armed forces could exhibit their equipment and techniques, as they have been doing at the CNE. Nothing more fun for boys than sitting in a cockpit or climbing on a tank.

There should also be a shared police pavilion: federal, provincial, municipal. Nothing is more central to the Canadian identity than the Mounties; policing in general is central to the Canadian ideal of “peace, order, and good government.” And it is in everyone’s interest to foster good feelings between the police and the urban populace. Young people need to believe that the police are not their enemies.

There ought to be a royal pavilion. Canada is a monarchy, after all, the Queen is supposed to be a unifying symbol, and every immigrant in their oath of citizenship pledges her loyalty.

For the sake of our shared literary cultural heritage, there ought to be a Green Gables exhibit, a Mariposa exhibit, and a Klondike pavilion. Anne of Green Gables should be strolling around the grounds. Green Gables could reproduce sets and show costumes from the latest TV series; Mariposa could present dioramas and scale models of the imaginary town, and exhibits of small town Ontario life circa 1912. The possibilities for a Klondike pavilion are endless.

“Mon pays, c’est l’hiver”: one pavilion might be dedicated to the traditions of winter. Margaret Atwood identified winter as the essential unifying Canadian experience, and a “winter” pavilion was a standout at Montreal’s old Terre des Hommes exhibition. Hockey and hockey history should of course be a large part of it. Ideas for recreational opportunities in the winter, and how to make the most of the season: recent arrivals from other climes may have no idea.

There should be an exhibit on maple syrup: how it is made, and a selection of cuisine for sale. This might be part of a larger “Spring” pavilion, including something on identifying common local wildflowers and edible plants.

There ought to be a humour pavilion. Humour, for anyone who has not noticed, has always been a Canadian specialty. The “Just for Laughs” festival in Montreal is a wildly successful model. And getting the jokes is an essential part of fitting in, for a newcomer. Exhibits could feature classic political cartoons. Anthologized clips of Canadian humourists of the past could be shown: Mack Sennett, Wayne and Schuster, Dan Ackroyd, NFB animated shorts, and on and on. And, of course, live stand-up performances by young comics.

An art pavilion could feature the works of one important Canadian artist each year, assembled from various collections. Such exhibits could then go on the road to other municipal galleries in Canada throughout the subsequent year.

A music pavilion could showcase traditional Canadian folk songs, music, and dancing. Visitors could be given basic instruction in how to folk dance. A sing-along display could encourage attendees to “follow the bouncing ball” on folk songs, Canadian standards, and campfire songs, reviving an old summer tradition. This was Canadian karaoke before there was karaoke; a lot of Asian-born Canadians will take to it naturally.

An outdoor screen could show classic and recent Canadian movies.

A resources pavilion might feature a display of Canadian minerals, something on the long history of forestry and the fur trade, exhibits on oil and hydro-electric power. Canada, with its huge territory, has always been all about natural resources, after all.

The grounds might be tied together, and footsore attendees accommodated, by a miniature railroad, in part commemorating the importance of the railroads in unifying Canada. Logos of various historic and present rail systems could be featured on the cars. Canadian Pacific, Grant Trunk, Kettle Valley Railroad, and so on.

Headliners at the stadium should of course be the biggest current Canadian acts. A tent on the grounds could feature a Cirque du Soleil performance nightly.

Another pavilion should promote the national and provincial parks: reminders for city dwellers of opportunities to escape into the great Canadian outdoors. Given the timing of the exhibition, at the end of summer, seeing fall colours could be the theme. Along with fishing, camping, woodcraft, and canoeing exhibits.

Concessions might offer any sort of food, but we might also have a food pavilion, as does the current CNE, featuring strictly Canadian specialties immigrants may never have tried. Pate Chinois, Jiggs’ dinner, Montreal bagels, fiddleheads, and so forth.

Essential funding could legitimately come from government, to undo some of the harm of multiculturalism policies over the years. Promoting national unity and a sense of citizenship is their legitimate concern. Private sponsors might also be interested in hosting many aspects of the exhibition: Canadian-branded companies like Hudson’s Bay Company, Tim Horton’s, Vachon, CP Rail, and so forth. Not to mention any other company who would like to be seen by Canadians as Canadian. Which is just about any company selling to consumers.

Living as I have for most of my adult life with immigrants and others hoping to move to Canada, I bet that such a CNE would be wildly popular, in particular, with more recent immigrants. It could also, unlike the current version of the CNE, be an immense draw for foreign tourists.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Hitler Confronts Trump


Carpool Karaoke with the Devil at the Wheel


In the New Testament, Jesus casts out demons from a boy who seems to be epileptic. Matthew 17:14-18.

When they returned to the crowds again a man came and knelt in front of Jesus. “Lord, do have pity on my son,” he said, “for he is a lunatic and is in a terrible state. He is always falling into the fire or into the water. I did bring him to your disciples but they couldn’t cure him.”

“You really are an unbelieving and difficult people,” Jesus returned. “How long must I be with you, and how long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!”

Then Jesus reprimanded the evil spirit and it went out of the boy, who was cured from that moment.

Lucian of Samosata, a pagan Greek exorcist, dealt with similar cases.

“Everyone knows how time after time he has found a man thrown down on the ground in a lunatic fit, foaming at the mouth and rolling his eyes; and how he has got him on to his feet again and sent him away in his right mind.”

This is sometimes pointed to as evidence that the ancients simply misunderstood mental illness; there is really no such thing as demonic possession. We know, after all, that epilepsy is caused by physical damage to the brain.

But this does not explain how they seem to have believed they could cure it.

The long-distance diagnosis of epilepsy may after all be wrong. Falling down, rolling eyes, foaming at the mouth, jumping into the fire or the water—this also sounds like a child’s tantrum, magnified and taken to an extreme.

The thought is inspired by some recent TikTok clips of leftist women reacting to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. They are throwing tantrums. And one of them, the woman with the short dark hair, the fourth in this compilation—you have a look.

What is a tantrum? It is when a person is completely under the control of some desire, some want, some urge. Not some emotion: that looks quite different. Someone overcome with sorrow, for example, will go entirely quiet. Someone overcome with fear will hide. Someone overcome with love will hug. This is desire, not emotion, a primal hunger, a violent assertion of self-will. But then again, it is more complicated than that: the desire seems to take over the will; the women in the video are no longer in control of themselves. Rather than self-willed, they may even be self-destructive: “I wish I had been aborted.” They might throw themselves into a fire, or break their own toys.

The easiest way to make sense of it is to understand this thing, this desire, as an independent will; which is to say, a possessing demon. It thinks and acts independently of the will, and controls it.

Hitler, they say, used to throw such fits. As is immortalized in a million memes. 

We commonly nowadays call such possessed people “narcissists.” This is fairly apt. Narcissus himself, in the legend, was possessed by just such a demon, a lust towards himself, which was self-destructive. But he is perhaps more instance than ideal paradigm. We have been prejudiced in his direction as a vestige of Freud’s pseudo-biological fixation on sex as prime motive.

Possessed might be a better term. Such people might be possessed by any or all of the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, wrath, lust, envy, acedia, gluttony, avarice. All of whom are traditionally, and properly, understood as demons.

For two thousand years or so, Christianity has been here to keep such demons at bay. In the East, Buddhism has done the same work, beginning with the Noble Truth that such desires are the root of all suffering. All major religions no doubt do this work.

Now we have turned away from religion, and the demons run wild in the streets.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Canadian Government Remains Standing


The NDP has just made a pact with the Liberal government to support the throne speech in return for more handouts.

Not a surprise. The reality is that the NDP cannot afford an election.

Past history, however, suggests that the Dippers will pay for this next election. 

Vanity Fair Goes to War

Perhaps the US is already in a kind of civil war. What else can you say when a major publication like Vanity Fair runs a piece under an entirely fictitious claim that Trump has "vowed to stay in power no matter what"? Large segments of the establishment seem to be calling for open conflict.

Mob Justice for Jacob

My sister sends me a video pointing out that Jacob Blake, the man shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, was a serial rapist being arrested in the middle of a crime. Who was resisting arrest and seemed to be lunging for a weapon. 

It is indeed weird how so many―the mobs―seem to ignore the facts of case after case in order to scapegoat police. And will not tolerate due process if it does not instantly deliver the verdict they want. These are eerily like the lynch mobs that used to terrorize and murder blacks; except now they want to string up police.

To be fair, some folks have pointed out that if you look at the videos, most of the rioters seem to be white. You cannot lay this at the doorstep of “black people.”

Then is it because we resist accepting that some people, like Jacob Blake, simply choose to do bad things?

No, because then we would not blame the police either.

Then is it a case of black privilege?

No, because nobody gives a sweet d**n about Blake's victim, who is also black.

I think it is because the people rioting do not see blacks as human, as moral agents, responsible for their actions. They cannot be blamed for their choices, and so do not deserve punishment. They are only following instinct. They are animals.

The outrage at the police looks a lot like the outrage over the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnatti Zoo. The outrage over the American dentist who shot an African lion who had been given a name. The outrage if a crew of game wardens killed an animal in trying to sedate it.

I notice with a wince that commentators invariably note when speaking of any prominent black figure that they are “smart” or “really smart.” They never seem to make the comment about a prominent white person—that would be patronizing. It sounds like Fredo Corleone talking about himself. The tacit assumption is that a smart African is newsworthy, like a man biting a dog; or it is a knowing wink to the audience.

This is actually the form that anti-black discrimination has always taken: the idea that blacks are not moral agents capable of thinking for themselves. This is how slavery was justified. This is now how the welfare culture is justified, and a cycle of dependency that keeps black people on the bottom while one immigrant group after another rises past them.

Maybe the average black is not as smart as the average non-black; IQ results suggest this is so. This of course means nothing in the case of individuals. And this does not matter to their human dignity. They have the right to run their own lives, and not to be treated like children or wards of the state. You do not need to be smart to know right from wrong. And you actually do not need to be smart to succeed. You need to be responsible; you need to see yourself as a moral agent, and act accordingly.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Ten Rules for Life

It is essential to have an objective moral code. Our conscience is the best guide; but it is too easy to rationalize. It needs an “education.”

At the same time, the meaning of the Ten Commandments is itself often ambiguous. They are worth looking at more closely.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me

As numbered by Catholics, Jews, and Lutherans, this first commandment includes a prohibition specifically against worshipping “graven images.”

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.

Based on this, many Protestants and Jews consider the statues and paintings in a Catholic or Orthodox Church illicit.

I have dealt elsewhere with why this literal interpretation is not tenable: briefly, the commandments themselves were engraved on tablets, and referred to in Exodus itself as “graven images.”

The prohibition is not against making such images, but bowing down and serving them.

“Graven images” can be broadly understood as all the works of man. All the works of the human mind are graven images in the metaphoric sense. We think with images, mental representations, not with the things themselves. We must not worship the works of man.

We must also not worship anything in the sky, on the earth, or in the waters. In other words, we must not worship nature.

This is not a prohibition against worshipping Zeus, or Thor. That is a trivial issue; the temptation is not present. It prohibits putting too much value on Nature, or Science, or Evolution, or Reason. Which probably most people do.

Breaking this commandment expressly causes harm to the third and fourth generation of your descendants, according to the passage. This is a fundamental misorientation of values. It is a matter of world-view. It is hard for a child to break free from the world-view of their parents. If that world view is fundamentally wrong, it blights their life. As Jesus says elsewhere, it would be better for that parent to be thrown into the ocean with a millstone around their neck. This sort of fundamental misorientation is a social disorder, the kind of thing that, in the Old Testament, leads to direct divine retribution, for the sake of future generations. Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanites.

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

People think this is a prohibition against using “bad language.” Even short Anglo-Saxon terms for organs and bodily functions. Which is childish and silly and a dodge to avoid having to follow the real commandment. It is a prohibition against breaking promises. When you say you are going to do something, and do not do it, you do the other party real harm.

3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.

This is commonly understood as a commandment to go to church, but the commandment was given before the first church was built. The implicit significance is that you must regularly stop what you are doing and reflect on matters. Are you on the right path? Do things make sense? If you simply motor along without undertaking your own spiritual quest, you are liable to be going nowhere.

I think of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who spent her life busily—yet her net contribution to the world seems harmful.

Elsewhere, the Bible observes, “the wicked cannot rest”; often misquoted as “no rest for the wicked.” They cannot rest from ceaseless doing, because a moment’s real reflection would allow the still small voice of conscience to convict them.

4. Honour your father and your mother.

This is commonly understood as a command for children to obey their parents. This is obviously wrong: children do not need such advice, because their parents can enforce obedience, and children, below the age of reason, in principle cannot sin. None of the commandments are for them.

The original Hebrew here translated “honour” means something more like “repay.” St. Paul notes that this is the only commandment that comes with a quid pro quo: “that your days be long in the land.”

It means you owe a debt to your parents for taking care of you in childhood, when you could not take care of yourself; and so you must look after them if they need such assistance in their old age.

5. You shall not kill.

This commandment cannot be taken to mean “kill” literally, since the Old Testament requires the death penalty for some crimes. It cannot justify pacifism, for Yahweh also directed Moses himself to go to war. And it obviously does not include animals, which we use for food. It is often rendered as “You shall not murder,” but this is not satisfactory either. Murder is a legal term, defined by the state. Merriam-Webster: “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought.” Oxford: “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” “Unlawful” is part of both definitions.

Trusting morality to the state implies trusting Nazi Germany to always do the right thing.

The original Hebrew word translated here as “murder” literally means “to tear apart, destroy.” That makes more sense. Of course we must not murder people, but that is a fairly remote concern on most days. More pressing is a Satanic urge in all of us, when we see something good or beautiful, especially if it is not ours, just to break it. We see it in the mobs currently pulling down statues. The word “Devil” comes from “dia-bol,” literally, tear apart.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

Strictly speaking, adultery is sex when one or another of the partners is married, and not to one another. It does not include fornication--sex when neither party is married.

But that needs to take into account that according to Hebrew tradition, and tradition everywhere in Europe until relatively recently, the act of fornication automatically made you married. This idea endures in the concept of “common-law marriage.”

So it means sex with only one person, for life. We have strayed far from this.

7. You shall not steal.

This too is controversial. It requires assuming that God recognizes property rights. The authors of the Declaration of Independence changed the three prime inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” replacing John Locke’s original “life, liberty, and property,” to avoid making this assertion. And, of course, the right to own property is not recognized by socialism.

The interesting question is, if property is from God and not from man, government and the law, what determines that a thing is my property and not yours?

Locke makes the comprehensive argument that it is one’s labour. To the extent that one alters an object in nature, that makes it your property. It being your property, you also have the natural right to sell it to another, or give it to them, and so forth.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

This is generally interpreted as “you must not lie,” but it allows “white lies.” The commandment is against saying something untrue about someone else, or that will harm someone else. It is against calumny, slander, and malicious gossip.

9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.

10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods.

These two commandments are combined in the Protestant numbering. They do seem to be the same: a prohibition against envy.

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.

Why give it as two commandments? Because it corresponds to two other commandments, also given separately: “you shall not steal,” and “you shall not commit adultery.” To combine the two into one would suggest that envy is a lesser sin than theft or adultery. The Catholic or Lutheran numbering prevents that.

Discounting the seriousness of the sin of envy seems to be a common problem. We do tend to think it is far less serious to envy someone his home or marriage than to steal his home or have sex with his wife.

But envy is more dangerous than we think. The great danger of envy is that it always by its nature operates in secret. It plunges its knife in the victim’s back.

And then feigns innocence.

Taken together, this is a powerful life mandate. Looked at carefully, it is striking how far our society is today from following it.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Geriatric Party

Diane Feinstein in younger days.

 The Democrats, I hear, worry about whether Diane Feinstein, ranking Democratic member of the Senate Justice Committee, still has the mental acuity to handle the approval hearings for Trump’s pending Supreme Court nominee. Feinstein is 87. 

Why do senior Democrats all seem so old? Joe Biden, 77, is showing signs of senility. Ruth Bader Ginsberg hung on to her post until a few days ago at 87. Nancy Pelosi is 80; Bernie Sanders, 79. Michael Bloomberg, the other guy who looked possible for the nomination, 78.  Jerry Nadler, the Dem Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a youthful 73, seemed to pass out at a recent press conference.

Granted, there is a prominent clique of younger leaders: Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez and her “squad,” Pete Buttigieg. But they are quite junior in terms of their elected positions and electoral career: their very prominence suggests a lack of leadership above them. A mayor of South Bend? A first-term congresswoman? A recently failed senatorial candidate? A recently failed gubernatorial candidate?

Is it because the Democratic Party is dying?

This does not sound right. After all, they control one of two houses of Congress, and the split is close in the Senate. They just elected a two-term president, and when they have lost the presidency, it has been cardiac-arrest close.

Perhaps their problem is identity politics. Jonathan Kay just wrote a piece about how that is causing problems for Canada’s NDP. The Democrats, like Canada’s leftist New Democrats, choose candidates not for leadership ability, but for “intersectionality.” Because of this, while candidates may continue to be elected at more or less all levels, few leaders emerge. You get time-servers in safe seats. Leaders need to be exceptional, people of rare talents; more or less by definition.

In the recent Democratic presidential sweeps, there were candidates holding higher elected positions than the squad and “Mayor Pete,” who were still below retirement age. Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jay Inslee, John Hickenlooper. Most of them barely caused a ripple. They were simply not personally impressive; just suits. Most occupied safe seats. Andrew Cuomo: more or less inherited his job from his father. Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris: in California, where Democrats usually win in runoffs against some other Democrat. And Newsom just replaced 82-year-old Jerry Brown.

The same disease of terminal mediocrity in the middle seems to have infected academics, for the same reason. When you do not hire and promote for merit, it stands to reason that the entire enterprise soon begins to suffer.

The same disease is now spreading to all fields. Is it going to destroy our civilization?

God help us.

Down the Up Staircase


My sister, who is a qualified teacher, but who has never taught, and who is retired, recently received a letter from the Ontario College of Teachers. They are apparently scouring their rolls for lapsed members—she has not paid her dues for 13 years—who might be coaxed back into the classroom.

Last summer, I was working alongside three recent Ed School grads. They were lamenting the fact that it took on average seven years from graduation before you landed your first teaching job.

It looks as though a lot of teachers are simply refusing to return to class in the face of COVID-19. I wonder if they are legally able to take a sabbatical and retain their jobs and seniority, or if they are taking early retirement?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

New Great Books Program

John Henry, not Alfred E.

There is good news out there. Newman Theological College in Edmonton has begun offering a Bachelor of Arts in Catholic Studies on the Great Books and Socratic model, similar to that of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Eastern Canada.

For most practical purposes, "Great Books" means "real Humanities."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Scholar's Life

When I was a young grad student, I read Confucius; and did not think much of him. He was only water when I wanted wine. But his sayings and his thought have grown on me. The greatest teacher who ever lived, one who taught half the world, is not to be ignored.

English translations are widely divergent; the meaning in the original Chinese is always obscure. I read three translations, and try from that to puzzle out the meaning for myself.

Analects 1:1:

The Master said: To study and then to practice what one has studied, is this not a pleasure? When learned friends arrive from distant places, is this not a joy? To remain without bitterness when one’s talents are not recognized, is this not the superior man?

The Supreme Thing

America is caught in an ethical debate. Do the Republican Senate majority have the moral right to approve a new Supreme Court Justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg so close to an election—something they refused to do for Obama in 2016?

If they do it, Democrats are charging hypocrisy.

Is the situation now different from 2016? It is, in several ways. First, in 2016, Obama was in his final term. No matter what happened, there was going to be a new president. This time, there is only a 50% chance. Second, in 2016 the Senate and White House were held by different parties. If the Senate has the right to refuse to appoint, does it follow that they have a duty not to appoint? They have a right to pass a law against jaywalking; not an obligation to pass a law against jaywalking.

Are these differences significant?

Suppose they aren’t. Even so, it looks like a wash: then the Republicans are doing the opposite of what they did in 2016, but the Democrats are demanding the opposite of what they demanded in 2016. Everybody’s equally a hypocrite, then.

Two wrongs, you might respond, never make a right. If Democrats are hypocrites, that does not give the Republicans the right to be hypocrites too.

Yet there are cases in which two wrongs do make a right. You pick my pocket, then I pick yours in turn, and get my wallet back. If the Holy Roman Empire invades, France has not only a right, but a duty, to defend. Even though war is a wrong, and killing people is a wrong. If the French win the war, right is restored. Sending a criminal to jail is another example of two wrongs making a right: it is, in itself, a wrong to restrict someone’s liberty.

In this case too, one side may be in the wrong, and the other side merely playing defense.

Appointing a Supreme Court judge used to be a bipartisan affair, with the Senate assuming the president had a right to appoint his preference, and looking only at their legal qualifications. The Democrats ended that in 1987, in refusing to ratify Robert Bork because they thought he would vote against Roe v. Wade. In 2013, to get the candidates they preferred on the bench, the Democrats used their Senate majority to end the right to filibuster judicial appointments. That ended any need for bipartisanship, and made it a strictly partisan process.

Moreover, their basic premise in approving judicial appointments has long been to install justices who intend themselves to break the rules: justices who will not simply interpret the constitution, but who will impose a political agenda. Had they not done so, judicial appointments would not matter politically: to the point at which, now, the appointment of the right judges seems to have become the Senate’s main job.

In such a situation, it is just stupidity, or moral cowardice, for Republicans to refuse to defend their interests. It is like refusing to take up arms when invaded.

They must act swiftly on a new appointment; for the good of the country. The Democrats have been tinkering with the election rules as well. They have introduced large-scale mail-in voting for this election. The system is untried; it is likely that there will be legal challenges. Unless there is a decisive win, it is going to be a mess. Such challenges will go to the Supreme Court, as they did in 2000. With only eight justices, it is theoretically possible that the court could split 8 to 8, and be unable to resolve the matter.

The civil war that might result would not be pretty.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Trump the Divider

Antiochus argues that Trump has been divisive.

Trump is obviously a divisive figure—witness this discussion—but the times may call for this.

There are times when being divisive is the proper thing to do, and unity is wrong. Martin Luther King was profoundly divisive. Lech Walesa was divisive. Churchill was a famously divisive figure in the UK in the years leading up to the Second World War. It is “divisive” whenever a cop arrests a suspect, or a judge passes a sentence. I’d guess it’s a fifty-fifty proposition whether in any given situation divisiveness or unity is called for. The matter needs to be looked at case by case.

My strong sense is that there has been a growing divisiveness in North American and “Western” society for some time; for decades. Trump’s rise is a symptom and a result of that, not its cause. Since it pre-existed Trump, there is a decent chance he turns out to be the cure.

Actually, my conclusion from the discussion is that Antiochus, and others with TDS, despise Trump as a matter of taste; of aesthetics. Many people dislike tall tales too; and the reaction looks similar.

I remember when I was in China, and a shabby tent went up in a park nearby, with tatty cloth banners promising punters the sight of an exotic pig from Africa and a two-headed lady if you paid two yuan to go inside.

And my students solemnly cautioned me that it was a cheat. I had a hard time getting them to let me go in. I think they thought I was an idiot for paying the two yuan.

Of course I knew there was not a two-headed lady in the tent. Just as anyone should know, when they watch a movie, that those are not real people and real events. Same thing as with all art: an exercise of the imagination, a willing suspension of disbelief. No different for a tall tale.

So I was delighted to give them my two yuan—about 25 cents.

The pig from Africa was a guinea pig. Not quite right—Guinea is in Africa, but the critter is actually from South America, I believe. And the two-headed lady was a pickled snake. It may well have been a pickled female snake, for all I know.

After enjoying—yes, enjoying—a few more exhibits, I turned to leave.

And could not get out the door.

A huge crowd had come in behind me. I’m guessing to see an exotic new exhibit—me.

The barkers outside knew their trade.

I found it all great fun.

I find Trump fun to listen to in a similar way. So I gather do a lot of people. That’s why they come in such numbers to his rallies: great free entertainment.

I imagine some people would also find P.T. Barnum a bad sort for his art; or Walt Disney, or Shakespeare. It is not rare to find people hostile to artists in general. Plato thought all poets lied.

One can certainly accuse Trump of self-promotion. He made his money by selling the “Trump” name as a brand. It is his business to promote that brand. Faulting him for it seems like faulting an actor for making you think they are some character they are not. Or hating Jim Carrey because you think he is the Grinch.

This is at worst all about words, not what he has done. It looks like an aesthetic concern. I dislike jazz; I dislike realistic plays. Yet it seems wrong to get this worked up about it; so worked up you will ignore his actions in office.

Consider Antiochus’s original email:

"It's almost impossible to believe he exists. It's as if we took everything that was bad about America, scraped it up off the floor, wrapped it all up in an old hot dog skin, and then taught it to make noises with its face."

--Anthony Citrano

The fact that it was a joke also does not mean it was uncontroversial.

Imagine the same joke with “Jews” the subject instead of Trump:

“It's almost impossible to believe they exist. It's as if we took everything that was bad about Europe, scraped it up off the floor, wrapped it all up in old sausage skins, and then taught them to make noises that sound like German with their face."

Perhaps it is not so bad when it is just about one person? At worst, assassination is not genocide.

But then again, if Trump is so awful, it tends to imply that anyone who supports him is also awful.

It is surely too extreme to suggest that this kind of talk might, again, end in mass murder and general war. But that is where it is trending.

By comparison, how can anyone accuse Trump of being divisive?

Why can’t there be peace and civil dialogue instead?

Sunday, September 20, 2020

On That Loathsome Hot Dog Trump

I was recently sent this “joke” about Trump by Antiochus, a leftist friend of mine.

"It's almost impossible to believe he exists. It's as if we took everything that was bad about America, scraped it up off the floor, wrapped it all up in an old hot dog skin, and then taught it to make noises with its face."
--Anthony Citrano
Just that, with no commentary before or AEter.

I knew Antiochus was a personally a really good guy. Sol I took the opportunity to rey to figure out what motivates such Trump Derangement Syndrome. Did he have any insights?

I wrote:

You know, the heck of it is, I have come to the opinion that Trump has been an unusually good president, and I have a hard time understanding why so many others do not think so. It genuinely seems puzzlilng.

I'd be interested in hearing why you think he is bad. Of course, the quote tells me nothing--just that he is "bad." Why bad? Surely with you I can have a rational and friendly discussion.

Is it his gruff, combative manner? While I can see why that could be offensive, does it really matter? Words are just words. What has he done that troubles you?

Here are important excerpts from his response, with how I responded to him. If you too, gentle reader, are victim to this pandemic, perhaps this may help.

Here is what I got, with my own responses interspersed.


I don't have to look much further than the state of the country. It is filled with mistrust and intransigence and general stupidity,


Agreed regarding the state of the country, but it does not follow that this is Trump’s fault. For strife to happen, there have to be at least two opposing sides. Either or both or all may be at fault. That is what needs to be determined. The people rioting in the streets seem to be Antifa and Black Lives Matter. Trump, by comparison, seems to be following the laws pretty syatematically and behaving himself. Blaming him looks like blaming Churchill for the Holocaust.


Especially about COVID-19,


Trump of course is not to blame for COVID. If his response has been worse in some way than that of other world leaders, I need to know why you think so.

Antiochus responds to this that he has failed to help the medical authorities get it under control.


But what does that mean? In the situation we were in, nobody knew the best course of action. We did not know what we were dealing with. This included the medical experts. They did not agree then, or now, and we know now that many of the things recommended by the WHO or Imperial College London then were dangerous and wrong.

Surely Trump can only be faulted or congratulated on matters of crisis management.


He is a liar.


I hear this all the time, and I cannot account for it. The reason many of his supporters like him is because he is so honest. How do I reconcile the two claims?

Politicians all lie. Trump stands out for making a real effort to keep his campaign promises. And a big part of his appeal is that he seems to say what he thinks—in other words, he does not lie like other politicians.

Antiochus gives examples:


From his very first statement about the size of the crowd at his inauguration


I’ll grant you that the claim was in error, but I’m not convinced it was a lie. Photos taken from the dais do seem to show all available space filled; that is what Trump saw. I think he jumped to the conclusion that the partisan media was lying to diminish him. He might well have thought that the statement Sean Spicer issued was certain to be true: that is was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” He was probably counting on increased technology use making this necessarily true. It seems it still wasn’t.

So it may have been a mistake. And it fits my observation that Trump’s critics seem to be upset only by what he says, not what he has done.


[This was] a lie that showed right away that he had to be bigger and better than anyone else


Trump is a showman, in a classic American tradition, like P.T. Barnum and Texas tall tales. He exaggerates. I cannot see this as lying: when you hear a story about Paul Bunyan, do you think you are being lied to? He looks to me like a skilled entertainer, and he is genuinely entertaining. That’s why so many flock to his rallies.


the most recent revelations from Bob Woodward, about knowing the pandemic was deadly but still telling everyone that it was nothing to be worried about, that it was going away, that they had it under control,


But Trump was saying the same thing the medical experts were saying. He only knew what they had told him; and they were telling the public that there was little risk from the virus. So were the other world leaders, and the other American politicians, and the media, and the WHO. Trump did not have had any information they did not have; and none of them were sounding a notably louder alarm than he. The WHO was still disputing in July whether the virus was airborne; and they criticized Trump’s travel ban as unnecessary.

So it seems it was only wrong because Trump did it. It seems Trump was acting responsibly to prevent panic.


Didn't pay off a porn star.


I don’t know what the truth is there; it is in dispute. When it went to court, Daniels lost. And I don’t want to pry, because I believe it is none of my business. Famous people have the same right to privacy as the rest of us; their sex lives should be off limits.

There are reasons why it should be, too, beyond their right to privacy. Famous people face massive temptations to casual sex that the rest of us do not know: members of the opposite sex are going to throw themselves at them. Should they resist all temptations, every woman alive still has a powerful motive for claiming they did not: the claim makes them famous, and famously desirable.

And, were we to impose this no adultery standard on politicians other than Trump, few could or would want to enter public life. No FDR, no Clinton, no Kennedys, no Eisenhower, no Trudeaus. And no Joe Biden.


Didn't try to get foreign governments to interfere in U.S. elections.


I think we can say we are sure he didn’t. The Russia charge was about as thoroughly investigated as it could have been, and Mueller came up dry. The transcript of the Ukrainian phone call was immediately released so that everyone could see for themselves.

Actual innocence is all but proven. If you want a president who has never colluded with any foreign governments, Trump is your man.

Antiochus then responded with a link to a CNN page labelled “Fact Check,” that claimed to list Trump’s 25 worst lies.


I know that the principal claim against him by opponents is that he lies. All politicians lie, so this makes no sense to me even if true.

But about “fact checking.” As someone who actually graduated from journalism school (Ryerson), and who has done the actual job of fact checking, I have to tell you that this current “fact check” thing is a fraud. Publications are suddenly calling articles “fact checks,” and folks think this somehow makes them more authoritative. Any good journalist or publication always used to check every fact three ways. These new “fact checks” do no more. In fact, they do less. They just use the term “fact check,” and think they can get away with anything. Saves the money they used to spend on checking facts.

The very first item is a howler. They write:

“While it's possible some women are being made to suffer such kidnapping horrors, the policy premise of Trump's ‘duct tape’ novellas -- that trafficking victims are never transported through legal ports of entry, only through the unprotected desert -- is not at all true.”

This is disputing something Trump never said. He did not say that people were never trafficked through legal ports of entry; nor would this have been meaningful to make his point. They are putting words in his mouth, as an imagined “premise.” A false quote is a violation of journalistic ethics. So is the prejudicial language: referring to his statement as a “novella.” What Trump actually said, they do not dispute.

Not worth it to read further.

And so it goes. Do not trust the “fact checkers,” or, these days, any media reports. The media have become generally corrupted. You need to go to original sources. And not just an isolated quote or clip. Careful editing can also falsify, and everybody in media these days has a political agenda.

Accordingly, I suspect you may dislike Trump in part or even entirely because you think he has said and done things he has never said or done. In fairness to the big lug, you should entertain that possibility.

Or concentrate on what he has actually done. That’s harder to falsify.


Has he ever taken responsibility for anything? He has said on several occasions that this thing or that thing or the other thing wasn't his fault.


Politicians rarely take public responsibility for foul-ups. But even then, you are overlooking the obvious possibility that Trump is right—that he was not responsible. You need to isolate an example where something plainly was his fault, and he said it was not.

And this fits with my general observation: that complaints about Trump are always about what Trump says, not what he does.


He has advised illegal activity (encouraging people to vote twice);


Trump is a showman. He is a stand-up comic. At his rallies can be funny, impromptu, for hours. This is a Trump joke—just poking opponents in the eye like Moe Howard used to do. The Democrats were insisting that voter fraud was impossible, or never going to happen, with mail-in ballots. So how can they possibly object? Were they lying?

I think he turned the tide against mail-in voting with this crack. Which was a very good deed, and very skillful, on his part.


He has re-tweeted known racists, known liars and known criminals without regard for the consequences of his actions.


As well as being again about words, not deeds, that is not even about Trump’s own words. That is guilt by association. Any one of us could be found similarly guilty of anything by this standard: six degrees of separation. You, me, Obama, Biden, Santa Claus or Mother Teresa. Even then it is an ad hominem argument: a “racist” or “liar” can make a valid argument, and perhaps do it cogently.


Leaders lead; they provide examples of honour and integrity, and this man does neither.


I disagree with you if you are saying that political leaders are supposed to be role models. God help any of us if we take politicians as our role models. This, it seems to me, is exactly why, in Canada, we have a royal family, and a governor-general: to be the role models. That is why, in the Catholic Church, we have saints. Politics is a dirty job; but someone has to do it.

The job of a leader, as you say, is to lead. Too often they do not: they just look at the latest poll, or listen to what the last commentator or questioner said, and agree with it. This is not leading, but merely following from in front. So long as they do this, it hardly matters who holds office.

Trump seems to stand apart for not doing this; for genuinely leading. He does not conform to demands to say and do what he is “supposed” to: to do what is politically correct. He will disagree sharply with a questioner from the media. He us acting not out of any ideological conviction, so far as I can tell, but out of a sense of honour. As a businessman, he keeps a contract. If he makes an election promise, he tries to deliver. He will buck any headwinds he might face.

I imagine any highly successful entrepreneur must have unusual leadership abilities. Trump comes from that world. He knows how to get things done.


His comments about his daughter when she was 13 or 14 or 15 are genuinely creepy.


Don’t know the reference; you’d have to tell me what he said. Not that this is important: whatever it was, the objection is only to words. And in this case, apparently very old words. None of us could withstand public scrutiny of everything we have ever said. #Meetoo and the blackface scandals were going quickly down that road, but it looked like they ran out of motivaton when people realized all their own favourite politicians were equally vulnerable. It wasn’t just or even primarily the other side.


His comment about just grabbing women by their genitals because he could get away with it due to his fame, are really pretty scummy. Sure, it's locker room talk, and I am as guilty as any guy of that sort of bullshit, but I'm not a billionaire businessman who has become president of the United States.


What you say is right: it was just locker room talk. As I said, public figures should not be judged by a different standard from the rest of us.


I am disgusted by this man and his lack of compassion, his lack of a sense of justice or fairness,


You need to give examples. All I can get from this is that you are disgusted.


… and his utter lack of loyalty to anyone outside his immediate family circle.


Trump was elected on a promise to “drain the swamp.” His appeal was that he was a Washington outsider, and would not be beholden to any of its cliques. It makes no sense to criticize him, then, for lack of loyalty to any Washington cliques, and for firing people.

The frequent firings may be disorienting, but it looks as though Trump knows his business. William Barr seems to be a more effective Attorney-General than Jeff Sessions was. Mike Pompeo seems to be a star at Secretary of State; Rex Tillerson was not. Kayleigh McEnerny seems to be historically good as press secretary, like her or not.

Usually, the first cabinet appointments by a new administration are the best. The cabinet becomes less impressive over time as they leave, and second or third choices take over. Trump seems to have managed the opposite.

Maybe it pays to put in a businessman as president. It’s a managerial position.


Look: gruff and combative appeal to me. He is those things, but he is those things for his own gain, financial, political and personal. He is not those things for the betterment of the country, but rather for the betterment of Donald John Trump. The frightening thing, to me, is that he sees the financial, political and personal betterment of Donald John Trump as being synonymous with the betterment of the country.


Financial benefit? If a billionaire businessman becomes president, he has to be taking a financial hit.

Political benefits? Trump is not a politician, so it seems unlikely he is angling for future political advantage. Former presidents never run for office.

Personal benefits? Being president is not skittles and ale. It takes a visible toll on the occupants. Obama went grey in office. So did George W. No family time, no privacy, the weight of the world on your shoulders. Trump is under a level of stress I doubt I could survive.

I imagine it is an ego trip. You could probably accuse any president of that motive; you don’t get there without an abnormal level of ego.


And for what it's worth, words are not "just" words. They can be weapons. They can be healers. They can be anything they are needed to be. They are among the most powerful things that we have.


I am not claiming words have no meaning or value; that should go without saying. Otherwise we would not use them, and could not use them. I agree that Trump’s words, too, have consequences. Like that joke about going to the polling station and trying to vote again. I don’t like a lot of things he has said; I was first put off by his tone. I am saying that words are in almost all cases less important than actions. The exceptions to this are pretty familiar: slander, libel, threats of violence, breach of copyright. In the other direction, legislation, contracts, great literature.

Consider these two examples:

1. Someone says they will give you a million dollars; but give you a thin dime.

2. Someone says they will not give you one thin dime, while handing you a million dollars.

Who is your greater benefactor?

I say Trump is like 2. And, for that matter, Biden, his current adversary, looks a lot like 1.

There is another reason not to make words your master: sophistry. Plato, Socrates, and Confucius warned us. So did George Orwell.

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Trump cuts through and against the boilerplate political discourse of the day and speaks plainly and directly, if sometimes crudely. We probably should support him for this reason alone. Many do.

And there is a third reason. If you make words as important as deeds, if you forget what your grandmother said about “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” that erases the moral distinction between physical and verbal aggression. That means ultimately no distinction between defeating someone in argument, and killing them.

And that means no free speech. Any more than we can have free murder.

This is fatal to civil order. There is a reason why our legislature is called “parliament”: as in, “parler,” “talk.” Democracy, or any form of stable government, is only possible so long as we can speak to each other without getting too worked up about what anyone else says.

Otherwise might makes right, we all try to bully others into submission, people die, and we end up being ruled by the strongest and most ruthless arm, rather than the best idea.

This is also why it is important to keep discussing with those with whom you disagree. The point is to arrive at truth.

We have gone this far without mentioning a single thing Trump has done in office. Isn’t this bizarre? Doesn’t this make my point?

Let me tell you why I think he’s done a good job.

He has turned the tide against free trade. I am or was actually a free trader; but it is impressive how he was able to stop and reverse that speeding locomotive in a couple of years. That’s literally a historic accomplishment. As part of this policy, he has managed in just months to negotiate major new trade deals with Canada, Mexico, Europe, and China.

In foreign affairs, he destroyed the growing ISIS caliphate as a physical entity, in what seemed to be just weeks, with a small number of troops. At the same time, did you notice—he is still the first president since Carter not to engage the US in any new foreign wars or major deployments? Now he’s pulled off peace deals between Serbia and Kosovo, Bahrain and Israel, the UAE and Israel. It looks as though general peace is about to break out in the Middle East. If it happens, this could be as big as the fall of the Berlin Wall. It could also mean an end to Islamist terrorism.

Trump is a deal-maker. It turns out to be a valuable talent for diplomacy. And he genuinely is very good at it.

Whether he’s responsible or not—who really knows?—he has presided over the strongest economy, lowest unemployment, and highest stock prices we have seen in our lifetimes, until the coronavirus hit. Obviously through no fault of his. I think the growth in general prosperity may be directly related to his eliminating government regulations. He’s apparently cut more regulations than any president.

I like his platform for next term. And he has a record of keeping his promises. Most importantly, I like his promise to allow all parents in the US school choice. As someone who’s been involved in the education game for most of my life, I think this could change everything. It is the public school system, and the way it is funded, that is keeping the poor poor and the rich rich in the US. This is why blacks never seem to get ahead; and why they now resort to rioting. Public schools everywhere are doing a lousy job at ridiculous expense and could easily be fixed if competition were allowed. They were designed from the beginning to preserve class differences and discourage independent thought. If Trump got into office and was able to pull this off, the US would take off like a rocket. And, with luck, Canada and other countries would feel pressured to follow suit.

So yeah, I hated Trump at the beginning, but now I like him.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


The notorious RBG is with us no more. May she be with the angels.

I find the news depressing. For this reason. This was a brilliant women; a woman of herculean determination, drive, and physical courage. She dedicated her life to a cause, the cause of left-wing judicial activism. She died still thinking of that cause, and not of her own imminent destination. Her dying wish, I hear, was that the vacancy not be filled by Donald Trump.

And it all looks to me like a useless, hollow life. Because the cause to which she committed it was wrong, and fairly obviously wrong. In fact, the sum total of her efforts made things worse.

And isn’t this true of most of us? Even the most brilliant of us? What is the point of all the talents we have, and all the efforts we make, if we begin from faulty premises? Isn’t it essential that we first make sure we have that right? Yet few of us seem to seriously think about those premises.

And nothing in our society, and our educational system, encourages any more any such introspection, at any level and at any point. Rather, they are discouraged. We are all in some all-fired rush to fill up time and go nowhere.

No doubt Ginsberg thought she had the right direction, and the right answers. It seems to me obvious that she did not, and I think it should have been obvious to her too that she should have doubted. For she could see that others as intelligent and committed were working as hard as she was on the other side, in case after case. And really, in order to get where she was, she had to refuse herself the time necessary to think such fundamental things through. Too busy throughout getting into that law school, getting that next credential, arguing that next case. Maybe also getting that nice house in that prestigious neighbourhood.

All for nothing, and less than nothing.

In case you, gentle reader, despair, and suppose there are no fundamental answers to be found, indeed there are, and they are closer than your own outgoing breath.

Seek the True.

Seek the Good.

Seek the Beautiful.

A Conservative Approach to Teaching Global Issues

A question comes over the transom from a professional publication, for inclusion in an upcoming feature: 

We would like to know what you think about the following question: "Is it possible to teach global issues in conservative context?" 

This is encouraging. It is new to see an educational field acknowledging that there might be such a thing as a legitimate conservative viewpoint. 

“Global issues,” for the uninitiated, usually means class time taken up preaching about climate change or pollution, “gender equity” (sexual politics), or “decolonization.” 

I leapt at the opportunity to insert a conservative voice. Although, to be frank, I may be taking a career risk. My response:

I think it is strictly speaking not possible to “teach” global issues in a “conservative” context. “Conservatism” means respect for the learner’s autonomy and for the host culture. Those who teach “global issues” tend to presuppose there is a “right” answer and a “right” opinion on these issues, and it is generally the opinion of the political left wing in their home countries. This approach is of course not conservative. Respect for learner autonomy and for cultural differences would mean the teacher should listen rather than teach—not imposing their own values. In most ESL contexts, the students know more about the host culture than the teacher does; and they may easily know more about global issues and global culture than the teacher does. Qualifications in TESL do not grant knowledge of global issues.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Moral Obscurity Is Not Moral Ambiguity


Dore: The Judgement of Solomon

Not all moral issues are clear; ask Solomon the Wise. This is why the moral codes of different religious differ. But be careful: it does not mean that morality is relative, or up for grabs. That is like saying that algebra is meaningless because it is difficult.

Two current examples:

The movie Cuties.

Critics give it an 89% positive rating. Audiences give it 12%. Audiences find it morally depraved: pedophilic pornography. Some say the exhibitors should face prison. The movie critics counter that its message is a lamentation over the sexualization of minors; they consider it an admirably moral movie.

In this case, the real issue is being missed. It is not whether the movie is pedophilia or not. It is whether the end justifies the means.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the answer in paragraph 1753:

A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just.

Note that, apart from any other considerations, in order to make the movie, some minors—the eleven-year-old actors—necessarily had to be sexualized. The movie, further, necessarily functions as pornography for any pedophiles who see it.

So the matter is obscure because of this misdirection, but in the end morally clear: the movie Cuties should not be shown. At the same time, those who are in error on the morality should be forgiven rather than lynched.

Quebec’s Bill 21

It is widely popular in Quebec, and universally condemned in English Canada as racist and discriminatory. The bill bans the wearing of religious symbols by public workers “in positions of coercive authority”; and requires the face to be uncovered to receive some government services.

It is not racist. Again, this is missing the real issue. The bill follows established practice in French culture since the nineteenth century. It is understood as an issue of separation of church and state.

It currently affects Sikhs most seriously; but that is not the original intent. It is wrong to think that only Sikhs or Muslims go in for conspicuous religious dress. A Catholic monk or nun or cleric might otherwise conduct government business in their habit. The ritual requirement is parallel. They do not, because they long ago submitted to this requirement.

The bill, and the requirement, therefore does not discriminate among religions.

The problem is that it discriminates between the religious and the non-religious. Although meant to avoid giving government sanction to any particular religion, it actually gives government sanction to secularism, or even atheism.

The only equitable solution is to allow religious garb of all kinds.

And to avoid imputing unworthy motives to the opposition.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year


I say the concern with COVID, if not the pandemic itself, will be over by the end of September. 

Reasons for optimism are accumulating.

Most notably, the UAE actually seems to have an effective vaccine from China out and ready to roll. This vaccine completed stage 2 trials in July, so it has now plausibly completed stage 3. One hundred thousand people have been given the vaccine, and none have contracted COVID-19. No serious side effects reported.

So it looks as though the race is over, and China won. The numbers of new cases in China too have been absurdly small for some time—only 12 yesterday. Figures from China may not be reliable, but figures from the UAE probably are.

So now the only problem is supply. It will take some time for this or another vaccine to get to a shoulder near you, but this must boost morale. If those most at risk are vaccinated first, it should make the death rates drop fast where it is deployed.

This puts pressure on the US and UK, where they are a month or two behind. The CEO of Pfizer says there is a better than even chance that their vaccine will be out of trial and ready to go by the end of October. Three other entries are moving at about the same pace. There are other efforts in China, India, Israel, perhaps elsewhere.

In the meantime, a new study suggests that, aside from preventing the spread of the virus to others, face masks ensure that, if you get the virus, you get a low dose. With this low initial dose, your chances of being symptomless go from 40% to 80%. In effect, this is a natural inoculation. And if the threshold is really only 20% or so, as some studies have now suggested, we may soon reach herd immunity.

And then there is Vitamin D. If everyone made sure their Vitamin-D levels were high, and wore masks everywhere, the chance of a serious infection gets vanishingly small. Even without hydroxychloroquine and zinc, which the authorities still unaccountably and criminally refuse to investigate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Which Nine?


Apparently Donald Trump has now said 7-9 countries are interested in coming in on the new “Abrahamic” peace deal. Who might they be?

A guess, more or less in descending order of likelihood:

Saudi Arabia

All Religions Are One; or at Least 1.5

Blake, The Ancient of Days

Atheists like Christopher Hitchens like to say that theists are inconsistent, for they reject the existence of all gods but one. They are only inconsistent in their atheism. Why Yahweh and not Zeus, Allah, Krishna, or Nanabush? Similarly, there are various religions with incompatible claims. How, other than some accident of birth, do you come to choose one faith over another? Can it be fair that everyone not of your faith is damned, only for this accident of birth?

This seems to be fair, if the various religions are incompatible in their claims. I have never really thought they are.

Let’s start with Zeus and Yahweh and Nanabush.

It is simply wrong to say that Christianity denies the existence of Zeus and the pagan gods.

Paul neatly explained Christianity in a Greek pagan context on the Areopagus:

Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus, and said, "You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you."

This unknown god was not, in the pagan mind, just one more god. A “great high God” seems to be recognized in all polytheistic systems: in Korean shamanism, he is called Chilsong. In Hinduism, Brahman. The North American Indians claim they always knew of a “Great Spirit.” They never deny his existence; they simply stress his utter transcendence. As a result, for practical purposes, we are left dealing with a troupe of lesser gods like Zeus. These lesser gods are not really venerated by the pagans: they are appeased with sacrifices to keep them in a good mood.

Or else, as in Hinduism, they are expressions of aspects of the great high God. We see the same concept in Judaism: the sephirot.

Nor does Christianity deny these lesser gods. They are simply not the great high God—agreeing here with the pagans. They are intermediate beings, more powerful than men, immortal, but amoral. They are daemons, beings of pure spirit. They are simply no longer to be worshipped, for they, unlike Yahweh, have no power to save.

Now, as to Christians and Muslims worshipping different gods: this is nonsensical. As monotheists, both assert there can be only one supreme being; this is also necessarily so as a matter of logic. It does not mean anything that they use different names for this entity; and, in fact, they do not use different names. A Lebanese Christian prays to Allah. It is the Arabic word for God, related to “Elohim” or “El,” the Hebrew Biblical terms.

Christianity in conflict with Judaism? This would be heresy in Christian terms. Yahweh made a covenant with the Jews. Can a Christian believe that God would not keep his word? So long as a single Jew stays faithful to that covenant, it is still in force.

Buddhism is often claimed to be the odd one out, atheist, and incompatible with any of the other main religions. This is an illusion. Buddhism is simply not concerned with metaphysics. It is a psychology, not a philosophy; and is actually compatible with all religious for this reason.

What, you will say, about reincarnation? Reincarnation is a basic premise of Hinduism and Buddhism, and is rejected by Christianity.

I would argue that it should not be rejected by Christianity; because it solves two vital theological puzzles. First, what happens to the souls of unbaptized children? What happens to all the aborted children?

If life on earth means anything, if it is, as Keats has said, the vale of soulmaking, these children have not merited heaven. If dying without having sinned were enough, God is unjust to have created the world, instead of having us all born into heaven. At the same time, it seems unfair that these immortal souls have never had a chance at it. And, in the case of aborted children, because of another’s sin.

That cannot work, and, as a Church commission has recently ruled, Limbo is not an acceptable answer.

The obvious answer is that children who die before baptism are reincarnated. They get a second shot. It seems almost necessarily so.

And if so, it might as well also be true that some others might merit, and get, a second shot. For example, what if you were born in China, or India, and never heard the Gospel? Then you cannot be faulted. So, a second shot, or a third, or a fourth, if necessary, until a lifetime in which you fully encounter the Christian message, and become baptized. Then the Christian rules kick in.

Accordingly, reincarnation could be absolutely true for Hindus or Buddhists, and not for Christians.

It all amounts to less than perfect consensus; but at least as much consensus as you find in science or philosophy.

Monday, September 14, 2020

More Christian Privilege


"American Progress," 1872. Note that it is a neo-pagan Classical goddess, "Colombia," and not Jesus, leading the settlers westward in the popular imagination.

An American professor of (of course) education, Khyati Joshi, has published a book against “white Christian privilege.” Joshi, a Hindu, is fairly obviously jockeying for position in the caste system called intersectionality. She maintains that even non-white Christians, black or Hispanic, have unearned privilege over her as a Hindu. She claims that there is “systemic religious oppression over the history of” the United States.

This is odd, since the US, unlike many countries, has no established religion or church, and guarantees freedom of religion and conscience in its constitution. One would think “Christian privilege” is far less an issue in the US than, say, Muslim privilege in Pakistan, Buddhist privilege in Thailand, or Hindu privilege in India. My friend Xerxes, in fact, in his most recent column wrote about the persecution of Christians in modern India.

Joshi claims this constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion is an “illusion,” and cites court cases that ruled against the religious demands of members of minority religions. She ignores court cases that ruled against the religious demands of Christians. Nor does she examine the legal arguments.

Among the ills Joshi blames on Christian privilege are the idea of “manifest destiny,” and slavery, which she claims has “Biblical justification.”

Neither of these have anything in particular to do with Christianity. Manifest destiny was not a religious concept, and did not emerge from theologians or pastors. It was a political slogan, first proposed by a newspaperman, and embraced by some politicians. These as a matter of course appealed to “Providence” to justify their claim to a right to expand the US westward. But they were not religious authorities. Anyone is going to appeal to Providence to justify any political idea, especially one that might be challenged on moral grounds. The signers of the Declaration of Independence similarly called on Providence to justify their concept of a new state based on freedom and equality; so if one is going to credit manifest destiny to Christianity, one must credit freedom and human equality, including freedom of religion, to it as well. Except that the latter idea, unlike the former, indeed originated with and was endorsed by religious authorities.

Manifest Destiny was a minority political opinion, not itself hegemonic. Canada similarly expanded westward without any such doctrine. So did Australia or Argentina; while Russia expanded East. Greece and Phoenicia expanded West across the Mediterranean long before Christianity was thought of. Untilled land next door tends to get settled.

Similarly, slavery was no Christian institution. It was endemic across the world, and least common in Christian countries. Of course defenders of slavery tried to justify themselves as well as they could from the Bible. But it was Christian nations, most notably Britain, that determined to end it everywhere. And this was an explicitly Christian enterprise, led by Quakers and evangelicals. Far earlier, the Pope in Rome had declared slavery illicit.

Nor does Joshi note that there is clear warrant for slavery in the Hindu Vedas.

What manifestly needs to be ended is not Christian privilege, but education schools.


Cooking the Books

 Scott Adams produces pretty clear evidence that Google is playing with its algorithms for political purposes.

Google "American inventors." Check out the thumbnail portraits that show up in the top strip.

Now click on "images" and see what turns up.

Did you realize before know that the great majority of American inventors were African-American?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Organic Rock

It’s time to get the organ back into Rock and Roll.

Just listening to the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” and remembering how good it was. Part of it was certainly Eric Burdon’s voice, but part of it too was Alan Price’s magnificent organ. Al Kooper’s organ on Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde has always made that album stand out. I never liked Jim Morrison’s over the top lyrics or histrionics, but Ray Manzarek’s organ was always the best part of The Doors.

I begin to realize that many of the most powerful rock songs I can think of had organ parts. Lighter Shade of Pale; 96 Tears. The organ, keyboards, are more musically versatile than the guitar. But more than that. The organ is a traditional religious instrument. There is something about the organ that adds great depth and strength to rock and roll. It brings rock back to its spiritual, gospel roots. And that is where its power has always come from.

A Journal of the Plague Year

New evidence from Germany is that the coronavirus is becoming less deadly. We have seen the death rate fall as the infection rate rises. We had thought this might have to do with more young people getting the virus. The German figures show this is not so: the death rate is falling quickly among older patients.

In other news, trials of the Oxford vaccine have resumed. The one patient who fell sick apparently had something unrelated to the vaccine.

No Justice, No Peace; No Money, No War

Trump has now brokered three peace deals in quick succession: Kosovo and Serbia, UAE and Israel, Bahrain and Israel. Trump is a professional deal maker. Business is about “busy-ness,” about finding ways to get things done. I think we are seeing the value of entrepreneurial skills in government.

The prospects seem good now for an overall end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a dangerous sword dance that has lasted since 1948. The prospects are also good for an end to Islamist terrorism; the existence of Israel, and the West’s backing for the Jewish state, was the main complaint. We could be seeing another moment like the moment the Berlin Wall fell. The Middle East may fully join the modern world.

For one thing, the rise of Islamism looks a lot like culture shock. Traditions, like people, go a little hysterically nativist on first contact. Culture shock in the face of globalization is a good explanation for Nazism in Germany; perhaps too for Stalinism in Russia, Juche in North Korea, and Maoism in China. These things pass, sooner or later, and things calm down, as the new and foreign grows more familiar. Ideally without Holocausts and world wars. Perhaps this explains the troubles in the Balkans as well--suddenly exposed to the winds after decades behind a curtain of iron.

Along with this, and Trump’s talent for dealmaking, there is another critical factor. Do you remember, gentle reader, when “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland seemed insoluble? They went on for decades. Then they suddenly ended in 1998, with the Good Friday accord. Now all anyone worries about is whether there will still be an open border, without any kind of border check, after the UK leaves the EU. What happened?

The money ran out. The IRA was funded by the Soviets, then by Libya. Gaddhafi pulled the funding. The IRA wilted, and Sinn Fein was forced to go the political route. To everyone’s benefit, including Sinn Fein.

A similar consideration probably stands smiling deferentially behind the present peace agreements. Thanks to fracking in the US and elsewhere, the money is running out to fund the eternal conflicts in the Middle East; and Islamic terrorism worldwide. The wasta, the leverage, the Gulf States had over the rest of the world, that needed their oil, was considerable, and is now gone. If they are going to keep their profitable economies going, they need to work harder at making and keeping friends, at encouraging investment and trade.

Bahrain joining in the deal feels significant. Bahrain is nearly a wholly-owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia. During the Arab Spring, the Saudi Army went in to restore order. Bahrain would not have signed on without Saudi prior approval, and so looks like a stalking horse. Probably the Saudi royals are watching public reaction before committing themselves.

With the Magic Kingdom in, the rest of the GCC is overwhelmingly likely to follow: Oman, Kuwait, Qatar. Along with Egypt and Jordan, already signatories to peace deals, this is the centre of gravity for the Arab world. Others will probably come in as well.

A general Arab-Israeli rapprochement then puts critical pressure on Iran, already in financial trouble and vulnerable to civil unrest.

All this raises a further consideration.

The eternal conflict in Northern Ireland, the Middle East quagmire, and Islamic terrorism around the world, depended heavily on funding, generally funding from abroad. So heavily that, funding withdrawn, peace breaks out.

Who is funding the current conflict in the USA, from Antifa and Black Lives Matter?

Someone certainly is.