Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Old Mill Questions -- Introduction

In the middle of the year of grace 2017, a collection of prominent conservative theologians released the Nashville Statement, intended to express their position on the purpose of human sexuality as divinely revealed in the Bible. This triggered the release of a number of statements, one called the Denver Statement and another called the Nazareth Statement, which diverged strongly from the views expressed in the Nashville Statement.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why Cyclists Take the Lane, Why Motorists Shouldn't Object

Toronto's Metro News generally has fair and positive coverage of cyclists, but they have the odd lapse, as this article demonstrates:
As a driver, I’ve also seen the kind of bike behaviour that gives all of us cyclists a bad name — weaving in and out of traffic, riding on the sidewalk, hogging an entire lane when there’s no need, failing to signal before turning or coming to a sudden stop, cutting off other cyclists or startling them by passing on the inside. One of the worst offences is riding a bike at night without a light, then having the gall to become indignant when cars almost run them over.
In the immortal words of Sesame  Street, one of these things is not like the others. Cutting other road users off, failing to signal, riding on the sidewalk: all these endanger other road users. Taking the lane, which the writer describes, wrongly, as "hogging an entire lane when there’s no need" doesn't endanger anyone. At worst, it annoys other drivers who would like to press their accelerators a bit harder. Drivers who resent cyclists for holding them up should ask if they ever fume about other drivers taking unnecessary trips alone in their cars, which cause far more traffic jams and waste far more time.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Don't quote Genesis 19 on Same-sex Marriage

Illuminated manuscript picture of Sodom burningJem Bloomfield, in the blog quiteirregular, writes about the collision between the stance on same sex marriage held by some churches, and the culture prevalent in university settings:
One of the major points of view that I hear is that Christianity is immoral.  They don’t use exactly that word: they’re more likely to describe things as “discriminatory”, “oppressive” or “unjust”, but that’s the general gist.  There are moral principles of inclusion and justice which are central to their lives, which they see the Church as transgressing.  They are used to looking at the media, or at politics, and criticising the misogyny or homophobia they see, and institutional Christianity is no exception.  The same disdain for minority groups, the same discrimination.
 This strikes me as a pretty accurate set of observations, but I would go further. To interpret one of the biblical passages commonly cited against Gay men as a condemnation of same-sex behaviour requires accepting a claim nearly everyone today views as outrageous, and many contemporary governments have made outright criminal.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Luke Skywalker and the United States Constitution

Donal Trump addresses the crowd at a Phoenix Az. Rally, August 2017Conor Friedersdorf thinks the Left has made a huge mistake in abandoning the pure libertarian position on the freedom of political speech. At least, he thought so as of last week, before the pardoning of Joe Arpaio.

Donald Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio, as Mr. Friedersdorf himself has pointed out, along with many other able commentators, has a real potential to unravel the rule of law. The presidential power of pardon has few specific limits, but the United States Constitution certainly never intended it to permit the President to undermine a prosecution, much less a law, the president simply disapproved of. The specific pardon of Mr. Arpaio, whom President Trump pardoned for offences related to civil rights violations, makes the situation more troubling. Issuing a pardon for someone who has never expressed regret or admitted wrongdoing means one of two things: either the President believes the court made a serious error of fact, or he condones the offence. If officials with the power to pardon violators actively condone civil rights violations, they effectively strip some, and in the end all, members of the community of their civil rights.

This illustrates what I call the Skywalker rule of constitutions: like the death star, every written constitution has to have a relief port.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

What the People Who Sent Murderers to Barcelona Want

Sagrada Familia 02
Sagrada Família
A terror cell affiliated with the deash has murdered fifteen people and injured one hundred and thirty more.

Pray for the dead and for the recovery of the injured. And don't give the hard men of the daesh, who sent the killers, what they want.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reflections on Conservatism in the Wake of Charlottesville

Charlottesville "Unite the Right" Rally (35780290814)The American people have elected a man who has no idea of shame as their president, and I surprised myself by feeling particularly incensed to see the way he confidently assumed he could disrespect a gold star family and then count, not only on the obedience and professionalism but the political support of the American service chiefs. Last week, his service chiefs served a quiet but determined notice: they would obey him but never willingly acquiesce to the corruption and dishonour of the military they served. After witnessing white supremacists parading with the symbols of slavery and genocide, and their president refusing to condemn either the ugly ideology or its uglier, murderous display, the chiefs of the American services: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps issued a series of statements condemning white supremacy and warning potential recruits their services had no place for bias or racism.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

"White fragility" is ableist

Ableism graphic (people with disabilities fobidden/not welcome)
I often read and hear people with disabilities, describe the moment the light bulb lights; lights with incandescent rage in the moment we understand the standards defining "normal" rest on choices as fundamentally arbitrary as the dictates of fashion. Norms shift from culture to culture, but this culture, our culture, polices its norms by any brutality necessary. Since policing construed as therapeutic supposedly serves the interests of those policed, no consideration of rights or fairness restrain it. If the policing takes a form impossible to construe as therapy, its promoters justify it as necessary for the prosperity and happiness of future generations.

Some people, a tiny minority, have the credentials or the power to set standards, define "normal"; others enforce these standards, checklist by checklist on the bodies of the vulnerable, often starting before school age. This entitlement of the doer over the done to forms the essence of the oppression we call ableism. Those who have received this treatment, the done to, feel this entitlement in our bodies: deathly sick and uncontrollably shaking from drugs given to us because the impulse to erase our differences outweighed the (known) side effects. We know it in our spirits and our memories, of being held up as examples of failure, targets for bullying, or just old fashioned beatings by authority figures or by our peers.

Using the term "white fragility" accepts and affirms this system of entitlement. It affirms the checklists acted out on the bodies of children who can't speak, the toxic drugs given to neuro-divergent children and teens, and acts yet more extreme. It affirms the whole system, with one proviso: racial animus, or more precisely any deviation from the response to animus the enlightened decree, also counts as a deviation, a symptom in need of correction, of checking off the list.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Logophobia redux

Rod Dreher links approvingly to an article by Elizabeth Corey in First Things that tackles the concept of intersectionality. Corey dismisses the concept as "a wholly academic invention", then promptly refutes that characterization by citing a real life example of discrimination and the ensuing legal case, DeGraffenreid v. General Motors. Corey writes:
...five black women sued General Motors for discrimination. GM had not hired black women prior to 1964, and had dismissed all but one of its black female ­employees hired after 1970 on the basis of seniority. The plaintiffs claimed that the harm they suffered could not be addressed by suing as women only, because GM could point out that it had indeed hired women (white women) prior to 1964 and had retained those that were hired after 1970. 
Nor were they willing to sue on the basis of race alone. The discrimination they suffered was not merely racial, they argued, but a result of their combined racial and gender identity. The district court dismissed this claim, observing that the prospect of “the ­creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora’s box.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Encryption, security, the internet, and King Canute

Legend has it that King Canute, a canny and highly successful ruler of England,
Huts and seashore in Wales
Denmark, and parts of Scandinavia, had courtiers who like to flatter him; when some at court suggested that even the sea would have to obey Canute's wisdom and power, the king decided he had enough of this nonsense, and resolved to end it with a demonstration. He and his court accordingly went to the sea shore, and there Canute gave order to the incoming tide to cease, desist, and turn around. The tide, naturally, did no such thing. Having demonstrated his limits, he finished with an admonition to keep the flattery within the bounds of reality, and the court returned to the capital, doubtless to the relief of the chastened courtiers.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The American gun organization the National Rifle Association has a new advertisement out on the web, full of standard right wing complaints about mean things the Left has to say about their president and their policies. This list of complaints noticeably avoids making any kind of case for gun rights. Indeed, it doesn't mention gun rights at all.

While this might seem surprising at any time,the choice by the NRA to talk about something other than gun rights at this specific time appears downright perverse, since a jury just acquitted a police officer for the most brutal possible violation of a citizen's right to legally carry a gun.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

One hundred and fifty years ago today...

the parliament of Great Britain passed an act uniting New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Canada (then Ontario and Quebec), under a single federal parliament and four provincial legislatures. The new country, called a dominion in deference to the phrase from the Book of Psalms: "dominion from sea to sea" would continue to have the British monarch as a head of state, and British diplomats would speak for it in international relations, but Canada's own legislatures would govern in all internal matters. Canadians greeted the passage of the British North America Act with modest celebration.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pirsig, Bell, LaPadula, a different kind of braid...

Fredrik deBoer asks why so many people have so much trouble evaluating propositions to do with social justice on a continuum. He cites examples from cultural appropriation to campus hookups, asking in every case why so much of the conversation about these issues ends in extreme, opposing, and angry positions.

Clip art of a motorcycle, by By Theresa Knott, via Wikimedia CommonsI don't have the answer, I don't think a single answer exists. With multiple cultures rubbing up against each other, ideas and expressions may seem perfectly innocent to some people, and egregiously offensive from a different perspective. Some commentators have suggested the growth of social media has reduced dialog between people who disagree while concentrating and amplifying the dialog among like-minded people, thus encouraging the unchecked adoption of more and more extreme positions.

I don't know why this has happened, but I have a theory.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Cast iron cover with the name "Manchester"Rod Dreher, in common with most of the rest of the world, struggles to make sense of the senseless: the bomb exploded in a crowd of women and girls at an Ariana Grande concert and the resulting slaughter of innocent people.

In the process, he makes a very interesting set of comments, and displays what I call "logophobia", meaning fear of and revulsion toward a specific word, rather than a repudiation of the concept behind it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Size the office to fit the man

Donald Trump at the podium photo by Gage Skidmore
photo by Gage Skidmore
 Donald Trump’s recent behaviour has provoked dark thoughts among American opinion writers. Ross Douthait, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, has raised the possibility of declaring Mr. Trump medically unfit for his job and invoking the 25 amendment to the US constitution to remove him.

That is a spectacularly bad idea. It is, to paraphrase Orwell, a bad idea even though National Review says it’s a bad idea. For one thing, the authors of the 25th amendment intended it to deal with a medical crisis, not a policy disagreement or even justified reservations about the character of a president. For another, it doesn’t deal with the structural or even the psychological problems the Trump presidency raises.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What, me worry?

Donald Trump, not worried, by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
by Gage Skidmore
If American news reports accurately describe the events of last week's meeting between President Trump and Russian representatives, somewhere in the Western Asia at least one person probably has a lot less confidence in their future than they did a few days ago. We may never know the name or names of the people who apparently took huge risks to obtain important details of the latest efforts by the Daesh to loose chaos on international air travel. We can only hope the president of the United States did not sentence them to an unpleasant death by recklessly boasting about his intelligence sources.

We have less room for doubt about what happened next. After both his national security advisor and his secretary of state denied the story in carefully worded statements, Mr. Trump took to late night Twitter and cast doubt on their claims by stating he had, in any case, the right to tell the Russians anything he wanted them to know.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Stop quoting Havel and behaving like Brezhnev

East German Trabant, photo by By Adam Jones, Ph.D.
East German Trabant
About a year and a half ago, Yale University sent out an email in advance of the Halloween season, asking students to choose their costumes with some cultural sensitivity. One of the senior residents charged with supervising residence life, Erika Christakis, took exception to this email and distributed her own rejoinder. Student activists in turn protested the email and accused both Dr Christakis and her husband failing to properly supervise residence life. In the end, both Dr. Christakis and her husband left the residence program, an outcome regretted by the libertarian conservative writer Conor Friedersdorf, and even more strongly deplored by Rod Dreher.

In his argument, Rod Dreher quotes, as he frequently does, Valclav Havel's essay The Power of the Powerless. In common with many conservatives who quote Havel, he seems to think power means the ability to say distressing things on "woke twitter", and consider professors who give into "political correctness" the modern equivalent of the Havel's metaphorical green grocer, who puts a "workers of the world unite" sign in the window. I disagree. I think Dreher's argument fundamentally distorts the question of where the real power lies in his society, and where the implied analogy to the Soviet block of Leonid Brezhnev applies.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The right to be wrong is not necessarily the right to be sloppy

Duke divinity library, two views; photo by Duke Divinity Library
photo by Duke University Divinity School Library
We all ignore truths, demands, arguments we would prefer not to face. At my best, I only hold arguments I find offensive to a higher, perhaps impossible standard of proof. At my worst, I ignore truths I would prefer not to deal with and avoid pressing arguments for fear of giving offense to other people.

There is a difference between avoiding uncomfortable ideas and challenges, and making a public virtue of it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Rendemptive anger

Louis Riel, after a carte de visite from 1884.
Louis Riel
Last week, in one of the vicious but not exactly random assaults underlining the inequalities of life in a "western" urban society, an unknown person beat up the principal dancer in the "Buffalo Hunt" scene from the Canadian Opera Company's production of Harry Somers's opera Louis Riel. He and his partner, hurt badly enough to need hospital treatment, they suffered further indignities at the hands of the medical system; some of the people I spoke to clearly considered their treatment negligent.

This racist attack on a talented First Nations dancer, and the callous treatment in its aftermath, could have easily led to worse divisions and deeper mistrust in its wake. Violence of this kind divides and silences people, as the perpetrators and enablers often intend. In a production negotiating the tricky politics of staging a classic Canadian work telling a story involving First Nations, this attack could easily have poisoned the atmosphere.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Terrorist are using cars as weapons. How can we protect ourselves?

Photo of Westminster Bridge, site of a 2017 terror attack by vehicle, photo by Katie Chan, via Wikimedia Commons
Westminster Bridge by Katie Chan,
via Wikimedia Commons
In an alarming number of recent terror attacks, the assailants have made use of vehicles to ram or crush their victims. Recently, an attacker killed three people on Westminster Bridge in London by hitting them with a hired vehicle before getting out of the car and fatally stabbing a police officer. Last year on Bastille Day, an attacker drove a truck through celebrating crowds in Nice and killed eighty-four people. These attacks and others would indicate a disturbing trend even without reports the Daesh has recommended the use of vehicles to sympathizers aiming to commit lethal terror attacks.

Photograph of Nice bay and the waterfront. A terror attack by a truck took place here on Bastille Day 2016, photo By Fecchi, via Wikimedia Commons
Nice Bay by Fecchi, via Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after the derisively named "undies bomber" failed to blow up a plane bound for the United States with underwear soaked with explosives, American and international aviation authorities severely restricted the liquids they permitted passengers to carry on board. They had, of course, long forbidden passengers from bringing knives into the cabin of an airliner. Every time a terrorist organization attempts an assault against the civil aviation system, even if they fail, even if they fail in a risible manner, regulators take action. With several terror attacks committed using road vehicles, reports the Daesh has specifically committed to  this method of inflicting casualties, the call for road safety authorities to take some action would seem obvious.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A source of information

A couple of days ago, a car following me in the right lane tried to get between me and the streetcar in the center lane. Frustrated (they didn't remotely have enough room) they followed me to the stop line (the light was red) and honked.

The simple controls of a car can express a surprising amount of information. In this case, a honk told me I had an entitled driver behind me. and that if I moved to the side they would try to fit their 2.5-3 metre wide car, my bike which takes up at least a metre, the metre they have to leave between my bike and their passing car, and the half metre clearance required between the streetcar and their car into the four metres between the streetcar and the curb. In other words, I knew if I didn't ride in the center of the lane I could expect a dangerous close pass.

The time has long come and gone for motor vehicle operators to realize ordinary drivers of non-emergency motorized vehicles don't have priority over other road users, and increasing numbers of cyclists will not compromise our safety for your impatience. You impatience won't kill you or us; getting sideswiped by a poorly-judged pass from an impatient and entitles motor vehicle operator very well might.

Cyclists are here and we will not go away, so if you plan to drive, get used to us.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Making room for change

Peace symbol (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) Designed by Gerald HoltomThirty years ago, at the height of second wave feminism, writers such as Mary Daly firmly defined patriarchy as the root of all oppressions. Popular writing described even the wealthiest and most privileged of woman as victims.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Facts are stubborn things

John Adams pointed this out in his defence of British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre:
 Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence...
Facts are also oppositional, in this sense: they restrain everyone in the same way, and in doing so they bring people together.  We have an infinite number of ways of coming at he truth: the soaring beauty of music, the inspiration of religious ritual, the stories we tell, the lives we lead. But when my life and my passions differ profoundly from someone else's, what then? If I find truth in the music of Mozart's concert masses, I might not succeed at finding a common musical language with someone who finds their truth in the work of Tupac Shakur. Facts, even the hard facts made notorious by Gradgrind, may offer the only way profoundly different people can find enough common truth to live together.

Which brings us to Yusra Khogali.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The white battalion

Donald Trump on the campaign trail by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
by Gage Skidmore , via Wikimedia Commons

A friend and colleague of mine, an officer in the Canadian Infantry, taught me "Old King Cole" ("beer beer beer said the privates, merry men are we"), and he taught me about the White Battalion. The White Battalion is a tradition in the Canadian Forces, or at least in some regiments. It is a term for the regimental dead. As my friend explained to me, regiments disband, their colours hung on the walls of churches for time and nature to return them to the Earth, but white battalion never disbands; its members are transferred to an active regiment. Soldiers remember, honour, and grieve.

The act of remembering war dead has many expressions in many places, but it works out to the same basic contract: a society will ask its young men, and in some cases its young women, to put themselves in harm's way for the sake of the nation. In return, the nation will carry the names of everyone who gives their life in its service down through history in honour. It is a covenant painted on the walls of thousands of churches. It is carved in the stone of war memorials in villages and cities across the world. It forms the basis for a signature piece of American political rhetoric: Lincoln's Gettyburg Address. It is a part of the hearts of millions of families.

Anger is a sin...

A frightened and an angry face, left and right respectively. Engraving, c. 1760, after C. Le Brun.  from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom.
C. Le Brun.  from Wellcome Images
via Wikimedia commons
As Margaret Lawrence's lyrics about the oppression of Metis people ironically put it: "those [people] must learn that anger is a sin".

Our society, and the pundits, academics, publicists and others who speak, or claim to speak for it, frequently display a profound unease with the anger of the oppressed. That unease frequently manifests itself not in cogent criticism but in unthinking rejection, or worse, violence: the violence of a direct attack or the violence of a judicial blind eye.

Monday, February 06, 2017

What's wrong with David Frum's excellent article

Rob Ford with council colleagues - subway announcement 2012 by HiMY SYeD via Wikimedia Commons
by HiMY SYeD via Wikimedia Commons
David Frum recently wrote an excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly on the possible development of an authoritarian populist state under Donald Trump. Read it if you haven't already.

David Frum comes from Toronto, but he left many years ago for the United States. He did not live through Toronto's experience with insurgent populist conservatism. That may or may not have led to what I regard as the most interesting omission in a very good article.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Tied up with a bow

Shipping Containers at the terminal at Port Elizabeth, New Jersey - NOAA  taken  2004 June
We often package ideas the way shippers package freight
photo by Albert E. Theberge, NOAA via Wikimedia Commons
As an activist in the 1980s, I routinely encountered exhortations to "make connections" or to act, and think, "consistently". Much of the time, these exhortations came out of a genuine effort to understand and live out the ramifications of "left-wing" beliefs. Some of the time, efforts to make "connections" covered for pragmatic coalition building. In not a few cases, people appealed for "connections" and "consistency" dishonestly, in order to get support for weak arguments that depended on "connections" with ideas people already accepted.

Well meaning or otherwise, honest or shady, the emphasis on "connections" and "consistency" led to an acceptance of package politics by the Left. By commission or by acquiescence, we created a political environment in which participants could wrap up their opinions, beliefs and positions in a single imagined whole.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The corruption of freebies in politics

euro_bank_notes_hidden_in_sleeve_-_white_background_ By Kiwiev (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Kiwiev via Wikimedia Commons
By freebies, I don't mean swag ; I don't mean rides in jets and helicopters provided to politicians by prominent business leaders. In fact, I don't mean corruption of politicians at all, although crooks in office do cause major problems. I mean a much more serious problem: the corruption of the voters and, by extension, the political process.

Commentators have long derided political promises as bribing voters with heir own money, but the purposes of legitimate political debate include the best use of resources. The process gets corrupted when politicians promise someone else will pay. One example of this we all know: the slogan "make the rich pay", an aspiration often stated but seldom realized. Calls to tax the rich frequently give rise not to better services but rather to increasingly convoluted tax avoidance schemes. Governments have had much greater luck extracting money from people accused of crimes. Conservative governments in the eighties, motivated to reward their friends with deep tax cuts and to punish those they disdained, invented a series of creative and mischievous government financing tools, from the outright forfeiture of assets to fine surcharges.

Donald Trump's promise to force the Mexican government to pay for a massive public works project on the southern border of the US has a precedent: Ronald Reagan's government sent Oliver North on an unconstitutional fund-raising tour through the palaces of depots to obtain funding for the "contra" mercenary terrorists the US Congress had explicitly refused to support. Mr. Trump has extended this idea in two ways: proposing a major infrastructure program employing hundreds of thousands of Americans, and planning to take the money by some form of coercion rather than beg for it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On punching racists and genocide advocates

Richard Spencer By Vas Panagiotopoulos ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
by Vas Panagiotopoulos
Someone punched Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed "white nationalist" during a street interview. Since then, a lively debate has blossomed on the Internet, driven, inevitably, by a series of memes and videos relating the punch to Indiana Jones's punching a Nazi in The Last Crusade.

Among the cheerfully irreverent memes, some people have asked the serious question: is it right to punch Nazis? And if we regard punching a Nazi as ethically acceptable, does it accomplish anything positive? 

To start with the moral question, which should always come first: anyone can condemn violence on moral grounds, but condemning this punch specifically and consistently requires much stronger condemnation of practices of the American government. Richard Spencer published a website that notoriously published an article advocating genocide of African peoples. A South Asian member of a Salafist organization publishing a similar article advocating genocide of "infidels" would find themselves in danger of a sucker punch in the form of a hellfire missile fired by a drone. If you deplore, and work against, the drone campaign, you may consistently deplore the punch on moral grounds.

Arno Arr Michaelis has a post on facebook in which he argues against punching Richard Spenser on rational grounds: violent people thrive on violence, and punching a "white nationalist" simply feeds the us versus them reaction racists need to promote themselves and their views. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

White is a privilege, not a people

Ruined friary church, Ballycastle Church, Ireland
Ballycastle Church, Ireland, photo by John Spragge
People from many cultures and origins, including  Picts, Celts, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and Slavs, have somewhat lower melanin levels than the average for the human species. That physiological peculiarity does not define a common culture or identity. People with low melanin levels speak different languages, derived from different language groups, follow very different religious and cultural practices. Where cultures meet, as in the "melting pot" or "mosaic" of mainstream North American culture, African cultures have as much influence as their European counterparts.

The word "white" defines a cloud of privilege, not a people. Like most clouds, it is white with unclear and contested borders, opaque but insubstantial, and often roiled by unseen but real violence, both within and without.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Political sclerosis: the pursuit of perfection

I write this during the final preparations for the inauguration of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. By the time I post this, he will probably have taken the oath of office.

About 4000 people gathered in Minneapolis to protest the election of Donald Trump. They called for building a movement to oppose President-elect Donald Trump. By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota
By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota,
via Wikimedia Commons
Today, the day he takes office, marks the end of eight years of President Obama, a man with unusual grace and dignity for anyone who has risen to the top job in the American political system. It also marks the end of eight years of obstruction, always shameless and sometimes blatantly unconstitutional, by the gerrymandered Republican Congress. The redistricting that allowed the minority of voters in the Republican party to command a majority in Congress, and the low turnout in every midterm election, came about at least partly because of failures by the Left to organize throughout the United States, Put simply, the United States, Canada, and indeed the world, has suffered from a sclerosis of the Left for some time now. Conservatives today scarcely need to stand in front of our progress yelling "stop"; at a time the world needs change more critically than ever before, we have slowed ourselves to a crawl.

I propose to offer a look at some of the problems over the next little while. I can propose solutions for some of our problems; for others, I have no real or comprehensive solution to offer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Letter to Brezhnev

Soviet general cargo ship Sarny By Грищук ЮН (My photo from my collection of photos) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Soviet freighter: by Грищук ЮН
via Wikimedia Commons
Letter to Brezhnev is a light romantic comedy made in 1985, about an encounter between Sergei, a Russian sailor and Elaine, a young working class woman from Kirby, South of Liverpool. The film follows the intense night they spend together, their falling in love, and her decision to go to Russia and marry him. The film has a barbed wit, with the running theme of Margaret Thatcher's supposedly dynamic Britain not really offering more to the average worker than the supposedly sclerotic Soviet Union. In the end, the film shows British authorities applying quiet but strong and not very scrupulous pressure to keep Elaine from going to Russia.

American conservatives who emphatically insist their country has dealt with its historic racial injustices owe Leonid Brezhnev a letter of their own: a posthumous apology.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Three modest proposals for the Toronto budget

Toronto has the lowest property tax rate in the Golden Horseshoe: the prosperous region stretching from Oshawa around the end of Lake Ontario to the Niagara River. We also have some of the best city services in Canada: services under increasing financial strain. Too many of our citizens have no homes. Some, and any is too many, die on the street every year. This is unacceptable; the city must fulfill its responsibilities, and that almost certainly means taxes have to go up.

Members of city council have suggested other revenue tools (read: new forms, more equitable forms, of taxation), but for now we have the old stand-by, property, or real estate, taxes. Since real estate taxes can and sometimes do have perverse and unfair effects, I present three modest proposals to make real estate taxes more fair, and to ensure the impact of the needed tax increase falls where it should: on those best able to pay.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Crime and some inappropriate spin

Anti-racist mural, Jones Avenue Toronto, By Beatrice Murch via Wikimedia Commons
By Beatrice Murch
via Wikimedia Commons
Consider three propositions:
  1. People with black skin are people. 
  2. People, by nature, have moral freedom, which means we can choose to behave well or badly, and it follows that given the choice, some people will choose badly.
  3. Since people with black skin are people, the second proposition applies.
I don't like to think anyone finds these propositions difficult or controversial, but it seems some writers choke over the implications.

Friday, January 06, 2017

1380 CE please... with antibiotics and vaccines, and hold the smallpox

Winthrop log cabin2 (abandoned) By Geaugagrrl, via Wikimedia Commons
By Geaugagrrl,
via Wikimedia Commons
The world's human population is fast closing in of seven and a half billion people. It's a world Mark Boyle wants to get off. He has bought, and he wants to sell you, a comforting notion about the cause of our problems: bad choices don't cause them. He blames technology, as a kind of disembodied external force. He has a simple cure, as well: get rid of technology.

Mark Boyle says:
My culture made a Faustian pact, on my behalf, with those devilish tyrants Speed, Numbers, Homogeneity, Efficiency and Schedules, and now I’m telling the devil I want my soul back.
Julia set (C = 0.285,_0.01) a fractal set
Julia set by Solkoll
Now a good part of this amounts to mere rhetorical flourish, but where he includes numbers among the so-called "devilish tyrants", my disagreement with him goes beyond practicalities, beyond even technology, and right to the core question of purpose. My First Nations teachers taught me every form of life has instructions from the Creator. My own religion, Christianity, teaches me the same thing: life has a purpose or purposes. I have the ability to learn and consciously understand the world, to apprehend ways the natural order works, and I believe my purposes include doing so. To aid in this holy work, our remote ancestors worked out a spiritual discipline they called mathematics. As Ursula K. LeGuin pointed out, numbers provide a bridge between psyche and matter. To reject the sacred language of numbers as "devilish tyranny" means rejecting hard clarity and truth in favour of comfortable vagueness, imprecise language with little meaning. What Mr. Boyle appears to hail as liberation, I see as sloth.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nazi victory porn

It is a paradox: high intensity military combat is one of the most extreme of human experiences, which means nobody who has not experienced it can will have the emotional or physical memories to make sense of it. Relatively few people today have experienced high intensity combat. Only a minority of people ever enlist in the armed services, and the majority of members of the armed services work at the vital, and sometimes dangerous, job of supplying the front line soldiers. Today, the majority of people have not experienced high intensity combat.

Yet it appears war remains the one of the most common single subjects for historical presentations and documentaries, as well as historical fiction. Accounts of war, historical and otherwise, often tend to lay stress on the experience of intense combat, rather than the boredom that defines much of military life.

ModellPhoto_JunkersEF128 By JuergenKlueser via Wikimedia Commons
JunkersEF128 jet model
By Juergen Klueser via Wikimedia Commons
Partly, this stems from the curiosity people who have never experienced intense conflict feel about it; partly from assumptions about the importance of military conflict in shaping history. But books and documentaries do not make present the experience of battle, as Guy Sajer's book The Forgotten Soldier makes clear: "One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired..." War documentaries come closest to the experience of a civilian reading about events taking place a long way away; yet even the experience of a civilian in wartime involves uncertainty the viewer of a documentary or reader of history does not share.

The combination of unreality and the ability to evoke emotional intensity makes military history subject to various forms of manipulation. I call one particular form of this manipulation "Nazi victory porn". It consists of various descriptions, frequently highly unrealistic, of ways Hitler could supposedly have won World War II.